Monday, September 26, 2011

Whatever we'll be we'll be....

As a child I used to whine about wanting a cat or a dog, to which my mother would say "Its unfair for us to have a pet because it would be home alone all day while Dad and I work and you go to school."  I learned years later that she was severely allergic to furry animals and decided to squash my hopes of having one by using guilt instead of a scienfitic explanation.  

Fast forward to my late twenties when my mother's words blinked like a warning sign in my head at the thought of having a child.  How can I bring a baby into this world if I'm going to have to work all the time and never see him or her?  How is he or she going to feel special and loved if Mommy is running out the door five days a week?  How can I be so selfish to want a family?  I already had guilt and I wasn't even pregnant.  Thanks to some passive family advice such as "get over it" and "you're being crazy", I was able to push aside my guilt and fears for the future me to worry about and temporarily move forward.

A crappy short term disability policy had me back to work only nine weeks after delivering my daughter.  I knew the first year would be hard for both my husband and I, but we plowed through.  And here we are, 13 months later and I feel like saying "Okay, enough, that was fun but now I'd like to spend more time with my daughter thank you." 

Who am I talking to?  The financial security gods perhaps, because like many parents I have to work to stay afloat.  Problem is, the water keeps rising as I'm strapped to the buouy, constantly searching but finding no land in sight.  And so the next job, the real "career change"  I was ready for of being a mother, came with a hefty price.  Like so many others, I've had to stay a full-time professional and become a part-time parent.

Thinking about my current family and adding another little person, my heart swells with delight.  Daydreams of family trips, slumber parties in the backyard, arts and crafts, and eating pancakes on Saturday mornings, take up my daily commute.  Then I think about my professional life, my senior level position, and all the responsibilities of adulthood and am quickly deflated. 

I'm not one of those people who still yearn for career growth and are trying to figure out how to balance both.  I just want to continue what I'm doing professionally because I am good at what I do and would like to spend the time away from my daughter doing something productive with my awesome skill set.  Yet that's because I have to. If money was no object, I'd quit today and go join the board of whatever philanthropy deals with parenting issues and fight to make things easier for all of us while getting to spend more time with my kid.

I'm under the impression, like most parents and our parents before us, I will tell my daughter one day that she can be whatever she wants and to go where her dreams take her.  But what do I do if she says "One day I want to be a mommy just like you." ? 

I suppose I can say, "Well yes dear, you can do anything you want 100% except of course what you were put on this Earth to do, which is procreate.  I know its evolution and all but unfortunately its the one role you can't have without juggling another if you want to feed, shelter, provide medical aide and create recreational opportunities for that little cherub.  Watching them grow?  Oh certainly!  You can enjoy those everyday new developments, but only between the hours of 7am and 8am, 6:30pm and 9pm, and hmmmm.... about twenty four hours conclusively on weekends.  Oh wait, minus whatever time you have to devote to doing chores like laundry, cooking and cleaning and having quality time with your significant other.  But don't worry dear, Mommy is doing it and its working out just great!"

I know my daughter will understand what I do for her when she is older, but now, love means face time.  I know this because that's how I felt growing up and no matter how much I understand now the love my mother had for me, it didn't matter then.  She still left and I still missed her. 

So what do we, as parents do about this?  How to we not feel selfish and guilty and everything else that makes Mondays so hard?    I suppose we keep paying down our bills and debt, keep skypeing and texting our caretakers while at work, and keep on hoping the country and the economic status changes.   Then maybe one day we may actually be able to tell our kids they can be anything they want and truly believe it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'll take what's behind door #1.....

