2 Years & 20 Days: Welcome to the Circus

Earlier this week, I walked into my apartment and thought I had been robbed. The furniture was askew, the chairs were flipped over, shredded garbage peppered the floor, and I couldn’t help but notice a particularly ripe smell. I quickly threw the (sleepy, cranky) toddler into the crib and set the car seat-bound baby on the floor before rushing to investigate further. “Jesus, someone broke into our apartment and stole our dog,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t find him anywhere–and in a small apartment, he’s not exactly a needle in a haystack. My heartbeat pulsed rapidly as I searched. Finally, I heard a muted, high-pitched whine. I opened the bathroom door and whoosh went the dog, running frantically with newfound freedom. His head was completely encased in an empty oats container, partially gnawed through so he could breathe. The container took away his peripheral vision, meaning he clumsily ran around our apartment while I continued to take in my doomsday-like surroundings. The best surprise of all was the smattering of dog poop scattered around the (small, totally easy-to-avoid) rug. What a delightful surprise.

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Me, coming home today.

[Source]

Based on the evidence, I suspect the dog rifled through the recycling, stuck his head way too far down the oatmeal tube, and got stuck. Then he proceeded to freak the F out, running around the apartment, anxiously pooping on the carpet, fleeing to the bathroom, and accidentally closing the door on himself.

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Because pic or it didn’t happen.

This story is relevant because it’s pretty reflective of the overall chaos that is now my life. Many people have asked what it’s like to transition to two kids (who are two years and 20 days apart), so let me lay it out.

Welcome to the Circus…

…where bodily fluids know no bounds

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If this were me, the whole shirt would be soaked. [Source]

In the last eight hours alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of a trifecta of bodily fluids, none of which were mine. (The unexpected bonus of being peed, pooped, and thrown up on is that you can feel very justified in leaving the dishes for your husband to wash.)

This damp menagerie, combined with the copious amounts of sweat I shed due to postpartum hormones and a practically built-on human furnace, means this mom is now often mistaken for a swamp monster.

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What a typical Millennial to include a selfie. [Source]

…where “germy” has taken on a whole new meaning

On a related, but worth-mentioning-on-its-own, note is the amount of germs that have taken this household hostage (despite constant efforts to sanitize). In case you’ve never been around a two-year-old, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: kids are gross.

Life to a toddler is a germy treasure hunt. The most-touched button in a museum exhibit? Leave it to a toddler to decide that’s the perfect time to suck his fingers. Find a cigarette butt on the ground? Better not turn around or it’s going in the kid’s mouth. Walked through urine puddles in the subway on the way home? Perfect time to treat the bottom of his shoe like an ice cream cone! To a toddler, learning he can use his diaper’s contents like finger paint is like winning the lottery. (Luckily, this last one has yet to happen to us. Sorry, Julie.)

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“If it exists, I licks.” [Source]

Toddlers have ownership rights to this sweet spot of revulsion where the disgusting things they think to put in their mouths are almost on pace with the disgusting things they expel. Snot is such an everyday sight anymore, I don’t even notice it. In a toddler’s mind, leaving any of the body’s many orifices unexplored is a missed opportunity. To their credit, their two-year-old fingers are the perfect size for their nostrils.

The new Baby Bear had a cold when she was just two weeks old thanks to her big brother deciding to use her hand as a tissue. (The next day, he sneezed into my mouth. My MOUTH.) Sure it sucked to have a congested newborn, but I figured at this rate, she’ll be a beast by the time she goes to kindergarten.

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A mother can only hope her child will be this kick-ass. [Source]

Being a mom to a toddler is like exposure therapy for germaphobes. You can use all the vinegar water and soap you want to try to keep things clean, but you can’t avoid a toddler’s grubby hands forever. I try to take comfort in the germs; with each cold comes a more formidable immune system for the entire family.

