She was jarred awake. She opened her eyes and her vision was clouded. Foggy. Dim. It was the same, day after day. Sometimes she noticed that what she saw was darker than normal and sometimes she thought that this was just what her life looked like. Maybe you should get checked out, she said to herself. She was a little worried about her view. Maybe a little more than a little worried. But, to the rest of the world, she pretended she could see just fine.
With her warped perspective, she looked at the screaming, lumpy, thing. It wiggled and it grunted and it cried and it screwed up her routine. Her eyes pounded, her head pounded, her heart pounded. It seemed to be causing her physical distress. Was she sure that this thing was even hers? Or was the problem just with her eyes? She knew it was easy for eyes to become fatigued, causing distortion. She squinched her eyes, rubbed them, and then pried them wide, trying to get a better look. It was hard to tell. Everything was fuzzy. It didn’t look like hers. She wasn’t sure if it was hers. She kneaded her eyes and peered again. What if it wasn’t hers?She kept trying to look harder, to see what she was supposed to see, but no matter how hard she tried to see in the dark, her pupils wouldn’t cooperate, the dilation mechanism was on the fritz, so she blindly groped, hoping she didn’t cause too much damage when she inevitably ran into something. She knew she needed to keep looking, for something, so she did.
In the meantime, she patted, and she rocked, and she nuzzled, and she cooed, all the while secretly scouring the lumpy flesh, searching around with her eyes. She was determined not to miss whatever it was she knew she should be seeing. It was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, without the benefit of the box to tell you what the picture was supposed to look like. It was exhausting.
Little by little, her vision returned, starting with spotty patches here and there, until one day her eyes fluttered and she was jarred awake, but this time by the brightness. The beauty. The baby. It had a crooked, toothless, smile. Dimpled cheeks. Intelligent eyes. It was clearly hers. She was clearly hers, it was plain to see. Once she was able to properly observe her, she was able to feel her, in her arms, and in her heart, a heavy pull. There was a comfortable, weighty presence, where an unnatural weightless void had existed just before. She stared at her, and blinked back tears, squinting at the dazzling view.
Prior to becoming a parent, I was a napping PRO. I have insomnia and crazy sleep issues that have left me waking up exhausted for most of my existence, so I utilized the mystical force of the power nap to keep me going on a regular basis. In the weeks leading up to the due date of our first child, one of the most common pieces of advice I received was “sleep when the baby sleeps”. I quickly learned that while this might be the first thing that pops out of people’s mouths, it is often the last thing that is realistically going to happen, at least after the first few weeks of delivery. Now that I have a toddler, and baby number two on the way, napping still sounds great on paper, but the reality is far from the fantasy. Here’s why:
1. It’s Easy to Get Caught in the “I’ll Nap Right After I Put Away These Few Things” Trap, because it feels better when the house doesn’t show the full extent of the damage an F5 Toddler Tornado can do. Nap time is one of the few opportunities during the day when it is possible to cook, or scrub, or de-clutter, at least without constantly having to stop what you’re doing to investigate impish laughter, (or scarier still, utter silence) or without sidestepping a freshly dumped bucket of Legos or an upturned tub of flour from the pantry (though this won’t happen until after you vacuumed and mopped this section of the floor). Just picking up a few things can very easily spiral out of control, as parents seem especially susceptible to getting sucked through invisible wormholes and zipped through time and space, causing what you’d think should take ten minutes to actually take an hour and fifteen. By the time you plop down on the couch, your lower back is sore, and you can barely keep your eyelids pried open far enough to peer out of, and you can bet your ass the baby will start tossing and turning within five to ten minutes of being seated. You thought the nap was within your grasp, and you’re still not sure how it eluded you, but somehow you were fooled. It was all a mirage and any illusions you had of catching some zzzzz’s slipped through your fingers, once again.
