Why the first child is the most challenging.

Perspective is so important when supporting other parents in this crazy journey. What feels hard to a brand new mom might not feel hard to the veteran mom of 5, but to that new mom it is just as hard because it’s so new. In fact, I would venture to say that the first year or so of having your first child is the hardest year yet.

No amount of books, friends’ advice or babysitting can prepare you for your first baby. I remember having Grace’s room set up so perfectly. The crib was the right height, there was nothing else in it, I knew back was best, I had a tight fitting, cute, organic cotton sheet. The changing table was fitted beautifully with a changing mat and cover, the diapers and wipes were neatly set out within reach. The rocking chair sat nicely in the corner ready for me to rock calmly with my sleepy newborn and ease her into sleep. Everything was perfect. I was so ready.

Then I got home with my newborn.

Hahaha.

Hahahahahhahahahahahahhahahha.

I remember getting into the car from the hospital with my husband and newborn and thinking, we are not ready for this. We need those nurses to come home with us. This is ludicrous. What if she cries? What if she does something we don’t understand? What if I can’t nurse her on my own? We are not ready for this.

We got home from the hospital in the evening because our baby, Grace, ended up having jaundice badly enough to need phototherapy and they thought she wouldn’t be able to go home with us, but at the last minute they decided she responded well enough to the lights that she could go home with us that night as planned. So around 9pm we packed up, put our newborn in her car seat and when we got home it was bed time. Right? I mean, in a normal world, 10pm seemed like it wasn’t too early to get our 5 day old to sleep for the night.

I had a bassinet set up beside the bed in our bedroom and my plan was to let her sleep there for the first few weeks and use her perfectly set up baby room for naps and changing diapers and if I ever needed to console her sweet, soft cries, I would scoop her up and walk the five feet over to the nursery and rock her in the perfectly set up rocking chair.

Hahahahhahahahahha

Well, Grace was in our bed at hour two of night one because I could not imagine getting up out of bed every time I needed to feed her, which, as it turns out, was often. Aside from just general exhaustion, I was also recovering from major surgery, a c-section, so having baby Grace in our bed worked for our family. I vaguely remember falling asleep after she did and thinking, this wasn’t so bad. Then, I even more vaguely remember that five foot walk to the nursery was five feet too long and I lost count how many times I went in there.

I remember waking up that morning, for the fifth or sixth time at this point, but this time it felt like a reasonable hour to actually get out of bed and start the day. I could barely remember the night. I knew it was long, I knew I got up alot, but I didn’t remember enough to be able to tell you what I did each time I got up or why.

So, around 5am I stumbled into the perfectly set up baby room to grab a diaper and was shocked by the shambles in front of me.

More specific memories from the night flashed before me. Diapers being thrown, wipes being grabbed, dropped, lost, grabbed again. Changing tables be damned, I used the floor, the bed, the bassinet. The rocking chair was in the middle of the room and looked as though it could tell a story or two about the stress rocking and manic lullaby singing it endured. I didn’t even realize I had gone in there for more than a moment to grab a diaper…

We eventually found our rhythm, but man, I remember the emotions from those first few nights like they were yesterday, and boy were they hard. I’m not sure anything has felt as difficult or as scary as when I had our first baby at home.

We are currently three kids deep with one on its way and I still feel so uncertain. I don’t think that ever changes. I’m sure the questioning and the uncertainty is good in some ways because it means we care, but it can be exhausting in and of itself. So, new parents, old parents, every season of life has its challenges and I know that no parent has it easy, no parent is sailing through parenthood without challenges. But, without a doubt, that new parent, that first time parent….check on them. They’re not ok. (even though, of course they’re ok!! But they don’t think they are!)

The next time you see that parent pushing a stroller with one young babe, probably well dressed, cute, smiling (both mom and baby) stop yourself from thinking “those were the days….just one newborn baby, so easy.” Instead, go ahead and give them a smile of solidarity,  a wave, or a nod, because you can bet she’s endured some tough nights. We all have, and we are all in this together, whether it’s our first or our fourth!

The loneliness of the first trimester compounded by piles and piles of mom guilt.