…where I learn as I go

I like to think of myself as a fairly laid-back person, at least as evidenced by my laissez-faire approach to germs. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far, it’s that kids are constantly changing and that parents adapt quickly as a result. No one knows what they’re doing, not really. Therefore there’s no sense in worrying too much about every little thing; it’s much less stressful to just figure it out as you go.

This second time around is no different. Yes, certain things were harder at first, like simultaneously carrying a sleeping toddler and a car seat up the stairs to the apartment. But with each passing day, my confidence grows. That, or I fail, have no choice but to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and learn for the next time.

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“How are you going to do [insert activity here] with a newborn and a toddler?” [Source]

…where my days are measured by coffee, wine, and diapers

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Honestly one of my favorite things about going to bed at night is knowing coffee awaits me in the morning.

As much as I like to think I’m still “cool,” having two kids has finally forced to acknowledge that my version of “cool” has drastically changed over the last few years. Gone are the days where I’d be able to attend a play’s opening night at the drop of a hat or direct friends to the best bachelorette hot spot. I’m aware that clubs still exist, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the last time I entered one. That said, knowing the most entertaining playgrounds or the best kid-friendly breweries is valuable, too, and in those terms, I’ve got you covered. (Did I mention how stereotypically important booze is to me as a mom of young kids?)

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Me, talking to early 20-somethings. [Source]

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m extremely grateful for the ways staying at home has changed my priorities and given me more room to live now that I’m not tied to a desk. (But I’ll be the first to admit there are many days where a desk, some deadlines, and, hell, even meetings sound more appealing than having a toddler weasel his way into my personal space all day.)

However, while I’ve been a mom for two years now, I’m still occasionally hit with the peculiar realization that my daily life is now marked by the number of times I’ve changed a diaper, my ability to find that one car my two-year-old suddenly cannot live without, or the constant question of how many cups of coffee a day are still within reason. When asked what’s new in my life, I immediately, without thought, respond with what’s new with my family. My sense of self is harder to pin down now that my entire life is devoted to being responsible for two other, mostly helpless, lives. Self-care and alone time are still very important to me, and I have a lot of support to allow for them, but my self feels less pronounced right now. Grappling with who I am and the uncertainty of who I will be when the kids are grown is difficult.

As uncomfortable as it is to sit with that uncertainty, I am slowly learning to embrace it. If the blurry pace of the last two years is any indication, it’ll all be over before I know it and I’ll look back longingly on these harried days. My accomplishments may be of the playdate-related variety right now, but, dammit, they’re still mine.

…where my brain has turned to mush

Another reason my sense of self has faded is simply because I regularly feel like I’m losing my mind. It may not seem hard, but staying at home with a toddler is extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing (hence the aforementioned wine and coffee). Chasing after a human being who repeatedly ignores me, throws himself down on questionable surfaces (read: parking lots, sidewalks, mud), and thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in his own excrement is nothing short of exhausting. That’s not even taking into account the newborn who literally feeds off me for hours on end. Plus, kids are inadvertently skilled at the fine art of gaslighting.

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Me, after being forced to listen to “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” for 62 minutes straight. (This is not an exaggeration.) [Source]

I like to think it’s the lack of sleep and influx of hormones, but nowadays I’m lucky if I can properly string together enough words to form a decent sentence. In the grocery store yesterday, I found myself garbling verb conjugations to the point where I sounded more like English was my fourth language than my first. I used to fancy myself a valuable trivia partner, but lately I have a hard enough time remembering simple, everyday nouns, like “goggles,” much less when they were first used in the Olympics (answer: 1976). Try as I may to keep up with current events, pop culture, and literature, you’re not going to get much out of me lately unless you’re asking about the verses of “Wheels on the Bus.”

To make matters worse, I’ve taken these diminished language and general knowledge skills to the streets and have become accustomed to narrating my thoughts and actions throughout the day. This is perfectly benign when my toddler is in tow, but it becomes markedly more disturbing when I’m alone and using a sing-song voice to tell no one in particular that I have to go to the bathroom.

