Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Mamahood

“I had to explain to my husband that, if he sees a number repeated numerous times every day on our phone bill, it’s you and I’m not having an affair.”

One of my best friends from college and I entered motherhood within a year of each other, and take roughly the same approach to parenting.  Thus, we spend countless hours on the phone discussing different behavioral challenges, cloth diapering techniques, and the like.  I am positive, that if I could go back in time and tell my 18 year-old, college-freshman self that this would be the case 14 years later,  I’d have trouble selling the story.

But the truth is, a girl needs her mamahood.

Our daughter, Naya, was two months old when we sold our house, packed up, and moved to the outskirts of a new city  in a new state where we knew absolutely no one.  The isolation I felt, holding my tiny baby in our new, unpacked house in our new, unknown town was intense.  My husband would leave each morning for work, often before the baby was even fed, without any idea how long his work day would last (often long after Naya was asleep for the night), and my days consisted of holding Naya and arguing with the cable company who couldn’t seem to understand how to connect our internet so that it worked for more than 30 minutes after their service people left our house while searching, one handed, through boxes for needed household items.

For months, I held my baby and read books, held my baby and watched tv, held my baby and napped, held my baby and walked around my still-unpacked house; and thought, “This cannot be my life.”

Isolation, in long, uninvited stretches, is not good for anyone, but I think it’s especially harmful for new mamas who are, by nature, full of self-doubt, exhausted, and brimming with hormones.  I have no empirical evidence to substantiate this claim, but my own experience screams this as the truth.

To be fair, I had wonderful friends and family who helped to relieve my loneliness; friends who cashed in their miles, rearranged family vacations, and carted small kids over state lines to come visit.  Others called while eating breakfast and on lunch breaks from work to remind me that I had a support network.

And to all of them, I insisted I was fine.  We were fine.  Everything was fine.

And in reality, it was ok.  Naya was healthy and happy and very, very loved.  My husband was enjoying his new position.  I found respite in a couple hours at the Y several times a week (free childcare during nursery hours AND a place to shower by myself!).  I was just incredibly lonely and, despite all the great parenting literature on my bookshelves, felt like I was stumbling blindly through parenthood.

Many well intended friends without small children tried to advise me, suggesting I join a book club, sign up for a class at the local college, etc.  And, while I am sure all of those things would have been awesome ways to meet fantastic, interesting people, the prospect of securing (and, to be honest, paying for) childcare in an unknown place was too daunting to imagine.

Then, one day while my mom was visiting, we happened upon another woman with a daughter Naya’s age, who told us about her mom/baby group.  It sounded interesting, and I told her so, but as the time approached for the next weekly meeting I talked myself out of going.  Luckily for me this newfound friend was persistent.  The next week she called and reminded me of the meeting, even offering to meet me in the parking lot beforehand so that I wouldn’t have to walk into a strange room by myself.

So we went, Naya and I.  And you know what?  Naya fit perfectly into the spectrum of what all the other babies her age were doing, and my frustrations (mostly terrible, ridiculous sleep deprivation) were the same frustrations that most of the other mamas there were facing (or did face, or would be facing), and ridiculously, I was so relieved to be there that it was difficult not to start crying.

This new group of mama friends put me in touch with all kinds of local resources– classes, other groups, the best places to buy things, etc., and have been truly, truly one of the best things that has happened to us since moving here.

A year later, Naya and I no longer attend this particular group– mostly because Naya can walk and likes to help people (babies) find their eyes (“EYE!”).  We still see these mamas and babies in other venues though, and it’s wonderful to keep in touch.  Additionally, it’s gotten a lot easier to be a mama, to recognize that every stage is temporary, and that we will get through it.  My husband’s schedule has also evened out remarkably (or, more likely, he’s managed to juggle it like the magician he is to make more family time despite a heavy load at work).  As I tell all my friends who become parents after us, it really does just keep getting easier.

A huge part of that, however, is my mamahood.  I don’t necessarily need anyone telling me how to raise my daughter, and no one does.  But the simple, “Oh yea, that’s completely normal.” and the, “When my child did that, this is what worked for me.”  and, “Have you tried this?”  and the all important, “Yea, it was a rough night here last night too.” have been real sanity savers on multiple occasions.

I’m lucky, I know, to have a mamahood that comes from both my past and my present, but if I could give every expectant mother one piece of advice it would be to try to identify that support system as soon as possible.

This week, we’re having trouble deciding if Naya is ready to transition down to one nap per day, which is actually a bigger ordeal than I could have imagined.  I’m looking forward to finding out what my friend has to say about it when she calls later.

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Making Allowances for Life

Recently, my daughter and I had the privilege of getting together with some really great friends for brunch.  These ladies, who I have known for years– long before thoughts of marriage and children, have never ceased to be supportive of my decisions to parent, take a break from my career to stay home with my daughter, and generally center my world around my child.  They are, in short, an extremely positive, intelligent, loving, and interesting force in my life, and a group of people I am truly excited that my daughter will have in hers.

Because, however, none of these ladies is currently parenting a young child, we had an interesting time scheduling our brunch date.  Below, you will find excerpts from our email conversations:

Jen:
Anyway, I was thinking, since we would be in town, and some of you will be in town, and there’s brunch, that some of you might be available to meet.  How about 9am?

Friend 1:
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that 9 am is BREAKFAST, not brunch!  Brunch would be more like 11:30 . . .  I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’!

Friend 2:
If we move brunch to noon . . .   I vote for that!

Friend 3:
I second that!

Jen:
Ok My Loves,
This is where working woman schedule and baby schedule collide.  Girlfriend can’t just be waiting around for you to get available all morning with a one year old to look after.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Babies need pretty much instant gratification, and my baby is at the screaming phase.  So yea, not so much with being a lady who lunches (lunch is at 10:30-11 in this house) on Wednesday. . .

