It’s too easy to simply rattle off a list of that for which I’m thankful. There is the obvious: that I’m employed in a shaky economy and that we don’t want for anything material. That I have healthy children. That I have a supportive, healthy husband.
I’d like to think I’m unconsciously thankful all the time, not just on this one day where we’re sort of forced to think about and articulate gratitude. Yet I’ll admit that I can be a glass-half-empty, grass-is-always-greener type of person (I think this stems from a life-long struggle to be “perfect” rather than inherent negativity in my personality). Articulation of my gratitude, then, while it might feel forced at Thanksgiving, is never a bad thing. And this year, especially, my “thanks” extends to some not-so-obvious things. So I’ll do so here, in this quasi-public forum, if only so that by sending my feelings of peace and gratitude out into the ether, I can solidify them in my heart.
Little O, surrounded by some of his “big” cousins
I’m thankful for my brand new baby nephew. I have 14 nieces and nephews on my husband’s side of the family whom I’ve gotten to know over the past four years — from the youngest, a shy six-year-old, dark-eyed beauty; to a tall, blonde, imaginative 12-year-old; to my Irish nieces who spent the summer with us; to the strapping Columbia University football star; to the oldest, my 27-year-old “nephew” (I have trouble thinking of him in that somewhat diminutive term!) an intelligent charmer and fellow English major whom I wish we saw more. They have enriched my life and I love them each. But this year, just one month ago, after years of wait and hope and determination, my sister had a baby. He is perfect, of course. To witness your sister have a child of her own, and become a mother, and then, also, to love a child who is not your own but yet is your blood — well, that has been more overwhelming that I would have known. I’m grateful that my sister and her husband were open to all avenues that would get them their baby. I’m in awe that my sister kept her spirits up as her friends, one by one, had babies of their own. I’m amazed by modern science. As I watch my baby boy crawl around the feet of his cousin (safely snuggled in a bouncy seat), I imagine them growing up the best of friends. And I’m so, so grateful.
And, then, there is Health, with a big capital “H”. My father died 11 years ago after having cancer for more than two years, and so of course I understand that health is not something to be taken for granted. But in those 11 years we healed and recovered and we all stayed healthy and, once again, I started to take it for granted. This fall, in the course of a month, both my mother and beloved stepdad were in the hospital for heart issues. A strange coincidence, but it was a month of uncertainty and, yes, fear. When you lose a parent, the health of your remaining parent becomes paramount. The anxiety I felt during my dad’s illness began to creep back into my life, especially as my mother was in the hospital for 7, 8, 9, 10 days without an answer. We have an answer now, we think, and both my mom and stepdad seem to be doing fine. Medicated and a bit shaken, but fine. In that crazy month, too, a dear family friend was diagnosed with a horrific form of lung cancer. He will be dead by the end of the year, most likely. So we’re all feeling a bit vulnerable this holiday season, but, as a result, hopefully more aware of our health and our family and the time we have together. Mom and Hank have themselves adopted a kind of “carpe diem” mentality. This is not a bad way to live, and it has mitigated some of general life anxiety I often feel.
To Health, then, and babies, and family, and the present moment. Eat well and drive safely today. Thank you for reading, whoever you are. You keep me writing and connected and thoughtful. A wonderful gift.
Tags: return from maternity leave
Trapped in the playpen
I’m currently on a reduced-time schedule at work. (They call it “part-time”, which makes me cringe, since I work more than 40 hours a week.) My firm, in addition to its very generous maternity leave policy, has a return-from-leave policy by which, for your first six months back from leave, you can work almost any schedule you want, down to 50% time. As many families know, ramping back up from maternity leave is difficult: if your baby is anything like mine, you’re still not sleeping very well; perhaps you’re trying to pump; perhaps you’re still sorting out daycare. I think that, prior to this policy, many women came back to the firm and immediately quit under the pressure, or perhaps they didn’t return at all. (And, yes, I do realize how great this policy is. Sounds almost socialist, no?)
I’m currently working 75% time, meaning I work Monday-Thursday, 9-5. Of course, as any attorney will tell you, reduced time is not really reduced time unless you are quite strict about saying “no” to work. I am still so junior that I find this almost impossible to do. Therefore, probably three nights a week, after I get home at 6 p.m. and put the children to bed, I work until 10 p.m. or later on my laptop. But what this policy does let me do is walk out the door at 5 p.m. without any guilt (kind of). And it give me Fridays. Though I have ended up billing two or three or sometimes four hours almost every Friday since I have been back, I do so while O is napping, sitting in my home office or at the kitchen table, clad in yoga pants and drinking coffee.
