Things Worth Giving Up

When I was pregnant, seasoned parents loved to tell me about all of the things I’d be giving up when our son arrived. Sleep was number one, but the list also included brunch, my body, any free time, showering, and more. I’m now over two years into motherhood, and I’ve found that yes, I do go to brunch less (ha), but there are a few things other things I’ve given up that I didn’t expect to – things that are worth giving up.

I’ve always been self conscious singing or dancing in public, and even with close friends. I only sing along to music when it’s cranked way up loud, sing happy birthday in a group at barely a whisper, and the thing that stressed me out most about my wedding was having to get the dance floor going. But, I will sing and dance for and with William in total abandon, not self conscious at all. When he was a brand new baby, I would sing in order to get a shower in or make it through witching hour, watching his face transform from a scowl to the sweetest smile. Even my terrible dance moves make him grin ear to ear. My son is my favorite dancing partner and we sing most days on the drive home from daycare.

Everyone talks about how motherhood changes your life in ways that only seek to highlight all of the things you’ll have to give up and that you’ll miss, but I’ve found it’s worth thinking about the things I’ve let go of that I don’t miss at all.

Wednesday Magic

I’m tired tonight. None of us slept well last night and I had a gauntlet of meetings leading right up until daycare pickup. As bedtime approached I tried to slow myself down, to not rush through the routine, to not think about the Slack messages waiting for me.

After teeth were brushed, William was delighted to discovered the new rug in his nursery. A soft, colorful replacement from the neutral sisal that was there before, I’d ordered the rug because the other one was didn’t survive a leak that sprung in our 1919 apartment after a recent storm. William ran across the rug squealing, turned around, and beckoned us to try, “Mama do it. Dada do it.” We took turns running across the rug before bedtime. He giggled so much he gave himself the hiccups.

To us, it was just a replacement rug. Another thing on my to do list on a busy Monday after the Sunday storm. To William, the new rug was magic.

William was here.

It takes a village

They say it takes a village, but I’ve found this to be one of the few parenting quotes that isn’t true for many parents today, myself included.

I snapped this photo yesterday, my son’s second day home from daycare. My laptop was to my right, too many tabs open, too many unanswered emails, too many reminders for meetings I knew I’d be late for or attend distracted.

On a normal week, my husband and I are just managing. It’s a delicate balance with both of us working now that we have William, but we are doing okay. The days when I manage to feel a semblance of balance feel like such a triumph. But if one thing gets out of whack, it’s hard to recover. This week Ian was traveling, so the balance was already off. Tuesday night he was up on and off all night – rare for him – and it went downhill from there. He was sent home from daycare with a cough Thursday and stayed home Friday, barely sleeping each night.

The question I kept asking myself this week was how, if it takes a village to raise children in normal circumstances, are we supposed to manage when we’re available for work 24/7, when we don’t live close to family, and when there’s still a pandemic raging? I was alone and had to just muddle through the week. I wanted it to be like the movies, when the lead in the romantic comedy has friends who are able to drop everything to come to her rescue. To pour a glass of wine while her son splashes in the bath. To make sure she’s eating while working long hours. In reality, the majority of my friends are trying to strike the same balance we are each week, and dealing with sick kids of their own much of the time.

I have a text thread with my close college girlfriends, the content of which has shifted since we all became moms, and another with two coworkers who live across the country but have kids close to William’s age. I have a Slack channel with the moms I met in baby group moms and dozens of Instagram DMs with moms I know from various stages in my life. We all share the same struggles.

Ian arrived home Friday evening and last night William finally slept through the night and woke up without a cough. It was such a relief but I still feel battered and bruised from the week. My eyes hurt from so much time spent working in darkness, just the glow from my laptop lighting the room as my stomach growled, reminding me I hadn’t yet eaten dinner. One night I held William’s hand through the crib slats until he fell asleep and my shoulder is still sore.

I know even just weeks from now all I will remember is his sweet voice asking to hold my hand, the weight of him in my lap during a work call, and maybe even the pride in managing it all. I also know I’ll still be waiting for that village to turn up.

Will he forget me? (on work travel)

It’s happening. After 16 months of working remotely and zero work travel, I am about to go on my first work trip since having my son. On Sunday, I’ll be on my way to Warsaw, Poland for a production. I’ll be gone for six whole days

One moment, I feel ready. My husband and son will be totally fine on their own and work travel is inevitable. More than that, it’s something I used to enjoy. The next moment, I don’t.

What if he forgets who I am?

What if I forget how to do my job?

What if the plane crashes?

What if my husband does such a good job that my son doesn’t know I’m gone?

I took this photo on my way home from New York in the summer of 2019. I was there for work and about six months pregnant. I remember working on the flight but also updating my baby registry. Sometimes I don’t even recognize the person who took this photo but I opted for a window seat to see if I run into her on my flight to Poland.

A Glass Between Us

“This core belief deeply impacted my first years of mothering. My fear of inadequacy and insecurity in the face of challenges was surely felt by my son. It’s like a snake eating its tail. Sometimes it felt like there was a glass between us. Where my husband had a delightful, easy relationship with my son, he and I felt … off. Paradoxically, we also felt so close it was as though we were fused into one. It was as if I couldn’t find him even though he was right in front of me.”

I just finished reading The Wreckage of My Presence, a collection of essays by Casey Wilson, and this paragraph sums up, more than maybe anything else I’ve ever read or been able to articulate myself, how I felt during the first few months of new motherhood. I have so much compassion now for the woman I was then.

The Dada Phase

At my lowest point of new motherhood, I didn’t feel like a fit mother for my son. I was convinced that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood and sure that my son hated me. Even now, the wounds scabbed over, I love telling the receptionist at the pediatrician that I’m “William’s mom” when checking in for an appointment. I love the way “mama” sounds coming out of William’s mouth – more like “mo-ma.”

For the past few months though, William has been in a serious Dada phase. The word “mama” has a bite to it when it’s preceded by “no no mama” when I come in to scoop him up after his nap or try to saddle up next to him on the couch. The Dada phase is sweet, but my motherhood insecurities have resurfaced during this Dada stage. Sometimes I can’t help but scratch the itch and lay awake at night wondering if it’s not just a phase and instead a sign that I’m not as good of a parent as my husband. On good days, I smile, pick up my son, and say that Dada is coming but Mama is here now.

Family of Four

People always joke that their pets get neglected pets once their baby arrives, but that didn’t happen for us. While we made a lot of adjustments to our daily life when William was born, we so easily settled into being a family of four.

Tank was my maternity leave side kick, waiting patiently as I strapped William into the baby carrier for our walks and resting his head in my lap while I nursed. He was our constant shadow, and we made sure to include him in all of the routines we established with our son. We put his dog bed next to the high chair and bought a new one for the nursery. We made sure the stroller was well stocked with dog bags. We never passed by him snoozing on the couch without petting his rabbit-soft ears.

We said goodbye to Tank this week. Despite the oncologist visits, the pills, so many pills, the trips downstairs first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, the blood and urine stains on our furniture that mark his illness, it still took us by surprise. I’d go through all of the cancer treatment again just to get one more chance to kiss his velvety nose and feel the weight of his head on my ankles while drifting off to sleep at night.

I can’t fathom us no longer being a family of four. William is too young to know the hole in our family with Tank gone, but I’m going to make sure he never forgets his brother. Since his passing, so many people have reached out saying what a sweet soul he was and how lucky he was to have us. That is where they are wrong. It was us who were the lucky ones to have Tank as our dog.

Bedtime Words

Each night I recite the same words before gently depositing you into your crib. But one night last week, I forgot. I slipped out of the moment for a minute, thinking about the email I needed to send, the work awaiting me on the other side of the nursery door. Your body remained heavy in my arms, but my mind traveled to one of the open Chrome tabs on my MacBook.

I remembered after you were out of my arms, so I rubbed your back with one hand and put the other hand flat on the crib mattress. “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” I said. By the time I got to “…as long as I’m living” you’d put your little palm next to mine so my thumb and your pink were touching.

“Love you my Manny Man. Good night,” I said.

“Bye bye my mama,” you replied.