motherhood


This isn’t a post about running; it’s about motherhood. Or, about life.

022

I am incredibly tired. I mentioned before that the prevailing feeling that I’ve had since Anna was born is that of running on a treadmill that’s set just slightly too fast. I’m tricked into thinking I can keep up with the pace, but before I know it I’m out of breath and overwhelmed, only there’s no way to slow the treadmill down.

It’s been a challenging few weeks, even as Anna has continued to settle into a schedule and Will has grown ever further out of the toddler stage. I think the challenging factor is … me. I keep coming up against my own limitations, and not knowing how to exceed them. Every day I am surrounded by my own insufficiency.

When I say that I’m trying to make the right choices ahead of time, to be prepared and ahead of the game, and to be patient, what I really mean is that I am wondering what it would be like to be someone who actually does those things successfully, regularly, and habitually. What is that like?

It’s hard for me to accept the limitations of this stage in life, because every time the laundry piles up, or the kitchen is left a mess after breakfast, or there are toys scattered in every corner of the house, or I have ten work emails that haven’t been answered yet, it means there is something else I haven’t done. Something else I still need to take care of. Leaving it until later, throwing my hands up in the air and saying “oh well! I have two little kids! It’ll have to wait!” just means that I need to find time eventually to do it, and by that point five other things will have popped up in the meantime. Putting off folding the laundry just means that when I get around to it, I’m drowning in it, and when I feel like I’m drowning, I shut down.

And I think that is the issue right there. I feel like I’m drowning, so I’m shutting down. I don’t cope very well with feeling overwhelmed, which makes me wonder sometimes if I struggle with more limitations than other people (?? that is another can of worms right there …?). I just shut down. When I don’t have time or energy to fold a small hill’s worth of laundry, letting it become a giant mountain only makes it less likely that I’ll be able to address it without suppressing something akin to panic. I don’t know why this is. But it leads to the old familiar chorus of other people can do it just fine! so why can’t you? what’s wrong with you? that I have worked so hard to drown out.

Yes, it’s only housework. Yes, it’s only a part-time job. I really don’t know why it feels so overwhelming or why I feel so stretched thin, but I do, and I don’t really know the way out.

056

One more hour until preschool pickup — I’ll make it count.

So for about the last six months, I’ve had two kids.

945

Strangely enough, Anna is going to be six months old next week. I say strangely because it really does seem like she was just born. My memories of the newborn days are becoming hazier and hazier, but I still feel like I’m running on a treadmill at a speed just slightly too fast. Out of breath, struggling to catch up, eyes darting around desperately for a reprieve. (Okay — that’s a bit of an exaggeration at this point, but it describes the first two months pretty accurately.)

Having two kids is so so so different from having one. I knew it would be, but there’s no way to adequately prepare yourself for the lifestyle change. The first two months were absolutely brutal. I’ve mentioned before that Anna is an incredibly easy baby, and she was a very easy newborn, but the postpartum period was very, very hard on me this time around. Anna’s birth also coincided with Will giving up his nap for good, so the daily rhythm we had lived with for over a year and a half was suddenly shattered, and we had no rhythm, nothing felt familiar, nothing felt remotely easy. I talked to myself a lot in those early days and one day I said to the clothes I was folding, I don’t even feel like a person right now. I don’t even feel human.

So that was the first two months. Now, postpartum hormones (and my eventual diagnosis of postpartum depression) explains a lot of that. But truthfully it’s just a big lifestyle change and it was a really tough adjustment. I knew what I was doing one day, and the next day I knew nothing.

1726
This picture was taken the day before I called my doctor to get help, and I think of that every time I look at it.

We turned a corner when Anna was about nine weeks old and I began to get my feet under me a little. Will had been without a nap for two months by this point and he was really starting to fall apart, so I spent two weeks driving over the mountain to a drive-thru Starbucks every afternoon so he could catch up on his sleep. This was in December, so I would listen to Christmas music softly, drink a peppermint mocha, and read in the car. Those afternoons saved me, I think, because I could finally take an hour or two every day to exhale. I was so, so tense and that break, which I rigidly enforced, kept me from breaking in two.

This sounds strange, but I have fond memories of the spring after my two miscarriages. I was filled with sadness, rage, helplessness and resentment, but because of that I had immense compassion for myself. I felt a little like I needed to protect myself (my inner life, I think) from the trauma I had gone through, and so I spent a lot of time running, practicing yoga, listening to music by the Avett Brothers and Florence + the Machine, and just waiting to feel better, trusting that someday I would. So I remember that time more than anything with a sense of fierce protectiveness.

