Trial by Toddler

This week I’m having a hard time. I’m feeling annoyed by my 2.75 year old, and feeling guilty about feeling annoyed. He’s testing boundaries all the time, and I suspect that he is struggling with his emotions, and the fact that when it’s just me, him, and his six-month-old brother, I cannot respond to him as fully as I could if he were the only child. He says “No! Not (whatever I said, even if it’s really what he wants)” and “I do it! I do it!” (And then not doing it). These two phrases are CONSTANT at our house. And as the SAHM, my adult brain is weary of the repetition.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t do this. Sometimes I feel like if I have to do the same thing one more time I am going to lose my shit. Sometimes I want to be entirely selfish and ignore all the crying and all the laughing and all the screaming and just sit. Sometimes I want to be away from the baby just because I want to be able to wear earrings again.

Fast forward to 2020: I just read the draft of this post, that I wrote six years ago but never published. Maybe I wanted to add more to it, maybe I hesitated in publishing it because I thought it sounded too harsh or critical, like too much complaining. Maybe I just got interrupted by the baby or the toddler and just never got back to what I was trying to write.

Now these kids are eight and six, and I know two things: 1.) It’s not this hard in our house anymore. Parenting and being a family together really did get better and easier as the kids got older, although whenever someone told me back then, “Don’t worry, it will get easier. You’ll miss these days!” I wanted to strangle them. 2.) These feelings and struggles were totally normal. I was not failing, I was not a horrible parent, and I was not being selfish by feeling like it was unfair and wanting to go away and ignore the crying. I also had undiagnosed postpartum depression and anxiety, and when these feelings of wanting to go away turned darker and scarier, I needed the help of medication and therapy.

Over the years that have passed since then, I have learned that I can be the best parent I can be when I have taken care of myself. As an introvert, that means getting time at home alone. Not the easiest thing to accomplish, but for me, that’s the recipe. I can come back to parenting with more presence, more of my whole self. That, I’ve come to understand, is what helps my children really thrive.

5 Ways Parenting Has Changed Me

1. Smiling has become so much easier to do.
2. My economy is based on hours slept, not capital gains. I am rich in hugs, touches from tiny hands, crackers, and unmatched socks of all sizes.
3. Something’s happening in Syria…I know that much…
4. My world has gotten so small, so local. It makes me realize that yes, things like climate change or what is happening in Syria are important, but that I can’t actually affect any kind of change in Syria. My influence lies here, in how I raise my children, and how I build relationships within my own community. That is all I can have an actual influence on, and that is enough. It’s not just enough, it’s really where I need to put my energy in order the help the world.

5. Poop. There’s so much poop in the world. Wash your hands, people.

What Labor Really Feels Like

Labor is different for every woman.  Some people have painless births, some people want medication at the first sign of a contraction.  Some people experience great pleasure during labor. What is true for nearly every woman is that as vivid as childbirth is in the moment, you start forgetting what it was really like very quickly after birth.  Try to remember the feeling of a contraction a few days or weeks afterwards and you’ll realize that your memory has become quite fuzzy.  Wait a few more months and you might not have any recollection at all of this experience that was so all-consuming while it was happening.  These are a few of my thoughts on what labor felt like for me, mostly written down a few weeks postpartum. Ready my full birth story here.

On the one hand, it’s the worst thing you’ll ever go through. On the other hand, it’s just PAIN.  Pain that is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal. It hurts a lot, but it passes, and then it doesn’t hurt anymore. And, if all goes well, you get to hold your baby at the end, which is an amazing motivator.

**If you don’t actually want to know what labor really felt like for me, you can stop reading now, cause I’m really going to tell you truthfully. Fair warning.**

Labor contractions felt like my insides were turning to stone, extremely heavy stone, and the force of gravity pushed that heavy stone inside me down with immense pressure onto everything—my cervix, pelvis, bladder, sacrum, spine, rectum.  Sharp. Hard-Edged. Solid. The most pressure my body has ever sensed. Not pressure like a blood pressure cuff–more like pinned-under-a-boulder pressure. I’m not saying this to scare people–I’m just trying to be accurate. I got through it, you can too.  There’s actually quite a number of sensations at the same time. Now, seven months postpartum, I don’t have a body memory of how contractions felt in terms of musculature (as in, I can’t remember what it felt like in my uterus, specifically), but I can recall the bone-on-bone crushing sensation on the inside of my sit bones.

Breathing doesn’t take away the pain, it just give your mind something to focus on to get through the contraction. Breathing and “sounding out” are things that can increase in volume and intensity as the sensations of the contractions peak, so it’s a helpful focal point to “stay on top” of the contraction.