2. New-Parent Hormones Result in the Development of Unparalleled Hearing. Suddenly the tiny ear cups we have as humans are able to funnel the same quantity of sound waves into our eardrums as those of an African elephant. This must be an evolutionary tactic, for the preservation of small children, but for parents this can be exhaustingly detrimental to one’s health. Even from several rooms away, without the use of a baby monitor, all possibly-baby-related sounds are amplified. You will hear when the baby rolls over, you will hear when the baby makes a snorty sound through his nose, you will hear when your baby sucks on his finger. Small babies make a LOT more noise than one might think when they are sleeping, and each time they do, hormone surges result in a body being able to leap from the a prone position straight onto one’s feet, without any intermediary steps, in about 0.3337 milliseconds. Even if you manage to remain horizontal, hormones work like witch’s sorcery, making baby blinks sound as loud as thundering hooves, and it’s impossible to sleep through that racket. It takes awhile for those hormones to dissipate, but eventually there will be a few times when your kid rolls off the toddler bed and you may not hear the thump, which one would imagine would be much louder than the newborn baby blinks. I suppose no spell lasts forever.
3. Phantom Noises Keep You Up. You will definitely hear every sound your child makes, but even worse, sometimes you start to teeter on the edge of sanity (and maybe even take a slight dip on the other side) and you start hearing your child even when there is nothing to hear. Like, when you think you hear the baby crying, but when you go to check on them they are perfectly silent and they clearly haven’t budged an inch. Or, when your baby is staying the night at grandma’s, but you’re still hearing him. And you might go check the crib …. just in case. For months I was hearing phantom baby cries, that sounded like my daughter, but seemed really, really far away. Little creepy ghost cries that made me feel like I was in a Blair Witch scenario in my own home. They were hushed and dim sounding, but were loud enough to wake me regularly, giving me that heart-attacky feeling in my chest. Eventually I realized I was hearing air going in and out of my cat’s left nostril, making the faintest of faint whistling sounds. What the eff?
4. Nap Time, Like Bedtime, Can Be Filled With Anxiety and Fear. It is very possible you’ve reached an exhaustion level similar to that of someone who just swam across the English Channel, and you are at the point where you physically flop over the moment you put your child down. Your right eye will remain cracked open until your kiddo stops adjusting and fussing, and you think he’s snoozing soundly and you finally allow your body to relax. You start to fade into a blissful slumber and then RIGHT before you drift off to sleep, PING! your eyes will pop open and the damn adrenaline surges return and you will wonder why your little angel is snoozing so soundlessly … and you PANIC! PANIC! PANIC! and bolt from the couch so you can place your hand on your child’s chest, feeling for the cyclic rising and falling. I probably could have consolidated numbers 2, 3 and 4 and just said that adrenaline surges are not conducive to napping.
5. Nap Time is One of the Only Times You’re Able to Sit and Relax. Even if your house is clean (enough) and you’re physically and mentally drained, you still might not get that longed-for snooze. While it sounds great, you find that it takes a level of exhaustion comparable to that experienced after hiking a large segment of the Himalayas, sans sherpa, for you to pass up the opportunity for a little unexpected Me Time. Thirty minutes to sit on the couch? To sip on a hot cup of coffee and not worry about spilling it on your kid’s tender skin? To sit in silence with no yelling, crying, or the Frozen soundtrack blaring in the background? That golden trifecta is better than all the riches found in the kettle at the end of the rainbow, my friends.
6. “Sleep When the Baby Sleeps” is Only Hypothetically Possible When You Only Have One Child. Um, so yea, people seem to forget that if you have more than one kid, the odds of having only one nap time are on par with the odds of the hundreds of moons within our solar system aligning. More often than not, not only do you miss out on the nap time, but you miss out on the bonus cleaning time.
7. There are Always Other Unexpected Nap-Jackings. A salesman rings the doorbell. Sirens blare through your windows. I used to be an expert Car Napper, when my husband drove I could be asleep faster than my car was able to accelerate from zero to sixty. It was a sad day, shortly after the birth of my first child, when I realized I could no longer recline the seat of my car back far enough to nap comfortably, because it was impeded by my daughter’s car seat. Nooooo! Another unexpected and tragic napping dead-end.
Every so often a golden napping opportunity appears before you, similar to when a lucky hiker is able to snap a photo of a yeti lumbering across an arctic ridge. It’s unbelievable and you try your hardest to preserve the feeling the golden experience provides, like one tries to capture a snapshot of the wooly beast. But the memory, like the image, (and the yeti) is often fuzzy.
