The (not so) magic of babies

I was at a client meeting today and overheard a conversation between a mom that just returned from maternity leave and an expecting father.

“Oh, it’s just magical.  You’re going to love it,” she raved.

Being the nosy nancy I am, I of course butted in.  “Are you referring to having a newborn?” I asked her.

“Yes, it’s just so wonderful,” she gushed, smiling radiantly. Say what?

Listen, I had postpartum depression with Julia, and that’s not everyone’s experience so yeah, I am a bit jaded.  Having Luca was a fabulous course correction, and I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my time with him, but let’s be real here.

Being a first time mom to a newborn is an experience that can be described as magical.  But not without also caveating that it’s also many other things like terrifying and exhausting.

Moms (and dads): If you are selling the lie, you’re not just lying to yourself, you are setting our parenting culture up for failure.  Dramatic of me to say? Maybe.  But I literally can not count on two hands the number of women who told me that I was one of the ONLY people that warned them that those early weeks were going to at times, between gazes of love and wonder and unicorns prancing also be demoralizing, mournful, emotional, foggy, bloody (yes, bloody) and confusing.

People will make comments about how you won’t get sleep.  They’ll make jokes about it.  But they won’t tell you that the sleeplessness will often be accompanied by unending screams that simultaneously break your heart, hurt your ears, and feel like a condemnation of you and your failure to parent correctly.  Because surely other moms can make their babies stop crying (spoiler alert: bag of nopes there).

You might hear in passing about colic.  But you won’t be given the details about how colic is defined by multiple days of THREE PLUS HOURS IN A ROW of crying.  That shit is hard.  I did not have a colicky baby, but I remember even just average crying with my daughter and how hard it was.

Maybe, thanks to a few parenting memes going around FB, you have somehow heard about the hospital underpants.  It is essentially an underwear sized maxi pad.  Because if you have a vaginal birth you will BLEED.  I was sent home from the hospital told not to be worried about clots unless they were LARGER THAN A TENNIS BALL.  I’m not sure I’d even be able to worry at that point because I would have passed out from fright.

Let’s just take a moment to talk about breast pumps.  Do you know I did it for three months before I found out about hands free pumping bras?  I held those damn flange things against my boobs multiple times a day when I could have just been hanging out, still a cow but with hands free.  And surely no one told you that you actually have to get the right sized flanges for your nipples.  It’s not a one size fits all situation.  And how weird it is to be LITERALLY milked.  I never even made enough milk with Julia without supplementing with formula.  For the first month, my doctor had me nurse Julia, then pump right after – including middle of the night feedings.  Do you know how much it sucked to not only nurse, then pump, but then have to wash fucking pump parts in the middle of the night.  I remember more than once crying in the bathroom at three in the morning as I washed and sanitized pumping supplies thinking that this will never end.  Magical I tell you.  Like prancing unicorns of joy.

I could make you a list more numerous than the number of pee and poop diapers you will change in those early months of other “magical” moments.  Projectile poos, the fear of touching your baby’s umbilical cord before it falls off, the porn star rocks that your boobs will be when your milk comes in, reflux, baby acne, meconium. Trimming miniscule baby fingernails (without making them bleed) so they don’t scratch themselves up like Edward Scissorhands.

I named this blog Truth in Parenting for a reason ya’all.  Only in sharing the truth with each other will we be able to know that parenting is two sides of a coin.  In truth, we don’t have to feel shame or disappointment that our experience isn’t like others, because there’s a really good chance that it is – both good and bad.

 

 

Some day I’ll sleep in

“He needs a back-up alarm” my hair stylist told me, after complaining that the guy who was supposed to open the salon that morning had overslept.  “You know, I always have my phone alarm, and then a back-up, like an alarm clock or my boyfriend’s phone” she said.  “Especially in the winter, when it’s dark and you’re so snuggly, and you just can’t get yourself out of bed, you know?”

I did know, once upon a time.  I remember those days.  In fact, I probably slept more than most people.  I spent my early twenties doing freelance jobs and working for myself, which meant a lot of flexibility in my sleep schedule.  I could sleep some days until noon.  When I was depressed, on my days off I’d sometimes sleep all day, waking up just to go to the bathroom and eat.

But when you have children, sleep is something you dream about… and get woken up from. I suspect I’m luckier than many because currently both my children sleep through the night in their own rooms.  I don’t have enough hands to count the number of friends I have who either intentionally, accidentally, or by sheer exhaustion end up co-sleeping with their kids at least some of the time.  Brian and I decided in our earliest parenting days that we were going to set boundaries on the co-sleeping, so other than when they slept in bassinets with us as babies we’ve never done it.