Around four centimeters my doula asked me something like “What image or metaphor do you indentify your contractions with?”  Even though she asked me this in between contractions, I was already in Laborland, and she was speaking a foreign language, one that I only understood a few words of, and could speak even fewer words of myself.  The question was too complex for me to both process and answer, so I had to wait until after the next contraction to answer. “Wave” was the only word I could get out. No more complete sentences or complicated syntax for me. I had a baby to push out, and that was enough work for me to do. I didn’t have ANY extra attention for her question, which seemed pointless at the time.  Don’t ask me anymore stupid questions I can’t answer, I thought.

Two times between 2 and 5 centimeters, I entered a contraction and my doula was still chatting or joking with someone else in the room, as if she hadn’t noticed that another contraction was starting. I needed silence during the contractions because any other voices was too distracting and would throw me off my breathing and rocking rhythm.  The first time I said “Stop talking” as I continued my labor breathing and swaying.  The second time it happened I shouted “Shut the fuck up!” and went right on with breathing and moaning through the contraction. Once it was over, I apologized for swearing at her, and she apologized for talking.  It didn’t happen again.

The sensation of needing to push is a lot like having to poop. You probably will poop in the process. That’s ok.

Pushing your baby out of your vagina is a wild, unbelievable, seemingly impossible feat. But women do it everyday.  Yes, there is a “ring of fire” feeling during crowning, and I felt that even though I had an epidural at that point. My baby was ten pounds, so I tore really bad, which I will write about in a different post.

Make as much noise as you need. Move in the ways that feel right. Trust your body. Don’t think about it too much. This is the time to let your mind take a back seat and let your body just do what it’s going to do. You do not have control over this process, and that is ok. Let go and breathe. Then breathe again. And again. And again.

Driving to Write

My toddler takes his afternoon nap by falling asleep in the car. Usually it takes about 20 minutes of riding in the car seat for him to finally surrender. Driving around for nap today, I keep getting writing ideas and turn into the parking lot at every municipal park that we pass to jot down notes on the phone. At least I’m not trying to do it while driving. But the frequent stopping to type a few sentences is throwing off the rhythm of the car ride, and it’s keeping him awake. “Oh! This one!” he says when we pull in somewhere else. “Ok! Go out!”

“Sorry honey, Mommy just needs to write some more words down. We ‘ll come back here and get out another day.” He’s supposed to be asleep by now anyway, dammit. The baby is dutifully snoring in his car seat, why can’t the two-year-old just forget about the choo-choo train and about going over railroad tracks and just go the fuck to sleep already so I can get down my ideas before I forget this brilliant turn of phrase about the beautiful things he did today?

Twenty minutes stretches into forty, then sixty. Still no sleeping two-year-old. Now I have to pee, so I start heading back toward the house, thinking maybe he’ll close his eyes by the time we pull in the driveway. He asks for “Snowman again” each time Frosty ends on the Raffi Christmas CD. This is not a good sign– he’s too aware of his surroundings to be asleep three minutes from now.

As I pull in and turn off the car, I’ve accepted the fact that nap time isn’t happening and we’re going back inside. I’m steeling myself for a late afternoon with a toddler who didn’t-quite-nap. Ok, I got this. I’m putting the phone away and I’m going to be fully present with my children, who miss Mama and are tired and hungry. “I have to go pee, honey. I’ll be right back.” I jump out of the car with the keys, my bladder exploding and put all I’ve got into my post-perineal-tear Kegels.

“No! My turn go peepee!” I hear him say as I close the car door. Not a chance, kid. I flash him a sweet I Love You smile and unlock the front door.

I pee alone, and in silence.

Ok. I’m ready for this nap-free afternoon. Let’s do this. I go back outside and take out the baby in his car seat, still snoring. I carefully set the car seat in his crib, and go back for the no-napper. “No! I do it!” he whines as I slide open his door. I reach for his car seat buckles. “NO! I DO IT!”

“Oh. OK,” I say. I know what this means. This means that he really does want to go to sleep but he really doesn’t want to go to sleep, and if I unbuckle his car seat, he is going to flip his shit and everything is going to be the wrong thing for him for the next four hours. Poor guy. I’m not going to let that happen to either one of us, so back in the car we go. I turn around and go back  inside to get the baby, still snoring, and gingerly re-click him into the car.

“Back in?”

“Yes, honey. Back in.” As I start the car he looks longingly to the front door.

“Hoooome” he whimpers.

“I know, you want to go home.” I turn off Frosty as we get to the stop sign. No talking, no music. He’ll be asleep halfway through our usual loop. I check his drooping eyelids in the rear view mirror. The next red light is particularly long, and I listen to his breaths getting deeper over the traffic noise. I flick on my right turn signal. We’re going home.

I get a full hour of writing time sitting in the parked car in the driveway, the soft sounds of two boys in slumber the only background noise. Miracle. Eventually the baby stirs. We transfer inside, the no-napper still asleep as I slowly lower him onto his bed with all my love and tenderness. In that moment he embodies all the fleeting, fragile miracles in the world, and I am full of gratitude.

