Put a Bib on It


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I’m a Mother (Again)

Second-time motherhood is everything like I imagined. And nothing.I have two daughters.

Crazy, right?

Audrey Jane’s purpled, uncertain face in those first few hours of her life was so much stranger and more remote than her big sister’s had been. She was still a mystery, perhaps because her entry into the world was a great deal more hectic – a labor I managed to stay on top of until the very end, unsure if she was ready to come until she was already coming, crowning with the cord wrapped so tightly around her neck that she was whisked into the anteroom before we even had a chance to see her face.

When I finally held her, the bruises under her eyes reflected my body’s pains as the midwife stitched and pressed and put bits of me back together. I had labored through the night but she was born in the full light of day, nothing like the dreamy dawn of Miss E’s birth. Nothing like Miss E at all, those first few hours, and me nothing like the first time mama I’d been.

It wasn’t until she had her bath, cheeks pinked against my breast, that I could really see her, what a beauty she was and so strong already, head bobbing a course to breakfast. We were a unit, suddenly, just as Miss E and I had been from the moment she was placed on my belly. Even when her big sister clambered into my hospital bed for kisses and hugs and the first of many urgent, gentle touches, that bed remained a little island where Little Sister and I weren’t so much stranded as living in seclusion, wondering, beginning to understand what it was to be mama and daughter. For her, for the first time. For me, again.

Before me stretches the first week without my husband to support me at home with two girls of many and varied needs. And I am still thinking what I thought those first few days in the hospital, and in the days that followed at home with a shouty toddler and a restless newborn: I know how to parent them separately, but not together.

It’s a cruel thing to realize with your second child that caring for a newborn really isn’t much trouble at all, the rhythms of nursing and napping and endless soggy diapers coming back quickly, easily, and aided greatly by an ample Netflix queue. But how to be good to them both? I’m only just able to sit cross-legged on the floor for more than a minute at a time for block towers and puzzles, and when I pick up Miss E, I am staggered by her weight, the broadness of her back, her tangled head tickling my chin as she flails. Little Sister wants all the cuddles and besides, can’t be settled anywhere without aggressive loving on the part of Miss E. Even her crib isn’t safe, where books are like to be launched over the rail with the very best of intentions.

It’s just as everyone said it would be, that I love them both enormously, with every part of me, but differently, too. When I am alone with one I pine for the other, but together they threaten to unmake me. Not just because I’m not sleeping, or because there aren’t cookies and casseroles enough in the world to stave off the hunger Little Sister’s appetite inspires in me. It’s because I have two daughters, because I am the mother of two girls, sisters. Because we are a family of four and I’m not sure yet what that means for me or how I parent or who I’ll be in six months when this cloudy time is cloudier still in recollection.

What I do know is this: just because I know how to be Miss E’s mama doesn’t mean I’ve got Little Sister figured out. Not remotely. Beyond the basics, it’s like we’re starting over. Terrifying as it is, it seems right, somehow, that I should have as much to learn as she does, that she should still get to teach me, like her sister did.


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Dear Almost-Mom

Dear Almost-Mom, from a New Mom.Dear almost-mom,

When I was pregnant with my daughter, those nine months felt like the longest months of my life. I spent a lot of time dreaming about what this baby would look like, and wondering if we would have a boy or a girl. I worried about labor and delivery, our first few weeks home, breastfeeding and just generally surviving with a newborn.