I did the same this winter. At first, my top priority was just survival. (I’ve always found that concept vague, so I’ll clarify that in my case that meant getting through the day making sure everyone was fed and healthy, and for me, without a long crying jag or losing my temper.) But after those two weeks of anchoring our days with a long drive, I began to feel a little braver. I experimented one Monday with staying home all day long, just to see what would happen. And the neatest thing happened: we had so much fun.

1913

That was a turning point. It was a big relief for me to know how much I could enjoy being a mom again, and how much fun (yes, fun) I could have staying home all day with a toddler and a baby. It helped that Anna was no longer a newborn and I could put her down for short periods of time, and that Will was becoming more and more accustomed to long days without a nap. I was (and am) so tired, but also so happy.

So that was the first three months. The last three months have, thankfully, been MUCH easier and I finally feel like I am getting my feet under me a little. However, it’s nothing like life was before. These are some of the big changes I’ve experienced:

  • I am forced to use my time more wisely. This is hard for me because procrastination is one of my spiritual gifts, so the learning curve has been steep. When I don’t use my time well, I wind up stressed and feeling behind in almost every area, so I pay for my procrastination more dearly now than I used to. (Real life example from right now: I should probably have taken a shower today. I didn’t. Now I’m going to have to either figure out how to shower very early tomorrow [not likely, nor a given opportunity] or fool everyone I see into thinking I’m the kind of person who showers daily. Guess which one I’m going to choose?)
  • My priorities have changed again. I’ve written about this before, but I care much less about exercise, organizing my home, and losing the last of the baby weight. It’s not that those things aren’t important to me, but I can’t prioritize everything and these are some of the things that have had to fall to the wayside right now.
  • Related: losing the aforementioned baby weight has been a much slower process this time around. When Will was a baby I used to devote one of his naps to a workout almost every day, but I don’t have that luxury anymore, so I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life, and I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m 35 now. At this point I’m only about five or so pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight, but I am still decidedly lumpy. Now that it’s spring, I’m finally feeling a little more motivated to get moving (and back into my old clothes, if it’s possible).
  • Time is passing much more quickly. You only get one first year with your baby and I’m stunned that Anna’s is halfway done. Some days I dream wistfully of both kids being older and more self-sufficient, but most days I really just want to freeze time for a while.

2091

2085

I actually like having two kids better than I liked having just one. I’m not sure why — probably because now I have two kids to love, but I don’t feel completely overwhelmed by them. And I really, really, really love being at home with them. Many people think of being a stay-at-home mom as something intellectually stagnant, but I find being at home with my kids to be the opposite. Changing diapers and managing tantrums don’t feel like a waste of my time or my abilities; they feel like the reason for them. It’s great.

I’ve realized that I spend a lot of time and mental energy focused on what’s not working. Things I want to change, updates I’m planning, what I need to improve. (I think it’s the INFJ in me; I am pretty much the model for that portrait.) Just look at the last month or so of this blog: all kinds of things I need to do differently. I need to get up earlier, I need to dry my hair, I need to create a better rhythm. And yeah, I think I need to do all of those things, but I also think I need to take a minute to focus on what is working. So:

Meal planning. I’ve been meal planning for a while now (since the summer?) and it makes life so much easier. Grocery shopping, dinners and cooking are all much more streamlined. I plan the week’s meals on Sundays and do my shopping that night (alone!) after the kids are in bed. I make a soup or crock pot meal every Monday and eggs every Thursday, so I have some structure to work around. I am planning meals that are easy but also enjoyable to prepare, since I love to cook. It’s been great. (Tonight? pasta with chicken, pesto and roasted tomatoes. Done.)

2233

A favorite: tomato soup and tuna melts. We keep it simple these days.

Preschool. I wavered a lot on whether or not to feel guilty or weird about enrolling Will in preschool at 2. He goes two mornings a week and after the first week I was so, so glad we did it. For him, because he has a speech delay (had? he might be caught up) and because he loves to play with other kids. For me, because I was having a new baby and felt overwhelmed already. And now because it gives me one or two quiet mornings a week to take a shower, do some writing, and in general just take it easy with said new baby. I will sing the praises of two-year-old preschool from the hilltops for time immemorial.

Daniel Tiger Hour. Will stopped napping literally two weeks after Anna was born. This didn’t come as a surprise because he started dropping naps more and more frequently over the summer, but the last time he took an afternoon nap was the first day I was at home on my own with both kids. About two weeks after that, after trying and failing multiple times to enforce an afternoon “quiet time”, he and I were both frustrated and upset, and most afternoons had us both in tears. Steve and I made the executive decision: no more quiet times, no more naps. It was the best thing we could have done. However, Will does still need some down time during the day, so after lunch he lays down on the couch for an hour and watches Daniel Tiger or another PBS kids show. I have mixed feelings about using screen time in general at his age (I honestly regret letting him watch so much TV when he was young), but I’ve been thinking about media in a different way lately: if he’s watching TV, what is he not doing? Running, jumping, playing, reading, learning, everything. And he’s laying down because he needs a break from that. So I have made peace with an hour of Daniel Tiger every afternoon. It’s working right now, and that’s what counts.

1772

Afternoon coffee. Almost every day this winter I have brewed a second pot of coffee after lunch to enjoy during Daniel Tiger Hour. It’s restorative. (Today I brewed mine early; it’s late-morning coffee instead. I’ll try to resist also having afternoon coffee too.)

1478

Relaxing. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since becoming a mom is a pretty obvious one. Life is different now and that’s okay. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to pick up all the Duplos off the floor at the end of the day. Maybe someday I’ll manage to get all the laundry folded on the same day it’s washed. Right now, though, I don’t do those things, and I’m learning to accept that and be okay with it. I do what I can, when I can, and I know that right now is a unique time in my life, so I’m learning to savor it more and more, while letting the little things go. I’ll catch up with them later.

There. That felt weird but good. That’s what’s working. Now back to my regularly programmed quest for constant self-improvement.

I took a shower and blow-dried my hair today.

This shouldn’t be a noteworthy achievement, really, but it does signify one more step away from our winter hibernation and toward engaging with the world again. My habit these last few months has been 1. shower only when necessary, 2. ugh, blow-drying is the worst, and 3. expend as little energy on personal appearance as can get away with and still be seen in public. But this week I took it up a notch, and I’m glad I did.

The last few weeks I’ve been trying to be more intentional about getting out of the house more — going to the gym, mostly — and branching out ever so slightly from my personal uniform. I have been sticking to just the essentials in regards to most of my life since Anna was born, and I think that was absolutely appropriate and necessary (and I would do it again a million times) BUT she is now five months old, spring is on its way, and it’s probably time to open the windows again, figuratively speaking. I’ve reached the point where if I don’t do it now, I’m pretty much just letting myself go, and that’s not an option.

When I was in my 20s I partied hard by watching What Not to Wear every Friday night with a bowl of popcorn. One recurring theme on the show (God rest its soul) was the Frumpy SAHM. Moms who had gotten overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and coped by shrugging off the attention they had once paid to their appearance. Moms who wore sweats all day, every day, who never styled their hair or wore makeup, who thought they were invisible, who had just stopped caring. “That will never be me!” I declared, week after week. And you know what? IT STILL WON’T BE. Even though the above description sounds eerily familiar.

download

I own these pants. I love them.

I feel like I am veering precariously close to frumpitude. I haven’t had a haircut since before Anna was born, meaning my grown-out bob is now aimless and flat. None of my actual clothes fit (still), and I’m not about to spend money on a pair or two of well-fitting jeans only five months postpartum, so I’m still wearing the same two outfits over and over again. I’m honestly too tired to spend a lot of time on my appearance, but time isn’t really the issue — it’s effort. My makeup routine takes about three minutes, if that, but lifting the mascara to my lashes sometimes feels like more work than it’s worth.

So, I’m trying to do something about it, tired or not. The first thing I did was schedule a haircut. It’s next month. Having short hair again will protect me from Endless Messy Ponytail Purgatory. The second thing I did was wear makeup on a day when I didn’t have to see anyone besides the moms at preschool drop-off. I also elected to wear “people clothes” that day when all I was doing was bumming around at home. The third thing I did was blow dry my hair this morning so I look a little more presentable — even though we’re snowbound, I am tired of looking so … desperate. I’m tired of looking like I don’t care, like I’ve given up. I’m tired of feeling that way, too.

hoodie

The magic hoodie. No regrets, but I think we need to break up.

Yesterday I wrote about establishing rhythm in our days — the rhythm of making the bed when I get up, of reading books together on the couch in the morning, watching Daniel Tiger under a blanket after lunch, baking during Anna’s naps. Along with adding early-morning writing and yoga into my daily rhythm, I also need (need) to incorporate better self-care, even though it’s easy to write off things like hair and makeup as unnecessary time-sucks when I have so many more important things to do. I now understand just how easy it is for a SAHM of young children to inadvertently let herself go, as well as just how gradually that happens.