The first trimester of pregnancy is filled with so many emotions depending on your situation. In my situation, we were delighted to learn we would complete our family with a fourth little nugget to love and go crazy with 🙂 We weren’t sure we would be able to have another baby so it was extra special. The first trimester (first week?) was filled with excitement…at first.

It was also filled with debilitating morning sickness, which should really be called something much more dramatic. I was officially diagnosed with HG (Hyperemesis Gradivdorum) but again….that name doesn’t really do the symptoms justice. I’m thinking maybe, pregnancy demogorgon, or stage 4 puke-throw-up-shell-of-a-human-syndrome.

Mom guilt is so real when your 4 year old starts crying anytime you cough because she’s convinced you’re going to start throwing up. There’s also the guilt of throwing fruit snacks at your children between puke sessions and crawling back into your bed to try to stop the puking. Then there’s the regular guilt of asking your husband who works a million hours a week and is getting his master’s online to bring you to the hospital again for fluids.

Cue amazing in-laws. You heard me. AMAZING. My mother in-law offered for the four of us to come out to her house in Virginia and basically live our best lives with my mother-in-law, father-in-law and aunt-in-law helping me 24/7. It was unreal. Combined with new medicine and a change in the weather, I started to feel like a human again. A nauseous, exhausted, sick human, but at least I was semi-functioning. Well, at least I wasn’t dehydrated to the point of needing IV fluids. We stayed three weeks. By the last day I was fully functioning.

But, I have to tell you, before the magic of Virginia and my in-laws….I was in a dark place. A DARK place. It’s hard to explain how mentally exhausting and depressing throwing up all the time is. And because I was only 4 weeks, 5 weeks, 6 weeks, 7 weeks, 8 weeks, 9 weeks, pregnant, I felt like I couldn’t tell people. So, I was in a dark place, I had lost about ten pounds, my husband was at work all day, my kids were troopers, but dependent on me and I was letting them down, and I had no one else to talk to. Until I did.

I TOTALLY get waiting until you’re whatever week you want to be. But, I told people super early. I told people I trusted with this information. People I knew wouldn’t judge me for having a 4th baby. People I knew who would be supportive and kind. And it was a life changer. Just the supportive texts were enough to let me see some light.

I wouldn’t wish HG on my worst enemy. I really wouldn’t. It’s a confusing time to feel resentment towards your little baby who is just trying to grow. And it’s hard to want someone….but start to not want him or her, too. Of course even in the throes of darkness I knew I ultimately still wanted my little nugget, but…I would be lying if I said there weren’t some moments of regret. Pile on that mom guilt. Just, pile it on!!!

Here we are, though, somewhere in week 12, only a couple weeks away from the second trimester. I am nauseous and exhausted, but I am not throwing up. Game. Changer. I’m dealing with some different mom guilt now…but it’s doable. For some reason Grace is convinced I’m going to die when I have this little baby. We’ve talked through it, and I think she’s starting to feel better, but that was gut wrenching. Henry keeps asking me if the baby is still in there… not for any other reason than he’s literal and my stomach is not “big enough” according to him. Sophia keeps saying “baby, tummy, baby tummy” but also calling herself baby with a sense of urgency and conviction I haven’t heard before. But these all seem age appropriate and surmountable. Maybe because I’m hydrated and not passing out. Yay hydration and nutrition!

I know mom guilt is just a part of being a mom. And I know my friends and fellow moms would say “don’t feel guilty” but, I do. It’s just how we feel love and compassion for our littles. My logic brain does understand I am doing the best I can and it’s all going to be ok, but my emotional brain, which is about 10 times its normal size when I’m pregnant, is full of that guilt. I’m looking forward to the second trimester and being closer to snuggles with our littlest one! Grace is hoping for a boy so Henry can have a brother. Henry is hoping for a boy so he can have a brother. Sophia is hoping she will somehow still be the youngest and the “baby” so she can maintain her status. Patrick and I are just hoping he or she is healthy and there isn’t too much more pregnancy drama.

35 feels great!

Happy Birthday, me. Today I turn 35. Which, actually means I’ve completed my 35th year…aka… I’m beginning my 36th year, crazy, right?

I remember in my 20’s being terrified of each passing year, worried that I wasn’t accomplishing enough, worried that 30 was getting closer and closer and I hadn’t “done enough.”

