Life is full. Between guest teaching part-time, polishing up my manuscript, and chasing a toddler, I’ve been busy. Fitting in time for exercise, cleaning the house, socializing, and just plain relaxing has gotten trickier.
As I lay on my yoga mat yesterday, it hit me that one of the biggest drains on my brain power is Facebook. While I have a limited amount of time to sit on the computer, time spent holding my cell phone is an entirely different matter. I manage to scroll through my Facebook feed while doing all sorts of things. Standing in line at the grocery store, riding as a passenger in the car, waiting for my lunch to be ready, the list goes on. It seems like I’ve managed to fit phone surfing into every cranny of my life, which got me thinking about brain patterns and the ability to just be still and present in any given moment.
I have the urge to check my phone multiple times an hour, and mostly it’s for Facebook notifications so I can see when people have posted to groups or respond to something I put up. Information I definitely don’t need in the middle of spending time with my daughter or going about daily life. Watching a mom peruse Facebook while pushing her child in a swing the other day really drove this point home.
Add in the possible health effects of cell phone usage and it seems obvious it’s just not worth the risk. So, this morning, after checking my phone three times in less than hour, I deleted Facebook. I’ll still use it on my computer (because, let’s face it, I also think it’s great for connecting with people), but my goal is to no longer pattern my thoughts around needing to check my phone for updates.
I’m hopeful life will feel more relaxing with extra moments in the day. So far, so good.
It has been two weeks since we moved. Despite my excitement about our new adventure, I also had my worries. I did not know if two bedrooms would be enough. I was concerned we would miss our privacy. I feared I would somehow feel rootless, or homeless in a nontraditional sense, without an entire house to ourselves. Most of all, I did not want our little family to lose the intimacy of those precious moments shared just the three of us.
To my great relief, our first two weeks have made any trade-offs unimportant. So far, I do not miss a single item stuffed into our 1,500 cubic feet of storage, (and, yes, we used all 15 feet of vertical space thanks to my clever cousin-in-law). Nor do I lament the loss of the many items I gave away or sold. Life feels simpler with less. And, as it turns out, everyone else is so busy with daily routines that our little family of three is still a little family of three, just operating within a bigger family unit.
The bigger family unit is by far the best part. Household responsibilities are shared and I no longer spend my days obsessively cleaning. Instead, I write every second I can while she is asleep, trade nights on the dinner making, and generally can find someone eager to hold her for a few minutes when I need a break. As I made and cleaned dinner beside my sisters the other night, I felt at home in a soul-nurturing kind of way. When I got back from yoga on a different night and my husband was hanging out in the kitchen while one of my sister’s bounced the baby, another sister made dinner, and my nephew ate at the counter, there was this feeling of community I had missed in my solo days staying at home.
I feel so incredibly blessed to be with my family, in whatever setting life provides. Even if this is just a temporary arrangement, I am trying to make the absolute most of it. I have already realized my call to be a stay-at-home mom is not about baking or cleaning or decorating (which I know can be fulfilling for many). Instead it is about getting to be present for my daughter while also having the opportunity to pursue a piece of myself that would otherwise be lost in a 9 to 5 life.
This month, I decided to dedicate my middle grade fiction novel to E. Somehow, knowing she will someday read it, I am more motivated to craft characters I would want a 10 or 11 year-old to idolize, and in turn, feel much more inspired to finish it. Writing a novel for my daughter is pretty much the coolest project I have ever worked on. After all, she is the most important audience I will ever have.
Month seven has been about so much change, but I can tell it is the good kind because it has all just happened. Nothing has been forced. The house sold, we moved, each step has followed naturally by just putting one foot in front of the other. E. is changing every day, too. She is crawling, teething, chattering, climbing over pillows. As cliche as it sounds, she has shown me home is wherever I am with family.
I am awake. It is 4:16 AM. She is asleep. I should be too but instead the hum of the fan is pounding a hole straight into my head. Insomnia is not fair when your sleep revolves around someone who is four months old. I take it back. Insomnia is never fair. The sleep gods must have a strange sense of humor.
