Parenting Fatigue, or Mommy Just Needs a Break

Photo by Alex Blajan. From http://www.unsplash.com

I’ve been struggling to come up with an explanation of how I have felt in the past couple weeks.  This morning I read an article on parenting fatigue from a blog I follow, Scary Mommy.  I think it described my current state of mind pretty well.  

I have been stressed to the max between work, worrying about ill family members, lack of decent sleep, and the constant go-go-go that has been our normal lately.  I feel like I need some time for me, more than time for a cup of coffee during a nap time… more than my only true alone time during the day, a bathroom break at work…  I need a little time to relax, reset, rejuvenate, without being interrupted every ten seconds, without constantly having an ear cocked listening for a cry… you get the picture.   I am not sure I like the term “parenting fatigue,” but it sounds better than “I need a day without a kid crying/time to be in the bathroom alone/sit still for five minutes/do something relaxing or I’m gonna lose my shit.”  Now, I don’t want to come across as whiny or entitled.  I am tired in a way I have never been tired before.

I have been toying with the idea of taking a day off of work just for myself.  But then, I feel guilty.  My work responsibilities aren’t being taken care of.  That’s eight hours of PTO I may need if Abby gets sick.  There’s a whole day of PTO I am trying to accrue for my next maternity leave, spent selfishly on myself.  I always just suck it up and move on.  But something changed when I walked in the door to work this morning.     I felt like I deserve a break.  I wake up nine times a night, on average.  I take care of everyone else, even when I am sick.  I work hard both at home and on the job.  I have the means to take a day for myself and I should do it.  My wellbeing and mental health is worth it.  

I’m sure some, or most of you out there can relate.  You can read the article I referred to here:

http:/www.scarymommy.comparenting-fatigue-blindsided/

What do you do when you’re feeling this way?

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WTF: How I Realized I Need to Quit Judging Other Parents

Photo by Roman Kraft. From http://www.unsplash.com

We’ve all done it, whether you will admit it or not.  Sometimes it it is obvious when others are doing it to you, although they may not say anything: you are in Target and have just a few more items on your list to get when your kid decides to throw a huge fit in the middle of the vitamin aisle because she can see the toy section but you don’t want to guide the cart that way.  Other shoppers give you the side eye as your kid has a meltdown.   Other times you may be thinking, “Really, lady, you’re getting your kids the apple sauce that has high fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient instead of the all natural one? Geez, that’s a great choice.”
Yesterday I found myself unjustly judging my friend when she was discussing how although her daughter was displaying signs of being ready to potty train, she didn’t want to work with her two and a half year old on potty training yet because she “wanted her to stay a baby for longer.”  I felt like it was unfair to her daughter to keep up this dependence on diapers and someone to change them around the clock, plus not being potty trained excludes her from opportunities for socialization like programs at the local rec center or preschool.  She also said a couple other things that I didn’t agree with, but I won’t go into details.  

Later as I was thinking about what she had said I realized that- you know what?  It is totally none of my business.  WTF, Sarah, I thought.  I wouldn’t appreciate her judgement of me if the tables were turned.  What qualifies me to make a judgement about what she said, how she feels about her child?  Nothing.  I am no expert; I am not a doctor, not a psychologist, not a teacher.  I am a first time parent.  I am literally learning as I go, each day.  All night long I felt guilty.  

Why does our society seem to feel like it is OK to judge other people’s parenting choices?  

Everywhere you turn moms are judging other moms for feeding their babies with formula instead of breastfeeding, or judging moms for breastfeeding instead of using formula.  Judging because one mom loves her son’s soft baby curls so much she can’t bear to give him a “normal” haircut until he’s two.  Judging because this mom gives her kids juice (so much sugar!)  Judging because that mom decides to breastfeed her hungry baby, gasp! in public.  Judging because they don’t take their children to Sunday school.  Judging because little Susie is overweight.   Judging because little Joe wants to play with a doll and a kitchen set instead of a dump truck.  I could go on and on.