And then the rest of the day is mine. The entire day, in fact, has the air of a surprise holiday, like a snow day. We don’t rush in the morning. I let Little Bug sleep as late as she likes. I make her breakfast, NPR on the radio in the kitchen. Little O and I drop her off at school, usually at least a half-hour later than her normal drop-off time. Then Little O and I hit Starbucks and maybe the grocery store. We play before his nap (these days, playing consists of him trying to crawl up the stairs and me pulling him down). During his nap I work, or clean up the house. When he wakes up we do errands or just play before picking up Buggy at 1. While he takes his afternoon nap, she and I read books or maybe even watch a show for “quiet time.” Once he’s awake, we walk to the library or have a playdate. Then it’s dinner, bath, bed.
Of course, I’m checking my work email (on my laptop, on my iPhone) all day long, and dashing off a response here and there. Most people at work now remember that I’m not in the office on Fridays. I have to be available, but I don’t have to actually work.
But I love these days. I feel as if the weight of the world is off my shoulders. I am on the floor with the children, we sing and dance. I catch up on my favorite blogs. My People and US Weekly arrive in the mailbox. I have the whole weekend head of me.
And I ask myself: would I feel this anxiety-free, this happy, were every day like this? Meaning, of course, were I not working and home with the children. And, of course, every day wouldn’t be like this. Or would it? If I let it? I’m dreading March 1, when my six-month post-parental leave period is over and, more likely than not, I will be expected to work full-time again. (One argument in favor of going back full time is that I’m pretty much working full-time hours anyway, so why not get paid for it — but I cherish these Fridays so much that I wonder if it’s not worth the pay cut.)
Sigh. I’m a grass-is-greener kind of person — if I could change one thing about the way I am wired, it might be this restless tendency to wonder “what if?”.
Tags: do it yourself mitten clips, mitten clips, Three Clever Sisters
I am the least craft-sy person on earth. I was, however, proud of myself for this little project. Look — I made mitten-“clips” for the children. We were going to a tailgate this past Saturday, and it would be cold. The children would be wearing mittens, and I knew that the entire time, in the back of my mind, I’d be wondering if their mittens would be falling off. So I cut some pretty ribbon and stitched each end around safety pins. One end pinned to the mitten, and one to the jacket. Voila!
Of course, were I truly craft-sy I would have used material that was more elastic or hardy, and I would have used a more durable stitch. About once a year, for whatever reason (an undone hem, the strange urge to whip up a curtain panel), I wish I had a sewing machine. (Of course, if I actually had one, more likely than not I would never motivate to read the directions and it would sit forever untouched, much like the external hard drive for my computer that I bought 14 months ago.)
I wish I could say that the motivation behind this project were thrift, but really it was instant gratification. The children’s store in the lobby of my office building didn’t carry mitten-clips; if I ordered them from Amazon it would take at least three days for them to arrive and I wanted them before Saturday. Well, anyway, it made me feel like a good mom.
I do, however, admire people who are truly creative and skilled with sewing projects, e.g., my friend Sara who, with her sisters, has a fantastic blog in which they write about all their scrumptuous baking and enviable sewing and knitting and quilting. For some real talent, then, check out Three Clever Sisters. It makes you feel very cozy.
Tags: cry it out, Ferber, sleep training, Weissbluth
Would you really let this guy cry it out?
My son does not sleep. Does. Not. Sleep. Or maybe, more accurately: my son likes to nurse. Likes. To. Nurse. I suspect it is a combination of the two, but the result is that he is nine months old, and we are in state of deep sleep deprivation. This is not a post to elicit sleep-training advice. If you have tried it, so have we.
Here is my rational analysis, although anything I say or do these days is far from rational since — have you heard? — I am really, really tired.
My daughter, Little Bug, was sleeping 6:30-7 by seven weeks. I know, I know, this is a statistical anomaly. As a result, however, I never had to contemplate “sleep training.” I thought I didn’t believe in it. Babies slept through the night when they decided to and mine, fortunately, just so happened to do so at a very early age. I admit: I was smug. My former nanny used to say to me in her Caribbean lilt: “Your second baby will NOT be like this. You will see.” Of course, I did not believe her.
When Little O turned seven weeks, and then eight weeks, and he was still up two or three times a night, I thought, well, yes, most normal babies do not really sleep until three months, and yes, we got lucky with Little Bug. So that milestone came and went. Fourteen weeks — the age at which most of my friends instituted a no-holds barred sleep training policy — came and went but still, I thought, he’ll do it any day. At six months — the oldest age at which I’d ever heard of anyone initiating sleep training — I thought: hmmm, we may be in trouble. But then he started to sleep. A bit. I was hopeful, and I was relieved because at seven months I was headed back to work. By this point, I’d put him down at 7 p.m., and some nights he’d wake at 2 or 3, but I could nurse him for all of five minutes and he’d go back down. Some nights he’s sleep all the way through, and some nights he wouldn’t. By that point I barely registered that little 2 a.m. blip. And, anyway, he’d be sleeping through the night any day now, right? These were the final throes of night wakings. They had to be. If he didn’t start sleeping by the time I went back to work, we’d do some sort of sleep training. Ferber, no-cry, whatever. We’d address it firmly.