It’s hard to feel like you can add much value to a conversation when you’re constantly preoccupied with someone else’s well-being. Luckily I still do a few things that help keep me sharp, like reading and playing board games. Can I tell you about the author’s use of symbolism or the best strategies to win? No, but ask me to tell you the color of the book’s cover or if the board game box had letters on it? Now, that I know.

…where sleep is the world’s most precious commodity

You think you’ll never forget how sleep-deprived you were when your first child was born. Much like the intensity of childbirth, you can hazily recall that it was hard to get through, but you really don’t remember the details. It must be the body’s way of helping us decide to continue populating the earth. Then your second comes and pushes that sleep deprivation right back down your throat. Except this time, you’ll wonder why the hell you ever thought your newborn was hard.

Yeah, newborns wake up at night, but you know the hard part about two? You don’t get to “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” Instead, you are forced to get your weary ass out of bed at the crack of dawn (otherwise known as a toddler’s favorite time to warm up his vocal chords with a most spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”).

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“Is he…is he SINGING at 6:00 A.M.?!?!” [Source]

Then you must entertain said toddler as they Tasmanian Devil their way through the day.

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Oh look, someone took a video of my toddler in the park! [Source]

I recently Googled “sleep deprivation Geneva Convention” to confirm that it is indeed recognized by the UN as a form of torture. It is often said that children are little sociopaths, and now I have proof.

My response when people ask how I look “refreshed”?

…where nap time is not to be taken for granted

I never realized how vital to my very existence nap time had become until it slowly started to fade away. My toddler has gone about 50% of the last three weeks without a nap at all. Before that, he reliably slept for three hours each day. (Yes, I was spoiled.) Now, every day is a crap-shoot as to whether or not he’ll go down easily, have a theatrical conversation with himself, scream at the top of his lungs, cry his eyes out, or some strange combination of the bunch. No matter how hard I try to follow our same old routine, this enigmatic dance often results in me quite literally ripping out my hair (figuratively were it not for my trichotillomania, but that’s for another day).

To give you a clue how it normally goes down, here’s footage of our typical nap time conversation.

Me:

My toddler:

Me:

Sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I can channel my inner wizard to get both kids to nap at the same time. Those moments?

…where I find my zen by whatever means necessary

Other times, the magical nap moments don’t happen and I’m left with the ongoing urge to scream and/or cry.

As is quickly becoming the theme of the post, toddlers are hard. They know how to push your buttons; it’s what they do. As such, it’s only natural that you occasionally feel rage. Sometimes it results in yelling. Other times, it results in the desire to shake them so they just. stop. whining. (It’s not talked about much, but everyone I know how has experienced this feeling before. It is normal and doesn’t make you a bad mom so long as you don’t act on it.)

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“STOP THROWING YOUR FOOD ON THE FLOOR!!” [Source]

Any time I feel this ragey Mom Hulk come out, I immediately feel a guilty pit form in my stomach. Over time, I’ve learned the best thing to do when I feel it coming on is to make sure everyone’s safe before walking away for a minute. Honestly, we both benefit from the space.

Though I’m not really one for meditation, becoming a mother of two has greatly increased my appreciation for silence. You know you’re in a silence deficit when you drive by a cemetery and think, “Wow, I bet it’d be so peaceful to sit in there by myself.” Lately, the most alone time I get is in the bathroom. I have therefore started to sneak away when Papa Bear gets home just to go sit on the toilet by myself with no one touching or talking to me. Soon maybe I’ll figure out how to bring in a cocktail without raising suspicion.

Until recently, I never thought a bathroom could feel like this:

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*Cheerfully* “All by myseelf…” [Source]

…where TV is the greatest invention known to mankind

I’m the first to admit that we probably watch an unhealthy amount of TV in our house. Before kids, I thought we’d be the type of parents to limit TV to only a few 30-minute shows a week, if at all. Now, I’m pleased if we only watch a few 30-minute shows a day. If you stay home and still don’t watch any TV, then major props to you. I’m not sure how you do it.