I remember from Kindergarten until about…well….12th grade, feeling unready for the next chapter. First day of school was always anxiety filled. I wasn’t ready for 1st grade, the teacher made a mistake, I should repeat kindergarten (fill in any year).

The passing of time has always felt like something that would happen without my blessing.

I am happy to report, a mere 35 years later, I am enjoying time, I am excited to be turning 35 and I don’t dread the passing of another year, nor do I worry about being ready for the next chapter.

I just wanted to take a few moments to post a quick note of thanksgiving. I’m so grateful for family, friends, another birthday, and even the bitter cold today that will make spring feel oh so much better.

I’m ready to begin my 36th year!

Rolling your eyes at the spelling of your student’s name isn’t just ignorant, more often than not, it’s racist.

Anglicizing someone’s name is racist. Feeling that someone should spell their name differently to match your own “norm” is racist. It’s also nosy, small minded and disrespectful. However, realizing that something you’ve done is racist doesn’t mean you’re a bad person as long as you change your behavior. Know better, do better.

I recently read an article that, for all intents and purposes, shamed parents for naming their child something uncomfortable for whomever wrote the article… and for spelling more common names in an uncommon way. Like, legit wrote an entire article to articulate their disgust for the names of children. The worst part? The comments.

I don’t typically insert myself into online back and forth if I don’t know the people engaging, however, I could not read the article and then the comments and do nothing. I mean, seriously? How can you expect to live in the melting pot of the world (remember that? Remember when we celebrated that fact?) and not have a diverse population of names.

When I hopped on the comment train of this article and suggested that the idea behind shaming parents for the spellings of their children’s name is racist, I was in the minority… in a big way. I mentioned that names are the thing by which we identify ourselves to others, and that having a unique spelling, and therefore unique name, and THEREfore a unique *identity* is heavily rooted in several cultures and families as a traditional way of preserving their own identity. You know….not the identity of anyone else, like a slave owner…. so go MYOB if someone spells their name uniquely.

My mind is blown that teachers… caring, thoughtful, nurturers of our little ones… are not recognizing that for one particular population group, unique spellings, African rooted names, and individuality were, and still are, a way of separating their identity from SLAVE OWNERS. So…sit down, Nancy, and shut your mouth about spellings you find difficult. Literally no one cares if you can’t spell a student’s name without committing it to memory….or so I thought. According to the comments of this particular essay….so many people care. And so many people shared with me that my comment was a long list of negative adjectives and the fact that I jumped to the conclusion that it’s racist just proves how racist I am.

Yep. That happened. WTF.

I’ve heard lots of jokes and kind hearted exasperation about Irish names, but never the visceral belittling and questioning that other non-white cultures and families receive. If you are unfamiliar with Irish names, let me give you an example. Niamh is pronounced Neeve. And for some reason (she’s white?) no one gets nasty and blames her mother for doing something ridiculous, you know, like naming her child a traditional name that belongs to her family and history and culture. But if you want to spell a child’s name who is a child of color, well then you’re stupid and looking for attention and apparently, disqualified from naming your child. What the actual?!

I decided to do a little research because my reaction was so emotional I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just making all this up. I swear I had a sound, logical and statistically backed reason for being outraged at people not being outraged by the article Scary Mommy published about “annoyingly spelled names.”

Want to know more? Read on. I pasted some of what I found for your enlightenment. Sure did.

“A study published in 2005 found that teachers had lower expectations for children with unusually spelled names like Da’Quan, even when compared to their siblings with “less black-sounding” names like Damarcus.” NY TIMES

“Diversification of baby names in America started in the late 1960s during a larger sociocultural shift that emphasized individuality, and that’s where names for black and white Americans began to diverge. As black Americans began to give unique names to their children (much more so than white Americans), there was a sharp rise in the prevalence of distinctively black-sounding names — influenced at least in part by the championing of black culture by the Black Power movement.” NY TIMES

“And while nontraditional names are testaments to nonconformity, they do not signal combativeness or unacceptable personality fits. They signal the multitudes of different experiences that shape people of color, and increased knowledge of these experiences can be wielded to combat bias.”NY TIMES

https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/10/19/job-discrimination-based-on-a-name/appreciate-the-history-of-names-to-root-out-stigma (NY TIMES article in full that I’m referencing)

“Because of the vibrant Creole culture in Louisiana, there is also a French influence in some African-American names. This includes not only French surnames but also given names beginning with “La,” (e.g. Lawanda), “De” (e.g. Deandre’) and with the use of apostrophes (e.g. Andre’, Mich’ele), that represent accents that were not yet available on American typewriters at the time.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/whats-in-name/201503/our-evolving-black-american-naming-traditions.