We all need to take a collective step back.  It’s easy to judge.  It’s easy to assert our (often unrequested) opinion about other people’s lives and parenting choices and abilities.   But just because it is easy does not make it right.  You never know where the other person is coming from, what is going on in their life, what battles they may be fighting behind the scenes.  Each family, each child, each situation is different.  Judging others says more about you than it does about them.  Be respectful of others and their right to parent as they do.  As long as a kid is fed, healthy, safe, and happy, no opinion, no helpful advice, no judgement is needed.  I know it won’t be easy, but I am going to try to not judge another parent ever again.

Hey Jude

Before I met my husband, almost nine years ago now, I read his MySpace profile.   One of the things that drew me to him (other than his cute picture, of course) was a comment about wanting to find someone to sing harmony with on Hey Jude.  It has been so long ago I don’t remember quite how it was worded, but as a fellow Beatles fan it caught my attention.  I forgot all about it until tonight. 

As I cooked supper in the kitchen I could hear my husband playing with Abby in the living room.  One of the activities they enjoy to do together is to play music videos on YouTube and dance.   Usually this is reserved for Katy Perry, OK Go, and Meghan Trainor, Abby’s favorites (I’m not sure where she inherited her musical tastes from).  

I heard the familiar sound of Hey Jude and peeked around the corner to see them dancing together and singing.   I can’t tell you how much happiness I felt at seeing that scene.  I did not interrupt their moment; I went back to the oven, but I smiled to myself and remembered my husband’s MySpace profile comment.  Life unfolds in mysterious ways and can be so sweet sometimes.  I am so happy to have these two in mine.

Diaper Rash, You Bitch

Photo by Layne Lawson. From http://www.unsplash.com

Somehow we went thirteen months without Abby getting diaper rash.  Until now.  Holy crap.

A top tooth took its sweet time coming in and was accompanied by diarrhea.   She has also been refusing to eat most purees now, so I think the introduction of some foods may have also had a part to play in the runny poop.   We spent four evenings at parent and child swimming lessons, so a soggy swim diaper and chlorine probably didn’t help. 

Once the diaper rash appeared it took no time at all to change my sweet, normally very agreeable baby into a monster when the word diaper was mentioned.  She would writhe on the floor, desperate to make her escape each time I tried to change her diaper.  Middle of the night diaper changes, which normally are the easiest because she is sleepy and compliant, turned into a tag team Mom and Dad against toddler high-emotion wrestling match.  She flailed, flopped, and flung herself around screaming like a wildbanshee fish out of water.  She has never ever acted this way before.  I don’t blame her, the area on her bum turned from pink spots to raw, irritated red rash quickly.  Luckily it didn’t get bad enough to bleed, like in the horror stories my sister and babysitter told me when I asked for advice.   

A&D ointment that was recommended to me only seemed to make her feel worse, but Desitin helped.  I was also recommeded Butt Paste and Triple Paste, but told that it was really strong and I worried that it would bother her sensative skin.  Baby wipes, even sensitive ones, bothered her, so I began to use small pieces of damp paper towel to wipe her bottom.

 Finally, time spent in front of TV watching cartoon movie trailers on YouTube while sitting butt naked on a towel helped turn the tide.  (This is the ONLY thing that would keep her still enough to keep her pants off so she could air out and not pee all over the whole house – the kid is NEVER still except in her sleep.)  I kept religiously changing her diaper and keeping her pants off so I could tell right away when her diaper was dirty. 

Now her rash is almost gone and each pee or diaper change no longer begins a tantrum.  She-Hulk is gone and my sweet girl is back.  Hopefully our first dance with diaper rash is also our last, but who knows.  If it is not, at least we have this experience under our belt now.

Mmmm

I had to come in to work early today so my morning routine was all out of whack.  But, surprise!  An awesome coworker brought in cupcakes this morning.  Don’t the best days start off with surprise cupcakes?   Lemon blueberry zucchini with lemon buttercream.  Nom nom nom, delicious! 

