Wahhh

I think there are many who would argue that I have no right to feel overwhelmed. I have ONE child, and he is a good one. The best ever, in my experience. He’s also now potty trained and can express himself, so in actuality, I’ve got it made. It’s true, too. I don’t really have a good excuse to feel overwhelmed, but since that is just how I feel sometimes, I’m just going to have to accept that I don’t need a good excuse. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed because I am a mess, and so is my house. I do what I can to make sure my kid isn’t, and my husband is his own man. If he wants to be a mess, that’s up to him.

This weekend, we got sick again, all of us, and it was all on the heels of rearranging our furniture, so the house was in chaos, I had zero energy and we were all coughing and hacking. I had to call in sick, and that makes me feel guilty. Since Chris was sick too, I didn’t get a chance to relax or recover myself. Wah wah wah.

It’s stuff like that that makes me feel overwhelmed. The unplanned and unexpected. I’m a solutions girl and I like to fix problems. There’s no way to fix a cold, you just have to wait. And, with no energy, there’s no way to fix the chaos that is my house. Large, unexpected bills, sudden travel expenses, real or imagined threats to job, day care or home all these things make me feel anxious and overwhelmed. I actually think there are people who enjoy challenges like that. I’m glad I’m not one of them, except that I suspect I’d be rich if I was.

I used to think of myself as mellow, but I don’t actually think I was. I was just kind of resigned or apathetic. The apathy is definitely gone – replaced by real and honest delight by my son. But since I care about so much more stuff now, it is impossible to be mellow. Oh well. It’s a good trade.

When I feel overwhelmed, I just do what comes naturally. I mean, literally, nature designed us to do this: I conserve energy by letting the housework go to hell and Chris run around in his underwear and a cowboy hat, and I eat a lot of cookies.

I should look into prayer or meditation, yoga, exercise, juicing, crystals, chanting… But I’ve got a fluffy blanket and a box of Oreos, so I’m set for now.

Yes/No

I think I’m generally a pretty laid-back in my parenting style, and I also think that my husband wishes I was a little less laid-back when it comes to discipline or giving Chris things. I was sure I was going to be a super stern mom with a laser-like evil eye even badder than the one my mom used. I didn’t account for my kid’s voodoo, though.

He totally has a spell on me. When he wants something, I want him to have it. When he cries, I want him to feel better. It’s a constant war inside myself trying to determine what’s good for him in the long run versus what’s he wants. And sometimes I think where I draw the line is totally arbitrary and based more on my mood and energy level than on anything concrete.

Interestingly, I always thought my mom saying no was arbitrary and unfair. It’s a relief to know I was probably right about that, but not such a huge one since I am exactly the same way.

There are the basic guidelines of course: No to anything dangerous or destructive or to anything that could be repeated and frowned upon at daycare: bad words, drawing on oneself, peeing in the yard, etc. Yes to reading books, invitations to play, offers to help cook or clean, requests to snuggle (always).

Then there’s everything else, all stuck in the middle somewhere.

And I have to face it, sometimes it just feels good to say yes. A popsicle for breakfast? Why not? They are the 100% juice ones, right? (like that matters, it’s just pure sugar but I grasp at anything I can to be OK with my decision.)

Sometimes Chris will ask for something and if I turn him down he says, “Baybe tomorrow??” In a wistful way that breaks my heart. Have I brushed him off so often that he’s living in the future? (With a much nicer, more accommodating Mommy?) Then I hear the hundreds of mom voices in my head, “Cherish this time you have, it goes by so fast.” And, sobbing, I give him anything he wants. I can be the weird, crying hero mom of the moment and let the future me deal with the potentially spoiled little jerk I am creating.

Devil May Daycare

This is absolutely a touchy subject; to be a stay at home mom or not. Go-to-work-moms, feel judged for leaving their kids with strangers — stay at home moms feel judged for not having a career. I should say, as a GTWM, I am not judging SAHM’s for not having a career. Any negativity you might feel coming off of me is pure jealousy. I do apologize, it’s irrational and involuntary.