The Four Load Experiment

January 15, 2014

I did something rash today. With two full baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and one waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer, I went into each bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen with another basket and gathered a fourth load of laundry. And then it hit me.
This is all we need.
Anything that is left in the drawers and boy’s baskets is just jamming up a system that might just run a lot smoother if we got rid of everything that is not in our current laundry rotation. Well, not get rid of, but rather put away out of sight until the season, size change, interest warrants an update with an infusion of different clothes.

So I grabbed a trash bag, and set to emptying our drawers into bags.  If it was not in the current laundry rotation, we probably weren’t going to miss it. That was my hypothesis.  I wanted to see if I was right. My goal was to take every item of clothing that was currently stagnating in the drawers and put it away, out of our daily lives.

Why? Because I don’t want to spend my life doing laundry, thinking about laundry, annoyed by laundry, overwhelmed by laundry. Because folding and putting away laundry while my kids play in the next room is not the same as being present with them. Because I like simplicity, and I like creating systems that work smoothly and efficiently so I can spend more time and energy on those I love instead of the stuff I have.

And then the anxious thoughts started.

But what if something happens? What if my children don’t have underwear? What if there’s no short sleeve shirts in the laundry right now? WHAT WILL WE WEAR? WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS?

Wow, those are some interesting thoughts, I thought. Want to reign that in a little bit? Is anything bad actually going to happen? Will your children really be unclothed? And by the way, your children don’t wear underwear yet.

I confess that as I went from room to room, I couldn’t actually go through with emptying the drawers and baskets. I just had to leave two items in each basket. Just in case.

It stayed like that for a day while I ruminated on my initial runaway train of fears that having fewer clothes immediately accessible would spiral into domestic chaos and throw us into a dire state of emergency. I had left those two items in each drawer and basket as a security blanket, and I pondered why I had made that decision, when my original goal was to leave the baskets EMPTY, save for the incoming clean laundry.

My security blanket…Security from what? 

C’mon, I thought. What are you so afraid of? Do you think it’s actually going to happen? Where are those fears coming from? Are they really YOURS, or something you’ve been taught to fear?

So then I felt like I should be brave, so I went back and put those two extra just-in-case items from each basket into a separate bag.

This is what I’ll get out first. Just in case I need it.

I kept things this way for awhile. I wanted to know:

Did I miss it? Did I need it? Did if make things easier for it to be gone? How much do we really need to be comfortable and provided for? How often do I need to restock/ rotate? Is that a more enjoyable task than folding laundry and putting it away ? Did it make any difference in the quantity of labor needed to clothe my family, or make it a more enjoyable task?

The results of this experiment were:

1. I did end up putting the last two items back in the baskets. It turns out we did need those two extra items in addition to what was in the laundry rotation.
2. Yes it has made a difference–in the way I feel about the necessary task of laundry. It doesn’t seem like an endless task now. Interestingly, I’m still doing the same number of loads total, but it’s much easier to fold and put back in the drawers now so the system as a whole works more smoothly, making my life easier. It take s up less mental space because it does not get out of hand, mountains upon mountains of laundry accumulating in each room. Just one tidy basket in each room, and when it’s getting close to the top I know I need to put that basket in the wash because that person is about to run out of clean clothes!

3, I will need to rotate clothes seasonally and size-wise more frequently because what is left in the drawers is really temperature specific and we’ll all need different selections when it’s not quite so wintry.

4. It’s made me appreciate clothes more, and also not care about them so much. The Four Load Experiment put the focus more on function and quality (comfort) rather than fashion and whimsy (although those pieces are all the more enjoyed).

The experiment continues…

Five weeks later, I organized all our stored clothes, including the ones I had stuffed into garbage bags at the beginning of this experiment. Beth and I have just one tote each of stored clothes now.  There is one tote each of 12 month, 18 month, 24month/2T clothes, and a tote of 3T/4T stuff for J to grow into.  I also packed another tote full to the brim of kid’s clothes to sell at the consignment store. During this reorganization and purge, I pulled out a few more clothes for my shelves, because those four initial loads  didn’t seem to have as much of my clothes as my other family members. Definitely still enough, but after repeated washings these five weeks, the few shirts I had are noticably more worn than five weeks ago. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of my standard “mom uniform,” plus the seasons are changing, crocuses are blooming, and mild 50-60 degree days are here to stay (mostly).

So my hanging shelves are nicely full again, but not overflowing with clothes.  If after a few weeks of this return of more clothes, I notice that I haven’t worn an article of clothing even once during this time, I’ll likely put it away again, or better yet, part with it for good.

The best thing about the experiment is that now I KNOW that we don’t need to have more clothes than four loads worth.  The world did not implode, and everyone had lovely, clean clothes on their bodies, every day.

The disappointing thing was that it didn’t reduce the amount of time I spend doing laundry.  I still wash one or two loads of laundry most days.

How many clothes is the ideal amount for you and your family?  Would you be willing to have fewer clothes, and why would you take those steps to minimize your wardrobe?  What are the motivating factors for you?