The facts of life

Week 10 of Baby: 12/24/2007


Hip hip hooray! That's the word from Lena's hip doctor--she's made marked improvement in the brace. He wants us to keep her in it for another month, but things are looking good; we'll probably be able to taper off after her next check-up. Now that I know the brace wasn't for nothing, I don't hate it half as much. That first week, it was all I could do to not fling it across the room.

I know that it's the time of year when no one feels like they're getting anything done. Wrapping presents and avoiding wrapping presents alone can take up entire afternoons, right? And then there's the insanity of getting ready for a trip: Making lists of things to get done before we go away, and lists of things to bring when we go away, and then actually doing and packing the things? I think this fundamental inefficiency is true for everyone. I do not think it's just me and my inefficient self. But I also think it's time for me to face certain realities of having two children under the age of five.

My own care comes third.

Remember what I was saying last week, about maternal selflessness vs. selfishness? I still stand behind it. But is it an example of selfishness that every once in a while, I'd like to go to the bathroom? Not even alone. Just... go? Or how about eat dinner? The other night, we were getting in bed and I realized I was hungry. What was that about, I wondered? I thought back to dinner--nursing Lena at the table while watching Sylvia slowly mete out one piece of tofu, one piece of broccoli... Oh, that's right. I didn't eat, unless you count the tofu and broccoli left on Sylvia's plate after she left it, or the bread and cheese still on the counter from "lunch."

I can't turn on a dime.

The thing I was going to do this year instead of work was two-fold: Write a novel, and be the flexible parent. You know, the one who can pick up a sick child at daycare, or not sweat it when the sitter is late. I am so far sticking to this plan. But so far--and granted, this is only week 10 of Lena's life--I am doing a much better job of accomplishing the second task, and not really accomplishing the first in the slightest. I think about the novel, and the characters in it. One morning when the sitter was here, I organized the files on my computer and desk that relate to the novel, and that was very helpful. But I haven't written at all yet. Part of the problem, I've realized, is that I had the expectation that the second the sitter showed up, I'd be able to start tapping away, lost in a creative daze. I forgot that getting into that creative daze takes time and constancy. Being the flexible parent means that I have to be flexible, which means that I can't necessarily count on four solid hours of fiction writing on any given day. And if I'm not counting on it, when I do get those four hours, it then takes me some time to get into the groove. In many areas of life as a mom, I have to be able to do a quick switch-o-change-o... maybe I've used up that ability on sitting on the edge of the tub, across from Sylvia on the toilet, nursing Lena and reading "Frog and Toad" to Sylvia.

I like not working.

It's my guiltiest secret, and it's one that surprises me: I like being at home with the kids. Of course, I say this, but it's not exactly as simple as it sounds. "At home with the kids" really means at home with Lena, since Sylvia is otherwise occupied four days of the week, and "not working" means not working as much as I used to. I'm working on a magazine article right now, and there's this blog, and then I'm coming up with ideas for other articles, and oh yeah--then there's that novel. (No wonder 10 hours a week is turning out to be not enough to get it all done.) But it's nothing like the constant multiple deadlines I'm used to operating under. That difference is enough to shift my own expectations: It means that I don't feel the ticking clock of doom when I feel a warm forehead, or the forecast calls for "wintry mix." Instead, I now stifle a sigh and a shrug. If I don't get those working hours in, it's not the end of the world or my paycheck. And no matter what the week brings, I still get a lot of snuggly time with Lena, and can pick up and drop off Sylvia; I had the time yesterday to mop the floor and make dinner while Lena slept, and I'm almost caught up on thank you cards. And those things make me happy. I wouldn't go so far as saying that I feel fundamentally sane, but the chaos is a lot more manageable than it would've been if I was heading back to work full-time. (Future blog to come on Aron's shouldering of the financial pressure created by this decision.)

One child crying is workable. Two children crying isn't.

I can handle one at a time. I can absolutely not handle two at once. And aside from me, Sylvia's the short-term loser in this situation: I try to explain that while I understand that it really sucks (not in those words) to have your sock come off with your boot, forcing you to step on the cold tile floor, before I help you, I at least have to put Lena down. So Lena, still in her winter coat, gets put in the bouncy seat, crying. Sorry Lena. Sock on and a haphazard hug for Sylvia, maybe lifting her onto the rug, trying to make a joke out of it so she'll stop crying and start laughing. Then back to Lena, where I pick her up while hiking up my sweater and sitting down at the same moment, still wearing my down coat. Lena snarfing noisily, I can turn my attention back to Sylvia, who is maybe still crying. "Come here, Syl," I can then say, "give me a hug." If I have my wits about me, I can redirect Sylvia with a request, like, "Can you get your blocks from the other room? I want to see a really tall tower." If I don't have my wits about me, I might say, "Do you see any food on the counter? It's yours if you can reach it."

So I'm not getting a lot of things done, presents wrapped, or things packed. But I'm staying above water, and so is Aron, and so are the kids, if barely. And that's good enough for now.

Join writer Emily Bloch each week as she chronicles her pregnancy--and now, life with a new baby.