I would have loved to be a SAHM, and I sobbed when I had to return to work and drop my baby off the first time. Whether or not to return to work was about as much of a choice for me as whether or not to pay our bills or buy groceries. My husband and I earn about the same salary, and cutting our income by 50% was never really an option. Yes, we could have economized; we could eat bulk rice and dried beans, and give up the luxury of fueling one of our paid-for 8 year old cars. But I had lived on the razor’s edge of bankruptcy before, and that was without a small, cute mouth to feed. Plus, the economy was in the toilet when our kiddo was born, and Jeff’s job was no more guaranteed than mine.

Sense the defensiveness? Totally a touchy subject. There are studies that talk about the benefits of having a parent at home and there are studies that talk about how going to daycare is not harmful in any way to a child. Here’s the thing, though: The benefits of either choice are entirely individual and can’t be made or judged by anyone. Why? Because maybe there is evidence to suggest that the best place for a kid is home with mom, but there is not yet any evidence to suggest that the best place for a kid is home with me (full time). I’m not entirely sure I’m a good influence on small children. And the intimate knowledge of my own short-comings truly helps me make peace with my “decision” to go back to work. That and my ability to purchase and serve noncatfood to my child for dinner (whether or not he eats it).

My son is happy, articulate, well mannered (for a toddler) and imaginative. I love his teachers and his daycare. I always imagine a pioneer woman with a toddler; yeah, she was home with the kid, but she was also grinding wheat and baking bread and weaving clothes and stuff. That kid was not looking at flash cards all day and taking educational trips to the local art museum. And maybe she had to foist her kiddo off to a neighbor for a while so she could go out to the field and thresh or some other old-timey farm thing. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think that’s true. I just happen to have to pay for my village.

Snot Police

We all know kids are leaky, germy little petri dishes, and in a daycare there are dozens of little “patient zeros” for every kind of bug, cold, flu and virus in existence. Not only is your kid going to get sick, but he is going to be a carrier of all that crap and cause you to get sick. Without developing debilitating, germ-related OCD, there is almost no way to avoid it.

I know there are lots of people who get great peace of mind from a strict regimen of hand santizer, twice-hourly hand scrubbing and avoiding physical contact with anything or anybody. And maybe that works for them. If they actually avoid getting sick, more power to them.

I just don’t have that kind of stamina. I play the numbers. The way I figure it, if I allow myself to experience emotional anguish over the thought of human contact, and spend a significant amount of time battling situations that could possibly lead to exposure to sickness, I’m letting the germs win, anyway.

We wash our hands regularly, maintain clean eating surfaces, try to avoid the most peaked looking kiddos, wipe down shopping carts and take vitamin c.

I’m not being cavalier, this is my prevention plan for two parents with office jobs in suburbia USA. If we lived in a plague infested area or one of worked in a biological waste dump, I’d like to think I’d handle things differently.

As it is, I understand that my kid is not always going to be eating food off of surfaces designed for food service. I also understand that he, as a boy, will go from washing his hands to (for example) touching the cats butt in the blink of an eye, and I’m not always going to catch him. Sure, I’ve considered loading a squirt gun with Purell and hosing him down every few minutes, but I’m doing what I can to keep him from being weird.

His school, THE source of all of his illnesses, has a very strict policy for sick kids. Which is HILARIOUS because, did I mention it is the source of all of his illnesses. My husband and I both work in small offices, and we have absolutely no social life. Given that we don’t regularly come into contact with the drool of our colleagues or people on the street, we have to assume, when one of us comes down with something, that little drippy red-eyed kid in Chris’s class is the source. But somehow we end up being the criminals if we try to send our guy in with a runny nose. Fevers, I get. Spots, sure, but having a runny nose? Mucous is like a toddler’s career.

Never in my life, could I imagine that I would have lengthy, heated negotiations about the consistency and color of snot, given my chosen profession as a business writer.

Your son has a runny nose

Yeah, he got it when the other 7 kids in his class has a runny nose.