At least for me, with a newborn who wakes up all night and a toddler who starts each day at 6:30, I’m just doing what I have to do to survive. Sometimes I muster the energy to read, play with toys, or get a jump-start on breakfast. Other times I turn on the boob tube, sit on the couch, and let my coffee do its magic.

I only casually watch the shows I play for him (typically in desperation to see how much time is left), but I’ve seen enough to become highly critical of some of today’s children’s programming. For instance, why does Daniel Tiger’s mom wear pants when Daniel and his dad don’t? Does Mickey’s Toodles have all that random crap because he’s a closet hoarder? And don’t even get me started on what an asshole Thomas’s friend James is. Luckily for me, my toddler’s attention span is finally long enough to sit and watch an entire feature-length film. Unluckily for me, he wants to watch the same ones repeatedly.

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If I have to watch Cars 2 one more time, I’m gonna be ka-chout of my mind. [Source]

…where the car can become a torture chamber

It’s hard to explain, but if you’re a mom you’ll know what I mean when I say a kid’s cries go straight to his mom’s heart. Kids’ screams send some kind of biological signal that makes a mom’s stress level rise and stomach turn. It’s hard enough with one, but now that I have two children who occasionally sync their wails while I’m driving? Well, let’s just say this is me when we finally get to where we’re going.

…where small accomplishments count

Take a shower? Wash a dish? Work out? Keep your kids alive all day? Get out of the house? Or, *gasp* put on real pants?  I’m not gonna lie; if I do any of these on a given day, I try to allow myself to feel like the badass I am.

…where I sometimes just have to accept pandemonium

Patting myself on the back for the little successes is helpful to some degree, but sometimes there’s just so much chaos that there’s no choice but to give in to it. I often think, “This is my life now.” So my toddler watched five hours of TV and ate ketchup and cantaloupe for lunch. So I’m covered in vomit and my kid is drinking water out of the dog bowl. Who cares? It’s times like these where I try to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can, that we usually have better days, and that there’s nothing more to do than laugh at the outrageousness of the moment. Honestly, these times usually make for the best stories anyway (see oatmeal story above).

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“Do I care if that gets marked on with pen?” is a question I ask myself more than I’d like to admit. The answer has increasingly been “no.” [Source]

…where my family and friends mean the world to me

I would be an absolute basket case, or arguably more of one than I am now, were it not for my friends and family. We’ve had such an outpouring of support in these last few months and I couldn’t be more grateful. To everyone who has reached out, helped us, or shown us love, thank you.

…where the sweet moments make it all worthwhile

The literal blood, sweat, and tears are hard. The increased mom guilt is harder. The sleepless nights, aches and pains, roaring hormonal shifts, occasional questioning of my sanity–all of it is nothing compared to those moments that make my heart melt. There is nothing quite like seeing Big Brother Bear cuddle up next to his baby sister, turn to me, and say, “Mommy, Baby Sister is so cute!” Better still is hearing, “I love you, Mommy.” It’s moments like these that erase all of the crazy ones.

My toddler may be a little nutcase at times, but he is genuinely invested in his sister’s well-being; he loves to rock her, give her kisses, hold her, and tell me when she’s crying. Lately, he’s big on giving everyone hugs and kisses. He is generally laid-back and listens well relative to many toddlers. He’s such a sweet, empathetic, adventurous, carefree, and funny kid, and I feel humbled to know that I’ve at least partly helped shape who he is. Sure, my patience may be tested on a regular basis, but knowing that it’s to help him learn and grow and blossom is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever experienced before. If I can replicate this to even a small degree with my daughter, I will have hit the jackpot.

Having the two of them has taught me that I’m happy to be a means to an end if it means the end is as wonderful as it’s been along the way.

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Me, when I realize I must not be doing so poorly (and I’ve had coffee). [Source]

It might be Crazy Town, but at least I’m the mayor.

