We have retired the baby monitor. Rest assured, the baby is still working hard. He’s even been promoted to toddler, now able to walk as fast or faster than he could crawl, which was surprisingly speedily. Strangers on the playground would frequently remark, “wow, he’s fast!” as he careened around their kids going up stairs on his hands and knees. But the monitor is superfluous. It was only being used by Zeke himself as a toy, because it has buttons and beeps when you push them. He would pick up the monitors and press the buttons and carry them from room to room. If he cries when he’s asleep we can hear him anyway. He’s plenty loud. And if he cries for an extra minute because we are in the bathroom or washing dishes and can’t hear him immediately, he’ll live. We are just callous that way.

Last night after we came home from camp and day care and the grocery store, Zeke was a little edgy. He had started to melt down at the store, occasional threatening cries staved off by me carrying him and Zoe pushing the cart while I hissed at her to watch out every 30 seconds or so when she almost crashed into someone or something. In the checkout line the cashier, a man, thoughtfully handed Zeke the electronic PIN pad so he could push buttons. I don’t know how he knew that Zeke loves to push buttons, but that definitely bought us some time. We made it home, and I plied Zeke with a bottle of milk and Sesame Street so I could bring in the groceries. Sometime during all that he fell down the stairs, but was ok, and I held him for a while on the sofa, as I was dripping with sweat from all the trips in and out and hauling him around and it was a hot day, and he seemed fine. How many times can a toddler fall down the stairs before he actually gets hurt? I don’t want to find out.

By the time Randy got home from work Zeke was really cranky. I hadn’t had a chance to make any food for anyone because I had been chasing him. Randy picked him up and held him and they both dozed off. Randy for only a moment, but Zeke was out. This was 7 o’clock. At least an hour or an hour and a half before Zeke usually goes to bed. And he was wearing a dirty shirt and a diaper. And hadn’t had a bath. But he was asleep, so Randy laid him down in the crib and put a blanket over him. Perhaps 30 minutes later, Zeke woke up screaming. He screamed when I picked him up, screamed throughout the bath, screamed while getting his pajamas on, although he cooperated for all of these activities anyway. He’s very good at putting his arms through the sleeves of shirts, although he does not care for pants. The wailing abated momentarily when Zoe brought up the musical glowworm that used to be hers that we recently rediscovered and she said Zeke could have. She was kind and he was distracted for an instant, and then resumed screaming.

Randy attempted to feed him and get him back to sleep for about an hour, but he would have none of it.

So he stayed up until 11. At least he wasn’t screaming all that time. From 9 to 11 he played happily. He climbed on and off the sofas about 50 times. He wore hats. He carried around a small dinosaur and rearranged all the coasters. I asked him to put the dinosaur on the coaster and he did! I asked him to bring the dinosaur to Daddy and he did! He’s good at following instructions when he wants to. And we read many books. Front to back, back to front. Occasional pages here and there. He prefers books with photos of objects to illustrations. He flips through these books and points to items of interest and says “this?” and looks at us. It sounds more like “dis” and we say the name of the object. Sometimes it feels like we’re undergoing some kind of memory quiz or neurological exam. “LEMON! BOOTS! FROG! BOWL! BATHTUB! HOUSE! GRAPES! GRAPES AGAIN! FROG! APPLE! BOOTS!” We hope we will pass the test.

Last night in one of the books on one of the pages filled with grocery store-related items, there was a red bell pepper. Zeke pointed to it again and again. “PEPPER! PEPPER! PEPPER! PEPPER!” punctuated occasionally by “WALLET AND MONEY!” “POTATOES!” and then back to “PEPPER!” and every time I said pepper Zeke smiled, until he was finally laughing out loud at the pepper. We would close the book and he would open it again, find the page, and point to the pepper, “PEPPER!” Laughter. “PEPPER!” Laughter. Oh thank goodness for amusing vegetables.

Finally he started getting floppy and curling up and Randy got him another bottle of milk and I took him outside for the lullaby walk. Within a few minutes he was asleep. Over the past month his sleeping habits have improved significantly. About 85% of the time — clearly a scientific measurement — he will go to sleep without a fight around 8:30 and sleep through the night, until somewhere between 6am and 8am. The other 15% of the time there is some sort of sleeping calamity, either at bedtime or at 2 or 3 or 4am. But progress has definitely been made, for which, and for that red bell pepper, we are profoundly thankful.