Neither Julia or Luca slept more than three to four hours at a time until they were about five months old, probably a product of them both being such skinny babies. But both became pretty good sleepers after some basic sleep training.  We certainly had some rough times with Julia between ages 2-4, nothing unusual, just the basic stuff like nightmares.  I suspect we’ll go through it again with Luca as he gets older.  He’s still in a crib at two and a half, but based on his personality I suspect we’ll have trouble keeping him in his big boy bed once he gets one.  So I’ve got that to look forward to.

Both our children’s optimal bedtimes are quite early, which I’ve mentioned before – 6:15 or so for Luca and 7pm for Julia.  So we have whole evenings to ourselves to eat dinner, watch tv, catch up on work etc.  But the trade off is that we got woken up EVERY SINGLE DAY at 6am.  Now, as I’ve also mentioned before, this works for us 5 days a week, because that’s around when we wake up for work anyway.  But getting up at 6 am on weekends is kind of brutal.  At this point, it doesn’t make me too tired anymore, because my body has adjusted.  In fact, it came in handy when Brian and I went to Universal studios by ourselves this fall because we had no trouble getting up for early admission.  But our trip to the Dominican Republic last year where we fantasized about sleeping late – that one was a damn shame to wake up every day by seven.

The early wake up is a double edged sword.  I’ve done more by 8:00 in the morning than many childless people do in a full weekend day.  Even with lounging in bed with the kids for early morning TV watching, by about 8:30 on a Sunday we have usually cooked and eaten breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, tidied up the first floor, looked up something or other on the internet, broken up at least one fight, and changed a few diapers.  The trade off is that there is so many more hours in the day during which we need to entertain the kids.  Bored children are no fun.  If I was a perfect Pinterest mom I’m sure I’d have long lists of craft projects and inventive games and would love every minute of every hour of the time I spent with them.  But sometimes mom just wants a nap.

Brian and I have this fantasy for the future.  Some of it revolves around sleeping later once they kids are able to take care of themselves when they get up.  But our particular favorite one is for when the kids are teenagers who will inevitably sleep super late on the weekends.  We’ve decided at least once we’re going to throw open their door as loudly as possible, run into their room, jump into their bed full force and immediately demand that they get us breakfast and put the tv on for us.  There’s even been talk of banging pots and pans.  But we’ll decide when we get there, since I suspect we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.

The memory bank

Last night we hung out with two families from our block, and between us there were six kids ranging in age from six (Julia) to eight months (our neighbor’s son Henry, who is so cute he almost makes me want to have another one…. for five minutes…. because this shop is CLOSED for business).  The house was chaos, but the happy kind, with shrieks due to fun vs. fights and tantrums.

At one point the three oldest kids (ages 4-6) were playing hide and seek.  Charlie, the ringer, (since he lived there and knew all the best spots) hid behind the drapes in the dining room where the adults were hanging out finishing our dinner.  He was pretty well concealed, but at one point the kids were practically on top of him and yet couldn’t find him.  We were trying to give them clues, directing them with “warmer” and “colder” but they just weren’t getting it even though at one point I swear they were looking straight at him behind the gauzy curtain.  When he finally popped out, peals of laughter exploded not just from the kids but from all the adults in the room.

After we stopped laughing, I looked at everyone I said “Let’s put this one in the memory bank”.  Whether you realize it or not, I believe every parent keeps a memory bank.  Having small children is hard, like, next level hard.  Like, “how does anyone do this?” hard.  There are so many moments where you just want to scream, or rip your hair out, or hide in a bathroom or take five minutes to breathe or shower or take a catnap.  So you open up a memory bank account and deposit every damn thing in it you can that is not the shitty stuff.  This whole night for me goes in the memory bank.  Hanging out with people we enjoy who have great kids, sharing kid book recommendations, eating pizza and homemade cookies and apple crumble and feeling relaxed (or at least I did, and I am not always relaxed at these things).

I’ve got lots of memories that I keep in my bank. The first time Julia said her name, and told us it was “Julcat”. Taking naps with sweaty baby Luca’s face pressed against my face. Watching Julia greet the princesses at Disney World with the expectation they’d know her to. Luca saying “You got this for me?” in his deep little baby voice, with a mixture of wonder and excitement, every time we give him something.  A mom telling me that Julia waited for her son by the door at kindergarten every day for the first few weeks because she knew he was scared to go in.

I also have a category for posthumously added memories.  Those are ones that felt really struggle bus while they were happening but have a sweetness to the memory that creates nostalgia. One is Julia insisting we “dance up” – she loved dancing so much at two that we would try to dance with her while sitting on the floor because we would get tired and she just wouldn’t have it so she’d insist we stand.  We’d be exhausted, wearing pink cowboy hats and tutus and drag ourselves off the floor to try to jam out to our tenth Katy Perry song in a row to keep our tiny tyrant happy.  Another one, as insane as it is for me to believe now, is that I am able to feel nostalgia for moments I spent nursing.  I nursed Julia for six months, Luca for four, and I was very relieved to stop.  I felt like a cow, it was weird to feel like my body didn’t belong to me, and I leaked all the time.  It kind of sucked (no pun intended).  But now I remember their teeny tiny selves curled up around me, their crying pacified, my satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something good to care for them. Then there were those sleepy little milk coma faces after they were done, and the knowledge that I’d probably get at least a few moments of rest before the next round of crying or needing to feed them.  Just remembering that now makes me feel warm and fuzzy, although at the time I just wanted my body back.

