an open letter to my sons

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To my dear boys,

I’ve had this post in my notes for a long time, longer than either of you have existed, to be honest. When I decided I wanted to be a mother, it was an uneasy decision. I think that’s probably true of most people, but where I differ, I think, is my reasons. Before you were born, I was already a parent in many ways to the people who were supposed to be mine. It was their idea that I was to be the responsible person in our family, that I should be the glue to hold things together, repair whatever damage they would cause, and that I should do all of this without thought or rebuke and never stop until the day they ceased to draw breath.

During that time, I could barely focus on anything but their needs, bypassing my own care for theirs, thinking their thoughts, anticipating their next moves. It was exhausting. And eventually, it wore me down to the point where I could no longer do it. With codependency, which is what I would learn this type of behavior is called, there is no easy extrication. In order to remove myself from this toxic, enmeshed dysfunction, I had to do so with extreme emotional violence, isolation, and silence. I could give them no reason that they would accept, choosing instead to be the monster in their minds, rather than to expose their own monstrosity down to the core, something which would have inflicted much more pain than I was willing to accept. In doing so, I was finally able to free myself enough to consider a family of my own, and so, you two were born.

It is my hope that you understand my reasons for keeping these people out of your lives. There will come a day when I’ll have to sit down with each of you and explain that you have more biological family than you know, and why they are unknown to you. I can’t know for certain, but I can say that raising you without them in my life has been the lesser of two evils. Yes, I feel badly each and every day for doing something so severe, but I feel strongly that, if they were in our lives, the emotional toll (not to mention, the physical and financial ones) would be incredibly high. Their need to control, manipulate, and inflict damage on those around them would influence you in ways I cannot allow or accept. Having spent the years in therapy that I have, medicated and not, I would not wish that hardship on anyone, because even to this day, I am still influenced by it.

I want you to know the light and joy you bring to me and your father. I firmly believe that your personalities are shaped not only by the love we hope to bring into your lives, but also by avoiding the abusive, toxic behaviors that having my parents in your lives would cause. I know you are better without it. However, this means your very existence causes what I can only imagine is pain to them. For this, I am so sorry. What I do, I do to protect you, in the way that no one was there to protect me.

My dear, darling children, your love for each other is so pure and beautiful. I see it blossoming into what I can only hope will be a lifelong friendship and camaraderie. I hope you are able to look out for each other, finding humor and love and joy in each others’ company. My heart soars when you are playing together, laughing and cuddling. I feel like I may not have much left to give, but all that I have is yours to take.

You each are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Your hearts are full of love and joy. Your minds are full of questions and determination to seek out the answers to life’s great mysteries. I love you both so, so much. Thank you for being such amazing little humans. I look forward to each morning, watching you grow up together. You make my heart so happy.

Love always,
Mom

Back to work

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I write this post under duress. I don’t want to go back to work. I don’t care that my 12 weeks is up. I don’t care that I have to start making money or getting benefits for my kids. I just want more time with my boys. I hate the people I work with, and the idea of trading the hours of my day in exchange for not nearly enough money so I can put my kids in daycare is beyond upsetting. I spent days crying about it. I don’t wanna.

Due to a complete failure on the part of my HR department, they have me starting work back again on a Friday, so I get 11.9 weeks of leave instead of the 12. I realize when I arrive that I left my breast pump at home, so I tell my husband that he needs to bring the baby by (he doesn’t start school until the Monday following). I end up nursing the baby sitting on the floor of my office because we can’t get comfortable anywhere else. It’s all I can do to hold myself together, knowing he’s going to be someone else’s buddy next week while I have to work alone.

The people in the office are on their best behavior. I can tell that someone talked about what they want them to act like when I got back. It feels even more uncomfortable, this fake niceness, than the thinly veiled hostility I was used to. I’m too tired to care. These people barely register on my radar anymore. I just want to get through the obligation of time and home to the boys. 4:00 can’t come fast enough.

Baby wearing ftw

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The best advice I have received to date on being a mom, especially with more than one kid, was to integrate babywearing into our life. When my first child was born, I tried it a few times, but didn’t really get that into it. My son didn’t like being constrained by a carrier and the few times he did let me wear him, the tasks I needed to do (e.g., laundry and loading the dishwasher) didn’t really work out the way I’d hoped. At the time, it was easier just to put him in his crib or the pack & play and let him sleep there.

But with the second kid, everything’s different. The older child is already into everything and not having the ability to clone myself, babywearing became a necessity to getting anything done. I have several options, as a result of an overzealous gift registry with my first born coupled with my hoarding everything from the first kid in case I could find use for it with the second.

We took the boys to a Christmas event at a nearby train station, and although it was freezing outside, we managed to make it work with the Moby wrap (and a big floofy onesie that made the baby look like a stuffed bear). At holiday events with family, when the baby needed to nap but there was too much commotion, swaddling him in the wrap was a great option because he was warm and snuggly on my chest and would actually sleep pretty well. It also gave me free hands to deal with our older son, which was super helpful.

