Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Six Things I Learned in my First Year of Parenting

There is no way to prepare for being a parent.  You can read all the books, babysit, expect a ‘challenge’ but until you are leaving the hospital without instructions or a warranty.... you won’t ever truly know.  These are a few home-truths I’ve picked up this year that I thought might be helpful, or at least relatable, to parents both new and seasoned.

1. The Newborn Stage Ends.

I promise.  I wish someone told me this when I was in it.  Actually I’m sure they did and I just didn’t believe them.  For a while it feels like you have Stockholm syndrome. You’re in love with your captor who also happens to be the new boss of the family- and is more demanding than Donald Trump.  Sleep deprivation takes your sanity and even your dignity.  It feels infinite.  This too shall pass and soon the memory will be fuzzy and even pleasant.

2. There are Pro’s and Con’s to Waiting Until your 30’s to Have Children. 
I’ve traveled heaps, partied lots, slept-in and had few regrets (I tell myself this might be key to avoiding a mid-life crisis.)   After 30 I felt ready to ‘settle down,’ because sometimes a bottle of red and a good movie appealed more to me than going out all night.  The term ‘settle down’ implies relaxation and a slow pace of life.  They should call it- ready to ‘fire up’ for kids because you should train for it like you would a marathon.  With an 11.5 month old baby, I’m starting to feel more like my old self again and now there is this sudden pang of jealousy for people without children.  My shrink and I decided that I’m not jealous of the childlessness, just the freedom- especially now that I have the energy for freedom again.  Personally, I’m glad I didn’t have children in my 20’s or I would be even more jealous!  However I would have had plenty more ‘get-up-and-go.’

3. Gone is Spontaneity. 

Want to pop out and grab a coffee?  Yeah Right. You can no longer grab your handbag and go.  In fact, there is no longer room for your handbag at all.  I’m lucky to be able to shove a wallet, keys and Blistex in my diaper bag.  Plus there is other serious equipment to consider. Stroller or baby carrier? Extra clothes for baby, and yourself.  Bottles, meals, and snacks on rotation depending on the time of day.  Should you bring extra in case of delays?   Diapers, wipes and bum cream- oh my! Hat, sunscreen, and comforter. Plastic bags, nappy bags, garbage bags (handy for large-scale disasters) and toys...the surprising thing is that the smaller the baby, the more you need to bring.  Makes no sense.    

Camping goods sorted, then we have the nap conundrum.  Can it be timed so she sleeps in the car or the stroller?  Oh wait, the weather forecasts explosive poo, spew and or food spillage? Better grab an umbrella too.

After all this prep if the baby cries when we get there- we are going to turn right around.  Better to just never leave the house? Maybe

4. You have to Reserve Down Time.

When we first brought Lavinia home, we were inundated with company.  And it was lovely but also exhausting.  We were so proud to show off our little angel that we would invite two sets of visitors over each weekend day.  I’ve learned to say ‘we’re busy' and it's literally always true.   Even if 'busy' simply means that my husband and I have coordinated in advance and booked family time.  One weekend a month we decline all social engagements home or away because (see item 3) a coffee date could take up half the day.  Sounds totally lame but you know what?  It’s these weekends I look forward to the most.  So hard to say ‘no thank, you,’ but so worth it in the end.  Soon enough Lavinia will only want to see her friends, desperately trying to avoid her boring parents (which is ironic because SHE is the reason we are boring!)

5. A Night Out is Almost Not Worth the Hangover.  Almost.

Sometimes you need a good blow-out to remind yourself you still have a personality.  Events must marry up perfectly with babysitters.  And keep in mind that come morning your baby does not give a flying F#$@ that you were out too late and drank too much.  The kid will be well-rested and ready to rock’n’roll at 7am (or sooner) regardless of whether you went to bed at 9:30PM or 2:30AM.  And I’ll tell you something from experience- it’s martyrdom to breastfeed while dehydrated.

So, sorry to all my friends for declining often.  Side note: Please keep inviting us anyway because we like to feel included.  And for the record, no, we cannot ‘just put the baby to bed in your spare room’ during your dinner party.  That’s just crazy talk.

6. The Most Supportive People in your New Life are Not Always who you would Expect. 

Your hospital room will be flooded with visitors, gifts, and loving glances.  But while your life has been turned upside down, it goes back to normal for everyone else.   And one day, you go to the hairdresser and find in her a soul-mate.  Lovely single girlfriends offer to sacrifice precious weekend nights to babysit so you can go to dinner for your birthday or see a movie with your hubby.  A sister-in-law spends hours on public transport to spend quality time with her niece.  A judgement-free and down to Earth mother’s group.  A mother-in-law who commutes four hours just so you can nap.  The kindness of people is both astounding and surprising.  And we are grateful.

After your first child life as you know it will never be the same, just like everyone says.  You can never ‘un-know’ what it feels like to be responsible for a baby you made.  Then the light bulb illuminates- this is how my parents felt about me- and you finally understand the depth of their love, and understand their imperfections.    

Then the second, more disappointing light bulb- this brand new human will not have a clue how much you love and sacrifice for them  until they have children of their own.  And that’s a damn long time to wait.  Which brings me back to point number one.  Patience.