Well, I looked at it, and it’s cloudy.

You looked at…? Um….I thought it just couldn’t be green.

It’s green-ish.

So what, now I have to hold a paint-chip up to my kid’s mucous in the morning? Most of the times, it’s not even running when I drop him off. I don’t know how to predict what’s going to come out of there during the day, heck I’m exhausted from just making sure things don’t go IN there. I didn’t even know this was something I was going to have to think about. Now, I have to be all tactical, so I can avoid censure by the Snotzis.

If I give him nose drops and Triaminic an hour before school, that should stop the running until after lunch. Best case scenario, I only have to take a half day.

Lyrical Profanity

My dad swears like a sailor. In fact, he used to be a sailor. I actually never attributed his cursing to the Navy. Angry and frustrated, my dad was a master profanitarian; thunderous, lyrical and awe-inspiring. Scared as I was of his tirades (although he was all bark and no bite, then, and is neither bark nor bite now), I was also a little proud of them. I felt sure that nobody could do what he did.

marktwain

Despite being around such language as a child, I never had any doubt which words I could use and which were entirely off limits. Maybe that was my mom’s influence, or maybe it was just context. I don’t think I could have imagined feeling angry enough to attempt one of my dad’s interjections. Anyway, he doesn’t use four letter words. My dad swears in compound phrases, with a delicate balance of adverbs and adjectives, and startling combinations of the mundane and profane.

There have been moments as an adult I have needed to copy him to express my feelings, but unlike him, I always stumble or make a ridiculous combination. I often wondered if he practiced and revised his rants.

“Maybe next time I’ll say___in’ ___ hole before son of a ___in’ ___master. I think that would have a greater impact,” he might think, while chopping wood, unaware that soon, he would need to put his plan into action after smashing his thumb.

Anyway, given my upbringing, it’s not surprising that I can be a little foul mouthed, and I actually think profanity gives some statements the emotional boost they need. (But I do have the decency to understand I’m supposed to feel ashamed of that.)

cursing

Of course I try not to swear around my kid, especially now that he is repeating things. I have been mostly successful, but sometimes I slip.

Recently he was trying to do something, and it wasn’t working out so he exclaimed, “Bad Damage!!” I was startled, then pleased to have been misunderstood in such an innocent way. Until I realized that if what I said, sounded like “bad damage” then him saying “bad damage” would sound like what I said. So I had to tell him not to say it.

That was a little challenging, because neither of those words are bad. It’s hard to explain how two non-bad words can sound like bad words to someone else, so I just told him not to say them. Then I feared that I have caused some future problems when he’s say, explaining a homeowners situation to his insurance agent. (Yeah, I’m a trouble-borrower.)

There are other situations that are less questionable. Like when he walked up to me, looked me in the eye and said, “FOCK.” He said it just like that, and there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to get a reaction. Funny as I found it, I didn’t smile, and I mustered the most shocked face I could manage. We talked about why it was a bad word and made it clear that he was never to say it again.

Then Jeff and I took to playing the blame game. Must be one of the older kids at school. He didn’t hear it on TV, we don’t even have HBO.

The next night, I realized I had left something on downstairs after I was all comfy in bed. I sat up and said, “FOCK!” only I didn’t say it just like that. It seemed I owed that “older kid at school” an apology.

Cut me some slack, I told you how I was raised. And even though I wasn’t in the Navy, I was in the Army Reserves. So, now I know I have to be more vigilant with my self-censoring… bad damage.

Sleep Crazy

When I was pregnant, people would tell me, “Say goodbye to sleep!” One particularly bitchy woman said it frequently, with a stupid grin on her face, like she was enjoying picturing my impending misery. I never liked her.

Let me just say, I am CRAZY about sleep. I mean that in the conventional way: I enjoy sleep a lot. But I also mean that literally: When it comes to sleep, I am crazy.

Portions of my pre-baby life involved long periods of involuntary sleep deprivation along with occasional bouts of insomnia. Once I got the hang of sleep again and had a life that involved a normal day-night schedule, I was not looking forward to giving that up.

