The Shoulds

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Lately I’ve been having these days. Days that make me Google stuff like, “How do other moms do it?”

I remember when that terrible movie with Sarah Jessica Parker came out, the one about the mom who has a career and looks all put together and in stilettos and maybe she’s single too, I’m not sure. I won’t admit to knowing the name of the movie any more than I’ll admit to trying to watch it one day when I was pregnant. To my credit, I couldn’t get past five minutes before I got queasy (it wasn’t because of the pregnancy).

I remember when I first saw the trailer. The whole thing seemed so hackneyed and first world problem-y and I didn’t care that She Does It, much less wanting to know how.

But now, now.

I go to people’s houses and marvel at the fact that they have time to decorate for Christmas. That their nurseries are organized, that things are in shelves and boxes, that they’ve put pictures on the wall. I wonder how a friend flew across the country with a five-month-old, without any help, while extremely sleep deprived and getting over a cold. My favourite mommy blogger, who used to seem a little like me, always getting herself into these funny situations just trying to get out the door, now uses cloth diapers and bakes her own bread and her three, yep three kids’ clothes? They all match.

And more and more, I feel inferior.

My house is mostly clean (because we err, pay someone to do that), but overflowing with baby blankets and toys and winter stroller accessories and laundry laundry laundry. There’s always a package or two lying around that we had delivered and forgot to open. The once-organized nursery has become a junk room that doesn’t get used. I haven’t finished our thank-you cards, especially the ones for the amazing doctors and nurses who took care of me during pregnancy. The majority of our meals are cooked at home, but often something store-bought figures into the mix. And maybe it isn’t the majority? Are we always eating takeout? What will we do when Rei starts solids?? (Can you feed a baby pad thai?)

I still haven’t done anything about getting into some kind of activity, Mommy group, something.

I remind myself of a bunch of things. I tell myself I’ve made choices that compromise my time and physical ability to do anything other than play with, feed or hold my baby (and carefully now; she’s particular about sleeping positions and the sound of the keyboard wakes her up). I tell myself it won’t last forever. I tell myself that other moms don’t sit with their babies when they go to bed at 7:00 in the evening, that most people put their babies to bed and get a little time for themselves. That when Rei is a little older, not that long from now, I’ll be okay relying on the baby monitor and I won’t feel the need to be beside her every single second.

I tell myself there are things like babysitters and husbands and friends who can also help. That one glorious day, she will be able to nap in her crib. Or somewhere that isn’t me. And I’ll be able to write using a real computer, instead of my phone. I tell myself that I’ve chosen to keep holding her all day because it seems to really, really help her nighttime sleep. That it won’t last forever.

But really, it’s not about the logistics. It’s about the comparing.

I never used to care what people thought of me. I was that girl in high school who chopped all her hair off to avoid looking too pretty, to seem more genuine (I know; this in itself was an act of caring). I’m still that person who tries to look a little different, that mother who dresses her baby a bit androgynously, who wants people to ask, “Boy or girl?” I deliberately choose items of clothing that don’t match. I want to be different; to demonstrate visibly that I don’t hold myself or my child to the same ideals that other people do.

But no matter how much this is true, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard myself saying “I should” recently. “I should look into cloth diapers.” “I should put those pictures up that have been sitting on the ground since we moved in almost four years ago.” “I should be doing yoga.” “I should finally get those hand wash-only clothes washed or else Throw. Them. Away.”

(And the biggest and baddest: I should be writing more. I should submit those short stories that are all ready, waiting to go. Oh, and pitch that novel I spent three years on, that I think has a fighting chance. Good lord, I’m comparing myself with…myself.)

And then I start worrying about the comparing, and wondering what to do about it. And wondering why it’s always about what I should be doing, and not what I want to do.

A therapist, whom I saw for a while in preparation for becoming a mother, encouraged me to try and think about success differently. “Maybe in a day, what you achieve is feeding your baby,” she said. “And eating three meals yourself, and answering say two emails. And that’s a good day.”