Before I became a parent, I had a few relatively close friends who began starting families, and after the birth of their little ones, I never really saw them again. I tried calling periodically, and would offer up the same sort of date idea we used to do together, usually coffees or lunch dates. Usually the offer was rejected and after a few attempts to stay connected, I got pissed and gave up.
I remember thinking, What assholes. Don’t they give a shit about their friends anymore? I mean, I understood they were busy, and of course family comes first, but I hardly ever saw them again. It seemed ridiculous.
A few years later, I had a child of my own, and while I make a concerted effort to schedule in time with friends, I’m sure there are some people out there who now think this about me. Possibly even some of my own family.
So for the non-parents out there who think I’ve turned into an asshole, here are my excuses.
The kid’s schedule is more important than one would think. Turns out kids need to eat, drink, move, sleep and poop. Every damn day of the year. And for the most part, it really DOES make a difference when and where these events occur. No parent wants to deal with a kid who is dehydrated, has low blood sugar, is exhausted, or has shit his or her pants. I’m quite sure none of our friends want to deal with these scenarios either. This means that the noon lunch dates, or 4pm coffee dates or going out to dinner at any time is really, really hard to swing. Yes, sometimes we can do it, but when we do, we are pushing it, so we tend to save up these moments for holidays, vacations or other special occasions. Even if it works out okay, and we/our kid makes it look easy, it leaves us exhausted because it basically gives us a heart attack worrying about whether or not our selfish choice will result in us having to calm our child who is screaming bloody murder and/or having to clean urine or feces off of a public bench or the seats of our minivan.
Kids put their parents on a schedule of their own. Parents usually blame schedules solely on their kids, but the truth is, we now have a schedule, too. Before the kids get up, we get ourselves ready for the day, empty the dishwasher, pack the lunches and enjoy 15 minutes of alone time with our cup of coffee. If we’re feeling overly ambitious, waking up somewhere in the 4 a.m. time slot, we might get a workout in or an hour of blog writing before waking up the kids and getting them ready. Before we get to work we’re already several hours into our day. When the kids nap, we clean the kitchen or the bathroom or fold the laundry. Once the kids go to sleep, we may or may not get to any of the items on our to-do list, bills, home improvement projects, workouts, or any of the other things normal people do on a day-to-day basis (and are virtually impossible to do while the children are awake), before we basically collapse in a useless heap on the couch. Yes, we know it’s only 8.30 p.m. And, yes, we’re TOAST. If we do see you outside of our typical schedule, particularly in the evening hours, take it as a huge compliment. We’re still getting up at the ungodly hour we always do the next morning, and are unable to make up that extra energy we are expending for the next 18 years or so.
We like hanging out with our kids. And if we work outside the home, we feel like our time with them is very limited. Going out to dinner could mean not seeing your kid all day, going away for the weekend could mean not seeing your child for 80% of the week (that we are not working and they are awake). Seemingly boring activities, like stacking cups, singing the ABC’s, pushing a little one on a swing, or even simply eating a meal with the kids have turned into some of our favorite moments. Even if you see our kid act like a total asshole, crying every five minutes, or bouncing off the walls like a human pinball, at home there are more instances than you can imagine that result in us smiling the biggest smiles, laughing the loudest laughs, or otherwise NOT being annoyed with our own offspring. This can be hard to imagine, I know.
“Just bring the kids” is an option. But it is one that sucks. Even though we thoroughly enjoy our time at home, we want to see you, too. We really do. Even so, we often decline invitations to your fun events, not because it doesn’t sound like a blast in general, but because we know, for us, it just won’t be fun. This is not because YOU aren’t fun. You are a riot. (Do you hear us? We really do think this, even if we neglect to express this enough). We just can’t focus on you very well when we have to simultaneously keep an eye on our kids making sure they don’t choke, drown in randomly placed vat of water or get a head injury bumping into the pointy corner of a table. We spend a lot more time and energy worrying about keeping our brood alive than you might imagine. A lot of times we host events you don’t get invited to. Again, this isn’t because YOU aren’t fun, it’s because our events aren’t fun, at least not for most adults. They are loud, obnoxious, and strategically located where there are wide open spaces or playscapes that allow toddlers to run and bounce off padded surfaces, screaming like banshees, that allow us to leave the Xanax at home since we don’t have to fear death by pointy edge.
