28 January 2014

Judgy Mom Angst

Years ago, when I was still vacillating between wanting kids and being utterly horrified by the thought of inviting one (to say nothing of two!) into our lives, I was talking to Cassie about my indecision.

"I think you'd be a really great mom," she told me.

"I mean, yeah, I know I'd be a great mom. I just don't know if I feel like doing it."

So said the sage, judgmental, well-rested 28-year old Mandy. Yes, there’s a generous share of hubris in that attitude and those remarks, but it's also true that people way more sucky or less capable than me have managed to be adequate, decent, or even good parents. Why shouldn't I, awesome being that I am, be able to knock this parenting thing out of the park, you know? (Do you hate me? Fair enough.)*

Matt and I did not arrive at the decision to procreate lightly. We thought about it and discussed it and poured over how we'd make it work. Once I was pregnant with Charlie, we read up on parenting strategies and talked about what kinds of parents we wanted to be, what our priorities were for our children, how we'd handle discipline, how we'd approach food, etc. I'm happy to be able to say with confidence, too, that almost two years in--tiresome years though they have been--we've rocked it. We communicate really well, we research, we're pretty consistent, we've established routines that have helped our kids to know what to expect and to go through most of their days happy and carefree. We're reflective enough to be able to identify a problem and seek advice or alternate solutions, and we're flexible enough to change our strategies if something's not working.

So, yeah, 28-year old ever-judgmental Mandy was right. I'm a great mom. Matt's a great dad.

But shoot, if you think 28-year old Mandy was critical, just wait until you see how hard the judgmental 32.75-year old Mandy is on herself. What former Mandy knew in her brain but couldn't see fully through her youthful, just woke up from a coma nap lens, though, was that it's such a long haul, and there are going to be days that are disgraceful flops. (By the way, this isn’t some post where I’m begging for affirmation from people about how they think I’m a good mom. I mean that’s nice and all, but I’m enough of a cocky asshole to know I am. But let’s keep it real, right? Even badass moms have appallingly bad days.)

Saturday was one of those days. Saturday is my solo-parenting day because Matt works all day. On this particular Saturday, I'd gotten around four hours of sleep, I was recovering from being sick, I'd stupidly allowed three glasses of wine to accidentally pour down my throat the night before. Angry with Matt over what ended up being a major lapse in communication, I spent the first four hours of my day stewing, fuming over how I wanted to ruin his life. While I kept the babies properly diapered and fed and everything, I failed to be present with them. I went through the motions and just tried to get through the day with as little child screaming as possible. I yelled a few times at Charlie, which I try really hard not to do. I went through the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru and then drove around town, passing waffle fries to Charlie in the back just to keep him quiet. I held Matilda (um, like all day because she was teething and fussy) without really enjoying her or looking at her or providing the nurturing that she really needed. I let Charlie play on the ipod too much. I played on the ipod too much.  I was there physically, but I wasn’t really there. Instead, I allowed my anger and my selfishness and my bad attitude to win. And win they did—pretty much until bedtime, when Charlie and Matilda’s sweet selves finally conquered my bad attitude. By then, though, I’d wasted a whole day that could’ve been great.

I’m sad when I think about Saturday. I’m sad because I wasn’t the kind of parent that I want to be; I was the kind of parent that I would totally criticize. And it wouldn’t just be my former, childless, abundance of time and freedom self who would do the judging. No. Now I’m even more brutal because now there are high stakes. There’s a real-life Charlie and a Matilda who need a good role model to teach them how to behave, two wonderful kids who are fast approaching second and first birthdays. It’s becoming very real to me that time just goes by too fast, and every day I squander with my selfishness is a day I lose forever.

So then what do we do when we have a sucky mom Saturday? Well, since time machine technology has yet to be perfected (I mean, seriously, though. 2014 and still no time machines or flying cars? C’mon, technology people!), the only thing I can do is try to learn from it. I felt guilty Saturday night, felt like I needed to punish myself for having been sub-par. My self-flagellation took the form of folding laundry and scrubbing the bathtub and bathroom floor. Maybe if I woke up Sunday morning with a fresh attitude and a clean house, the day would be better? Fortunately, it worked and Sunday rocked my socks off. I enjoyed my babes, changed my attitude, and decided it probably wasn’t in anyone’s best interest for me to ruin Matt’s life.

Sunday > Saturday

For the last few days I’ve been trying to extract the nugget of wisdom from my weekend. Is it “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a good mom most of the time”? Is it “There’s always tomorrow”? Is it “Everyone’s fighting their own battle”? No, not quite.  Sure, those are all true, valuable lessons, but I think that what this sucky Saturday taught me is to reconcile my own nature (for better or worse) with my parenting goals.

It’s my nature to be super critical. It’s what makes me good at my job, good at keeping up our house, and what drives me to improve in a host of areas in my life. I’m judgmental toward others and I’m judgmental toward myself. There’s this general attitude that judgment is always destructive, that criticism is mean, that we should never judge anyone or be hard on ourselves because that’s not nice, because then we might not get a shiny trophy at the end of the day.  But I wonder how we’re supposed to improve if we’re not willing to identify faults and then pledge to get better?