Now that we have successfully survived the newborn stage, I found myself thinking back on some of those worries and wishing I had known some things then that I know now. Here is my advice for you, written with love from a new-mom:

  1. You might have a very long, painful labor. But you might not. If you are visibly pregnant, chances are you have heard everyone’s story about how awful their labor and delivery were. Chances are you’ve heard this from strangers at the grocery store, and that your husband’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s aunt has even surfaced to tell you her story. Yes, labor and delivery are a big deal. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it can take a long time. But it also might not. You might be one of the lucky ones who has a 6 hour start-to-finish labor. Those people don’t tell their stories as often, but they are out there. Worrying about something that is really pretty much out of your control isn’t going to make you feel better.
  2. Breastfeeding is hard. Really, really hard. It was really important to me to breastfeed my daughter, and I was committed to it come hell or high water. Which is good – because the first few weeks of breastfeeding easily qualify as the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including giving birth. The best advice I got was that if I could make it to the two week mark, I could make it. And that person was right – two weeks seemed to be a magical corner and it did get easier. It would still be awhile before it got easy, but it at least got easier.
  3. You will have a new understanding of the word exhausted. There is nothing I can think of to compare this to. Imagine being the most tired you’ve ever been, and then multiply it by a billion. You’ll be exhausted. But that’s okay. You’re supposed to be exhausted when you have a newborn. People understand that and you don’t need to apologize. And it’s temporary. I promise.
  4. Don’t listen to people who aren’t helpful. Even if one of those people is your mom. Or your best friend. Things are different from when we were children. You can’t just put a newborn to sleep on their tummy anymore, no matter how much your mom wants you to know that you turned out just fine when she did that. Get advice from people who you feel are helpful and try to ignore everyone else.
  5. You’re not an expert, but you are your baby’s expert. I don’t know everything about being a parent. I have needed a lot of help and advice. But one thing I realized pretty quickly was that I am the expert when it comes to my baby. We spent an awful lot of time together during those first few weeks getting to know each other and it didn’t take long for me to start to anticipate her needs. People will try to tell you what they think your baby needs – if I had a dollar for every time someone said, “She probably has a stomachache,” we could pay for her college right now – but trust your gut. While you won’t always know exactly what to do, you’ll figure it out together.
  6. You’re going to be just fine. You’re going to be great, even. There will be days you aren’t sure how you’re going to survive, but they will be few compared to the days where you don’t know how you ever lived before this little baby was part of your life. The day that baby smiles at you for the first time will be one of the best days of your life. I hear that her first words are going to be that same way, which is why we have been practicing saying “mamamama” for months…

 

Good luck, almost-mom. You’ll be snuggling that sweet baby before you know it. Now go take a nap. You’re going to need it.

Love,

New mom


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What’s a big girl to do with a new baby?

How do you help your toddler adjust to a new sibling? Very carefully.A few months ago, the mother of a dear friend – who is a dear friend herself – asked me if I would like some advice on helping my daughter adjust to a new sibling. Her daughters share roughly the same age difference that Miss E and her soon-to-be little brother or sister will, so I was eager for her perspective – and tickled that she’d asked before simply doling it out. I can’t be the only parent that wishes folks did this more often.

Given what she had to say was more useful than anything I’ve been able to Google or Pin or suss out on my own, I feel compelled to share.

Don’t tell Miss E how much she loves the new baby. Tell her how much the new baby already loves HER. Feeding my toddler’s already healthy ego? Perfect.

Keep a basket of books near where you’ll be sitting when you feed the new baby. Make sure the chair is big enough for Miss E to squeeze in for stories while the baby is being fed. I took this one step further and put together a special “nursing basket” of books and small, fiddly toys of a kind that usually keep her busy. I know it won’t keep her completely out of my lap – or running amok – but I’m hoping it will help keep her occupied if we reserve the basket exclusively for when baby is nursing. Especially if her new sibling is as poky of a feeder as she was in the beginning.

If possible, have a few small gifts on hand for Miss E to unwrap when folks bring a gift for the baby. Made possible by the Dollar Spot at Target.

Ask Miss E if she’d like to show visitors her new baby brother or sister. This seems like a natural extension of talking about “our baby,” which we’ve been doing. Hopefully she won’t feel so hateful toward the new addition that she’ll refuse.

Ask visitors (ahead of time) to ask Miss E about the new baby. Another nice way of making her feel connected, and part of a family that has a new member to introduce.