I was completely aware of the disaster that would follow as I spread apricot jam on toast and cut it up for my daughter’s breakfast the other day.  I knew I wasn’t going to feed her in the high chair, but allow her to “eat on the go” while watching Sesame Street.  This always ensures she will eat more in the morning but my hang up for food variety forced me to make this bad decision.  I got yelled at later by my husband as he cleaned off the sticky remote and about a dozen of her toys.   A fine example of how I am often aware I’m in the process of making a bad parenting choice.
So what prompted me to make this and many other bad choices in the past 13 months?  Maybe it was the hope that my initial instinct could be wrong.  I think that just this once, maybe she will sleep through the night if I tip toe in and dust her entire room, maybe she will learn what “table” means and obey my request to keep her yogurt off the floor.  Or maybe I’m just indeed, kidding myself.  But in the words of my pediatrician, “consistency is key” and so I continue to consistently make poor decisions that result in my mind replaying the words “you should’ve known better.”
The decisions that we make as parents are within a wide spectrum.  It starts with the benign ones that result with a hit to the head and exclamation of “stupid Mommy!” and end with the ones you read in news headlines and Facebook comments that say “How can that mother be so stupid?!  People don’t deserve to have kids!!”  It’s the really bad, life threatening decisions that you never think as a parent you are going to make, but as I have come to realize, I have.  These are what I’ll refer to as the “decisions you aren’t really aware you are making.” 
So a decision I didn’t know I was making was when I put my daughter down at her birthday party, assumed her father and grandfather were watching her when she walked passed them and turned and talked to someone else.  My husband asked me a few minutes later if I was watching her because she thankfully didn’t leave the backyard party and walk into the street, but wandered towards the present table.  The guilt that followed me after that, along with imagining the horrible plots that could be seen on Without A Trace, make me cringe.  I can only chalk it up to the fact that I was tired, overwhelmed with the party, and suffering from low blood sugar.  But anyone knows that no matter what my excuse was, it was a bad decision whether it was subconscious or not.  Should I beat myself up about it?  No, because thankfully nothing happened, but even if it did, I know someone else has been there.  
Someone else has been so sleep deprived in the beginning that they drove a good twenty miles only to realize at the end of the trip they didn’t buckle their little lovey into her car seat.  Someone else's  mind registered “go” when the green turning arrow in the lane next to them lite up and their lane was still staring at the red light.  Luckily there were many people beeping and flipping them off to alert them of this oversight while they were in the middle of a busy intersection. 
I’ve begun to ask myself what happened to the woman who was in such control of her thoughts and planner?  How can she make such hasty decisions that put her little one at risk?  And I soon realize that my mind is so much more full of concerns than it was before.  I not only worry about myself, my job, finances, weight-loss, family, and whether or not I ate today, but I’ve got a ton of other things taking up space in my brain now.  My daughter’s sleep patterns, food that she will possibly eat, things to do on the weekend to keep her busy, refilling her vitamin prescription, and what to do about her diaper rash are all flooding my ability to think clearly. 
So in my and other parents’ defense, yes, we are allowed and inevitably going to make poor decisions.  We can just hope that they end up being the right ones and if nothing else, the poor ones result in Cookie Monster enjoying a few more spin cycles to get rid of the jam in his fur. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Daddy: 1, Mommy: 0