In many ways, I still feel like I’m 20 years old. Therefore the realization that I am two months shy of 30 with two children often hits me like a ton of bricks. Then I take a look around at our beautifully chaotic existence and realize it’s just the beginning of the rest of our lives. And so far it’s shaping up to be amazing.

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We’re doing it! [Source]

[Featured image source]

Motherhood: The First Year in Review

First and foremost, I’d like to apologize for my recent absence. We’ve had a slew of gorgeous family weddings and get-togethers that have happily taken me away from my computer. In the meantime, I hope you’ve been reading some of my summer book suggestions. If so, I’d love to know what you think so far.

Secondly, and more importantly, in my time away, Baby Brown Bear turned one! Over the last few months, I’ve anxiously awaited–nay, actually felt apprehensive of–his first birthday. It’s hard to say why exactly, but I think it’s because it’s a rather significant milestone in a mother’s life. It’s important for the baby too, I suppose, but it’s not like he cares or will remember it. In fact, I’m not sure he has any sense of time at all at this point, aside from the difference between daytime and nighttime (and thank God for that). But for a mother, it’s when you earn a metaphorical “hey, you made it” sticker.

You made it!

At a year, at least outwardly, it seems like most mothers have found their stride. Though a baby constantly changes and a mother must adapt her parenting tactics accordingly, she at least has an idea of what works well. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff to the same degree she did just twelve months before. She also knows that she must add at least 20 minutes to a given time frame to account for any number of baby-related delays.

She has relaxed into her parenting approach and no longer hears that constant nag of self-doubt (or, at least, she can ignore it). And, most importantly, she’s kept her baby alive and well for an entire year. Though, to be honest, it really freaks me out when people congratulate me for that. One, I don’t like to think of the implication that I might not have been able to keep him alive for a year. Two, it makes me feel like they are jinxing our good health. We all know how fragile life continues to be well past a year (and all those horror stories in the news certainly don’t help). As a mother, I don’t think I’ll ever fully settle without worrying at least a little bit about baby’s well-being.

Better yet, a year marks a full rotation around the Sun. If anything, that’s why we should congratulate each other. We’ve just traveled about 584 million miles!

Take that, Executive Platinum status.

In all seriousness, a year is an easy milestone because it’s one of the most prominent measures of time. It’s a natural reflection point. “A year ago right now…” is an exercise that appeals to the emotional side of nearly all human beings. Mothers especially. Engineers less so (I say this with love, Papa Bear).

In the last few days leading up to Baby Bear’s birthday, I was in an incessant state of reminiscence. Down to the hour, I reminded Papa Bear what we were doing a year prior. “Today was my last work day and I had no idea!” “This is when I took the dog to the beach; our last time alone together before baby came.” “Right now  I was having brunch and poured almost an entire bottle of Cholula on my eggs.” “This is when we were driving to [a friend]’s house and my water broke but we didn’t realize it yet.” “This is about when I had that delicious glass of wine. What a great way to settle into a labor.” “Right now is when my water started to gush in my parents’ kitchen. Remember that picture we took together and it was our last as a childless couple?”

Imagine how many of these Papa Bear heard over the course of the day and a half that was my labor. It was never-ending, but it helped me cope and digest my bewilderment that an entire year had passed.

“Remember that time at band camp the hospital?”

I remembered everything from those 36 hours, more so even than the ones that followed, with such crisp detail, with more clarity than I ever remember anything. It’s like my thoughts, actions, and emotions were crystallized to ensure I never forget how it felt to stand on the precipice of complete and utter change. Like those mosquitoes forever stuck in amber in Jurassic Park, my pregnant self feels frozen in time.

Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth.

But, as much as that is true, it’s incredible to me how different I feel, too. Alongside this trip down memory lane, I couldn’t help but compare life now to a year ago, for me, my baby, and our family life in general.

