Skip to content

new mom

Waxing poetic about time, treasure and sisters

There are moments of sweetness I can hardly describe. The kind of sweetness that aches, that wraps its tiny fingers around your heart and squeezes a little bit too hard. It’s the sweetness of endings and beginnings. Of beginnings as endings.

My sister had a baby this week, and I was there. She rested her head on my shoulder as she slumped her back forward to receive an epidural. I rubbed her feet and laughed with her while we waited. I was there, and I looked into her face while she collected her energy and courage between pushes. Her face calm, fierce, focused.

Today is Jo’s last day of preschool before summer. I lingered with Cal at circle time and listened while Jo’s teacher told him and his class about the treasure hunt. All those smooth, soft, warm 3 and 4 year olds sitting cross legged on the carpet, listening.

“There might be times when you’re hunting that you just want everything. When you see a big pile of treasure and you want it and all the treasure in the world for yourself. When you feel that way, you can put your hand on your heart like this and say, ‘I have gold fever.’ When you have gold fever, it’s a good idea to slow down, and come in to the snack table and have a little bit of water, and maybe a snack. And then you can put your hand on your chest again and say, ‘There’s enough treasure for everybody.'”

As I sit here, writing this, Jo is probably surveying his gold, nestled in his treasure bag, or digging deeper into the sandbox for more booty, or treating his gold fever with some celery and hummus. And my sister is probably looking down at that new girl of hers, cupping her tiny head in her palm, smoothing her black hair down with the rhythmic stroke of a thumb.

IMG_2629 - Version 2

Time is passing, just flowing right through. It brings babies, it takes childhoods, it grows chickens and firmly closes doors behind us. No more preschool. No more pregnancy. But this now. Treasure hunting. Newborn nieces. Tree limbs arcing up to sun and wind.

The passage of time is not lost on us. But we get lost inside it sometimes. The monotony can be a real trickster. Today is the same as yesterday. Time for the Wednesday routine again. Wake, run around, sleep, repeat.

Thank goodness for endings. And beginnings. The bookends of time. They hold us upright and keep us honest. They remind, with their firmness, that things can change. Sisters can become mothers. Boys can become treasure hunters. Life can be unbearably good.

Small victories for a new mother of 2

1) I had 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night. My dearest A. took the first nighttime shift with my new dearest baby C. who is taking a bottle like a champ.

2) Rather than trying for 2 hours to put C. to sleep between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m., I just held him this morning and dozed off and on. In the end, when my dearest 3-and-3-quarters child, J woke up at 7:20 a.m., C was asleep and I was able to put him down and go enjoy a full 45 minutes of morning time with J. It was blissful to have some uninterrupted time with him, all warm and rumpled and bright.

3) At some point in the afternoon, A. said he’d make dinner, an offer that nearly moves me to tears these days, since I’ve been nearly 100% on dinner duty for the past months while A. does things like demolishing bathrooms and putting up siding. I handed both boys off to him, and they all headed for a quick runaround at the park. I went off to do some caulking the bathroom of our rental. The caulking was dreamy. I was unencumbered by the stream of spontaneous toddler and baby demands and able to focus on one single thing—in this case, creating a mildew-free, water tight seal around our renter’s bathtub. And I listened to this episode of This American Life, which I found characteristically soulful, charming and thought-provoking (I just effing love that show). Just as I was finishing up, I felt my own hunger pulling me towards dinner time, so walked back to our place to find it empty.

My mind immediately hopped on the hamster wheel it runs in such situations.

343309195_27b2e162a7_z
Photo by Beth L. Alexander

Yep. 6:30. Also known as dinner time. And he offered to cook dinner, and he’s nowhere to be found and now dinner will be late, bedtime will be late and J will get all hopped up and hard to put to sleep. Not to mention that I’m hungry and just want someone else to make dinner for once.

 I figured that they were still at the park and got ready to walk over and go find them in order to pull out all the passive aggressive stops to make sure A knew that I was pissed about the lack of dinner.

But instead, I stopped. I felt myself revving up in this familiar way that I do when I’m tired and frustrated. And I just stopped for a moment. I was hungry. Almost shaky with hunger as only a breastfeeding woman who has been caulking a bathtub can be. And I also remembered for a moment that A. is capable and smart and caring and probably had some reasonable thoughts about why he wasn’t in the kitchen working on dinner.

Instead of marching out to the park to let A. have it, I opened the fridge, found some leftover chicken and a beer and sat down to eat it.

Tonight, I took part in a quiet revolution at my dining table: I was hungry. So I fed myself. And I gave my partner some credit.