Seemingly benign household chores suddenly seem to consume our lives. Things we used to think were nothing now seem to consume our lives. Washing, drying, scrubbing, cooking. I still haven’t figured out how one or two tiny little humans results in thirty-five times the number of dishes, loads of laundry, and crumbs on the floor, but it does. Chores that we used to be able to put off until we felt like doing them now Must. Be. Done. Immediately. If they wait, we fear our house might implode, much like a black hole, from the massive amount of grime and toys and dirty dishes concentrated in one place. To top it off, feeding and housing small children results in such an exponential increase in clutter and dirt (which we care about more now, since our kids are rolling around on the carpet all the time) that it is now unacceptable for our own shit to add to the mess, so there’s the double whammy right there. Not only are we responsible for cleaning up after our offspring, we now are being held responsible, if only by our own OCD, for cleaning up after ourselves.
Kids go to sleep pretty damn early. Which means we have to leave events even earlier, or we miss attending them altogether. It’s easy to look at our kids and say, “Oh, they don’t even look tired!” and you’d be right. And that’s why we’re leaving NOW, before they have a total meltdown and lose their shit. We can preemptively sense these things like some animals can sense earthquakes before they register on any seismograph.
Leisure time is so limited that we tend to spend it on ourselves (often by ourselves). Fitting in time to relax and engage in activities we enjoy can be so elusive that sometimes we think we are being assholes to ourselves, for not spending enough time with our own self. I’m not making this up. Getting a manicure or a haircut or a taking a trip to the gym requires creative scheduling, and everything else in our life to go according to plan – our spouse’s engagements, our kid’s health, work obligations. A lot of our hobbies end up being things we can do at any hour of the day, on our own time, by ourselves: jogging, reading, writing or activities that can be done just as well at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. The demands of the social calendar scare us. If we’re going to fit in time to actually see another human being, it’s usually someone who can give us the most bang for our buck. A workout buddy or someone to chat with during a playdate, or, rarely, a meet up with a pal who can completely de-stress us, who is totally on board with our entire excursion being completed within a thirty to forty-five minute window. We do not have the time or energy for idle lingering.
Sometimes we just need to idly linger. Okay, this might seem like I’m refuting my last point, but I’m really not. We’re spending so much energy carrying, wiping, toting, cleaning, chasing after, listening to, reasoning with, teaching, and doing, that sometimes we need to just sit, in a quiet space, for ten or thirty or one-hundred-and-twenty minutes in a row, for our own sanity, and for the safety of those around us. There is no sleeping in, or afternoon naps, or resting on the weekend, so these moments are critical to help our bodies and minds recover and recharge for the remainder of our day or week. God help you if you infringe on our time we’ve allotted to revive ourselves. My friends might notice that I played Words with Friends at ten p.m., but they shouldn’t take that as a sign of me being capable of sustaining vigorous nighttime conversations or activities. I’ve probably been in my pajamas for hours, expending almost zero energy, using this time to replenish my life stores, an act of sloth equivalent in importance to the hibernation of bears in the winter.
Keep in mind we’re not upset about these things, we are not complaining about our choice to raise our little ones. We are happy as clams, but we still do miss you and recognize we probably don’t tell you this enough.
Basically, when it comes to friendships, parents of young children are forced to hunker down and encase themselves in a protective cocoon in order to preserve their energy, like some spore that can withstand the harshest of elements.
Don’t give up on us, we’ll emerge and thrive again, once conditions are right. In the meantime, if you are not deterred, let us know if you want to come over at 7 a.m. for breakfast. That’s when we are at our peak.
Baby Grouch woke me this morning with her chatter and her happy squeals and periodic shouts of “Mama!” coming from her crib. I padded to her room, in my pajamas, and smiled at her when she exclaimed, “Morning!” as I walked in. “Book. Book. Cookie”. We had the time, so I acquiesced to her demand that I read her “The Best Mouse Cookie” before bringing her downstairs for breakfast.
She ate some steamed broccoli (might as well squeeze in a vegetable wherever you can, right?) and a few bites of peach yogurt before asking me to make her a waffle. “Bite. Faffle!” Again, I complied with her request, because today was technically a holiday (President’s Day, but whatever, I had the day off) and most days I’m the one calling the shots. Before walking to the toaster, I turned on Pandora’s Nursery Rhyme Radio, one of her favorite stations.
