Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twas the Fight Before Christmas...

"Mrs. Claus....I need your help."  My husband's voice bellows from our bedroom.   It has been turned into Santa's workshop as he assembles our daughter's play kitchen.  Mrs. Claus is wrapping gifts in the living room, discovering her ability to cut a straight line has not gotten better with time, while two loads of laundry are running and the battle against PMS fatigue wages on.  I sigh and curse the elves.

I endure spousal snapping for not remembering which way I was just told to turn the screwdriver.  We then argue about following the picture on the box versus the directions when applying the stickers to the bottles of fake condiments.
"Parsnip is green!"
"But the directions say H4 should go on the yellow bottle."
"But Parsnip is clearly green!"
I concede and stick the stupid label on the bottle.

Bickering and snide comments continue as Christmas Eve night falls upon us.  There are tons of toys, unfolded laundry, rolls of wrapping paper, and more assembly standing between us and our night out at my in-laws.  We look around the apartment feeling the weight of our "to do" list.  The holidays seemed to kick our ass this year.  We are unprepared with zero holiday spirit as the calendar reminds us the year is almost over.  My decision not to make cookies isn't helping the need for a quick bite of chocolate to ease the tension.

Christmas Eve is just a small part of the bigger problem my husband and I often face.  It always takes us a while to remember its stress and fatigue that is the thorn of our relationship.  They creep up on us in the form of a messy kitchen, having not eaten all day, a cranky baby, an unpaid bill we forgot about, our jobs, our family, or our noisy upstairs neighbors.  Like fools we forget this and wonder why we are so irritable. We should just have a giant Post-It on the fridge that says, "Remember, Being an Adult Sucks."

Over the past sixteen months I'd say my husband and I fight about stupid, unimportant things.  Residual anger we have from the fights dealing with our daughter.  Who knows a better tactic when managing a tantrum, who has the sixth sense and knows what her problem is in the middle of the night, who thinks getting her off the bottle is going to work better cold turkey or with a week of gradual weaning.  Any team knows in order to work effectively there needs to be leaders and followers, often times switching positions when necessary.  But when you are both so invested in doing what is right for the one person in the world that needs you the most, its hard to remember you are part of a team.

The toys are assembled quickly as our daughter wakes from her nap, hopefully in a good mood.  We carry our bitterness to the Christmas Eve festivities, feeling further and further apart as The Fresh Beat Band sings loudly between us in the car.  At my brother-in-law's we all marvel at my daughter dancing with her new Rockin' Elmo.  My husband and I are entertained, taking family pictures and clapping along with her.  The moment she rubs her eyes, we quickly resume our respective roles.  He packs the car, I get her dressed in PJ's and we are on the road.

Tucked in bed, I tell my daughter  that Daddy and I have it covered this year and will leave Santa his cookies.  Mr. Claus is already taking the presents from the make shift workshop and setting them up around the tree.

We move quickly and quietly.  The anger and frustration from the day melting away as we work. We eat Santa's cookies while taking the occasional powdery scented hit off her new Cabbage Patch Kid.  We whisper about our memories of Christmas morning and realize our parents did this exact thing.  We remember why we had a child in the first place.

Together we create magic, carefully placing the gifts near the tree, leaving just the right amount of cookie crumbs and reindeer food behind.  There could be 364 days of aggravation and stifling reality of being an adult standing between my husband and I.  Yet we will always have this one night a year constructing this unbelievable lie for our daughter. Something we believed in so intensely as kids that all the good grades in science couldn't shake.  We agree to commit to this process for years to come. To ensure she believes in this magic for as long as the bratty kids in her class let her.

My husband and I climb into bed,  finding each other's hands in the dark. We are Mr. & Mrs. Claus.  Creative, strong, patient, forgiving.  A mother and father, husband and wife.  A magical team.

I close my eyes, aware of the aches in my back, the unfolded laundry, and the mess in the kitchen.  Nuzzled into my husband's arms I know it can't be true, but after thirty three years I'd still like to think there is a fat guy with eight reindeer up there making his way over the Atlantic.  And somehow in the morning, all my Christmas wishes will come true.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fragile? That Must Be Italian!

