The Question

It started when we got married.  Before, really, since we’d been together so long.  That age old question: “When are you going to have kids?”

It’s a delicate question, especially when a couple doesn’t have any kids.  Maybe they’re trying and haven’t been successful, maybe there have been losses, maybe they don’t want kids at all.  The curious, in general, are easily placated.  

The frequency and persistence of The Question have picked up considerably since our first.  Now that we have one, and people are sure that not only do we want kids but that we’re able to have them, it seems as if everyone wants to know when – and if – we’ll have another.  

Good question.  

Not Unlike The Situation, The Question.

I guess I always thought that if I had one, I’d want another, but the secret and honest truth is that I don’t know if I do.  I’m happy.  I’m comfortable.  My house is too small, our budget is too tight.  We have no family in town to help us out, to give us a night off or be there quickly in a pinch.

Training my daughter to sleep took months and months and MONTHS, and now?  Everyone in my house is sleeping through the night.  We are out of the infancy stage, which frankly – please don’t judge me – I found boring.  My 20-month daughter’s vocabulary is exploding, and being able to have a conversation with her is a relief.  Our days at home together have become a joy – actually fun, instead of hours of long, hard work that drains me.  I hated the crawling stage, I couldn’t wait for my daughter to hold her own bottle.  

I feel like I hit the jackpot.  My daughter is (in my humble opinion) sweet, beautiful, smart, and well-behaved.  She is happy to hang out and color while we have drinks with our friends.  She’s flexible and hilarious.  

I know it sounds selfish to say this, but after three pregnancies and struggling to find our footing in the first year, I feel like I finally have my life back.  It feels magical.  We have friends from all walks of our life – with kids and without – and it’s working!  My sweet girl isn’t cramping our style, she’s enhancing and expanding the great life we had before she came along.  It feels like the best of all worlds.  And for the first time in a really long time, I feel surrounded by a really great and diverse group of friends.  Life is fun again.  My daughter is thriving, and so am I.  

I am really, truly happy.

But I can’t help but feel that I’m being selfish.  Maybe when life settles down after a second baby – or at least once we’re out of that first year – I could have this magic back.  I’m frankly not getting any younger – and in a few more years (good god, probably less than that) it might be really hard to have another.  What if I’m squandering my chance for the family I’ve always wanted?  What if that family IS what I really want and I’m just blinded by the easy fun I’m having right now?

I can’t help but think about the worst case scenario.  I’ve lived a worst-case scenario.  What if something happens to my only baby, my precious girl, and I’m left alone and it’s too late?  The thought of something horrible happening to my beloved daughter makes me want to irrationally fill my tiny house with babies.

What if only children just aren’t as happy?  New research shows that they are, but who knows? If all my hopes and dreams rest on my daughter, is that too much pressure?  Is the love/hate of a sibling one of life’s quintessential experiences?

What about that second baby that I know I’ll fall madly in love with – am I letting him or her down?  If I have that baby, I know I won’t regret it.  Yes, I’ll find my new kid just as smart and beautiful and irresistible as my daughter and maybe I’ll even wonder how I ever got along before.  Poor example I KNOW, but I got a second dog once.  I won’t take him back now that he’s here, but damn sometimes I wish I had a do-over (anyone interested in a terrier that just. Will. Not. Stop. Ever?).  No, I won’t offer my second baby up on this blog if it’s hard (and it will be), but haven’t you ever wished you had just taken the other road?  Deep down?  Can any of us really admit that we didn’t have at least have one tiny moment with that first baby when we whispered to ourselves, “Oh my god, what have I done??”

The truth is, when I picture my family in 10 or 20 or 30 years, I picture us with more than one child.  The picture in my head is lovely and we’re all happy and I weigh 20 pounds less.  Is that really what I want?  And to what extent do I set aside my happiness now for the fantasy?  We never really get the fantasy…right?  What if right now is the fantasy?  

One day over coffee, MD told me that there is no right or wrong – the right decision is whatever works for me and for my family.  But what works for us?  I just don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: I want to be happy.  I want my family to be happy.  I want to look back and have no regrets.  I want to have fun!  I want to be comfortable.  I want to be a good person.  I don’t want to be selfish.  I don’t want to let anyone down.  

