The Week of Ugh

As far as weeks go, this one suuuuucked. Not only did it last for forever, the damn thing isn’t even over yet. It is the week that refuses to die. I’m not sure what brought it to this distinguished level of baditude, but what makes me feel so horrible about it is my inability to control my frustrations around the boys. They have seen me clench my fists while forcing deliberate and dense groans from the back of my throat. They have seen and heard me slam doors (in the very unsatisfying way that pocket doors “slam”), berate the dog at high volumes, yell, and walk away in several forms of huff. I have been set off by the dog eating granola bars and crackers right out of Ike’s hand as he raises them to his mouth for a bite. I have had absolutely enough of Connor’s aggressive obsession with everything that is Ike’s head. I’ve been worn thin by requests of “Just one more” and “Mommommommom” and “Not yet” from a 3-year old who may only be a quarter of my weight but who’s incessant pleas to be held are just as taxing on my patience as they are on my biceps.

But, probably more than any of that, I am worm out by the fact that this week the boys have probably seen more anger and frustration come from me than love. I remember being praised for holding my emotions in check when I was younger, and while I don’t glorify shutting emotions into a closet to fester and mold, I don’t often let my “more unseemly” feelings reach out and affect others. This week they did and the unfortunate victims were Connor and Blue Boy. Those emotions reached right out and lectured Connor up and down about practically everything. They shot down many of his requests to play, to be held, to be read one more story, to sit in my lap. They caused me to scold Blue about barking and eating Ike’s food and scratching at the door to be let out just so he could be the neighborhood pest – the dog barking into the silent night as people were turning off their lights and locking their doors for bedtime. They left me with no patience, no insight, not a moment of pause to think about what I was doing in that moment until it was over and I immediately felt bad about it.

And all week I’ve been collecting that guilt, packing it into a ball that I held in my pocket until it filled up that space and I needed to put it on a leash so we could keep track of each other. Tonight that ball of guilt is sitting in my lap, waiting to jump up and follow me to the kitchen for a snack or roll onto my pillow in preparation for bed so it will be the first thing I see in the morning. The thing about guilt though, especially when it’s on a leash, is that am the one who put it there. No one else tethered that guilt to me.  I did it all by myself, and keeping it there means that I’ve chosen each day to carrying it alongside me, to let that guilt grow and keep doing the jerky thing that guilt does best: make me feel guilty and bad about things that have already happened that I also need to unleash and set free.

So right now I am choosing to unleash the guilt – to stop walking it with me down the hall or to the kitchen or into bed. When I wake up tomorrow and open my eyes it may still be there because I’ve fed it and made it such a cozy home. But if I stop feeding it, it will realize that I’m not a good owner. Guilt isn’t meant to be owned but acts as a reminder, and once it’s done it’s job it should feel free walk out the door and get swept away with the breeze. This week I got caught up thinking that the guilt and I kept each other company and I built a cocoon around us that was nice and warm and full of self-disgust and frustration. But no butterflies came of it. And since I’ve gone as far as I care to with this metaphor, bye bye guilt. I already have a pet, haven’t you heard me yelling at him all week?

From Band Practice to Being Vulnerable

I’ve been trying to change my mindset. Please don’t call it a New Year’s Resolution. Instead, I like to think about it as a long-overdue change in my perspectacle prescription. I’ve made the choice to soothingly bathe my brain in gratitude-filled love juice instead of pickling it in ire and self-pity. I haven’t been doing too well.

Tonight, Z left for band practice at 4:30 p.m. He expressed what a monster rehearsal it was going to be; likely a 7 hour fingerprint-shredding, song-hammering, beer-drinking, socializing grind. Ok, maybe he didn’t mention the beer-drinking and socializing part, but that’s all my abandoned mind latched on to. “Let’s just say I don’t feel sorry for you,” I thought snarkily but conveyed softly. When he leaves for band practice all I think of is how I’m “left alone” to take care of my own kids. God forbid. But I also think about how band practice signifies that he has a life away from the boys, a very important thing to have. He has band practice and I have friends who live multiple zip codes away. He has to practice his base guitar at night and I have to switch the laundry over and wipe down the dining room table from Ike’s dinner-turned-food-finger-painting-project. He has bandmates to kick a few back with and I have a cup of tea at night as “something to do.” I am leaving quite a bit of the big picture on the cutting room floor, but my big picture also feels very small sometimes, when I allow it to.
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Parenthood is such a time and mind warp. In the heat of trying to get a 1-year old strapped into his car seat, it feels like a 10-minute battle (which it actually could be). But in what feels like a few months that same child is climbing into the car on his own and going maverick by unbuckling himself as he sees fit. It may feel like a huge deal to not let a 13-month old watch any tv, but when child 2 comes around he’s hanging out while his 3-year old brother watches his second (ok, I’m lying, probably his third) movie of the day because mom and dad have no idea what to do with him on a single-digit degree weekend. Time doesn’t move the way you’re accustomed when you have kids. And your mind can have a funny way of warping around the smallest details or, worringly, glazing over something that may become a big deal down the road.
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The thing is, working too hard at being a parent almost feels like the wrong thing to do. Raising kids is crazy hard work, but when I feel like I’m working too hard to raise “good” kids I feel my temperature rise, my patience shorten, and my sensitivity to guilt become uncomfortably high. When I try to feel my way throught it, when I use my instincts over my brain, that is when things feel more natural. Things aren’t necessarily any easier and the battles don’t always lessen, but the guilt goes down and I can maintain my patience more when I don’t feel like I’m fighting against a 3-year old. Because, let’s face it, then can win. They may be tiny, adorable warriors but they know how to fight.