People’s warnings were pointless and unhelpful, because you can’t imagine the kind of sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby. It’s impossible to warn anybody, and there is no reason to. It’s not like you can build a slumber stock-pile.

After the first difficult few weeks, we got into a pretty good rhythm, and then I started responding to a full night of sleep like a superstitious sports fan responds to a win. “I was wearing the blue shirt, the night he slept for 5 hours in a row, better put that on.” Anything we did the night before a good night of sleep, I repeated. I have always been terrible at establishing any kind of routine for myself, and I was often irritated with myself that I couldn’t. At least, I thought, I’m too lazy to develop OCD. Not for Chris, though. I developed a schedule so strict, it would have been the envy or a military establishment.

7:00 PM: Bath with soothing lavender baby bath – NO! You got the Target brand? That’s not soothing enough, Dammit! What were you thinking??

7:15 Dry off with the hooded puppy towel, the TV tuned to “soundscapes” (soothing tunes for the high and anxious).

7:30 Dress in special overnight (wishful thinking) diaper, long-sleeved onesie, cotton socks.

7:45: Warm bottle in darkened room, fan on, white noise machine on in the background, glowing sea horse playing lullabies.

8:30ish: We have sleep. Steal away stealthily, like ninja mom, ease the door closed.

8:30-11:30: Hover nervously by the baby monitor.

Now that he’s a toddler, the ritual hasn’t changed too much, no bottle, diaper or sea horse and bed time is a little later. We’ve ditched the lavender baby bath or Mr. Bubble, but the rest is pretty much the same. And I still stay with him in his room until he falls asleep. Of course, I wonder if that’s weird. If I’m hovering, if I’m making him too dependent. I know people would have opinions about it, so I tend not to mention it. The thing is, I like it. It is this quiet time we have always had together. We sit together and talk for a little while or read stories, then I just sit near him and read or write until he falls asleep. Now that he can talk, I get some of the cutest little insights into who he is during these times.

The Inception Dream

The thing I discovered (along with most mothers) is how irrevocable the transformation to motherhood is. Before Chris, I had a vacation-like easy life. At least it seems so in retrospect. I had extra money, extra time, I traveled, I went out with friends, I slept a LOT.

After Chris, I’m a relatively broke, sleep deprived homebody, with chronic short-term memory loss. And at the risk of sounding cheesy, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I used to hear that and similar sentiments before having a kid, and I thought, “Well, duh, it’s not like you can change it. What else would you say?” But now I’m on this side of things, and I’m like, “OH!!! Nope, I really wouldn’t change it.” I am delighted by my son, even when he is being a monster. Nothing on Earth has ever made me happier or entertained me more and it’s worth every puke covered top, broken knick-knack and lost night of sleep.

I consider myself a pretty responsible human being, but I still can’t believe I have been trusted to take care of something so good. So, my brain can’t even go to any imaginary place that doesn’t include me being Chris’s mom. My rational, lazy mind has been replaced with this constant terror-alert– PROTECT PROTECT PROTECT. If no immediate danger is apparent, the alert will be downgraded to WHAT-IF WHAT-IF WHAT-IF… Promptly bringing it back up to terror.

That means it is not possible to wish for my life before. If I try to imagine a situation where I am relieved of nonstop laundry, long sleepless nights, a constantly messy house and a drained bank account, I have to rely on science fiction.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” I’d think, “If I had a pause button for the world?” Smilingly dopily at the idea of pressing a button on a remote and freezing a tantrum mid-shriek so I could catch a nap on the couch.

I watched “Inception” like it was an educational film. “I see, so if I had a dream, within a dream within a dream that I was sleeping… I could sleep for 3 days straight? Guess I gotta get me one of those talisman thingies. Let’s do this.”

Cry-Cries

Who took my sweet child and replaced him with an emo Tasmania devil?