A few minutes later, he came home with C sleeping in the sling and J trotting beside him. “Sorry we got held up at the park. I’m just gonna figure out a quick dinner for J.” And he did figure it out. More importantly, I let him. I did not bang around angry to find a quick dinner for J. And when they all walked in the door, wasn’t resentful because I was already eating my dinner and drinking a beer and knowing that A. was a capable, reasonable person.

4) I am now going to stop typing, turn on the white noise, pop in my earplugs and go to sleep alone in this queen sized bed while A. takes another night shift with baby C. Here’s hoping for another 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I’ll settle for 3-4.

p.s. I’m posting this at 7:30 am after 6, count them SIX hours of sleep.  And C. is sleeping in our bed with A. And J. is awake but playing in his room quietly.

Small victories.

Read it: Tears and Tantrums

I go through cycles as a parent when I feel unfettered and fabulous and others that leave me worried, ashamed and inept. The last few months have been the latter, and I’ve done what I usually do when I’m utterly baffled by raising my son–I place a minimum of 5 parenting books on hold at the library.

And then I cart them home. I read the first part of a few chapters of one and then they sit until I have to renew them. And they sit some more. When the final return date threatens, our house looks like a child development study hall after 8pm. I cram.

Last night I read through page 73 of this one:

tearstantrumsbook

It was recommended on my Facebook page by one of YOU, radical readers. I must say, it’s a real doosey.

The take home message: babies and kids need to cry and rage. A lot more than you might think. Solter’s main point that I’m digging is that there are many sources of stress in children’s lives, even if they’re well cared for. And that they have a few ways of resolving that accumulated stress: play, laughter, talking and crying or raging. Often, this stress builds up in their bodies over time, and a seemingly insignificant event, like being handed a broken cookie or having to put their shoes on, can trigger a crying fit or rage-a-thon. I love this, because it helps me feel more compassion when J flips out over the fact that I cut up the apple instead of leaving it whole. Sure. Maybe it really is all about the apple. But it could also be about a kid snatching a toy away from him at daycare yesterday. Or when I grabbed his arm and told him NO! when he was walking away from me in the parking lot that morning.

The way I understand it, it’s not that they are actively remembering the prior stress when they’re freaking out about the apple. Rather, their bodies remember, and they are trying, through tears or tantrums (!) to resolve that stress.

I relate to this book because I do the same thing. We’re in the midst of a big move. (Yes, escrow closed! And I’m excited not to need to use that word again for a long time.) I don’t do moves well. I’m pregnant. We have a very physical, rage-y toddler. So it is not uncommon, once we put J to bed, for me to sit on the couch, start talking with A, and when he looks at me in a particularly kind way, I’ll just lose it. Tears upon tears. And some sobbing. Little patches of snot on his shoulder. And then I heave a few sighs and feel better. Stress resolved. For the moment.

Solter tells stories of parents recognizing when their kids need to cry and holding them close, somewhat immobilizing them for a bit, and then they (the children) tumble into a sob festival. Afterwards, they’ll be all relaxed, sparkly and at ease. I actually tried to get J to cry this morning when we were playing before I dropped him off at daycare. He’d had a pretty surly morning, so I thought maybe we could sit down and have a good cry. I did the gentle hold. Told him it was okay for him to cry. And he did have a few half-hearted wails. And then asked if he could get down.

Maybe he didn’t need to cry? Perhaps he’s more of a rager. Sigh. Either way, it helps me to see the rage and tears as a way for him to relieve some built up pressure in his system. That way, I won’t get too fixated on the apple.

Big Announcement Number Two

Maybe you thought this was going to be about the whole escrow, buying a house thing. But it’s not. (That is happening by the way, but at this point, it has dragged on for so terribly long, I’m boycotting the whole thing and demoting it from announcement status. And if this piqued your curiosity about the first big announcement, here you go.)

What is the second big announcement about?

Felicity Huffman.

My main experience with Felicity Huffman until recently was through a radical independent movie called Transamerica. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s some astonishing acting, when you think about a woman playing a man becoming a woman. And it’s a beautiful, complicated, funny, simple story. The more mainstream way that people tend to know Felicity is through the whole Desperate Housewives thing, which never appealed to me.

A month ago, I got an email in my inbox from Felicity Huffman. She’d been reading THIS VERY blog and liked it. And she had recently started her own website, for moms and women. She wrote:

I started it because I found mothering so fucking hard it blew my mind – and no one was talking about it. When I did speak out – people looked at me as if my hobby was kicking baby birds. So I wanted to create a place where women could share their experiences – the good the bad and the ugly.

She had me right there. What a woman. Not only can she act like there’s no tomorrow, but she can also break it down about motherhood. And then she hit it over the ballpark and told me that she has chickens.

Done and done.

I’m now a contributor at What the Flicka. Go forth, check it out. Enjoy some of the other great writers and honest moms over there. I’m thrilled to join them.