I think even the shitty stuff is worth remembering – the sleepless nights, career compromises, exhaustion and endless pooping are good reminders that I don’t want a third child even after cuddling baby Henry tonight; nibbling his delicious baby face and having him grab my finger with his tiny hands was lovely but it doesn’t cancel out why I chose to stop after two kids.

Grandparents and parents of older children will see you with your little kids and also recommended that you pay attention as your children’s lives are unfolding because they go by too fast.  Sometimes I want them to go by faster, to get through the tough parts.  But tucked between the monotony and the frustration are the incredible moments of joy and love.  It’s what keeps us going as parents.  You can’t make a memory if you don’t remember it. That’s why I paused at the table tonight as we all laughed at our kids playing.  Let’s remember this one, I was saying, and save it for a rainy day when we’ll need it.

 

 

The abominable snowman is me

Thursday I was a monster.  A selfish, tired, cranky, inpatient mom that wanted desperately not to be on mom duty and did a pretty shitty job of parenting.  I feel the need to confess this to you, partly because I’ve been feeling incredibly guilty about being such an asshole and partly because I am hoping that maybe I’m not the only one.

It all started Wednesday with a predicted 1-3 inches of snow for today.  Then suddenly it was 3-5, then 5-8, then 50 hour winds, then a bomb cyclone (whatever the hell that is!) and then the apocalypse.  School was cancelled for Thursday even before Julia’s bedtime on Wednesday.  My nanny texted by nine pm to check if she should come.  YES PLEASE PLEASE is what I wanted to say.  But even I am not that big of a bitch.  She just got her car back after a month in the shop and it’s not exactly the kind of vehicle I’d want her to drive in heavy snow and wind.  Plus what if she got stuck here and couldn’t get out?  If I wouldn’t want to leave my house, why would I make her do it?

That meant someone had to stay home with the kids and that person was going to have to be me.  Why? Well for one, my husband had appointments with clients lined up at work as well as a doctor’s appointment, so he was prepared to brave the weather and go in. Secondly, on Wednesday I had soul crushing heartburn that made me feel like I was going to vomit, and I legit went to bed with a Tupperware container next to my bed just in case.  I managed not to puke but I did wake up several times throughout the night for various reasons so I didn’t sleep much at all.

Fast forward to 6 o’clock Thursday morning, the kids’ regular wakeup time, feeling like I had barely slept, and staring down at a full day trapped in the house with a six year old and a two and a half year old.  Oh the horror! I’m kidding, I know that doesn’t sound so bad. Stay at home moms do that every day.  But I’m not used to solo parenting for long stretches. On the weekends Brian and I co-parent, and on top of that we often split up the kids, with me taking Julia to a birthday party or out shopping while he hangs out with Luca, or he talks Julia to the grocery story and I stay home and play with Luca.  So I am not used to being alone with the kids for a twelve hour day, particularly not one where you can’t leave the house.

My key mistake of the day was to decide that I should still try to work while they were home, instead of just giving in and taking a day off.  You can’t get consistently productive work done with small kids home while being a good mom.  I cancelled most of my meetings but I was still online all day, responding to emails and instant messages and generally trying to act like I was at work. This wasn’t fair to the kids and it wasn’t their fault that they got restless and cranky and acted up.  Instead of building magnatiles or playing with kinetic sand or baking cookies together, I put on the tv and then pretty much yelled at them for wrestling with each other, or grabbing toys out of each others hands or jumping on the couch or whatever super annoying but completely normal and age appropriate acting out they were doing.

And the worst part is that I knew – I knew that I was being a jerk, but I still resented them.  For not playing quietly.  For interrupting me when I was on the phone.  For Julia being so physically aggressive with Luca that he had marks on his neck hours later.  Here’s the weird part – I am not sure that the kids knew.  I don’t think they had that bad of a day.  Julia has informed me many times that a particular day is “the worst day ever” and I didn’t get even one of those.  Her and Luca didn’t cry that much, despite repeatedly fighting with each other.  They both got fed moderately nutritious meals and snacks, had naps/rest time, watched movies, snuggled with me, etc.  So did my kids actually think I was a monster? Or is it just me that feels like a monster because I know what was in my head.  Because I was thinking: I don’t want to be here doing this. I don’t want to be responsible for these people right now.  I want to be responsible for myself and my work and nobody else.  I want to watch Netflix while I write my emails.  I want to take a quick nap between conference calls.  I want to work hard, but at doing work for my job, not at working at what’s really my more important job, which is being their mom.