If we focus on “weird” African American names in jokes and conversation, it’s because blacks remain at the bottom of America’s racial caste system. “Hunter” is just as unusual as “Malik,” but it’s understood as “normal” because of its association with white men. It’s arbitrary, yes, but it reflects who holds power. Indeed, if the situation were reversed, odds are good there would be plenty of jokes about “dysfunctional” white people who name their children “Geoff.” https://www.thedailybeast.com/are-blacks-names-weird-or-are-you-just-racist

 

 

Screen time battle…with myself.

The parenting screen battle is real. And it’s mostly a battle with myself, probably because my kids are younger than 5, haha. But, before it grows into a battle with them, I should probably figure out how to win this fight with myself.

Do I want to be a perfect parent? Nope, sure don’t. Do I want to be present? Of course I do. Do I want my kids to feel like I am 100% present at all times and they are my number only priority? Oh heck no! It’s good for them to know there is more in my life, in their lives, and in the world than just their needs, wants and interests.

However, like all things, a balance needs to be found. And I am still searching high and low. I do not want to give up my phone, but I also need some help learning how to navigate staying at home with my kids AND my phone. I justify it to myself with thoughts like, “well, I deserve a break from my kids” (I do) and “I don’t want them thinking they’re the center of the world” (they’re not) and “I love the connection with other adults, which feels crucial for survival on some days.” (it is)

But….if I were honest with myself, I would have to admit, my phone time is too much. I haven’t found the balance. I haven’t figured out a realistic way to restrict my phone usage but maintain my sanity. Some days I do, actually, do a pretty stellar job of balancing kid time with phone time, so it’s not all woes and panic. But, most days I would venture to say I am on my phone too much.

It’s not just because I want to be a more present parent, but it’s also because my kids are going to learn how to be on their phone by watching me and my partner. When we are on our phones all the time, they learn that this is normal, ok and to be expected. Yikes!

We do have some set “rules” for ourselves, and we follow them regularly, so there are some sacred non-phone spaces in our home and in our lives. We never have our phones at the table and we eat dinner at the table 85% of the time. We never have our phones at church. We never use our phones while driving.

I always talk to my kids about making safe choices, but I’m not sure I’m always following suit. Does anyone have any tips, suggestions or resources they can give me to help me navigate this world of phone time?

 

Listening to your body, or, you know, not.

If a friend was sharing with me their health ordeal from the past two weeks, and it exactly mirrored mine, I would tell them to listen to their bodies, take it easy and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

But, I’m me. So, I put my fingers in my ears and do a weird little “not listening” dance. Which, is funny and fine until you end up in the ER twice in one week, and the second time courtesy of an ambulance.

But, even the ambulance didn’t clue me in. I continued to ignore my body even with the paramedics standing right there telling me to get in the ambulance. I said, “Do I have to go to the ER? Because, I really didn’t want to call you guys in the first place…” He said, “Well, I can’t kidnap you….but, I highly recommend you go to the ER, and that we take you.” Luckily my dad was standing in the background mouthing JUST GO, JUST GO WITH THEM. So, I went, under silent protest, because, apparently, I’m an idiot.

My week of medical turbulence all started when I had surgery for endometriosis. It was outpatient surgery and not scary or dangerous, but it was still surgery, and I don’t know why I thought I would be fine in a day or so, but I did. Unfortunately, I had a bad reaction to pain medicine they gave me right after the surgery and was throwing up all day, so my first 24 hours of recovery were actually wrought with constant throwing up, dehydration, and a trip to the ER to get fluids and try to shut down the puke fest. You know, complete rest and relaxation, ha!

I had the surgery on a Thursday morning and taught ballet on that Saturday morning. Wait, what? I did what? Writing that out highlights to me how crazy that was, but at the time it felt so doable. I had a helper in the ballet classes and she basically did all the moving, and I just ran the class, but still, it was too much. I wasn’t listening to my body.

