2 1/2 years in, and I am definitely still adjusting to motherhood. 3 years in, and I am still adjusting to Houston. I have written before that I was unhappy for much of 2014, and 2015 was looking to possibly shape up in a similar way (albeit a little better). And honestly, partially because I don’t really recognize myself as unhappy (maybe a bit ‘flat’ or a bit ‘whiney’) until I get it right. Until I realize that I have made myself happy. That happened this weekend.
Saturday morning I took Sam to a kids’ swimming pool (Noah’s Ark) and we just had a blast. It was lovely to focus totally on him, and to be a big kid myself – yes, I climbed through all the water tunnels (so elegantly with my whopping bump), went down all the kiddos’ slides and picked Sam up and threw him in the water fountain (much to his delight). It was delightful, silly, exhausting fun.
Cue a stupidly large Mickey D’s, and then an unplanned nap on the sofa. Although I was woken by Sam waking from his nap (after only 2 hours! 3 hours at the pool is supposed to buy me more than 2 hours!) he then played happily for several hours while I made a new card for my Etsy shop (<— still a work in progress) and updated my Stampin’ Up! blog. Pizza dinner, easy night down for the dwarf and then movie night with the Husband – we watched St. Vincent which was pretty good.
Today I played hard with the kiddo in the morning and then went and helped a friend set up her Stampin’ Up! website. She fed me lunch and I got a delicious frozen StarBucks on the way home. Sam woke the second I got home (again, after only 1.5 hours! What is up with this kiddo?) so we tidied the house together and then hit the garden.
One of the best things Wes & I did was fence off a small area of our garden for Sam. We put in his sandbox, my hammock, and small IKEA table and chairs, a bench, a slide and a paddling pool. If Sam and I go out there I can get snatches of anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes to myself blogging, surfing the internet or reading. And when he does want to play, it’s easy for me to engage in water fights and sandcastles and chalk pictures on the wall. We usually have a blast and today was no exception.
We finished up with snuggles in the hammock – occasionally Sam will take his sippy cup and drink it like he would drink from a bottle as an infant, seeking out things to play with with his hands, his eyes going heavy and going into the ultimate snuggle mode – it’s BLISS.
Now the little one is in bed, I am finishing my blog post while eating delicious pecan toffee, and somewhere in there I even managed a face and a hair masque.
So – why was this such a blissful weekend? What made it feel perfect? It wasn’t tantrum free (you try telling a hungry 2-year old that is 1.5 hours past his nap time that he has to leave the swimming pool of awesomeness). I bought a new nail polish and don’t like it (damn you Essie). I didn’t get time to blow dry my hair and it looks a mess. I did, however, have time to really play with and engage with Sam – both at home and out and about. There was time for my hobbies, and some friend time. But what is most surprising, is that there was no work. Not a single email, nor a review. I didn’t open anything I am working on to poke at it, and yes, I let a few overdue things just sit in my inbox (I am certainly not luxuriating for time at work right now).
It’s odd. It’s uncomfortable if I think about it, and yet it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I realize that even 2.5 years in, I am definitely struggling to adapt to (working) motherhood. When I became a mum, I tried to carry on just like before – keeping work the same and fitting the kiddo in around that. When I couldn’t fit everything in, I dropped the ‘me’ things – make-up, skin care, crafting, blogging. I squeezed Sam in when I could (after a whopping great 3 weeks of maternity leave), and I did whatever it took to keep work going.
It’s not working for me anymore (sorry for the pun). Academia is hard – the way funding is (pretty nonexistent) it seems like a lot of input for not a lot of payback. At the end of the road, when I have focussed so much mental energy on work, and I have nothing to show for it it is hard to look at my beautiful son and think “I am glad I put you second” and “I’m glad I don’t know you as well as I could” and “Sure, I read you stories, and tuck you in, and I’m the one you run to when hurt – but I don’t mind having missed out on those little interactions that are your whole world right now”. It’s hard to look in the mirror at an uncared for reflection and say “I am glad I look a mess”. It’s hard to look around the house and say “I don’t mind that this doesn’t reflect my personality”.
I don’t have the answer. Academia seems to get harder and harder, and survival seems to depend on more and more publications and collaborations and grant submissions. And truly, I love what I do! When I can focus on my real work (not work I have foolishly agreed to do for others, so I am working on reducing that), I truly am fascinated by behavioral genetic questions and I love answering them and writing on them. But kiddos don’t wait, and papers don’t hold me at night. It feels like the wonder in Science is getting less and less, while the wonder in my son grows daily.
Yet, I still hugely look up to so many great Scientists. I cannot let the dream of being like them go. It’s clear that I need to reduce work. I also need to streamline what I do (focussing on behavior almost exclusively) and be much more efficient when I am working (less Facebook, more papers…). Yet, I am scared I cannot be successful like that. It’s hard to let go of the 24/7 work mindset. But I am also scared that I won’t be be successful continuing like I am, and I will have sacrificed everything anyway and be left with nothing. Perhaps these are the ramblings of the third trimester, but I am scared of not having more papers than most people at my stage, of not having more grant submissions, of not having funding. I am terrified of saying no. Yet, I feel I have to take the plunge. I need to turn work off sometimes, and reprioritize when I am at work. I’ve never been like this! I have always been able to do anything and take on any task. I could work my way out of mediocrity. Perhaps this was the fearless I needed to be when I wrote back in January 2014. Anyway, I have to give it go. I have to make some changes.