Photos by: Stephen Busken / WhatTheFlicka.com

Toddler sleep update

Well, thanks to all of your helpful comments responding to my cry for help, things are going a bit better on the sleep front.

Your suggestions reminded me of something that I knew deep down in my heart–J is getting bigger all the time, and I will probably always be a few steps behind, thinking he still might need his crib or only drink 4oz of milk at one sitting or that he’ll want to sleep swaddled until his mid 40s.

So I did it. Thanks to my trusty IKEA-supplied Allen wrench, I turned his crib into a toddler bed.

J explores the joys of toddler-bed-dom.

I was definitely terrified of what chaos might ensue, and also just clinging lazily to old routines. It just takes so much damned energy to construct a whole new set of bed time procedures. But it seems that we’ve done it.

Naps are still the real challenge–we’ve gotten him to fall asleep in there on his own for nap time once. I was so giddy with excitement that I had to take a picture:

All other times, he has either fallen asleep nursing (which I must say, I think I am finally ready to give up at this point) or he has never fallen asleep and thus had “quiet time” which consists of bursts of quiet or loud play alone in his room, punctuated by opening his door and having chats with me. I have yet to find a way of enforcing quiet time that feels right to me. The one thing I haven’t tried that I might is turning on an album and saying that he has to stay in his room until the music ends. I welcome any other tips you might have.

Nighttime is much simpler. My friend B sent me this very applicable quote from this website, which seems quite helpful especially for the 0-1 set.

I want to be clear that we are talking about BEDTIME. This is the time you put your child to bed. The only rule is that they stay in bed. You can’t make an older child sleep (nor can you make them eat or poop FYI). This is why we don’t call it SLEEPTIME. As a parent your job is to give them an age-appropriate bedtime, a soothing consistent bedtime routine, establish the limits (primarily that they stay in bed), and then leave. What they do at that point is up to them.

Does that mean it’s OK for your 2 YO to sit in their bed awake and talking to themselves for 45 minutes? It sure does!

Is this a form of torture? No it isn’t! Learning to entertain themselves, care for their bodies, or (*gasp*) spend a moment of the day without constant stimulation is actually really healthy! As adults, what do you do when you can’t fall asleep? You lie there and think quiet thoughts until you DO fall asleep. Your child is learning to do this too.

I found this particularly helpful and found the extra added reinforcement of a Goodnight Moon pop-up book that J and I found on the street corner the other day. Granted, many of the pop-ups had been torn off, which is probably why this book had been jettisoned by its former owner, but one function that remained delightfully intact was the pop up of the little bunny who goes to bed in the great green room. There’s a little tab that you pull and the little bunny sits up, and if you push it, she lies down. But she doesn’t get out of bed. Because she knows it’s BEDTIME. I explained all of this enthusiastically to J and really put some ooomph behind it. I’ve been reminded of the power of ooomph by this post about intention that my blogging friend Turned on Mama wrote. (And she also happens to give great sex advice to boot.)

Anyhoo. He bought it. He stayed in his little bed and fell asleep. And he’s done that a few nights now. Of course, it’s not always perfect. Sometimes he clucks around in there for what seems like forever. Other times he gets out of the bed and winds up falling asleep like this:

I mean, he did technically fall asleep in his bedroom. Though maybe his nose didn’t…

But I can handle that.

Why I take my brain out for dinner. And what we talk about. And what we eat.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasingly intimate relationship with my brain.

Thanks to my friend D, who introduces me to at least half of the things I love the most in the world, I started going to meditation and dharma talks led by this guy. The practice of just sitting with my often frenetic brain for 40 minutes every Thursday was sometimes a refuge and sometimes completely infuriating, but it served the function of sitting down over a nice, lingering dinner with my brain on a weekly basis.

A dinner my brain and I enjoyed recently: Cuban Chicken Salad w/ Garbanzos. Brains really like protein.
More about that later.

We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. And I now understand that my brain does what all brains do. It thinks. A lot. Unceasingly at times. Just like hearts are completely obsessive compulsive about pumping blood, brains are like hyper OCD versions of that one friend you have who needs to discuss everything, all the time.

My weekly meditation pretty much went the way of the dodo as soon as J was born. Much like my relationship with my partner A, my brain and I had a nice solid foundation to draw on in those first soaring and, well, shocking post-partum months. And, much like my relationship with A, the groovy connection I’d developed with my brain started to flail and falter pretty quickly after J was born. And ever since, we’ve been scrambling towards recovery.

The Zoloft certainly helped, as did J growing into a person who sleeps more and has more predictable, human-like behaviors. And, as I’ve discussed, I’ve been trying in the last year to reach a nice, steady, and dare I say optimistic place with my post-partum brain.

Enter: Brain books.