What I'm choosing to take away from my terrible Saturday is a renewed promise to myself and to my family to strive to improve. Always.

This parenting thing is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work being the kind of parent you wouldn’t hate.

*This is the type of remark that I make and then ask Matt, "I mean, am I wrong?" He then channels the Coen brothers and says, "You're not wrong. You're not wrong, Walter.  You're just an asshole."

14 January 2014

On Nursing

In the next couple of weeks, Matilda will be done nursing. I have never been a super producer of milk (I would’ve been a terrible wet nurse!), and now that she’s bigger and drinking more, my body just can’t keep up with her. And since I don’t have a job that allows for a flexible pumping schedule, I can’t pump enough during the day to encourage more production. “Okay, kids, here’s your essay. I’ll be back here at my desk with my breasts hooked up to a machine, expressing milk for my infant.” (I’d make the news at least.)

I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed, but nursing hasn’t always been easy. I had friends and coworkers who talked about breastfeeding like it was this magical, enjoyable experience. One coworker would light up when she talked about nursing, and even told me that it was such a rush, like having orgasms but not sexual. Um, weird, but okay! Nursing seems like it’s this natural thing that’s easy because I mean, duh, that’s what they’re for, but for me it was really difficult. I struggled with both babies to get the latches right, became tight with the lactation consultants at the hospital, and fought to maintain milk production. I’ve sacrificed planning time and lunch time at school to pump, and lost many an hour of sleep nursing a baby in the middle of the night. There have been clogged ducts and mastitis and pain and tears and gross potions that are supposed to increase milk production for pregnant ladies without hurting the fetus and too many oatmeal breakfasts to count. I think sometimes nursing was even harder than being pregnant or actually giving birth. And in spite of it all, I love that I did it. To have been able to provide Charlie and Matilda with a stronger immune system and the dozens of other benefits—well, that made it 1000% worth it.

 As much as I kind of wish I was, I’m not and have never been a breasfeeding La Leche League earth mother. I did it because I knew it was the best thing for my babies (and the health benefits for me and the not having to trade all of our dollars for formula part was just a bonus). I’m really proud of myself for sticking with it, and for persevering during those difficult and painful moments. It proved to me how tough I really can be (and, let’s be honest, I already thought I was pretty tough). I don’t want to be too annoying about all of this: I’m not going to make you read a Some Ecard that has a lady talking about how she’s a superhero because she makes milk (um, by superhero did you mean mammal?) or anything, but I did a really hard thing for a long time because it was best for my babies. For that I am proud.

One day in these next weeks, I will listen to that eee-uhhhhh-chhoo of the Medela and then wash those damned pump parts for the last time. One day in these next weeks, I will nurse a baby for the last time, listening to her sweet nursing hum, cradling her, yelling when she bites down and then pulls and then getting mad when she laughs. The funny thing is that I probably won’t know at the time that it is our last nursing session, so there won’t be confetti or celebratory shots of tequila because finally I don’t have to worry about making my baby a booze fiend. Nope. It’ll just end. Just like that.

It’s been two and a half years since I haven’t been pregnant or nursing or both, and hell if I’m not ready to take my body back, to sleep on my stomach, to wear a bra that doesn’t look like it doubles as stripper wear with its easy access straps and hooks, to pick out clothes because I like them and not because they’re nursing friendly. 

I’m harboring conflicting emotions about being done nursing: pride, sadness, ridiculous amounts of excitement. Like so many of the milestones and closed chapters that lie before us will be, this one is a little bittersweet.

13 January 2014

Weekend o' Shit and Fun!

After being on a glorious sugar-cookie high for two weeks during the holiday break and then returning to school feeling full and content, I had one of those weeks where it just felt like life was punching us in the stomach over and over. It’s fine, and I’m being dramatic, what with the life punches and all, but fuck, man. What started off as an easy peasy week ended with frustration and tears and annoyance. But Sunday we managed to put things back on track, to regroup, be flexible with our plans, and move forward. (And sorry to be so vague about these little problemos, but they basically have to do with money and a lack thereof, and nobody wants to hear people bitch about money, so I’ll spare you.)

 So maybe I went to my dark OMIGOD I CAN’T TAKE IT AND I’M SO TIRED AND TIRED OF IT ALL AND NOBODY TALK TO ME AND I’M GOING TO BE SO CONSPICUOUSLY SILENT THAT EVERYONE WILL BE AFRAID mode for an hour or so on Friday night.* And maybe I drank two glasses of wine too many (for a total of three. Two years of not drinking will make a lightweight out of you!), which made for an unpleasant day Saturday with solo-parenting two babies.

