Isn’t it funny how we mothers have probably never been more in love with our children than before they were born, and during their early infancies?
Think about it:
Before they’re born, they’re mysterious and magical, full of possibility. As mine grew inside me and my belly swelled accordingly, I was filled with awe. And the kicks and rolls and squirms, they rendered me spellbound. Who was this child? What would he or she be like? What would they look like? They were a part of me, floating along in sync with me, real but surreal.
And then they are born. Tiny and soft and unspoiled, with their blinking, doe eyes, taking everything in, considering it all. And even though they cry and are utterly needy and demanding, it’s pure and uncomplicated. Scarlett is difficult, but all she wants is loving arms to hold her, a cozy place to sleep, and some warm milk in her belly.
It will be awhile before things begin to get complicated, before we start clashing, before the battles start – battles over what they can wear to school, what I made for dinner, whether I served their cereal to them in the wrong bowl in the morning, and how mean I am for making them clean up their room. It will be awhile yet before they start favoring Daddy because he’s more fun. It will be awhile before they let me down, and I let them down.
But that will come in time; it always does. And then I wonder how it is that my kids – despite my best efforts – behave the way they do sometimes; I wonder where I went wrong. I feel like a failure. And I wonder sometimes if these battles that feel constant and endless are causing permanent damage to my relationship with them – will we be close when they’re all grown up? Or will they despise me? Or will they just tolerate me?
And would I have had kids if I had known – no, if I had believed – it was going to be so damn hard? An impossible question to answer. That’s the thing: none of us believes it’s going to be so hard. We all picture the soft, sweet baby, and maybe even the mischievous toddler, but not the kids who pretend they don’t hear you, or the screaming little girl, or the defiant boy, or the smart-mouthed teenager. Oh no – that’s not going to be our kids. That only happens to parents who don’t know how to parent.
So maybe I don’t know how to parent.
For now, I’ll savor the uncomplicated dance Scarlett and I share. While it lasts.
So, a week or so ago, a mystery package arrived on my doorstep: a big, pink box. I love getting stuff in the mail (well, not bills, of course), and mystery packages are the best, aren’t they?
Inside was this family portrait from my friend Tricia, a cool chica with two kids (one with Ds) who writes at Unringing The Bell.
I am really so touched by this. This is one of the most thoughtful, unique gifts I’ve ever received. Check out the detail: Joey with a baseball glove, Michael with a guitar, me holding a book, Kevin holding Finn’s hand. I adore it, and will treasure it forever. This wonderful, one of a kind piece of artwork was hand drawn by Tricia’s cousin, Erin.
Which brings me to the point of this post: you have to check out Erin’s site: The E Is For Erin. She blogs about being a mom, among other things, and she has a whole page dedicated to offering up her unique artwork for sale. Very cool stuff. Check it out. I’m totally going to get some of those custom coloring books for my girls, whose birthdays are coming up.
Today the older kids went back to school.
I’d like to write that I shed a few tears and wrung my hands at the quiet emptiness of a house with only two tots at home, and I half expected that I would actually do just that given my sentimentality of late just anticipating the kids going back to school. But it would be a big fat lie. The truth is, I felt a certain glee after I saw them all safely to school and returned home.
Here’s what I didn’t do for about six hours today:
I didn’t break up any fights.
I didn’t listen to any tattling.
I didn’t say, “Stop tattling.”
I didn’t say, “Stop whining.”
I didn’t fetch endless snacks.
I didn’t say, “No, you may not have another snack.”
I didn’t say, “Clean that up!”
I didn’t say, “Turn that off!”
I didn’t chase anyone outside to play.
I didn’t lock the door to keep anyone outside.
I didn’t say, “Get off the baby.”
I didn’t say, “Quiet down, the baby is asleep.”
I didn’t say, “Put that down!”
I didn’t say, “Get that out of your nose!”
I didn’t say, “Get that out of your sister’s nose!”
Here’s what I did do:
I reveled in the peace and quiet. I basked in it. If peaceandquiet were a tangible thing, I could have rolled around naked in it.
I mopped the kitchen floor. Without having to shoo anyone out of the kitchen repeatedly. (Finn was happily ensconced in front of Nick Jr. Sue me.)
I caught up on emails.
I gave Scarlett a bath.
I got dinner put together so that I would only have to throw it in the oven later (it’s only taken me ten years of stay-at-home-motherhood to figure out this trick to possibly make my life just a little less stressful in the afternoons).
I played Stack the Blocks and Knock ‘Em Down with Finn.
As you can see, nothing terribly exciting. But it was peaceful.
See, here’s the thing: it’s good to have time away from my kids. It’s good for them and good for me. I get to refuel and get a grip back on my sanity, and I get to miss them. They get to get away from Cranky Yelling Woman Who Won’t Do Our Constant Bidding.