My answer to The Question?  I just don’t have one.  

– ALW

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Entitled

I wrote last week that I’ve been traveling and working long hours at my job. It’s OK, because I’m still in love with my work, and most importantly (to me, at least), am passionate about what I’m working for.

In the middle of my travels I was able to spend two nights at my parents’ house in Milwaukee. The same ranch house I lived in for six years before I left for college and never moved back to. One night when I got back around 9 p.m. from a long day of production, I sat in the living room as my mother made me a lovely necklace. In her empty-nesting years she has thrown herself back into crafting – sewing, quilting, jewelry making, flower arranging – and it’s nice to see her enjoying her evenings. I was talking about my day, sharing stories and more. At one point, I said that while I was so happy at work, I wondered if it was an issue that I didn’t have a great title, like “Manager” or “Director.” I have plenty of friends who reached these titles in their late 20s or early 30s, and now 32 and happily nestled into a job I love, know that I won’t get that title. At my organization there is no stepping into a larger title or role. I can grow my skill set and expand what I’m doing, but I won’t get “Sr.” or anything other higher designation now that I’m in a union. It doesn’t work like that.

In the middle of stringing the necklace, not even looking up, my mom said, “Honey, you are 32, have a toddler and work full time. You can’t have that title.” And while I know it’s true, I have been gnashing over the truth of that. Why do titles matter? Why do they matter to me? As someone who has been fairly career-oriented, I was always striving for next-next-next. Pushing, pushing, pushing. I clearly remember sitting in a job interview 7 years ago and when asked the dubious, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question, answering quite clearly, “As the Marketing Director of a non-profit.” Somewhat gutsy, given that the current Marketing Director of the non-profit I was interviewing at was sitting in the same room and she was new to the job herself. But that’s fine ‘cause we’re friends now.

This hangs in my office. By These Are Things.

So here I am, 32, and not a director. When RBVH and I finally met up this last weekend (I was the one who fell asleep and missed our coffee date – yeesh), she and I shared the same concerns. Should we be pushing, pushing, pushing for more?

But maybe what I’m not ready to say aloud – but guess what world? – I can say it on the internet! – is that I’m OK with not having the title. It’s not that I don’t think I could handle what came along with it, it’s that I like the other titles I (sometimes) come with: mother, wife, friend, partner, creator, (fledging) runner. Why? Because I’ve found my center-for-now. Sure, it gets wacky, laundry never gets put away, I miss having Fridays with my toddler, but I’m able to be all of the parts of me while at my current job.

I guess you’ll just have to call me Lucky.

– MD

A Year of Parenting

Fall always brings out the reflective and nostalgic in me. Now this fall, for the first time, I reflect on my first year of being a mama.

Pregnancy. Childbirth. Sleepless nights. Your child’s laughter. Parenthood. It all changes you from the tips of your toes to deep in your soul.

Looking back at my year as a mama, here are a few bits of what I have learned:

1. Sleepless nights suck.

2. Laughter is key.

3. But sometimes you just have to cry it out.

4. I knew my husband was amazing before we were parents. I have since learned that he is an outstanding dad. My son is so lucky to have him as his Papa. So am I.

5. Snuggling my baby, even in the middle of the night, makes my heart full.

6. Watching my husband put my child to bed after I tried and failed is the best feeling of relief and yet it will make me sigh every time.

7. I will always be there for my child. As in ALWAYS, no exception.

8. Friends make it all so much easier. Sharing the tales of parenting reminds me that the crazy, hard moments are actually normal.

9. People are so kind and so generous to a new mama and a new family. I seize the opportunity to pay it forward.

10.  Watching my child experience wonderment – through food, music, experience – is the most uninhibited, organic and, usually, joyful sight.

11.  I never knew the feeling of selflessness until I had a child.

12.  What and who I think I can count on will always surprise me.

13.  Finding community of mamas was harder than I thought and yet, turned up when I least expected it and needed it most.

14.  I have found that there are other ways to trust my body after pregnancy. And no, I did not find it in childbirth.

15.  C-sections suck.

16.  Bodies are amazing. My body (and me) grew a human. Then it produced food for said human. That human grows from a tiny ball of baby to a roaming, running, babbling toddler all in one year. Amazing, I tell you. Truly amazing.