I have no idea if anyone else struggles like this – I see so many people having careers and personal lives seamlessly, but I am happy to go out on a limb for a minute and say: I am struggling. I am not getting it right. I am changing. I don’t recognize myself and I am worried that the ‘old me’ would have negatively judged the ‘new me’ (what a bloody awful confession).
I am optimistic, I am scared, I am excited, I am terrified. I have no idea how this will play out.
Sam was woken at 5.45 by George’s meows… normally we would leave him to yell it out, but he heard Wes going downstairs, and that’s (quite reasonably) ball game for sleep for Sam, so I took him into our bed. Then ensued 40 minutes of me trying to sleep, while Sam told me everything on his mind: “Mummy has hair…. Oh, Mummy hair nice…. Nice Mummy….” [rubs hair] “Georgus crying… Georgus cry…”
“No Sam, George was meowing…”
“Meow? Meow!” [cue several minutes mewing like a cat. “Thomas! Thomas got stuck on the bridge…. Bridge shake, shake… Percy came, Oh Percy…. OH PERCY” and so on, plus of course, several requests for milk.
But it was nice, he did snuggle well, and I enjoyed having him close. Then up, and dressed at the speed of light, and out into the pre-packed car:
Ugh, the totally over packed car:
Then off to school, except I am about 2 hours earlier than usual which means:
TRAFFIC. School traffic. UGH. But after 30 mins we get to the Y and Sam is:
Well, it is alright for some, eh? Luckily he wakes up quickly and is excited to get his backpack on:
We enter daycare, and I tell Sam he has to go to his classroom. He barrels off, ahead of me and the Director (how does he know where to go??):
Finds the classroom, and immediately joins in circle time. He sits down, sees what the other kiddos are doing and copies them, building quite a fine lego tower:
Since things are going so well, I hastily depart and make my way to the office and enjoy a new treat:
Our teeny tiny car instead of our big huge truck, in the teeny tiny work garage. No more 20 million point turns! Woo hoo! I make my way to my desk. It is 8 am, I haven’t usually left the house by now… I’m not impressed:
But hey, I make myself a big breakfast (OK reheat my premade breakfast) of my old standby: pumpkin oatmeal:
I am sure the novelty will wear off, but it was not a bad start! Long may it continue.
I never wrote part 3 of my letter to my pediatrician… It was hard; parts 1 and 2 involved accusation and anger and explaining the thoughts I had worked through with friends. Part 3, the aftermath, was something that until last Friday I was still working through in my mind. So maybe now I can write it, but in the meantime, the aftermath of my idiot pediatrician is that tomorrow, Wes goes back to work after 31 months at home, and Sam will start daycare at our local YMCA.
I have so many thoughts rattling around my head about this, and even some that are probably conflicting. I can’t seem to find a coherent answer for how I am feeling about this (which doesn’t really matter as it is happening anyway) but here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
(1) Wow. Maybe we won’t be broke. Maybe we will be able to buy actual furniture, and get rid of our freeniture (that’s furniture found at the side of the road, folks). That will be glorious.
(2) Maybe, just maybe, I will also be able to afford decent-ish wine. My one true love: wine. Also potentially glorious.
(3) This is going to be a big change. I loathe, fear and detest change. I deal with it by smiling and being energetic and super positive… but then I have some huge meltdown after a few months. Not looking forward to that.
(4) I so also thrive on challenges, which usually involve change. When life has got too stagnant I tend to do stuff life totally change my career, or train for bodybuilding competitions. I hate change, but in 2009 I moved continent; 2010 met my hubby on line, and got 2 cats; 2011 got engaged, got married, moved in with hubby; decided to change jobs and acquired 3 turtles, a dog and 14 fish; 2012 I got pregnant, changed jobs, bought a house, moved State and become a mum; 2013 was quiet! I As was 2014, in fact, it’s been dead since 2013 (aside of changing job again)! I’ve stagnated and I think that is part of my unhappiness. Maybe I hate change, but I need it. Yes, for me this might be a good thing.
(5) I’m sad Wes can’t spend all that time with Sam. It is such a rare and beautiful gift to have time with your children, and it breaks my heart to take that away from him.
(6) But Sam so needs interaction with other children – and he needs to get out. And he needs to be stretched (cognitively, not physically – he’s still crazily tall). I can’t forget that I was unhappy with his day-to-day life: very rare park trips, no play dates, no crafts, very little structure, no sense of time, few life skills (no chores, no cooking). When I was around Sam LOVED to be engaged in sensory activities… his life needs more than that. His days were fine, but they weren’t exceptional and I admit, it bothered me (I am a terrible person. Look at this cute picture of Sam engaging in an activity and forget about how terrible I am:
(7) But he was so happy. Rarely would you meet a happier toddler than Sam. And he follows rules, rarely tantrums, is loving, sweet and still just a bundle of joy. Is it worth to risk that happiness so that he can eat at set times, and sit in a circle? Is it the humdrum of every day life, and the impersonality of this crazy capitalist world that sucks the joy out of us? Ultimately, all I have ever wanted is for Sam to be happy. Will he lose that innocent happy that comes with only ever being around people who love you more than anything in the world? Who think you are the best thing since sliced bread and delight in everything you do? Why does he have to learn that now, at 2? He has years to be a face in the crowd, and to fitted in to someone else’s goals, and to be taught he is a problem…. why can’t he just have these extra few years of innocence?
(8) Oh my God when he is hungry who will feed him, and when he cries who will hold him???