I came back with the waffle for her and sweetened black tea for me, and before I could set down her food, she held out her arms, saying, “uppie”. Instead of telling her to finish eating at her seat, I unbuckled her from the booster and swooped her onto my lap, placing the waffle in front of both of us. And there she stayed for the next hour and fifteen minutes.
Compared to our normal rushy-rush attitude, we lingered. She tickled my knees and I gave her some laughs and tickled her back. She sat on my lap, turning to face me, placing her feet on my pregnant belly, my arms supporting her back. Every so often I’d get a hug, or a pat, or a stare up at my face and a “Mama!” coming out of her mouth. We sang and we sang and we sang, me, completely off-key, she, with an impressive number of correct words or close-to-it sounds, to the nursery rhymes she loved – her favorites (I could tell they were her top choices because of how much she sang along and the “yay!” she shouted after they were done) included, Wheels on the Bus, Somewhere Over The Rainbow (the Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole version), Skidamarink, The ABC’s and Apples and Bananas. She does not like Hakuna Matata, “don’t like it. Uh uh”. Between songs we tickle-tickled and peekabooed and then went back to singing, as she slowly continued to munch on her waffle.
Midway through our special time at the kitchen table, I thought I could capture our moment, as beautiful as it was, and snapped a couple mother-daughter selfies. And EW. They were not pretty. They showed me in my black skull pajama pants and clashing blue and white striped tank top, with my splotchy skin and puffy eyes and protruding stomach. She’s pretty darn cute, but in these pictures, her hair was all over the place, her eyes half-shut in the photos. The angles were awkward and, well, we just weren’t so photogenic this morning.
After a few attempts I realized there was no way to capture the moment, and that was okay. I put away the phone, and we went back to focusing on each other and I thought to myself, what a good lesson this was for both of us.
Sometimes the most remarkable moments are the ones that look unremarkable. The ones with so much beauty coming from the inside, there isn’t any left for the outside.
Physical beauty is overrated. We sat, for what simultaneously seemed like an eternity, and also just an instant, soaking up the relaxation and comfort of each other’s company. When she finished eating, we got up and danced the Hokey Pokey before it was back to reality, and I started cleaning up the waffle crumbs that had fallen to the floor and started putting on her coat and shoes so we could head to the grocery store, resuming the typical busy-day-schedule we are so accustomed to.
It’s highly likely that you will encounter a pregnant woman at work, at home, at the gym or via your Facebook feed. While she may enjoy engaging with you on topics such as hobbies, families, work gripes or nursery decorations, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that she may not want to engage with you on everything and everything under the “pregnancy topics” umbrella.
In order to prevent any mishaps (i.e. her hormonal self losing her shit and punching you in the face) – here’s a list of things she’s sure to NOT want to hear coming out of your face.
1) Oh my god, my labor was absolutely horrifying. Worst pain of my life. She is perfectly capable of visualizing worst-case scenarios in her own head without any help, thank you very much. No need to tell her some godforsaken story that will haunt her for the hours/days/weeks after she hears it.
2) I only gained 17 pounds during my pregnancy. I totally craved organic apples and rice cakes the whole time! Yeah, you’re a freak of nature. And also? An arrogant braggart. Step away from her and her Cheetos or she might place that crinkly bag over your head and strangle you with it. That is, once she creases the bag into a v-shape and finishes pouring the last of the crumbs into her mouth.
3) Oh my, your bump is getting bigger every day! The cousin to the “You must be due any day!” comment. Believe it or not, pregnant women are pretty attuned to their bodies and can tell when their skin is stretched to the limit, their organs are getting mashed and wedged into every available space inside their bodies and can really feel that extra 30+ pounds they are carrying with them every time they take the stairs.
4) How long are you planning to breastfeed/pump/? Or any other questions or advice at all related to the why/how/when/where she is going to nourish her child. It’s none of your freaking business. Until you’ve lived INSIDE her body and/or have analyzed her genetic makeup and/or lived through her exact life situation, you are in no position to offer unwanted advice or analysis.