17.  The early days, weeks and even months of being a mama were very foggy for me and felt surprisingly lonely. I didn’t expect that, but will be more aware the next time.

18.  I worry more as a parent than I ever thought possible and far more than I ever expected.

19.  Raising a boy to be a good man is a challenge I take very seriously every day.

This is what a feminist looks like.

20.  There is nothing more heart breaking than to see your kiddo sick. They have no idea what’s going on and there is often little you can do to really make them better.

21.  Even when I feel completely clueless, finding ways to make parenting choices with confidence and without judgment is essential.

22.  Being a mama is the hardest and most rewarding job I ever could of dreamed of.  I can’t imagine my life without mama-hood.

23.  Watching my baby dance warms my soul.

24.  It really does take a village. I am so grateful for ours.

25.  I am conscious every day not to wish the time away. I am SO excited to hear his first sentence, to see his first steps, to tell his first joke, to meet his first friend and to be a big brother. Today, however, I am enjoying the present.

It’s been quite a year. The most amazing year. As my baby is about to complete his first revolution, of many, around the sun, I am ready to celebrate. I can’t think of any other way than to throw a party and celebrate with our village our first year of parenthood! We made it! My hubs and I will surely exchange a super high five.

Happy (almost) birthday baby E!

– NVC

Dear Iris

Dear Iris,

I’m writing to you today because there is something that you should know.  You are far too young for me to explain it now, but someday the time will be right and you will be ready.  I’m not sure you’ll understand.  Shoot, I’m not sure that I understand.  I hope when the time comes, I will be ready myself – to tell you, to explain.

My sweet Iris, you have a sister.

I see you looking at the little urn, turning it over in your hands.  You reach for the book and soft little lamb that you are sure is meant for you.  I admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I gently lead you away.  

We named her Elby.  She was in our lives for such a brief time.  We looked forward to meeting her so much, but we never got to hold her in our arms.  We read to her and sang to her and in the end, we did what we thought was best for her.  I hope she heard us, heard the hope and love that we sent to her.  I hope she hears us still.

Iris, I know that if Elby had been okay, we would have never had you.  And I want you to know this: I would not take one step off the path that led me to you.  You were meant to be my daughter as much as Elby was – but in a different way.  You were meant to call me Mama, to wrap your little legs around my waist and give me hugs and kisses.  Of this, I have no doubt.

There’s another thing I know for sure: Elby is watching over us.  She is watching over you.

After your Daddy and I lost Elby, we were heartbroken.  We were confused and lost because our lives took a turn that we didn’t understand or expect.  We spent a lot of time talking and crying together, trying to make sense of what had happened.  One particularly sad day, we stopped at a park to look out over the water.  While we were there, a beautiful rainbow appeared right in front of us.  We both felt that Elby was trying to tell us that it was okay, that she understood.  That day, I started to heal.  My heart felt lighter than it had in weeks.  I will never forget it.

When we had you, it was the most wonderful, scary, and exhilarating moment of our lives.  We named you Iris because when we looked into your eyes, it suited you.  You were simply not any of the other names on our list.  You were Iris.

Weeks later, after we were home from the hospital and we were all able to get a little sleep, your Daddy and I decided to read up on the meaning of your beautiful name.  We looked at each other in disbelief.  My sweet girl, your name, quite literally, means “rainbow.”  In Greek mythology, Iris delivered messages to the gods.  She was the goddess of rainbows.

Iris, your Daddy and I firmly believe that Elby picked you out just for us.  That she sent the perfect little one to soothe our hurting hearts and to put laughter and joy into our lives again.  We believe she is watching over all three of us.

I hope one day I can tell you these things – when you’re ready to be told, when I’m ready to tell.  I don’t want Elby to be a secret from you.  She gave me hope.  She taught me so much about life and love and gratitude.  She made me the person I am today.  She made the Mama that I am to you.  

In so many ways, Iris, I feel like she gave me you.  And for that, I am eternally grateful.  For that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Love you,
Mama

– ALW

The Dating Scene

I’ve  commented to friends that if I ever needed to enter the dating world again I would need to be sandblasted with diamonds. But that’s another story. I digress.