Past to Present

Physically, I am completely different now than I was this time last year. I’ve lost the 60 pounds (yes, you read that right) that I gained. In fact, I now feel stronger than I ever did before pregnancy, largely because I now only have time for short, high-impact workouts instead of the long runs and gym visits I once enjoyed. Plus, nothing will make you feel as strong as carrying and birthing a baby.

I am woman. Hear me roar!

Though I finally feel like I’m once again in control of my body and am proud of the hard work I’ve put in over the last several months, returning to my pre-baby shape does serve as a bittersweet reminder of the growing physical distance between baby and me. With each passing day, he needs me less and less. No longer does he need to nurse every two hours. No longer can I clearly remember how it felt to have him move in my swollen belly. Where we were connected for nine months, then nearly connected for a few more months after that, it’s clear to see he’s becoming increasingly independent and separated from me. While that makes me happy and feel like we’re doing something right, it also makes me realize how much time has passed since his birth. And how fast things will continue to go.

I’ll tell you one thing that never goes back to normal, though, and that’s a breastfeeding mama’s chest.

Meanwhile, Baby Bear is almost an entirely new person. He’s gained roughly 15 pounds, probably 11 or 12 inches, and now has discernible facial features instead of a more generic newborn look. He doesn’t lie around and sleep between feedings anymore, but is a force of nature. He crawls, stands, shuffles, climbs, and dives everywhere (including many places he shouldn’t). He smiles, laughs, mimics, and experiments with sounds and words. He’s responsive, inquisitive, flexible, happy-go-lucky, and fun. More and more do I realize how much of a mind of his own he has, and so far I’m excited to say it’s one of a very thoughtful, loving little boy.

How can a little baby be my best bud?

Situationally, life is significantly different. All throughout my pregnancy and even after Baby Bear was born, I was sure I would go back to work. I barely even entertained the idea of staying home because it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I placed so much of myself in my job and was proud of the work I did. So much so that it was one of the ways I defined myself. When I even thought of not returning, one of my first thoughts was, “Who would I be without a job?” Looking back, this seems ridiculous, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t sure how I’d define my worth if I quit.

The first inkling I had that maybe, just maybe quitting was worth considering was about a week after Baby Bear was born (because, let’s be honest, that first week was a whirlwind in which I was not thinking about work at all). As I sat in the rocking chair in Baby Bear’s dimly lit nursery, holding a peacefully sleeping baby in my arms, panic struck me. How on Earth was I to leave this angelic, completely dependent little being behind to go to the office? Was anything I did there really more important than being with him? It was an idea that took hold and burrowed its way deeper and deeper into my head and heart.

It was those eyelashes. Have you even seen a baby’s eyelashes?

Within a few weeks, I was starting to test out how “stay-at-home mom” sounded when I said it aloud. I was far from committing to it, but I was beginning to entertain the idea. As I looked into Baby Bear’s face and as he gripped my finger with his tiny little hands, I was becoming more certain that my sense of worth was only going to flourish if I stayed home.

Within a few more weeks, I knew it was the right decision for my family. By that point, I absolutely dreaded going back only to give my notice because I didn’t want to feel judged for my decision (the same for which I had shamefully been known to judge others). I also didn’t want people to think that it had been my plan all along and that I had lied about it. I had severe anxiety even up the morning of my first day back (12 weeks is such a joke, by the way). Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised–even shocked–when I received nothing but support and understanding.

Some of my coworkers had made that decision themselves, and hadn’t returned to the workforce until their children were grown. They told me how happy they were for me because they had absolutely never regretted their time at home. Other coworkers had decided to return to work because it was the right move for their families, and they sympathized with how tough of a call it is, especially when babies are still so helpless. A Canadian colleague said it was a shame the U.S. didn’t offer a full year off because then they wouldn’t lose so many good colleagues. It was a flattering, but sadly true comment.

All told, it was an eye-opening moment because it was one of the few times I’ve experienced women coming together to talk about their shared experiences, specifically the shared difficulty they face when considering career and family decisions.