This bit of wisdom really helped, especially in the first month when we were just trying to survive. Sometimes I even wrote down what we did each day and showed Pete, and it actually was pretty impressive. It’s just harder now, when I feel like there’s an expectation for things to have settled out, for me to have come up for air.

And that’s when I start being hard on myself again.

So, I’m working on it. On appreciating all the time I spend with Rei, especially the time holding her, that I know will pass all too quickly. On getting dressed in the morning and wearing a bit of makeup, on what writing I am able to do, on the daily walks and outings I manage to fit in.

And on turning the volume down on the shoulds, and up on the wants.

Crossing the Great FOMO Divide

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Some days everything goes to crap and all day, all day I try to get out for that walk, that 15-minute walk to the grocery store that I crave, savor, must have every day. Except the timing isn’t working and here comes another meltdown and I hold my overtired, wailing baby and sing and bounce until she finally falls asleep and watch the light disappear and with it, my hope for a walk.

Some days I realize it’s 2 pm and I’m still wearing pajamas and not in a cozy, stay-at-home way but in a way that makes me feel small and alone.

Some days there isn’t time to eat, it just doesn’t work because I cannot master the art of preparing and eating food while my baby cries.

Some days, most days I hold her all day long because she will not nap on her back.

Some days I realize the plans I made with such confidence are logistically impossible. I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t factor in enough time to get out of the house. Or: I thought this fussy phase would be over by now. Or: I thought maybe I could get her to nap through to her bedtime.

I don’t get to see people I really want to see. I don’t get to dress up and go out and try to feel normal for a little while. I pout. I am not very good at adapting to change when it means missing out on something I was looking forward to.

But the greatest surprise of this week is that I’m not afraid of it anymore. I’m okay with missing out. This week I helped Reiden through a tough time instead of meeting up with an old friend. I let her sleep instead of getting her up too early and rushing her out the door to make a breakfast appointment. I got her to bed while my friends ate and drank at one of my favourite restaurants without me. I imagined them there, all the laughing and chatter and noise and teasing and reminiscing.

I missed all those things, for sure. But it felt a little better, this week. More like normal. More like being a mom and putting her first is kind of, really, wonderfully okay.

One Missed Call

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“Hey look,” Pete said, handing me his phone. “I missed a call earlier. Look who it was from.”

He’d pulled up a page with a description of a place that offers occupational, physical and physiological therapy. Something Something Rehabilitation Centre.

“So?”

“So it’s a rehab place!”

“It’s like, physical rehabilitation. Not like drugs and alcohol.”

He took the phone back. “Oh,” he said, laughing. “I was excited! I thought it was someone we knew who was an inmate there!”

“Um, I don’t think they refer to them as inmates.”

“It was their one phone call!”

Up With Felines

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I had what seemed like a good idea for a post, at 4:00 this morning when once again I couldn’t sleep. I can’t remember what it was now. My dear grandfather used to say, “Must have been a lie,” when I couldn’t remember something. In this case, “Must have been so banal and inconsequential that my brain filed it in the Do Not Retrieve bucket.”

On that note, it’s one thing to be kept awake by a baby — whose job it is to keep people up at night. It’s quite another to be juussst at that point of drifting off to that place that’s not quite sleep but also isn’t the constant yammering of your brain, that dreamscape where your thoughts get a little Alice in Wonderland, and instead of dropping down into the rabbit hole you end up squarely back where you started because of your two whining, extremely annoying cats. Neither of whom are Cheshire.

Poor Peter. He’s been getting up at 5:30 for years (years!) because of them. Well, mainly because of the big one, Yoshi, who never seems to get the fact that cats in the wild only eat once a day. No, Yoshi gets breakfast, dinner and a bedtime snack (it’s the only way we can control his weight), and feels strongly that his first meal should be as early as possible in the morning. And Pete has this weird thing: if he wakes up and then dozes, he gets fuzzy-headed all day and can’t write. So getting up and going back to sleep is not really an option for him.

The cats started in around 4:30, both of them this time, keeping me awake and worrying that Rei was going to wake up. At 4:40 I poked (shoved) Pete and made him get up. I was already exhausted from the night before, when, after agonizing about the end of my (very generous) maternity leave (aside: parents in the U.S.? The six-week thing is barbaric. It should be a human rights issue.), I lay there making packing and to-do lists for our upcoming trip home and even turned on my iPhone to get them out of my head and instead just kept coming up with more things to add.

