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When I arrived at school yesterday to pick Zoe up after her last day of kindergarten, I found her, fully clothed in her Abingdon t-shirt (“I want to wear it on the last day to show everyone how much I like Abingdon,” she said) and some shorts, sitting and splashing in a baby pool with several of her friends to cool off. She was soaked. And why not? What else is there to do after the last day of school? Apparently water games were part of the last day carnival that the extended day teachers creatively and generously put on for the kids but Zoe neglected to tell me about it the night before. Whatever. It’s the last day of school! Getting wet in your clothes makes it easier to not be too sad about the end of a fabulous year.
I saw Zoe’s wonderful teacher in the hallway as I was wheeling Zeke through the school to find Zoe, and thanked her again. Part of me wanted to hug her, but I knew if I did I would cry and I didn’t feel like she needed to deal with me crying. I did tell her, despite myself, that I found out I was pregnant with Zeke on the first day of school. So somehow the last day of school seemed like my little baby bubble was popping. I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of help and support from family and friends over the past eight weeks to make life easier for me and to allow me to focus on Zeke. Randy has driven Zoe to school every day since Zeke was born, which has been huge. On Monday Zoe will start camp which, thankfully, begins an hour and a half later than school starts, so it will be once again up to me to take charge of things in the morning. I am confident I can handle this, but I’m a little sad for the end of my morning repose with Zeke.
But I digress. While Zoe finished splashing with her friends, I nursed Zeke in the hallway, briefly chatting with the strings teacher, greeting other teachers who walked by, and meeting the technology teacher when she came by to admire Zeke. I saw tonight that she had posted a video of the Big Wave, an Abingdon tradition where all the teachers and staff sing and dance and send off the kids on the last afternoon. I love this school. Throughout the year, and especially over the past few weeks when it would seem all learning had ceased, Zoe did so many fun and interesting things at school. Her teachers and the other kindergarten teachers found creative and enriching activities to keep them engaged. She learned about Betsy Ross, magnets, the different between needs and wants, and introductory economics using musical chairs. The extended day teachers brought in a DJ for a dance party and hosted a slumber party. Field day was apparently the most fun Zoe had ever had in her life. Last night we went through a variety of workbooks and projects that Zoe brought home. She read us her end of the year book. She thoughtfully completed the final few pages in the My Kindergarten Year book that we gave her at the beginning of the year. Tonight we took her out for dinner at the restaurant of her choice (Lost Dog) followed by dessert of her choice (Dairy Queen) to celebrate her accomplishments during kindergarten and today’s tae kwan do belt ceremony where she broke her board (on the second try!) and earned her green stripe belt. We made toasts to each other.
Afternoons managing two kids are challenging, and this year has not been without its tough spots, including Zoe’s surgery, a rough pregnancy, and the trying minutiae that gets magnified and seems to consume us sometimes. But it’s lovely to end the year on a good note. We have a delightful rising first-grader and a cute baby boy who now often greets us with smiles. So what if the air conditioner is broken. We are lucky people. Let’s go jump in the baby pool.
I am constantly worried that people are judging my children (and thereby judging me as a parent). If my baby is crying, I worry that they will judge him to be a bad baby or me to be a bad mother who is unable to soothe her fussy baby. When people ask, “is he a good baby?” I feel like they’re suggesting that if he’s not (what’s a good baby anyway?) that somehow he is defective or I am defective. In my mind there is a great deal of weight attached to well-meaning or innocuous comments or questions from strangers or friends. I’ve wondered for the past several weeks if Zoe’s teachers or other adults at school think she is neglected because her has rarely been brushed since her brother was born. Dad has been taking her to school each day so I can rest or nurse and hairbrushing is often one of the items that gets dropped from the morning to do list. Which is fine, in the scheme of things. She is dressed in clean clothes and she is fed and she usually brings her lunch. But still.
When I am driving and I do something I know is wrong, or slightly illegal, I often compose excuses or justifications in my head as part of imaginary conversations with police officers who might pull me over. I am sincerely repentant and simultaneously indignant about being theoretically called on minor offenses. I don’t think other people have these conversations in their heads. Do they?
I don’t know how long I have felt this shadow of judgment looming over me, but it’s been a long time.