Here we are again, the end of another summer break. We’ve had quite an eventful summer on our home front:
Annabelle got a haircut –
Scarlett made her debut –
Joey turned 10 –
Lilah lost her first tooth –
Finn turned 4 –
Kevin had his first shave (shhhhhh!) –
Daisy got a doozy of a black eye –
Michael had a birthday –
And we visited San Francisco –
I dislike the end of summer. For me, it usually comes with helpings of melancholy at seeing the end of long, lazy days and the anticipation of each of my kids moving up a grade: Kevin will be in tenth grade, Joey fifth, Annabelle and Daisy third, Lilah first, and Finn will start preschool next week. You know, that whole growing up thing, it just does me in. There’s an underlayer of guilt over not having made summer as enjoyable for my kids as I wish I could have. This year was a particularly tough summer, what with a new, very temperamental baby added to the mix, as well as my difficult postpartum period. It’s been a lot of ups and downs, and I’m still trying to get my feet back under me.
Tomorrow is the first day back to school, ready or not. I’m partly relieved that I’ll have a few hours every day to catch my breath, and that the kids will have some structure to their days again. Long, lazy days don’t tend to live up to the hype around here; my kids become positively unruly without the expectations that come with a clear routine to adhere to. But I’m also anxious about the chaos that comes with the morning rush to get everyone out the door on time, and the afternoon stress with homework, getting everyone bathed, fed, and put to bed at a reasonable time – and all that with a very demanding baby now.
It’ll all work out. It always does, one way or another.
Today Scarlett is two months old. That went fast!
Aside from being Grumpy Girl a whole lot of the time, she’s pretty much the most beautiful baby to ever grace the planet, don’t you think?
(I say that with the greatest humility, of course.)
Check out those blue, blue peepers. If she’s anything like her mama and both of her originally blue eyed brothers, though, they’ll turn green within a few years.
Trivia: red is my favorite color. That’s partly why we named her Scarlett. If Finn had been a girl, he would have been named Ruby.
Completely unenhanced: no Photoshop, spray tan, Botox, collagen, or cheek implants.
She had her two-month checkup this morning, and all’s well. She’s gained almost two pounds and two inches since she was born – all on mama’s milk.
Finn also had his four-year checkup today.
He weighs a whopping 29 pounds now – which is small, yes, but actually on par with all my other kids at the same age. I make ’em little.
The one issue I wanted to discuss with our pediatrician was the fact that lately, Finn’s left eye has been turning in noticeably. It’s intermittent, not constant, and it’s not necessarily when he’s tired – it happens at all times throughout the day.
Well, our pediatrician actually insisted that it’s only an illusion caused by the wide nasal bridge associated with Down syndrome! Even when Finn’s eye was totally turning in right there in the exam room, the doc insisted it really wasn’t, it just looked like it was. Seriously, I like our doctor a lot, and we’ve been with him for a long time because I like him so much, but . . . what the FUCK? If it were just an illusion caused by the wide nasal bridge, then why is it only a recent development? And why is it just the one eye? Come on. And, we live with the kid – we see him all the time, and Michael and I have both noticed his eye doing this wonky thing lately. The doctor is going to spend twenty minutes with him and decide we’re just imagining it?
Anyway, he’s going to refer Finn to a pediatric ophthalmologist anyway. Pfft.
Also, he got his neck x-ray yesterday to screen for atlantoaxial instability (AAI). No word yet.
Other than that, everything is good.
I know, it’s been like a week since I last wrote anything here. I’ve thought about writing, but every time I think about it, either (a) the baby starts crying, or (b) all I can think to write about is how much the baby cries. So I’m just going to spew.
Scarlett cries a lot. A lot.
Basically, if she’s awake, she’s crying. That might be an exaggeration, but only slightly.
She’s sensitive. As in, high-strung. She’s only amused for a few minutes at a time. She cries when she’s no longer amused. She cries when she’s tired, and then she fights sleep. She’s a very light sleeper. Eventually, she goes into comatose sleep where even the smoke alarm going off right outside our bedroom door doesn’t wake her (yes, it happened), but it takes her a loooong time to get there. Nighttime is generally not a problem since she’s content as long as she’s hooked up to the ol’ milk machine aka moi, and she sleeps in bed with me, so . . . I’m talking about daytime – you know, when I have six other kids who need my attention, when I need to get things done, that kind of thing.
