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Exactly one year ago… and precisely one week late… my life changed forever. Ok, well it actually changed forever exactly 41 weeks + 52 weeks ago…what is that… 93? I’m tired. And why do people with babies insist on counting time in weeks? But then again, exactly 93 weeks ago, I didn’t know that it had changed yet, so does it count? So maybe it was 93 – 4.5 weeks (that’s math I can’t do right now) ago, when I found out I was pregnant that my life changed forever. Hmmmm… Is it the moment of conception, of realization or of admission into the world that changes your life?
Anyway, I digress…
I had a fairly easy labor and delivery… considering that it was labor and delivery (for those of you who have not had the opportunity to squeeze a human being through your body, past your internal organs and out a hole that somehow is just never big enough… I’ll spare you the grisly details. I’ll tell you when you are older, or perhaps when I am drunk.) Then the magic moment came when my daughter sprung forth… actually she sort of oozed forth… from my loins. The nurse immediately placed this sweet, tiny (albeit screaming) baby on my chest and I finally stared into her beautiful blue eyes and felt… really fucking tired. I was expecting to feel fireworks, or a sparkly magical connection, or at least somewhat like a mother. I didn’t. What I felt was definitely joy, but it was tempered with disbelief and pure exhaustion.
I felt as though I were outside of my body, looking down at myself. Looking down at a mom who had an ecstatic husband and the most beautiful baby in the world, but who didn’t know what to do with it all. I felt numb. And because I felt numb, I felt fear. What if I didn’t love my baby as much as I should? What if I wasn’t cut out to be a mom? What if I had postpartum depression? What if this whole thing was a mistake? And because I felt fear, I also felt guilt. I guess that was when I should have known that I was truly a mom.
For those of you who are judging me right now, try to give me a break. God knows I didn’t give myself one. But let’s take an honest look at the situation. When you give birth to a baby, you top off the most tiring and uncomfortable ten months of your life (TEN MONTHS, NOT NINE. 40 weeks. Do the math) with the final month of total discomfort and pure exhaustion (it’s really hard to sleep when you have to pee all the time, every appendage is swollen to 3 times its normal size, and you have a baby doing zumba in your belly all night, every night). The good news is that all of this leads up to the most physically demanding thing you have ever done, which, besides being a marathon of huffing, puffing, pushing and tearing (sorry), almost always involves not sleeping for at least 24 hours. Then, right away you get to start the toughest job you’ll ever have, working for the most demanding boss in the world. I mean, if any other job required working around the clock, sleeping for only single hour stretches, and taking care of every single solitary need for a thankless boss prone to total meltdowns… the unions would be all over that shit. I mean, I was up all night without sleeping, going through a very painful as well as physically and mentally demanding journey, when suddenly this creature who has been in my belly for 10 months is laying on my chest, greedily searching for my boob as I lay there helpless as a rag doll. So yes, I was tired. And no, I didn’t have the immediate and earth-shattering connection I expected.
For those of you still judging me… go ahead. I truly hope that you had or will have an immediate connection with your son or daughter. Some people do. But not everyone. And not me.
What I can say is that as the day wore on, I started to come down from the high induced by extreme exhaustion, physical pain, drugs for that pain, the euphoria of finally seeing my baby, and the intense fear that comes from knowing that you are now 100% responsible for someone’s life… and that someone happens to be the most important person in the world. And as I started to emerge from my fog, I started to submerge into my daughter. The less I thought about the birth itself, the more I started to appreciate the miracle of it. I spent a lot of time examining the tiny little girl who was now semi-attached to my breast. I studied her tiny hands… so much like mine but so very, very small. The detail that went into making those hands in miniature was insane. The tiny white crescent on her fingernails, no bigger than a swipe of a pencil. The wrinkly little fingers, with a fingerprint 100% her own. Her perfect little mouth. Her teeny little nose. Her big eyes, staring up at me as if they could see directly into my soul. And most amazing of all was her personality… even at birth, already more individual than her fingerprint.