I Think it’s Nap Time

Photo by Andrew Branch. From http://www.unsplash.com

My husband and his friend traveled to Colorado Friday, so Abby and I spent the weekend together at home.  I’m not gonna lie, it was a little trying to not have my husband around to run interference all weekend.  He’s never been away from home so long since she’s been born.  
I had hoped to go to the park or take a stroller ride outside but it was rainy in the morning and hot in the afternoon. Regardless, we had a lot of fun playing inside Saturday and somehow even managed to get about eight loads of laundy done.  My mom came over to visit after she got off work and we had a good time.  After supper we read books in our pajamas and had a smooth bedtime.

Sunday was a different story. We visited the library where we first went to the children’s section and played with some puzzles and then picked out four board books to take home. Then I checked the card catalog for a book I wanted to read and we went to the basement to find the non-fiction books.  As we were walking down the aisles Abby decided to yell as loudly as possible and not stop, so I decided that we were going to leave even though I was not finished because she was not quieting down with anything I tried.  We then went to Hobby Lobby just to walk around and again, she decided to yell all over the store.  We went home and ate lunch.  After lunch she flitted between one no-no to the next: trying to touch the flat screen TV with her toys, playing with the nightlight in the hallway, stealing the dishtowels from the kitchen, removing all the foam corner covers from every table and shelf, sticking her fingers in the air vents, pulling on the Venetian blinds.  Each time I would tell her no she would cycle to the next thing she could find.

Mom needed a break.  

“I think it’s nap time,” I say.  Automatically,  she decides to start bucking about the floor and throwing a fit.  I place her in her crib and she curls up with her wubby and falls right asleep.

Woohoo, nap time!  I collapse on the loveseat and let the silence of the house and the buzz of the monitor wash over me.  I didn’t realize just how tired I was.

All too soon Abby’s catnap is over and she is back to being ornery.  I break my rule of only letting her watch half an hour of TV a day.  We turn on Air Buddies and she stands still for the first time all day.  “Dog. Dog. Dog. Dog,” she points at the TV, enthralled for the next fifteen minutes.  After I decide she’s had enough we go to the kitchen to start to decorate a cake when we hear the jingle of keys at the front door. She squeals with delight, “Dada!”  I’m not sure who was happier to see him.

What I Learned by Traveling Abroad

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Photo by Hannes Wolf. From http://www.unsplash.com

“What you get by reaching your destination isn’t nearly as important as what you become by reaching that destination.”  – Zig Ziglar

I have been to 20 different countries and have made four trips abroad.  Each trip and each country has made an impact on me; each has taught me lessons I won’t soon forget.  I have learned so much, much more than I could write here (especially without boring you!)   Below is a list of just a of the few things that I have learned during my travels.

1. It is OK to be alone

Being alone can be scary.  Traveling can be scary.  Traveling alone can be scary.  It is OK to be alone though, not only when traveling,  but at home.  Prior to my solo trip to France I had never really been on my own for a long time.  I had been living alone for a little over a year but had never truly been completely on my own, until I hopped aboard a plane and landed in a France where everyone was a stranger.  I learned that it can be very centering and cathartic to be alone for an extended period.  I learned a lot about myself.  I learned that I am OK with being alone and that I can make myself happy.  I truly feel that you can’t really be happy being with someone else until you know that you can be happy alone.

2. I am stronger than I think

Getting on a plane and traveling thousands of miles away from your family, friends, job, and lifestyle is tough.  At home there is usually someone to turn to if you need help, but when traveling alone you only have yourself to rely on.  How do you get to the train station?  How do I find a doctor?  What do you do when you don’t speak the language?  It can be overwhelming and difficult. I am an introvert and I was forced to come out of my shell, talk to people, use all kinds of resources, and get things done all by myself.  Were there times when I wanted to break down and cry because I missed everyone?  Yes.  Were there times where I wanted to give up because it was hard?  Absolutely.  You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  By navigating truly foreign situations I found out that I am a lot stronger than I thought and capable of great things.