When I’m driving and am powerless to harness them, the ideas and deliberations zoom in and out of my head. Sometimes I feel like my brain actually hurts because of the volume and velocity of thoughts. I had a conversation recently over milkshakes with a friend who is an excellent writer but that’s not what he does chiefly at his job. He is trying to figure out how much of a creative writer is in him, waiting to emerge. He said he doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s one of those people who is compelled to write.

I am one of those people, but so often I hold myself back. My overdeveloped sense of empathy serves as an effective censor. I am frozen by my concern for how others might feel about what I have to say, even strangers. This temperance toward my writing makes me feel like less of a writer. I’ve heard that the thing you love most about your significant other can also become the thing you most despise. I suspect this is also true about yourself.

swirlIt occurred to me recently that, at least among my closest family and friends, there seem to be two basic flavors of anxiety: past and future. Not to say that you can’t get a delicious, panic-inducing swirl of both if that’s your thing, but most people seem to relish one or the other.

A few people I can think of pore over every detail of past events and past decisions. What if I had done this differently? What if this other person had gone another direction? What if any number of things that happened had not happened? This manner of hindsight anxiety is highlighted in the spectacular musical If/Then, which I recently saw on Broadway. I recommend it highly. The play, not the anxiety.

I have little patience for this brand of anxiety. I am a practical person and I feel like what’s done is done and it serves no purpose to wonder what could have happened because it didn’t and it’s too late to turn back now and life goes on.

I have plenty of time, however, to obsess about what might happen in the future, however remote the possibility may be. What if there’s an earthquake and the crack in the bricks outside our house makes the house collapse on my baby while he sleeps in his crib? What if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time and encounter a crazy shooter? What if we get a flat tire on the beltway? What if we run out of money? What if someone I love gets seriously ill? Or dies? The rewarding thing about this kind of anxiety is there are so many variations, layers, and nuances. Some of the worries are extremely unlikely and very much out of my control. Short of living inside a bubble, we assume the risks of living in the world and some of these are really scary these days. But still unlikely. And some are inevitable. Some people I know will get sick and someday will die. It’s already happened, for sure. But the prospect is still terrifying. Again, nothing I can do about it. I haven’t yet found a magic wand or fairy godmother or medical miracle to protect everyone I love and enable them to live forever. And then there are the worries that I could do something about, but are still hard to face. I could save money by going out to lunch less. But I love going out to lunch and it keeps me from going insane at home alone. I am frequently torn between the mantras of self-improvement and self-acceptance that are constantly swirling around me.

Instead of removing the possible causes of future-predicting anxiety, what I need to do is attack the anxiety itself. I have meditated, but not in a long time. I don’t know why meditation, which is so simple, can be so intimidating. I do yoga, but have not had a regular practice since my 13-year-month old was born. Even after he was born I enjoyed mommy-baby yoga with him for a while, but once he started crawling the jig was up. I’m trying to find a way to create a new practice for myself. I was going to go to a new class today, but didn’t count on the rush hour traffic and had to cancel at the last minute when I discovered I would get there 15 minutes late. Happily, the studio owner called me back right away to say I wouldn’t lose the class despite the late cancel and suggested some classes I could take that aren’t during rush hour. So I took a four-mile walk, and it’s a beautiful day, and that was good.

Mister Rogers said in the midst of tragedy to look for the heroes, and it’s easy when you’re anxious to turn minor annoyances into major catastrophes, because they might become larger scale annoyances or even genuine problems. But I try to look for the heroes, even the minor ones. Last Friday afternoon I had just picked up Zeke from day care and I was on my way to pick up Zoe from school, after which we were headed out of town for a weekend away with friends. I ran out of gas, which was dumb. I’ve never done that before. And likely I will never do it again. But I did, and it turns out in our minivan, the two gallons you can put in with the gas can that the nearby service station loaned me is not enough to get it started again. You need four gallons. So by the time I discovered this, Zeke and I had spent a while hanging out on the sidewalk in front of the house where our car had conked out. Hero number one was the guy whose house it was, who came out to ask if I could move the car because his wife was headed home and I was blocking the driveway. I explained my situation and he was totally understanding and asked if I needed anything. I desperately needed to pee, so he invited me in to use the bathroom. Hero number two was the AAA service guy who arrived to see if I needed a jump start. I didn’t, and he suggested I probably needed more gas. He asked if there was anything else he could do for me and I guess could see I was getting a little upset. He asked if I was thirsty and gave me a bottle of cold water he had in his truck. I’ve never had a AAA driver offer me water before. I’m sure that was his own supply of water for him to drink. I was grateful. Heroes number three and four: my parents, who immediately came when I called and split up to retrieve each of my children and bring them home while I waited for a tow truck or more gas (before I knew what the problem was). Hero number 5: my husband, who came and picked up the gas can and refilled it and came back to me with more gas, which enabled the car to start. And everyone was kind and patient and no one made fun of me for running out of gas. And we made it to West Virginia with our friends, even though we got there after 10pm. We missed all the traffic and drove in the cool darkness and Zeke slept and Zoe watched Frozen and all was well. All of my anxieties about what was wrong with the car, how much it would cost to fix, the prospect of Zoe freaking out that she hadn’t been picked up yet, the prospect of Zeke freaking out on the sidewalk, none of them came to fruition. It was a sunny day, everyone helped, and it was ok.