They’ll probably never remember this day, and if I didn’t immortalize it in a blog I likely wouldn’t either.  If I had a popular blog, I’m not sure I’d publish this piece, as it makes me look particularly ugly.  But there is something cleansing about admitting the darkest parts of me, and even if you can’t relate, maybe it will make you feel a little better by way of comparison.  There’s always going to be someone out there better than us, and someone worse.

 

It’s Alright to Cry

The other day I saw this post on a local Mom’s Facebook group I belong to:

“Is crying in your car on the way to work totally normal on days you feel like your failing at mom life, housework life etc? Asking for a friend…….. “

The responses from the group were overwhelming and unilateral: Yes.  Yes, it is normal.  Yes we all have those days.  I am grateful that a site like Facebook gives this woman a safe space to be able to reach out for her “friend” (she later admitted it was for herself, no shocker) and hear from others in her shoes.  Because the thing is all moms have been in those shoes – maybe you’re wearing them right now, sobbing into a glass of wine on your couch or reading this while you’re up late nursing your baby or between screams of a toddler tantrum or…. you get the point.

While I’m glad this mom turned somewhere to ask the question, why didn’t she ask her friends? I am sure this woman has friends.  I took two seconds to check when writing this post and she has over 1,300 friends on Facebook, and I am assuming some of them are real friends, and real moms.  The post on the Facebook group isn’t anonymous and the group has 11,000 members, so she was exposing herself to more people than her friend group by asking it on that page vs. her own Facebook page.  But for many women, for many people, really, its harder to say your truth out loud to people you know vs. people you don’t.

I am an oversharer on my Facebook page about my parenting struggles, which is how this blog came about.   I’ve admitted weakness, anxiety, depression, resentment – all sorts of fun stuff.  I’ve asked questions I thought were fairly benign that based on the answers showed a stunning lack of awareness on my part (trying to force my daughter to brush her teeth with fluoridated toothpaste even though she hated it so much she gagged and ended up vomiting was definitely not my finest hour as a mom).  In other words, I’ve been real.  But a weird part of my defense mechanism as a person is to call out my shortcomings before someone else can. So I share my shame. But I think for a lot of moms the mom shame burns inside of them, and they don’t know who to turn to to confess.

What I want to encourage, what I hope this blog and my Facebook posts encourage, is the idea of being real with the moms in your life when you are having trouble.  I know it’s not in everyone’s nature to share, and it doesn’t need to be done so publicly, but you need to find your support system.  Whether it’s your mom, your sister, your best friend, a new friend, a stranger you meet in a store, you need to tell your stories, good and bad.  You need to ask for advice. You need to cry, and be ok that you cried.  You need to know that you are not alone, that your feelings are not just yours, and that we are always stronger if we do this together.

I used to be judgy before I was a mom, and even for a while after I became one.  I won’t say that I’ve gotten over it completely, but what I’ve learned from mom confessional sessions with friends and strangers alike is that we’re all just trying to make it through this.  You want to judge the mom who co-sleeps?  Maybe her child has terrible nightmares that wake her up ten times a night, and mom is a zombie at work if she has to jump up and go into her kid’s room every hour so for now it’s easier to be able to just roll over and hold her tight.  You want to judge the mom who is bringing special food to a birthday party for their kid instead of having them eat pizza and cake?  Maybe their kid have such severe food aversions that the doctor told them that the next step if they can’t put weight on him is a feeding tube, and so they are just trying to keep their kid fed with one of the three foods he likes.   What about the kid you see in the store screaming and hitting his mom? You want to judge her for not having control over her kid?  Well maybe he’s on the spectrum, and he is feel overstimulated by his environment and mom needs to just grab 2 more things on her grocery list before she takes him home otherwise there won’t be anything for dinner tonight.

In other words, we are all struggling, we all have our secrets and we are all just doing what we can to get by.  Even those of you who love being a parent and find the experience to be like riding a magical unicorn through a fairy forest must experience moments of doubt or anxiety or exhaustion.  So tell someone.  Tell me if you want, but tell someone.  There’s a good chance she’ll have advice, support, a similar tale, or a nice glass of wine to take the edge off.

 

The gross, the grosser and the grossest

No one can describe parenting to you in a way that you’ll truly understand until you do it.  Every day, in big and small ways, you experience things that even your most intricate imagining of parenthood couldn’t possibly encompass.  Some of these are lovely things, moments that make you weep from the joy of them.  Others, are just.. gross.

