Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The infamous cup.
It's just a cup. Now breathe.

That's what I tell myself four times a day, as I scrub out a certain little red sippy cup with flowers on the side. It's just a cup. Keep breathing.

It's not a symbol of what my life has become, it's not a force of evil in the world, it's not something I want to throw against the wall. Much. It's just a cup. So relax.

But I can't relax, because it's the only cup my little girl will drink her milk out of (yes, I realize I am indulging this particular bit of pickiness on her part but you pick your battles, and no, I can't find another cup like it because believe me, if I could I would buy 37 of them), so I have to keep it clean, I have to keep scrubbing it out. Over and over. All day long. Week after week. Which turns into months. And then I close my eyes and see myself 30 years from now, gray haired and wrinkly and still standing over the sink scrubbing out this stupid cup which is of course ridiculous because by then my baby girl will be 31 and if she's still living at home and drinking out of a sippy cup we have big issues and now I'm feeling dizzy so I really need to just breathe....

It's just a cup.

But it's also a constant reminder of the routine that has taken over my life. And just how routine that routine can sometimes feel.

Experts tell us that routines are good, even essential, for kids. The predicability of a routine (bath, bottle, bed for babies; dinner, homework, family time for older kids, etc) teaches kids about expectations and outcomes, and helps them build confidence and a sense of security while reducing anxiety. Routines are healthy, routines are important. And sometimes routines make me want to throw up.

Our two kids are now 3 years and 16 months old and it's hard to argue with the results of the structure and routines we've provided them with. They eat well, play well, and sleep well, and I'm sure much of that is due to the fact that those things happen on cue at the same time almost every day. Sure, there are exceptions and adjustments for special occasions, but for the most part we stick to the routine.

Routines are definitely not something that were part of my own childhood. With 2 busy, working parents my brother and I were often left to fend for ourselves with a teenage babysitter who occasionally glanced up from watching General Hospital to make sure we didn't climb out any windows. Aside from church on Sunday, our lives didn't have a whole lot of structure. And that was OK with me.

As it turned out, I never became a big planner or or one to stick to a firm routine, and working in TV news fed my unstructured side perfectly. From the sublime (helping bring injustices to light) to the ridiculous (I once covered the rescue of 7 ducks from a sewer), every day was different (often changing in the middle of the day), I never knew what to expect walking in the door. And that was more than OK with me.

But balancing that routine with family life proved untenable for me. I spent a difficult year after our first child was born trying to prove I really could have it all, really could do it all. In reality working weekend nights and swing shifts so we could afford a nanny, never having time off with my husband, prepping dinner in the dark at 6am, and trying to cram all my Mommy Moments into 48 hours (along with cleaning the house, visiting my parents, and going to the grocery store) was slowly sucking the life out of my life. It took a confession to my husband- that I sometimes fantasized about having to have my appendix removed or a minor car accident so I could get some rest- to make me realize this was not at all OK with me anymore.

Shortly before our second child was born I made the decision to leave the full-time work world. Over lunch with one of my stay at home mom neighbors I attempted to share my fears about the transition but found myself running into a mental wall. "But you'll be so busy running after two kids!" she insisted. I told her I honestly worried about the monotonous nature of life with two kids might turn my brain (what was left of it) to mush. I've barely heard a word from her since.

Now, I've been home for 17 months and life has never been more routine. Make breakfast, clean up breakfast. Make lunch, clean up lunch. Nap time. Laundry time. Snack time. Dinner time. Bed time. Fill the sippy cup, scrub the sippy cup. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yes, our days are filled with love and laughter, giggles and bubbles, trips to the park and the zoo and all sorts of different adventures. But there's also a whole lot of the same.

Something has to change, and I'm not just talking about the sippy cup. Somewhere between "footloose and fancy free" and "If it's Tuesday it must be time to clean the toilets" there must be a middle ground. I am finding myself bored and restless, in need of a challenge, but lacking the time or energy to even begin to figure out what that might be. The kids need their routine, and I'll do everything in my power to keep them in it, but I need more as well. Admitting that may make me less of a mom in the eyes of some, but it makes me more of myself in my own and that's all that matters.

I don't know what the solution is yet, but I'm committed to finding it. Somewhere there must be a routine that will work for all of us, at least most of the time. Somehow, the (sippy) cup can be half-full again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just One Of Those Days

Noah and Cecilia in Non-Grump Mode
It was just one of those days.

One of those days when the occupants of the house included a grumpy preschooler, a grumpier baby and the grumpiest mom. It seemed we had all woken up on the wrong side of the bed (or crib). At least one of us was sleep-deprived (gotta love working nights), another was cutting a tooth, and the third, well, he's 3, so enough said. Together, our grumpy trio grumped through the day, feeding off each others negative energy like a child (at least my child) tears through Goldfish crackers. By mid-morning we could have hung a sign outside designating our house as Tears R Us. Most of lunch ended up being thrown under the table, which is also where I considered throwing myself at several points. By naptime it was all I could do not to scream "GO TO SLEEP, #$%& it!!!" but somehow managed to tuck them both in with a story, a kiss, and a weak, shaky "Sweet dreams."

Finally, a break.

It lasted about 6 minutes.

The little angel who naps 3 hours/day and sleeps 12 hours/night (yes, I know- we are spoiled) decided to Just Say No to naptime. Repeatedly. And loudly. I calmed her down and gently placed her back in the crib. Nap, Take 2.

This time, it lasted about 6 seconds.

After a seemingly interminable stretch of rocking, back rubbing, singing and shushing, we had a breakthrough. Nap, Take 3. I tiptoed backwards out of the room, quietly opened the door and was instantly greeted by shrieks of "MAMA!!!!! I HAVE TO GO POOPOO!!!!" from the room next door.

Scream went the baby! Scream went her brother! RUN FAR AWAY! went the little voice in my head.

Noah's current favorite nap location

Another 20 minutes and the screams had been calmed, the poop had been pooped, and the now relieved preschooler was tucked back on the floor. Yes, the floor- it's where he currently insists on napping. Like I said, he's 3.

Baby, however, was adhering to the "3 strikes and you're out of the crib" rule. In her mind, there was no going back.

I tearfully stood there holding her, unable to move. I was so very, very tired, so thoroughly in need of a little downtime, a few peaceful minutes with no one pulling at one of my appendages. Defeated, depressed, and downtrodden, I carried her to my room, crept into bed, and held that little one to my chest. Within 2 minutes we were both sound asleep.

Seems like only yesterday
My little baby girl is now almost 16 months old. Though I still call her a baby (and in my heart she will always remain my baby), I can see clearly that she no longer is. At some point I blinked and she turned into a talking, almost walking, highly opinionated little person. When awake, she's a constant ball of motion, but yesterday I got to once again feel her at rest. It had been months since I held her sleepy little form in my arms and felt her heartbeat next to mine, her little chest rising and falling against my own.

I only slept for a few minutes, as her jerky little sleepy twitches woke me with a start. But for a time I wished could have gone on and on I breathed in her sweet smell, ran my fingers through her hair, and just held on to that precious baby girl. It was the best non-nap I've ever had.

Every parent reaches his or her breaking point, and every parent deserves a break. The lucky ones have a network of grandparents, friends, and babysitters at the ready to provide that much needed pause. The rest of us find ourselves waiting (sometimes desperately) for that moment of solitude that with kids becomes so elusive (remember when going to the bathroom was a private affair?).

But sometimes when the unexpected happens (as it so often does), it helps to remember that what we so desperately crave can be found in places we might not usually think to look. It happened to me. I found peace, comfort and strength in a non-nap with a wriggly, wiggly non-baby.

It was just one of those days.