We were very lucky not to really have terrible twos, but it seems like we are having terrible threes. He’s so emotional, and so easily frustrated. I’d get upset with him… OK, I do get upset with him, but I also see myself in him. Honestly, the way he reacts to disappointing situations is exactly how I want to react. I would rather he didn’t stomp on his trucks or fling his little super hero guys across the room when they don’t behave the way he wants, but I’m not surprised or even that upset that he does.

I’m pretty good at self-control, and I’m teaching that to him as best I can. This is a little challenging, because I actually can’t really remember how I learned it. It might have just been natural; maybe I’m just a restrained person by birth, despite the brattiness that I can feel bubbling underneath. It might have been lots of tough lessons.

Even though I know it’s important for him to learn self-control, if for no other reason than to keep him from getting kicked out of places, I kind of hope he doesn’t learn it quite as well as I have. I think there are many times in my life when I would have been better served by screaming my frustration. So sometimes, I just let those action figures fly, without commenting on them. I’m pretty sure they were asking for it, anyway.

 

Noody Noody Noody

We are a pretty modest family. I suppose it’s because of my WASPy, repressed upbringing. Of course I want my kiddo to have an unrepressed childhood and feel comfortable talking about his body. I actually don’t think I’m equipped to do make sure that happens, though. I’ve always been intensely shy, and there was a time I couldn’t even talk about my arms or legs without feeling super uncomfortable. I’ve gotten over that, and I’m very comfortable with my husband, but I don’t have the background or natural ease about the human body that I probably should (that is, at least, if I want to teach my little guy to have that). And I could be wrong, but I feel sure that this is not something I could learn from a book.

I don’t have a problem with him being naked, although he is clothed more often than not, so maybe I do subconsciously. Still, he has his moments of naked time. He recently ran into the room without a stitch on, shaking his tush and shouting “NOODY NOODY NOODY!!”

My reaction was normal, I though, “My God! What are they teaching him at daycare?” Immediately followed by, “My GOD! What are they going to think I’m teaching him??”

When he was younger, I was less concerned about one of us being naked. But, he notices stuff now, and his noticing has coincided with his ability to open doors. In addition to him feeling like any closed door is a personal affront.

Scene in our bathroom, that has two doors: Mommy!! (Pounding on the door. Frantically turning the knob) I can’t get it!! Oh, I know, I try the other door. Mommy!!! (clawing at the knob) This door is wocked too!!

Recently he walked in on me while I was changing, and I tried to play the it’s no big deal thing. By that I mean, I tried not to whip around, covering myself like a teenager just caught with her boyfriend.

“Oh hey!” I said, in an unconvincing casual voice that immediately piqued his interest.

“Hi Mommy!!! I like your… those!”

This is a little ironic, because he had zero interest in my those when I was trying to nurse him.

“Yep! Um.. Thank you! Girls have these and boys don’t.”

“No I don’t” he said, looking at his flat chest. And went away, unbothered, leaving me questioning my words and feelings about that situation, nudity in general, and heck, everything else.

I don’t really think I’m alone in my anxiety about body stuff. When he first discovered his penis (which we call a “peepee” because frankly even TYPING “penis” makes me uneasy, and oh thank god he’s a boy, because I have no idea how I’d manage talking about vaginas at all.) Anyway, when he first discovered his peepee and became interested in it, I asked his pediatrician about how to deal with it without being weird or making him feel wrong about it. She said, “that’s a great question!” in a tone quite similar to the been-caught-changing tone I used with the kiddo, and suggested distraction as a method for handling err…addressing the matter.

I’m sure this is well intention advice, but 1) it doesn’t really address the problem, and 2) from what I’ve noticed, it’s not so easy to distract a male from his penis, once he has developed an interest in it. In fact, I think most males spend much of their lives trying to distract themselves from their own penises (penii?).

When I consulted a friend who has an older boy, she said she told him, “It’s your penis and you can touch it if you want, but other people don’t want to see you touch it.” Such a grown-up thing to say. I hope I can muster that when the time comes. At the very least, I don’t think I’ll blurt, “If you keep touching that it’s going to fall off!!” And maybe (given my upbringing) that’s progress I can be proud of.