So I’m going to try to use my instincts to replay Zach leaving tonight: I still feel that jealous sense of abandonment, but I am also seriously happy that Z gets to do what he loves best – play music. I want to hold it over his head that I’ll be spending all night alone with the boys on a Saturday night, but I also know that that is just a mean thing to do and the beginnings of an internal and marital fight that I don’t have a need for. As much as I try to feel out my parenting, I need to try to do the same with my wifering spousering being with other people, including those over 3-feet tall and who can run the DVD player on their own. I’ve been reading about vulnerability and how, according to Brené Brown, it is a sign of strength and not weakness. It seems like if we really care about someone, we should allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them. If we can’t open our hearts and hurts to them, then who can we truly lay ourselves out for? I often feel that my beating, bleeding heart is laid out for Connor when he does something that hurts or disappoints me. It isn’t up to our children to mend us, but we owe it to them to see what being vulnerable is and how real and human it is to be open and exposed. It’s an emotion that should be shown in times of great happiness and those of sadness, too. Vulnerability is easier with kids than adults because kids haven’t felt the shame that comes along when one adult bears themselves to another. Guilt is something that we often put upon ourselves and struggle with daily if not from moment to moment, but we have the power to not shame others. We put enough on ourselves, why try to throw another chip onto someone else’s shoulder? They may feel like they’re carrying the weight of the world without your help.

That Baby

When Connor was but a wee babe I had a chat with our previous daycare provider, Amy. She was watching a little boy in the neighborhood a couple of times a week who would cry his little heart out whenever Amy put him down. We had a little Tsk Tsk at her expense; that baby must get toted around by Mom all day long. Why else would he be so needy?

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I look back at that early moment of parental condescension with shame, particularly now that my kid may be like the one Amy and I were discussing. While Connor would take two to three 2-hour naps a day, we’re lucky if Ike takes one 1-hour nap all day long. Connor didn’t take to his mobile until he was over 1-year old, but Ike can hang out in his crib as long as we keep winding that sucker up (why do baby things have timers? I want my baby to keep being soothed by his mobile or white noise machine, not freak out every 15 minutes when it stops). And though baby Connor was usually content to sit by himself in his rocker chair or swing, Baby Cute – as Connor calls him – prefers the warmth of another body, the perspective from an adult’s arms, and/or the motion of someone else’s ocean. In other words, Ike is that baby, the one who doesn’t like to be put down. 
Let me justify this rant by saying that I love holding the Ike-ster. He’s my baby – I’m genetically programmed to want to love and love on him and in that sense I’m a slave to my biology. That being said, a task as simple as changing Connor’s diaper becomes drenched in stress when Ike is crowing and Connor thinks that having a bare ass is the perfect time to examine his toe jam, play with himself, or flop around on the changing pad like a fish out of water. Have I conditioned the Roo-ster to only be happy when in someone’s arms? Is it my fault that what I once thought was his witching hour (around 6 p.m. when the only thing that will calm him is to be held) is really his witching day, every day? Is he really as bad as I’m making him out to be (no, I can be a bit prone to exaggeration). Or is Ike just a slave to his biology, too? Is he just a kid who likes to be held whether I made him so or not? Will I just knock it off with the questions?
I feel completely responsible for everything Ike. I heap this heavy dose of guilt on myself not just because I’m his mom, but because I only have a handful of hours every day with which to mother him. I believe that nature and nurture combine to make the diverse population that we exist in, but for some reason, when it comes to my own kids, I make myself believe that there is only nurture. And any faults in their nurturing should be blamed solely on me…Well, that sounds much harsher written out than it did in my head…Ike is a good kid, and I’m going to take this time to tell myself that I’m a good mom, as we all are. We only need to give ourselves the credence to believe it.

