Friday, May 14, 2021

naps, then and now

Last year, on February 24th, our good friend/temporary housemate/child-whisperer moved out and on to bigger adventures.  She had arrived into our home in early October, about a month before Leo was born.  This was pretty much a flat-out miracle.  Transitioning from one to two babies is a tricky business under any circumstance, and Noah and I were not exactly starting out on neutral ground.  

This amazing human was not only a great housemate, but also a good friend to both Noah and I and amazing with kids (I would often overhear her saying things to Isabel in the exact words and tone that I would have used).  Having 2 little babies can be super isolating, and she helped us all gracefully and easefully slide into 4-person family-hood.  She gave Isabel some much needed extra special time, hugs, and attention as she started her big-sister journey.  She gave us easy, casual social interactions; the kind that seem to vaporize when you can't get out of the house.  And when Noah went back to work, she filled in the many small gaps in the day.

The February departure was an interesting transition.  I was well aware of how much I was leaning on her; both for periodically taking one or the other kid for chunks of the day, but even more for the tiny spaces of filler time throughout the day that are truly life-saving.  Like reading to Isabel for 5 minutes while I finished breakfast.  Staying in the living room for a few minutes while I took shower.  And, most notably; hanging out with Isabel while I nursed Leo to sleep for his morning and afternoon naps.  

So now.  The first week post-departure I spent each nap time ping-ponging up and down the stairs between crying babies.  Settling Isabel into her high-chair with some lunch, I'd tell her I'd be back in a few minutes then race up to nurse Leo while silently begging him to fall asleep quickly and praying that Isabel didn't start screaming. 3 minutes later, she would start screaming, I'd race down to try and re-settle her, leaving HIM screaming upstairs, half asleep but rapidly waking up again.  And back.  And forth.  

Then I tried talking about it with Isabel.  She's a pretty reasonable kid.  I explained, "Ok, I just need 10 minutes to put Leo down and then we can have special Mama-Isabel time and do all of the fun big kid stuff.  Do you think you can just play quietly for a few minutes and then we'll have all the time to do big kid stuff?"  "Oh yes mama, I can do that".  

Literally 90 seconds later, she's screaming and crying at the door as though she's been abandoned on the street.  And then Leo's crying again.  And definitely not sleeping.  This continued for a week.  Then my mom came to visit, offering a brief reprieve.  The whole time she was here I was frantically brainstorming; Facebook advice basically boiled down to: give her a tv show to watch, or do a walking nap.  

Three days after my mom left, on Wednesday March 11th, Noah and I stayed up late reading about exponential growth curves and community spread.  By 2am we had decided to cancel his daddy-daughter trip to California, scheduled for March 12-18.  By Thursday, VCU had switched to remote work, indefinitely.  The pandemic was here.  So much misery, suffering, physical illness, mental illness and unrecoverable loss was on its way for so many people.   

And.  In my tiny, individual, selfish little world of trying to nap a baby while keeping a toddler happy every helped so much to have Noah working from home!  His remote-work schedule was flexible enough to accommodate a few 20 minute breaks sprinkled throughout the day, just enough to get those naps happening.  

And now, more than a year later, his office is starting to do in-person visits again; at least a few days a week he is back at the office.  When its time for Leo's nap, the three of us go up to Isabel's room to nurse and snuggle while reading a book.  Then Isabel cuddles down into her blankets to wait while I finish nursing Leo to sleep in his room.  After he's asleep, she and I have 15 minutes or so of special play time together, and then its time for her nap. 

Today it took Leo 40 minutes to get to sleep.  By the time I came back to Isabel's room she'd given up waiting and had just fallen asleep herself.  

Oh how times have changed.  

Saturday, May 1, 2021

I am Tired

 We've had grandparents visiting for the past week and a half.  The very best kind of grandparents--kind, thoughtful, adventurous, and able to set limits with kids.  It is amazing having them here.  And.  I AM AN INTROVERT.  

I think I need to make a shirt that says this, or maybe just scream it out every hour.  

Its so wonderful to be around people who love my kids and care about us.  And it almost doesn't matter who they are, part of the impact on me of being around people all the time is a slow but steady drain on my mental/emotional reserves.  

My partner doesn't understand this and I find this to be uniquely enraging/crazy-making.  How do I make him understand.  Just HOW.  

Isabel is entering a new phase where her company is (at times! not at other times!) rejuvenating.  Tonight, after a day that pushed me too my limit and beyond, I sat wasted on the shores of the evening as my body squeezed me and my head ached and she requested an evening walk.

As the sun sank, I tucked her into a fuzzy cocoon of stroller blanket and we set off into the fresh, pungent evening.  She shared her thoughts ("I'm just really enjoying seeing everything"), running commentary ("There's a cat.  Someone's going to come up and just scoop it up and carry it."), and questions ("Who lives here?  What's the dada's name?").   She's even starting to propose her own answers ("I guess the next time they're outside playing I'll just have to stop and ask him")

When we got home, I  left the stroller on the sidewalk and carried her into the house wrapped in the blanket; she informed me that we would need to make sure it didn't rain in the next few minutes before bringing the stroller onto the porch.  