Then I went back to work. And he started to teethe. And started daycare and, as a result, started getting sick. Colds, fevers, ear infections. How could I not go to him in the night? I went to work every day in a fog of exhaustion laced with caffeine jitters. Tim and I worked out an unconscious division of labor whereby when I heard Little O stir, I’d nudge Tim. He’d trudge down the hall to get the baby out of his crib and bring him into the bed. After nursing, and maybe falling asleep in the process, I’d eventually bring him back to the crib. Still, at this point, this was maybe only happening once per night.
Then, somehow, around eight months, just as my little baby was turning into a solid little crawler with six teeth and inhaling “real” food all day long, he had a total and utter sleep reversion. I swear he wakes up more than my three-week old nephew. At least he’s consistent: 10 p.m., 2 a.m. 5:30 a.m. And I indulge. I indulge because I’m too tired to sleep train. Because he doesn’t nurse all day and so I feel like I’m at least making up for it at night. Because he’s probably my last baby and I can’t bear the thought of giving up nursing (although, if he’s still nursing at 3 — no offense to you stalwart nursers who are still nursing at 3 — please say something to me!)
Last week we decided to get tough. Although I don’t — didn’t — really believe in sleep training (but, note that my reasons for this are because I assumed that, since my daughter slept so easily that children eventually would learn…), I felt borderline dysfunctional. I basically subsist on caffeine, a fact that is reflected in my complexion. I do not have the energy to exercise. I move through work as if I’m in a thick soup — simple projects takes me three times as long as they should. I am dull, in every connotation of the word. I am irritable, as many of those close to me have discerned. Perhaps noting my bloodshot eyes (for real), a co-worker gave me a book that seemed a rational amalgamation of all sorts of different types of sleep trainings, from Ferber to Weissbluth. In short: you pay attention to when your baby wakes and how much they eat each time. You anticipate the waking by one hour and, slowly, over the course a week, feed them a bit less every time. So, if your baby wakes at 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and nurses for 8 minutes, you wake him at 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. and nurse him for 8 minutes the first night, 6 the second, 4 the third and then not at all. If they still wake, you can let them cry it out. The hard part of this is that, while it’s easy to go in a 9 p.m., it’s not so easy to set an alarm and go in a 2 a.m. We thus tried a bastardized version of this method and it backfired utterly — clearly you have to follow it to the letter. Here’s how the past several nights have gone.
Three nights ago: wake him up an hour early and give a bottle of breastmilk at 9 p.m. He wolfs it down. He sleeps till 5:30. Hallelujah! It works.
Two nights ago: forget to wake at 9, but at 9:30 give another big bottle of breastmilk. Perhaps we should have followed through and done the 2 a.m. precipatory wake up… anyway, he woke up about 3 a.m., but just cried for a little bit (we didn’t even go in the room) and went back down. Hooray! We are saved!
Last night: nurse (not bottle) at 10 p.m. (oops). Crying starts at 2 a.m. We will ignore. Be strong. The crying goes on and on and on. At 4:30 a.m. Tim caves and goes in and gives him a bottle. Writing this, I realize how harsh it sounds that we let him cry (now, granted he wasn’t shrieking the whole time, but he was definitely awake and fussy) for two hours. And — a ha! There’s the rub. Would you let your baby cry for two hours? No, us either.
So here we are with a big, jolly, nine-month-old baby who won’t sleep and parents who are utterly spent and have no idea what to do next. I’m not complaining — TRULY I am not. I’m just confused. In the end, maybe I simply have a child who likes to get up and be warm and cozy next to his mama in the middle of the night and, if this is the heart of the matter, do I really need to do anything anyway?
It has been, just about to the day, six months since I’ve posted here. I don’t know if anyone still reads this, but, in a way, that’s why I’m writing again: I don’t care. One of the many things I’ve realized in the past six months (along with the epiphany that exercise, for me, is not so much about weight control as sanity — more on that another time…) is that I love to write. I miss it. My husband joked at one point several months ago that I was “competitive blogging.” It was funny, yes, but also kind of true. When you have had a blog for a while, and read other people’s blogs, and then start talking to those bloggers, you can get caught up in how many unique page views and comments you have. Being a competitive person by nature, it was hard for me to separate why I was writing in this space from the need to “write on my blog,” if that makes any sense. Still, in the past few weeks I’ve gotten a couple of nice comments and emails from both strangers and friends asking me where my on-line self has been.