I’m finishing a weekend of solo parenting. For those of you who are single parents, or stay-at-home-moms or -dads, I applaud you. I always have, but it needs to be said again: “Bravo/a.”

How does one entertain a toddler without regular backup? Play dates.

Once you have a child play dates become more common, and in some cases, more desired that nights on the town with your beloved. Meeting for coffee when wee ones are little nubbins in car seats helps stave off loneliness and encourages basic hygiene. Later, as babies start to crawl, it’s fun to take them to others’ homes for them to chew on someone elses’ toys and again, get out of the house. In the first year play dates are more about the adult in the equation – sharing adult time where you can talk about anxieties, hopes and everything in between.

And now that I have a full-fledged toddler, each minute is about how to tire her out. I’m not an over-scheduler, but think of how to get her active and entertained so that she goes down for her afternoon nap and sleeps through the night. A surefire way to get this done is through play dates.

I’m fortunate that three other women were pregnant at the same time I was. We started by meeting for tea, newly pregnant and burping into warm cups. As we got bigger we shared ideas. And we overlapped on maternity leave, meeting weekly. Since then, we still meet monthly for Birthday Club, our toddlers born six weeks apart and two of them on the same day. Each month we take a photo of the four kids, smiling as they wiggle and waggle.

Birthday Buddies, Year 1!

Birthday Buddies, Year 2!

So on this weekend I did what I knew I could to tire out said toddler and keep us entertained: I scheduled three play dates, one for each day I was home alone. Lovely mamas and their children came over and we also went out to meet a little friend. We walked, talked, the kids stared and stole from one another. Tears were shed from minor spills and injustices, but kisses were blown and little hugs shared when they parted ways. For one or two hours, I was happy and content, and so was my two-year-old partner.

Frankly, it’s the best dating scene I’ve ever been a part of.

– MD

All Bets Are Off

I’ve been thinking a lot about last week’s post about why we have kids, and my own post a month back about our house, and how it’s less about the stuff and the size, and more about the love.  Both posts have one thing in common – they remind us that there is something about parenting that is impossible to put your finger on.

My dad once told me that the best thing about having kids is that “you get to do all of those things that kids love that you just can’t do alone as adults.”  I used to think that was the oddest thing. Really? I’m hankering more for a Beer at my favorite bar than playing arcade games when we’re on vacation.  I’m more interested in sitting in the sun and having a long conversation with my friends than I am chasing my child around the park.  I just didn’t buy it.  Events that are catered towards kids?  Not as much fun as relaxing events catered towards adults.

But yet time after time, I prove my own thoughts wrong.

Most recently this happened when I decided to return to my favorite birthday destination, Arlington Park – only this time, with several kids in tow.  Would we have fun?  Would it be a disaster?  Would it be worth it?   As a child, my family and I went to the races frequently (OK, maybe it wasn’t, but when I look back on it, it was to me).  I loved them so much, I wrote a fan letter one year to the only woman jockey at Canterbury Downs.  I once was even a jockey for Halloween.  I used to play horse and jockey with my friend in her backyard and my horse’s name was always “Whatchyagonnadonow.”  That’s serious love.

Horses

After we got home and the kids were in bed, my husband and I were comparing this trip to the last childless trip years ago.  We compared what we did (I chatted with friends, labored over my horse choices by reading all of the stats and even the daily racing form;  he sat upstairs under the large cantilevered roof and drew for an hour or two, passing in and out of conversation as our friends mingled back and forth with a drink in hand.).  This time we took turns changing diapers, corralling children, explaining what betting is, watching the kids hang off of the rails in the paddock while we watched the horses getting groomed, saying the funny names of the horses, and letting the kids pick which they wanted to win based on the color of the jockey’s silks.

Which was more fun?  Sure, if you go simply based on your standard ruler of fun – the kid-less time.  But in reality?  The time that we got pass on our love for something that made me so happy as child.  The time that I followed my youngest around as he screamed HOHHHHSEEEEEEEE, HOHHHHHSEEEEE (horsey, for those of you who don’t speak Abbott).  The time that a friend’s youngest burst out into tears every time his horse (always the one with the jockey wearing the orange shirt) didn’t win.

