Parenting Poems, Vol 3

I don’t know why I ate that
I found it on the floor
Quinoa? Lentil? Maybe rice?
I really can’t be sure.

I don’t know why I ate that
I found it in her hair
A lump of something – maybe prune?
Not sure how it got there.

(That’s not true: with sticky hands
She paints hair, face, and clothes
And decorates with dinner
That she tosses, drops, and throws).

I don’t know why I ate that
I’m not sure what it was
We haven’t eaten beans for days
It looked like that (plus fuzz)

I don’t know why I ate that
This time I have a hunch:
Her mucky hands were on my sleeve
And it resembled lunch.

I used to have good manners
(or civilized, at least)
But these days cleaning after her
Can offer quite a feast.

But I don’t have to eat it
There’s no reason, there’s no rhyme
But sometimes once it’s in my hand
My mouth? It just saves time.

Parenting Poems, Vol 2

The No-Nap Blues

You used to sleep so easily

in crib, on walks, on laps;

but now it seems that somehow

you’ve forgotten how to nap.

I rock you sweetly in my arms

and lay you gently down:

your eyes pop open, on all fours,

you’re ready for the town.

Its not that you don’t need the sleep;

in fact, if I am frank,

the lack of daily slumber

makes you something of a crank.

It seems you’ll only find your nod

when nestled on my chest,

but mommy’s got some shit to do

(though I do enjoy the rest).

In thirty years you’ll wish you had

more time to rock a snooze,

but now your wide eyed wild ways

give mom the no-nap blues.

 

 

A Time for Transition

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew in the depths of my heart that I would leave my job. I didn’t tell anyone or say it out loud (other than the occasional wonderance about an unknown down-the-road future), but it had already settled somewhere inside.

There’s this thing I do, I’ve noticed recently. In response to certain small talk questions I respond without giving it much thought: a light remark that maybe feels nice to say, but which, with repetition, evolves into a story I find myself telling, which, over time, becomes my story, a truth. For example, when I graduated from uni, social work degree in hand, I had been telling people for months that I would move to the UK to work and travel for awhile. Initially I didn’t think much about it – it was a whim without committment, a nice idea. The more often I said it, the more it seemed to be The Plan – without me really reflecting on whether it was something I truly wanted to do. And at some point the telling of the story felt like a commitment, and I found myself planning and soon standing on Scottish shores.

Maybe it’s a way of jumping in the deep end with eyes shut and fingers crossed. But whenever this happens – and I’ve noticed that it DOES happen, often – there’s a point when I’m about to be in it when I think, wait: is this what I really want? Or is this just a story I’ve been telling? But then I tell myself that the thought came from somewhere and it must be my gut, so go with it.

My job was a dream and a doozy. Ten years of crisis shelter work with women, most of that time coordinating the shelter’s direct service work, supervising staff and supporting clients. It was exciting, frustrating, depleting, and invigorating. Some days I left feeling like I made a wee difference in the world. Others, I would cry in my office and drink too much wine when I got home. I would often think, my job is to care about people. My job is to love. What an honour and a burden.

I always said I would stay until I had a family. A colleague once told me that her way of managing the stress of home and work was to imagine that she had 100 emotional units everyday. If she spent 70 at work, she only had 30 for home, and that’s how she kept herself in check. I regularly spent 85 of those units before heading home. Before I had a family – before that was anywhere on the horizon – I figured that when it did happen I wouldn’t be able to do both well without some expense to one or the other or my sanity, and that that would be the time to leave the job. But that was the whim –  it probably had as much to do with the fact that I hate change and couldn’t really imagine leaving without A Good Reason, although I knew I had to at some point – and when people would ask, it seemed like a sensible – and far off – deadline.

So when it happened, I already knew that I wouldn’t return after mat leave – but wasn’t ready to commit to that until 6 months in and after some tearful and long conversations at home about money and priorities and sanity. At that point, I couldn’t imagine leaving the Bean. Handing her over to someone else – a stranger – and walking away for eight hours? My rational brain shut down at the thought and the tears started.

We reorganized our budget, we shuffled numbers. We considered things this way and that. I contemplated growing more of our vegetables and  I cancelled my online yoga subscription and stopped contributing to my RRSP. I contemplated – for the very first time in my adult life – being completely financially dependent on my partner. As in, needing spending money dependent. I almost choked on that one.

