At first I just wanted to get my feet wet, to see what it felt like to work again. Then I found myself to my ankles, and now I am up to my knees. Sometimes I open doors without thinking. Now the question remains, do I dive the rest of the way or continue to enjoy the ability to step back out, should the mood strike.
“For two years, no one wanted me.”
Those words from a child repeat in my mind. This week I met my match. The first kid in four years I could not crack in two solid days. Games of Horse followed by games of hiding. Maybe more days together would do the trick. I may never know. It all depends on decisions. A little deeper, a plunge perhaps, or the safety of the shallow end.
Last night, I needed a working family’s dinner, no dishes and no cooking. We invited friends to join us at a restaurant down the street. They have a brand new baby and as my friend described the feeling of leaving her son for the first time to go to a doctor’s appointment, the memory of intense attachment flooded back.
In the beginning, I could not leave her. I would get in my car and cry before I left the driveway. Still, I would go, for an hour or two, until the feeling became too intense and I had to be home again with her in my arms. As the months went on, I could go a little longer, an evening date perhaps or an afternoon of yoga and grocery shopping. Still that feeling would usually return and leave me desperate to be home again.
The first day I subbed I cried. It was in a friend’s classroom at a sister school for just four hours. To my great relief, I hadn’t forgotten how to be a teacher. The kids were great but I missed my girl. Then I subbed five hours with a gigantic smile on my face, homecoming to my old campus with my old friends and students. This week, a test. Two nine hour days back-to-back at the other school.
I missed her, but I was all right. Tired, but all right. Time after work was condensed to the essentials. Food, rest, time together. Each afternoon, when I arrived home, she and her dad were waiting for me in the driveway. Sweaty, covered in a little dirt, with gigantic smiles. They were better than all right. They had days packed with new adventures, happy to be together and happy to welcome me home.
Watching the kids play at recess, my thoughts returned to E. One day she won’t want me to hold her and squish her with so many kisses. I’m not ready to let go of our closeness, of our sweet time together. Still, maybe a couple days a week isn’t so bad. Maybe I need to let her dad have his turn. Maybe going away makes me better when I return.
This is the first Saturday in a long while where a weekend has taken on the familiar texture of time ticking, ticking, ticking. I used to hate the sensation of never having enough time, but there is also something powerful about making the most of each minute.
Up until now, each month has had a theme, some coherent thread to tie my post together. Month ten is the opposite. The only theme I could come up with is incoherence. Maybe it is the sleep deprivation talking.
Before the holidays we made real progress. We read a couple books, committed to a routine, and suddenly E was asleep by 7 or 8 in her own room, leaving me 4+ hours to burn in the evenings before forcing myself to go to bed. I was like a little kid. I did not want to sleep because it was more fun to stay awake.
Hey, I guess I was kind of like E is now.
Then the holidays and travel hit and suddenly E was working on four (maybe more) new teeth and our routine vanished. Add in a dose of toddler-like determination to practice her new standing skills in the middle of the night and it is now impossible to put her to sleep before midnight.
I’m serious about this toddler thing, too. I’m pretty sure E thinks she’s two years old already. Just putting a shirt over her head requires the patience and will power of a highly evolved being. Sometimes I’m there, sometimes I have to take a little break and let her shriek before regaining enough calm to maneuver her flailing arms through the holes. Forget those moments when she remembers how to take the shirt right back off.
I try to remind myself she has her own spirit and should be honored for her individual desires, but on a chilly winter’s night wearing a long-sleeved shirt to bed is non-negotiable. Going to sleep at a decent hour should be too, but I am at a loss on how to make that happen.
In my desperation for sleep I have returned the Pack N Play next to my side of the bed, made it up with comfy baby-safe bedding, and plopped E in there a couple times just so I can momentarily let my tired eyes shut without fear of being stomped over on the way to her next adventure, (believe it or not the stomping is actually starting to hurt!).