(9) Holy crap. Families with two working parents work hard. So hard!! Today I made dinner, prepped for the week, packed Sam’s school bag, packed the car with my work stuff, made our lunches and did a little bit of tidying (Wes did most of the cleaning) – all the while of course being Thomas / chasing a scary monster / singing ‘heads shoulders knees and toes – and I am EXHAUSTED. Like, feet fizzing, brain melting, eye droppingly exhausted. At 9 pm Wes went to bed… how do families do this??
(10) Mind you, Wes and I have actually started to appreciate each other (maybe even life each other? No… no too far) now that we don’t have time to actually see each other…
(11) My career is going to suffer even more. I don’t even know how I am going to get tenure and have my husband at work. It will probably never happen. I’ll lose my job. I’ll never find another job in America. This is a disaster.
(12) I’ve had it so easy. I like it easy!! Why can’t it be easy??
(13) Families all over the Western world do this all the time. They are fine. Their kids are fine. Their kids are HAPPY. Their kids are well-adjusted. Sam will be happy. Wes will be happy. We’ll find a new normal and we’ll make it work.
(14) Dang, you are going to sleep so well now. Speaking of which….
Looking back, I think that 2014 was one of my toughest years yet. Simply because I was very unhappy for much of it. Which it feels churlish to say, since I landed an awesome job and watched my beautiful infant grow into a loving, happy, toddler from within a my large detached house and throughout all this neither I nor my family suffered from any major illnesses (somewhat of a first…). Clearly my blessings were manifold. Which goes to show you that happiness really cannot be bought, and is more complex to achieve than we think.
I hate being unhappy because I hate the person it makes me. I become negative and distant and difficult to be around. I complain. A lot. I am mean about the people I love to the people who love them. I consume the conversation around me with minor worries that can’t be solved. It’s boring. I am not there for my friends when they need me, because I am so consumed with my own problems. I lash out inappropriately and insensitively. I drain those around me.
So, when I got to thinking about 2015 and New Years Resolutions, all I could think was ‘I just want to be happy’. But where to start? Then I read this post by Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point in which she lists the ‘Things [she] did to make [her] life better in 2014′. And that seemed like a great place to start – if I can list the things that made me happy in 2014, I can strive to do more of them in 2014. So here we go:
Things I did that Made Me Happy In 2014:
1. Got Early NIghts
For some reason I had it in my head that I couldn’t go to bed before 10.30, and generally I would kill time until about 11 pm. Then on Christmas Eve, Wes and I watched Downton Abbey and it finished at 9.30. We couldn’t think of anything else to watch and so Wes said “Shall we just go to bed?”.
“No!” I exclaimed in horror, although I did admit that I was tired, and I proceeded to fail to think of a single thing I did want to do. So grudgingly I went up to bed, and lay down. Within minutes I was asleep, and got possibly the best nights’ sleep I have had in ages. Even better, instead of being roused from the depths of a dreamless sleep by the raw of an angry dwarf, I woke slowly and peacefully and gazed at the window quietly until I came to. When the dwarf did yell, I felt more than happy to go and grab him.
I have had 9.30 bedtimes twice since. It has been glorious. I may have discovered it late in the year, but so far just going to bed super early has been one of the things that has made me feel the best.
2. Cleaned up my Facebook feed
I am a feminist (so are you too, probably, you just might not know it), and I am politically liberal, and these stances mean a lot to me. I want to fight for gender equality and gender acceptance and women’s rights and universal healthcare. But Facebook is probably not the place for me to do that (too much). While those issues are very dear to my heart and I have no intention on being silent about them, getting into Facebook scraps and reading what the latest idiot teabagger was doing actually brought me a lot of stress. Much as I enjoyed Slate and some other online magazines, NOT reading about why I should be angry made me… well… a lot less angry.
I also ‘unfollowed’ some friends who frequently speak about being anti marriage-equality, or write things I feel are racist, the vocal anti-vaxxers, and some “friends” whose news feed I was checking only to have mean thoughts about them (come on, I was not the only one who did this, right?). I still follow people who challenge my views, but not those who anger them.
3. Sorted out my skin care
Ahh…. I discovered Kiehls. This is the first brand to moisturize my very dry skin, without making it dull or breakout, and the first brand to make a noticeable difference to my wrinkles. It’s an indulgence, but it is not crazy expensive.
4. Drank more water
I was plagued with headaches and migraines for months, and in the middle of a bunch of investigations, 2 doctors said to me “You might have diabetes insipidus – you should see an endocrinologist”. Diabetes Insipidus (DI) is basically a condition were you pee too much / don’t absorb enough water and when I looked up DI treatment for milk cases it was basically ‘drink a lot of water’. So… I have started doing that. Like 120 fl oz / day on top of my daily decaf coffees and other fluids. Boom – headaches gone and for the first time in my life EVER I have nice nails (oh wait, second time, the first time was pregnancy). Gone are the dry, brittle, flaky things I had and in their places are quite reasonable talons!
Water it is…
5. Ate Salads
I always feel good after eating a salad. I never wish I had chosen something else. Enough said.
6. Played hooky
Just occasionally 🙂
I hate to admit it, but I never regret getting down and really cleaning out a section of the house, and I ALWAYS feel great afterwards. I just have to bite the bullet and do it. I must be getting old….
8. Spent time intentionally
This was one of the things that made me most happy, but one of the hardest to do. When I had free time, it would often be in snatches and I found it hard to sit down and focus in on anything, so I spent a lot of time just reading Facebook and surfing the internet. That definitely did not make me happy. At all. But every time I sat down and did a project, no matter how big or small, I felt so much better after.