It’s hard to say. In the past half-year, I went from having a three-month-old infant to a nine-month-old who crawls up stairs. My a two-year-old with chubby cheeks has become a tall, precocious pre-schooler who somehow knows who Hannah Montana is. (Note to self: WTF?) I came out of the dark woods of sleepless nights and tantrums. I’m still not sleeping, and the preschooler is still throwing tantrums, but now these things are not shocks to my system. They are part of my new reality.
Most significant, I went back to work. Same law firm, same job. I came very close to not doing so, and much of the past six months I spent debating (1) whether to take a new, totally different job (I didn’t, for reasons that I can’t quite articulate but I think in the long run made/make sense) and (2) whether to spend some time at home with my children or return to my job as a tax associate at all. I never felt quite sure about my ultimate decision to go back to my firm job (and still don’t in fact), and so then I spent the weeks leading up to my return in a state of heightened anxiety. I didn’t really feel like writing about any of this, and my head and heart were so preoccupied with this BIG MILESTONE (i.e., returning to work after seven months off), that I knew I wasn’t capable of blogging without discussing the minutiae of my indecision and anxiety ad nauseum.
And then I started back at work, at the beginning of September. Several wise people told me that I’d feel better on my second day of work than I did the day before I went back, and that was largely true: the unknown is, of course, always worse than the known. But it hasn’t been a smooth transition by any means. I decided not to hire a nanny (I can go into detail if anyone really cares, but, in short, my one really huge debilitating fear is someone else driving my children around, especially if that someone is a 20-something nanny who may or may not be texting the entire time). Anyway, the immediate repercussions of this were that Little O kept getting sick at daycare, and I’d be called home to get him because he had a 102 fever or something, which then necessitated him staying home for at least another 24 hours. Tim and I were scrambling for back up care, and luckily my mother and sisters and his mother and sister were available at key moments. Once Little O got better, Little Buggy would get whatever he had, and we’d go through the same dash-home-to-get-from-school-scramble-for-backup-care dance. Meanwhile, Little O still doesn’t sleep through the night, we’re both exhausted, and dinner still had to be made, baths given, stories read. And then: kitchens cleaned, lunches packed and, on top of all of that, memos written and work emails sent late into the evening. So we hired a nanny, who started last week, and things are much calmer on the home front. This juggle is not new to any parent, working or not, but somehow I thought I was organized and yet flexible enough that it wouldn’t get to me.
That’s where I’ve been. I had a wonderful summer home with my children. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t let my anxiety about starting back at work cloud so much of it. I wish I could just do my job, take it day by day, and be happy and grateful that I have a coveted job in a shaky economy and that my children are healthy as in capital “H” Healthy. But I’m a grass-is-greener kind of person. Even though I’m temporarily working a reduced-hours schedule, as I dash out the door at 4:30 p.m. I feel slightly anxious and guilty because my peers are getting the memos finished and the research completed. When I leave work at 1 p.m. because I have gotten a call that someone is sick, I cancel conference calls and rearrange meetings and am quite sure that I am becoming known as “that” co-worker — the one who always has sick kids and has to reschedule. I like what I do, and I want to be good at it — and I just cannot be “good” at the level I’d like to be. I wish I could accept that, but I’m not very good at accepting mediocrity, especially when it comes to myself.
When I get home, I feel guilty that I’m checking my blackberry when the children are in the bath. That I don’t have a very nice bedtime routine for my son, who has not gotten a hang of sleeping through the night. That I cut my daughter off at one or two stories because I have to go finish a memo.
My song is that same as so many others’; I know I’m being highly unoriginal (read a smattering of any blogs written by women and you’ll see!). My personal details and travails are different, but many parents feel that we can’t do either Work or Home as well as we’d like. (Side note: if we all truly felt this way, then wouldn’t there be some adjustment of the starting line, some collective lowering of the bar?) Still, I feel like I should be able to do it. I should be able to wake up at 6 a.m. and have quality time baking muffins with Little Buggy or whatever before I leave for work. I should be able to play games before bed instead of turning on Dora the Explorer for the 100th time so that I can collapse on the couch.
I know we’ll get through it — the days are long but the years are short blahblahblah — but the fatigue seems endless and my inability to be either present or happy seems endemic. Now, I didn’t write this post to complain, but rather to fill you in. I have much more to say about all of this. But this is just to catch you (whoever you are) up. To establish the baseline. So we’ll start from here and move on. And I hope, by turning back to the one thing that comes effortlessly for me — writing — I can sort my way through all of this. Anyway, the Muse seems to have returned. I’m itchy to write, my mind full of ideas. And as any writer or poet or artist knows: don’t mess with the Muse.