Cleaning-out-the-RefrigeratorPeople can do anything. So why haven’t these things been invented? One would be immensely practical. The other more personally appealing to preserve my mental health.

Electronic Refrigerator Inventory System

There should be an interactive digital display on your fridge door that you can use to see what’s in your fridge and how long it’s been there and when it expires. You could scan all the items as you put them into the fridge, and the device would already be programmed with information about, say, how long strawberries stay fresh. You could also manually enter expiration dates, like on your milk. The device would remember everything you put in, so when you first get it you might have a lot of data entry to do, but after that it would easily recognize what you’re buying. Then when you are wondering what you can have for dinner, all you have to do is look at your display and see that there’s leftover Thai from two nights ago and enough vegetables to make a salad. When you’re getting ready to go to the grocery store, you could print out–or upload to your phone–a list of what you need, based on what you usually need and is missing from or low in the fridge. For bonus points, the device could interact with a cooking app and suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand. Or tell you that you have five ingredients you need for tacos, except the meat, so you should pick some up. Cleaning the fridge would be easy because you’d know exactly how long things had been in there even before the mold starts to grow! There is so much potential here.

NPR (or other news outlet) Warning Lights

Sometimes when you’re in the car with your kids and you turn on NPR and the first words you hear are “mass shootings” or “bodies of children” or “murder” and you have to switch the station very, very fast. Or even if your kids aren’t in the car but it’s 7:30 in the morning and you can’t stomach a report about terrorist attacks, children being sold into slavery, or anyone being shot, and you have to put on the soundtrack to If/Then, which can be kind of wrenching as well but at least you know what’s coming and it’s fictional. Anyway, there should be a little warning light indicator on your radio so you can turn it on with no volume and if there’s a horrifying story including any of the above words or others I could list but won’t because they will make me depressed, a red light would illuminate. If the story may be mildly disturbing but not heart-wrenching, such as unemployment numbers, Congressional ineptitude, or negligent landlords, the light is yellow. And, if you’re really lucky, the light will be green when they’re interviewing singers, athletes, or writers; sharing the triumphant story of someone’s success; or reporting on a breakthrough in medical technology. Not to say that you can never listen to bad news, but sometimes it’s just too much. This would save millions of listeners from potential anguish as they drive.

If you can invent these things, let me know. I’d be happy to brainstorm with you and get in on the ground floor.

imagesI realized recently that Zeke has a different mom than Zoe did. Certainly I gave birth to both of them. I remember both days clearly. But I have come to understand that I am a different person than I was seven years ago, and that it is impossible to be the same mother when you have two kids as you were with your first. And they are totally different human beings, so you can’t really parent them in the same way.

Does this seem totally obvious? Perhaps it is, but it just occurred to me the other day, and Zeke is almost 13 months old. I realized as he was lying on the rug in the kids room, crying and gently rolling back and forth, that I have a much higher threshold for crying than I did with Zoe. Not that I enjoy hearing Zeke cry, but it is usually clear to me that he’s not breaking or broken, especially when he’s lying on the floor crying and doesn’t want to be held, and that he just needs to get over himself. Zoe did not have tantrums, except for a couple months at bedtime when she was giving up her afternoon nap. Apparently we were extraordinarily lucky in that regard. Zeke has already started these microtantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. I just look at him in disbelief, like “you are not doing this. I refuse to acknowledge your behavior.”

I used to worry before Zeke was born that he wouldn’t get as much attention as Zoe did when she was little. If anything, he gets more. It’s hard to ignore a baby. And truthfully, impractical and unwise. It’s much easier to make the seven-year-old do her own thing, which thankfully she is quite capable of, but doesn’t always enjoy. And Zeke has two parents and a sister to chase him around. He is not hurting for attention.