I was so delighted when I did a ‘craft swap’ with my friend Mandy at the end of the year – I was challenged to make a batch of Christmas cards for her, and so I was ‘forced’ to sit and create. Often sitting down was the hardest part, but once I started the time flew and I felt great afterwards (somewhat like going to the gym… but that is another story).
9. Spent time with my boy
It sounds obvious, right? You have a kid, you want to spend time with him. However, funnily enough, people often suggest the opposite. But when I was unhappy, or tired, or stressed, people usually said “Take some time for yourself! Get a manicure! Go shopping! Get your hair done!”. I can see that for many that is great advice, but for me: Sam is my happiness. Sam is my fun, he is my comfort, he is my worry and my bliss and wild side and my rest. I am never as happy as when he and I have done an activity together that we have both engaged in – I love to read books with him, bake with him, romp in the park with him.
This. This is what makes me happy.
I hope that being conscious of these things will being them more fully into my life. I am aware of all the friends who have stuck by me when I have done almost nothing but moan this year – I am truly blessed to know you and you will always have my heartfelt gratitude.
Here is to changing in 2015 and being ‘me’ again.
A letter to my pediatrician after his explosive diagnosis:
Part 1: Setting the scene
Dear Dr “I”;
Edit: If this tl;dr then know this: Doctor’s surgeries are shitty places to get a decent assessment of a child.
Earlier this week, my son and I came for his 24 month check-up. You might have remembered us from previous visits, because we have always come as a 3-some: myself, my son and my husband. You have commented that it is “nice that Dad comes” – assuming, I guess, that he is the main bread winner. Actually, he is a Stay-At-Home Dad and I am a Work-out-of-Home Mum and this is technically his “job”. He arrives early, having packed a diaper bag full of those things needed to manage a 2 year old out the house with minimal disruption to people around him, and bouncing a toddler who has been well-dressed to my specifications. I am the one who arrives just in the nick of time, dashing into the surgery in a flurry, leaving a trail of apologies in my wake while I fend off emails on my cell ‘phone. I am also usually shedding small toys from my handbag that I packed this morning because I want it to look like I am deeply involved in my son and fear everyone’s judgement not only as a working Mum, but one who frequently works 6 days a week and in the evenings. I guess you don’t usually see all this because, actually, I have never known you to be on time.
However, this week our only child-safe vehicle was kaput and with a toddler in Houston that is a problem. So my husband offered to go and replace it, while I took Sam to his check-up. This time *I* was the one who arrived early, looking calm, dressed not in a forbidding suit but casual Mom-dress that I actually selected to look a bit fashionable, but also a bit cosy. How I would like to look if I was a Lady who lunches. Successful, but approachable. In tow, I had my son looking smart in a new outfit. I had carefully packed a ‘Thomas Train’ wheelie suitcase full of educational but engaging, wooden (not plastic!) toys. I selected those that would keep my son entertained, but also show off his intelligence, such as his ability to label every letter, tell you it’s sound, and give you something that starts with that letter. ‘A? Ah-ah-ah-ah… Apple!’.
Despite all this careful preparation, the visit did not get off to the greatest of starts because it was slap bang in the middle of nap time. Yes, I scheduled it for then, but there seems to be a microcosmically small window of time when we can get a morning appointment with you. I am still not even sure if it is possible. Call 2 months before the appointment due date? Too early – call back later. Call 6 weeks before? “TOO EARLY” says the irritated receptionist. Call 5 weeks ahead? The same receptionist gasps “Oh its so late! Why didn’t you call earlier? I guess we can squeeze you in in the afternoon”. I have never successfully figured this system out, so I just bring my son at times inconvenient to us, and especially to him.
You were running late (surprise!), so I wrangled my active, grumpy toddler around the waiting room which does have toys and fish and books and other children, so it’s generally not too bad. He saw a little girl, probably about 4-5 months of age. “Baby!” he yelled delightedly, and ran offer to offer her some of his cheese. Embarrassed (but secretly a little proud too) I apologized to the baby’s mum. She laughed and didn’t mind. It was going OK. I can do this. I can handle the Mum stuff. I can not only handle it, but handle it well.
The nurse came out – “Dr I is running late, we’ll take his blood first”. Take his blood? No one told me this. But, OK, whatever, I do whatever medical professionals recommend, so we sat in the lab waiting room and I filled in forms while my son spilled his milk on the floor and stomped in it saying “Splash!” and my carefully cultivated exterior began to unravel a little. This year’s form asked tonnes of questions – 4 pages of them. ‘Does your child point when s/he needs something’. Yes. ‘Does your child smile back at you?’. All the time. ‘Does your child bring you things to show you. Not for help, just to share?’. Ummm… not sure. I don’t see him in the day much… He brings me presents… this morning at the park he brought me an ants nest [I chided myself for throwing it down in disgust] but no… never just to show me, only to give to me. Circle ‘no’.
‘When there is an unfamiliar sound or person in the room, does your child look to you?”. I can’t really remember an unfamiliar thing happening… I can recall when strangers come over for a visit and my son (who is somewhat shy) gets uncomfortable he runs over to me, and asks to be picked up or holds my leg. I think. It doesn’t happen often. I search the recesses of my mind and curse myself for not being able to recall such a situation. OK, no, I guess he doesn’t ‘look to me’, rather he runs over to me. OK, I’ll circle ‘no’.