From those moments in the hospital, when I should have been resting but couldn’t for the fear and excitement I felt, and from every moment afterward, my love has grown. So my daughter and I might not have had fireworks right away, but as I have come to find out, we had something better. We had a spark, just enough to catch fire. Every single day it burns brighter than the last. And this fiery love and my daughter herself have illuminated my life in ways I never thought possible.
Thank you my darling Lyla for not giving up on me that day. And thank you for filling my life with more joy, more laughter and more poop… than I ever imagined.
This coming week marks a few VERY special occasions:
1) My daughter turns 1 on the 17th. (Holy Shit)
2) America’s Best Dance Crew is back on MTV (Randy Jackson. Mediocre Dancing. Music I am too old for. What’s not to love?)
3) One of my best friends is getting married. Sure, that’s a momentous occasion (yay marriage.) but the real occasion is that my husband and I are going away together. Alone. For the First Time. (simultaneous “Gulp!” and “Yay!”)
While the biggest occasion (besides the return of ABC, obvi) is my daughter’s first birthday, I am still in denial of the fact that my baby is no longer a baby, so I am going to ignore this for at least another week until I am forced to deal with this because 60 people, including both sets of Grandparents, will be at my house to celebrate said occasion. But for now, denial all the way. So, what I am going to talk about today is our impending trip sans baby.
I have been away from my daughter for a girls weekend or two, and my husband has also been away a few times. We have left her with a baby-sitter more than a few times, and she goes to daycare twice a week. After all this, we are just now finally starting to be able to leave Lyla without tearful goodbyes, incessant crying, and guilt-ridden angst. (If only my husband could stop his weeping! Jeez!) But this weekend marks the first time that my husband and I will BOTH be away from Lyla at the same time for longer than a few hours. In fact, we will both be away from her for a whole weekend. Cue the guilt, weeping and angst (of my husband of course).
While I am beyond excited at the thought of an adults-only weekend and some quality couple time with my husband (which I truly think is important) I am having a tough time getting over my fears at the thought of leaving my daughter. My wonderful parents have
been tricked agreed to come to LA to stay with Lyla while we are away, so I know she will be in good hands. Hell, my parents raised me and I still have all my limbs and teeth and most of my dignity and self-respect. My mom, while not of the typical pie-baking, holiday-sweater-wearing, round-cuddly-bosomed variety of grandmother, couldn’t be sweeter with her, and Lyla adores her loud laugh and funny dances. My dad has the patience of a Buddhist monk on Valium – an important trait to have when dealing with a one-year-old, but one that he unfortunately did not pass down to me. No, when it comes to leaving my baby, it is not my parents that I am worried about… it’s my parents’ daughter.
If you have ever met me, have ever read my blog, or have even made it this far into this particular post… you may have started to suspect that I am a worrier. I make no claims to the contrary. In fact, I wear my particular brand of crazy like a badge of honor (Well, at least THIS particular brand of crazy. There are a lot of crazy things that I keep secret… like the fact that I keep a small pair of scissors next to my computer so I can trim individual split ends while writing. What?) So that being said, I am going to go ahead and put my fears about leaving my daughter out there for the world to see. Deep breath…
– I am afraid that my daughter will miss me and my husband, and cry for us the whole time until we come back, thus driving my parents to thoughts of suicide… or worse… to thoughts of never wanting to babysit her again.
– I am afraid that my daughter will not miss me and my husband and not cry for us at all.
– I am afraid that I will miss her and worry so much that I can’t even enjoy the weekend away.
– I am afraid that I will not miss her and not worry, but instead have so much fun that I don’t want to come home.
– I am slightly worried that she will choke on a piece of food; eat something poisonous; get sunburned; eat a coin that has fallen on the floor and choke; slam her fingers in the door; open up the baby-proofed toilet and drown; open up the baby-proofed cabinets and drink dishwasher detergent; pull down a glass of hot coffee onto herself; fall down and poke her eye out on the corner of something sharp; fall down on something sharp and disfigure herself; somehow eat a peanut and have a severe allergic reaction; get hit by a drunk driver that has driven his car through our front window, while she plays innocently in front of it.