Case in point: I pulled a dog hair out of my daughter’s butt crack the other night.  Did I lose you yet?  Was that too gross for you? Well, welcome to parenting. She was complaining of an itchy butt, and I went to check if she might have not wiped properly after pooping.  The sheer joy of not having to wipe my daughter’s butt after she poops is not always the freedom I envisioned in the early toilet training days.  Because sometimes, a five year old can’t entirely be trusted.  To wipe well, to wash their hands thoroughly… I mean, why do you think that little kids are constantly inundated with stomach flus and pink eye?

Anyway, the inspecting of butts doesn’t end after diapers, and is weirder and grosser the older they are, but such is parenting life.  So yeah, I made my daughter bend over, and there it was.  An errant dog hair stuck in her butt crack.  That dog’s hair gets everywhere.  In other gross news, I once got an infected abscess in my foot that turned out to be because of a dog hair splinter from this damn dog.

The other day a guy was talking about an old surgery and asked me if I wanted to see a picture of the scar from when it first happened, warning me it was gross.  I’m thinking to myself, sir, you haven’t seen gross.  I have been peed on so thoroughly that I had to change my entire outfit, including my underwear.  I have caught vomit in my hands, more than once.  I have seen baby poop squirt across a room.  I have had many, many types and pieces of half chewed food handed to, spit out or thrown at me.  I have picked and sucked boogers out of noses though I draw the line at the Nosefrida thing that somehow involves your mouth as suction for the snot. I get that its not like you suck the snot into your own mouth, but something about that bothers me somehow.  But I digress. But basically –  the things you’ll do for your kids, right?

In your old life, your pre-gross childfree life, what you considered icky now seems like child’s play (hah, pun unintended, but I’ll keep it).  Vomit? That was for food poisoning or drunkenness.   Poop?  Happens in your own bathroom, by yourself, with the door closed.  I’m one of the lucky ones who’s kids don’t feel compelled to be in the bathroom whenever I go (at least not usually).  But apparently bathroom stalking their moms is one of small children’s favorite activities.  Your sheets might get nasty because you were too lazy to change them, not because your kid peed the bed.  The sleeve of your shirt got dirty because you spilled a drink on it while dancing at a bar, not because your child decided they needed to use you as a napkin for their ketchup-y hands.

The amount of gross things you see as a parent desensitizes you to these every day gross things.  I’ve never been particular squeamish, but having children really puts you over the edge. And frankly it starts from pregnancy – morning sickness, hemorrhoids, sweating, swelling feet, heartburn, leaky boobs.  You name something gross, some pregnant woman has experienced it. I even read a story about a woman who lost all her hair when she was pregnant.  Like, literally went bald.  It was falling out in clumps.  Apparently it all grew back after she had her baby though!

Then you give birth and there’s a good chance you are going to poop on the table.  You have this debate yourself, if you have an epidural, as to whether you should ask.  Do you want to know if you did?  Or if you can just live in denial will that make it easier and less gross? So even if you don’t poop, or don’t know you pooped, you expel a wailing baby covered in gross goo. Then you have to deliver the placenta afterwards.  The placenta just hadn’t occurred to me.  They tell you about it in birthing class but you’re just so relieved you pushed the baby out that when they tell you you’re going to have push more just to get a bag of goo out too, it’s just, ugh.  Just thinking about placenta grosses me out a little …. but very little else does anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling with kids, Pt. 4

NOTE: Yes, I skipped part 2 & 3. Yes, they are coming later.

It has been documented that our family motto (and by family, I mean myself and Josh, aka The Parents) is “We would rather be traveling than not traveling.”

This trip decidedly put that mantra to the test.

We took a 4 day trip to see my parents, who smartly escape the unbearable heat of Houston summers to the idyllic climes of Breckenridge, Colorado.

I took this trip last summer with the kids on my own. Josh had just started a new job and was understandably hesitant to take vacation time so early in his tenure. It, admittedly, should have served as a warning to me.  I see that now. When I arrived, Townes was newly sick with a cold and I succumbed to the same shortly upon arrival. Elliott somehow managed to escape infection.

Altitude is an evil beast. It affects everyone differently, but it affects all. I recall a trip we took with two other families a few years ago- Our friend’s daughter was 2.5, Elliott was 18m, and another friend’s daughter was 6 months. All children were affected, and the spectrum was readily visible across the age range. Kara, the oldest, didn’t sleep as much as she usually did in the flatlands of Louisiana, but aside from waking up very early, was mostly fine. Elliott woke up multiple times a night, disturbing the altitude-addled sleep of his parents with his vivid bad dreams.  Eva, the 6m old, as I recall, slept about 45 minutes the entire trip. I might exaggerate, but only slightly.

So, this trip last summer with just me and two kids went pretty much according to that early introduction to the perils of altitude. Elliott, at the time 3.5, didn’t sleep great, but was mostly fine, and Townes, one and some change, and sick, was a disaster. With a baseline of sick and cranky, he would dig his heels in and ardently refuse naps, crying until he threw up. Every would-be-naptime ended (or began?) with a bath and a reintroduction of the pack and play to the garden hose.

