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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2019: Seeking Me

2018, oh my. You were a beast. You were a beast to a lot of people. But you also brought me a lot of clarity and focus. And a brand new baby so thank you for that.

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I had wanted a lot of 2018 and I definitely got more than I bargained for (ex. baby). I had hoped for a year of tiny adventures (oops, how about one big baby?) as well as:

  • Save an emergency fund- Yes!! We have a fund that we have not yet touched, although mostly due to the generosity of others. Still that fund is there and holding strong for inevitable rainy days.
  • Keep a clean house- Yep. But then we had a baby so we’ll revisit this one in about ten years. Or more.
  • Learn to balance priorities at work- Honestly I learned to prioritize my home life over my work life which was not my goal. So this is still an area of growth.
  • Be present- Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not but this is a lifelong goal.
  • Drink less caffeine- Sure did. Cause I was pregnant. Now I have two children. So, currently not a goal.

I love the new year.  I love setting intentions and coming up with resolutions. In case you can’t tell, I’m a list maker. I’ve already been working on my 2019 bullet journal (bujo if you’re hip). List after list!

Because I like to go overboard with my lists, resolutions and hopes and dreams for the new year, this year is three-pronged.

First, a word for the year: Perception. I have a tendency to let my perception of events take on a life of its own. I call it spiraling. Something happens to interrupt my day- an incident, an email, a conversation, me- and before I know it that moment that I perceived as negative has attached it to many other negative thoughts and is now spiraling out of control. I start to lose my grasp on reality. The reality is my life is good, my day is good, my children are good, etc. One thing should not knock me off course. With that I strive to take a step back and better evaluate the moments in my life for what they are- moments and not something more substantial.

Part two is 12 monthly challenges. I was inspired by @thenewchrissy’s 2019 monthly challenges and decided to tag along for a few as well as make up my own.

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Part three is a more traditional resolution.

Be me. I want to be authentic as best I can whenever I can. And in a lot of ways, I don’t know what that means. For a few years now I have unconsciously worked to confirm my style, my manners, my preferences to better fit my work or being a mom or whatever. Now I want to figure out- just what are my favorite bands, my favorite books? What do I like to wear? Where would I go if I could go anywhere? What do I care deeply about? Other than lists, preferably. The fog of babies has not lifted but I can see it clearing ahead of me and without wasting any of the preciousness that is life with littles, I will still seek me.

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Reconnecting with this person. Not her clothes though…

 

Living That Newborn Life

We’ve hit 7 weeks (I think) and little Austin is starting to take note of the world. He’s watching the ceiling fan, staring at the parrots on our couch (yes, our couch has a parrot pattern- don’t be jealous) and today I waved my hand in front of his eyes while talking to him and he smiled. My heart exploded. Then he pooped everywhere which pretty much sums up newborn life. One moment I’ve overjoyed, the next minute I’m overtired. I wear Austin most hours of the day, except overnight or when he’s being held by someone else. All hail the Ergo!

Life feels incredibly surreal. It is a list of things to do, things I want to do that constantly disappear on me. Was I going to do something today? What did I want from that store? I don’t remember. I’m cleaning the house 15 minutes at a time which means the house isn’t getting very messy but it also isn’t clean.

Parenting is a strange new world again. I don’t know how to chase a toddler while I wear an infant. I don’t know how to convince him to stop standing on the coffee table while I’m nursing. Haines is in the midst of testing the limits and I’m in the midst of my new mantra “surviving not thriving”.

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The newborn days have an extra complication of really needing to take care of yourself while a tiny person demands that their needs come first. There’s those first days immediately following birth where baby wants to cluster feed but your nipples seem to be falling off in pain.

You’re sleep deprived but every time you go to sleep your finely tuned mom ears wake you up with tiny baby noises. Plus there’s the checking to make sure they’re still alive. And the feedings.

Not to mention the area that is unmentionable. The stitches from tearing or an episiotomy and just the general feeling that you have been hit by a truck below the belt.

Nothing like trying taking care of your biz while your toddler accompanies you to the bathroom. A kind offer of “poop paper mama?” Why thank you dearest.

And then, for me at least, there is the feeling you’ve lost yourself. Not totally, but the person I was before kids feels as though it is growing farther away. I told Tyler a story about boogie boarding in New Zealand and he was surprised since I never want to do that here, when we live at the beach. But there was a time when I went boogie boarding and sky diving and traveled to countries where I didn’t speak the language. Where is that girl now?