3. Most people everywhere are really friendly

As I stated earlier, I am an introvert.  I have never been outgoing, never enjoyed situations like parties or places where one is forced to interact with other people.  Studying abroad in a language immersion program made me have to speak to tons of people every day, whether in a classroom, in a cafeteria, on a field trip, etc.  I lodged in a home with a family so I had the experience of daily interaction in a familial situation.  Everyone that I dealt with, from teachers, other foreign students of many nationalities, my exchange family, and others were always very friendly and happy to help with anything.  People in pastry shops, museums, book stores, and other places were, for the most part, amicable and engaging.

4. I wanted to marry my (now) husband

I met my husband in the middle of December and a couple months later decided to study abroad during the summer.  I knew it was only a short period of time to be away from home but was concerned that a new relationship might not be able to withstand us being on opposite sides of the globe.  I was in love with my husband (then boyfriend) before I left and my absence from him only confirmed my feelings of wanting to be with him forever.

5. Even if you are walking everywhere, all those pastries, that chocolate, and rich food is going to catch up with you

I thought that by walking from morning until night all around the city would help me lose weight while I was gone.  I went up and down a street with four flights of stairs to get to my exchange family’s home multiple times a day.  I visited countless museums and walked to the beach daily.  None of that was enough to counteract the delicious pastries and chocolate that tempted me from shop windows or cafes and the rich food served by the school cafeteria chefs.  I gained almost 10 pounds by the time I got home… but every bite was worth it.

6. The world is a much bigger place than you can imagine

I come from a small town of about 200 people.  My high school graduating class had 25 kids.  I had dreamed of going abroad for years, read so much about Europe, and watched so many TV programs, but I still had major culture shock when I went to Europe for the first time at 18 and got to experience cities like London and Berlin.  There were more people on one city block than in my whole town.  Everything seemed so big, so old, so full of history, and so full of people.  It was mind-boggling to me that we could drive around Europe and visit so many different countries and cultures and still not even scratch the surface.

7. Americans live so differently from people elsewhere

I was amazed when I went to Mexico with the Girl Scouts as a teenager.  We did a service project in a very poor neighborhood in Mexico City.  Once place we went was to a preschool, where we handed out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other basic toiletries to the children.  I was appalled at the condition of the preschool- everything looked like broken throwaways- never would you see a preschool in the United States looking like this.  It really hit home to me that for these kids this was normal.  Even though my family was not rich by American standards, I realized that there are so many people in this world who did not have so much, and it made me very appreciative of what I had and where I lived.

When I visited peoples’ homes in France and Germany, or saw photographs of my fellow students’ homes, it was clear that many Americans live so differently from a lot of the world.  The size of the house I grew up in and the size of the house I live in now are huge compared to so many that I saw.  Americans have so many more material possessions than a lot of people of other nationalities.  Does it add quality to our life?  Are we better off because we have so many more things?  Not necessarily.  When I last moved I enjoyed getting rid of a lot of unnecessary belongings.  It felt very good to simplify.  In the last few years I have been trying to gift or buy “experiences,” rather than things.  A trip, a concert, or a museum visit that I can share with friends or loved ones holds much more value to me than material gifts.

8. Expect the unexpected

No matter how much you plan or how organized you are, something unexpected happens.  What do you do?  Just roll with it.

 When I traveled to Mexico I was supposed to have a state-issued ID (I was too young to drive so I did not have a driver’s license) and a copy of my birth certificate.  My mom got a driver’s license-sized hard card copy of my birth certificate, thinking it would be more convenient and better to carry with me than a regular copy of my birth certificate.  Unfortunately, at the airport three hours away from home and my parents, the airline did not want to accept the card and said I had to stay while my Girl Scout leaders and friends got to board a plane for Mexico.  Are you kidding me?  I turned on the waterworks and the grumpy airline worker relented and I was able to board the plane.