 But, really, it’s nothing that some good friends, Chipotle, couch naps with a dog (does it count as a nap if it’s from 7:30 p.m. until 1 a.m.?), and a bowl of stove-popped popcorn can’t tackle.  Plus this weekend was full of awesome, too. One of my favorite people in the world found out that she’s having a little BOY (which I had been rooting for since before she was even knocked up)!** And one of my other favorite people in the world had a great weekend with a new nice boy that left us laughing and giggling and plotting like we did back in our trashy college days. And we got to FaceTime with some of my other favorite people in the world. And we made Dinner: A Love Story’s chicken orzo soup. And I got so much done during my Sunday kitchen bitchin’ session that I’m feeling prepared for this week. Bring it, January!

And shoot, even though Charlie and Matilda might have been in on some diabolical plan to break me on Saturday (three hours of straight two babies screaming and whining!), they’re pretty damned cute.

*Life tip: try not to combine a stressful week, lingering post-partum depression, PMS, and a lack of sleep if you can help it. Ugly results, people. Ugly.

**I am also amazing at guessing the gender of peoples’ babies. I’m batting like a thousand right now.

07 January 2014

New Year!

Today was my second day back to work after a long and glorious Christmas break.  And returning to work hasn't been as hard as I feared.  I was a little torn about returning to work (as though I had any choice in the matter!).  On one hand, duh, I didn’t want to go back because I like being at home wearing sweatpants and eating insane amounts of food and chillaxin’ with the babies and Matt.  On the other hand, I can only take so much sweatpants-wearing, food-inhaling, baby time before I go a little bonkers myself.  Add to that the fact that I really like work this year, probably more than I ever have, and it’s all good.  The early mornings can rot in hell, but the rest of it is peachy.  Plus, let’s be honest: the sooner I return to work the sooner summer will get here.

So what’s new with our little family?  A lot and nothing at the same time.  Matt and I are starting to see a tiny glimmer of a light at the end of the baby tunnel, and we’re patting ourselves on the backs for executing our two-babies-in-two-years plan*.  Over break we moved Matilda out of our room and into Charlie’s room (Hallelujah!), and it took me about three seconds to start referring to the room as “their room.”  In case you were wondering, sharing a bedroom with a baby for eight months is less than desirable.  She’s now 8 months old and he’s 1¾, and they can actually play together sometimes, and they genuinely love one another.  They steal food off of each other’s high chairs, snatch toys from each other, pull hair, hug, kiss, and jabber at each other all the time.  And even though ol’ Tildy woke us all up at 4:47 this morning, it’s worth it for the move if only because I get to hear them chatting away with one another after they’ve gone to bed at night.  (See, also: sleeping in my bed by myself, being able to enter my own bedroom after 6:30 p.m.)  I’m still holding out for a twin language!

Charlie continues to be wild and amazing and sweet.  He’s still the cutest boy you’ve ever seen in your whole life.  His latest thing is couch fort, wherein he throws all of the cushions off the couch and proceeds to jump and jabber away.  You’ve probably seen a good bit of couch fort if you follow me on Instagram, mostly because I can’t get over the giant grin that stays on his face the entire time he’s playing.

Matilda is amazing, too. And she’s so different from Charlie!  She’s so social!  Sunday we took the babies to brunch and she flirted with every single person in the restaurant.  I have to note this, too, so that I can go back and read it on a hard day when I’m covered in banana mush and have Greek yogurt caked in my hair.  Three different people came up to us as they were leaving the restaurant to mention how well-behaved our kids were.   It basically had me on cloud 9 for the rest of the week.  And let’s be honest, Matilda’s batting her eyelashes (thanks for those, Pop!) and smiling and waving and dancing were pretty damned charming.  I also have a theory that she’ll walk earlier than Charlie did because she’s so much more thoughtful and meticulous about how she does stuff (whereas Charlie pretty much takes after his mother and runs before he walks** most of the time).

What else? Well, we made this taco soup from Dinner: A Love Story and I’m freaking out about how good it is.  And we started watching the season 4 premiere of Downton Abbey and I’m wondering if I might have to be done with that show because it’s just too ridiculous (and WTF, Mary!  Don’t be such a gash wagon!).  And I swear I’m going to start ellipting again soon and I will not repeat yesterday’s delicious terror of scarfing down two Publix cheese danishes within a 5-minute period.  And my baby sister is applying to college!  (Which means that everyone in the world is terribly, terribly old.)  And I am not pregnant, nor will I ever be pregnant again.  I’m not sure when the novelty of not being pregnant will wear off, but it still hasn’t, and with every morning that I wake up on my stomach or with every time I bend down to put on a shoe without feeling stabbing pain, I relish the fact that my uterus is empty.

And now I shall try to erase the image of my vacant uterus from your mind by providing pictures of former occupants.

*This probably means that I’m a giant asshole (really is that a surprise anyway?) , but every time that someone who had a baby around the time that Charlie was born announces that they’re pregnant again, I am incredibly, obnoxiously smug about how I never have to do that again.  No pregnancy, childbirth, newborn nursing hell, newborn hell in general, or learning how to juggle two kiddies (which is, for anyone who was wondering, hella hard).  I’m so happy for the people announcing the pregnancies, but I’m way more happy for myself.

**both literally and metaphorically  


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