I put the ornaments on the tree this year, very careful to place all of the unbreakables towards the bottom.  I knew when my daughter would wake up in the morning she'd marvel at this new 8 foot toy with twinkly lights and accessories.  I came across an old ornament, two bears sitting on a tricycle.  I don't remember where I got it, figured it wasn't valuable, and set it on a bottom branch.  A few days later I was passing the tree and stepped on a part of the wheel, took another step and found a bear.  The unbreakable ornament was apparently breakable.

It shouldn't have mattered.  I knew it wasn't one of those important ornaments I clearly placed closer to the top.  Though as I held the pieces in my hand and glanced at the little perpetrator playing a few feet away, I was sad.

Its a hard thing when your kid breaks something that's always been important to you or that's suddenly become important once you realize its in a million pieces.  Most parents take the usual precautions.  However there are somethings you just don't think will break because up until now, there was no one in your dwelling acting like a savage.  No one has been throwing things haphazardly that don't often get thrown.  For years I dropped plates, sat on sunglasses and knocked over cups which all somehow defied the laws of science and gravity.  I, being much taller, heavier, and stronger than all of these materials, didn't break them.  Yet a significantly smaller, featherweight being wrecks everything in my home.  A mere flick of the finger demolishes something to an unrecognizable proportion.

I should've known better.  My daughter had just broken one of my beloved turkey napkin rings at Thanksgiving.  The minute it landed in her little bionic hand it was tossed behind her back, shattering as it hit the floor.  In two seconds one of the nuances of my traditional dinner was ruined.  I coudn't be mad at her for either of these instances though.  She's a toddler and learning right?  As I tried to reasemble both the turkey ring and the ornament I considered it could've been worse.  At least it wasn't my wedding cake topper or my favorite snow globe.  Both of those, naturally in areas she can't reach as I know they are my prized posessions.  Its the stuff on the ground, near to her touch, whose value I soon found myself reassesing. 

With this in mind, a few days later I looked at the last Rubbermaid box of holiday cheer.  My grandmother made needlepoint houses for me years ago and I have a village along with the nativity scene underneath our tree.  Littered amongst the town are the figurines from the movie Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  I had put off setting them up after the ornament incident but my husband reminded me that Christmas is about the kids and its more fun to be Mrs. Claus than Scrooge.  So I opened the box, arranged Christmas Town on top of the puffy snow and white lights, stood back and took a mental "before" picture.

The next day I introduced my daughter to the village and all the characters.  She made "baah" noises when I showed her the sheep in the manger and Sam the Snowman and Yukon Cornelius took rides in her stroller.  We had an interesting teaching moment when she took the Virgin Mary and threw her down the hallway.  It was our first argument as she babbled with many a hand gesture, yet I stood firm on my request for her to return "the doll" to Mommy and not throw. 

I reconsidered my choice of decorating as she put Mary back in the manger.  But as my daughter then walked over to the monkey ornament and fed it a Cheerio, I could't imagine not letting her enjoy it all.  How could she not play with the angel ornaments as I did or have the wise men walk along the snowy trail to the general store? With the dustbuster fully charged,  I let her roam free.

Everyday I find a random ornament near her toys.  Somedays I leave them for her to find. Other days I teach her how to return them to their right spot.  The ones with missing pieces end up in a pile for Daddy and Mommy to glue later. 

I suppose once you let a little person into your life everything becomes more fragile.  Most things can be mended with a little bit of Elmers though you know they'll never be the same.  Its those tiny sutures in the depths of your heart, the voids you never knew you had, that are filled and healed with the love only your little person can give.  The difference is, you're perfectly fine knowing it'll never be the same.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Parents and Friends: The Transition Phase

There were moments during my pregnancy when I wanted to call someone and talk about what I was going through.  The moments of anger at nothing fitting, the times when all I wanted was to eat bacon, the overwhelming feeling of the impending doom of parenthood.  The same instinct came just as frequently after my daughter was born.  