One time at lunch a friend of mine–whose frankness and fierceness I admire and also am a little scared of–said she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of her. She wondered, but seemingly without too much concern, if that was a bad thing. Instinctively, I think it is. But I am on the other end of the spectrum and that is a bad thing too. I think caring what other people think of you helps you be more compassionate and sympathetic, maybe more reliable. Who knows? But obsessing about what other people think and whether they are evaluating your every move is not helpful.
I’m reading the new book by Glennon Melton, the mom and blogger behind Momastery. Glennon’s whole thing is about how we, as moms, or really as humans, need to love more and judge less. She has plenty of personal history that would be easy to judge, and she freely admits where her faults and imperfections still lie. And she is so reassuring. Clearly this is why thousands of people read her blog and comment on her Facebook posts and show up at her readings. If she is such a mess and still such a wonderful person who is clearly trying to do the right thing, and often succeeding, and bringing so much love into the lives of people around her and the total strangers for whom she organizes “love flash mobs” to help in times of crisis, we must be all right too. Right?
When Zoe was born I struggled with feeling isolated as a new mom. Even though I had friends with babies, they all seemed to be far away. We don’t live in a neighborhood filled with kids. Everyone seemed to work. I went to Moms Club events but didn’t seem to connect with anyone or have the opportunity to have a conversation longer than a few minutes because of all the crying babies. I didn’t take a childbirth class or prenatal yoga class where I bonded with all the other moms. It wasn’t until Zoe started preschool at one-and-a-half that I felt like I started to make some local mom friends. Thankfully I am still friends with some of those moms.
But with one exception, none of them have newborns. And though I swore I’d do it differently this time, when you have a kindergartener already, it’s difficult to do everything you want to do. So I find myself again feeling kind of lonely at home, trying to balance relaxing and nursing and trying to be zen with going out and interacting with people to feel sane. Today at Trader Joe’s I wore Zeke in a baby carrier while I shopped. It took him a while to settle down so I was kind of jiggling and rocking as I pushed the cart along, and frequently slid my hands inside the carrier to adjust him to try to make him more comfortable. The whole time I was wondering if people were looking at me, if they thought I was doing it right or wrong. A few people smiled. There were a couple other moms wearing babies and one of them complimented Zeke’s hair. In the parking lot afterward there was a woman getting out of her car, right next to mine, who was carefully inserting her baby into a carrier on her chest, and then extracting her toddler from the car. I asked the mom about her carrier and we chatted briefly. She was friendly but clearly on her way to shop. Some part of me felt like saying, “hey we’re both wearing our babies and have two kids! Can we be friends?” But I didn’t. A few weeks ago outside the Giant in my neighborhood I was having a snack while Zeke slept in the stroller, and another mom on the next bench over was doing the same, with a baby who turned out to be just a week younger than Zeke. Before we walked away, I was tempted to ask for her email address so we could meet up at the park. But I didn’t.
In her blog post today, Glennon talked about going to the makeup counter at a department store and striking up a conversation with the makeup lady who ended up having an intense personal story to tell, which Glennon generously listened to and witnessed. I admire her ability to reach out to people–strangers–and make those connections. Sometimes I want to talk with someone so much but I can’t bring myself to do it. Or ask for a little–very little–help from a stranger. Today I took Zeke and myself out to lunch and while I ate my cheeseburger with one hand, I was cradling and nursing him in the other. I finished my drink and wanted a refill. There was a table of 8 women right next to me and I was tempted to ask one if she would mind getting me some more soda, but I couldn’t do it. She probably wouldn’t have minded. I would be delighted to do something like that if I were asked. But people don’t usually ask. Part of me was worried, I think, that people in the restaurant would be judging me, wondering why I was bringing my newborn to a restaurant, or why I was drinking soda while breastfeeding, or why I couldn’t take care of things myself. They probably weren’t. But still.
I’m trying to figure out how I can make myself reach out more. And wondering what to tell myself when I worry that people will judge me for reaching out. Who cares what they think? Clearly, I do. But why?
Do you remember this song from Sesame Street?
This little tune runs through my head often these days, as I lead a milk-soaked existence.
I am a milk machine.
This is miraculous.
