Bedtime stories

Some days the only time I have to spend with N is during his bedtime ritual.  It’s odd that the beginning of our day is the end of his.  We have a dinner, where some overcooked pasta, diced veggies, or broken meatballs end up stuffed in his cheeks, a sippy cup is tossed off the tray and repetitively retrieved, and I manage to pretend enjoying whatever it was I ate between all the exercise this mealtime dance offers me.  We then go upstairs for bathing, playing, slathering with Aquaphor, wrestling into pajamas, and reading a story with a bottle of milk.  While B and  I often share many of these duties, they are all precious to me.  They are the way I say, “I may have been gone all day, but I’m here now and I love you.”

As we read together, I think about the message that each book conveys and how these stories will shape the man he becomes.  Ok so sometimes we are just looking at pictures of shapes or farm animals, because he is 1 after all.  But today I spent a long time looking online for children’s books about working moms and was dismayed to find a very small selection.  A friend gave me one about a mom’s high heel shoes and while this one acknowledges that the mom leaves for work, looking stylishly uncomfortable, it doesn’t address any of the other issues around separation.  It doesn’t explain who will fill mom’s shoes while she’s gone and what that does to the structure of your day or why a mom might choose to work and how that makes each family member feel.  A friend said that N wouldn’t need a book about that because it’s all he’ll know, which is true since I went back to work when he was 6 weeks old, but I don’t think I’ll get off that easy!  Given that I have a lot of questions about this decision myself, I can only imagine that my little guy will too.

I’m still crafting my answers to all those questions, but the bedtime story I tell myself is that my working will teach him ambition, dedication, passion, sacrifice, pride, equality, happiness, and honor, because that’s what it has taught me.

Lactation Badge

I breastfed my son for one year.  At the end of the year, I felt as if there should be some award ceremony, a certificate of completion, or a badge–  some token to reward me for a year of Q3 hour wakings, pumping, sore nipples, more pumping, navigating public breastfeeding without indecency, and more pumping.  Returning to work after 6 weeks with a newborn on a vertical growth curve was challenging to say the least.  I measured my success as a mom by how much milk I was able to provide.  Because after all, I might not have been there when he woke up, or when he needed his diaper changed, or when he wanted to play, but I sure did provide him milk and some days that was my only contribution.  So I worked hard at it and that kind of hard work is usually rewarded.

In practice, I have met so many moms who repeatedly say, “I just can’t do it for more than __ months.”  Everyone has their limit, and I certainly said the same thing many times.  Sharing my own experiences though I am able to offer some hope– it gets better, it’s worth it.  It may be hard to see the benefits when you are exhausted and the months ahead of you seem endless.  Eventually though, you gain the perspective to see the reward:  that cute, chubby breastfed baby who is healthier because of you.  Some of my best memories are with his cheeks flushed, his belly full, and his head snuggled on my chest.  I remember looking at him at 6 months and thinking, I grew you.   What better reward is there than that?

The nanny diary

My mom loves “Baby Boom” and in particular, the scene where Diane Keaton interviews potential nannies.  My own nanny interviews went similarly– some too young, too immature, too weird.  In response to asking if she was a career nanny, one retorted, “what is a career anyway?”  Well, I know what a career is and that’s why I have to hire a nanny.  I thought a lot about what type of nanny I was looking for and decided it was… Mary Poppins.  I wanted someone who could pull anything out of her purse, who could make sidewalk chalk come alive, and whose laughter was infectious.  So when we finally interviewed L and she showed genuine interest in my son, came with good references, and seemed like someone who I could talk to for hours, I figured she was the next best thing.  Best of all, we were done with the horrendous interviews.

Three weeks later came the 6 month shots and L called me at work to say that N had a fever and was inconsolable.  Hearing my baby screaming on the other end of the phone was torture.  I worried that he was having a reaction to the vaccines and instructed her to meet me at the hospital.  He was fine as soon as I picked him up out of the car seat.  L on the other hand, looked distraught.  They spent the rest of the afternoon at my office.  I sent her to the cafeteria to eat lunch and take a break, wondering myself if N just needed some mommy love or if L wasn’t able to meet his needs.  Selfishly, I figured it was all about me and gave L another chance.

