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I 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.
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.
My 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.”