A set of parents is supposed to be a team, but let’s not deny the fact that you are basically set up by society (i.e. your friends, family, co-workers, Facebook) to have it be a competition.  It starts when you are pregnant.  If it’s a girl, the mother must be happy, if it’s a boy, the father must be happy.  My husband actually wanted a girl first and was elated when the sonogram confirmed my fear that in 13 years I’d be crying because my daughter would want me to drop her off a block away from the mall as not to be seen with me in front of her friends.   
After you confirm the gender of your beloved, it’s a contest to see who gets more of the “she looks like you” comments after birth.  And let’s be honest, as much as you may love your mate, you are rooting for yourself.  You want this little person to be a prettier, smarter, thinner version of yourself and if they have bionic parts that make gym class less socially awkward, all the better.
My husband doesn’t like this idea of parenthood being a “competition.”  He reminds me we are on equal ground at all times, but I think on some level he knows he is wrong, especially when my daughter cried when I told her no last night and ran to Daddy.  There it is again, another set up:  Good Cop, Bad Cop. 
Being a parent is like any job you may have, someone brings something different to the table than someone else and at different times.  Unlike most jobs, parenthood is a job that unfortunately keeps changing.  It’s like getting settled into a routine only to have your office get flooded, your project go in “another direction” and your boss quit all in the same day.  It’s constantly starting over and just like a job, each parent will be good at something the other isn’t and adapt to changes better than the other.
My husband works at home and watches our daughter and though I want to be home with her myself I’ve come to realize my husband bares the qualities that are essential at this stage of her life:  patience; forgiveness; and creativity.  I’ve already addressed the fact that I have a Type A personality in my first post and I will admit I can hold a grudge and not “let things go,” which makes forgiving my daughter for keeping me up at nite a daily challenge.  I am, however, a known creative person who thrives off of the energy of others.  But, anyone who has made it to having a 6 month old can agree, there really is no room for either of those things.  The beginning is all hard work with little pay off since kids can’t really smile until about month 5, at which point you’re convinced its “just gas” because that’s what people tell you.  And the creativity, well if it means creating a puppet out of the wash cloth to ensure I can clean my child’s face after dinner without screams, then I’ve won a prize.
To illustrate my point further, I will share an experience from a few weeks ago.  I came home as I do every night after work and spend time with my daughter which usually consists of me sitting on the floor, getting somewhat absorbed in an iCarly episode while she plays with her toys.   My lack of interaction annoys my husband and I’m instructed to “go play with her.”   So I’m thinking okay, let’s go bake cookies, color, play dress up and…oh wait we can’t do that because you’re one and just discovered your  thumbs.  Unenthused, I try to breathe life into Elmo and Telly on her plastic Sesame Street set.  She is engaged for half a second before she crawls up on me and pounces on my belly reminding me I have no time to do crunches.  Now this is the new game that lasts about a hot second.   
We move onto reading a book with Elmo (of course) and it’s the nursery rhyme “Rockabye Baby On the Tree Top.”  It has disturbing images of a squirrel baby in its cradle hanging from a tree as Sesame Street characters interrupt on the pages asking questions about the story or unrelated inquiries like “where do you sleep at night?”  Stop interrupting Oscar and let’s get on with it.  
On the last page, Elmo asks the reader what his or her favorite part of the story was.  So I ask my little love bundle, “So, what was your favorite part of the story?  When the squirrel mommy and daddy ran to the baby on the ground, realizing they irresponsibly left her unattended in a cradle and tree branch that were clearly not up to code, hence breaking and having her plummet to the ground?  Yeah, I liked that part too.  That’s what toy companies call the start of a massive recall.”   
And there, we have bonded.

A few days later my good friend sends me a picture of sandwiches she just made for her 2 year old at her request for a meal that resembled their two dogs.  They were star shaped sandwiches folded in half to look like legs.   One was pumpernickel for the brown dog and one was white bread for the yellow dog. Brilliant.  I’ve known this friend of mine since we were 12 and I think about how fun and creative she is but how it has likely taken her this moment, 2 years in, for her true talents to shine.
So where does this leave me, the mother feeling like she is waiting in the wings to use the tools of creativity while Daddy’s fun points increase?  I reconsider my definition of the word.   Maybe creativity just comes in the form of finding a way to keep myself sane, my child amused, and everyone quiet for a few moments.  Keep expectations low and no one will be disappointed.  And, if I’m really lucky, creativity can give me some control in dire situations, like when my daughter is crying in the backseat of a car while Daddy is getting us food and Cookie Monster and Monkey puppet have a dance off to Pitbull’s “Give me Tonight.”
Perhaps we, as a society, should focus on making it less about a competition of which parent does more work, is more fun, or better adapts to change and more about who gets more dirty diapers.  Because in that area, I’m proud to say my husband is clearly winning.

Admitting it sucks is the first step.....