5) Are you supposed to be eating/drinking/doing that? Unless she’s drinking a six-pack of beer or chain smoking cigarettes, I’d say it’s safe to assume that she’s making sensible decisions for her unborn child, based on advice from her doctor. If you’re questioning something as ridiculously benign as feeding her baby salty/fatty Cheetos, refer to possible consequence as described in number 2.
6) When I get pregnant I’m going to _________________. (Insert eyeroll here). Yea, shut it. You have no idea what you’re going to do. Even if you’re already had one, the second (or third or…) time around can be a whole different ballgame. In reality, you will do what the baby tells you to do. It’s nature’s prep for when the baby is here and is in charge in person.
7) We’re out of donuts in the lounge. The horror! The horror! Even if she’s never enjoyed a peanut-covered donut is her entire life, there might be a day during her pregnancy when ALL SHE CAN THINK ABOUT is swallowing a peanut-covered donut, and hearing the news that the peanut-covered donut-eating-opportunity has been stolen from her can be devastating. Don’t be the messenger.
8) How are you feeling? Pregnant. She’s feeling pregnant. Exhaustingly, whalishly, hormonally pregnant. She feels like shit and wants to stab everyone around her in the eye with a fork. Even if she feels happy, she also feels like crying. Frankly, it takes physical and emotional energy she doesn’t have to fake a smile and tell you she’s feeling just fine. Don’t steal precious energy away from the baby by asking this question. Unless you want to harm her baby. Stop harming the unborn babies!
9) Hi Mommy! Okay, hearing anyone other than your own flesh and blood call you mommy is just disturbing as hell. It’s not even sort of cute. Pure creepo, right there. If it’s said in a high pitched voice, it makes her think you might actually be psycho enough to try to murder her in her sleep. Stop creeping her out.
10) Shrimp. Raw chicken. Mangoes. Or any other word that conjures up even the notion of a smell so offensive that it makes her literally gag just from hearing the utterance. I realize you may not know ahead of time which word will cause this response (especially if it’s something seemingly ungagworthy, such as the word “dust” or “wall”), so just let the bobbing Adam’s apple be your guide.
Infertility sucks. But, while it depresses you, drains your bank account and almost kills you in the short-term, in the long run it can be good preparation for parenthood. Some might say it even makes you a better parent than you would have become otherwise, if you let it. Here’s how getting the short straw before becoming a parent can be a benefit, once you finally are one:
Infertility prepares you for:
1. All of the doctors appointments you’ll have once you’re pregnant, and for your new baby. In fact, while other women are complaining about how many appointments they have, you’ll be rejoicing at the reduction of the number of times you have to go, and at the pleasure of going for such an awesome reason.
2. The discomforts of pregnancy. You’re guaranteed to not complain about the fact that you can’t ride rollercoasters or jump on trampolines and you’re less likely to dwell on the aches and pains you will experience as you morph into a whaleish host. You may already have experienced nausea, vomiting, bloating, surgeries, and/or severe pain from all of the medications, self-injections, ovarian cysts and medical procedures you’ve went through. Infertility removes any feelings of entitlement and you will be less likely to take things for granted. Even things like peeing through your pants when you sneeze.
3. Unsolicited questions and advice. You’re used to dealing with questions about when you’re planning to have children, comments about how you better not wait too long, and advice about how “just relaxing” will cause you to conceive within the month, so you’ll be well prepared for strangers asking you when you’ll “pop” (looks like any day now!), and telling you that formula feeding is basically the equivalent to poisoning your child. Idiocy abounds.
4. Random stranger’s hands on your belly. Just remember: SO much better than the dildo camera.
5. Dealing with any doubts or qualms about becoming “tied down” with a child. Infertility gives you time to realize how badly you want to become a parent, so you don’t waste any precious time with your baby wishing you were still childless and “free”.
6. How difficult parenthood is. Infertility is hard. Parenting is even harder. The struggles you experience beforehand will help ease you into the time-consumption, expenses and exhaustion you’ll be graced with later.
7. Working through with challenges and hard times with your spouse. Think of this as a litmus test for your relationship.
8. The unknown. Infertility reminds you that nothing is a guaranteed and any luck or happiness that happens to fall into your lap is a gift.
