Tag Archives: parenting

Another kind of mom guilt

I’ve struggled to put into words how I’ve been feeling lately.

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I’m not overwhelmed or down on myself. It’s not the blues, although when I brought up the subject with my sister-in-law tonight, I burst into tears. Luckily, she knew exactly what I was trying to express without me fully articulating it.

I feel guilty. Not for being a working mom, or not having a spotless house, or not packing the most healthful lunches. It’s different — a visceral, almost survivor’s guilt. I have a warm home and a beautiful baby and whip-smart toddler and supportive spouse and food in the fridge (although the fridge itself might be on its last leg).

I’m suspicious of my happiness, almost ashamed of my good fortune. I’m ever so grateful, but also kind of waiting for something to shatter, because it doesn’t feel right that I should be allowed to be so content when there is so much suffering in this world. I keep up with the news (maybe too much), and almost daily there’s a story that brings tears to my eyes.

Apparently postpartum hormones are changing at around the four-month mark, and I acknowledge that’s probably a strong contributor to why I am feeling everything so deeply. But  I need to acknowledge my emotions and how motherhood has changed me. I don’t think I was ever indifferent to suffering, but when your heart starts to live outside of your body in the form of your children there is this intense vulnerability and resulting empathy.

I will admit here that I’m not someone who likes to think of things in terms of being “blessed,” and that my spiritual framework is pretty different from a lot of my Christian blogger friends. It’s hard to detach these complex feelings from the tendency for many to have a religious solution, but I’m really not interested in that. A conversation for a different time, perhaps.

And so…I record these days here and in my line a day journal, and find comfort in the beauty of a good book. Currently reading “Cutting for Stone,” by Abraham Verghese. {This NPR book club review is from 2011, not next month}

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Mantra of a second time mom

So much is different this time around – partly because the second baby has her own identity, preferences and quirks, but also because I am a different woman than I was in the first month of my first child’s life.

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Part of the difficulty of transitioning into life as a mom wasn’t the late night feedings, or the early morning wake-ups. It was shedding that skin of selfishness and negotiating what it meant to be a mother in addition to all of the other things I am and hope to be. Over 28 months with Emmett I have developed much more patience, I have worried and seen that worrying doesn’t lead to much more than a headache, I have reveled in the unfolding of his personality and our expanded family life. I’ve learned that — just when you think you’ve got things figured out, the winds shift and what worked like a charm yesterday isn’t going to cut it anymore. Re-calibrate.

I’ve proven to myself that I can be a mother and all of the other things I want to be — just not necessarily all of them at the same time. It’s not to say I’ve never dropped a ball during this juggle, but I’ve discovered the joy in trying. I’ve appreciated the gentleness of Joe’s spirit always coming to my rescue when I’m hanging by the last frayed nerves.

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Eileen is such a sweet baby. She’s found her voice and has an appetite that tethers me to the couch for stretches that can seem to go on and on. But, this time, I’ve been able to believe myself when I think some iteration of: This, too, shall pass. This is a phase. Babies don’t keep. 

I’ve been reading passages of Big Magic out loud to her, a manifesto on what it means to live creatively. Elizabeth Gilbert encourages us:

You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.

I’ve recognized that motherhood, parenthood, the daunting and divine task of raising human beings — is a creative endeavor. And in the feedings and diaper changes and mundane acts of love, there is a challenge to give this child the best version of ourselves we possibly can. (Sometimes this requires a deep breath and a hot shower.)

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How we: Babysitting co-op

I sometimes get questions about the babysitting co-op we’re part of, and I thought I’d share some details here!  Back when I was on maternity leave with Emmett, I used to pop in at a local postpartum group where we’d talk about breastfeeding, baby sleep patterns, relationships, or do fun activities like baby massage. It was a helpful weekly outing to gear up for, especially in those early days when simply leaving the house with a newborn felt like a major accomplishment. This session was almost exactly two years ago!

babymassage In the spot where the group met was a flier on the wall for “FREE BABYSITTING,” and, while it caught my eye, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. My friend Amy (of Yummy Toddler Food fame) clued me in — it was a babysitting cooperative that she was a part of. As it happens, Amy was moving to a small town outside of Des Moines, and so she introduced me to the group and gifted me with her remaining ‘points’. Essentially, a babysitting co-op is a more formalized structure for parents trading babysitting with other parents who have kids around the same age. You can start a co-op among friends, and it’s a great way to widen the circle and get to know people who are around the same life stage. A babysitting co-op probably not an end-all solution to your childcare issues, but it’s a really nice option for people who don’t have a lot of family in town.

sitting So how does it work? You babysit each other’s kids and attend/host meetings and play dates for points instead of cash. In our co-op, an hour of babysitting “costs/pays” 2 points per kid (or 3 points during a premium weekend night), and additional kids are a point. We offer extra points for sitting at the requesting family’s house, too, which can make bedtime sits a lot easier. Families can also earn points for attending or hosting a meeting or play date (we had a brunch pancake-making play date at our house in February, and in June someone hosted a nature walk at Brown’s Woods). We alternate between a meeting or play date every other month.

pancakes At first, I thought the meetings were kind of a pain, because who really needs more meetings in her life? But aside from being a time to plan upcoming play dates and talk about, say, potty training techniques, it’s a nice environment to get to know the other parents and see the homes where you’re sending kids. There are typically drinks and snacks, which elevate any meeting to nearly a party.