One night during one trip to France, about three o’clock in the morning, actually, I was awakened by fire alarms blaring and knocking on my hotel room door.  I hurriedly made my way down to the street below and waited for firefighters to give the all-clear so we could head back inside. Luckily it was just a small cooking fire and not anything worse, especially because in my sleepy trip out of the hotel I had forgotten to grab my passport.

Another time in France, friends and I had taken a short trip to Marseilles.  While walking back to our hotel from the beach one of my friends who was a waiter in Paris saw one of his regular customers.  The customer invited us to visit his summer home and meet his wife the next afternoon.  We did and were treated to a delicious spread of wine, olives, grapes, cheese, pastry, lots of other fantastic food, and a great time.  Even though I didn’t understand all of the conversation, I felt very welcome and it was an afternoon I will never forget.

9. Some of the smallest things are the most memorable

One afternoon on my way to a museum I was walking down a cobblestone street and gazing in shop windows when a destitute man came up to me asking for cigarettes.  I told him that I had none and he began to tease me and ask for a kiss instead.  Even though the interaction only lasted a couple minutes I will always remember it.

Sunbathing on the beach one afternoon I was lonely and missing home.  I was listening to music that reminded me of my boyfriend with my headphones on and the volume high.  I had my eyes closed.  After some time had passed and I heard a lady who had been sunbathing near me say something to me: “Pardon, mademoiselle, mais la mer…”  I didn’t hear what she was trying to tell me but I saw she had gotten up and walked away.  I closed my eyes and a few minutes later had a very cold surprise.  I had lain on the beach long enough that the incoming tide had finally reached me.  That’s what my sunbathing neighbor had tried warning me about.

That Post-Baby Funk

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Photo by Kate.  From http://www.unsplash.com

 

So I read a little about it in the “What to Expect” type books.  I read about it in magazines and motherhood and parenting blogs.  But I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of what I call the “post-baby funk” stage of marriage.

Bringing a baby home for the first time was hard.  The first few months were so hard.  We had no idea how to be parents, no idea what we were doing, or if we were even doing anything right or not.  We were together in our love for this tiny new person and our mutual exhaustion.

I figured that after we settled in and got comfortable that some things would go back to normal, or close to it.  Now it has been a year and it is still hard, just a different hard.  We are still trying to navigate the parenting waters and our roles as man and wife in an ever-evolving situation.

Sometimes it is easy to ruffle each others’ feathers, when we used to rarely do that.  I still get up multiple times a night with the baby.  He tries to get up and calm her when she cries, but she always wants Mom and gets more upset.  I can’t help but be frustrated that after a year I still have to get up so many times and can’t sleep much more than an hour at a time, although I know it is not his fault and it is not her fault.  I recently got jealous that he sometimes gets to go out at night and have an occasional beer with his friends or coworkers.  It sometimes seems like they spend more quality time with him than I do.  When I fessed up to being jealous about this, he said it wasn’t true and I think I made him upset, but it does seem like that sometimes.

Our time together when not with Abby is always during her short nap times or at night after she has gone to bed.  This means that by the time she’s gone to bed I can barely keep my eyes open and am ready to go to bed myself, so watching an hour long TV show or a movie together is often out of the question.  Sometimes he’s napping on the couch so he can have enough energy to go down to his office and work or spend time on his hobbies before he comes to bed a few hours later, so I will just go ahead and go to bed.  Even if we do spend time together it is often interrupted by the baby.  At night if I want to do something for me, like if want to read, exercise, catch up on housekeeping, paint, or blog, then we definitely don’t get any time together.  But trying to stay awake to do so is difficult.