I Have to Tell You Something

I’m going to tell you something that Facebook doesn’t know, that former collegues don’t know, and that I haven’t told anyone by email: I’m pregnant (second child, I wish you the best of luck).  Why spill such big beans here?  Well, we’ve told our families face-to-face, I have a backed-up email list I haven’t even attempted to tackle, and I’m not ready for it to be FB fodder now if at all.  Sometimes it’s easier to perform for a crowd of strangers than it is for your close family and friends. (If I know you on Facebook, please keep this information off timelines and news feeds. Thanks!)

I feel like I should be more excited about this baby, but I’m rounding out my first trimester and am still wondering how good of an idea this whole second-child thing was.  Z and I talked about having a second child (I’m doing everything in my power not to call him/her “Baby Number 2”) then decided that we should stop trying for a bit.  Next thing I know, bam!  Four positive pregnancy tests within three days (I wanted to be really sure I was carrying this kid) with the first test with a plus sign laying on our bathroom counter on Mother’s Day.  This thing, this kid, is happening.  I’ve had two doctor’s appointments and next month we’ll find out if Connor will have a little sister or a little brother. 

My mind and body are very disoriented from all of this.  Ask me how I’m feeling and I’ll mention some light nausea and my ravenous appetite, then I’ll launch into an unprovoked confession about how I feel guilty for being pregnant.  Connor is growing and learning at warp speed and in January I will completely rock his world in ways that no books or parenting magazine tips could ever prepare him for.  I’ll be taking part of myself away from him to allocate time for pumping, breastfeeding, washing bottles, and tending to the unpredictable wants of a newly-christened family dictator.  Don’t get me wrong, I cherish the true infant days we had with ‘Rad, but I can only do so because I am past them.  Then again, the situation now is very different from what it was back then.  I think this baby my have to endure more prenatal stress than ‘Rado did, but we will all benefit from being so close to immediate family once we bring our new little love home.  I’m banking on their support.

I’m not alone in my second-child guilt. A very close friend told me how she knew she was in labor but didn’t tell anyone until the last minute because she knew doing so would change her daughter’s life forever.  Another friend said she felt the same way about losing time with her first child when she had her second one on the way.  The guilt isn’t selective, but I’ve also learned that it’s not permanent.  I’m anticipating a difficult transition into big brotherhood for ‘Rado, but I’m looking forward to how much the experience will ground him and all of us; he won’t be the sole apple of our eyes and we will all learn to be better and more patient and generous for it. 

The mental struggle rages on as it always does. Knowing the baby’s gender will help me a lot, though. It helped me bond a lot with Connor when I was preggo with him. It may sound like I feel this baby to be a huge mistake, but I don’t. I just question my ability to juggle this life plus a new baby very gracefully. Money and all that junk may have a little to do with it, too. But, as I’ve heard over and over and as I truly believe, if we waited for the perfect moment to have a second child, we would never have one. You have to dive right in, friends.

The other side of the second baby coin is the physicality of being pregnant with your second child. Disclaimer: If you know me personally and want to keep a certain image of me, please stop reading here. For real. My big issues these days is peeing. I don’t have trouble going pee, I just do it too much and at inappropriate times. In the few months I’ve been pregnant I’ve had to full on change my underwear twice because of – as they say about naughty cats and dogs – inappropriate urination. For example, Z participated in the Relay For Life at the beginning of June. I took Connor down to the high school football field to visit him since we wouldn’t see him until the next afternoon. We took a few laps around the track and everything was fine. Connor and I headed back to the car, I buckled him in his car seat, and as I was preparing to load up the stroller the sudden need to pee hit me. I was too far from the school to head back, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because as much as I gritted my teeth and clenched, I peed myself in my old high school parking lot at the age of 32. It was a real bucket list moment for me. I couldn’t stop it, so all I could do was make sure no one could see my uncomfortable face and the wet spot that was certainly spreading on the bottom of my shorts. Thank god for my long shirt and the towel we keep in the car for the dog. I told Z about it when he got home and he didn’t believe it. How could a sober grown woman just piss herself in a parking lot? Well, now we know how.

Luckily, an untamed bladder has been the worst of it. Right now I’m in the stage of pregnancy where I just feel gross because I look tired and overweight before the pregnancy “glow” dawns. I’m always hungry and at 13 weeks have gained four pounds (after the holiday weekend that’s probably looking more like 8-10 pounds). I’m trying to not carry Connor around as much as usual but it’s difficult for both of us. I’m also pretty tired. More TMI and second-baby feelings to come. I’ll try to get some of those vacay pictures up, too.