We're in the midst of one of THOSE weeks. The kind full of fevers and crying and waking up 10 times a night to tend to sick children. The kind where you completely run on empty. It's at these times when I remember the way things were 'before' and really REALLY miss some things. Especially...
1. Sick days.
There is NOTHING I miss more about life before having kids than this. Before kids when I would wake up with a nasty cold or flu I would call in sick, get back in bed and sleep all day. The only times I would get up would be to use the washroom or perhaps make some soup or tea.
Now? Tough luck. You can't tell your children 'Hey, I seemed to have picked up a bug, but don't worry, I'll try to make it in tomorrow if I can'. You HAVE to get up. You have to deal. You feed, and change and chase them around all day.
I've nursed a baby and held a plastic bag while I had food poisoning. I've nursed a toddler after vomiting all night with the stomach flu, feeling myself dehydrate to the point of pain. I cradled a newborn around my IV line when I was hospitalized with bacterial meningitis so I could feed her protective antibodies. Even if your job forces you to come in sick, you can always go home and sleep it off overnight. But for me there is no night anymore. That feverish crying baby needs me and she doesn't know that I'm sick too.
The cruelest part is that while having kids takes away sick days, you end up getting sick more than you ever have in your life. They bring home every germ, infecting the whole family with things you didn't even know existed before. Having more than one child makes it worse- my oldest daughter gets it first from school, then infects her sister, father and I all at the same time. So we end up with one healthy child running wild, a sick baby to tend to and 2 useless parents.
2. The deep end.
I love swimming. We live across the road from a public pool and I try to go there with the kids as often as I can in the summer. It's fun, but it's just NOT the same. I always have someone in my arms. I'm constantly on high alert making sure nobody runs off and falls in. I'm always making sure nobody has just pooped or vomited in the pool (my kids in case we need to make a run for it, or someone else's so I can make sure my kids don't ingest it.)
I often stare longingly at the deep end in the pool. I remember what it's like to jump off the diving board, to go underwater, to float aimlessly, to lay on a towel and read, feeling the breeze on my back. It's been a long time since swimming has included any of those things.
3. Eating junk food during the day.
We want our kids to grow up eating healthy foods, so this is what we try to eat to set a good example:
It's not that we don't love these foods, and feel great eating them. But still, we get hungry. And the second the kids are in bed we want this:
Back when we could eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to, we ate a lot less junk. But now when evening rolls around we JUST CANT HELP IT! Forbidden fruit (or in our case cupcakes) are always more tempting.
I've never been a huge party animal, but I always enjoyed my weekends. Before kids my husband and I went to a lot of restaurants with friends, to movies, on long bike rides. We went on day trips and overnights to other cities, we hosted food themed parties for all our friends. Every second of the weekend was OURS and we could do whatever we wanted. We try to do as much of that as we can with the kids in tow, but obviously it isn't the same. We have minimal babysitting options so we manage to make it out alone together about twice a YEAR, instead of twice a week.
This is what Saturday night looks like in our house now:
5. Looking out for #1.
I remember when I only had to worry about feeding and clothing myself. It took so little time! I would cook something that lasted for days, wash a few dishes, do a load of laundry maybe once a week. Once I met my husband it didn't change- I cooked for both of us, he did dishes and his own laundry. It was SO easy. Now? I do laundry every day. I am constantly washing dishes and preparing food. But the hardest part is constantly cleaning up this:
Some days I feel like I spend ALL my time cleaning up after other people. I'll be cleaning up one mess and they will be making another one faster than I can keep up.
6. Doing things without asking permission.
Before kids: Take a shower. End of story.
After kids: 'Sweeeeetie??'
'Can I take a shower?'
'I really smell.'
'But you just went to the grocery store by yourself. I need to go do my laundry and then mow the lawn.'
'Ok, but only if you let me have 20 minutes to eat lunch by myself later.'