I get up and turn off the fan, worried I might wake my husband who sleeps restlessly in the Sacramento summer heat. I creep back to my spot, her small hand reaches out to make sure I am still there. During the fourth month she has shifted her preferences and now refuses to sleep in her bassinet. Instead she has to touch me. I don’t mind. I actually revel in the closeness. Her soft skin helps me sleep, her quiet breath a lullaby.
Often I feel attachment parenting is as much for me as it is for her. People like to warn us we will regret it later. We just smile. For now shared sleep buys us extra hours and strengthens our bond as a family. We know we are not alone. Many of our friends sleep with their babies. I don’t know why it is such a shameful secret. In other cultures it is normal. Separation after all those months in one body is what feels wrong, for me at least. We tried the other way. It only partially worked and was exhausting.
Without the fan I can now hear everything. My head no longer hurts but I am aware. The dog’s claws scrape the wall where he sleeps under the curtain, desperate for a little cool air from the open window. Birds chirp and then disappear. A large truck moves somewhere blocks away. My husband breathes rhythmically, the other dog snores. I listen as the dog beneath the window goes to the kitchen. He huffs. Shit. He needs water. I should get up.
The words of this post begin to sift through my brain, but I lie in bed, enjoying the feeling of her skin against my arm, listening. The other dog continues to snore as the first patters past the open window, outside. Shit. He is going to bark. I hear him huff a couple muffled yelps, his attempt at self-control. Then he lets loose. I jump out of bed and stumble into the door of his open crate. I make more noise than he does. My husband stirs, the baby is still.
I get the dog inside and give him water. He twirls in appreciation. His bowl was empty. I sit in front of the computer, 4:18 AM. The crinkle of my granola bar wrapper awakens the other dog. They both breathe rhythmically by my feet as I type, asleep again. I am the one still awake. Twelve minutes have passed. I no longer care.
I will pay tomorrow, but in this moment the price is worth it. The cycle of sleep, play, feed, repeat is the most beautiful gift life has given me, but it leaves little time for anything else. I know it is a season, a brief span of time where I am needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel rebellious stealing these few minutes for myself. I am like the teenager on the phone in the middle of the night when the alarm clock looms just beyond the horizon and my parents have given up on telling me to go to bed. Tomorrow I will show up to life with black circles.
Oh right, tomorrow is already here.
She often sleeps through the night now, or for eight hours at a time. I seldom go to bed with her, so somehow it still does not feel like enough before I have to pull myself out of bed to feed her. If I am lucky, she will go back to sleep and I will somehow find eight hours myself. If I am not so lucky, she will open her eyes and smile and I will still be lucky anyway because she is mine and for the moment my only job in life is to take care of her.
On second thought, I better try to steal a few more minutes of sleep.
The first three months of a baby’s life are often called the fourth trimester. As Eloise approaches three months of age, I now understand why. I knew she would need me close, but I had no idea how much I would also need her. Turns out sharing a body does not end quickly. However, with each passing day, little pieces of her independence (and mine) are beginning to shine through.
I can feel the fourth trimester closing.
Sure, she still needs me and I still need her, but she is beginning to look around, to turn her head and follow other people around the room. The colic has mysteriously disappeared in the last week and now I am able to put her to sleep around 9PM, leaving me with a couple hours untethered. Instead of the sleepy bundle, she is now alert and in search of external stimulation, babbling a mystical language I wish I could understand.
Our newborn has become a baby.
During my pregnancy and the early days of her life, I gobbled up literature on attachment parenting. I envisioned myself floating around the house with my sweet baby in a variety of baby carriers. I imagined harmonious co-sleeping. It all seemed so natural. But Eloise was not like the babies Dr. Sears describes. She demanded to be close but only tolerated her carriers for short stretches at specific times of day. She slept fitfully beside me but peacefully in her bedside bassinet for the majority of the night.
While strategic use of the carriers and a few hours of co-sleeping each morning have been integral to our first few months, they have not dominated our time together in the way I expected. Instead, she has mostly preferred to be directly in my arms, forcing me to get creative about housework and other tasks. At first I fought it, but then I settled into holding her much of the day, acutely aware of the fleeting time this would last.