At the same time, I definitely let him do things I would never have let Zoe do. I don’t know if this is because I am 40 and tired, more distracted–and sometimes trying hard to pay attention to Zoe, especially when she’s playing soccer, practicing martial arts, or doing homework–or more relaxed. Or if it’s because he’s a boy or because he has an insane amount of energy and doesn’t seem to mind diving headfirst off furniture. You would think this last one would make me pay more attention and that would be something we would not let him do, but he is fast and determined and very rubbery, it seems. During Zoe’s soccer practice last week Zeke was furiously climbing up a hill, into the trees. He was fine. There were many parents and other siblings there who I’m sure saw him. Would I have let Zoe out of my site climbing through nature for even one second when she was one? Unlikely. I am hoping this means I am just more chill and not actually negligent.

So my attitude and my attention span have changed, but I also recognize that Zeke’s adventurousness and mischievousness demand a different parent than Zoe did. I don’t know if this is because he’s a second child or a boy or just the happenstance of his personality, which is already joyfully and exasperatingly abundant. But I know what worked with Zoe won’t necessarily work with him. He is going to make me develop some new skills, which is not a bad thing, but I’m sure won’t be easy. Being the mom of a seven-year-old requires different skills than parenting a four-year-old for sure, so clearly I am a work in progress already. Even at this moment I can feel my tolerance for dirt increasing dramatically.

Yesterday we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary by going to New York for the day without our children. Every time we spend more than a couple hours apart from our children, which is rare, we quickly remember how much we love each other and how much fun it is to be together! Not that we don’t love each other or have fun when the children are with us, because certainly we have plenty of love and amusement as a family. But when you’re in the thick of parenting sometimes your view of your partner is filtered through a dense fog of toys and macaroni and cheese and dirty laundry. And you can see that he’s a great dad and you appreciate him doing the dishes and you are grateful for his existence, but you can easily forget about the whole him, and just see him as the other responsible adult in the house.

Image

On the train to New York

We are very thankful to my parents and my sister and brother-in-law for minding the kids while we were away. Yay family!

I think we have a great marriage. It’s not perfect, because we’re not perfect, but I think we’re doing all right. Here are my thoughts about why.

Four Secrets to a Successful Marriage–at least ours

1. We pour each other a glass of water every time we pour ourselves one, without asking. We always seem to need water, and it is always nice to know someone else thought to bring you a glass.

2. We know when to keep our mouths shut. At least I do. I can’t speak for Randy, but I realized at some point that one of the most important things to a happy relationship is knowing when NOT to say something you feel like saying but really would not serve any purpose at all but making someone upset. Generally I give Randy credit for always trying to do the right thing. And this is not to say I don’t say or ask annoying things sometimes, because I’m sure I do. But if he makes a mistake and I notice it and it gets on my nerves I try very hard to just move on. I know he must do the same for me because I make plenty of mistakes and he does not criticize.

3. We are usually on the same page. I don’t know if this is just luck, or the result of 10 years together, or part of the core of the connection that drew us together 11 years ago. But we typically have the same idea at the same time about getting dinner from a food cart, or what the kids should or should not be doing, or what we’re going to watch. We have plenty of different interests and tastes, but it doesn’t seem hard to agree on what’s happening next. And sometimes we agree that what we need to do is our own things. These days there’s a lot of divide and conquer, but we’re both using the same map.

4. We are learning more and more to laugh it off. Life is hard. It’s easier when you laugh. We are good at amusing each other. This helps.

Some combination of luck and hard work has brought us to this point, and hopefully will sustain us for decades to come. And someday we will be able to send our children downstairs to watch tv and feed themselves on a Saturday morning and we can sleep in. Here’s hoping.

owletMy parents love to talk about how they used to let my sister and me stay up to watch Johnny Carson from a very young age. Not that we were actually watching The Tonight Show, but that we were just amusing ourselves playing on the floor or reading until we passed out in the family room and our dad carried us to bed.

Apparently they did this not because they wanted to expose us to inappropriate media while we were still in preschool, but because we refused to go to sleep in our cribs, and later in our beds, and it was easier to let us stay up than endure the wailing. And according to their memories, once they let us come downstairs and hang out, we just did our own thing, content to play without demanding anything of them.

Decades later, my husband and my brother-in-law both frequently face the thankless task of trying to pry me and my sister off of our respective couches where we have fallen asleep, not even necessarily in front of the television, which neither of us has much time to watch anymore, but just in the family room, because going upstairs to bed seems overwhelming. Or maybe we just want to stay downstairs where the action is, even if that action is just our husbands transfixed by their respective laptops, doing schoolwork or work work or occasionally reading tech or sports blogs.