Of course, this is a truncated version of what it is like for me to fill in this damn questionnaire, because I am filling this in while watching an over-tired toddler careen around the room. So my thoughts actually go something more like
“When there is an unfamiliar – Yes you can have some cheese – sound or – Please stop giving the baby cheese – person in the – No you can’t have a cookie – room, – Please stop yelling – does your –Sam! Stop yelling, you can’t have a cookie, but you can have a banana – child look to you?”. I can’t really – No banana? How about milk? – remember – Here is your milk – an – Oh no, the milk is spilled, shall we clean it up?– unfamiliar thing – Very good!! Put the paper in the trash please – happening… – No! The trash! Don’t give it to that little boy! – I – No! Stop making him eat it! Oh God, some mother is going to be hella pissed at me now – can recall – Shoot, where did I put *my* bag? Where is my wallet? – when –There it is! But wait, where is my… Sam! Put all your letter cards back” – strangers come ‘Oh God, where is Sam?!? I’ve lost my child. Oh, he’s counting the fish. Very good. Yes, there are three fish – over” and well… you get the picture. These are my thoughts as I search the depths of my mind for memories of obscure situations and try to quell the growing tide of Mummy guilt that I don’t know my child as well as I should, haven’t been observant, have missed these key times in his life… all the while trying to fill this damn questionnaire in. I wish my husband were here, we’d tag team it – one would fill in the questionnaire, double checking with the other, and the other would amuse Sam with increasingly silly games. We’re a good team. We’re not bad solo, but it is somewhat uncharted territory. But I pride myself for being honest in this questionnaire. Wary of Mums who think their child can do no wrong, I err on the side of caution.
My “successful but approachable” exterior was becoming slightly more disheveled.
Ahhh.. we’re being called for the blood draw. “Sam, shall we go see the nurse?”
*Curses myself for making it a question”. “Well we are going anyway”.
Sam toddles in, and is strapped in a chair on my lap. He doesn’t want to be strapped in a chair. He wails. The nurse pricks his finger and he is a little annoyed, but hellaciously pissed when she keeps squeezing blood drops out. Repeatedly. Despite him repeatedly saying ‘No, no, no!”. This is not helping his mood. When the blood taking is done, I walk off with my over tired, angry toddler and find ‘Room E’. Looking at the letters distracts Sam from his anger – he dutifully called out each letter on each door and when he sees ‘E’ says ‘Yaaaaay!”. Wait, what? He has to go *in* Room E? But he wanted to continue telling Mummy what all the letters were. He loves letters! He hates sitting in small bare rooms! Oh man, is he angry.
But, he’s pretty reasonable, for being one of the the irascible, irrational, unpredictable things known as a toddler. Distracting him with his toys works somewhat. Then I find a book – a new book! A book from the doctor he hasn’t seen. Sam sits down and gets busy “reading” the book – turning the pages and pointing out everything that he can. The nurse comes in. Sam doesn’t look up – it’s a new book!! “Sam, can I measure your head?”
With nary a pause he says:”Nope”.
She looks unsure. I don’t know if I should intervene? I decide not to – I am not the medical professional here after all. She continues:
“Sam, I am measuring my head – look! Can I measure yours?”
Without really looking up: “Nope.”
The nurse looks like no 2-year old has ever refused the amazingly wonderful treat that is having your head measured. I am decidedly unsurprised by this response, but she seems unsure again. “Sam, would you like to touch the tape measure?” I try to help: “Sam – would you like to look at the tape measure? It has numbers on!”
Sam is smiling. There is a train in the book! Sam’s favorite thing! He glances askance at the strip of thin paper, makes a quick decision and turns back to the train. “Nope”.
The nurse starts to get desperate. “Maybe I can measure Mummy’s head!”. I decide I have had enough of this charade. While I appreciate her efforts not to touch a child without their permission and her efforts to engage Sam – and I really do – this is becoming a farce. “You’re just going to have to do it anyway”. “Really?”. “Yes! Just do it! He’ll be fine”. The nurse measures Sam’s head… he doesn’t mind, until it obstructs his reading “No, no, no!”.
I’m not complaining about these activities, I’m just setting the scene for your entrance. I am just letting you see a glimpse into how we arrived at the point we saw you.
The nurse, Sam and I go out the room to weigh Sam. He’s cool with standing on the scales and looking at the numbers. Just under 30lbs. Perfect. He doesn’t want to go back in the room – the letters! He wants to tell me about the letters on the doors outside the room. Amazingly, he is actually pretty good about going in the room, with a minimal but short wail. Me, nervous of medical professionals, unsure how to interact with them, is starting to get more flustered. I’m getting hot. I regret straightening my hair and wearing it down, and wish I had just pulled it up. When it is height time, I haik Sam up onto the bed, he’s pretty tolerant of this – he fusses when it takes too long. I apologize, but these are things toddlers do, right? They are starting to know their mind, and starting to want to control their world. It’s part of the territory, right? No toddler wants to lie on a bed when there are toys and books around. That’s why I like people with / who have had / who work with toddlers. You know the deal, and I know my toddler has not yet hit the ‘terrible 1s / 2s / 3s / whatevers’ so I think he looks pretty good. 37.5″ tall. Not bad. Growing well.