They’ve taught me that I didn’t know my brain as well as I thought I did.

One of them was tucked in the bed side table of the house where we stayed while on vacation in my Colorado hometown. (We managed to sort out a house swap during our time there, which was awesome.)

I’d been meaning to read the book ever since I heard Taylor’s TED talk (which is, coincidentally, the second most-viewed TED talk of all time) and BOOM, there it was, begging to be read. Taylor describes her experience of a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, and her stroke of insight, as it were, is that once her left brain shuts down, her right brain floats into a sort of timeless, peaceful bliss.

So I’ve developed this image of my left brain, all numbers and science and words–a stern accountant sitting at a perfectly organized desk, making sure every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. And right hemisphere, a buddha-like child, giddy with the sensory input of the present moment and happy to sit dangling her toes in the stream and feeling the warmth of the sun. Maybe it’s not necessarily a matter of seeking peace, but rather tapping into that right brain that’s already there (and perhaps tying up and gagging my left brain).

Since we got home from Colorado, I’ve been reading this:

It’s been a game changer for sure. The biggest revelation so far: there are a lot of other mood issues other than depression that are associated with having low amounts of serotonin in your brain.

  • low self esteem
  • obsessive behaviors
  • controlling behaviors
  • false fear in the form of shyness, anxiety or panic
  • perfectionism

Reading that list, while an unnerving indictment of my life for the last 6 months, has been deeply liberating. So maybe it’s not just that I’m one of those perfectionist types, but this could actually have something to do with my brain chemistry. And more than just feeling liberated by an idea, I’ve been actually feeling better. My mood is improved.

As the book recommends, I’ve been paying more attention to my diet, and focusing more on good mood foods–fish, poultry, eggs, lamb, beef, pork, Pippa milk, veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, butter, coconut milk, olive oil. And having less of a love affair with bad mood food: sugar, white flour, wheat, and soy. I’ve also been paying more attention to my daily mood cycles. Ross says that it’s very common to have a serotonin dip in the afternoon, which is why we often crave sweet snacks and caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon–to prop up our mood.  So I started taking my Zoloft around noon–instead of before bed as I had been doing.

And shazzam. My mood is improved. My brain seems to like this new turn of events. And it’s better company during those long, get-to-know-you dinners.

Before this starts to sound like some hopped up infomercial, let me please just say that my main motivation in writing this is:

  1. To celebrate.
  2. To share–in the hopes that you’ll find it helpful for you or some anxious, OCD perfectionist you love.

I just honestly never knew so much about my brain before. And I feel a lot more fondness, interest, and compassion. And less like wanting to exchange mine for a new one.

My soul place

I’m sitting in my parents’ house in Durango, Colorado listening to and breathing in the most dramatic–and as my friend M would say–crackling rain storm. The sky has been working up to this all day, with breezy gusts and grumbles. As I was walking through the relaxed, green neighborhoods here, looking out over the rocky, forested ridges and plateaus of the river valley, the first heavy drops began to fall and I thought, This is my soul place. There is just *something* about the way my skin feels the air here and the smell of dry, desert air mixed with the sweetness of water that means h-o-m-e.

What means home to you?

How our relationship was swallowed whole by a baby

A and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary this week.

(Yep. Still obsessed with faceless wedding photos.)

We have this little ritual on our anniversary of writing down our best and worst times from the past year and our goals for the coming months. While we were out to dinner (what a JOY it is to dine with no one other than your adult partner at 7pm on a balmy Monday evening) I plopped the little leather-bound journal where we’ve jotted this stuff onto the table, and we had a look at years gone by.

We really like creating abbreviated versions of words that don’t have any. Like “anny.” It’s just so exhausting and common to say anniversary. We are such hipsters.

Here are the pages for anny 5 and anny 6, our first two as parents.

Hello, salient metaphor for how having a child has changed our relationship.

If anything, these first years of parenthood have impressed upon me the finiteness of things. Time. Energy. Sleep. Patience. And I won’t lie—it’s definitely done a number on our relationship. I can confidently say now, 2 years in, that we’re finding more moments to connect in that lingering and nostalgic way we used to before J came on the scene. It feels like dusting off the words of a language we used to speak fluently—we have to work harder now to remember how to say certain things, but it’s sweet and confirming to feel our mouths form the words again.

As we lingered over our bottle of rosé, we couldn’t help but notice the goals we had listed for our 4th anniversary—when I was 6 months pregnant with J.

Such innocent ambition: social time, couple time, alone time, “not swallowed whole by baby.” Oh! and don’t forget exercise.

It really put those two blank years in the book into perspective. I think it’s taken us 2 years to get back to the place where those goals even make sense again.

Our hopes and dreams for this year?

“See 4th anniversary goals.”

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?