Luckily, I’ve been witness to a lot more of that kind of vulnerability and acceptance in the last year as I’ve found myself surrounded with incredible, positive women. It’s a powerful thing when we support each other and stand united.

Let’s quickly acknowledge that it’s complete bullshit that the U.S. is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave.

A year into the stay-at-home mom thing, I can tell you that I have never for one day regretted the decision to quit. There are certainly some aspects of the job I miss, mostly my coworkers, and I do sometimes wonder how the yet undetermined gap will affect my career in the long run. But when I think of the alternative, I would not change it for a second.

Not that I know any differently, but I think staying at home has given me the opportunity to know every facet of my son’s personality from its inception. I’ve seen his first smile and know the differences between his morning smiles, his tired smiles, his bashful smiles, his excited smiles, and his lovey dovey smiles. I know what toys he prefers when we travel and what toys he prefers before nap time. I know what makes him giggle when nothing else will (jump squats), or least stop crying (a creepy YouTube video of “Wheels on the Bus”). I know myself well enough to know that if I were working full time, I would be over committing myself as usual. I think I’d be less attentive to the minute details that make Baby Bear who he is.

Pause.

Now, don’t misread me. I’m not on a high horse to tell all women that they should stay home because it is what’s best. I fully acknowledge that it’s not the right decision for everyone. For one, women should take pride in the work they do and should continue to do it if it makes them happy. I also know that for many women it isn’t really a choice; they must work to pay the bills.

As a former daycare kid myself, I think kids who have non-parent caretakers turn out wonderfully. My little analysis isn’t about me passing judgment or thinking I have a holier-than-thou answer to life. This is me spending a little time to reflect on my own experience.

While I’m here, I also want to make clear that, while I spend an awful lot of time thinking  and writing about motherhood, I don’t adhere to the belief that women don’t truly understand life until they’re mothers. Some people want kids, some people don’t. I think what’s most important is that you recognize what would make you happy.

In my short time as a mother, I’ve learned kids don’t necessarily make things easier, the path to self-discovery included. (Of course I say this as I’m writing an essay about how my perspective and self-understanding have broadened in the last year). Motherhood isn’t the answer; it just provides a different lens through which to look at the world.

Maybe motherhood is the answer to you. What the hell do I know? My experience is inherently different from yours. That’s what makes life so interesting! Let’s embrace our differences just like we embrace our similarities.

Unpause.

Okay, so I don’t regret quitting. What else has changed in the last year?

Let’s get the bad stuff over with first. I’m way more addicted to my phone than I ever was before. It’s my worst bad habit, and is one that makes me feel incredibly guilty at all times, especially when I look up to see Baby Bear watching me. Honestly, I don’t even care about what’s happening on Facebook, so why do I check it 7,000 times a day?! I hope that with awareness and time, this gets better, especially as Baby Bear starts to engage with me even more.

We’ve also battled a couple pretty bad illnesses over the last year–the norovirus is the pits–but knowing that it could be so much worse helps to keep things in perspective.

And, try as I might to shut it out, I’ve developed the infamous Mom Guilt. It’s so easy to question every single move you make as a mother, especially when the anonymous assholes of the internet shame you on all sides. This is where having a trusted pediatrician and reassuring friends makes all the difference. When I mention how I feel bad about the margaritas I had for dinner the night before, my good friends don’t judge. Instead they ask, “Ooh where’d you get them?!”

I never valued happy hour more than I do now.

Now the positive changes. There are so many!

I thought becoming a mother might make me worry more, and while I have anxieties about all sorts of bizarre things–some of which are rational–I think it’s done the opposite. When thinking of how it’s affected me, I can’t help but immediately note how much more patient I am. In fact, I’d say I’m more patient, open, and reflective. I think these qualities have grown partly because I have more time to grow them. I’m no longer running from one place to another and trying to squeeze in my life after hours. Instead I can stop and observe life around me. I’m not rushed anywhere (though I’m still often late), and if I am, I now realize it’s only myself I have to blame for it.