Sex is something that causes friction, as well.  I am rarely in the mood anymore.  Maybe it’s hormones from breastfeeding, the lack of sleep, the stress of work, parenting, taking care of household chores, and other things.  Some of it is that I’ve been a little depressed lately and look to comfort foods to make myself feel better, which has caused me to gain weight and  feel unattractive and not at all like taking my clothes off.  I discussed my lack of libido with my OB/GYN but was told there is nothing she can do to help.

I think like most new parents there is always the lingering issue of finances.  Paying for a mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries, and daycare leaves little extra and with my student loans and medical bills I can’t contribute as much as I would like or feel like I should.  I think this puts pressure on him and he feels like he always has to do more to provide for us, and this makes me feel bad as if I am failing.

Now that I am a mom my whole life has changed.  When you are pregnant everyone always says, “Everything is different after you have a baby!” and I always thought, no duh, but I didn’t realize that it would be so hard to reconcile the new me and the old me.  My old go-to stress reliever was always exercise: I enjoyed taking long, rambling six mile walks.  Now I barely have time to get in a thirty minute exercise video without interruption, and it is not the same.  I devoured book after book, now, sadly I have been reading the same book for six months.  I used to spend so much time with writing, sewing, painting, and other things, but now it is confined to the time on weekends when my husband will graciously take Abby out to Home Depot or the mall so I can have some time alone.  I never knew that it would be so artistically unfulfilling and stressful to not have that creative outlet available.

Things change, quicker than we realize.  Life will keep on moving and these things will get easier or we will adapt to them and other things will be hard; that’s the way life is.  I love my husband so incredibly much.  He means the world to me and I try to show him daily, with little things, like leaving him a note or sending a text, rubbing his back, or making scrambled eggs the way he prefers.  I know that he loves me and supports me and always will.  I know that this is just a short time in our lives that won’t last forever.  I am glad we are going through it together.

 

 

A Year of Abby

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Photo by Kelley Bozarth.  From http://www.unsplash.com

 

Abby turned a year old last week.  It is hard to believe how much has changed in just a year’s time.  The teeny tiny yawning baby laid on my chest at the hospital has changed into a silly, babbling, always moving, into everything toddler.  Our house has gone from a place full of cool stuff to a place where everything breakable is now at adult shoulder height, all corners are covered in round pieces of foam, and every spare spot is full of sippy cups, Sesame Street characters, board books, toys, and miniature furniture that seems to multiply at an exponential rate.  The couple that used to go to concerts and Comic Cons, spend Saturday nights at the movies, or binge watch TV shows has been replaced by two tired parents on auto-drive and fueled by coffee, never able to finish a movie in one sitting (or two), and who have memorized all the words to the Little Einsteins and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood theme songs.

I love every moment spent with Abby.  I love watching her discover her world.  She looks at everything with such wonder.  She is brave and plunges into everything, from the swimming pool to new situations, head first without fear.  She is loving and affectionate, always hugging the older kids at daycare.  Abby smiles and says, “Hi!” with a wave to everyone she sees while sitting in the cart at the grocery store or out riding in her stroller.  Although she has not been walking long, she gets where she wants to go, and if she falls down she gets right back up and continues on without a whimper.   She loves to help me fold laundry, which basically consists of unfolding everything I have already folded five times.  She loves to dance and loves music.  It is so much fun to watch her and my husband dancing around the living room to “All About That Bass” or “Uptown Funk.”

Abby has made me a better person.  Even though I may wake up groggy and grumpy at 5:00 a.m., her ornery little smile and the way she wraps her little arms around my neck and squeezes me tight makes me happy right away.  She has taught me that it is OK to just sit and play; I don’t need to be multitasking all of the time.  I love to point out all kinds of fun, beautiful, or wondrous things to her each day, just to watch her reaction.  She has given me the gift of learning to have more patience.  I try to be healthier by eating better and exercising more so she has a healthy role model to look up to.  I find myself being incredibly silly just to get her to smile.  Each day I feel like I change as much as she does.

It’s been a great year.  I’m so excited for the next.