A and E

There must be some magical switch that get’s turned on when you become a parent.  You hear some say that whatever it is, it’s shown in the sacrifice you’re willing to pay to give your child what they need, that defines the love.  But in reality, I think it’s about remembering the pure beauty of the World and being allowed to introduce that Fabulousness to fresh eyes, bit by bit, day after day after day.

And when the day is over, and your child looks at you in your eyes and says “I am loving you SO very much today mommy.  I love you and daddy and Abbott and my Whole Family so much,” you know that they’ve seen and experienced something new, something important, something life changing, even if it’s something you never would have even taken note of as an adult.

A and the Color Wheel

And then what do you do?  You send those kids to bed, so you can breathe deeply and get ready to begin another day of discovery.

– EC

Which Way Home

So, uh, yeah, it was my turn to post yesterday and I didn’t make it. We’ll chalk it up to I-caught-my-toddler’s-cold-for-two-weeks-and-have-had-to-work-some-long-days. But in my stead, I offer you a great post from a fantastic site, Dadwagon. Have you subscribed? I love it. Honest, witty and insightful, the daddios at Dadwagon know how it goes.

I asked for permission to post the following post about divorce, since this is a topic many of us can relate to in one way or another. It happened to us, but maybe we promise it will never happen to our children. Let’ see what Theodore Ross says. You can find his original post here and below.- MD

JP was young enough when my ex moved out that he doesn’t remember his parents ever having lived together. I consider this a good thing, given the amount of arguing he witnessed in the latter stages of our marriage.

As a result, however, his residential life has always included a great deal of shuttling back and forth. There’s some good in this as well–two beds, separate sets of toys, and the like. The downside, perhaps, is a slightly weakened sense of stability and place.

One by-product of this arrangement has been intermittent feelings of  defensiveness on my part about his concept of home. I’m always alert to the possibility that JP doesn’t really feel like he lives with me. So when he refers to his mother’s apartment as “home” and my place as, well, my place, I correct him. We live together, I say. This is your home, too. He doesn’t really get it at this age, but I suspect eventually he will.

One interesting development on this front occurred recently when my ex moved. She decided to tell JP that they were leaving their old apartment for a special new home. Thus JP now talks about “our home”–that is, his home with me–and his “special home,” by which he means his new place with his mother.

No tragedy here, mind you. It’s just interesting to see the three-year-old mind at work, furiously processing. Makes you wonder what else he notices.

– TR


Reading List

I’m a huge fan of information. I love to read, and will read just about anything about just about anything: books, magazines, articles on the Internet, etc. But now that I’m a mom, I’ve started to realize that all this information can be more stressful than helpful.

When I was pregnant, I read a ton of stuff, and got completely stressed out by all the physical stuff: all the stories about morning sickness, problem pregnancies and difficult births.

When SP was a baby, it was still reading about physical stuff that was stressing me out, but this time it was about her body, not mine: does she have colic, what types of rashes need medical intervention, potential injuries due to tumbling off the changing table.

SP’s toddler stage started the developmental stress. Now I was reading things that made me worry about whether she was on track for talking, potty training and hand-eye coordination.

Now that SP is in kindergarten, the reading material that’s stressing me out is all social. Here are some sample articles causing me angst: How to Throw a Great Birthday Party, What to Do if your Child Is Shy, How Many Activities Are too Many (and its inverse: Encourage your Child to Get Involved).

I still love getting as much information as possible, and some of it has been really helpful. (If I hadn’t read Vicki Iovine’s books, I think I would have had a heart attack almost daily when SP was little.) But the biggest thing I’ve learned from reading all of this information on childrearing? That the person I need to listen to the most is me.

The best way to know whether something is right for SP is to listen to my gut. I know what’s best for SP and for me. Though it sure is fun to read about 40 Ways to Encourage your Child’s Love of Reading.

– RBVH

It’s Not You, It’s Me

I’d like to think that having a baby didn’t change me. Yes, it changed me in all the usual and wonderful ways. I have more love in my heart than I ever thought possible. I feel more joy and gratitude than I have ever known. My highs are higher and my lows are lower. But at my core? I’d like to think I’m the same person.