Babywearing, especially in the Moby wrap, is fantastic in the first few weeks before he was strong enough to hold his own head up. Now that he’s a little older, we’ve done the forward facing Baby Bjorn as well, with a lot of success. I’m all about finding workable solutions as I acknowledge I’m living the hardest year of my life and I need all the help I can get.

Things on the floor are dead to me

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During my pregnancy, the baby took up most of my belly’s real estate. Even at the best of times, the occupied space was irritatingly uncomfortable. The tiredness made for increased clumsiness and I spent more time than I’d like to admit picking up the shit I knocked on the floor only to repeat the same mistake again and again. Towards the end, I began to declare that things on the floor are dead to me, so that I could deal with my limited mobility, but also use humor to engage others to assist my clumsy ass.

After the baby was born, I thought I’d be better at picking crap up that I knocked over. Employing matrix-like flex skills, and draining every ounce of energy from my legs, I’m grateful I spent so much time in the gym doing leg presses and squats.

How I feel picking up shit off the floor with sleeping baby in my arms

Sometimes I can employ the old toe grab, and try to toss it into one of my free hands. Channeling my inner chimpanzee is all well and good, but gets old rather quick.

Feet? Oh you mean my second set of hands? Yes, I am a veritable octopus…er, quadropus…

Ah, mom life.

What sleeping on the couch has done to me

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It’s very interesting how certain patterns form, especially in the wake of dynamic change. I never really expected to be spending half my nights on the couch. These days, it’s half a night if I’m lucky. Most of what takes place after our shift change at 2:00 am is not really categorically sleep, even on the best of nights. But all that aside, trying to make a new baby work in a 2 bedroom living space without majorly disrupting the fragile sleep cycle of the 4 year old, we have had to come up with some creative solutions.

When the older child was born, we’d never have dreamed of sleeping all night on the bachelor pad style recliner sofa we had in the living room. But since we replaced it with a sectional, a decent floofy comforter and a pillow gets the job done. We break off into pairs at 7:00, I take the older kid upstairs for bath, brushing of teeth and jammies before bed. I can usually get him to sleep between 8:00 and 8:30. Then I get my shower and get to bed. I switch with my husband at 2:00 am, who’s been on baby duty. He crashes upstairs and I begin my watch.

Most nights, the baby wakes up once. I can usually get him to go back to sleep so I can try to steal a few more minutes of sleep myself. But it’s never very restful sleep. I find my dreams are super stressful and hyper real. Because it mimics my life so intensely, it becomes difficult to discern what’s real. Coupled with the sleep deprived memory loss, my grip on reality feels weakened.

At night, I sleep with a white noise app, but my mind turns in on itself with the tv like hissing coming from my cell phone. I hallucinate the sound of the baby crying, lying awake, angry at my husband for not picking him up and keeping him quiet. I turn off the app to go downstairs to realize the baby wasn’t crying after all and my brain is an asshole.

There are unicorn nights, like last night, where he slept all the way through the night. It’s restorative but the deficiency is still there. I could sleep for a year and never feel like it was enough. But mostly what I realize is how much further we have to go and how much work it’s going to be to get there. The mountains we have yet to climb seem so daunting that I find myself afraid to even start.

Purge

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Spending nearly a year of my life pregnant and anticipating the arrival of what would be our last child, I had been holding a lot of things from when our first child was born to see if I would need them again. Plastic crates filled my closets and basement, and finally I got to the point where things just needed to go. I did some purging in the days before my son arrived as an exercise in trying to get my mind off the impending delivery. But now, seeing as how I couldn’t walk around my house without tripping over something, I needed to make another pass.

There’s a great idea in organization that if an object doesn’t give you joy, you should be rid of it. As the child of two compulsive hoarders, I find getting rid of most everything a joy in and of itself. Luckily, I had a few days left before my return to work, so getting rid of stuff felt like I was walking through the door without the weight of the nonsense I kept around me.

I organize by going room by room, creating four piles: keep, trash, donate/recycle/shred, and “not mine” (e.g., stuff that needs my husband’s or son’s permission to get rid of). Then when everything’s sorted, I begin putting the piles where they belong and soon enough I either run out of steam or am done. Either way, the catharsis is real, orderliness is restored to the universe and I’m a happy camper.

Binge

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In a few short days, I go back to work. Maternity leave this time around was probably the best few months of my life. The frivolous luxury of just having to take care of my family seems almost surreal given the unimaginable stress forthcoming when I return to my job. I’m stressing, because this has to go as smoothly as possible and it will require a substantial amount of effort to get it right.

In between all the prep work, I’m indulging in everything I can before I have to put the needs of others first. I’m consuming time with my son like it’s going out of style. We’re rocking in a chair, marathoning Breaking Bad on Netflix, trying to hold onto the moment as much as possible.

It’s the end of an era, I keep telling myself. Soon, I’ll have my surgery so that I will never have to worry about being pregnant again. And, as much as I want that, there is a certain bittersweetness to it. Having a tiny baby again reminds me of all the sweet times we had with my older son. There’s something so very lovely about a sleeping baby in your arms, and these days will diminish too soon. So I’m lapping it up as much as I can.