She may revert a bit, think she needs a bottle like the baby. You may want to have something special on hand to divert this behavior. Something only a “big sister” is big enough to use. Like pizza.

I know there will be hurt feelings and a lack of understanding, and I’ve been around pairs of new siblings often enough that I’m already steeling myself for the jealous tears. But feeling even a little bit more prepared – and feeding my nesting instincts preparing some special things for my sweet girl – just feels right.


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Making Friends

Yes, I worry about my 3-year-old making (and keeping) friends. You would, too.If someone would have told me a few years ago that I would worry about my son’s social skills and whether or not he could make (and keep) friends at age 3, I would have heavily doubted it. But lately I have been worried about it a lot.

Ev started a new school recently and I’m not sure why but what I was most concerned about was whether he was making friends or not. At Ev’s previous program, he was in a room where many of the children had been together since they were infants. When he walked in the room he was swarmed by friends asking him to p lay or wanting to show him something. At his new program, he was going to have to start from scratch.

At pick-up one evening, I stopped at one of the windows to observe Ev and his class on the playground. He was just wandering around by himself, and I got really sad for him. I checked with the teachers every day for the next week, asking if he was spending any time with other children? I started questioning what I thought to be true. I thought Ev was a pro-social kid who made friends easily, but maybe it was just that he had been around all the same children for so long.

Then on two separate occasions, Ev was outwardly mean to two complete strangers. The first instance we were shoe shopping and my husband and I were engaged in a discussion. We looked down and Ev was scowling at another little boy and I’m pretty sure he said, “I don’t like you.” Then, we were at a county fair and Ev told a little boy, “I don’t want to talk to you,” when they were both petting a llama. Why is my child throwing up his defensives before even getting to know someone? I worry that Ev won’t have any friends if he is mean to other children.

For me, learning how to get along well with others is as important of a skill as learning how to read. For the rest of his life, Ev will have to interact with other people on some level and I want him to be good at it. It’s also a tough skill to learn later in life.

I also just don’t want him to be lonely. I was getting really worried that without connections at school, Ev would have a tough time focusing on playing and learning because he would feel alone. So, I was panicking.

Luckily, the director at Ev’s school reassured me that it’s developmentally appropriate for children Ev’s age to be a little egocentric and want to be by themselves. His teachers also told me that he does in fact work well with others during the school day, engages in good conversations during meals and is even making some friends. I feel a little better. In the mean time, I am just going to work on sharing, using nice words at home and hope for the best.


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Can toddlers do “real” work?

Can toddlers do "real" work?I read a piece recently on the importance of real work for children, and it really, really resonated with me. I’m definitely guilty of underestimating what my daughter is capable of, especially when it comes to contributing to our family. I mean, she’s only 2. It’s far easier to imagine the scope of the damage she can do than the help she could be.

But I’m happy – if a bit sheepish – to be wrong.

While most of the scenarios mentioned by the author are more for older children, toddlers love to help and I’ve tried to find ways to make Miss E feel included. Clean up is a really natural extension of play, and while I sometimes have to help to ensure dumped blocks and un-shelved books get back where they belong, hopefully she’s learning that her stuff is hers to take care of. Also, that I’m her mama, not her maid.

Sorting clothes isn’t quite happening for us yet, though I’ve heard that laundry can be another seemingly easy place to begin with toddlers. While she does love to stack her cloth wipes when I’m putting clean diapers away, she also loves to shriek and toss them in the air, so I’ve got to be quick about removing them to their bin on the changing table.

Miss E also feeds the cat, using “both hands” to carry his daily cup of food to his dish and pour it in. When it doesn’t all quite make it, which happens pretty often, she’ll squat down beside his dish and pick up the pieces, one by one, and put them in. While this can sometimes become a bit too like a game to be productive, and certainly takes longer than it would take me to do it myself, I try to let her be responsible for feeding him as often as I can. And not only because I’m tired of being the only one he comes begging to.