Before having kids I had NO idea the kind of fierce negotiations involved with your partner in EVERYTHING you want and need to do. Time alone is rare currency that needs to be well spent. Using it to do necessary chores offers some leverage but still counts against you. I never, ever in a million years ever thought I would ever need to ask my husband permission to poop. But here we are.
7. Running to the store.
Before I had kids and I ran out of something, I could just zip out the door quickly and run to the store. If I had a craving for a slice of pizza I could wander down the road and grab one from the pizzeria. I could even take my sweet time. Now I have to be VERY careful that our house is well stocked. You can't ever leave your kids home alone, you have to drag them with you. But even then they might be sleeping, or sick, or require many many articles of clothing just to leave the house. It will take you 10 times longer to walk or drive there. Most of the time it's just not worth the effort.
The funny thing is that despite how much I miss these things, the reason I usually think about them isn't because I'm miserable, but because the opposite is true. I remind myself of the things I will have to look forward to again in a few years not in envy of my past self, but as a consolation prize for my future self for when these current days are over. Because as much as I loved the freedoms of life before kids, I know I'll never miss any of those things half as much as I'm going to miss the the things like this:
Or how sad I'll be when something as simple as this isn't the most exciting thing in their world.
It will break our hearts when hanging out with us is no longer their favorite thing to do, because we're not longer the coolest people in the universe anymore.
So yeah, someday I'll once again be able to enjoy a sick day in bed, a solitary swim and a movie or dinner with my husband whenever I want. I'll have an easy to clean house, the ability to go to the store whenever I want. I'll be able to sit down in the middle of the day and eat a cookie in plain sight. I won't have to beg permission to take a shower as if it were a week in Vegas. Things will get easy again all too fast, and that makes me very sad. I know it has to come some day, but I'm just not ready for it yet.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Last year when I was really struggling just to make it through each day, I was comparing myself to too many other mothers around me without realizing that their circumstances were different. Recently I realized it went beyond a lack of extended family help, or the use of a car during the day or many of the other obstacles I work with. I think the biggest challenge I face is that I am an introvert.
Introversion isn't simply about being shy- many introverts, myself included, aren't shy at all. I enjoy social events and the company of other people, just as extroverts enjoy quiet time alone. The difference is in how we're wired to recharge our batteries. An extrovert feels refreshed after spending time interacting socially with others, while an introvert needs solitude to fill themselves back up again.
When I first became a mother, it was still easy to meet all my introverted needs. In the beginning, the symbiosis between mother and baby is so great that being around them feels like being alone. They are simply an extension of yourself. They don't talk, they sleep a great deal of the time and they can be put in a stroller or carrier for long walks whenever you feel like it. It becomes harder when they start walking and talking, but even then the afternoon nap is sufficient to get that time you need.
My oldest daughter stopped napping altogether when she was 2 1/2. I was 6 months pregnant at the time. I managed to make things work for the next year with a combination of 'quiet time' in her room and part time preschool, but things started to unravel when my daughter decided to fight quiet time with everything she had. I was already physically exhausted, but it was the mental exhaustion that was really killing me. I was giving and giving all day every day, but without any peace and quiet I had nothing to fill me back up.
My extroverted friends joke about needing 'me' time, but for them it means a girls night out, a trip to the spa, or a glass of wine and trashy tv after the kids are in bed. I have a very supportive husband who would be more than willing to help me out with any of those things, but what an introvert needs is something that is incredibly hard to provide to a mother of very young kids on a regular basis. I need complete and utter silence, and I need it every single day. Otherwise, I completely go to pieces.
People who don't understand what it's like to be an introvert think we're being dramatic, or wimpy, or selfish. They don't understand that some people are wired in a way that makes them need silence almost as much as they need air, water, warmth or food. They don't understand how much we struggle to function when we don't get it. After a couple days without time alone, I start to get irritable. If it goes on for an extended period of time I start suffering from feelings of extreme exhaustion and anxiety. I start having panic attacks both during the day and in the middle of the night. The longer I go without it the more it takes to even me back out again. A small daily dose of quiet is much more effective than a huge chunk after things have gone too far. Prevention is always better than trying to fix it after the fact.