The nurse runs through the checklist: “Is your kid walking?” Yes. “Is he eating a variety of foods?” Yes. “Is he regularly eating fruits and vegetables?” Yes. “Does he have at least 50 words?”. I pause…. I am no good at guessing numbers of things or distances (like… I am often crazily off). It’s hard to think on the spot of 50 words that Sam’s knows. While also managing my cranky toddler who wants to be outside. “Yes, think so”. “Is he sleeping?”. “Ha! No! He was! He has decided he doesn’t want to go to bed this week!”. You are big on sleep and sleep training, and I suspect you are going to go to town on this. We’ll have the familiar jokes that I am a ‘softie’ (actually, more often than not it is my husband who ducks out of your strict commands – please quit with the gender stereotyping). You’ll tell me that ‘we need to put the kid’s needs above our comfort’ and I’ll pretend to be meek about it, and we’ll make a plan. I know how these things go.
The nurse asks me if I have anything to ask the doctor. I hate this. I always feel I have to ask something so that I appear engaged and interested, but as a developmental psychologist who grew up at a busy child minders, who has nannied, volunteered with kids and taught early years education, I generally don’t have any questions. But dutifully, like preparing for a job interview, I have thought of one “Do you have one of those informational leaflets that you print out on potty training? Like we have had ‘how to feed your child’, ‘how to interact with child’ ” and so on? Do you have one for potty training?”. Actually, I don’t need one. I know how to potty train. But I want to give it to my husband who is not moving on this important issue. “You’re STILL doing that?” she asks, incredulous. I am confused. Do I need to remind her my son is only 24 months? Like, this is not a big deal yet? I becoming more flustered and stressed. “You have to ask the doctor”. She says. OK. I am now resigned to another lecture from you. But we’ll work it out. You’ve been a good guy so far. A good pediatrician. We’ve recommended you. Our friends have followed our recommendation. Now I feel guilty about this, but – more on that later,
And she leaves. We wait for you. I sniff – ugh, dirty diaper. I take Sam to change him, and we bump into you going through Sam’s questionnaire. You love kids. You clearly really love kids. You always greet Sam with an excited “Hey Sam – how are you doing?”. You don’t today. You look wary. You look hesitant. “Hi Sam” you quietly and go back to your papers. I worry about your last patient – I hope that you didn’t have to give some bad news to a family. I change Sam’s diaper. Surprise! He doesn’t want to go back in the small room. He does. But he’s pretty grumpy about it.
We play some games together and wait. I am disheveled, and feeling crappy from the nurse. All doctors make me nervous and I am anxious about seeing you. Sam is at the tired toddler stage where at any moment he could throw a fit. He’s doing well, but he is cranky, tired, and really wanting to be at the nurses station where he saw a large jar of lollipops. We’re managing, we’re doing OK but it is not an ideal situation.
Then you come in…. We will discuss how *that* went in part 2.
In the comments section of my last post, B wrote “I love that you incorporate fun stuff into your days despite how busy you are. I think it’s so important…”. It was interesting that was commented on , as it is something I have been very conscious of recently. My ultimate downtime activities are sewing, crafting, blogging and baking, but they have had a tendency to fall by the wayside recently.
We all have barriers to finding time to ourselves, and it’s not so much a matter of whose are bigger, less surmountable, or more noble. Rather it is figuring out what yours are, and whether and how you want to overcome them. In a post that started me thinking about seeking creative time, J wrote about her disability hindered her feeling that she deserved time to be crafty (crafts also being J’s “me time”). Its different for all of us, but guilt and tiredness are my barriers.
I get relatively little time with my son. If I get home at 6 and we have dinner until 6.30, it is just an hour to his bedtime. I realized that I experienced a certain amount of guilt every time I had non-work time and did not spend it with him. One evening I was sewing something on a deadline and I asked Wes to watch Sam. When I heard them giggling together I immediately felt like I had lost a bonding opportunity with my son and nearly stopped what I was doing. But something – perhaps J’s post – stopped me and I finished my project. My son still loved me, we still got quality time together, and I had done something fun.
Work guilt also holds me back – there is an ever growing to-do list in an ever harder funding climate as I become more and more senior with less and less funding (that’s the short and somewhat dramatic version). That’s not going to change, and I know I have to fight it. But I have learned that there is a limit of what I can give outside of 9-5; 3 evenings a week and one good weekend day stint, and I’m probably spent. Realizing this has helped me enjoy my non work time.
The other thing was tiredness – either physical (from my new fitness regime) or mental (see above picture for my working hours!). I used to think that I was only capable of zoning out into Facebook or TV. I’ve realized that a small craft project is just as relaxing, and that I feel much better afterwards. So, despite my Saturday morning gym routine, all Saturday afternoon and evening at work, and a 3-h drive to a rained out water park on Sunday, I still found time for the following ‘me’ activities this weekend:
Making Halloween packages to be posted to friends in Alabama:
Making pumpkin spice cupcakes to celebrate my MS student submitting her first (first-author!) paper:
And making a Thanksgiving onesie for Sam’s friend Hadley:
Oh, and time for a blog post written in the bath with a glass of wine 😉
How about you? I loved all the feedback on my Facebook break-up and health kick. What are your ‘me time’ activities? Do you find it easy to find time for them? What are your barriers if not? Share your ‘me projects’ with me!
I am looking forward to 2014. I have not made resolutions, per se, but there have been things bubbling in the back of my mind that I want to do, or change, or expunge. It’s been hard to put them into words or achievable targets – in the main because I am completely clueless as to what I can actually achieve anymore. Fitness? Health? Craft projects? I feel stuck that anything worth achieving seems out of reach (train 4x a week? NEVER), and anything achievable seems pathetic (get to the gym once every 2 weeks? Useless!). Then it hit me: fear. My goal for 2014 is to remove fear from my life.