While fussing it out might be alright, she is instantaneously transformed into a screaming, gagging, nearly-vomitous wreck when left alone in the playpen. I just can’t do it. Last night Alex rescued her from my eyes-half-open watch and allowed me to slip into a shallow sleep as they headed downstairs to wait out her need to stand up repeatedly until a little past midnight.
The good news, she woke less during the night last night, is napping right now, and is still pleasant company as long as you don’t try to change her diaper, put a shirt on her, or wash her face. More than one person told me it would really get crazy when she started to move, but I had no idea. Suddenly my house is a mess as I chase her every which way. She is up the stairs in 20 seconds flat, (yes, a gate is on the way). The water bowl for the dogs is her favorite play space. She. Is. Everywhere. And, fast.
Month ten has been wild. The pace of our lives has picked back up to full speed. Where once I worried staying home would eventually drag out to the point of boredom, we now leave the house almost daily and cannot keep up with the list of things to accomplish. I have also settled into a content gratitude in all the disorder. Such a blessing to experience this beautiful incoherence from home.
Last night E pulled herself up and stood without holding onto anything for a few seconds. Her dad and I stared at each other. We couldn’t believe it. Around six months she skipped sitting and went straight to crawling. Then last week she suddenly started kneeling. Because she was late to the sitting party, we didn’t expect her to be standing so soon.
This month has been about hints of independence. Suddenly other people can babysit her again (thank heavens!). She makes her own jokes and tells her own stories. She is eating all kinds of foods and insisting on feeding herself. She is becoming a kid instead of a baby, (even though I know there are still plenty of baby moments left).
As she is becoming a little person, I am regaining parts of myself, too.
I am beginning to itch to go back to work part-time again. Her rediscovered comfort around others makes me feel better about leaving. While I won’t stop writing, I am also dreaming of teaching. Literally. Half my dreams have been about the classroom lately. I miss my old students. Even interacting with trick-or-treaters brought out that teacher part of me (much to the chagrin of the 11-year-old who tried to double up on the candy). Writing is great, but it fits into the time I steal for myself.
Maybe that is what needs to change, making time for myself instead of just stealing it when she is asleep. I am ready for someone else to take care of her part of the time. I am ready to get serious about work again, whether it is writing or teaching. I will finish the book I am writing first, but then maybe, just maybe, I will be ready to get out of the house and back into a classroom part-time.
Watching her get bigger is a bittersweet process. We are both gaining independence, but she will always be my sweet, cuddly girl. It is a big relief to know she will not need me close forever, even if there is also a whisper of sadness in this realization. Everything at once. Parenthood in three words. I don’t want to take a single second for granted, even if I am also excited for our future.
Our house is in escrow. Half-packed boxes are scattered in every room. By all appearances, we are moving. Five years in one house is the longest I have lived anywhere. Ever.
It feels good to go through everything and make piles. Keep and give away. We own so much we never use. Going through it all is a good reflection on what matters.
I like stuff. Dresses, jackets, shoes, woven wraps. But I have more stuff than I use. More stuff than I stop to appreciate. More stuff than matters.
My favorite part of moving is finding the person who could use what we don’t. Baby swings, strollers, clothes. The list goes on. For most everything, there is a person in our life or sphere who will put the item to better use. It is like a puzzle.
I have always admired people who leave behind their worldly belongings to embark on journeys, both inward and outward. The story of Buddha fascinated me as a child. I wrote a novel about a couple that leaves everything behind. Maybe I used to be a gypsy. I admit some things are harder to let go than others.
I debated whether to share this story so publicly. Our decision to live with family for a couple months before reestablishing ourselves somewhere new. It is so counter to what most people in our lives are doing. Instead of expanding our square footage, we are shrinking into two bedrooms and a storage unit. It is the kind of thing people talk about in hushed tones, as though something has gone wrong.
That’s the beauty of it though. Nothing has gone wrong. While a baby and an abandoned job were catalysts for change, we have wanted to live somewhere else for awhile. The missing piece has been where. It was the perfect moment to sell our house but an uncertain one to pick what comes next. Add in a desire for a little more community and the bonus of some serious cash saved and it all felt right.