And while our house isn’t as little people friendly as her classroom at school, I’ve been trying to let her help set and clean the table for dinner, too, just like they do for lunch. She can reach to place napkins and silverware on the table for herself and her dad and me, and after we eat bring me a plate or a cup at a time to rinse at the sink. This used to be a solo endeavor for me while her daddy gave her a bath, so it’s actually really helpful. I might otherwise have put it off in favor of checking my email and begrudgingly tidy up the kitchen before bed… or not, and really regret it in the morning.

Soon enough she’ll have a new sibling, and a whole host of new ways to help. This time, I’m not going to make the mistake of believing she can’t.


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Hurricane Baby

Babies change your life. No, really.My baby is one. How can that be? It certainly doesn’t seem like a year has passed.

Everyone tells you when you are pregnant that “your life is about to change,” but I had a tough time believing that the little bundle of joy in my belly could cause that much of a wave in our lives. Turns out he made more than waves. More like a hurricane!

My thoughts are of someone else all day, every day.

I have become a more patient person.

Sleep has become a luxury.

The relationship that my husband and I have has changed.

My house is no longer clean and organized.

Traveling revolves around nap time.

Many decisions are based on what’s best for baby.

What’s downtime?

I can’t get anything checked off of my “to do” list, but I can add all kinds of new things.

I have a new found respect for my parents and see all the sacrifices and loving decisions they have made for me over the years.

No matter how prepared you think you are, or how perfectly you think your little baby will fit into your life, change is inevitable. Embrace it, and enjoy the ride.

Happy Birthday, little Bryce. We love you and are blessed by all the changes you have brought to our lives.


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My Baby Sleeps Through the Night – Please Don’t Hate Me

How baby sleeps - or doesn't - in no way reflects your parenting skills.Like most almost-moms, I had a lot of ideas about what we would and wouldn’t do as parents before our daughter was born. We were going to be schedule people, without a doubt. That baby was going to fit into our busy lives, and she would be better for it because it would teach her to be adaptable.

I’ll stop for a moment so that anyone who is a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or grown-up person who has ever met a baby can have a good laugh.

Fast forward a few months to an actual baby living in our house and things looked a little bit different. It’s not really accurate to say that we’re schedule people. We have (for the most part) fit a baby into our busy lives but that’s because we have a really easy baby who will sleep just about anywhere and doesn’t seem to mind being carted around with us.

The real reason I was so worried about schedules was because, like most new moms, I was really worried about sleep. Or to be more specific, the lack of sleep that we were all getting. I wanted to do whatever it took to make my baby a good sleeper, as much for her sake as for mine. I wanted her to sleep in long stretches so that I could sleep, too, but I also wanted her to be able to self-soothe so that she wouldn’t be upset when she woke up in the middle of the night or end up needing me to rock her to sleep the night before she left for college.

I spent a very agonizing week toward the end of my maternity leave researching sleep tips and tricks. I spent the longest 45 seconds of my life letting her cry it out – I literally only lasted 45 seconds. I created a very complicated bedtime routine and tried to put her to bed at the same time every night.  I woke her up before I went to bed for a dream feed.

And guess what? It didn’t work. She seemed to sleep less, not more. I was tired because when she was sleeping, I was Googling. My husband was tired of hearing me talk about it. So we (okay fine, I) decided to let it go. She was a little baby and would sleep when she needed to sleep. If we needed a sleep-intervention later on, so be it, but for now, she was doing just fine.

I laid my head on my pillow after making peace with those demons and woke up eight hours later.

It turns out that our sweet baby girl seems to know what she needs, and that when left to her own devices, she was quite happy to sleep, and to sleep for a long time. She’s slept through the night almost every night since.

What did I learn from this saga? First, that so much of motherhood is out of my control, and that’s okay. My little baby is a little person and while I want to be intentional about her childhood, I don’t need to control her. And more importantly, that how well (or not well) your baby sleeps isn’t a reflection of your parenting. I’m not a good mom because my baby sleeps through the night. I’m just lucky.

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