I used to be fearless. I used to be known for being fearless. I once needed a reference for a job application, and asked my supervisor. S/he said ‘I am so sorry to ask this, but could you draft it, and I will edit it?’. I agreed, and they sent a list of words to describe me. Brave or some such synonym was the first and last epithet, and featured throughout. When I left UAB, David called me into his office and said nice things about how nice it had been to have me part of his research group, and why. While I know he does this with all his trainees, I also know David well enough to know that he would not be disingenuous and his complements would be honest. For me, he commented on how fearless I was, and said similar things in his speech at my UAB leaving party. I remember that talk so well, and now I am left wondering where that girl has gone.
I live a life of fear now. I fear losing my job, I fear my son not loving me, I fear people not being interested in my blog. Basically, I fear not being good enough (good enough for what? Not sure about that…). It’s a dark thing that has come into my life and paralyzed me. I desperately try to spend time with my son, making me late for work. When I get home from my shortened hours, I try to spend time with Sam even though I am tired and distracted. I must be with him… must bath him… must do the pre-bed routine. When he goes down at 8, I am tired, but I don’t make time for myself. I feel guilty and worried about work, so I sit at my computer, often fruitlessly, wasting time being unproductive – which feeds into my fear that I am failing at my job. Then it is a downward spiral: I am afraid to do any of my hobbies because I should be working / with my son. I am afraid to invite friends out to do anything because ‘oh, they probably won’t want to and I’ll just bore them’. I am afraid to write a blog post, because I have nothing to say, distracted as I am with worry. I am scared to do anything in the house because ‘I’ll probably mess it up’.
Basically, I am not doing anything because of REASONS, PEOPLE. Because of fear.
Enough! It is time to stop. I am a good academic. I am a wonderful mother. I don’t know if I am a good friend (depends on the company I guess…), but my friends are old enough to just not hang out with me, if they don’t want to. The world won’t end if I restore a piece of household furniture and don’t do it very well, just as the world did not end when I accidentally unleashed a spray can of green spray paint on our cream stairwell. It’s all good. I just need to go for it. Work hard, trusting myself. Spend time with Sam. Not spend time with Sam, when I need to do other things. Write a blog post. Buy a print. Make a coffee date. Carpe diem exactly as I used to.
I remember when SSG (my old academic group) went canoeing. At the end of the river we came across a rope swing into a lake. Everyone hesitated, except me. IT WASN’T EVEN A QUESTION. Of course I was going on the rope swing. And I did (ridiculously, because I let go too early and screamed too much and swallowed 1/2 an Alabama swamp). And then everyone else did. And it was an awesome time.
That is the Lekki I want back in 2014. Fun-loving. Fearless. The only standard I hold myself to is my own. No goals, no check boxes, just a desire to not be afraid. To trust myself and do what my heart wants.
Of course, I hope some things come out of this… I hope that
(1) I blog more. I hope I create more time and actually blog more.
(2) I get an exercise routine. I hope I stop being scared to fail at a training plan start moving at pace on a semi-regular basis.
(3) I go for it and decorate our depressingly student-esque house. I hope I stop waiting for everything to be perfectly assembled and just get some nice pieces here and there.
(4) I read more. It has been so long since I have read anything because I feel all my time should be work or Sam. I welcome some guilt-free time to lose myself in a book.
(5) I see my friends more. I stop worrying about being too boring / frumpy / whatever and just hang out with people.
2014 is going to be good.
I am at the Christmas party. It’s been a long, tiring week. There is is another, longer, probably more tiring week ahead. Then a break, and while my colleagues are relishing their Christmas holiday, I will be working over it (thanks double grant deadline). A fellow faculty member skipped out of the party, but I felt too guilty. I mostly talked about Sam (I have been out two nights this week, and only put him to bed once!). Everyone asked if he was walking yet, and I replied “He can, but he doesn’t”. We have seen two steps, three steps, four steps, five… OK. Not five. Sam’s walking was confined to a few wobbly paces when he was making a beeline for his bottle. Once he realized what was happening, he plopped straight to the floor.
I missed the little munchkin, but my decision to stay was rewarded when a student said that she appreciated me being there and she was “sure I would rather be with my husband and Sam”. Well, yeah. But also, not yeah. This is my School, and my students, and I feel loyalty to them and want to go and show my face, contribute a little bit to the School spirit. Plus I like the people – they are all my friends in one form or another.
Then my husband sent me this:
Aaaaargh! Real actual, proper walking! I was so proud of my boy! Everyone had to see the video – from friends up to the Dean.
And then I was gutted: how could I have missed this? Missed it for an optional work event? A work social event?
And how many more firsts would I miss? How many more moments would Sam and his dad share that I would partake in via text message?
I raced home, and Sam walked about the kitchen for me. Although not much as he was, touchingly, only prepared to walk if it was to get a cuddle from me.
- Through the Eyes of a Three Year Old (barefootbarn.wordpress.com)
I struggled a lot with milk supply. Not with breastfeeding – I was one of the lucky few to whom the act came fairly easily. Or, I should say that I am one of the lucky few who had great lactation consultants straight away, a great baby with a natural latch, and an iPad with Netflix to make the whole thing more enjoyable 🙂 But, my body did not have a great supply. Why? In my sadder moments I have blamed the separation after birth, the nights in ICU, the severe postpartum anemia, the extensive surgery on my breast (left side) at 22. In my guiltier moments I have blamed returning to work so quickly, going to a conference at ~5 weeks postpartum, and not eating enough. I hope, deep down, it wasn’t ultimately any of these things, and just one of those things that was not meant to be.