My next task is to figure out a warm-weather personal uniform. I am not giving that up! I love having a closely-defined personal style (I call it “Goes With Leggings” or “Secretly Comfortable” or “Shh, I Just Had A Baby”), but I do need a few more options. I’m thinking maxi skirt, nursing-appropriate t-shirt and a lightweight infinity scarf. Or leggings and nursing-appropriate tunic. The only obstacle here is that I don’t want to spend money on clothes until I’ve started to approach a more long-term body shape, and I have to wear clothes I can nurse in, so no Boden for me just yet and (sadly) no skinny jeans to pair with all those plaid flannel button-ups waiting in my closet. I don’t have a ton of options, but I’m determined to look put-together this spring and summer, capsule wardrobe and all. Stacy and Clinton, I’m going to make you proud.

I’ve been reading up on Waldorf philosophy this winter. I started with Simplicity Parenting back in December, and I thought it was excellent. I’m not someone who reads a lot of parenting books, and I actually didn’t realize this was a Waldorf book when I picked it up, but it resonated with me and got me thinking a lot about our home life, the culture we’re creating, and the childhood we want to provide for our children. This is another book I’d like a paper copy of — I read it on my kindle originally and wanted to underline the entire thing.

51XIjDAdMaL

Anyway, after Simplicity Parenting I eventually moved on to You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, which I finished recently. Now, one of the reasons I loved this book was because it is, in a word, kind of wacky. There’s lots of straightforward talk about things like life force and vital energy. I appreciate a lot of spirituality in my yoga practice (the more out-there, the better, honestly) but this was a bit much even for me. I found it endearing. But at any rate, it too prompted some reflections on our home life.

Rhythm is big in Waldorf, and I’m drawn to the concept. It’s looser than a routine, but it provides structure to the days and weeks. There are natural rhythms to everyone’s days (morning, noon, and night), rhythms to our weeks, rhythm in the natural world and in our seasons. You might say that in our family, our weekly rhythm is three mornings out of the home (preschool and Bible study) punctuated by two quiet days at home. But you might also say that our daily rhythm is a bit more chaotic, and that is where I’m focusing my attentions right now.

It’s actually kind of a challenge for me to create — and stick to — a daily rhythm, but our days flow so much better when we’re in a groove. When we sit down for breakfast and lunch instead of grazing all morning. When we set limits on how much time we can spend watching Curious George. For me, when I do the breakfast dishes as soon as I can, when I fold the laundry the same day I wash it, when I set aside an hour or two each evening to work. Creating habits around these things helps to automate doing them, meaning I don’t have to think about them as much and try to find the time to cram them in while I’m trying to do something else. And most importantly, rhythm is so helpful for Will.

According to Rudolf Steiner (the creator of the Waldorf movement) rhythm takes some of the pressure off for kids. When they know what to expect each day, it frees them up to engage in creative play and focus on their own learning and development. That makes sense to me because it makes sense for me. Truthfully, living in and sticking to a routine doesn’t really come naturally to me, but one thing I’ve learned since becoming a mom is that just because it doesn’t come naturally to me, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. So I am trying.

Rhythm isn’t going to magically happen without my involvement, it turns out, and right now while it’s not ingrained I need to be constantly aware of it. It feels a bit like deep cleaning, where the process is hard but oddly satisfying, and the end result is absolutely worth it.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer!

Now that I’m back to blogging again, I thought I’d take some time each month to share and reflect on what we’re up to. It’s easy for me to look back on the last few weeks totally unable to remember any details. But my life is made up of details, so I don’t want to forget them.

Books:

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): Perfect, of course, and I wish I’d reread it sooner.

The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion): It was interesting. I’d never read anything by Didion before and her take on the grief experience was painfully honest. It wasn’t uplifting, which I actually kind of appreciate, because suffering so often seems (and is) utterly pointless. I appreciated that. I think I prefer Lewis’s A Grief Observed, but I haven’t read it in several years.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsberg): A childhood favorite that I hadn’t picked up since childhood. I read it in a night and it was so fun. What does it say about me that I really love Claudia as a protagonist? I wouldn’t want to be her mom, but I love imagining her as an adult.

Quiet (Susan Cain): I want to talk more about this book in a separate post, but the long and short of it is that this book was deeply gratifying to read. Everyone should read it, especially managers and teachers. I bought the kindle copy but I may actually shell out for the paperback for future reference.

Bits and pieces from Teach Your Own (John Holt), You Are Your Child’s First Teacher (Rahima Baldwin Dancy), and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, none of which I want to return to the library. We’re thinking about homeschooling when our kids are old enough, and I have been reading everything about it I can get my hands on since December.

Coming up in March: GileadLizzy and Jane (I’ve started it — I got it for $.99 on a Kindle sale; it’s OK), and Jane Eyre (!!!!) among others. My friend Maggie and I are reading our way through the Brontes this year and I can’t wait.