9. All of the worrying. When you’re faced with horrible or scary scenario involving your child, instead of thinking that this is the worst thing that could ever happen to you, you know that the most horrific thing would really be not being in this situation in the first place. You’ll still panic (EVERY DAY), but at least there’s some sort of cosmic retribution for all of the anxiety you experienced before you had kids.
10. Being a more empathetic person. People who have been through battles of their own tend to be kinder, more compassionate, more helpful to others. All traits any good parent wants to possess and model for their child. Of course, this is only true if you don’t remain so bitter that you’re unable to see that others with different problems have had different battles to fight.
Flu season is upon us. Flu shots, Vitamin C and hot green tea with honey can help keep the symptoms at bay….for awhile. But, even if you lucked out before, at some point it is inevitable that the flu will wreak havoc through your household. Vaccines, vitamins and all-natural remedies (can I get a what what for my neti pot?) can support your immune system functions, but they’re not magical potions.
Except there’s this. Being sick when you have children is a specific type of agony.
Uh huh. You parents know what I’m talking about. Being sick is never fun, but when you’re a parent, it brings the misery to a whole other level. Here’s why:
1) You can’t rest. Back in the day when you were sick, you’d stay in bed all day feeling sorry for yourself, sleep for hours on end, and give your body some time to heal. You might manage to summon the energy to call your mom or your significant other to ask for a home delivery of saltines and ginger ale. But, once you’re a parent, there is no resting in bed. You still need to feed your children, get them ready for school, and then feed them AGAIN for dinner (they’re so demanding). You also need to make sure they don’t flush all of their toys down the toilet or impale themselves with a shish kabob skewer they pull from a kitchen drawer. You trying to “take it easy” is exhausting and physically demanding.
2) You don’t get any sympathy. In the PK (pre-kid) era, your spouse used to feel bad when you got sick. They’d make you chicken soup, take your temperature and say sweet things like, “Feel better, babe!”. Nowadays when you mention your scratchy throat, or cough extra loudly for attention, your significant other just responds by getting pissed off. Gone are the days of getting special treatment and here to stay are the times of getting leered at with disgust and a growled, “Don’t get sick” request/threat. Because chances are, if you’re sick, so are they. Or, at least on the verge and you being sick means more work, and more exhaustion, for them.
3) Your body never actually gets a chance to heal. In the past, an infection would run its course, and be in and out of your system in a jiffy. No, back then a few days didn’t FEEL like a jiffy, but now you have the perspective to realize that your body used to heal itself with lightening speed. These days, your immune system is less efficient than the federal government, and you’re lucky if that seemingly harmless cold doesn’t linger for weeks, or more. A virus that doesn’t mutate into a lethal condition is reason to celebrate. I’m quite certain that the white blood cell count of parents are at a perpetually statistically significant level of elevation, compared to non-parents.
4) You might infect your poor child. It’s not just about you anymore. Nothing is worse than a sick child. In contrast to being completely pissed off when it comes to your spouse being sick, you have nothing but sympathy for your little one. When your spouse gets sick, don’t be surprised if you alternate between thoughts of, “Help me out you lazy bum!” and, “Get away from the baby – what are you trying to do, kill your own offspring?!”
5) You will probably get infected by your poor child if you have escaped contamination thus far. This sucks for multiple reasons. For one, you probably got infected while having face the repugnant task of cleaning up a bunch of puke from the kitchen floor, from the kid’s car seats, or – the worst – out of the heat vent when your kid leans over the side of the bed to puke in the middle of the night. Great placement, kid! You earn some parenting bonus points if this happens when you’re sitting on the side of the bed, placing a cool dishcloth on your germy bundle of joy’s head, and some of it splatters on your face/lap/in your own mouth. Not only does this make you sick in the Stand By Me sort of a way, but it exponentially increases the chances of you becoming actually infected, and from the looks of it, possibly with Ebola. If this happens to you, suck it up and don’t expect any niceties from your spouse until Spring.
At only 1 year of age, Baby Grouch has taught me how (approximately) 8230753 lbs of mommy-love can be squeezed into a teensy, tiny, Grinch-sized heart. She’s also taught me that the equivalent poundage of terror can be packed into that same cubic volume.