– I am also a little bit worried that my parents will drink all my good wine. (Just kidding Mom and Dad, you are welcome to all the wine you want. ) (Except for the really good stuff hidden
in the cabinet… I mean, hidden somewhere you will never find.)
I have spent the past few days and, frankly, the past year worrying about these things, as well as stressing about packing, cleaning, preparing copious notes for my parents etc. Then last night, in the middle of my stress, my daughter once again proved why she is the parent and I am the one-year-old. As I was racing around the house like a bat out of hell with its head cut off (have you ever seen one of those? They’re crazy) my daughter was watching a dvd of nursery rhymes. She looked so cute dancing there by herself, with her fat little diapered butt going up and down and her chubby starfish hands waving, that I had to stop what I was doing and pick her up to dance with her. Then she laid her head on my chest and we swayed together for a bit. Getting tired but not wanting to break the spell (my crazy little toddler rarely sits still for longer that 2.2 seconds, let alone lets me snuggle her for that long) I laid down on the couch with her still on the my chest. We watched the dvd together… well she watched the dvd and I watched her. But the best part was that every few minutes she would look up at me and smile, like she too realized how special this moment was. Like she understood that I was going away for a few days and she wanted to spend this extra bit of time with me too. As I sat there stroking her head, I realized that just as I had to take the time to live in this moment with my daughter, I had to do the same this weekend without her. Life goes by so fast that we have to enjoy every second of it.
So, as I spend the day preparing to leave for the weekend and readying to leave my baby, I am trying not to worry and not to stress. I am going to enjoy the weekend alone with my husband, and let my parents enjoy the weekend alone with Lyla… and possibly alone with my good wine.
Do you ever think that Mondays were created solely as punishment for things we did over the weekend?
I was at Target the other day (yes, Target. Again.) and Shawna, the cashier, was commenting on how happy Lyla is (yes, my daughter and I are both on a first name basis with all the cashiers at Target.) As Shawna was saying that I must be doing something right to have such a sweet baby… something I take no actual credit for, except for maybe my genes, but her sweet gene most likely came from her dad anyway… the random woman behind me said, “Yeah, she’s happy now. Just don’t mess her up like my mom did with me. I’m actually on my way to therapy right now.” Ummmm… ok. First of all, I think this is a bit TMI for the Target checkout line at 9 AM. It’s right on par with the woman last week who tried to help me pick out a tampon… which would have been ok except for her confession, “I bleed like a stuck pig, and I was flying through those tampons like Valium.” I just slowly and quietly backed away without making any sudden moves that would startle her. Way too much info and waaaaay too much crazy for a Tuesday morning. But then again, I have a blog confessing my innermost thoughts and greatest fears to anyone who’s bored enough to read them, so who am I to judge?
Regardless, Ms. Therapy’s overshare definitely got me thinking… and when I say thinking, I mean over-thinking, and when I say over-thinking, I mean freaking-the-F-out… about my responsibility as a mother. It’s not that I had never thought about what a huge responsibility motherhood is before. It’s just that a prime example of bad mothering was standing right in front of me (with a cart full of lightbulbs, orange juice, an obscene amount of cat litter, and a King Size snickers in case you were wondering.) I wanted desperately to ask Ms. Therapy what her mother’s crime had been? Where had she gone wrong? Did she send her to the wrong preschool? Did she let her “cry it out” too often, or let her watch tv too much? Did she push her too hard or not enough? Did she judge her too harshly or not pay her enough attention? Or were her crimes more nefarious… the kinds of things that even a brash person such as myself can’t bear to type. I desperately wanted to ask Ms. Therapy what was causing her to buy 82 lbs of cat litter on a Tues morning on her way to therapy, but there are some things that even I can’t ask.
It sounds so easy. Just don’t mess them up. In theory, it should be. But it seems that the road is paved with so many landmines. Every decision, every word, every reaction is an opportunity to teach… or to ruin.