Play dates are a bonus activity, and again, a great chance to get to know the parents and kids. I only knew one of the other moms in the co-op when we joined, and in the year-and-a-half since, I’ve come to really appreciate the people in the group as friends. It turns out one of the other moms and I worked at the same Colorado Girl Scout camp, different summers, and live just down the street from each other now. It might have taken years to cross paths with them, or we may never have met at all!

We use a free site, SittingAround.com, for administration of points/sit requests and as a home base for co-op info, and then have a private Facebook group where we post more casual updates, events, photos, etc. We take turns with admin/secretary duties at meetings, and people can participate in the co-op as much or little as they want. But, the more active your group, the better it is for everyone.

Our co-op was started by a woman who attended the Before & After the Birth postpartum group, and involved some of her friends with kids around the same age, and others who had a connection to that group. Martha has since moved to New York, but was super organized and awesome about starting it up, and even attended a meeting when she was back in town this week!

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Big brother, little…

Let’s just go ahead and put 2015 down as the fastest year in human history, OK?

Somehow, I am halfway to being the mother of two. Emmett spent the first night in a toddler bed last night*. Two of our three summer weddings have already happened. I turn 30 in three weeks. The peonies are blooming! Slow your roll, 2015. Geeze.

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And by “slept in his toddler bed,” I mean we found him like this in the morning. 

Did I mention that I’m somehow halfway through this pregnancy? (Although, let’s be real, I fully anticipate going to 42 or even 43 weeks.) I am definitely rounding out quite a bit, and all I want to eat is bagels and cream cheese. Healthy options, of course. And I’ve  already had one big cry about the polar ice caps melting, one of the many pretty-much-out-of-my-control terrors that grips me when it comes to bringing children into this big, imperfect world.

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image via Stately Type

We decided to find out the sex of Baby #2 this time around for a number of reasons. Some practical (I’m looking at you, multiple Space Bags full of baby boy clothes), and some more personal.

I had this cinematic vision of someone yelling “It’s a boy!” when Emmett was born. But instead of a calm, natural birth, it was a pretty traumatic ordeal and in the chaos it was more like “Let’s get this baby to the NICU!” The first few weeks postpartum were also pretty emotional and trying for me. I feel like if I know a little bit more about the person I was growing, I might bond more quickly and strongly from the get-go. (Fingers crossed no NICU, too.)

I think love for our children is like the birth of a solar system, with this ever-expanding infinity of emanating outward.

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I know a lot more now, which is to say that I know that I basically know nothing and that each baby/child/person is completely different and designed to keep parents on their toes.

Either way, I’m excited to know we’re having a baby girl in October. I’m going to have to play Sarah Kay on repeat for the next five or so months.

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me “Point B,” because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.” – Sarah Kay 

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Motherhood: 18 months in

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This isn’t the right analogy in a lot of ways, because I’ve always loved my son. But early on he often felt like this really cute but exhausting roommate who did a lot of puking on me at the just the wrong times and turned my nights and days unpredictable and my body unfamiliar. Early motherhood kind of strung me out, living with this demanding relative stranger who was my own flesh and blood.

Parenting a toddler is pretty challenging, too, but I’m finding the experience enjoyable and rewarding. Suddenly, that darling mystery is turning into a charming friend. (Don’t get me wrong, because there are tantrums. Full-on, face down on the floor screaming and kicking tantrums so ridiculously textbook that I have to stifle my laughter.) I think it’s his grasp of language, and imagination. Personality. Sometimes, a taste of my own sassitude bounced back at me.

I’ve learned that days go most smoothly when I don’t expect Emmett to be occupied by a toy, but try to engage him in an activity. Sometimes this means we can work on parallel projects and sometimes it means I’ve become a boat and he’s riding my legs down the river, or we’re making soup together. The whole world has clicked for him and he wants to be a part of it. And, as parents, we’re re-discovering the world and words, too. (Of course, I felt less starry-eyed about this stage a few weeks ago, during an epic sleep regression that meant Joe and I would take turns falling asleep with Emmett on his floor at 3 a.m.) Daily life.

The joy of hearing his litany of two-word phrases: up high! another one! bless you! help you (for help me)! go outside! close door! His little inside jokes (which might be hilarious to just Joe and me) and the way he tickles my back and his obsession with trucks and cooking and books and bubbles and babies. The way he voice-over-narrates his every activity: Running! Pooping! Falling! His malapropisms: waffles = awfuls.