Fast forward a year, and here we are again with Josh coming and another pair of hands on deck. We left on FridayOn Wednesday prior, Townes suddenly became super congested and on Thursday I took him to the doctor, worried that we were flying with a potential ear infection. My suspicious were confirmed, and we set out on Friday armed with antibiotics.

The trip, and I’m writing this on the plane ride home, has been unanimously deemed a disaster. You know that expression, “If mommy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?  Let me introduce you to the lesser-known, “If two-year-old ain’t happy, burn it all down.”

This trip was primarily a time for my kids to reconnect with their grandparents who had been gone for a few months. Townes, who didn’t feel good to begin with, would cry whenever Mops or Pops offered to hold him, preferring to cling to me and moan. Elliott, a little peeved that most efforts were put towards making Townes feel better, responded to requests for hugs with a not-unnoticed dash of sullenness.

The trip concluded with the 1.5 hour drive back to Denver, Townes screaming almost the entire way. Surely due to the pressure in his ears as we went to lower altitudes, he instead verbalized his displeasure as “Agua! AGUAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!” And then screaming “No want! No want!” when we gave him his water bottle. Repeat that about 8 thousand times, and you get the gist.

Relieved to be somewhat closer to sea level, or the Motrin finally kicking in, Townes finally stopped screaming about 20 minutes after we checked in for the flight. Despite the newfound lack of crying, Josh and I gave each other guarded, wary looks every few minutes, fearful it could start back up again at the drop of a hat. And then, once through security, we ordered two rounds of margaritas at the Cosmic Cantina, because, well, must I really justify that at this point?

I hope we look back on this trip and remember the beautiful weather, the exhilarating trips on the Alpine Slide and the Gold Runner Coaster, mini golf with Pops, the hunt for the elusive neighborhood moose family, the boys’ trout fishing trip and our discovery of a new local brewery, but right now I’m 30,000 miles up seated between a 2 and a 4 year old and beyond exhausted. I’m sure time will give me a little clarity, right?

The present of the past

In college I was obsessed with Sarah McLachlan.  Discovering we looked a lot alike happened after I had already developed the obsession with her music, but certainly didn’t hurt it. When I decided to cut my hair short, I even brought in a picture of her style as inspiration.  But I digress. One of my favorite songs of hers then and now is “Ice Cream”.  It’s both sweet and sad at the same time.  Back then I spent a lot of time feeling angsty, or wistful, or mildly depressed (boy, wish I could go back to college knowing what I know now… I would have had a lot more fun!).  I remember one night laying in the dark feeling particularly low, listening to my six disc CD changer rotate between her, Enya, the Indigo Girls and Sting.

When Julia was a newborn and cried all the time, it turned out “Ice Cream” was one of the few songs I knew all the words of that seemed appropriate to sing.  In the dark, in the middle of the night, feeling scared and sad and unsure of my future but for entirely different reasons than I did as a teenager, singing that song to my baby felt like closing a loop.

Parenting seems to surface more loops than any other experience of my life.  There is something about experiencing things with my children that brings me back to some former place in my life.  Much of the time it’s my own childhood – like when the kids play with a toy I remember playing with or I read them a book I was read as a child.  Reading “Goodnight Moon” to Julia always gives me that little shiver, although as an adult I have a lot of questions about the book, which is incredibly odd (and I’m not the only one, there are many hilarious dissections of the book, like this one.  We actually have many books from both of our childhoods that we read to the kids: Ferdinand which we both used to love, Harold & The Purple Crayon, which I don’t remember at all but was apparently a favorite of Brian’s,  and a particularly obscure one that I adored and my mom somehow managed to find: Bendemolena, later renamed “The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head”.

Barbies are one that I’m a bit bummed out by.  I realize that they present a bizarre idea of femininity but I adored them as a child.  I had a huge collection and played with them for far longer than some of my friends likely did.  Perhaps Julia will get into them at some point, but for now she has absolutely no desire to play with the ones we gave her.  I have such fond memories of styling my barbies, swapping out their clothes, setting up dates for them and all the Kens.  Seeing them lay dejected in her toy box makes me feel a bit sad.  That one feels like a loop I can’t quite connect into a circle.

My most recent loop is a particularly sweet one.  At Barnes and Noble last week we found an illustrated copy of “What a Wonderful World”, the Louis Armstrong song.  While that song well pre-dates my childhood, for some reason it was one of my absolute favorite songs as a girl.  It was so significant to me that I chose it as the song for the faughter/daughter dance at my bat-mitzvah and again for the same at my wedding.  I had thought that loop already closed when I danced to it with my dad almost 18 years after the first time, but here it is again.  I have been reading it to Luca at night before bed, and I can’t help but sing it instead of reading the lines.  Every single time it has made me cry.

