WHAT WE SIGNED UP FOR

“You ever feel like, man, this just isn’t what I signed up for?”

I bumped into a friend a few weeks ago at a baby shower. She asked how me and Justin and the boys were doing, and I must have just needed to tell someone, because I answered honestly that things have been . . . hard.

Nothing dramatic. Just a little too much for what feels like way too long. We’ve been in some sort of muted medical crisis since the day we brought A home.

I’m a little embarrassed, because these things probably seem small and no one likes to feel like a complainer, but here it is: I’m struggling to keep up with the growing schedule of kids’ doctor and speech therapy and physical therapy and special needs playgroup and orthotics and taping appointments. I’m trying to be my son’s advocate and medical expert and resident informal speech therapist (no pressure). I’m working and nursing and not sleeping. I’m in physical therapy myself. This past month or so, A’s had horrible skin infections and eczema flare-ups that have required an insanely detailed lotion/creams regimen and even more doc visits. We have a big visit to Seattle Childrens’ Genetics next week. And on it goes. (Oh. And I had a colonoscopy Friday for bonus fun).

When my friend asked me if I ever feel like this particular parenting gig isn’t what I signed up for, I laughed. I said, “No, I definitely signed up for it. And I don’t regret it. It’s just — you never know what you really signed up for until you’re in it.”

I meant what I said. I’m in, and I wouldn’t take it back, not ever. I’m fierce for my little boys and know I’m lucky to be their mama.

But what I didn’t say was this: right now I am totally struggling in that space between what I thought this task would require and what it actually asks of me. It asks too much and keeps asking for more. Our daily hassle factor is quite high.

I’m exhausted, partially because I’m fighting this so hard. Inwardly, I’m thrashing, I’m resenting this whole situation, envying other people’s normal. Outwardly, I’m still trying to look like I’ve got myself together.

It’s weird, but in the past few months I’ve found myself repeatedly thinking about the birth class we went to before A was born. We were encouraged to roll with the pain as much as possible and let the contractions do their work without tensing up or fighting them. We were encouraged to holler as much as we needed to.

Right now I’m the laboring woman who still thinks she can hold her breath through each painful wave. I’m that delusional creature who thinks she’s going to maintain control and get through this with her dignity fully intact.

She won’t. I won’t.

The breaking is actually the point of the whole thing.

On some level, I knew that about labor and I know it about being human. The pain still comes as a shock, though, at least to me. I thrash a long time before I remember this is an expected part of living; that the pain is often, if not always, accomplishing something.

Anne Lamott writes that when stuff starts going wrong all at once, it is to “protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born — this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.” I always loved that.

Right now I’m not sure what’s being born, exactly. I know only a little of what I’m hoping for: a softer heart. Less that scares me. A firm grip on J’s hand. For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing all of this as an opportunity, a means to discovering some new aspect of love I hadn’t seen before.

I read this tonight and nearly fell out of my chair, it was that good:

“Learn the alchemy true human beings know. The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.” —Rumi

For now, deep breaths. Less thrashing.

sick kid, long week. also, coffee.

Mamas with oft-sick kiddos, I’m sorry.

I had no idea what you deal with.

You deserve some sort of medal.

* * *

A has been sick since last week — he had a cold which started out well enough last Friday. He was snotty and gross, but still played happily and was his smiley self. But on Tuesday night a fever started up and it’s been pretty rough ever since. After waiting a bit per the nurse line’s instructions to see if the fever would run its course, I took him in on Friday, fully expecting to feel foolish as an overly-worried new mama who brings her kid in for a mere case of the sniffles. Still, I wanted to get him checked out before the weekend just in case.

I would have been happy to be overly-worried for no reason, but no such luck. Doc thinks its strep or sinusitis or both.

She said he should be markedly better within 24 hours, but he wasn’t, so we went back in this morning and were prescribed some stronger antibiotics. We’re really hoping they start to kick in, because Ash has had a fever for over 4 days, he’s dehydrated, he’s pouring snot, he coughs till he vomits, he won’t eat, his face is totally raw, his lips are split, and he’s just generally miserable. I feel so bad for him and I wish I would have caught what was going on earlier.

 

Poor kid.