I don’t even get annoyed when going to the grocery store, doctor’s office, or DMV anymore because I have the time to wait. It’s a miracle!

I also believe this time and reflection have made me kinder. I certainly care more now about the plights of others. I think I was a kind person before, one who cared about people, righting wrongs, and ridding the world of injustice, but I didn’t do much about it. I’m not saying I’m doing a lot about it now, but spending a year watching and interacting with the people in my community certainly makes me want to try harder.

I feel such a passionate need to leave behind a better world for my son, and feel the need now more than ever to lead by example. I’m no longer responsible for just myself, but now have to act on baby’s behalf, too.

As I mentioned in my open letter last month, I feel that Baby Bear is my legacy and I want to ensure as best I can that he is kind and fights for what is right and good. If I don’t act this way now, he won’t learn to either. Maybe another reason I’m supposed to stay home is because it affords me the time to become more active in giving back to my community. Maybe I can become a better and more vocal advocate for change. I’m tired of sitting back idly.

It’s hard to say how I would feel if I were working, but knowing myself and the amount of stress and responsibility I sign up for, I don’t think I’d have the time or energy to give any of these things nearly as much dedication or thought.

Now I do have time for that.

I also think I’m more confident than I was before. It’s hard to tell if this is because I’m getting older or if this is because of motherhood; it’s probably somewhere in between. Unless it affects me, I’ve stopped caring what other people do with themselves and have realized I don’t care what people think of what I’m doing either. I like and am proud of who I am, and I’ve finally accepted that’s what is important. I think it’s also because I’ve worked hard to maintain a sense of self and nurture my friendships and interests. With the help of an involved partner and more-than-willing grandparents, I’m able to exercise, play games, go to the occasional dinner, and read. I prioritize my mental and physical health because it curbs my anxieties and makes me a better friend, partner, and mother.

Happy self, happy life?

This last year has also made me feel more grateful for all of the good in my life. In addition to having the necessities like a roof over my head, plenty of food to sustain me, and an abundance of clothes to keep me warm (or cool), I find blessings everywhere I look.

My family and I have our health and a comfortable lifestyle that allows us to go on fun adventures. We have supportive and generous friends, both new and old, who help make us better people. We have an incredible extended family, including three amazing great-grandparents and four fabulous grandparents. We have a not-so-cuddly but oh-so-sweet dog who begrudgingly allows Baby Bear to tug at his tail and climb on top of him. I have a loving, hard-working, and attentive husband whose support in this whole parenting thing means more than I could possibly describe. I have an adorable and lively little guy whose smile tugs at my heart every single time. Life is good, man.

And I tell you, nothing helps remind you of that more than watching life pass you by. I literally watched the seasons change this year. I go on a lot of walks with the babe and dog and pass by many of the same parks and gardens day after day. Over the course of the year, I saw trees shed their leaves only to blossom again a few months later. I saw flowers wilt and freeze, then bloom with more vibrancy that I could ever recall. I actually bask in the sunlight now, especially in the winter when I’d previously wake up, go to work, and come home in the dark.

I am so thankful for the life I have, for the time I spend with Baby Bear, and for the world around us. This year has allowed me to grow.

To infinity and beyond.

But, now that baby is a year old, many people are starting to ask me what’s next. Will I go back to work soon?

I think there’s a natural tendency we have as human beings to anticipate the “next” thing. “Once X is done, we’ll be able to focus on Y,” or, “Life will be easier once Z is over.” That may be true, and it may be a great way to get through some of the more trying periods in life, but for me, right now, I don’t want to wish away time any faster than it’s already going.

I don’t know what’s next. Yes, I may be missing out on some cool opportunities, but for now I’m happy just being and savoring. I’m doing what’s right for me, what’s right for my family, and damn if I’m not enjoying it.

Cheers to a phenomenal second year. And many more.

 

 

 

[Cover photo source]