It's been just over seven months since Squeak was born and I think I've finally hit my stride.
About a year ago, waddling around hugely pregnant, I was frustrated that I had to keep putting Jenny down. She ALWAYS wants to be held and sit in my lap. At the time there was no room for her in my lap and I wasn't strong enough to stand up holding both her and myself up. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to take care of both my kids simultaneously. I had a hard enough time already, and the baby was still on the inside.
I quizzed the multiparae of my acquaintance. I got a lot of nonspecific answers that gave me no wisdom whatsoever. Answers like "Oh, you just sort of figure it out as you go along" or "You just do the best you can."
Yeah. That much is pretty obvious to the uninitiated. Give me some tips here, people. Give me the inside scoop into how you run your day and tend to the needs and wants of two tiny ones and yourself and your household. I wanted the logistical lowdown.
For some reason, it was hard to come by. At first I thought that these women were being selfish. Why wouldn't they share their experiences with me? Is this some sort of hazing ritual, where you're only allowed full membership into the mommy club after you struggle on your own until you "figure it out"?
Now I've come to realize that the reason they weren't more specific in answering my questions is because they've blocked it from their memories. It was so traumatic for both them and their children that the emotional scar tissue is too hard to see through. They just don't remember how hard it was because either they stopped having children and things are so much better now, or they have had more children and now their lives are even worse.
When lamenting to my favorite sister-in-law who is more sister than law, she gave me the key. She gave me the brutal truth, unadorned, ugly.
"Sometimes," she said, "you just let them cry."
This was a new thought. I believed that my entire mission in life was to prevent my child from any discomfort at all cost, and that included crying.
My mother is the best baby-tender in the world. She taught me how to be conscious of the tiniest discomforts and threats to my child. She drilled me until I knew to contort my arm so that the car seat was positioned just so the sunlight never hit my baby's eyes. She taught me to inspect the inside of clothing to make sure there were no restrictive elastic bands that might leave a red mark on baby's skin. She taught me to immediately respond to slight whimpers so baby never cried. She taught me to always have a toy (or kitchen implement) handy to give to baby to hold, lest baby becomes bored and fusses.
My mother molded me into an excellent mom.
For her tutelage I am truly grateful.
So the idea that "sometimes you just let them cry" was horrific to me. Because as we all know, a crying child is evidence of an incompetent and unloving mother. Right? Well, according to my beloved sister Jessica (homeschooling mother of three), sometimes I'd have no choice.
She was right.
The first few months of my son's life were rough on all of us. Well, on all of us but Brent. I was still recovering from a bad tear and cracked nipples and doing so while sleep deprived. I got better, but balancing the needs of my children didn't get much easier for a while.
I learned I could usually keep at least one of them happy. Occasionally and miraculously they would both be happy at the same time, but I knew that was just grace of God and had nothing whatsoever to do with my mothering.
But every once in a while (meaning a couple of times a day) I found that I couldn't get either one soothed and content. They would sometimes both be inconsolable. Their hysteria working synergistically to bring me to tears also. There we'd be, the three of us: the infant (who has every right to cry), the toddler (who can't help her developmental level of constant emotional overload) and the mother (who ought to be the grown-up but who can't control her emotions when her stress levels blow through the roof), all crying together in a huddle.
Well, a few more months have passed and I'm happy to report that both of my children are usually pretty content most of the time. We still have our moments of grief and pain, but we're basically all happy.
So before I block it all out and am unable to pass on my experience and wisdom to the next questioning mother, here's how I do it.
1. Allow the toddler to watch Disney movies and PBS kids more than is good for her.
2. Take deep cleansing breaths while child A or B is screaming and you can't get to them right away. It doesn't help much, but at least it will prevent you from screaming "shut up!" at your children.
3. When the baby is content, tell him (in the toddler's presence) that he has to wait because right now it is the toddler's turn to be held. This makes the toddler very happy to be the chosen one. Then when the baby starts to cry, you can tell the toddler that she already had her turn, and now it's the baby's turn. It won't make her like it any better, but at least it feels fair.
4. Don't worry about bathing or dressing your children. It's a hassle, inevitably one or both will end up crying, and in an hour's time they'll both look grubby again anyway.
5. Forget about the housework. Your home will not be tidy again for about 20 years. Focus on the bare minimum to keep things running relatively smoothly: dishes, meal planning, laundry. That's it.
6. Release the guilt you feel when they cry/scream/throw tantrums. You'll intervene/soothe/rock/hold/kiss-it-better as soon as you can (like as soon as you wash the raw chicken juice off your hands). A few moments of screaming is better than getting sick with salmonella.
7. Focus on the awake child when the other is napping. Don't be lured into doing housework or wasting time on the internet in the few moments of peace you may find.
8. Frozen chicken nuggets (for the toddler).
9. Chocolate (for you).
10. When the husband comes home, greet him with a kiss, let him change his clothes, then hand him both the children while you hide out in the bathroom for an hour. There you can take your first shower of the day, read a magazine or novel in the tub, cry and scream into a towel, or catch up on your sleep.
Good luck, and may the force be with you.