The Safety of the Hospital Bubble

The Newborn Era- looks much more pleasant than it was.

Just a Couple Friends Blowing Bubbles in the Backyard

Buddy Lachlan's 1st Birthday Party

Coffee Date!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Beauty and Pain of Letting Go

"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new." ~Rajneesh caption

Every time I look into my daughter’s eyes I am mesmerized.  The beauty of her hurts, sometimes.

And when she holds my gaze for more than a moment, my breath catches because she looks back so intently.  There is more going on inside her than I ever imagined- so many lifetimes in that pristine 11-month-old body, in those deep blue eyes.  My child is wise.

I try not to be needy for her to look at me constantly- though I would be happy doing so all day long.  I try not to crave her affection- I can ask for a kiss ten times but she doles them out at her own particular discretion.

Almost one year since I gave birth to this precious little person- and she astounds me at least daily.  If I could start all over again with her, I would.  In a second.  This year has gone by twice as fast as any year before and I’m left with a beautiful, headstrong, intelligent little girl.  My baby, rapidly being phased out by a toddler.  I don’t want to blink because she will be a teenager.

Since her first days on Earth I have found that being a parent is a grueling lesson in letting go.  Something I keep reminding myself when I’m so hungry for her attention.  Someday I am going to have to launch her into this incredibly mixed-up, crazy world and keep my fingers crossed that I provided enough guidance and tools for her to thrive. 

It has been a long, long time since I looked forward to each day like I do now, and I will savor it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Get into the Spirit of Self Confidence

Forty Weeks
Four Weeks 

I’m pleased to be taking recess from therapy for a few weeks.  My last visit sounded more like a gossip session because not much was troubling me.

My reactions are becoming much more appropriate to specific situations these days.  It is normal to freak out about taking Lavinia to the emergency room, not about going for a drive. Progress.

I went  from having a couple good days now and then, to a couple bad days now and then.

Since my brain is behaving, I am devoting my energy to physical health.  After all, the two are not separate.  

I’m at an age where I place no faith in diets.  Tell me I can’t have something and I want it all the more.  Over the years I have learned that as long as I move my body, I can pretty much eat what I want. When I go overboard I repent- yesterday's nachos are today's steamed veggies.

I enjoy a healthy lifestyle.  Cooking relaxes me and exercise is my stress reliever (when I have time for it).  Don’t get me wrong, I indulge.  I love food.  Any meal can be made better with melted cheese on top.  Carbs are not the devil. And don’t forget the wine.  "Everything in moderation, including moderation itself," (Oscar Wilde).

Because I battled with a thyroid disease since age 14 I understand the emotional ups and downs that accompany numbers on a scale.  As a result I don’t do scales either. No diets and no scales.  I try to tune in to what my body craves, put on my sneakers and run from temptation...most of the time.

When I got pregnant just shy of my 32nd birthday I wigged.  At 30 I was finally comfortable in my own skin and now this innocent little soul was going to wreck it.  A big, fat, test of my body-image belief system.

After weeks of struggling internally I was forced to let the pregnancy do it's natural thing while I adjusted my ideas of what health and beauty looked like.  Society expects pregnant women to be these buff little Momma's with toned arms.  Two long legs with a beach-ball stuffed beneath a fashionable figure-hugging maternity top.  Well guess what? That's not how it works.  

Every pregnancy is as unique as every human body.  Rather than try to look like that ideal svelte-figure smuggling a soccer-ball, I decided to focus on the health of the little nugget inside me.  I exercised, not to prevent weight gain, but to get oxygen flowing through my blood and into my fetus.  I gulped down vitamins, drank spirulina smoothies and nettle tea (and yes, gave into my cake cravings).

I lovingly absolved myself from pressure after Lavinia was born.  It takes nine months to put the baby-weight on, it’s only practical that it should take another nine to remove it.

Fast forward: Now that I finally had the time to think about myself again, I felt weak, squishy and fatigued.   Rather than a focus on 'losing those last few pounds' my goals became- better sleep, better moods, more energy.

I joined a gym with child-minding and a month ago started training with a female bodybuilder.  It’s really hard work trying to catch up to where I was before I got pregnant.  Every training day I wake up and want to cancel...but I haven’t missed one session.  My strength and confidence are returning with every bench press.

Forget ideals, forget unrealistic expectations or comparisons.  Worship at the alter of good health and well-being!  

I will be sharing before and after photos at the end of October.

One week before Lavinia was born

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Easy Tears of a New Mother

I sobbed this morning after dropping Lavinia at day care for the third time.  Not sure why because on the first two occasions I was fist-pumping.

To begin with, it’s been over a month since she attended.  She was sick for a few weeks plus the centre was closed during school holidays.  My mother-in-law has been helping out heaps so I didn't feel the desperate need for a break.

That last longing glance over my shoulder, I saw my baby looking back at me.  Sigh.

The lip quiver started while I walked, baby-less, to my car. Parents weaved around me rushing to drop-off their own kids.  Not one tear between them.  I’m sure it gets easier over time. Yet still not sure about the day three waterworks? I’ve always been a slow emotion-processor (my darn stubborn-Italian half.)