Ultimately, no matter how the logistics looked or felt, I knew it was the right decision – for now. Not forever; I didn’t commit to anything particular. Just that for now, I’d stay home. Or, more accurately, for now I wouldn’t return to work. Maybe in another six months. Maybe I’d work from home (somehow – how to do social work without the “social” part is something I’ll have to figure out). This might be the time for A Transition.

A few months into my mat leave – after the initial learning curve levelled off and I’d been shaken out of the new-mom hazy bliss – I noticed something wonderful about being away from work: my creative mind was sparking for the first time in years. My brain was very happily taking a vacation from pondering solutions to society’s seemingly unsolvable problems and processing others’ emotional pain and frustration and using the time to dream up new product ideas, compose poems, imagine fabulous new employment scenarios, to dream. I had more intellectual energy than I had in a decade, felt full of possibilities. So taking the opportunity to transition into something that would better fit with our life made sense and filled me with excitement.

Resigning was surprisingly easy. Sad, but liberating. For awhile I walked a little lighter, feeling released. At that point I still had a little less than half my mat leave left and felt little pressure to know what came next. In fact, I revelled in the knowledge that I didn’t know: it could be anything!

Fast forward a couple of months. I was offered a job – a job I’d always wanted, and that I’d been working toward for years. When they called, I felt panicked. I got off the phone and cried. My gut was shouting that we weren’t ready – I wasn’t ready; that it would be an end to all the possibilities I’d been dreaming about. More long, tearful conversations and a few sleepless nights. I told them thank you, but no. The timing wasn’t right.

I felt relief – for a day or two. Then without warning, while mindlessly chopping vegetables, fear struck, a jab to the gut: what had I done? Had I made a mistake? A BIG mistake? All the fears hit me at once: did I just turn down a really good opportunity? What if I couldn’t find work once I wanted it? Could we really afford it? Was I going to drown in an ocean of isolation and loneliness? After worrying that I would miss out on so much if  I went back to work, I suddenly saw the days and months stretch out in front of us like a bleak, grey landscape and I wondered what I would do with the Bean to fill all that time. Most importantly, I thought, if I don’t work, who am I??

The thought nagged at me. While I have always espoused the belief that work shouldn’t define you, it clearly had, in part. Otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling this dull bruise to my ego as I contemplated letting go of relationships, reputation, my role. Having never thought about it, I liked the person I was at work. Okay, yes: I was proud of the job I did, most of the time. If that part of me was gone, who would I be instead?

The fear came and went in waves. In between I scolded and reminded myself to have gratitude that we can arrange our lives for this; not everyone is so blessed. I wondered, how can I not just be grateful? Can I ever just be happy where I am?

I don’t have the answers. I know I won’t regret being home; I won’t regret a minute with the Bean. I believe it’s the best thing for her and for us. I know that my fears are a reflection of a whole lot of stuff that’s both personal and political; I’m sure I could write a dissertation about if I wasn’t spending my free moments washing diapers and wiping oatmeal off the bookshelf. As could every woman of my generation who is able to take for granted that having it all often means doing more with our time, energy, and sanity than is maybe reasonable or kind to ourselves. And then feeling guilty or resentful for being tired, or not balancing everything with poise. We seem to have come to a place that we haven’t quite come to terms with yet.

For now, the fear is dissipating in the ebb and flow of our every day routine. I’m still excited at the prospect that whatever comes next, work wise, it will be something new, and it will be something that has as much to do with what works for our little unit as anything else. At other moments, fear creeps in, but I remind myself that the unknown path is always scary, but usually rewarding. Another opportunity to breathe and let go, to trust in the universe and to throw intention into the ether: I’m open, universe, send something my way!

Right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be, moving into the story I’ve been telling about myself, working on the next few chapters without an outline. What a fortunate place to be.

 

 

 

 

Parenting Poems, Vol 1

Baby snot, baby snot
stay in one place!
You don’t have permission
to run down her face!
Is it teething? A head cold?
I don’t know for sure.
But there’s snot on my pants
and my hands and the floor.
I try to wipe it
whenever she leaks
But she twists and she thrashes,
she screams and she shrieks.
You’d think it was torture
to tissue her nose,
so instead it’s on furniture
and on my clothes.
I guess we’ll have nice things
after she grows
But for now life is speckled
with stuff from her nose.

The Naked Truth

Sometimes life seems more manageable if I imagine the Benny Hill theme as the soundtrack. Embrace the comedy.