Month three has heightened my awareness of time. She has transformed from a tiny newborn in premie jammies to a baby who suddenly fits her three-month clothes. There are only two more inches between her feet and the edge of the bassinet. She now throws her body forward and from side to side to show you where she wants to go. Her eyes watch movement with the kind of envy that tells you she cannot wait to run and dance everywhere she goes.
There are just so many little things I don’t want to forget. Like her smelly little hands from shoving them in her milky mouth all the time, or when her grandfather drove her around for thirty minutes so we could watch her auntie’s scene in a play, or how I finally discovered a way to safely sleep while holding her in my big blue chair. I want to tell her someday how her grandmother walked her through the Shasta forest, chanting like a monk because it was the only way to quiet her, and how her dog Odin would sleep with his body pressed up against the base of her basinet, ready to tell us when she stirred.
This month has sealed our bond. I loved her beyond words the moment I first saw her, but now I know her, too. Every time I put her down or let someone else take over, I marvel at her when she is in my arms again. My growing, changing daughter. Month three, while not always easy, has been powerful magic.
Since the beginning of our journey, our doula has told us, “Instead of worrying about perfection, be happy with good enough.” At first I did not know what she meant. I had never questioned my ability to be a mom, I figured I’d be good at it because I pour every ounce of myself into everything I care about. Ha. I should have remembered the learning curve in becoming a teacher, hard work does not always translate into greatness…
The first twinges of inadequacy crept in at the hospital, first with nursing that did not seem to work, then with the screaming in the middle of the night, and finally with the news we might have to go down to the neonatal unit, where I would be unable to sleep beside my new baby, in order to treat her jaundice. It turned out we got to go home, but when the tests came back again and we had to return to the hospital because her bilirubin levels were still rising, I fell apart.
I sobbed in the arms of my mother and all the way back to the hospital. The poor intake dude must have worried about me, such a mess over something so minor in the grand scheme of problems worthy of the pediatric unit, but I felt like I was letting my three-day old baby down by not being able to hold her through the night as she bathed in neon blue light, like we were missing a critical moment in our bonding. Thankfully, the pediatric ward is different from the neonatal unit, I was allowed to sleep in the same room, even if my inability to pick her up and soothe her felt traumatizing in my three-day postpartum, hormonal haze.
Minus the near-daily heel pricks and cruel joke of a cold the first week brought, the rest of the month passed without too much self-analysis as I recovered from birth and absorbed the sweetness of my new baby. However, month two has been a different story. Colic. If you don’t know what it is, count yourself lucky. Colic sucks. Screaming, sometimes uncontrollable, almost every evening for hours at a time. I joke as the sun sets that the vampire baby is waiting to emerge. Forget the Happiest Baby on the Block. Baby carriers like the moby and our rocking chair are our only solace, as long as we have the energy to keep moving.
Couple this with sleep deprivation and yet another stupid cold and I often feel like maybe I am doing something wrong. Last month I reported that the sleep deprivation was manageable. After eight weeks, I have changed my mind. It is survivable, but manageable makes it sound easier than it is. If it weren’t for my mother-in-law, who comes and rocks the baby sometimes for a couple hours during the afternoon, or my husband, who stays up until three in the morning rocking her in his chair, I would never get a chance to catch up. It turns out the advice of sleep when the baby sleeps only works if your baby sleeps! Accordingly, I have written this blog entry in 15 minute chunks and foregone the opportunity to do any chores to make this post happen.
She is worth it though, all of it. Her smiles, her little laugh, her intent focus on the world around her, make all the other bits disappear. She has made me the happiest I have ever been. But even with the happiness, being a mom is hard. All the worry and challenges can feel isolating. In the last few days I have let it out and found myself supported with words and hugs from the women in my life. I have realized that while concepts like attachment parenting are beautiful in writing, sometimes in our culture of mom at home by herself instead of surrounded by other baby holders, you have to put her down to survive.
So, find a mom out there and give her a gigantic hug. God knows she deserves it. And, if you are a mom, let yourself find peace in being good enough. Chances are, there is another mom nearby who totally gets it, and if there isn’t, well, I do.