You can see I have never been good at going to bed. I have always been a night owl, since I was a mere owlet. Morning is not my thing, but I’ve always been amazingly productive between 9pm and 1am.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that my kids are not good at going to bed either. Randy too, is a night owl, and we have never been very good at convincing each other to reform, despite many attempts. Especially when you have to get up early and your kids will probably wake you up during the night, you should really go to bed at a reasonable hour. But…

Nighttime is when all the fun stuff happens! And when your kids are hard to get to bed, you feel like doing a victory dance when they are finally asleep, even if it’s 10 or 11pm. And The Daily Show is on! Or everything you’ve ever DVRd since your kids were born! And there are books to be read and Facebook to be checked and who knows what else. And in my husband’s case in recent months, endless homework to be done!

Whether it’s a genetic predisposition toward partying after dark, or insidious bad habits, or general inertia because staying awake is easier to do than going to sleep when you’re already so good at being awake, I think our kids are just not good at going to bed because we’re not good at going to bed. Unfortunately (for them, I suppose), we have not subscribed to my parents’ approach, primarily because we revel in our precious few hours of grown-up time, and also because our children have so far not demonstrated an ability to stay up late entertaining themselves. We need a break. Evidently my parents never needed a break. We moved out eventually.

Zoe drags out bedtime interminably. There are always so many decisions to be made about what stories or chapters to read, who will read them, and for how long. Zeke just cries until his request for a change of venue is granted. Truthfully, though, bedtime is often sweet and fun. Reading with Zoe can be delightful, and sometimes at bedtime she tells us important things. And after a day of chasing after an exuberant little monkey boy, feeling him melt into slumber brings utter relief. Then creeping down the stairs to claim a place on the couch, where the only noise is the hum of the dryer and the whirr of the dishwasher, we say a little prayer of thanks. And now we can stay up late doing whatever we want.

Maybe someday they will end up down here watching Stephen Colbert host the late show, or reading, while we doze off on the couch. Maybe they will have to nudge us, saying, “hey guys it’s time for bed!” But until then, we will enjoy our grown-up time, making our own grown-up decisions and mistakes, all by ourselves.

Now that I am 40 I have a new mantra. I am enough. I am doing everything I can do for my kids, my family, my work, my friends, and the world. Certainly there is more to be done, for everyone, for every cause. There is no shortage of grief or pain, no lack of problems to be solved. But I’m doing what I can do, and that has to be enough.

It is enough that we get food delivered almost as often as we cook. It is enough that I breastfed Zeke for a year, including some formula supplementation, and I am so done now, even though he’s trying to eke out a few more drops. It is enough that I do the best work I can for my clients and don’t always turn it around immediately like I used to but I still get it done when it needs to be done and it’s good. It is enough that I send birthday cards to some people sometimes, and birthday emails other times, and always sympathy cards. It is enough that I contribute what I can to causes I believe in and sign some petitions. I devote all of my writing to helping people and communities. It is enough that when I see someone is in need and there’s a way I can help I will offer. I want to help, even though I cannot and should not try to solve everyone’s problems. Offering what I can, even if it is just to listen–especially if it is just up listen–is enough.

There are more things I would like to be able to do, and hopefully someday I can try them. Right now I excuse myself from a lot of things simply because I have a baby who does not sleep on demand. Right now I am enveloped in the dark quiet of the minivan parked in front of our house, where I have escaped in the hopes that my husband can get our son to sleep, because I’ve had had enough. Nursing him when he has a cold is frustrating and unpleasant for both of us and he managed to draw blood from my healing scrape while he was flailing and grabbing me earlier. I know he wasn’t trying to hurt me, and he really just wants desperately to be with me, but I’d had enough.

Now that I’m 40, when I see the neon sign that says ENOUGH flashing in my mind, I will not doubt or ignore or second guess it. I am enough.

Parenting is a series of a million decisions of varying sizes every day, and trying to make peace with those decisions when you’re torn between two imperfect options, and trying not to second guess yourself when the decision leads to unfortunate results.

For example, let cranky baby sleep in the car so he’s less cranky or wake him up so he’s more likely to go to bed sooner rather than later? Few things about parenting are as simple as you might have expected before you have children.

The most important thing our doula, who was otherwise generally useless, said to us while I was in labor with Zoe was, “think of a the things you swear you will never do as a parent or what you’ll always do as a parent, and prepare to break all your own rules.”

Truth.

Despite all the successes, the competence, the celebrations, it is so easy to be undone by the wrong thing going through the washing machine, the loss of that thing you just had and may be still in the house although you cannot find it anywhere, the residue of life piled high on all the furniture, blissfully ignorant of the hours you spent cleaning.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 879 other followers

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 879 other followers

%d bloggers like this: