The Magic of Siblings

I’m sure no one is surprised my blogging has dropped off since we became a family of four. Or even more so since I went back to work. Blogging was once something I really enjoyed and thought a lot about. On the way to work or in the shower, I would mull over things I wanted to share. The things in my life that were taking over, small or large. I wanted to share about sleepless nights, about introducing solids, about the way your identity totally changes becoming a parent.

Now, on rare occasions, I think, “Didn’t you used to have a blog?”

Austin hit seven months recently and now typically sleeps through the night. We are on the verge of a dependable routine (yes, I know I just jinxed it). He has started to eat food with varying levels of success. Haines seemed to love everything that came his way while Austin acts as though I’m feeding him a lemon. Perhaps he will be our picky child. We still call Austin “baby brother” more often than not and Haines is definitely increasingly interested in his new friend. He vacillates between trying to keep every toy away from his brother or singing him songs and giving him kisses.

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Chokehold action

Having two kids has made my mind a chaotic mess. I wish I could say the fog has lifted but I still very much feel wrapped up in the daily grind of survival. Today Tyler and I took turns eating dinner while the other walked Austin around. During Tyler’s turn to eat, I took Austin outside and thought, “Tonight is a survival night.” Survival days/nights are when you remove all expectations and just make it through. It was a perfectly fine evening with many adorable moments but it was also an evening where we just needed for everyone to eat, everyone to take a bathe and everyone to go to bed. And so they did.

This will sound stupid so bear with me- having a second child is a lot of work. I’m not sure I’d recommend it. As a new parent you think one child is difficult (because it is) and then you have a second. Holy cow. But you already know how to parent, which is helpful, and most importantly you know that this too shall pass. You become resilient. And you learn that multiple kids is crazy but siblings is beautiful.

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My heart explodes on a daily basis watching the boys interact. Austin has always looked at Haines with total love and awe, as I’m sure he’ll do for quite some time, but now Haines is developing his own feelings for Austin. He’s interested in what he’s doing. He wants to be a part of his day. I know not all siblings become best friends and to hope for such may be naive, but I can’t help but feel I’m watching two people fall in love. It is not always kind or sweet. It is often selfish. It is always real. It is authentic. It feels like the beginning of everything. Siblings, I’d highly recommend.

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The Birthday Question

Recently I was asked “a birthday question” of “What have you learned this year?”

What a fucking question.

What more could I have possibly learned this year? (Kidding, clearly I still have a long way to go.)

I have learned that I sell myself short. Sure, I knew this but I used to think of it as humility or sacrificing for the greater good. I realize now it keeps me from feeling like I deserve to ask for things- money, job title, support, friendship, time for myself. It’s funny how my children have been the ones who have taught me selflessness but also to advocate for myself. Tonight I kept one arm outstretched to block Haines from picking the blueberries out of my salad as the other arm spooned pureed carrots into Austin’s mouth.  Also, that moment pretty much sums up motherhood.

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I learned about boundaries. Boundaries are the key to relationships of any kind. It’s not something I ever understood the value of. They had a negative connotation. Shouldn’t our most meaningful relationships exist without boundaries? Anything goes! But boundaries are as simple as expecting honesty from your spouse/friend/parent or drawing a line between work and home. In parenting boundaries feel particularly few and far between but they can still exist if you choose them. It is not a bad thing to move a baby into their own room or to insist that a toddler maintains their bedtime simply so you can be alone for once. It is not bad to say, “Play by yourself for a few minutes” and mutter “…before I lose my shit.”

I have learned I am strong, resilient and patient- three words I would not have used previously to describe myself. Were these qualities there all along? Surely, they have not just sprung to life but whatever the case may be- I feel them now. This is as much due to being able to push through when things are hard as it is knowing when to call it quits.  

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I learned about the constantly evolving human. Even if we cannot change our bodies, our circumstances, our income, we can change our minds. We can change our outlook. We can change our perception. And that can change your whole life.

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I have so much more to learn and wonderful people to learn it with. Thank goodness. Here’s to 33.

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Postpartum Real Life

It’s hard to express how much I love my babies. The love is constantly evolving, growing deeper every day. It starts at this place deep in my chest that twists and wrenches tight when they cry. And when they smile, the warmth starts deep in my belly and blooms upward filling me.

But it’s also hard to express it, because it’s become increasingly clear to me that I have postpartum depression. People ask me how things are going, if the fog is starting to clear and I lie. Because we are still sleeping poorly at 5 months postpartum, my brain still feels broken and I have yet to regain control over my emotions.

I have two incredible children. Their voices fill my heart with joy. My husband is a supportive kind partner. I like my job. I do interesting, fulfilling work. Sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes it is more than enough.Logically, I know that I am lucky. In my best moments, I feel grateful and energetic. But so often I feel there is a wall blocking me from enjoying it.

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The wall effects the way I feel about Austin. It effects the way I feel about my home, my husband, myself. I hate that. I hate to admit it. I hate to think about it but there it is, all the same.