On my mind

I’ve been thinking a lot (a lot) about writing, and working on incorporating it back into my daily life. It feels so good, like slipping into a favorite outfit — the one that makes you feel like you. This makes me feel like me again.

I wrote out my testimony this month. I was supposed to read it today at MOPS, but it was cancelled because of snow. I’m hoping I will still have an opportunity to share it, but at any rate I think I’ll post it here as well when I’ve edited it to my liking. I’m happy with it.

I’ve also been working on simplifying decision-making through the way I meal plan (I hold to certain parameters every week), how I dress, and what we do with our days. Reading up on Waldorf philosophy has also impressed on me the importance of rhythm in our days, so having that in mind has been helpful too. Spending my days with an almost-three-year-old who doesn’t nap is tiring, and anything I can do to simplify helps me preserve much-needed energy. And mental energy is every bit as important as physical energy these days.

Other stuff

We’ve spent a lot of winter afternoons with all the couch cushions on the floor, coming up with creative ways for Will to jump around and be active. This winter has been really good and this afternoon routine is a big reason why. Our life is so wonderfully simple right now.

We had two snowstorms last week after an entire winter without a single flake! Will had to miss preschool, but other than that we had a lovely time at home. We had family visiting, too, which made for a full house and lots of much-loved company.

image
Listening to Story Pirates 

I have also been really loving the winter light in our house. I was a little apprehensive moving away from a house that was flooded with sunshine every afternoon into a midcentury ranch on a wooded lot, but happily I adore the light here. Natural light is essential, and good light cheers me up and makes me happy every morning. (File under: the little things.)

image (3)

Anna continues to be the perfect baby. She’s a dream.

image (2)
Five months old on Monday. This seems impossible.

I’ve also really been enjoying season 5 of Downton Abbey, and as usual end every episode embittered to have been born into a time when people don’t dress for dinner in fabulous, glittering dresses. I’ve been watching it while knitting and eating chocolate, and I can’t really think of a better way to spend a winter evening.

Onward to March! One more week until daylight savings, and three more weeks until spring.

I skipped yoga today.

I skipped yoga today for the second week in a row. I’m bummed about it. Last week was because we were all recovering from varying levels of illness, but this week? I was just too tired. I’ve been sitting here wanting to write, but unable to pin the thoughts down because I’m too tired to reach up and grab at them.

Being really tired messes with the way I think, I’m finding. It’s messing with a lot of things, not just my energy levels. I’m starting to forget what it’s like to not be tired. I (really) love the baby stage, but now I’m remembering why I didn’t miss it when it was over last time. This isn’t lack-of-energy tiredness — it’s just plain old I-need-more-sleep.

Here are some ways I’m trying to combat my fatigue:

  • tea, not wine. This isn’t always easy for me, since I love both cabernet and indulgence, but drinking a cup of hot tea at night is better for my sleep than a glass of wine.
  • lavender oil. On the same note, I find that a few drops of lavender essential oil on my temples in the evening relaxes me and helps me fall asleep easier. It could be a placebo effect, but who cares? It’s the ritual of applying it that matters. It allows for a mental shift from day to evening to night.
  • water, water, water. When I’m forced out of my bed by an energetic toddler every morning, I reach for a giant glass of water to get me going. (Then I reach for coffee.) The exhaustion makes me crave sugar, too, and reaching for a glass of water first helps to blunt those edges. I still eat more chocolate than I really should, but life is short, so I don’t mind.
  • screen time curfew. Okay, this is new to me. I read a lot of books on my iPad’s kindle app, but it’s backlit, so reading at night can actually often have the opposite effect on me than I want it to. I’m cutting myself off from the iPad and computer after 9 p.m. I get a second wind of energy most nights, and I’m hoping that without screens in front of me, I can avoid that and talk myself into going to bed a little earlier. (This is why I also always have a physical book to read, too.)
  • accepting it. It’s a season. I’m tired right now. It’s all right. This is the yogi in me, breathing through the discomfort. This isn’t a permanent state, and accepting it instead of fighting it is the best way for me to keep my sanity. I’m letting things go (like organizing my closet), I’m being really slow about others (like folding laundry), and I’m accepting that some things just need to wait a while (like reading — and implementing — the Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up). And in the meantime, the yoga studio isn’t going anywhere.

I’m pretty confident that I won’t always be so tired, so really my aim here is to just make it through these months with as much sleep as possible and as many coping mechanisms as I can get. If you have any more suggestions, send them my way!

snow 2

This was my view today. Not bad for a sleepy stay-at-home Saturday!

Next Page »