Yes, you read the title of this blog correct and don’t judge me just yet.   If you’re reading this then the title resonates with you on some level you are too ashamed to admit.  I have been struggling with what to write about for quite some time and when people say “write about being a mom” all I find when looking for inspiration are people whining about not having enough time to get a manicure or how blessed they feel when they look into their baby’s eyes.  I too have no time for a manicure, but I prefer to whine about how my one year old daughter doesn’t like to eat or sleep, my inability to control her newly found tantrums in public places, and anything else that challenges my Type A personality.  And yes, I too am blessed to have her in my life, to feel complete and to be so important to her its almost frightening.  But the angels and birds don’t sing every day and the bottom line is that being a parent is a lot of hard work and something that challenges every part of you every minute of every day.  An article I recently read compared babies to very needy house guests that don’t leave.  I disagree, mainly because a house guest will not randomly pee on you.  Maybe we should consider babies to be like very complicated pets.  Oh wait, that’s not right either because most animals can walk a few minutes after being born and are fairly self-sufficient immediately.  So what can I compare it to so those without kids can understand?  Oh wait, I CAN’T!  Because there is no comparison!   I was just a normal person before and not a mother so I can confirm that parenthood is a VIP club. Once you cross over you have an understanding  that no non-parent has.  You see things you never saw before, like how many  places have high chairs but no changing stations and do things that never made sense, like take a quick assessment when entering the room of how many things your kid can choke on, fall on, or break.  You realize how much of a tool you sounded like before when you’d see crying kids and think their parents should “take control” because now you realize you are the parent and you have absolutely no control.  Your entire life changes but no one really details how.   And that’s what this is going to be all about.  Why parenthood does completely and utterly suck at times.  I’d like to offer the truth, as ugly as it may be.  So if you are still reading this and feel like you can possibly relate, here are a few scenarios which will confirm you are truly on board.  Please consider the following as something you have experienced or fear to experience in the coming months:
  1. After dealing with a screaming baby in the middle of the night, my husband tags me in.  He throws the thrashing child to me, books out of the dark room only to go full force into the doorway, knocking himself out for a moment and tumbling to the floor.  Now I’m faced with a decision:  do I deal with the out of control child in my lap or be sure my husband knows my name and that of the President?
  2. After changing my daughter in a public bathroom I too have to go.  I squeeze into the small stall and manage to do my business while making sure she doesn’t touch a thing and nothing touches her.  She is getting restless and clingy.  Do I have her play with the toilet paper roll, knowing full well that I will have to unteach this lesson when we get home, or have her sit in my lap and really take on the challenge as to how much I can do with one hand?
  3. After wrestling a one year old who refuses to get changed and is over tired, I finally manage to get her diaper off, only to have her roll onto her tummy, bare butt up in the air and promptly fall asleep on the change pad.  Do I try to get her diaper back on gingerly as not to wake her and get her somehow, with the help of God, to her crib without screaming, or quickly run and get my camera to take a picture?

If you’re tired just thinking about anything I’ve just mentioned than hooray!  I welcome you and hope to have you as a follower.  If you disagree with anything I may say feel free to comment, but be kind as I’m fragile and may cry.  But consider that I might just have something interesting to say and that the aforementioned stories (which are completely and sadly true) illustrate my point.  That being a parent is all about choices, not knowing what decision is going to be right, feeling you always should’ve done one thing when you do another, and always feeling guilty.  Toss in some other random emotions like insecurity, frustration, and anger along with a heap of fatigue and you’ve got a cocktail that doesn’t go down easy anyway you serve it.  

So go ahead, look around, be sure no one is watching and click on the “follow” button.  I won’t be offended when you minimize your screen to read this or quickly switch to Angry Birds if viewing from your phone.  Because you and I both know that after you’ve been thrown up on at 3am or sat down and cried because you’ve let your daughter cry it out too long, or had some part of your body exposed because your kid is grabbing onto everything piece of your clothing as she moves, you too consider these to be the reasons why parenthood sucks....sometimes.