Right now my daughter is perfect. She has no prejudices. She doesn’t know what it means to be hateful, or spiteful, or mean. She thinks everyone is equal, and therefore bestows her sweet smiles on anyone who will pay attention. She is unselfconscious about the way she looks. She doesn’t suck in her little bottle belly or wear high heels to thin out her cankles. She doesn’t care if she looks stupid when she dances, or falls, or fails, or even when she is pooping in public. (In fact, she looks you right in the eye and smiles proudly like she just cured cancer.)
In this imperfect world, how can an imperfect mother preserve her children’s perfection? How do I raise my daughter to be smart and tough, while teaching her to be kind and honest? How do I give my daughter experience, while protecting her innocence? How do I show her how to be a strong woman, while teaching her that she doesn’t have to tear anyone else down to do it? How can my daughter become an adult, while keeping all of the wonderful qualities that make her a child? Except maybe the pooping in public. I think that is one childlike quality that we can leave in childhood.
So, what is the answer? The truth is that I have no idea. Hopefully you aren’t reading my blog for answers to anything. If you are… perhaps I could interest you in a sarcastic remark instead? I don’t have the answers. I don’t know if it is possible to be a perfect parent or to raise a perfect child. But the closest thing to an answer that I have, and the only thing that helps me sleep some nights, is a saying that I have often heard from a parent who I know did a pretty wonderful job… my dad. (Hey, I’m not perfect but I don’t have 80 cats either.) My dad always says that if every decision you make is done out of love, then it’s the right one. That always helps me feel better. I may be a little judgemental, a bit over-anxious, and not even close to perfect, but if there is one thing that know I can do right, it’s loving my daughter so much it hurts. And then worry that maybe I’m loving her too much….
My daughter has been at daycare for a few weeks now and things are going pretty well. I am slowly spending less time sniffing her dirty diapers like a creep (Wait… I didn’t tell you I did that? Nevermind, forget I said anything.) Anyway, I am spending less time walking around the house and not sniffing her dirty… anythings, and more time doing actual work. It’s amazing how much work one can get done when one is not chasing/playing/singing/feeding/cursing those damn talking toys/changing/reading/swinging/preventing dangerous and/or disgusting objects from entering baby’s mouth all day.
One day while Lyla was at daycare, I managed to clean and sterilize the entire house (unfortunately a cold has been passed around our family like chlamydia in a frat house… one downside to daycare), make a two week’s supply of baby food, write an article, post a witty and compelling blog (ha), go grocery shopping, work out and shower… only to realize that it was only 12:30. That being said, somehow I feel that the more time I have “off”, the less time I have overall. I still feel overwhelmed, stressed and quite haggard. How is that possible?
I guess that a mother is never really “off duty”. Sure, I have been quite busy with freelance work and that can be stressful and time-consuming at best, but the honest truth is that because I have those two days off with Lyla at daycare, I now feel compelled to do more than ever. Wasn’t the idea to do less? To de-stress, de-compress and possibly rest? Ha! For some reason I feel the need justify the necessity of daycare by proving how much more I can get done. Who I am trying to prove myself to? My husband? Certainly not. He thinks I’m crazy for trying to do everything that I do already. Or maybe he just thinks I’m crazy. He’s right? Am I trying to prove myself to my daughter? Nah… I don’t think she’s old enough to judge me. And even if she is, she can’t talk yet so she can’t criticize me. Although I am sure she will make it for it in her teenage years. I guess I am trying to prove myself to my harshest critic… myself. And man, she’s a critical bitch.
But, regardless of the amount of time I waste by unfairly judging myself and criticizing my parenting choices, even I can’t deny that my daughter is loving daycare. She loves being around other kids. She loves her teachers, and I love the idea that hopefully she is learning more, or at least learning differently, than she is learning at home. Sometimes she fusses a little when I have to leave her, but just as often she fusses when I come to pick her up. She is having so much fun that she doesn’t want to go home. Oddly, I feel equally upset at either scenario.