I would scroll through my phone looking for the right person.  Who could I share the tales of sleepless nights with or the little moments when I was so amazed by my baby I couldn't really describe it?  I couldn't share this with my married friends who didn't have kids, they wouldn't understand.  My single friends?  I didn't even know if I had any anymore.  I began to feel disconnected and tired of hearing another story about how someone can't relate but their cat did something really funny the other day.  

My friend Ariana and I discussed this recently.   Its this feeling that slowly creeps up on you where something's wrong but you can't place it.  Like when you've walked around all day wearing two different colored socks.  Its a weird purgatory you're in when you're not quite connecting with current friends and are slowly or not really making new ones.  We've dubbed this the "transition phase."

I'll admit I've spent way too much time idolizing those tight-knit fictional posses from prime time television.  I've admired how they all manage to stay together when work schedules, relationships, and money issues typically get in the way.   But when I really think about it, things changed for all these groups when someone had a kid.  

Monica and Chandler adopted twins and bought a house in Westchester, forcing everyone else to move on with their lives and leave that trendy apartment to the next batch of pretty twenty somethings. 

Miranda realized she was hanging on to a city life that didn't want her anymore and couldn't function with a bed in the dining room.  So she packed up Steve, Brady and Magda, and moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn.   

Lily and Marshall are now expecting and considering living on Long Island, potentially leaving Ted to whine about not meeting "the mother" alone in Manhattan. 

Though all these characters moved physically, the point is they made a choice.  They moved on with their lives and chose family. While not looking to ditch their friendships, they understood that sometimes other environments and social circles may benefit certain life changes.  We all saw the episodes that followed, focusing on them coming to this uncomfortable realization, the decision making process, and concluding with the moral of the story:  that the friendships you have before you become a parent, inevitably change after. 

Its sad but its true and now I know why people who don't have kids feel ditched by those that do.  But its not our fault.  Us parents need to talk to other parents.  We need to surround ourselves by people who are also too tired for riveting conversation, who know we are not full of it when we say we're busy, and who can appreciate an enthusiastic discussion about the frequency of infant bowel movements.

I was quite amazed at the need I had for parent comradery and equally shocked at how, quickly and organically I started connecting with people.  Before I was a mom it would take consistent emails, showing up at parties, hosting parties, and an abundance of effort to create new and maintain current friendships. It was work that my more fit, energy infused, twenty something body and mind could handle.  Yet, when I missed an email or phone call, didn't show up to a party, or even worse, stopped hosting, the ship sailed on without me.

Every week Ariana and I have lunch near our offices.  We respect the fact that some weeks, money is tight for one if not both of us and so our weekly rendez vous is at Subway.  We reschedule on each other frequently and coordinate emergency "I'm having a bad day" lunches just as much.  Our relationship is easy because we know it has to be.  We are both busy, tired, and not up for any drama.  I tell her if she's got lettuce in her hair and she lets me know if something is in my teeth.  Easy, done.  I look forward to our chats, knowing its the one hour a week I can talk about my daughter all I want and not feel like I'm boring someone.

What amazes me about our friendship, is that until our kids were a few months old, we hadn't spoken in eight years.  We were very good friends in college and I was even in her wedding, yet we were both going in different post graduate directions and lost touch.  I heard our kids were born only a week apart and took a chance sending her a friend request on Facebook.  We reconnected and have been meeting for lunch and playdates ever since.  We talk about how much time has passed and that the conversation flows as it did years ago, yet we both sense that we have changed.  Not only because of the lives we lead in the past eight years, but because we are now parents.

As with Ariana, I find myself connecting with old friends with whom I was never very close to, or just fell out of touch with, thanks to the common bond of parenthood.  The conversations, be them on email, in person or via text are effortless.  I get the same warm and fuzzy feeling with a text from Roz at 6 a.m.,  happy its Friday and her daughter is getting over her cold, as I used to hanging out with ten friends playing paintball or hosting taco night.