Rei got up at 6:30 today and wouldn’t go back down, and has been a complete mess all morning. We both blame Yoshi and slightly resent Ben, who’s too dim to realize what he’s doing. Yoshi’s just somehow malicious about the whole thing. Perhaps Rei’s 12-week growth spurt is the problem? More fun to pin it on the cat. He just looks guilty.

I never want to tell people that our baby is such a good sleeper, lest I incur the Wrath of the Sleep-Deprived Parent. But while Reiden may sleep through the night, our cats most certainly do not.

PS: She also hates napping anywhere but on me and prefers that I am in constant motion in a standing position. No rocking chair nonsense for us, folks. Feel Sorry For Me Now!

Three Months, Almost

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That’s how old Rei will be soon. In just a few days. Four days. In four days, she’ll be three months old.

This is why I couldn’t sleep last night.

Almost immediately after Rei was born, I started to miss work. Badly. I texted work people, asking what they were doing. I checked email (and I am the type of person who never checks email when away from work; who thinks working on vacation is a form of self-loathing; who has never been defined by a job). I even contemplated asking if there was something I could do, some little project I could help with while working remotely, with no deadlines and the understanding that as long as my baby kept insisting on being held all day long, I’d probably never get the work done and sorry, what was I thinking? I mean, I really MISSED it, in this yearning, pathetic sort of way.

Somehow, my brain had compartmentalized my baby and my work. I was happy, ecstatic, in love with my little girl. I also missed my old life. And one did not cancel out the other.

But last night (or early this morning, rather), after I nursed Rei and she went back to sleep, I realized she would be three months on Monday. I almost bolted upright before remembering how noisy our comforter is. I would have gone downstairs to cry if I could have done it without risking her waking up. Because…three months. Which means, if I go back to work at nine months as planned, I only have six months left of this. Two-thirds left. A measly two-thirds.

I never registered that working would mean I wouldn’t be spending my days with her. And nine months seemed like such a long time off. I’d be ready to go back by then. I’d be bored. I’d be dying to be something other than a mom.

But dates and definitions can distance you from reality, from feelings. Thing is, I expected to love my daughter. I didn’t expect to like her so much already, to enjoy her company, to feel such a kinship with her. My days are hard, to be sure, much harder than any job ever was. They’re not always fun and sometimes they full-on suck. But it’s what I do. It’s what I do for her.

I’m with her, all the time. And today I can hardly contemplate not being with her.

When I finally fell back to sleep this morning, I dreamed I went back to work, Rei in tow. I had to cross a river to get to the office. My cat Yoshi got lost in the woods. In the foyer was an old frozen yogurt machine. No one knew who I was. It was the kind of dream where you’re in a bizarro world; a place that’s real but not real.

Except for Reiden, in my arms. The one thing that made perfect sense.

Autocorrect

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Sometimes, when waiting for a web page to load on my phone, I find myself staring at the address bar, annoyed that the Reader feature hasn’t popped up yet. Where are you, Reader? What’s wrong? Should I leave and come back? Do you need some, err, privacy?

I sit there, willing it to appear, refusing to acknowledge that I can easily read the text by looking at the ACTUAL PAGE. That’s right there. In front of me.

This won’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t use the Reader. Or have it. Do all phones have it? Is it a Safari-on-the-iPhone-only thing? I’m too lazy to look it up. But it’s AWESOME. You can read anything on any page and see just the text, without graphics or ads or anything to distract you! All pages look the same! It’s somehow…comforting.

Also, why does my iPhone correct words that aren’t wrong in the first place? Why “find” instead of “fund”? “Now” instead of “bow”? I mean I know why, but still.

These two things are not related.

I do, however, love it when it corrects to “Rei”. Because, well, her. She’s a word now. I typed her name and she became a word in my phone. Everything should autocorrect to Rei.

REI REI REI REI REI. Best word in the world.