Last week my mama friends and I discussed letting our wee ones roam free, bare bottomed. Not in the elimination toilet training way (total respect, admiration, and bewilderment to parents who are giving that a shot), but for short naked excursions. It’s healthy for them, we’re told; a good sensory experience that helps them develop their motor skills, and gives the skin some much needed breathing time. Since I fancy myself a bit of a hippie eco-mama, naked time was naturally another one of those things I was definitely going to do, back when parenting was but a beautiful, earnest fantasy. In reality, I hadn’t tried it, as, frankly, there are enough messes in the day to clean up (my hippie self and my neurotic self often find themselves at odds with each other and do battle in my head – since that’s Neurotic’s home turf, it usually wins). Feeling inspired by a sister-mama whose philosophy is that it’s just a little more pee and poo, and who proclaimed, “they just love being naked, right?” I resolved to go for it, potential mess be damned.

The Bean awoke just before 6 a.m today. As our morning routine starts with stop at the change pad, I was still bleary-eyed when she pulled the classic baby move of peeing with abandon during a change. Aha! I thought, perfect opportunity for some naked time; she’s just emptied the tank. I left her pjs on at the arms (it’s a bit chilly in the mornings) but left the legs dangling behind her and set her free. And free she was; the Bean is on the MOVE these days, scootching (not quite a crawl, but close enough to count) at a mad rate towards the cat bowl, the cookbooks, the recycling bin; anything that’s specifically not baby friendly. Away she went towards the records while I put the kettle on. Within the time it took to start the coffee, prep a bottle to pump, and quickly check my email (more on the tech addiction that is iParenting in a future post), there was a puddle on the floor, and a baby about to crawl through it. I scooped her up, reminded myself that it’s just pee, and went about cleaning it up. Okay little dude, I thought, you’ve got to be empty now; NOW we’re safe, right?

Ha.

Baby and floor freshly wiped and dry, I set her back on the floor, aimed her in the direction of her toys, and set about pumping. A few minutes later she wriggled her way past me on the way to the kitchen in the opposite direction at break-neck baby speed, trailing a wet path behind her. I must have missed some? I thought sleepily, and grabbed the cloth again, trying to spy the leftovers while I followed her along the floor, swiping behind her. Still waking up, I realized that this would be an easier task if I picked her up before wiping up, and in doing so found the source: the dragging right leg of her pjs had sopped up yet another rogue pee and was marking her territory as she squirmed across the kitchen. I wrestled the pjs off the moving creature (the Bean does NOT stop to be dressed or undressed these days – ah, those recent halcyon days of immobility!) and went to the sink to rinse the cloth. This was, of course, the perfect opportunity for my sweet little one to change direction and charge toward the unattended breast pump; more alert now, I reached her just in time for her to knock the bottle over, spilling out most of it’s contents.

I do not cry over spilt milk (or urine), but I do know when iI’ve been defeated. I got her dressed and resolved to try another day. Maybe. Just another example of a parenting moment that sounds lovely in theory, but in reality more closely resembles an episode of Fawlty Towers, if Fawlty Towers had more babies. And urine.

(And if you relate to that, you’ll probably like It’s Like They Know Us’s take on parenting.)

Really, the Benny Hill theme. Try it.

The Assorted Gifts of Parenthood

A baby is, of course, the greatest gift that the universe can bestow. In fact, it’s pretty amazing that such a gift is handed to a couple of naive amateurs who only hope they know what they’re doing. In those first few swoony weeks, my fella and I would often marvel that we could be so lucky (seven months in it would probably be good to remember that at 5:00 in the morning when our Bean awakes and my fella feigns unconsciousness while I stumble to her room, seething with sleep resentment). Maybe this is the reason that parents can be so selfless: they’ve already won the prize, so it gets easier to share the goods with our little ones in the future. (I’m mostly thinking candy here. I’ve never been a good at sharing – it’s a weakness I can admit to – but I will happily hand over the best jujubes to my little bean, when the time comes).

And a baby is the gift that keeps on giving, a tiny, gurgling Santa Claus with a bottomless sack of life lessons. There’s the fierce and infinite capacity to love, of course, and the realization through natural childbirth that I can probably withstand any amount of pain and suffering (torture?), as long as my child is on the other side of it. One of my favourite gifts is the absolute joy that the Bean has brought to my mom. Being a Grandma looks pretty darn great.