Something deep inside is also calling me home. It makes me feel like a character in one of my own stories, like some deeper, spiritual journey awaits, like having children does not mean your life has to take a prescribed course. Maybe that is all too romantic and in a couple months we will know exactly where we belong. Until then, I am excited to embrace the unconventional, to live my bohemian writer fantasy, to make the most of resources, to rejoin a family structure congruent with the ages… To be without quite so much concern about what comes next.
And, in this little way, I am inviting you along with me. Because I know at least one of you feels called to a life of less stuff, greater simplicity, and a deeper sense of community. A kindred spirit. And, if not, that’s fine too, we can still be friends as long as you refuse to talk about my adventure in hushed tones. After all, that’s the joy of life, it is not one-size-fits-all.
I admit it. Before Eloise was born, I wondered what stay-at-home moms did all day. I never thought they sat around and ate bonbons while watching day-time tv, but I was curious what filled their hours. As it turns out, a lot of time is spent doing what I expected, households chores and baby care, but when I get creative there is also time for me in there too.
Years ago, I remember watching the Real Housewives of New York and thinking “me time” sounded pretty selfish. I did not get why those moms were so eager to get away from their kids to do something for themselves. In the real world with a real baby though, “me time” makes more sense. I crave more mental stimulation than I get from my household duties, even if I also love said household duties and don’t want to give them up.
By nature, I am already more of a WAHM (work-at-home mom) than a SAHM (stay-at-home mom), as I am sure is the case of many mamas. It’s part of that need for external stimulation. Moms who don’t work at home must find some other outlet to keep sane, (like a hobby?). Between writing, my dream of bringing yoga into local public schools, and an entrepreneurial desire to set-up a booth for woven wraps at the farmer’s market, my brain is on fire with part-time work possibilities. The trick, however, is finding focus while living on the schedule of a five-month old.
My projects have a stop-and-go feel as I work in small chunks before something more pressing (awake baby!) comes up. Some days, feeding and getting the baby to sleep is all that gets accomplished around here, which can be hard to accept after so many years of go, go, go. However, I have to remember this is enough. When I allow myself to sink into the slower pace, I feel blessed to have the freedom to absorb the little moments with my girl while also pursuing my non-mommy passions, even if only for fifteen minutes at a time.
I thought I would share what a typical day looks like for me. I don’t claim entertainment value, just a real peak at what my life looks like right now, at home with a baby, the mundane and the beautiful. Yes, I still get antsy and wake up some mornings wondering if I would be happier going to work, but as long as I remember to be in the moment with Eloise (while also taking control of the free moments for myself), being at home feels like the right choice for now.
8:15 AM: Our morning has officially started. Eloise has been pounding on my back for at least fifteen minutes. I turn her toward her sleeping dad and slip out of bed, careful to construct a pillow fort on my side before I leave. Co-sleeping is such a personal decision. For us, it buys extra hours of sleep and is a treasured part of our bonding as a family. There is no getting out of bed in the middle of the night. There is virtually no crying in the middle of the night. Just peaceful nursing and cuddles…
8:20 AM: I sneak off to steal a shower and a peak at my email. I can hear Eloise cooing to her dad while I hurry to finish getting ready for the day. She lets out some warning squawks, it is time for dad to get to work and me to take over. He graciously changes her diaper before the trade-off. We move to the kitchen where I put her in her activity bouncer. She plays happily while I make breakfast and clean as much of the kitchen as I can before she squawks.
8:55 AM: Squawking commences, the kitchen is still messy. I move her to her blanket on the floor and eat my breakfast while sitting next to her. The dogs want to jump me for my piece of toast with avocado and egg. She watches me chew hungrily. It is time to feed her.
9:10 AM: We settle into our nursing chair. I grab my Kindle and get comfy. She is too distracted to focus for more than five minutes, we move down to the floor and get dressed for the day. I attempt to braid my wet hair while she sits in the Bumbo and chews on a washcloth.