Like some anxiety-riddled, futuristic camera, my brain captures images of Baby Grouch in worst-case scenarios. It would be easy to get sucked in and dwell on this imaginary album and give myself multiple heart attacks each day. I have to refocus my mental camera constantly, to appreciate the real view in front of me. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes the refocusing of the Crazy-Brain Camera feels less like rotating the lens of an SLR and more like trying to swivel the steering wheel of a semi truck that lacks power steering.
With that in mind, here’s my letter to Baby Grouch about my anxieties and my corresponding, seemingly rare, moments of clarity and sanity.
Dear Baby Grouch,
Mama worries about you.
When you are asleep, she checks on you once before she herself tucks in. Sometimes twice. Even though she knows you are probably okay, sometimes the silence scares her. She is reassured by the rising and falling of your chest. She marvels at the fascinating science of DNA inheritance, as she observes you fast asleep with one leg bent at the knee, up in the air, crossed over the other, just like your father sleeps. She admits, without remorse, that she has, on occassion, slightly disturbed your slumber in order to hear you emit an audible sigh.
While you are at daycare, she knows you are in good hands, but she has moments of panic that a tragic mishap will take place. A slip. A fall. An accident. She might even work herself up into an unwarranted frenzy at the prospect of a trivial busted lip. When she walks in to pick you up, and sees your happy, healthy self at play (with both lips intact) a breath she didn’t realize was wedged in her chest escapes out of her mouth. She is so relieved that she doesn’t even mind the smashed graham cracker in your hair or the dried snot under your nose smearing all over her shirt as she gives you a grateful embrace hello.
Every time she hears a news story of a shooting, a car accident, a drowning – she thinks to herself that losing you in such a fashion would be unbearable, unimaginable, fall-on-your-knees-with-your-mouth-hanging-open horrifying. Every time she hears a harrowing story when she’s in the car, at work, watching television or out with friends, for a split second she replaces your wide eyed, grinning, gap-toothed face with the victim’s. She morbidly imagines the photograph that would accompany your news story, one of you scrunching up your nose in excitement, or one of you smiling, with your eyes open wide – two almost-perfect orbs, the left slightly narrower than the right – showing off your favorite doll to the camera. During this brief gruesome flash, she holds back the tears that threaten to pour off her lashes. She manages to keep herself together as she almost falls apart at the mere reminder that bad things happen to good people all of the time. Depending on where she is, this can sometimes be embarassing. But it can not be helped.
When she’s at work, as a high school teacher, hearing snide remarks and bullying tones and hurtful words coming from the mouths of some of the kids, she pictures you as a teen, getting crushed by broken friendships, broken promises and broken hearts. It pains her even now to think of your inevitable heartache in the future. She knows that even though some people make it through high school unscathed, no one makes it through life without some significant rough patches.
But your Mama doesn’t always worry.
While you play you are cheery and you are able to amuse yourself, yet you love to share your joy and engage with those around you. You bang toys together, on the table, on your head. You laugh. You give them to me, then take them back, then give them to me again. You hug your baby and kiss your Elmo. You make “fish” face and surprised “oh!” face and your sideways head tilt “cute” face for the purpose of amusing those around you. You stack your blocks, and joyfully knock them over with a Boom! If you fall while you’re exploring, you get back up. You are strong. You babble as you page through your books and point at the images you look at. You are smart. Oh so smart! And also silly. A winning combination for life.
While at daycare you grow and learn and improve your skills. She’s watched you perform independent tasks since you were only months old and continues to hear reports of how you excel. And she’s proud. She also hears periodic reports of your strong-willed nature, your refusal to follow an occasional rule when you don’t want to, or to want to sometimes do things on your own terms. No one can make you crawl up the steps or eat a cheese quesadilla or sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a stretch, if you don’t want to. And for this, she is also proud. Mama would worry if her daughter didn’t sometimes question what she was told to do.
When you’re older she knows that while you’ll mature and learn new things, you’ll essentially be the same person that you are now. People may go through different phases and stages, but they really don’t change all that much, in the long run. You’ll be strong. You’ll be smart. You’ll be silly. And Mama will still be proud. And even with her anxieties and worries now, she knows in her gut that you will be okay.