Who is that person? I’m maybe a little loud, I can be a bit brash. I’m honest and open and giving. I laugh easily. I swear like a sailor and, well, I tend to say some really raunchy things. I’m a bit shy in new situations, but friendly. I can be slow to warm up to new people. I hate talking on the phone. I have well-informed opinions on the world around me. I pay attention and read people well. My bullshit meter is off the charts.

We all know those people who completely change when they have a baby. Every conversation is about what their little one is doing, how potty training is going, how much sleep they got last night. You know, the people who can’t hold a conversation about anything other than their kids.

I am not that person.

Right?

I got my first clue that things had changed at work. I was picking out some colored paper for a form with a co-worker, and she decided on yellow. “YELLOW!” I shrieked, clapping my hands.

“You are SO the mother of a toddler,” she deadpanned.

A few days later, my husband and I were able to get out for a date night. We went shopping for our daughter’s first birthday and then out to a bar for a few beers. It was lovely, having a night to ourselves, shopping for our daughter and celebrating this huge milestone. We thought back on the past year and the difficult years before our daughter arrived, and marveled at how far we’ve come. This was our chance to reflect, spend some time together, have some adult conversation.

“Did you ever notice that Murray doesn’t interact with ANYONE else on Sesame Street? If it wasn’t for ‘Murray Had a Little Lamb’ he’d be nothing more than a host. But she really loves him, it’s a shame that they don’t make a Murray doll. And you know, I find that Mr. Noodle kind of creepy. But I do like his brother, Mr. Noodle. And that robot! I love that robot, with the underbite?”

Sitting at the bar downtown, spending a few glorious hours outside the house by ourselves, I was rambling on and on. Not about current events or the book I was reading. Not about what was happening at work or our plans for the weekend. I was going on and on about SESAME STREET.

I stopped to catch my breath and looked at my husband. “I’m done talking about Sesame Street,” I promised.

Yeah, I’m the same person. I still have many of the qualities that I had before, with a few new ones thrown in. I am trying – TRYING – to curb my swearing. I keep my mind out of the gutter until after my daughter’s bedtime. I’m still a bit loud, but I’m thankfully starting to feel less shy in new situations. I’m trying new things. I am not quite as tuned in to the world around me and sadly, I have less time for reading.

I’m still all of the things I used to be. But these days, I’m also a person who yells out colors and numbers and shapes. I laugh more easily at silly antics. I get on down the floor and play. Yes, I have opinions on baby constipation and diaper rash and sleep schedules. And I will hold deep, meaningful conversations about Sesame Street late into the night at a bar.

It’s who I am.

– ALW

Favoritism

For as long as we’ve been together, my husband and I have referred to one another, similar to a name, as “Favorite.” As in “you’re my Favorite.” Or, “Hi, Favorite!” Our version of “Honey” or, shudder, “Baby.”

This went on for years until wee C was born. We were then both wildly aware that she was our favorite. I remember being in the hospital, my husband peering over the plastic bassinet, cooing “hello, Favorite.” I admit a little twinge of jealousy shot through me. But the minute he was out of earshot, I would turn to her and say “hello, Favorite.”

What happened in the second that C was born was that we went from being one another’s favorite to, well, we didn’t know. Just a spouse? Co-parent? Yes, all of these things, but that ring of “favorite” had left the room and latched onto a sleepy, redheaded actual baby.

Over the past year and a half we’ve broached the subject from time to time, timidly asking “am I your favorite anymore?” The other one answering with an “of course – you’re my favorite spouse!” But I sometimes worry that we’ll be overblown by our love and care of wee C that one day, in the not-too-distant future (say, 10, when she thinks we are soooo boring), when she will still be our favorite, that we’ll need to renegotiate our favoritism for one another because she will have no use for us.

We do what we can as the parents of a toddler to hopefully ward off the “who are yous,” making time for dates, listening to stories about books we’re reading, making sure the other has time to pursue passions and interests. All the things one does for a favorite.

And in case I was worried, in my birthday card from last month my husband wrote “You know that you’re my favorite, right? (Well, you and C.)”

– MD

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