Weeks turned to months and while she continued to let me down on the Mary Poppins front, she otherwise seemed to be working out well.  Then one day, she left her diary at our house.  We knew we shouldn’t read it.  We didn’t read it for a whole day.  Until we read it.  “You’re going to want to read this,” is what B said to break my moral fortitude.   In red ink in various handwritten fonts scrawled across two pages were the scariest words I have ever read.  “N won’t stop.  Won’t.  Will not.  Will not.  Shoot me.  Shoot me.  Silence.  Shoot me.  Almost done.  Hate this.  Shoot me.  Go to sleep.  He refuses to sleep.  Only slept 1/2 hour today.  Hate myself.  Love myself.  SHUT THE CRACK UP.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Its just crying.  Calm.  Calm.  Calm.  Sleep.  Go to sleep.  Sleep.  Sleep.  Sleep.  Want to punch myself and the baby.”

Giving your baby over every day to another person is a painful experience, made less painful by the belief and trust that this person loves your baby nearly as much as you do.  I believed this to be true, until I read this.  Since that moment I have gone through many, many emotions: disbelief, anger, fear, sadness, rage, frustration, anxiety, confusion, guilt, bargaining, and more anger.  The one that lingers now two months later is betrayal.

I wish many things as well– that we had interviewed more nannies, that we hadn’t hired L, that we found the diary sooner, that she told us how she felt sooner, that I listened to my gut.  I also wish that I had left her a note in her diary before returning it to her.  It would say, “N won’t stop.  Won’t.  He’s determined.  He’s strong, opinionated, and passionate- everything you are not.  You aren’t almost done, you are done.  Go to hell, go to hell, go to hell.  SHUT THE F*@$ UP.  Breathe.  Breathe.  I’m crying.  Calm yourself.  Go to hell.  Hell.  Hell.   I want to punch you.”

But I didn’t write that, so instead, I’m writing this post.  I don’t know what the moral is of this cautionary tale, but I talk to working moms all the time about their nanny issues, or daycare woes, and we all struggle with how to ensure our child will be loved in our absence.  I know I’m no Mary Poppins myself, but I know for sure that no one loves N more than I do.  So the next nanny I hire will either have to match that or fly in on an umbrella.

Good on paper

My stay-at-home mom resume looks pretty appealing.  I’d hire me.  I’m creative, silly, and crafty.  I studied child development and I practice pediatrics.  I love, love, love my son.  So why wouldn’t I work part-time and stay home with him?  Simply, I like my job.  Much of my identity is tied into my career.  Maybe because I spent the past 11 years of higher education preparing for it and I’m not ready to let it go.  Regardless of why I work, I just don’t excel as a stay-at-home mom despite my resume potential.  I have many friends who thrive in this setting and I am sometimes jealous when I see them with their kids.  You know her, the mom with the perfectly packed diaper bag– ready for any disaster– or the homemade baby food, hand knit hats, and a daily itinerary that includes trips to the library and a craft project with macaroni noodles.  That woman just isn’t me.  At least not yet.  Instead we cram fun into our weekends and evenings by being creative, silly, and crafty while doing our errands.  Hopefully N will learn discipline, dedication, and passion from his working mom and not resent my absence.  In the meantime, I’m working on not resenting myself.

Year of the… rabbit?

“What’s a ‘Tiger Mom’?” asked a friend who recently moved back to the US from London.   While my friends caught her up on the recent tiger mom (Amy Chua) versus dragon mom (Emily Rapp) debate in the press, I wondered what type of mom I would be and felt pressured to place myself in one of these boxes.  Will I be authoritarian or indulgent?  I’ve seen the literature about how the parenting style I practice could have effects on his risk taking behaviors in adolescence and his likelihood of obesity, among other things, and I counsel families about their parenting behaviors on a regular basis.  So why is it so hard to label myself?

As we celebrate the Lunar New Year and this being the year of the dragon, I think about what other zodiac animal might represent my parenting style.  I was born in the year of the rooster, an animal representing loyalty, confidence, and honesty.  The rooster can be boastful though and I am anything but arrogant about my parenting prowess.  Looking elsewhere, N’s sign is the rabbit, an animal associated with serenity, sensitivity and style.  At 10 months old, you can already see some of these traits.  I have never felt a sense of calm like the one he brings when he snuggles into my neck for a Sunday afternoon nap.  He can sense when I need a good laugh and knows just which crooked grin, love bite, or giggle will work.  His sense of style comes across as soon as you bring out a camera and he strikes a pose!  Despite not being one to follow horoscopes regularly, I think I like the idea of a Rabbit mom– one who is creative, wise, compassionate, and above all else, puts friends and family first.

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