9:30 AM I put her back on the floor with her toys while I gather her diaper bag, my favorite baby carriers, and her carseat. I am pushing myself to be brave and go to a mommy babywearing meet-up at the park. I check again to see who is going. No one I know. I ask a friend if she wants to go. No. I start to talk myself out of it but then remember I already put make-up on and took a shower. A special occasion. Now I have to go.
9:40 AM I collect Eloise and she is hungry again. This time she eats and I am going to be late to the park. No backing out. Must. Be. Brave. I change her diaper even though it really does not need to be changed. Damn we use a lot of diapers.
10:15 AM We finally are ready to go. I am always late these days. The car ride is smooth, no crying. I love daytime. I pass a new yoga studio and make a mental note to check it out when I get home. I resist the urge to google it on my phone at a stoplight. I remind myself I am a mom and need to act like one.
10:45 AM I park and fumble to get Eloise into my woven wrap. I am not good at wrapping out of the car. It takes a couple minutes to spot the other moms with wrapped babies. I approach, smile awkwardly, say hello. Thank God they are friendly. I learn some tips, meet a couple moms, marvel at how openly they nurse. Eloise wants to join. I feed her under majestic oak trees. I should get outside more often.
12:15 PM Eloise is getting restless. I have used up my social courage. She missed her first nap. We leave. We get home and my husband is home for lunch. He helps me lug all the stuff in from the car and takes over diaper duty again, score.
12:50 PM I make myself a bowl of cereal with bananas, hopeful if I move fast enough I can still get her down for a nap. Again, I eat sitting on the floor while she plays with her activity gym. She has rolled three feet off the blanket and the dogs watch her, suspicious of her new ability to move.
1:15 PM She doesn’t want a nap even though she has missed her morning one. We go back to the kitchen, I put her in her jumper while I finish cleaning the kitchen and make lunch for my husband while I also snack on everything in sight. Nursing is eating me alive.
1:40 PM She has had enough of the bouncer. We move back to the floor and play for a bit. She coos at her doggies. I attempt to entertain her with toys. She gets bored, so I carry her while I straighten up the living room.
2:15 PM We try jumping on the nap train again. This time I fall asleep while she nurses. When I wake up she has drifted to sleep too. I build another pillow fort and sneak out of bed.
2:55 PM Now it is my time. I pull out the computer and try to submit documents to Covered California since we no longer get insurance through my old job. The site is down for emergency maintenance. Great, that’s reassuring. I grab another snack. I open my blog page and stare at the empty screen. Time to write but Eloise wakes up crying. I go in and nurse her back to sleep.
5:05 PM I have been writing for a half hour before she awakens again. I’m sure this time she is up for good, but she nurses back to sleep as I get sucked into social media on my phone. After I am sure she is out and I have spent a good ten minutes staring at her tiny features, I creep back to my computer and start typing again.
6:00 PM This time she is awake, awake. I text her grandma and throw her in a carrier so I can finish straightening up the house. Grandma arrives and takes the baby. I get dinner going. It is nice to cook without also entertaining Eloise. I listen to her play with Grandma and smile.
7:00 PM I eat dinner as Eloise gets fussy. It’s just about my turn again. I take back over and vacuum the house with Eloise in the carrier. Normally I wouldn’t be so on top of every chore but our house is listed and I never know when we are going to have a showing. That and Eloise is soothed by the sound of the vacuum.
8:00 PM My husband gets home from the gym and we take the dogs for a quick walk. It is time to get Eloise ready for bed. I wash her face, change her clothes, and her dad reads her a book. I lie in bed with her and let her nurse while I read on the Kindle. She looks likes she just about ready to drift off when her eyes bolt open and she wants to touch the glowing screen. Great. Another hour later without the Kindle I have her asleep and sneak out of bed, half awake myself.
10:30 PM I meet my husband on the couch. We watch tv, aware of the ticking clock and those little blue eyes that will be wide awake in the morning no matter what time we go to sleep. She inevitably calls me back to bed a half hour later. I never finished my blog post. Maybe tomorrow (or the next day, as it turns out).