Let me paint a picture for you:
It’s roughly 6:00 p.m. Scarlett has been awake for about three hours, during which time I’ve moved her from here to there to there, trying to keep her entertained. I’ve carried her in a front carrier for a little while, but let’s be honest – it’s not always the most comfortable thing in the world to carry a baby around – even hands-free – and the situation becomes dicey when you’re dealing with stress incontinence – yes, that’s right, I pee myself, I’ve had seven kids, thank you very much. Her crabbiness has cranked up a couple of notches, indicating that she needs some shut-eye. The other kids haven’t yet eaten dinner, but I’m working on a pot of mac & cheese and a cookie sheet’s worth of chicken nuggets for them (dinner might be a smidge fancier under usual circumstances, but as it is, on this particular evening, Michael has left for an overnight business trip, and Kevin is out with a friend, so I’m pretty much on my own). The water for the mac & cheese hasn’t yet started to boil, so I think “I’ll just go put the baby down – it’ll take ten minutes.” (Who am I kidding?) I take her from under her play gym, sit in the rocking chair and start nursing her. She quickly dozes off. Perfect. I give her a few minutes to make sure she’s really asleep, and then I tiptoe her over to the bassinet and ever-so-carefully lay her down, and then tip toe out of the bedroom, closing the door ever-so-gently.
The moment the door clicks shut, she’s crying on the other side of it.
And trust me, I know that to wait a few minutes to see if she’ll settle down on her own is folly. She only gets herself more and more upset until she’s nearly inconsolable. It’s best to go to her quickly.
So I go back, in, scoop her back up, and plant myself back in the rocking chair with her. She dozes again. I wait. Longer this time, to really make sure that she’s really asleep.
Suddenly, Finn is right outside the bedroom door yelling his head off. (This is what he does these days to express dissatisfaction with, well, anything.) I hiss “No, Finn! No yelling!” So he lays down on the floor and starts kicking the door. I clench my teeth. Scarlett’s eyes have popped open – she’s wide awake again. I put her down on my bed and go march Finn to his room and give him a brief, stern talking-to.
I repeat the process with Scarlett. This time I put her in the swing when she’s asleep – which I hate to do because I feel like I’m probably creating a crutch for her that will eventually have to be taken away from her – probably painfully – but I’m now at my wits’ end, and the swing often works better than the bassinet.
Finally, she sleeps.
Meanwhile, it’s now after 7:00 p.m., the other kids still have not eaten dinner, the chicken nuggets are burned and half the water for the mac & cheese has boiled away.
This was my evening today – and I’m only sitting her writing this because she remains asleep in the swing for the time being.
And the thing is, this is really an everyday occurrence in some form or another. She’s a tough baby, an all-consuming baby, and everyone in the house feels it in some way.
Me? Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Sometimes I just break down and cry my eyes out.
This isn’t postpartum depression or postpartum anything – this is just plain old being overwhelmed by our new reality.
More than ever, I find myself pondering this life of service to others I signed myself up for. That’s what it is, you know. Being a mother – at least a mother who gives a shit – is all about serving others, about giving, giving, giving, taking care of, cleaning up after, counseling, and putting oneself last most of the time. It’s mostly thankless, a one-way relationship that’s fraught with struggle, and the payoff is way off in the future.
I mean, I love my kids – don’t get me wrong – and even this crabby little baby girl has my heart in her tiny little hands – but this is hard. Really hard. And sometimes – most of the time as of late – I just feel sucked dry. A little resentful, sometimes even angry – even though I know I have nobody to blame for my circumstances but myself. (How is it that Michelle Duggar always has that beatific smile pasted on her face? It’s for the cameras, right? I mean, good god, she’s got to feel a little overwhelmed and even pissed off at least sometimes, right?)
As for Scarlett, I think maybe the most frustrating part is knowing that there’s nothing wrong with her, this is just the way she’s wired. Which means that there really aren’t any tricks or methods that are going to change her fundamental disposition. We just have to ride it out and hope that eventually she outgrows it.
So, Michael and I took Joey to San Francisco this past weekend. The trip was his tenth birthday gift from us, and he’s been anticipating it ever since we took Kevin to SF for his tenth birthday five years ago.
We enjoyed ourselves well enough, I suppose, but I have to admit that it was somewhat of a letdown for a variety of reasons.
First of all, we of course took Scarlett with us. When we took Kevin five years ago, Lilah was an infant, and she went with us. She was such a good little traveler – but she was also just an all around easy-going baby. Scarlett, not so much. Have I mentioned that she’s a little on the high-maintenance side? Have I mentioned that she cries a lot? Well, she is, and she does. Her persnickety disposition definitely added a level of stress to the whole endeavor.
There were little things, too – like the fact that we specifically reserved a room with a King-sized bed but were given a room, instead, with a Queen, and told that that’s all they had available (they did discount our room rate, but still.). The bed sucked, too – not only were three of us (me, Michael, and Scarlett) squished into a bed smaller than what we’re used to, the mattress sunk down in the middle, making it impossible to get comfortable or sleep well (do I sound like a cranky old lady?). Alcatraz – one of the attractions Joey was most looking forward to – was sold out for the next three months! It was so foggy and cold at the Golden Gate Bridge, that, well, it just wasn’t fun.