Yesterday during Zoe’s tae kwan do class I suddenly realized that the left half of my shirt was soaked through with milk. I spent most of class nursing Zeke anyway, so no one could see anyway. When I had to get up, walk across the mat where Zoe’s class was practicing their punches, kicks, and form, to reach the bathroom so I could change Zeke’s diaper, I cleverly draped his flannel frog blanket over my shoulder, obscuring my dampness.
Our sheets are populated by milk stains, either fresh from me or dribbled out of Zeke’s mouth. When I nurse and the milk comes out too fast and Zeke pulls away, the milk gets all over his clothes and me and my pants. I go through so many shirts and bras. Breast pads are of limited utility.
When Zoe was three and a half months old, my sister got married. Zoe was the ring bearer and my husband was the ring bearer bearer. Zoe spent most of the wedding sleeping on the shoulder of my mom or aunt. As you might imagine, a bridesmaid dress doesn’t allow for easy access to nursing, nor is there much opportunity to pump (or express milk, if you prefer) during your sister’s wedding. By the end of the evening, the top of my dress was soaked through with milk. I still have it in my closet, although the dry cleaner was not able to get the stain out of the material. Not sure what use I might have for it, except as a souvenir.
A friend who doesn’t have children and doesn’t expect to recently asked me about nursing. Was it wonderful? Was it terrible? Breastfeeding is amazing. It is spectacular that, without me having to do ANYTHING special, my body produces this perfect food for my baby. How cool is that? And it’s free! AND Zeke loves to drink my milk (as did Zoe) and my body makes a ton of it–maybe even too much?–but it’s a great problem to have.
Breastfeeding is intimate, as you can understand, but also public, because you have to do it all over the place when your baby is hungry. It is sweet and tender, except when your baby is fussing and crying and freaking out for no apparent reason. It is relaxing, especially when you’re doing it at home in a comfortable chair, or stressful, when you’re trying to do it in some crowded place and people are getting in your face. Breastfeeding produces some sort of happy hormones (in the mom). It is impossible for me not to fall asleep almost instantly when I go in during the middle of the night to feed Zeke. I end up sleeping in the glider for hours sometimes, which somehow seems wrong, but I guess it’s fine.
Nursing your baby makes you feel very competent, except when it doesn’t. I am grateful for all the ladies at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington for their guidance. Zeke has been great, and the fact that he gained more than two pounds during his first three weeks of life is evident of his rock star ability to nurse, but that doesn’t mean it’s been without tense moments.
Speaking of which, I hear the siren call from the crib of a hungry baby. Duty calls.
I am inspired by this. If you don’t already know her, check out Glennon’s blog: http://momastery.com/blog/
My husband is surprisingly adept at quickly maneuvering his body so that his shirt bears the brunt of the voluminous spit-up that occasionally emerges from our baby boy’s little mouth. I am impressed both with Randy’s agility and with his sensitivity to the little noise that Zeke makes right before he gushes forth. Time for a bath for Zeke and a shower for Dad!
As a parent you become surprisingly stoic when it comes to your children’s bodily fluids. Not that a poopy diaper isn’t still gross, or that you relish extracting a booger from your baby’s nose, but somehow the act of removing something unpleasant or offensive from within or surrounding your child’s body, and therefore making your child cleaner and happier, vastly outweighs your own distaste for whatever substance you’re encountering.
When Zeke was only two weeks old, I boldly ventured to the salon for a haircut so I could look presentable at my sister’s graduation. Zoe wasn’t feeling well that morning so we let her stay home from school in the hope that she could rest up and be better for the ceremony. So she accompanied me and Zeke to the salon. Normally I do not take any children to such places, but I had no choice on this particular day. While I got my hair cut Zeke was fussing, and the stylist asked one of his employees to come over to rock Zeke’s carseat and soothe him. Meanwhile, Zoe, in the next chair over, looked miserable and teary. As we were preparing to leave and I was paying, Zoe threw up. I attempted, unsuccessfully, to catch it. She threw up on herself, her feet and sandals, my feet and sandals, and the diaper bag. Fortunately, she did not throw up on her brother. So when we got home and I was trying to clean up us and our stuff, I was not at all bothered because I was so relieved that Zeke was unscathed.
And for the rest of the afternoon I had this classic song by Barry Louis Polisar stuck in my head. Not exactly the same scenario, but how many songs about throwing up on your brother are there?