I’m in love. And, with babyhood in the rearview mirror, I think – I hope! – if and when we get on that crazy train to number two – I’ll embrace the early weeks and months a little more.

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Plus, a few favorite parenting links lately:

I heard this Fresh Air interview of the author of Overwhelmed when it first came out, and it was on when I turned on the radio to run a friend to an errand this morning. Totally what I needed to hear. Again. (I just went back and noticed I linked to it in my post about motherhood, 9 months in!)

A friend who is a new mom linked to Our ‘Mommy’ Problem awhile back and I kept thinking ‘YES!’// I love being part of a book club where it’s about being a woman and a reader (and wine-drinker/pizza-eater) and not necessarily about being a mom.

Catching up on ‘How we Montessori’ blog posts for some simple activities Emmett and I can do together. I read this when I was pregnant/he was tiny and it seemed like it would take forever before he could actually do any of the work, but I suddenly realized he’s ready for some of these concepts. He moved his learning tower over to help wash dishes last night and loves putting away and getting out his own plates and bowls I put in a bottom drawer.

We watched “The Gruffalo” and then “The Gruffalo’s Child,” two delightful short movie adaptations of children’s books that are streaming on Netflix. Joe and I loved it just as much as Emmett, who was calling out the names of all of the animals. In snowy scenes in the sequel, he was feeling empathetic about the Gruffalo child being out in the cold. Needless to say, we’ll be getting these books!

I wish I’d known about The Longest Shortest Time when I was in those early months. It’s still pretty great at this point. And the spinoff tumblr, It’s Like They Know Us.

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Des Moines’ wilder (G-rated) side

We’re into a pretty set routine with the little dude, but have managed to take advantage of summer sun (and missed a few naps) to take some kid-friendly mini adventures lately. Here are a few ideas for enjoying fresh air with a little family:

Splashing at Des Moines’ West Coast, AKA Raccoon River Beach. Go! 

IMG_20140708_192810My niece turned four last week, and we had a picnic dinner and played in the water at Raccoon River beach and adjacent splash pad. There’s a great playground in the park, too. Anyone else feel slightly rebellious putting your suit and going to the beach on a school work night?

Paddle boating on Gray’s Lake. Go! 

We were going to meet friends to go bowling, but then it was gorgeous, so I convinced everyone to attempt paddle boating with toddlers in our laps. Ha.

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Our kid-free friends played it safe and opted for the canoe. Emily and I totally sang a favorite girl scout camp song in their honor.

Adventure Days at Blank Park Zoo. Go! 

Joe and some guys had a softball game planned, so Emmett and I met up with a few friends at the zoo. The new African exhibit is pretty cool.

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It was my first time taking E (my college friends gifted us a membership for his first birthday!) and Saturday also happened to be “Adventure Days,” so there was live music and a few more activities. I fell in love with the baby camel and want to go back for a date night at Zoo Brew soon.

 Jester Park Bison Watching, Natural Playscape and Trail Ride. Go! 

Joe gifted me a sweet little trail ride for Mother’s Day and since he had plans to golf up there this weekend, Emmett and I met him after his round. The lakeside trail was washed out, but it was still nice to be out in the woods, smelling the trees and the horses.

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We swung through Jester Park to check out the bison viewing area, which is adjacent to the “Natural Playscape” geared toward young kids. There’s a big sand area, and water feature and some other simple activities. The bison didn’t get too close, but it definitely felt like a break from the city!

 

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A Father’s Day story

Last year on Father’s Day, we brought Emmett home from the NICU after our first weekend entrenched in the harrowing experience of parenthood. Yesterday, we watched our freshly-minted 1-year-old boy squeal and repeatedly climb all over the playground, launching himself headfirst, upside down and backwards down the slide.

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Two emergency room visits, hundreds of restless nights and moments of delight and desperation later, we’re celebrating his first birthday with a little family party today.

Through it all, I’ve tried to keep perspective thinking of my friends Tim and Gretchen, who welcomed triplet girls just two weeks after Emmett was born. Every time I melted down, I thought of their challenge and — although it turns out I didn’t know the half of it — our struggle seemed to shrink.

I’ll never forget the morning Tim and I met up for tea, me bumping out at around 24 weeks and he told me about their incredible pregnancy, which Tim chronicled in his fantastic blog. I was over at the Paluchs a couple of weeks ago and Gretchen (whose boundless grace never ceases to amaze and inspire me) mentioned Tim, my former editor, was writing again. I think I literally hopped with joy to hear it.

Whether or not you’re a parent, a great Father’s Day read this weekend is Tim’s personal essay for Esquire on becoming a dad:  http://www.esquire.com/features/tim-paluch-hardest-decision?src=soc_fcbks

Tim gives voice beautifully to the fear and joy they felt. I’m so grateful to know these brave friends and to raise my kid alongside the Paluch 3-pack! 3pack

 

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