Friend 1:
OK, now.  See, Jen, you did not give us all the details about your timeline. . .

This just highlights the drastic difference between my schedule 2 years ago and my schedule today.  Two years ago, I was working two jobs (one full-time, one part-time), finishing grad school, and trying to maintain a healthy relationship with my wonderful and equally busy husband.  Still, when I had the opportunity for something like brunch, it was a roll-out-of-bed-15-minutes-before-leaving-to-throw-on-some-clothes-and-brush-your-teeth kind of thing.

Now, however, NOTHING is that simple.

I’m not complaining, my daughter is generally very well-behaved in social situations, and is largely perceived (at least to my biased eye) as relatively charming by onlookers.  However, this isn’t by some crazy chance of “go with the flow” parenting.  This kind of thing takes hours of brain power every day.  Diaper bags must be stocked for any eventuality, feeding/ sleeping/ activity schedules must be adhered to almost religiously, and there must always, always be something to occupy her and an escape plan in place.  Please understand that everything, EVERYTHING I do in my life is planned in between meeting the basic needs of my daughter.

Low blood sugar turns my sweet, cuddly, smiling little girl into a monster akin to Godzilla.  Something like a skipped nap could lead us to disaster– and not just for the day, but for up to a week as everyone in the family suffers for the lost sleep until equilibrium is maintained.  (If you think I’m exaggerating, you should have been here last night.)

In short, having my daughter has drastically changed the way I think about time.  Even as a SAHM, I am still amazed at how my day is easily packed between 2 naps and 5 meals.  If I can fit in a trip to the gym, a stop at the library, and a load of laundry, I consider my day a success.  Seriously.    If dinner is made, I am superwoman!  If, by pure divine intervention, my house maintains any semblance of order (or, even better, becomes cleaner), I have done something akin to running a marathon!

And that’s ONE child!  That’s one child on a SAHM schedule!

I seriously don’t know how we will manage it all when I go back to work.  Thankfully, my daughter will be 2 when that becomes a possibility for us,  and, with any luck, my husband’s work schedule will also be a bit less demanding, but it still boggles the mind.

I wonder (worry, actually), then, if between all the sundry business of day-to-day living, there will be any time at all for personal interests.  Will I ever be able to meet my friends, socially, for coffee/drinks/dinner?  Will I be able to read anything beyond the scope of Good Night, Moon?  Will my husband and I get the chance to feel like interesting adults again? I mean, she’ll have to go to school eventually, right?  Surely, things get easier then?

All of this is not to lament my choice to parent as some kind of albatross — I absolutely love being a mama, but to highlight the fact that it’s still hard work to create amazing people.  Distance runners, I am told, complain to each other (and others who ask) of blisters, shin splints, and the like.  I like to believe parenting is a lot like that.  There are times when the wind is at your back, the sun is on your face, and you feel like you’ve really found your pace.  Then, there are other (often longer) stretches, when you seem to have hit your wall, and you are climbing (crawling, really) forever uphill.  The little victories– the mile-markers, really– make the whole journey worth it, but you’re glad when people are willing to see and understand your struggle, and to make allowances for the differences in your world.

Anyway, “brunch” was left at the early time of 9 a.m. to accommodate my daughter’s demanding schedule, and everyone who could make (8 in all, including my daughter and I) had a fine time.  And maybe some of my friends had to deal with my daughter sticking her spoon in their plates, and maybe it was shorter than the brunches of two years ago, but I sure am glad it happened.

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We’re All Fine

We were at a family function a couple of weeks ago, and my husband and I had relinquished baby duty to her ever-doting grandmother.  Since our distance makes this a rare occurrence, we were really relishing the time to sit and relax in the sun, visiting with other relatives, without chasing around after our newly-mobile one-year-old.

At some point, as the newly-walking set are prone to do, my daughter fell down and let out a cry (more of frustration than anything, I am sure).  At the time, I had my back to her, so only knew that my daughter was crying and immediately rose to evaluate the situation.  My cousin’s new husband, who had seen the fall, had already started reassuring me before I was half way out of my chair.

“Don’t worry.  She’s fine.  Don’t worry.”

Obviously, he hasn’t spent a lot of time with me yet.

It seems like, since deciding to become a parent, I have done nothing but worry.

“Are we ready?”

“Will we be good enough?”

“Is it selfish to bring someone into the world just because we want to be parents?”

And it didn’t stop when she got here, either.  Every possible decision seems to take on the most insurmountable gravity.  And we have books—so many, many books.  We have books about baby gear, baby food, baby sleep, baby play, and baby discipline.   I can’t tell you how many nights my husband and I have laid in bed together discussing the best way to deal with our awake and crying daughter (Pick her up, and she’ll never learn how to get healthy sleep! Leave her to cry and she’ll develop trust issues!  You must decide which way you’ll impair your child tonight!), the discussions I have had with my friends about when to introduce certain foods, the amount of time I have obsessed over which products are best to clean my house, use on my daughter’s skin, etc.

It’s exhausting!

And intellectually, I know that she will not grow a third eye if her organic whole milk gets replaced with 2% from the convenience store for a couple of days.  And, in my weak moments, if I resort to one or two episodes of Sesame Street, there’s still a small chance she’ll beat the odds and get into college some day.  But emotionally, these little things feel like transgressions—breaches in the contract I made to be an amazing parent when I decided to bring her into the world.  And this is funny, because if one of my friends called me with the same set of fears I would call them ridiculous and assure them it was all fine.  Because it is, right?

Right?

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