Will I ever get to the point of feeling confident in my choices as parent? Of ceasing to worry about how what I do today will affect my daughter tomorrow? Of feeling satisfied with how much I have achieved or how far I have come? Or will I at least get to the point of learning to cut myself a break? Somehow I think that the day that I can do all of these things is the day I stop being parent. But, giving myself a break from my own critical eye is a good place to try to start.
Now I gotta run. I have some work, some laundry, and some self-flagellation to squeeze in before lunch.
All day I have had this strange feeling. A heavy weight on my chest that makes it hard to breathe. And no, I didn’t go out and get breast implants. Yet. It’s that nagging, anxious feeling that I am forgetting something. Something really important. I make sure the windows are closed. I consult my calendar to confirm I am not missing a meeting. I double-check that the curling iron is off (even though the last time I curled my hair was circa… um… pre-baby.) Nothing seems amiss. So what it is it? What am I forgetting???
Then I realize. My daughter.
No, I didn’t leave her at the supermarket, the mall, the adult book store, or anything. I didn’t accidentally leave her somewhere. I purposely did. Today I took her to daycare for the first time.
I don’t have this anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach because I don’t trust the daycare. They are great. God knows I did my research. It’s hard to explain, but somehow I feel naked without her… no, that’s not quite it. I have been naked in public once (college dare) and this doesn’t feel quite like that. It’s more like I am a missing a limb. Many people who have lost a limb report the phantom feeling that it is still there. When they try to move their “fingers”, they swear that they can FEEL them move, even though they know that they no longer are there. That is exactly how I feel today. I keep the music low so as not to wake her up. I decline the invitation to meet a friend for coffee because I can’t possibly leave the house without her. I walk around the empty house, and it feels like it’s haunted. Lyla is not here but she is EVERYWHERE. Her smell fills her room. Her toys lay jumbled on my bedroom floor, waiting for her to return and somehow make more of a mess out of them. Her bottles stand at attention by the sink.
Now, I know that this is getting awfully “Sunday Movie of the Week”-style melodramatic. Please forgive me for my self-indulgent sobfest for something that is not actually sad. I know that my daughter has not died. She’s just at daycare. But in a way, it still feels like the death of something. I guess I am just not sure what.
I feel the need to explain myself… to explain WHY she is in daycare. It’s that motherhood guilt again. I feel that I have to justify why a good mother would willingly let her most precious possession out of her sight, even for just a moment. Especially because I don’t really have to. I am lucky enough to have a husband who can support me without my having to work, but who is supportive enough to know that I need to work. I am also lucky enough to have a flexible job that gives me the freedom to work part-time and mostly from home. I know that in these respects, I am luckier than most. Many women simply don’t have the choice. But I do have a choice, and my choice is try to find the delicate, and maybe impossible, balance somewhere in the middle.
At first it was fine. She napped a lot and wasn’t very mobile, so she could happily play by herself while I tapped away at my keyboard next to her. Then she started crawling. And standing. And opening doors, and cabinets, and toilet seats, and the gate to hell if I wasn’t there to stop her. So working while she was awake was no longer an option; instead I worked while she slept. But now, she sleeps a lot less. So I’ve spent the past few months rushing to my computer the second I lay her down, forgetting to take the time to do basic things like eat, sleep and pee, and regretting that the time I should be enjoying my daughter was marred by my stress – wondering when the hell I was going to get my work done. So, after a few months of trying to do it all and feeling like I was failing at EVERYTHING, I decided that enough was enough. My husband and I agreed to send Lyla to daycare two days a week. And now I am spending those days wishing that she was home with me, but knowing that soon I will come to appreciate the time I have to myself.
I have so much more to say on this subject, mostly about the guilt I feel. What’s a mother without her guilt, right? But I am going to save it for another day, another blog. Mostly because I have spent so much of the day wandering around the house and sniffing her dirty clothes like a creep, that I am now late to pick her up. I have spent the whole day missing her, and now I will finally go pick her up and, after an hour or two, most likely be wishing that I had a bit more alone time to get some work done.
Ah motherhood… I spend half the time feeling like I can’t win, and the other half feeling like I already have.