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She’s changing diapers and worrying about a toddler’s cough and trying not to wish these days away. These are days that are precious, where every tiny movement and sound is a new development and these developments make my heart explode. Just as much as I explode I also dream of days when we can play games with the boys or take them camping. Days when I am not preoccupied by nap times and nursing. I dream of hikes alone or just remembering that I like to hike.

Oh, newborn days. I’m loving you. I’m tolerating you. I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

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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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Heartstrings

Being a mother is exactly as I thought it would be and totally different all at once. I know I’ve just gotten started on this path but it’s already a whirlwind. I expected to love my baby in ways I couldn’t understand. I expected to feel overwhelmed and sleep deprived. I even expected that I would alternative between hate and love for parenting.

All those things are true and yet I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t understand the physical connection I would have to Haines. A friend asked me to describe what it was like to love him and it was so difficult to articulate. I know everything a person can know about him but he’s still a total mystery. I’m tuned in to his babbles and kicks but I don’t always know what he wants or why he’s upset. I don’t have a clue who he is going to be. He could grow up to be a serial killer and yet I just love him. It truly feels like a string has been tied from my heart to his and whenever I think of him I feel the tug. Whenever he cries it tugs. Whenever he laughs it fills up and explodes with happiness.

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Explosion.

The physical connection is more than that. Do you remember making fun of your parent when the car stopped suddenly and they put their arm out in front of you? You laughed because in a real accident their arm wasn’t going to stop you from being thrown forward. You thought it was a silly gesture, but it wasn’t a gesture at all. It was instinct. It’s my hands jumping to protect Haines from his own wobbly head even when he’s secure in his seat. It’s my body being thrown into motion at the sound of his cry. It’s never turned off. If I can hear him my body is alert, ready to go.

This feeling of being ready to spring into action is something I’ve repeatedly described as feeling “on”. It may be the thing I didn’t understand the most before he was born. I knew my hearing would become attuned to all his little noises and I’d heard of leaking breastmilk when the baby was in distress but I didn’t understand… the absence of an off switch.

Have you ever been to a networking event or a conference where you’re expected to mingle with people you don’t know? I don’t excel at this. I plaster a smile on my face, introduce myself and shake some hands but the anxiety of having to talk to strangers never leaves me. I hate it. When the event is finally over, my shoulders gradually draw down away from my ears and I can relax. The exhausting act of being on your best behavior and speaking to others whether you want to or not gives me the same sort of feeling “on”.

Except with a baby relaxing is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen at bedtime. When Haines was first born and my mother or Tyler would tell me to go take a nap I would lay in the bed and cry. I would cry and cry and imagine they weren’t taking good care of him. My mother and my husband may be the last people on earth that wouldn’t take good care of him. It was insane but I couldn’t turn my off switch. No matter the circumstances, I couldn’t relax.

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Thank goodness this has gotten better or daycare would be a disaster.

 

Maternity Leave: A Welcome Change that I’m Completely Freaking Out About

My maternity leave ends next week. I feel completely and totally torn about it. There are many things I’m looking forward to. They include:

  • Using both hands to eat my food (rather than holding a baby in one arm and dripping a sandwich onto myself with another).
  • Talking to adults on a regular basis. Every day I feel eagerly await Tyler coming home only to have very little to say when he gets home. “What did you do today?” “Um, took a walk. Did some laundry. Changed some diapers. Didn’t lose my mind?” Communicating takes practice.
  • Using my brain! I will have actual work to do. I will have to write emails that make sense, solve problems and advise others.
  • Exercising. We have a gym at work that also offers lunchtime classes. I’ll easily be able to run, take a class or use the workout equipment without cutting into my family time.
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To cuddle or not to cuddle? To cuddle. 

There are also many things I am freaking about.