A couple days later, Monday,  it was business as usual with Patrick going to work and me taking care of the three kids. Sure I was a bit tired earlier than usual in the day, and sure my stomach didn’t feel *great* but I was “fine.”  The next day, business as usual again, I took the kids to pre-school and ran an errand afterwards with Sophia. I planned on getting so much done that day while my older two were in preschool, but my body had other ideas once I got home from that errand with my youngest. Cue faceplant, Ambulance, second trip to ER in one week, and a time for reflection on what it means to engage in self care.

One of my friends had texted me during the thick of things, but before that Tuesday face-plant, and reminded me to listen to my body. I chuckled when I read the text, thinking, duh, I know that! But, I also realized that maybe I hadn’t been listening to my body at all, not even for a minute. I joked with her that my body was telling me to “lie the F down!” and it was all laughs and jokes until the next day my body told me to “lie the F down” by face planting it on the floor. I texted that same friend the next day and filled her in, she said, “uhhhh that was your body again…listen to it!”

So, what is it with parents? Or anyone who feels like they “can’t” rest. Of course, as a parent, I put my kids first, and of course, as an intelligent human being I know that in order to be a good care taker, or parent, I have to be in good shape myself. I also understand that putting myself first doesn’t mean I’m being selfish or putting others last. But, boy oh boy, is that inner critical voice loud, and it’s telling me to suck it up, I’m fine, it’s fine, we’re fine.

I can’t take a break, I have three kids to take care of!! I can’t take a break, I need to get the house in order! I can’t take a break, I need to run these errands! I can’t…I can’t…I can’t. But, if I was honest with myself, I guess what I’m really saying is, “I won’t” and that’s kind of stupid. But man, oh man, it is a hard habit to break.

I imagine it’s hard for all people who are care takers, in any capacity, to prioritize their own health and well being. There are SO MANY jokes about moms (in particular)  being sick but not getting time off, or moms trying to juggle everything or what it looks like for a mom to be sick versus a dad. Those jokes feel accurate and funny, but they also perpetuate that undercurrent of pressure to not take time off, to not put yourself first and to try to juggle everything because that’s what moms do. Cue laughter…cue faceplate…

So, I’ve been thinking alot about these couple of weeks, especially because I have alot of “free time” now that I’m on mandated “rest.” And, now that I’ve made two trips to the ER, I’ve finally decided to listen to my body and rest. Such a quick learner, ha!

But, finally, I think I get it. I guess surgery is not like a headache you can “get over” in a day or so. It’s more of a show stopper that requires intentional rest, strategies for healing and… babysitters, lots and lots of babysitters. Take all my money, babysitters!!

So, here I am, Christmas week, taking it SUPER easy at my in-laws…just what the doctor ordered. Like, literally what the doctor ordered. And you know what, I’m feeling 100 times better. My body is healing, my mood is improved, and I can actually be there with my kids and for my kids, because I don’t have to worry about that good old face-plant situation.

Cue Christmas celebrations, spending time with family, eating good food, and enjoying the week…face-plant free.

 

 

 

Sleep deprivation induced creativity.

As I was putting my youngest, Sophia, to bed last night I was thinking about the night I “created” this lullaby for all my kids.

April 2014: It was week two of having my first baby. Aka, crazy time!! We had this bassinet that played Brahms’ lullaby in a strange, synthesizer-like way. I couldn’t remember the actual words to this lullaby, heck, I couldn’t even remember if it had words! All I knew was that singing or humming with the synthesizer soothes my crying newborn.

So I started making up words. I created the song in what I imagine to be a typical creative process….on speed.

I couldn’t stop singing or the crying would start back up, so I just sang version after version after version, somehow editing in my mind along the way.

I finally settled on the version I’ve posted. I use whichever child’s name I’m signing to, and you better believe I make any number of syllables fit, haha!

I will never forget that night of manic creativity, the synthesizer bassinet or the patience my husband has for lying in that same bed listening to version after version of me singing frantically along with the bassinet. Since my youngest is becoming less of a baby and more of a toddler I thought I better write down “my” lyrics. Enjoy!