Not all the gifts are so precious. Parenthood also brings a severe – if intermittent – case of the stupids. Shortly after the birth we moved to a home with a lovely sunroom, which I struggled to describe to friends: “… and there’s an armchair to curl up in directly under the… what is it… ceiling window?” My mind searched in vain to grasp a term that I was sure I’d known, but eluded me as if I’d encountered it just once on an architectural tour of some foreign city. And it didn’t happen once. Three times I resorted to describing the feature as best I could, while friends looked at me with an expression of bemused sympathy. “You mean… skylight?”

Right. Nothing new here, fatigue-fueled gaffs are an accepted part of new mommyhood, and I’ve had my share: saying goodbye to a visitor only to find the coffee I’d promised her an hour ago still sitting in the bodum, finding yesterday’s lunch still sitting in the microwave (I remember looking at my sandwich and thinking, this is a small lunch, having completely forgotten the soup from moments before), finding a bottle of pumped milk sitting on the counter beside the fridge instead of in it, pulling a nursing bra out of the dryer and finding both nursing pads tucked into one side and the other empty. I mean, I wore it that way, who knows how many times, without noticing one pillowy boob?

I never understood Baby-on-board signs before; shouldn’t everyone drive carefully whether there are kidlets in surrounding cars or not? Now I understand: those yellow diamonds are warnings that there’s an exhausted, distracted, possibly frantic driver ahead. Watch out world! Mom on the loose!

Also in the less-than-awesome category are the – ahem – interesting physical mementos that birth leaves on the body. I don’t want to imply in any way that I resent the awe-some experience of childbirth, but we all seem to have our own variety of souvenirs. I won’t get into specifics, but let’s just say that if I had ever hoped for a future in the porn industry, that ship has sailed.

And the B.O. – what’s that all about?

We take the not-great with the good, because the answer to any complaint that might come along is the same: yeah, but… baby!

All of these things I anticipated: good or bad, there are certain things you look forward to with a baby, the things you’re told about, and inevitably experience with marvelling wonder. Something I hadn’t anticipated, and one of the best things that the Bean has brought to my life, is Attention.

Not as in, people pay attention to you because you have a baby (or rather they pay attention to your sweet bundle and you just happen to be attached to the stroller or carrier), but rather, attention as in the mindfulness kind, as in, attention to the world around you.

Mindfulness is all the rage. Everyone’s trying to be more mindful in an effort to sleep better, perform better, Be better. Here’s a tip: have a baby. Nothing allows you to forget everything and be in the moment like a baby. You kind of have to forget the mess and emails and tasks when you are watching to make sure that the tiny being you’ve created doesn’t put cat food in her mouth or roll off the edge of the sofa.

But it’s more than this. The time I spend with my little one, on the floor, out and about, sitting in parks, has allowed me to view my world at a slower pace. As she discovers her world, so do I. As I point out the kinds of trees we pass as we walk I notice how the light and wind make the leaves seem to twinkle. When she plays with a plastic cup, eyes earnestly upon it as she turns it in her hands, I consider the shape, the shade, the way the edge rounds. When I give her a new food try, I imagine discovering the texture on her tongue and the smell for the first time. As we sit on our front porch and I point out the people and traffic that go by I notice the same man walks by each evening, eyes down, wearing the same slightly oversized suit and carrying a plastic grocery bag whose logo is nearly twenty years old, and I wonder where he is going to and coming from, what his story is. (Mostly I think about that plastic bag: has been holding on to that one grocery bag for two decades, carefully laying it flat each night to keep it from aging? Or does he have a stash of them, stockpiled and neatly folded back in the nineties in case there was a bag shortage some day?)

These moments are like a long sigh at the end of a busy day. I thought that having a baby would make things a little more hectic, and it does, sometimes. But more often, being with her cuts through all the crazy and makes life feel a little simpler: here is what’s important. Maybe that realization is the greatest gift of all.

This is Not a Post About Sleep Training

Okay, maybe it is. 

What it isn’t is a how-to or a how-not-to, or a method or opinion or plan or anything resembling “this is what worked for us”. 

Because I have no idea what I’m doing and today I am totally lost.

(If you are interested in reading about the nuts and bolts of sleep training, or to reassure your fears that you are either setting yourself up for years of sleeplessness or committing something akin to torture against the one you love, please check out this Science of Mom blog. She sorts through all the scientific research on cry-it-out to give an unbiased overview of the risks and benefits so that you don’t have to. I found it immensely helpful, as opposed to the many books and articles out espouse a “right” way and scare you about doing it “wrong”). 