  • For 40 hours a week our itty, bitty baby is going to be with someone else. Someone who seems very nice but who I don’t actually know. When he fusses will she comfort him? Will she talk or sing to him like I do? Will he get all that needs (which admittedly is very little because he’s an itty, bitty baby)?
  • After 12 weeks of struggling in the absence of any structure, I will be moving back into a fairly rigid environment. Baby must be dropped off by whenever in order to get to work on time and must be picked up by this time in order not to pay a fee. I will have to put on clothes, brush my teeth and generally look appropriate. IN THE MORNING! This seems impossible.
  • What if my brain doesn’t work? I wrote a letter recently that included the sentence “Pregnancy and a newborn kills my smarts.” I didn’t write it to be funny. That’s just the way it came out. Now I’m going to have to write at work? Oh good. This should go well.
  • I truly lucked out being on maternity leave during this particular winter. It was filled with 70F days. We’ve taken many walks and explored a lot of our area. Even though I like my job I don’t look forward to going back to a windowless office that used to be a closet.
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Don’t get me started on all the smiles I will be missing! 

Of course, I was lucky to be able to even take maternity leave as so many mothers can’t. I work for a business that is large enough to have to offer FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and we are able to afford to take the time. At times the lack of income was stressful (then again, I tend to freak out about money all the time) but we were generously helped by our families and friends who brought meals, helped with groceries and generally offered their support. While I wish moms in the US had the options that many other countries have regarding leave, I recognize that the 12 weeks I was able to take, though short, was still a gift.

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Haines and I have been spending these days with a lot of cuddles, long walks and an upcoming visit from his Nana this weekend. I’ve also been making a playlist for the munchkin as I try to improve my bedtime song repertoire. I welcome suggestions if you have any! (I know it needs more ladies. I’m working on it!)

Love for the One I Love

I feel bad for fathers. Well, not usually. At this particular point in parenting when we are figuring everything out I often feel I am taking on the heavier load in childcare. I’ve told Tyler before that sometimes I resent him between 10pm and 7am when he’s snoozing away and I wake at every little baby noise. (I don’t know if it’s connected but he’s begun to be more aware at night. Ha! )Perhaps dad radar must be developed while mom radar turns on the moment the child enters the world and instead must be fine-tuned. Dear ears, please stop waking me up for his every little noise!

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I’ve heard recently men say they found the first months of fatherhood easier than expected. It hurt me to hear that. My hormones are all over the place which has put my emotions on a constant rollercoaster (because pregnancy hormones weren’t enough??). Although we just recently crossed into six-hour stretches of sleep with our baby, previously I hadn’t slept through the nights in months just due to how incredibly hard it is to get rest at a certain point in pregnancy. Also, six hours never feels like enough. During the day I am breastfeeding or pumping every two hours. If I naively think I can skip a pump I am engorged, leaking, and wildly uncomfortable. Plus there’s the stress of finding daycare and preparing to go back to work after my 12 weeks of leave. So, this is all easy for dads*? I recognize that some burdens are difficult to share, but in any context in which your partner is struggling you should find a way to support them. That’s what partners do. For example, I am typing this while I sip a chai latte at a coffee shop. I am all by my lonesome and plan to be here as long as I want. Thank you, baby daddy, for recognizing the importance of this and many other things.

*In the context of this blog I am referring to fathers involved with heterosexual relationships involving childbirth as that’s the family dynamic I’m involved in. 

Fathers do seem to miss out on one of the best parts of becoming a parent I’ve experienced thus far- community. I don’t see men reaching out the way women do to lend a hand or check in on their friends who are new parents (perhaps because life with newborns is so damn easy?!) The women in my life, childless or mothers, have reached out time and time again to bring me what I’ve needed most: company and an extra set of hands. Over the last month we’ve benefited from multiple meals a week from my coworkers easing our days and giving us extra time to enjoy with our newly expanded family. Every week I’ve gotten texts just touching base and saying hi, helping connect me back to the world. In the last few weeks I’ve had visitors from across the state, the country and even Canada.

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Wilmington friends loving on this little one. 

The fact that they would take time off work, rearrange their plans, and pay for plane tickets all to see us and our little one is so incredibly wonderful in itself. I hadn’t expected how incredibly special it would feel to watch my friends interact with Haines, but every cuddle and smile goes straight to my heart. Watching them show love for the one I love takes all my words away.

There have been times over the past  year that I have felt far away from my core support group but these are just a few of the friends who have worked to make the distance smaller. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

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Hiding under this blanket is a baby who hates the sun.

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So much love all the way from Texas. 

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College roomies out for a boat ride with a baby who is not sure what to think of us.