My co-blogger Cristina wrote a post about time feeling elastic and I wrote one about how the days are long but the years are short, both which are offshoots of the loop concept, I suppose.   But they are more about struggling with living in the moment of parenting.  The loop, to me, is about simultaneously getting to live in the past and the present.  The nicest part of the loop is that they are (usually) pleasant.  Recollection can often drum up painful moments from our past, but the loop is the reverse – an often benign moment from the past that forms into a new and sentimental experience in the present with your kids.  So take the time to live in your loops and form new memories from them.  Maybe one days your kids will create another link in the loop and make it into a chain.

Control, the story of Ice Cream

It started with a simple decision: cup or cone.  We were at Sesame Place this past weekend (boy, do I need to write a blog about that), in the water park area, and they had just announced a scheduled break of the splash zone we were in.  Perfect time for ice cream, right?  Julia and I headed over to the nearby ice cream stand where there was a blissfully short line.

Julia begged for a cone.  But these weren’t small servings, these were VERY VERY big servings on top of a pretty big cone.  Of soft serve. On a super hot day.  But it was vacation, and I knew it would make her happy and I am usually very strict and I want to be a cool mom and so I said ok.  I can be flexible right?  I ordered a vanilla cone with sprinkles for Julia, a chocolate cup for Brian and a swirl cup for me.  The woman fills the cups first, and then runs out of vanilla ice cream.  So, I am standing there, eating my ice cream before it melts, watching Brian’s ice cream melt (he’s back at at the splash pad with Luca) and watching Julia slowly start to melt down over waiting for the new vanilla to be mixed so she can get her cone.

Finally we get the glorious, giant cone and Julia is happy as a clam.  But it’s about that time that I basically lose my will to live.  I start to worry that the ice cream is going to melt too fast and fall off the cone.  At which point Julia will inevitably freak out, at which point Brian will probably say she can’t have another cone, at which point she’ll freak out more, and even if I can convince him to let her have another cone, we’ll have to go back to the ice cream stand, and the line might be longer, and I am not even sure I have enough cash because I only took a twenty with us to the water park part and the ice creams are over priced …. and…. and…. What was my point here?  That I’m crazy?  Oh yeah, I am crazy.  Did I ever mention that?  That my anxiety comes with a delicious strain of obsessive thought patterns that often focus on future scenarios, most of which are unlikely to happen, and which I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER ANYWAY?

So she’s eating and all I can do is fixate on the fucking cone.  Julia, lick around the bottom.  Julia, eat some off the top.  Faster Julia.  Brian, can you please eat some of her ice cream to help out?  Julia, hold it upright.  Don’t tilt it Julia.  Meanwhile I am eating my cup of ice cream as fast as I can with the plan to dump her cone into the cup when I am finished.  Except I get brain freeze in the middle of this rapid ice cream consumption.  My nose is actually tingling from eating it so fast.  And what’s the god damn point?  Before I know it, the ice cream is gone, likely hundreds of calories worth of deliciousness and I barely tasted it.  And now she won’t put her cone into my empty cup because there is chocolate residue on the bottom of my cup and she doesn’t want it to taint the vanilla.

And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Nothing happened.  She managed to eat the ice cream cone like a human, nobody died, and the world didn’t come to an end.  And then I felt stupid.  For criticizing her, for worrying so much, for not letting myself just let her enjoy the moment.  For not enjoying these moments myself.  I have a feeling it’s not just moms with anxiety or obsessive thoughts or control issues who struggle with moments of this.  The lack of ability to control situations with kids can bring out staggering emotions in parents.  It’s another one of those things that no one tells you about having kids.  That sometimes, there are these moments where you want to be able to have the power, and you don’t.  Not power over them even, but power over yourself.  To be ok.  To remember that they’re ok.  To take each moment as a moment and not as the moment.  To not freak out.  To let yourself freak out.  To be ok with the outcome, whatever it is.

 

Be my (mom) friend

Today at the pool I asked a nice blond woman for her phone number. Wait, that sounds weird.  Let me start again with some context.  Today, while hanging out with my two year old son at the pool, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me also had what looked like a two year old son.  Never one to miss an opportunity to make new mom friends, I started a conversation with her, which ended with us exchanging numbers for a possible future playdate.

Trying to make friends as a mom feels a lot like dating, especially in the years before your kids are old enough to self-select their friends.  Despite being friendly, smart, interesting and having a job in a similar field to me, she’s not my perfect match because she’s pregnant.  Her two year old is her oldest child, whereas Luca is my younger.  I’m not saying we can’t strike up a successful friendship and set our kids up to be friends, but as any mom of two can tell you, the ultimate ultimate is when both kids line up relatively close in age.