I am lucky to live in a time where women are sharing their stories, that struggling with a new baby is a common story that women are more honest about. Still I see picture perfect Instagram accounts, I see women getting through so much more than is on my plate and I think why can’t I do more?

Postpartum depression effects 1 in 8 women and yet we mostly hide it away, with little in the way of a safety net for new moms. Luckily when I described how I felt after my first pregnancy to my midwives, they recognized I had experienced it with Haines and shared with me that I would likely experience it again. So this time I’ve at least been able to recognize, this is not how I should be feeling. This time I’ve sought help. This time when I do things for myself, I try to recognize that it truly effects my mental health and isn’t just selfish.

I don’t write just to share. I write because I have so appreciated the women, friends and strangers alike, who share about their journey in motherhood raw and authentically. It has been enormously comforting to see the many paths of motherhood without the shine of glossy family photos.

I wish I had more words to describe this phase of life, but it’s too raw and too real. Too good and too hard. So I’ll just put this here for now.

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Back to Work

This week, after twelve quick weeks, I returned to work. In America, my friends congratulate me on being eligible and able to take advantage of the full twelve week leave. The men I know all say, “Wow, that’s a long time.” My friends in other countries think it is ridiculous that twelve weeks is considered ample time to recover and return to work. As someone who hasn’t slept a full night in months, I’m inclined to agree.

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I know there are so many benefits to being working parent. I drink my caffeine hot and enjoy adult conversations on a daily basis. I use my brain and solve problems that make me feel accomplished, even if just for the workday. I have a career, a boss, a field that I enjoy. Oh and the biggest advantage- dual income!

But I will never stop feeling that I am missing it. Not just missing out but truly missing “it.” Missing the best parts of the day with my boys. Missing them grow before my eyes. Missing everything. Our time together is mostly sleepy breakfasts, wrestling in and out of pajamas, perilous dinners (Will he throw a tantrum because we dared offer him food?), nursing in the wee hours, and reading a quick bed time book to one while the other protests, ready to be rocked to sleep. It is not nothing but it is also not enough. Would anything be?

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Even though I like most things about my job and my life, going back to work also makes me feel like I am running back into a hamster wheel. Thirteen hours of each day will be spent at full speed. Up at 6 so we can all get dressed, get fed, get out the door. Work hard to leave the office by 5 to get home, to get everyone fed, dressed, in bed around 7 before sweet tiredness turns into angry tears. Clean up, prep for tomorrow, take a shower in the hopes that there will be a few quiet, relaxing moments before nursing the baby again and lights out at ten.

There is no perfect balance. No parent doesn’t wish to be home, long to be at work, can’t wait for the kids to go to bed, and joyfully wake them up. Our situation will find its normal but for a few days at least I am giving myself the space to feel all the feelings as they are.

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There is something extra sad about going back to work this time knowing we will not be doing this again. We’ve decided our family feels just right as a foursome so there will be no more pregnancies, no more newborns, no more back to works. All of which is the right choice for us but it is hard not to feel wistful about the end of this chapter.

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My Baby Turned Two

As much as it is easy to be caught up in the rapid development that is our newborn’s, it is hard not to watch Haines’ development with bewilderment. Only a moment ago he had his first Christmas and now he’s turning 2. Already this year it is his third Christmas season. How can that be? He’s just starting out in the world after all!

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Baby’s First Christmas

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Patiently waiting his turn to go through his stocking last year

These last few weeks I have probably watched Haines more closely than normal, wondering how big brotherhood is effecting him and waiting for him to cross that final hurdle to full toddlerhood. He’s two now. No longer a baby, not yet a big kid. His words are joining to become two and three word sentences although he still often grunts and signs for things. He still sleeps in a crib but also brings his dishes to the sink after meals. Haines repeats everything we say, clearly noticing more and more around him each day.

What a strange world this is. We’re trying to figure out the balance of reasonable expectations and actions have consequences and picking what battles we want to fight. Of letting him explore and try new things OR this is not worth my sanity for his adventure.

I thought this holiday season he might be old enough to start to enjoy the stories and traditions but he is still too young. He doesn’t understand who Santa might be or why we decorate the tree, not the floor, with ornaments. I scaled back my tree decorating dreams and we skipped decorating cookies. There will be time for that yet.

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Instead we’re taking advantage of this last opportunity to get by with a little less. We celebrated Haines’ birthday with a trip to Enchanted Airlie (holiday light display) and a low-key party. Burgers, queso and cookie monster cupcakes. Haines loved the cupcakes but probably not as much as he loved the fruit and yogurt dip my mother made. As always, Nana is his favorite! I cleared the furniture out of the living room to let the kids take over and that was it. We didn’t get him a gift. We didn’t decorate the house. We just loved him a little more loudly and filled our house with friendly faces. It was the best.

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Postpartum Life

The weeks after baby’s birth are beautiful and totally brutal. There is the incredible joy of the new arrival. There are so many quiet moments caught up in watching this little life. Watching his little fists swat around in a robotic dance makes me laugh. One day soon he will see his hands and look at them in amazement. Another milestone arrived and on to the next.