I confess, I feel bad for us too. Justin and I have hardly slept this week — we’ve taken turns getting up with the baby every half-hour to an hour. And each of us have had some long days — Justin with inexplicable 2-hour commutes in to work, me feeling beyond spent after holding the baby all. day. long.

* * *

I don’t know about you, but there are moments when I feel absolutely frantic as a mama. Not frantic as in, worried about my kiddo (though that happens too), but frantic as in, “I have no idea how the hell I’m going to make it through today without going totally mad or simply passing out.”

When I get tired and worn . . .

When I go days without good food or decent sleep or a shower . . .

I get frantic. I start comparing days . . . which my smart friend Grace says you just can’t do.

I get unkind.

On Friday morning, after night four of little-to-no sleep. I was up rocking with the baby. Justin was soon to head out to work and I was soon to take A to the doctor. He gently placed a hand on my hand and said, “I’m sorry.” My delicate and reasonable response? “No you’re NOT!” I angrily told him how glad he must be to escaping all this mess. The audacity of him . . . going to work.

I was jealous. Jealous of his freedom to shower and go to work and live among grownups for a few hours with a small amount of control over his day while I was housebound for the second week in a row, canceling plans to see other human beings for the second week in a row, changing endless snot-covered shirts a day, barely able to eat or pee because my baby was so miserable and needy and I couldn’t bear to let him scream.

(Grace is right. Comparing days doesn’t work.)

Justin held the baby for a few moments while I took my first shower in days. It was cold; I totally deserved it.

I apologized for being unkind  — I knew I’d been an asshole — but I was still mad . . . not at Justin. Just mad. I was mad as I pulled my wet hair back into a ponytail and scrambled to brush my teeth with a screaming baby grabbing at my legs, I was mad when I couldn’t find an ice scraper for the car and it took half an hour to defrost because the defroster is broken, I was mad when I had to get gas because the tank was on empty.

First world problems, I know. Some days gratitude for things like a good doctor within traveling distance and a decent car and money for gas is beyond me.

 

OK, but this one is pretty funny.

I was mad all the way to Starbucks. When I pulled up to the window, card in hand, I was informed that the car 2 cars up had already paid for my drink and had wished me a good day.

I was in tears before I even had my coffee in hand.

I fought tears again when another car slowed to let me get over so I could get in the carpool lane on our way to the pediatrician.

I dunno. It was just a tall latte. It was just being overly polite on the freeway. But those little bits of unwarranted and unexpected kindness — those small bits of holiness in the midst of my crap week — they turned things around. The day didn’t get easier. I was and am a little worried about my boy. But their goodness was just enough to get me through a day where every obstacle just felt way too big.

Thank you, Latte Buyer. Thank you, Freeway Manners. I want to be more like you.

Thank you for giving me reason to be better.

 

 

hard lesson #101: I can’t do it all

But goodness, did it feel like I should be able to — especially at first.

[Forgive me for this post — I’m trying to say what’s on my heart while also being vague on the details, and that makes this whole thing a delicate little balancing act.]

This week was tough. I experienced some client difficulty —  blindsided by a quite long list of perceived failures and unmet expectations. Just enough of what was said was true enough (and my fault enough) that I’m doing some thinking, but the majority was unrealistic and unreasonable and downright bewildering.

Nevertheless, it will sting for a while. I’m not real hopeful about the future in this situation and it makes me sad.

But in another way, I feel freer than I have in months. A big cause of anxiety in my life is gone. I understand these expectations much more clearly now and realize that I can’t meet them AND care for my son as I should.

And from there it all becomes quite clear:

I’m not willing to do anything that keeps me from being good at what matters most to me (and what will matter most in the long-run): loving my husband and raising a healthy, happy boy. Quality work is important to me and I will always take my professional reputation seriously, but my family is always and firmly in first place. Otherwise, what am I doing all this for?

For a long time I tried really hard to do it all because I have a quite large innate desire to please — despite my new life, despite the additional challenges we had with my son’s health, despite the extra time those doctor visits required of me, despite the fact that my brain just didn’t operate the same way it did pre-kid — I tried to meet demands that were way too big for my new life.