Saturday, April 24, 2021

liminal space

This is a weird time.  We are coming out of the extreme monkish-cloistered-SAHM-in-a-Pandemic time; slowly, creakingly.  There are moments now when I feel completely supported.  A neighbor comes by in a pinch to hang with the kiddos for 30 minutes so I can regain my sanity and get a crock pot dinner started.  Grandparents and Noah take the kids for an outing and I am free to practice violin and cook dinner.  

We've even hired our first baby-sitter.  I refused to pay for childcare with Isabel; she was such an easy, sweet, mellow baby that it felt weird to pay people for enjoying her delightful company. And it worked fine; tons of people DID want to hang out with her.  Leo is equally delightful but he's also a house on fire and the first time this teenager called out "We're going for a walk!" I felt a rush of joy and freedom.  AHHH to not feel responsible for making my kid's company an easy, pleasant experience!

I am starting to glimpse moments where it DOES seem possible to accomplish all of the basic things without turning into a screaming volcano of stress (cook, clean, laundry, care lovingly for the kids) and even starting to glimpse moments where for a heartbeat, there is no immediate fire to put out, nothing screaming for attention (externally or internally) so that I may sit, quietly, looking out the window and let thoughts and feelings stream through me until they sift down to a tug in some direction.  

To be fair.  That last miracle just happened for the first time yesterday morning.   

But it gave me a bit of whiplash when just a few short hours later I found myself back in the eternal afternoon, following Leo around as he tirelessly poked through the neighbors bushes, my mind descending into that special numbing boredom and loneliness of watching an adorable kid alone for hours on end.  

It seems that: the more bored, disconnected, unsupported that I feel, the more I resort to the mind-numbing anti-nourishment self-care of FB scrolling and food (those chocolate coconut lumps from Elwood basically fuel my days).  And the more I am able to function like a human (clean the bathroom, talk to adults), the more I am able to make choices that truly feed me.  Like: writing, playing music, meditating or just staring into space instead of at a screen....

Really; just slowing down enough to exhale and CHOOSE my next action instead of letting my anxious chest yank me forward towards the nearest fire.

Bonus content: 

Me: "Isabel, are you chortling with delight?"

Isabel (pointing): "NO! I'm chortling with THAT light over THERE!"

Sunday, April 11, 2021


 My body aches from hiding pockets of anxiety in its every nook and cranny.  My heart explodes when my 3yo runs up to me and reports that

"Hayden" (new acquaintance from the playground) "hugged me and it made my heart beat".  

My heart breaks a little bit every damn time my 1.5 yo cries pitifully for Mama.  

All I want is to be alone, eat brownies, listen to Krishna Das at top volume, disappear into the absorbing ecstasy of playing irish fiddle tunes, putter in my garden.  

All I want is to cuddle my babies forever, even as they grow into not-babies.  

All I want is to start running and not stop, board a train for NYC and disappear into the bubbling masses.  

All I want is to see my babies' faces light up with sweet joy when they see me coming down the stairs.  

All I want is to aimlessly wander the aisles of Kroger or Lowes or Target. 

...and sit and watch the river

...and never talk to anyone again

...and talk and laugh all day with other insane moms about the extra special insanity of momness

...and just be me out in the world with my fiddle and my feet, free and wandering

...and step out of this body that seems to pinch and pull at every turn.

...and crawl into bed and never come out.

For a couple of weeks in early January, I would put Leo to bed around 7:30p,.  His room exits right into ours.  I would stand next to the bed for a moment, listening to Noah and Isabel downstairs.  And each day, more than anything I just wanted to crawl under the covers and close my eyes to world.  The first time I gave into the temptation, it was amazing.  And then it became irresistible.  After about a week of this, Noah got curious:  

"What is this part of your life where you just lie unmoving on the bed, staring into the dark?" he asked. 

The very best part my friend.  The very best part. 

Good Kids

I hate it when people tell me that I have good kids like its just a lucky fluke that happened.  (Which is also true. ) 

BUT/AND--I work my butt off every single day to support, guide, and inspire them to be their best. I read parenting books and watch videos and examine myself and invent games and acknowledge and empathize and work harder to see things from their perspective.  I set aside my frustrations and impatience again and again.  I take the time to answer every question as fully and honestly as I can.  I offer them structure and flexibility, and a safe container for tears and tantrums.  I look for ways for them to help out around the house so that they know that they are important members of our family.  I try and be flexible whenever possible, and set boundaries when I need to so that they will know that they may set their own boundaries.  I patiently explain again and agin, sitting in the fire of my fury, why it is important to be kind, to not hit, to help out, to clean up.