At two and a half weeks, he sleeps for a couple hours at a time. Every day or so, he does a four stretch. Sometimes this is at night, sometimes it’s not. His face, completely relaxed, lips smushed in a pout is a heart wrencher but also puts me into a full sprint towards the nearest couch or bed. Total joy and totally tired.

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He eats well, something to be thankful for. I am happy when he is full and peaceful, but I do not wake up gleeful at 4 am when it is time to feed again. I don’t want to change his diaper although I am glad it is wet or dirty. I don’t want to uncover my own warm body to fetch him from his bed and fill him up, but I do. It is a gift for me to get to do so and my gift to him. Once we are cuddled up together and I halt his cries, then I remember the simple joy of our togetherness. Although not when he wakes up again 30 minutes later with an unknown complaint, cries of gas or needed comfort or more hunger.

I find myself considerably more patient with those in my life who wear diapers than those who speak in full sentences. I am almost as easily offended as I am tired. I have eaten so many sweets my teeth feel like they’re rotting.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the internet during our endless nursing sessions. The first weeks after birth are a tough time to be on social media so much and yet it is hard to avoid when you are desperately trying to stay awake at all hours of the day and night. I look at photos of friends and strangers adventuring across the world, across town, across their neighborhood. At once I am both jealous and totally content. I would love to be galavanting through another country or exploring a trail or cooking a divinely fancy meal.

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This meal will mostly sound like, “Taco! Haines taco! Haines bite!”

But I would also like to be here, just where I am, watching one baby sleep, knowing the other is also resting and will come home soon to blabber on about his day which I may or may not understand. “Haines paint. Elmo music! Mason (insert something unintelligible).” My home is warm in contrast to this rainy, chilly day. I’m sitting at a table I helped my husband make. In every direction I see photos of our family, art that tells the story of our lives.

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Cousin love

There is also a pile of laundry and a vase of flowers that need to be thrown out. I should have wiped the table before sitting down. There are remnants of Haines’ breakfast sticking my sweater to the wood. My breasts are sore and quite possibly leaking. My clothes don’t fit. I am almost always aware of my stitches and the discomfort that increases when I walk or stand for long periods.

Parenting is complicated. It is being thankful and a bit wistful all at the same time as you move between phases of life: childless to parent, baby to toddler, one child to two. But it is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to me. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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I’ll never let toys take over my house and other lies I told myself. 

There are toys all over my house. I actually strategically place toys in each room of the house. So not only do I do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I said pre-baby, I do it on purpose.

There are lots of great reasons to not let toys take over your house.

  • It’s not attractive.
  • It’s not welcoming to your adult friends, who you still want to hang out with you but struggle to make time for.
  • There is no child-free area. Nothing feels sacred anymore.

But alas there are toys in Haines’ room, toys in our living room, toys in our guest room (just extra books and a single wooden puzzle), toys upstairs in my office/craft area (I’m still waiting for my creative juices to come back so I can utilize this space), toys in each bathroom and toys in the kitchen.

Yes, it sounds awful. If you do not have children or your child is young enough to have not taken over your house, you might think I’m crazy. But I have shit to do. In every room of my house.

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Our living room is where we hang out and is where there is the most space so that’s where a lot of Haines’ toys are. Eventually I want to get to a place where they be easily hidden, but right now it’s just a goal.

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In the kitchen we have one lower cabinet that I have let Haines take over. Every time he leaves a toy out in the kitchen, that’s where it goes. I have also moved all his baby bottles there. He likes to throw them all over the floor. It’s not as annoying as it sounds. We’re working on him picking things back up. I’d say it’s a 30% success rate.

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I originally put these shelves in here for cute things like plants or towels. Ha!

The bathroom is one of the most important places to have toys. Sometimes your bathroom business is not quick. Sometimes you need a few minutes. It’s not as though your 18 month old can just wander around the house safely entertaining himself. No, he has to be in the bathroom with you. He might be satisfied taking your tampons and pads out of the bottom drawer for a few minutes but now you need to wash your hands, brush your teeth and check your hair. Time for a police car that makes siren noises and a book.

 

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To be totally honest, I only have toys in my office as part of my fantasy where I’m going to do work up there and Haines will entertain himself. This has never once happened. I only work up there during nap time and “work” is really cleaning up the piles of bills and other things I let stack up for weeks at a time. A girl can dream.

So I have toys all over my house.

Sometimes I also feed my child fruit when he refuses to eat the dinner I made him. Berries mostly. Yep, he throws food on the floor and then I give him fruit. Sometimes I cry about it too.

Several times a week he watches Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger, another thing I said I’d never rely on before he was born.

Even though I thought I’d only expose my child to awesome musicians that Tyler and I love, we listen Pandora’s Toddler Radio or Family Folk Songs every single day. In fairness, watching Haines try to do all the gestures to Wheels on the Bus makes my heart explode. Who knew, right?