My oldest daughter goes to school full time now, and my youngest is a great napper. When that daily dose of silence was added back into my life I felt an incredible surge of energy, happiness and well being. Because I am able to get that time during the day again, I'm spending much more time with my husband in the evenings instead of hiding with a book in another room. I'm more patient with him and the kids because my own needs are finally being met.
Small children are demanding and they are loud. When you've spent the entire day giving and giving and are drained to the last drop, it's hard to be there for your spouse as well, but it's also important that you are. As an introverted mother you need to learn how to get what you need so you can still be there for (and enjoy) everyone else. Here are the things I've picked up along the way.
1. Get your 'stuff' done while the kids are awake.
In the early days I used to spend nap time or time when my husband took the baby out to cook and clean and do laundry and then wonder why I felt so exhausted and miserable about it. Now unless I have a burning desire to do housework (which almost NEVER happens), I make sure I get things done when the kids are present. I get them to 'help', I speed clean the kitchen while they sit eating their afternoon snacks or breakfast, I run and throw in a load of laundry when they are mesmerized by a toy. The second they are asleep or not home I am OFF duty and I am only allowed to do something I find relaxing, which in my case is usually reading a book.
2. Leave if you have to.
Sometimes it's easier to leave the house for silence than to kick everyone else out. Instead of getting my husband to watch the kids so I can go out for drinks with friends, I go for long walks alone, swim laps at the pool, run errands or even see movies by myself.
3. Divide and conquer.
We often each take a kid. If I need some quiet I take the baby for a long walk in the jogging stroller or he takes the 4 year old out to visit family and friends while the baby naps.
4. Realize you don't need to be there for everything.
Like most introverts, I'm married to an extrovert. Every weekend, if we don't have plans, he's running through his phone book looking for people to get together with. I used to think I had to do everything, now I pick and choose. He often takes the kids out to brunch with his family and I stay home and rest. I'm there for all the many holidays and celebrations with them, which I enjoy, but I no longer feel the need to show up every time they want to go out for pancakes.
5. Be clear about what you need and negotiate.
My husband now understands that while he wants to spend his free time playing music or soccer with his friends, I want him to take the kids out for the afternoon so I can have a totally silent house. You have to let the people in your life know what you need the most and work out exactly how and when you can get it.
6. Make the most of quiet time.
My oldest daughter is in full time school, but that still means she's off on holidays for the whole summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, spring break, PD days and various other holidays. I make quiet time work by saving certain things to be ONLY for the times when her sister is napping. I make special snacks in advance, bring out toys with small pieces that are off limits when her sister is awake, give her sheets of stickers from the dollar store, make popcorn and put on a movie, ect. It's not as relaxing as being home alone with a napping baby, but it does allow me to catch small doses of quiet in between her demands and questions.
7. Think twice about spacing.
If you're an introvert then having several children back to back is probably a terrible idea. Even if all of them continue to nap right up until they start school, getting them all to sleep at the SAME time is supposedly quite a feat. Having one at home and one in school is ideal, but also having them close enough in age to play together is very useful as they get older. I did a 3 year gap, which seemed to be the best possible balance between those two factors, even if I had to go through a VERY rough patch to get to this point.
I often miss adult interaction and time with friends as well, which are very hard to come by when you're a mother with young kids. I can't imagine how hard it would be to NEED those things in the same way an extrovert does. I think the important thing is to realize that mothers have different needs, and instead looking down on those differences we should recognize that neither type is being selfish, that the main reason we're trying to recharge our own batteries in the most effective way is so that we can continue to be there for our families. We fill ourselves up so that we can fully be there to give ourselves to them, to enjoy them, to be present in the fleeting moments we have with our small children. If I am a better mother if I can live a part of each day in silence then I don't see anything wrong with trying to make that happen.