This ebb and flow of friendship is tricky.  It's left me feeling so many emotions at times and wondering for a while if it was just me.   When I've felt I'm missing out on something or have become less "fun" my husband reminds me of what we have in our daughter.  That we aren't really alone when we have each other and that we have a lifetime of new friendships ahead.

Over the past two years I've learned its no use fighting an ever flowing current.  The things we want in life change and in turn, so do we.  At times we all float down different streams.  Traveling that water way may seem long and lonely at times, but at some point, most of us will meet in the same crazy whirlpool.

Monday, December 5, 2011

You'll See

When people used to tell me, "Get the sleep you can now because you'll never sleep again," I laughed. I now know the kind of fatigue I battle on a daily basis is nothing like the days after late nights at work or cramming for tests in college.  I'd also hear about "mom brain" and how formerly brilliant women have been rendered useless by the theory that pregnancy feeds off brain cells.  I thought that was a myth too until I found myself  significantly dumber than before.  

Thinking back I kind of hate these people.  They were so eager to dish out unsolicited advice with a snarky, know-it-all smile, only to leave me and my husband with vague, useless impressions, wondering what "You'll see," means.  Had any of these parents detailed their experiences perhaps I would've been more prepared, possibly added a large day planner and a few months supply of coffee to our registry.

Maybe another moment or two of their time would've allowed them to tell me that...

Things won't make sense and you're always going to have conversations with your spouse as if the two of you are drunk.  

Having a kid is kind of like living in a fun house and if there are crayons in your bed or a slipper in the toilet, you will shrug it off and somehow think its okay.  

Your husband will ask you what the color of something is and you'll reply "turtle."  You won't know how the word came out of your mouth because you're so tired you can't feel your lips, yet are awake enough to know the object in question wasn't even green.

There will be french fries in a cup in the bathroom and a spatula in the hamper.  You will get angry at the discovery of these things until you find a box of contact lens you've been looking for and have to thank your child for emptying everything out of your makeup drawer.

You will undress at night to find enough food under your shirt to feed a small army and feel ashamed as you pick some smushed peach off your chest and eat it.

You will constantly lose your keys and cell phone and try to retrieve your steps only to have your thoughts overcome by a Fresh Beats Band song.  This will strangely lead you to find said items in places you know you'd never leave them, like on top of the trash or behind the toilet.  Somehow you will say "oh yeah" when finding them.

You will never be on time for anything ever again.  Minutes will slip by and you will know there is bag packing, sippy cup filling, and wrestling of the child into the car seat standing between you and your destination.

You will be amazed at the amount of excess sweat you have at any given moment from picking up, cleaning up, pushing, carrying, squatting, and running.  Thoughts will follow of being way too out of shape for this job and frustration that this free workout doesn't result in any true weight loss.

You will put on a shirt fresh from the laundry and later pull out a bib at work.

You will clean a mess and turn around to find another one as disorganization and filth multiply like city rats.  

You will foolishly feel accomplished when you put out one fire, too tired to remember you will be back there tomorrow for another.

You will be caught between caring about your appearance and completely giving up.  

You will understand why parents "let themselves go" and see the convienience of sweat pants and mom jeans.  

You will trade in your Coach bag for a back pack, your jeep for a station wagon, and anything else you once loved because they require more energy to have with a toddler and you just want something easy.  

You will minamilize your possessions to make room for your child's, noting the irony of how a person so small requires so much merchandise to be tamed.

You will understand the term "yes dear" was coined by a tired parent.

You will wake up each morning and quickly calculate the hours until your child is back in bed.

You will understand why parenthood sucks sometimes.   That it is harder than anything you have ever done because you will function daily with two major handicaps:  lack of energy and mental disorganization.  

You will accept this new life because you know your child is your entire world.  And when you encounter new or soon-to-be parents,  you will think of all of these things when they ask for advice and be too tired to detail it all.  Instead you will give them a wry smile, know all what they are in for but only have energy to say, "You'll see."