It’s hard not to cringe when I think about all the times I told these people yes when I should have said no because of some misplaced sense of camaraderie or friendship (I do that a lot — business boundaries are something I seem hell-bent on learning the hard way). In some ways, I think I helped create these expectations and for that I’m angry at myself. In the end, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t able to be accommodating enough.

I came downstairs after the conversation just crushed after having sobbed my way through a bunch of I’m sorrys; feeling the weight not only of this moment but of other painful moments like it from years and years ago. It’s kind of a “50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong” thing — I heard a chorus of unkind voices all at once and felt like total garbage.

And there my boys were, waiting for me, reminding me of why I will disappoint outside people a million times over if necessary. My boys matter most. If I only get to pick one thing to come first, they are what I want to excel at. I will excel at my work too, but it just might take a little longer than it used to.

Being with my boys was exactly what I needed. The whole world keeps a record of wrongs, but my home — well, that’s a safe place for me. I’m blessed.

[All of that said, this year was admittedly difficult and I’ve made some changes that should make a huge difference work-wise in the year to come: mainly, that I have child care 3-4 days a week and am not working into the wee hours anymore. I know few people who are able to care for a baby all day long and then work all night — at the very least, I know I am not one of them. After killing myself for months and months, a family friend took care of A in November and December part time and I felt reborn. J and I both agree — I’ll never work again without child care!

Thanks for bearing with me as I thought some of this through while trying to only share what was appropriate. I’m hoping to finally get some peaceful sleep tonight.]

I miss the me-too’s

I hate not blogging right now. I miss it, both as a means of reflection/memoir and as a means of connection to other like-minded types.

It’s weird. So many people begin blogging once they start a family. My blog, begun in 2004, has been on life support ever since Ash was born (and let’s be honest, since I did that whole falling-in-love business).

I could say that it’s a lack of time, and it is partially that. For most of 2011, I cared for A during the day and worked my arse off until the wee hours of the morning. It was tough stuff.

But . . . it’s also not being real sure what to write about. My world is smaller than it used to be, my focus much narrower — out of sheer necessity. When I’m not working, I’ve got two main objectives: keep connected to my husband and keep my baby loved and thriving (also, sneak in a nap).

Often — in life and in writing — I feel awkward and self-conscious. These days I often approach conversations feeling like I don’t have a single interesting thing to say (unless you’re interested in how many BM’s my kid had today or how many naps he skipped).

Red cheeks . . . the far-off stare . . . this face means bad things are happening.

Becoming a parent is such an odd change of identity and it happens so quickly. Don’t get me wrong: my heart thrills at being a mama. I seriously dig it. But the moment A let out his first cry, a bomb went off in my life. My previous identity was obliterated. And I’m still trying to figure out what this new building should look like.

Right now the building has 3-inches of undyed hair growout. It has a tiny red speck of nail polish on each big toe, the last remnant of getting “all dolled up” with a sloppy, self-administered pedicure 6 months ago.

Time: my nail-polish remover.

Glam-or-ous.

The messy hair pajama brigade at around 7 am 11 am 4 pm.

Lastly, it’s this: it’s hard to find the right balance of good stuff and tough stuff.

Share only the good stuff (oh-so-tempting!), and I’m presenting this oddly idealized, non-existent mama haven, where every moment is filled with heart-warming baby-gurgling goodness. In addition, my hair and makeup are always done and my teeth are brushed.

(I read this article recently entitled “Facebook Is Making Us Miserable,” and couldn’t help but think that some of that “den of comparison” applies to blogs too. Also interesting is this post, called “Don’t Carpe Diem,” about releasing the pressure to enjoy every single moment of motherhood. Both are great).

Share only the bad stuff, and it sounds self-indulgent. I have several friends who would do anything to be a mama and still aren’t. Somehow it seems rotten to complain in the face of so many blessings.

So I haven’t shared much. I shared some of A’s challenges and milestones, but I remained largely silent on my own. And man, I miss those me-too’s right about now.

So I’m hoping to give this whole thing another shot and get some good conversations going again. I have some fun ideas and I’m oddly excited about the whole thing.

Hope to be back tomorrow.

(I think. Or maybe next Wednesday).

* * *

Have any of you read the articles I mentioned? What’d you think?