It may look effortless to the point of being invisible, but this is some serious, intense, DRAINING labor that I'm doing all day long (and often in the middle of the night).  

Yes, they are awesome.  And when you tell me they are good you are erasing all of the invisible work that I'm doing to help them be that way.  

Sunday, April 4, 2021

(Faux ) Me Time

Kudos to Courtney Wyckoff for coining this phrase and also saving my and so many mama's lives.   Fuax me time is when I know how desperately I need to unplug, unwind, and tune in, but the depth of the need makes the usual ways to do that (sit quietly with tea, meditate, stretch, go for a walk, exercise, journal, play music, write) feel impossibly out of reach.  

Faux me time slips in quietly to fill up those empty spaces that pop up throughout the day and leave me feeling emptier than before.  It's not like I'm fooled.  Its not as if scrolling on Facebook has EVER left me feeling more fulfilled, or that I've never concluded a scroll sesh, shut the computer with satisfaction and moved on to more wholesome and fulfilling activities. 

In part, its the mom-thing of never knowing how much time I'll ACTUALLY have, and being so sick of being interrupted that it hardly feels worth it to bother starting anything.  But there's also the guilt. 

I happen to be very lucky, my partner takes the kiddos downstairs every morning from wake time (Leo: 6-7am, Isabel: 7-8am) until he starts work (usually 9:30).  So, nearly every morning, I have the absolute luxury of sleeping more, catching up on tasks, meditating, doing momma strong, riding the exercise bike.  As long as I stay sequestered in the bedroom, the sky's the limit.  Sometimes the kiddos revolt and start crying and begging for Mama (Leo) or park outside the door, toes peeking under (Isabel).  I usually relent because seriously!?!?  Who can resist toes.  

So all to say: I have NO EXCUSE for not starting each day feeling rested, recharged, ready to go.  BUT.  No.  Here's how it usually goes down.

1. Roll over and grab the computer, scroll FB, check email, read NYT, for as long as possible 

2. Meditate 15 minutes.  I've been working my way up from 5 minutes.  This is a very weird place to be since for about 15 years I meditated 2 hours daily.  But, Mom.  etc.  A friend recently told me that she always meditated during her sons first nap, and did tasks during the second nap.   I felt instant shame.  I think I've done productive and/or self-nurturing things during about 3% of my babies' total naptime.  

3. Do Momma Strong.  Minimum daily requirement.  When I slacked off, I was in so much pain that I felt resentful towards the baby for having to pick him up.  

4. Time permitting--usually at this point I've managed to FB scroll my way right up to 9:10--get on the exercise bike and watch parenting videos.  OK I'm a total geek but these are also life-saving and make me not hate my kids!!  Crucial!  I'm a part of this dorky parenting master class "Academy" thingy and there are weekly (recorded) calls with Julie King and Larry Cohen, two of my all time favorite parenting author/mentor Allstars.  

5.  Whoops, ran out of time! Time for a super quick shower!

Once they hear the shower running, there's usually a stampede to the bathroom where they wait next to the tub for Mama.  

And its off the races.  

I have so many feelings about this situation.  I feel deeply guilty that I get to have this gift of time every morning, and my partner doesn't.  He goes from kiddos straight to work, from work straight to kiddos and then we're both flat out on the couch at 8:30pm.  I know that this situation is doing some serious damage to his mental well being--the endless cycle, never getting a break, 15 hour days, no personal time.  I so want to be the gracious partner who offers to be on for a morning.  BUT I JUST CAN'T.  

The memory of what it felt like to be up every hour (sometimes for an hour) nursing a screaming, thrashing baby, and than follow that by being ON all day with the babies with no breaks and no outside support is too fresh.   

One day last summer, the kids and I were Facetiming with Noah's Mom.  As kid pandemonium reigned around me, she said "Wow, you  are so patient.  I never had that experience since I just had one kid".  I had to stop myself from saying "Actually, its not patience.  I'm just dead inside".  

So, as desperately as Noah needs more free time, I feel terrified of giving up my precious mornings.  And because I feel guilty about it, some sick part of my brain is screaming at me the whole time "Don't enjoy this time too much.  Don't be intentional with this time that you are stealing.  Just let it slip by, just faux me time your way through and then it won't be as unfair".  

Friday, April 2, 2021

Favorite Parts of the Day:

1. Surprise Mama-Isabel time in the morning.  We cuddled like bears, read, played "scream into your mouth", "boo", and "pull the string".  

2. Eating dinner with the babes (Thai Chicken Risotto with roasted green beans)

3. First Irish tune rehearsal with Paul. We definitely hit some good grooves, and Isabel floating through in her shark costume was also hilarious. 

4. Staying inside all day

Least favorite parts of the day:

1. Potential neighbor-teen babysitter backing out

2. Everyone having screaming meltdowns at lunch time. 

3. Leo waking up screaming and thrashing after napping for 30 minutes

4. Bleeding heavily and hormoning heavily all day long. 

5. Staying inside all day.