I drove home among commuters with a seriously ugly, wet, cry-face. And even after a good sesh at the gym I still felt a bit weepy.  

So with sore quads, a clean kitchen, and a few nights meals socked away, I excitedly went to grab my little bug hours later. Two or three of the carers commented on Vinnie’s boundless energy one referred to her as a “pocket-rocket” (now I feel justified for being exhausted all the time!) 

They told me about her day and that they let Lavinia crawl laps outside and apparently she freaking loved it.  During the car ride home she babbled to me sternly..Telling me all about it maybe? (I always think she sounds like she’s chastising me for leaving her but maybe it’s because she’s unhappy about being strapped into her car seat).

When we arrived home she started tearing around the house making brand new sounds.....After one afternoon!  This kid is going to be speaking in sentences soon, thanks to her new friends.  No doubt childcare is good for her development, I can see it before my very eyes.

She’s still quite overstimulated and it's late in the day.  Right now she’s lying in her crib, babbling, but at least she’s not yelling and gnawing more paint off the bars.  Go to sleep kid, you need to recharge!  She doesn't seem to think so.  Guess we can live without an afternoon nap.

Overall today was a great day.  I'll chalk my unexpected emotions up to what I call, 'The New Mom Shift,' its when you cry during commercials, the evening news ect.  Becoming a parent makes you soft.  It connects you so deeply to the world that you feel like your heart is made of porcelain.

Fingers crossed, the fourth time will be a tear-free charm.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Child Care, the Benefit and the Burden

I have dark circles around my eyes and not the fun kind.  The last time I left the house was over seven days ago.

We've been forced into hibernation again.  This time the culprit is a nasty virus- barely preferable to depression....but it's lurking in the walls of our self-imposed incarceration.

I’m not sure where she picked up the bug, but it hit Lavinia Sunday evening and by midnight we were in the Emergency Room.

What started with a runny nose escalated into vomiting and fever.  The thermometer wasn't reading accurately and a house call could have taken hours.

At 3:30 am behind a curtain and beneath florescent lights I held my naked baby whom Matt just shushed to sleep, a small container poised to collect urine beneath her.  Her warm, pink body so vulnerable in my arms, it was like holding onto my insides.

My neck and back were aching from the plastic chair we perched in.  I silently begged her to pee so we could test it and take her home.  I was already covered with vomit and snot- what’s another gross bodily fluid? It was a new low point.

At least Matt was there for this, our second ER visit that week (for a possible concussion days earlier.) Unfortunately the only available target for my frustration and helplessness I shot daggers at my husband for not being able to locate the doctor.

We took our baby home at 4 am and put her to bed.

Twenty-four hours later, Matt caught the virus and by the next weekend, I had it too.

It’s possible Lavinia caught the bug from childcare.   And why deny myself the chance to feel guilty about it?

I enrolled Lavinia in ‘Occasional Care,’ a five hour session, one day per week.  I loved the idea of autonomy.  A chance to make appointments without checking with someone else first.  A break.  Time to rest.  To create.  To exercise or to take naps.  

Seemingly a stroke of brilliance, I still struggled with the concept.  It felt selfish.  I’m on maternity leave- how dare I put Lavinia in the care of strangers?  And pay for the privilege? What would people think?

My mother in law is always willing to come down when we need her- even if just for sleep, but I just can’t justify asking her to make the four-hour-round-trip so I can shave my legs and watch an episode of Orange is the New Black.  That’s not cool. 

Even so, I felt like I needed a few hours to do stupid things.  I knew something had to give when I started feeling jealous of Matt’s commute to and from work.

Lavinia has been to childcare twice so far.  After returning home from dropping her off the first time, I pulled into our driveway alone. I did not race to unlock the door, grab bags or unbuckle the car seat.  There were a million things I could do, free from so many burdens.  

I sat in the drivers seat.  Engine off.  On my phone. Looking at Facebook.   

Once I gathered the courage to enter our quiet home, I immediately turned my ringer on in case the carers called me.  Reminding myself to maximize the next few hours, I took a long shower (phone within reach), cooked a hot breakfast and wrote a blog post.  Next minute, it was time to go pick up Lavinia.

Giddy with excitement I drove back to the childcare center early (as planned) and found Lavnia had charmed everyone in the place.  She napped, had a bottle, a snack, lunch, and played with the other little kids.  She was so tired and happy that when we got home she took a long afternoon nap.

If you ask me, this was a successful first day for both of us.

I’m sure it will get easier each time- like a prisoner fresh out of jail, I need to reintegrate myself into the community.

I used to think that by saying; ‘childcare is good for development and social skills,’ working parents were just trying to make themselves feel better.   Now I realize it’s a true statement. 

Lavinia lit up when we walked into the place on her second day of childcare.  She was delighted at the sight of the older kids and practically leapt into the arms of a young carer. 

The "day care solution" will not fix everything.  Five hours flip by surprisingly fast but it’s a start. 

I will still have to rely on my village, but if it makes me happier, this indulgent, weekly respite will benefit my entire family.

Ahh Choo!

You look like you need a tissue Mommy