The Bean is nearly 7 months. We’ve half-heartedly tried sleep training on and off. I’d planned not to sleep train; we were going to follow her cues and let her set the pace for things (one of those things we felt strongly about BEFORE we knew what the heck we were talking about). But it became necessary when we made the brilliant plan to move when she was just three months old so that I could pack up our life without her in my arms. I read a few books and articles and watched a DVD; we tried a combination of methods that worked pretty well. Then we hit four months and went through a sleep regression – which apparently is a thing, but we hadn’t known; if we had, we may not have bothered putting in the hard work before we got there and lost most of it.

The four month sleep regression lead us to the place we’d sworn not to go: cry it out. Not full on, mind you; I couldn’t hack it. One night of listening to her cry in her crib, my beau at her side shushing and comforting, while I curled in a tense ball on our bed and convinced myself that we were giving her her first lesson in trauma was enough. The moment her crying progressed from fussy to distraught I was at her door, sobbing, “I can’t, she’s too upset, we’re hurting her,” while my beau tried to convince me with steady voice that it was okay (they should warn dads that while sleep-training they’ll be managing the tears of both of their loves simultaneously). So we argued: an irrational, sleep-deprived mama and a papa who just wants his nights (and his partner) back. This is clearly a great time to make decisions. And since his calm, rational approach is like a spark to the keg when I’m at my most emotional, my inner mama bear raged and I leapt to the unfair place of “I know best because I’m her MOTHER,” swooped in, scooped her up, and nursed her back to peace, whispering through guilty tears, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Sigh.

In the light of day I conceded that this wasn’t an awesome way to handle things. We read more books, blog posts, and articles; we surveyed friends. We wrote up a plan and discussed strategy. We gave it a go. But somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice whispered, “why are we doing this?” At some point I decided that we didn’t really need to be, and went back to following her lead. We relaxed. I was tired of thinking about it.

The thing is, Bean’s nights, for the most part, haven’t been that bad. Not the best, but not that bad. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone; some of our friends have embarked on the sleep-training journey because they haven’t had a choice as their babes bless them with all-night wake ups, sometimes every half hour. I’m grateful that we’re not in that boat, and I send those families so much respect and love – little about parenting is tougher at this age. Our main motivation for sleep-training has been to teach her to self-soothe. Throughout the research, contradictory or not, it’s the common thread: babies need to learn, at some point, to put themselves to sleep. The other thing I’ve learned is that no one method will work for everyone, because babies are tiny complex humans who do what the hell they want. And that lead us back to the fundamental truth that has guided us since finding out we were pregnant: no matter what anyone might suggest or say, we will do what makes sense for us.

It boils down to that. And this is precisely where I’m stuck. I just don’t know. I don’t know what’s right for her, what’s right for us. Putting all the strategies aside, I just don’t know if we need to teach her this, or if it’s something that she’ll figure out on her own. Do we rip off the band-aid, or wait until it falls off on it’s own? If we wait for her to figure it out on her own, will we end up in a worse place? Or save her (and me) those nights of tears? We can’t know. It feels like a gamble either way, and we just have to make a decision and go with it. I’m not comfortable with uncertainty; I like to know that I am making the best choice. For us anxious folks, uncertainty is our kryptonite. The unknowns give me plenty to worry about and have my brain running in circles that leave me overwhelmed in indecision. Welcome to parenthood, mama, and the rest of your life! Better get used to it, one difficult choice at a time.

This is where I am today. For reasons I won’t get into (because it’s not the point here) we’ve decided to work on her self-soothing again, which has meant more tears, more reading, commiserating, and strategizing, and once again that little voice is back, asking, why? I don’t want to approach it with ambiguity, as ultimately I know that a lack of confidence can become a lack of consistency, which won’t take us anywhere but backwards. But here we are. We’ve got a plan, we’re going to try to stick to it. We’re going to listen to what she’s telling us and continue to take all that we learn and feel how it fits with us and go from there. I vow not to listen to anyone who tells me that there’s only one way. I’ll probably continue to question our choices and wonder whether we’ve taken the right path, and we’ll probably do some more exploring along the way as she gives us new information. Come to think of it, isn’t that okay? Her health and happiness are our biggest concern, so shouldn’t we keep re-evaluating and responding to her needs?

Ah, to be so confident.