I have accepted now that I really didn’t go down without a fight. In fact: I didn’t so much go down, as willingly jump off the ship in the end. When I last wrote about this, I was in the throes of upping my supply with various tricks. Since that post, many internet surges, many forum chats and many lactation consultant visits actually got me to match my son’s needs. It required two things:
*A large bottle of V8 fusion a day
Power pumping, to the blissfully unenlightened, is pumping for 20 minutes then having 10 minutes on, and 10 minutes off for a full hour. The idea is to teach your body to produce more. You do it for a couple of times a day, for a period of time, and then you wean yourself off it. Hopefully your body will have learned to produce more. Unfortunately, my body never ‘learned’. It would respond to power pumping with increased production (I got to, and beyond, my hallowed 30 oz a day), but as soon as I stopped, my supply would sink again. Ultimately, power pumping for each and every pump, 7 times a day, plus the shorter pump at night, meant I was pumping for a whopping 6-6.5 hours a day.
I did it for 3 weeks.
And it was every day – weekends included. Sam got so used to the speed of a bottle, he would not take the breast.
I told myself that breastfeeding takes at least that long per day, so I had to suck it up. There was no way I was not doing something for my son, which other mothers were doing all the time. Even if I worked, which some people see as a free pass out of such things I was not letting my son miss out because I had to work. I couldn’t go less, because if I dropped one session (even the night session) I lost not only the oz from that session, but all the others went down dramatically.
Then I had surgery (another blow to supply, by the way). I still fought to keep it up. I think the ultimate symbol of my dedication to me will always be coming around from the general anesthetic in the recovery room, and noticing the time on my monitor. The operation had been supposed to take under an hour, but the infection was deep, and it took over an hour. Upon realizing this, 3 minutes out of general anesthesia all I could say was “Please get me a breast pump. Please find me a breast pump, I have to express milk”. My body was so broken at this stage (from the op, not the pumping), that nothing came out. But I lay and did it for 20 minutes, and then asked the pump to be brought to my second recovery room.
The next day, I was feeling uber sorry for myself, and put myself on strict bed rest. I took Sam, and told Wes to have a day for himself. I couldn’t give Sam my milk due to the effects of the surgery drugs, so I just didn’t pump as much. In fact, I ended up only pumping three times that day: morning, lunch and night.
Dear God, it opened a world to me. A world in which my contribution to mothering did not consist of just sitting in another room, either earning money or producing milk (or, frequently, both) but actually looking after my son’s mental, and other physical needs. I cannot hold Sam close when I am pumping; in fact, I can barely hold him at all. I can barely play with him – just sit him on a mat and sing to him, or wave things at him. I spent a whole day with Sam in and out of my arms freely. It was the best day ever. I went to bed elated and happy. I thought it was just because I finally had time for Sam, but as I was giving him him Dream Feed, I realized it was because I didn’t have 6 1/2 hours that day where I could not be with him. And then just short 1 hour bursts of a day where yes, I could be with him, but it was also my only other chance to get other things done, like showering, cooking, shopping.
With that realization I wept. I cried harder than I have cried in a very, very long time. I cried for everything I have missed out on. For every bedtime since he was 6 weeks where I have sat across the hall watching him refuse to settle with his Dad, while I pumped. For every breakfast I have missed out on. For every play session where when he has cried, I have had to call Wes until I had finished pumping. I cried for all the smiles I had missed, all the hugs I had given up.
Then I went to bed and cried some more.
Eventually I emailed two dear friends and asked what to do.
They helped me a lot. Through tender exchanges with them I realized several things:
*Making it to 3.5 month breastfeeding, with just a few bottles of formula, was not a ‘failure’. It was still a gift to my son, and an achievement.
*Stopping breastfeeding was not done for selfish reasons. Yes, there are advantages to me, but I am doing it to be there for my son. They made me see that Sam needs me physically, as well as more materially. That cuddles and kisses may be more valuable to him than anything else.
*There are other benefits that Sam will get, if I stop. My marriage will be a lot better when I can give Wes some breaks, when I can spend an evening with him without the pump, when I am just up for 30 mins feeding Sam at night, not 30 mins feeding + 40 mins pumping (I always kept the 3 am pump short).
*That, life is beautiful.
So. With some peace, but a heavy heart I decided to give up breastfeeding. I don’t think it is an understatement to say that mourn its loss. I do grieve for losing that experience for Sam. But, already, I was able to take Sam for a whole day: no relief needed. I have put him to bed every night. And I got off what a friend who went though a similar thing memorably described as ‘the rollercoaster’. The high of pumping enough, the fear when you don’t. That up and down every day.
When I had made that decision, I realized I could pump some without too much disruption. I could get up with Sam, spend time with him, and pump on the way to work. I could pump at lunch, and once, for 20 minutes, when Sam went to bed. My goal is 5 oz a day – which Sam can have split into two portions and mixed with his morning and evening feed (yup, my average on this schedule Will probably be a little over 1 oz / pump). I suspect my supply will quickly dwindle to zero, and Sam will get zilch. But, that is better than a Mum who doesn’t really see her son in a meaningful way.
I am appreciating the benefits: the extra time with Sam, the extra energy for him, the extra ways to express our bond. My head appreciates this as the best solution, but my heart is still heavy
Btw – this was also a total pic spam post. Sorry ’bout that.