Michael did take Joey on a bay tour via boat (while I stayed back at the hotel with Scarlett) so he could see the bridge and Alcatraz from a different vantage point, and he enjoyed that.
Mostly, though, I really saw clearly how different Joey is from Kevin, and how expectations can lead to disappointment. It was a completely different trip with Kevin – Kevin’s a goofball and can find fun in just about anything. Kevin was an only child for five and a half years before any siblings came along, so he’s always considered himself more on our level than any of the other kids do. Stuff like that. Joey, on the other hand, hasn’t had very much one-on-one time with the parental units, and I’m not sure he was 100% comfortable with an entire weekend of it. He seemed to tend towards boredom at least some of the time. Michael pointed out that Joey probably would have had more fun if one of his siblings – like Kevin – had come along. And, as I said, Joey has been anticipating this trip for five years, ever since Kevin went – so he definitely had certain expectations. He wanted to see all the same things Kevin saw, eat at the same restaurants, etc., and in a way, I think that took away from making it his own experience.
I kind of wish we would have taken him somewhere other than San Francisco. That was maybe our failing, to decide ahead of time that we would take each of the kids to San Francisco for their tenth birthdays instead of coming up with something different to suit each of them. (I’m already thinking that there is no way we’re going to take the twins there in two years when they turn ten – I really don’t think they would enjoy it at all.)
And honestly, I’m kind of San Franciscoed out. Michael and I have been there so many times now, both with and without kids, that some of the magic and novelty has worn off. It’s been an easy destination – far enough away to feel like getting away, but close enough that it’s not a humongous expense and undertaking to go. Clearly we need to branch out and try some different destinations in the future.
Anyway, the weekend wasn’t a complete failure. A little disappointing in some respects, but we still made the most of it, and hopefully Joey will look back on it with fond memories. On the flight home, he did spontaneously say, “Thanks, Mom, for taking me.” Which tells me that he’s glad we went.
When I had my first baby over 15 years ago, I discovered that I was a great mommy. Oh, yes, I was a natural. I could tell right off the bat that all those notions I had before I became a mother were going to hold true for me: my child would be well-behaved, would never be one of those brats who threw tantrums, would happily eat whatever I served him without complaint, etc., etc., etc. It was a dream come true – and proof that all it took was good mothering to produce a good child. How did I know this? Because Kevin, my first baby, was a dream. Seriously. He slept through the night at six weeks old, and in fact, he would sleep anywhere, and through anything. I would vacuum in his room – right up to the crib! – while he slept. No wussy babies for me, by god! By subjecting him to as much noise as possible while he slept, I would ensure that he wouldn’t be all sensitive to noise and stuff. He was an easy-going, happy baby, and even when he got upset, he was easy to soothe. And it was all to my credit, thank you very much. Obviously, I was doing this parenting thing the right way. I should have half a dozen more babies!
Five years later, Joey came along. He emerged into the world screaming, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop for a year, at least. I did all the same things with him that I had done with Kevin, employing all my Good Mommy methods. Didn’t work. Joey cried all the time (or at least it seemed like it; pictures of his first year tell a different story – there are actually photos of a smiling baby! – but I mostly remember the incessant wailing emitting from him over that first year). He wanted to be held all the time. He would only sleep (a) in bed with us, or (b) in his swing. I remember moments of utter panic when the batteries for his swing would die and we realized we didn’t have any spares on hand. Oh! I remember feeling like a prisoner in the rocking chair with him, nursing him to sleep, and then ever-so-carefully getting up and gently laying his sweet, sleeping self down, only to have him start screaming the second I let go of him – and this process would repeat itself for hours on end (I’m sorry, but I can’t let an infant cry it out).
A baby like that? It humbles a person.
It was quite a rude awakening, having Joey. But maybe a necessary step in helping me to see reality: babies come with all sorts of pre-wired temperaments, and you never know what you’re going to get. My “good” mothering with Kevin was all an illusion – a complete snow job.
It would probably be more fair to have a difficult baby first – it toughens you up for the next one, and if the next one turns out to be easy, it’s icing, and you’ve earned it, dammit.
Scarlett reminds me very much of Joey as an infant. Crabby. Difficult. Utterly demanding. Oh, sure, she’s a beaut, and she can turn on the charm with that adorable lopsided baby grin, but it hides a darker, diabolical side. The side of her that wants to take over the household and hold her mommy hostage. Oh, I’m onto her, you can bet that.
(I have no idea what I’m going to do about it, except go along with it, I guess . . .)
Not so smug anymore, me.
It’s hard to choose a favorite of my own posts, but here’s something I wrote last October during Down Syndrome Awareness Month that was – and still is – very meaningful to me:
To see other bloggers’ favorite posts, click here.