That’s not to say that some of my best mom friends have the right line up either.  Because you can’t always choose who you love, and if at least one kid matches and the moms make a love connection, then you make it work.  Two of my favorite mom friends (and two of my newest) are relatively bad match in the kid line up department.  First is a woman who has two boys, and at five, while Julia is still willing to play with boys, she definitely prefers girls.  Her other son is older, so no match for Luca.  And her husband, while being probably one of the coolest guys in the suburbs (a jewelry designer with long hair and hip clothes) works every weekend, so making a love connection between the husbands seems unlikely due to limited opportunities for them to hang out.  But she’s worth it; a woman that I would have been friends if we met before we had kids. She gets my sense of humor, she has great style, she doesn’t shy away from my oversharing and she’s a really interesting person.  We ride the train together home from work whenever our schedules line up, so more of our mom friendship is actually separate from our kids, even though we talk about them a lot.

My other new friend has a son more than nine months younger than Luca and that’s her only child, so no match for Julia.  We knew each other before we had kids on a casual basis at an old job, but I ran into her when she was pregnant and become one of the mom gurus who ushered her into motherhood.  Literally hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of the kids’ old stuff went to her, along with advice on everything from finding affordable childcare to sleep training.  Again, she’s the kind of person I would be friends with even if we didn’t have kids, and even better, our husbands love each other and have shared interests.

I tend to make friends easily because I am extremely outgoing (reader, I doubt you are shocked by this based on my previous blogs). But even I had a lot of trouble making mom friends when Julia was little.  This is largely based on being a working mom, because I couldn’t go to all those activities you might use for “networking”.  I did try a mommy & me class  on the Fridays I worked from home and asked some of the women out on “dates” , but there was no real chemistry.  Weekends weren’t much better, because Julia was born at the end of fall and going to parks, playgrounds and the pool aren’t things you do in the winter. I did have a few early successes.  The babysitter I hired when Julia was six months old had a daughter three months younger, and we ended up becoming friends.  She pulled me through some tough times those early days with my postpartum depression.  But only six months after we met, she and her family moved upstate.  We’re still in touch on Facebook, but it’s not the same as when she lived here and we’d go to yard sales together, put the girls in the same shopping cart at stores, etc.

My most successful and longest running mom friendship to date can be attributed to my bull in a china shop approach to making new friends.  The aforementioned babysitter/friend and I were pushing our strollers over to mommy & me class when we saw a woman down the block from the play place taking a similarly aged girl out of her car.  I went right up and asked if she was on her way to class.  It turns out she actually lived on the block (still does) and I got her number and met her the next week at that mommy & me class.  We’re still friends today more than five years later, and she has a daughter who is just a few months younger than Luca (but she did sandwich one in between, who just turned four).  We’re zoned for the same school district and out of six kindergarten classes, our daughters ended up in the same class.  This summer, I convinced her to enroll her in the same camp as Julia and they are in the same group.  Our friendship is not without bumps – I went through a very unreliable period where I’d screw up plans with her a lot. I’ve peppered her with hundreds of anxious mom questions and cried in front of her more than once, all of which she handles with her calm, non-judgmental tone.  She is a keeper, but we still need to work on getting our husbands to spend more time together.

Long parenting friendships like the one mentioned above are in many ways aided by circumstances.  I find as a parent that keeping up with friendships is more difficult than when you are young and free, although there is considerably less drama within the relationships themselves. I have a friend group made up of the moms of girls from Julia’s old nursery school and for the last two years the girls have also taken dance classes together.  Our group, plus a few other moms, mostly others from that nursery school class have “moms out” nights every month or two at local restaurants.

I love these women, some of whom I consider my closest friends.  But our kids all go to different elementary schools now.  Most of the moms used to belong to the pool but this year many of them skipped it.  A bunch of them belong to the beach but Brian and I can’t join because our zip code isn’t zoned for permits for that beach.  Will our friendships survive our busy lives?

In my teens I had a few friend groups that soured because of jealousy, infighting and back-stabbing.  As an adult, I generally prefer to make individual relationships rather than groups, even though I realize adult women aren’t (most of the time) as catty as your average teenage girl.  This group seems relatively drama free but I am still prone to those old insecurities.  Are they hanging out with me? Yes, probably, as three of them have three year olds that all go to the same pre-school and several of them belong to that beach that we can’t join. But that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me (although there could be…).

What I dream of, what I hope for are the parent friends for life that my parents have.  They somehow managed to find multiple couples they liked who had kids in very close age ranges to us that we liked.  They had friends we went on vacations with, others that came to family holidays. Most are still close to my parents to this day.  I want that for our kids, and for us too.  The parent friends I’ve made to date have made me a better mom and a happier person, and I hope I’ll be the kind of friend for them that they want to keep for life.   In the meantime, I’ll continue to hit on the women I meet that might make a good match.  That’s the main difference between dating moms and dating for a husband –  you don’t have to commit to just one.