Thursday, February 11, 2010

Finding My Stride

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.


Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

what a stride. what wisdom. what ugly truth. i really like the bit about screaming into a towel. and the chicken juice. why do our children always need us at the exact moment we have chicken juice on our hands? can i have your permission to post a link to this on my blog, to share it with my screaming chicken-juice-covered friends?

Menner said...

of course!

Jenn said...

I may not have a toddler and an infant but I feel a resounding "Amen!" gospel-style inside of me after reading this. Since adopting Jack the Dog into our home I can't help but feel a bit like old food being fought over by a few hungry seagulls.

You want to start walking again?

We are HamakerLove! said...

Hey friend, I am so sorry this last while has been so horrible! I hear you. Three things have made it so I don't look at life so unhappily(cause I totally hear you with the kids and sickness and stuff).1.When BJ is home, he takes the kids, and I recoop. I am sick still so I need this, and he understands. 2.When there are good moments, I make sure to stop and really savor them. When I don't do this regularly I start to feel overwhelmed again. I really have to stop and really feel the happy moments, and then that is what I remember instead of the hard times.3.I had to cut the crap out of my diet. I had this inspiration the other day. I was so tired, I AM so tired ALL THE TIME, and I have these stupid health issues with my adrenals, and fibromyalgia, etc. Anyways, I realized well duh of course I am tired I don't give my body any energizing food, and when I do it is overwhelmed by the crap I put into it. So I cut out the bad and started every meal with a huge salad. I got off the sugar(which is a shock for a few says let me tell you!), but now when I need energy I crave greens, which will give me energy. I eat a ton of legumes. No more processed food for me, not even pasta. Pretty much an 100% whole foods diet.(with a some fish and lean chicken once or twice a week:). It is hard at first this way, but it is making life easier as well. I am not so fatigued and overwhelmed. I feel like I can improve a bit, and be there for my kids. I carried a ton of guilt around me because I was feeling like I maybe wasn't cut out to be a mom. I was so tired and overwhelmed and stressed all the time. Life should not be a misery.

Anyways, this is what helped me and it will probably be different for everyone. I hope things continue to get better so that this time becomes much happier. You are much stronger than you think my dear. You do amazing things everyday and more than anything, even when they seem to cry and "need" all the time, your kids know you love them. They do. And that is more important than anything else, and will make more of a difference in their lives than a clean house, or a perfect education. Hang in there buddy. I love your guts and I am betting on you.:)Remember Heavenly Father too. He loves you and He loves your family. He's pulling for you the hardest.:)

ps.Nutrition is such a controversial subject, I just wanted to add that I have received this inspiration for myself for me and my family. I have a huge background in nutrition, and I understand people have different needs, and really did not mean to offend or judge anyone else's eating habits. I know it is so hard to make nutricious meals if it is not already a habit, and with small children climbing on you.:)

Susan said...

To cope: eat lots of cookies.

stacey said...

I linked to your post from Emily's blog and I am so glad I did...I just had my second baby and now that my mom and sisters are gone I am trying to survive on my own, which is an interesting adventure. Thanks so much for sharing how you do it- I definitely appreciated you sharing! (and I am glad I am not the only one letting my toddler watch a bit too much tv for now :) )

Emily said...

not sure how much of your "shut up"s actually make it out of your head and into your children's ears, but if it happens more than you'd like, check this out: