Seeking Sanity

Up until this point in my parenting path, I think I’ve had a fairly reasonable approach to the unattainable notion of perfection. Recently, though, as E barrels toward a milestone at which he’ll likely only consume actual food for his nutrients, I’ve experienced mounting pressure to make sure I’m introducing him to a wide variety of nutritious solid foods.

As a working mom with husband who commutes a long distance to work, I don’t have all of the resources I need to be able to successfully pull off nutritious and varied dinners every single week night. I am lucky in that E can often play fairly independently for decent stretches of time, but while I’m trying to throw something together for dinner, E inevitably needs my attention. The time I have between getting home from daycare pickup and getting E to bed feels so short, and we try to squeeze in a bath for E every other night, too.  All of these factors have recently combined in a shitstorm of guilt and feelings of failure.

Last weekend, we didn’t have anything on our calendar, so I made the decision to spend the bulk of the time in the kitchen preparing and freezing meals. We have a chest freezer in the basement, which we purchased before E was born with the intention of having easy meals at our fingertips, and I wanted to fill it with yummy things that I could easily assemble throughout the week.

I prepared by accumulating recipes for the meals I wanted to make. I then listed out the amount of each ingredient I needed for each recipe, most of which was doubled or tripled. Finally, I created a shopping list of the ingredients needed for all recipes so that I would purchase the necessary quantities of the items.

I tried to organize my workload in a logical and efficient way, chopping all veggies for the recipes first, and always looking one or two steps ahead so that I could allow time for items to cool, bake, etc.

Delicious quinoa cakes and red pepper - NOT served on Turkey Day.

Delicious quinoa cakes and red pepper – NOT served on Turkey Day.

Here’s what I made/froze:

  • A gluten free version of Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf (double batch made into smaller sized loaves)
  • Black bean taco soup – K’s favorite so far. I made a double batch and froze into half-size batches)
  • A triple batch of my favorite Quinoa Cakes. I make them with gluten free breadcrumbs and, while I’ve had them with the recommended poached egg, our favorite way of serving them is with goat cheese and sautéed red peppers on top.
  • A quadruple batch of homemade taco seasoning.
  • A double batch of this homemade ranch dressing/seasoning mix.
  • A double batch of muffin-sized broccoli cheddar rice bakes, which uses the ranch seasoning.
  • A double batch of twice-baked potatoes, which loosely uses this recipe. I used 8 large baked Russet potatoes, 1 stick melted salted butter, about 1 c plain Greek yogurt (could use sour cream), 2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 c milk, 1 c. chopped green onions, 1 tsp of sea salt, and 3 tsp of the homemade ranch seasoning. I froze them and can bake from freezing at 350 F for about 55 minutes or thaw and bake for about 15 minutes.
  • A gluten free powdered mix alternative to “cream of” canned soups.
  • A double batch of my friend Dan’s Mexican shredded chicken. 4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, two 16-oz jars of salsa, and 4 Tbsp of the homemade taco seasoning listed above, cooked on low in my crock pot for about 8 hours. I shredded the chicken in my KitchenAid mixer by using the paddle attachment for about twenty seconds, then mixed the shredded chicken breast back in with the sauce in which it cooked. I froze this in sandwich sized freezer bags to use as taco filling, to top nachos, or in a Mexican-inspired rice bowl.
  • A double batch of my mom’s top-secret white chicken chili, frozen into quart size freezer bags.

Since I had purchased two very large packages of chicken breasts, I had some leftover from the above recipes. I bagged and froze 1.5 lb quantities into freezer bags with marinade so they would marinate as they thawed in the refrigerator.

I completed the bulk of this work on Saturday, then wrapped up by around noon on Sunday, taking breaks to rest and spend time with K and E. It felt like a monumental task, but truly made for much easier meal prep throughout the week. As the week concludes, I am proud to say that we had a delicious, nutrient-dense, homemade meal every single night with very little weeknight effort. I have enough in our freezer to likely last about six weeks, too!

I have a feeling that this periodic meal preparation strategy will become part of our family’s organized way to stay sane, save money and feel successful and nourished.

A Potpourri of Updates

I wish that I could say that we made it through the polar vortex unscathed. The good news is that we were only trapped at home for one day. Our jobs are flexible enough to be able to accommodate occasional work from home, though it was much trickier with E there. At the end of the day, I cheered and dramatically sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings” a la Bette Midler when we saw the snow plow pull up in front of our house. We knew that it meant an end to our isolation.

A few minutes later, our dog went ape shit crazy when we all heard an assertive knock at the door. I carried the dog into our bedroom while K answered the door, surprised to find a police officer on our doorstep. The officer handed K some literature and said, “Here’s how you obtain your police report. It will be available tomorrow.” K, flummoxed, asked, “What police report?” The officer flatly replied, “Oh. The snow plow hit your car on the street,” before turning on her heel and swiftly departing. Uh, what?! K’s car, which as you know, we obtained only a few months ago, was stranded on the street in the snow and sustained enough body damage to impede our ability to drive it. Now, we must wait for the City’s insurance risk assessment team to review the damage and tell us how much they’ll pay toward our repairs. Since the car is not worth much to begin with, we’re slightly afraid that it will be considered a total loss, and there’s no way we’ll find as reliable of a car as this for the amount they’d pay for it.

Here’s a funny diagram of the accident, as found at the bottom of the police report, for which the plow driver was cited for “improper backing.” I have no clue how he failed to see K’s vehicle when he drove right next to it before backing into it!Untitled

We recently transitioned E to a convertible car seat in our primary vehicle, which, thanks to the snow plow incident of ’14, is our only currently working vehicle. It has been such a change from the lugging of a baby inside an infant seat to wrangling an active, wiggly almost-kid! With the baby bucket style seat, he was more contained and it allowed me to better manage all of his belongings, especially when picking him up from daycare. Now, I feel completely incapable of managing it all!  His daycare is a shoe-free environment, so you need to remove footwear (or pop booties on over them) before entering the main space. With all of the snow and the necessity for boots as of late, adding just one more step to the process of picking up or dropping off makes me feel especially inept. I’m sure it will eventually become second nature to me, but in the meantime, it’s an additional frustration that I don’t need.

E’s surgery to insert tubes has been officially scheduled for Monday morning. He needs to fast starting at midnight beforehand, which makes me a little sad. He loves his morning bottle. Hopefully, in a matter of days, he’ll be feeling much improved. Maybe ear pulling will be a thing of the past!

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I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, so we appreciate any woo, light, prayers, meditation, etc. in an effort toward a positive outcome for E.

Letting go

We recently had a mandatory staff meditation retreat. Is anything less relaxing than being required to relax at a given time and in a specific way, all during the busiest season at work? Despite my reluctance (and that’s putting it mildly), I challenged myself to take in the messages and tips presented that day, and I’m really glad that I did. I learned quite a bit about managing stress and keeping myself from assigning weight to stressors that are truly a lot tamer than how I allow them to impact me.

crawling into bathroomAs it relates to my job, I need to keep in mind that, while I do work that contributes to the greater good, what I do each day is not a life or death sort of situation. Sure, my work funds some actual life-saving programs, but I need to remember that getting upset about a last-minute request for a report or mailing only zaps me of energy that could be spent where I’d prefer to focus it – on my son, husband, and adorable companion animals. I need to exert the relevant amount of energy to the task-at-hand.

turkey nomsAs it relates to my personal life, especially with the holiday season upon us, I need to let go of some of the messages people in our lives are giving to E, even if they are not aligned with some of our parenting approaches. (Obviously, there are some non-negotiables like blatant disrespect.) Do I really have to spin my wheels being irritated about someone pretending that E has injured them when I’m actively working to teach him pain-related boundaries? The time E spends with me and the messages he gets from me are so much more prevalent and I know he’ll one day understand that pulling my hair hurts his mommy. Again, seething about this – something that should be a minor annoyance – only serves to distract and drain me.

I am working to let go, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth…

An open letter to my 7-month-old

Dear Son,

You are growing and changing so rapidly. Last night, I cried as I was falling asleep because I’m sad about how quickly time is passing. I’m afraid that I’ve made decisions I regret, many of which have kept me from focusing on what truly matters – you – instead of an endless list of meaningless tasks and logistics.

This morning, you gave me the greatest gift of your musical laughter. After consuming an impressively large bottle, instead of immediately squirming out of my arms to play like you do so often these days, you initiated a game of peekaboo with me. You lifted up your burp cloth to hide your face, and when you dropped it, you squealed with joy. You did this over and over again, and we took turns hiding behind the burp cloth, you laughing with each and every reveal. Having such a fun and loving time with you this morning made it very difficult for me to leave and go to work.

20131111-090034.jpgYour newfound mobility scares Mama a bit because she knows that this is just the beginning of your increasing independence and decreasing need for constant assistance. When I see you make your way over to your toy bin, pull it out and peek inside, your “jackpot!” reaction warms my heart and reminds me that we are both doing our jobs to help you become the person you’re meant to be.

Words can’t fully express my love for you, son. I hope that my actions each day convey the depth of these feelings.

Xoxo
Mama

The long-awaited return

As promised, I’m trying to get back into the swing of this blogging thing. It seems like I have less and less time these days, but it’s important to me that I attempt to document our experiences as parents and the rapidly changing person that is our dear E.

E these days:

  • After so many months of massive drooling, chewing on everything and general fussiness, E is finally getting his first tooth. In fact, because he’s an overachiever like his parents, he’s getting two teeth at once. He hasn’t been too large of a wreck, but there are times in which he’s clearly in pain. Tylenol has helped a bit during those horrible times, but even with it, he occasionally cries out from pain in his sleep. It’s heartbreaking.
  • E is still exploring solids, though life is so hectic and busy that it’s not unusual for us to skip solids entirely some days. His daycare is giving him solids during the day, but he really seems particular about eating them. Sometimes he turns his nose up at foods for which he’s previously shown an obsession. It’s totally normal for youngin’s to gag on solids at first, but because he has a sensitive gag reflex, this sometimes results in a pukefest. Oh what fun.
  • 6moLifetouch2He’s a general ball of silliness and joy. E literally grins and laughs the vast majority of the day. Everyone comments on what a happy baby he is and that makes me feel so good. His smile is infectious and his laughs are musical. I think his smile was captured really well in his recent photos at daycare.6moLifetouch
  • A lot of people comment on how big E is, but as of his 6 month pediatrician visit, he only weighs 18 lbs, 6 oz and is 26″ long. He’s literally 50th percentile for both height and weight on the growth charts. Mr. Average. I think he looks big to people because he has such a long torso.
  • E is on the verge of crawling. He scoots all around our hardwood floor, mostly backwards, but occasionally manages to move forward. He pivots around and around and rolls. He’s been getting up on his knees, doing some pelvic rocks and even planks. It’s only a matter of time, we think. K and I have definitely added babyproofing to our agenda in the near future.
  • HalloweenI made a simple clown costume for E’s first Halloween. I think he looked adorable and I’m shocked by how patient he was with the elasticized clown hat. I was, unfortunately, not feeling well and couldn’t attend the much-anticipated Halloween party at his daycare. K attended and my guys had a great time.

Us these days:

  • K is super busy with work. He’s on a somewhat new project that has some pretty unrealistic deadlines. It’s been making K and all of his coworkers really stressed. One of his bosses has even had an outbreak of stress-related shingles!
  • Things are really ramping up for me at work these days, too. The holidays are a very busy time of year in the fundraising world. I’m responsible for writing our fundraising letters as well as processing and acknowledging gifts. 80% of the funds raised through our direct mail program come in during the end of the year, so that should give you a sense of what will be on my plate.
  • The entire family has been sick lately. K had a 103 degree fever for over a week and had to take a lot of time off of work. E had a double ear infection. Then I got viral laryngitis, a sinus infection and am on the verge of an ear infection. Now that I’m finally feeling better (though my voice doesn’t sound like it), K is getting another cold. WHY?!?!?!?!?!
  • I feel like we’ve hit our stride as parents. I no longer feel like a new parent and I no longer feel thrown by every twist and turn that occurs. We have a decent routine down while remaining fairly flexible for all of the inevitable changes that are bound to happen. I also feel like we’re setting reasonable boundaries and expectations, and that feels good.
  • We’re still dealing with some annoyances with K’s parents. When K was sick, they tried to trample K’s boundaries to meet their own selfish needs. When K set limits, they freaked out, calling him selfish and stirring up all sorts of drama. We spoke to K’s sister about it and she said that their parents are still upset that we won’t “accept” their offer to watch E once a week. Needless to say, I am beyond thankful that they’re now in Florida until Thanksgiving.

More-than-tired mama

I don’t typically discuss this via our blog, but I have a sleeping disorder. While sleeping, my brain looks and acts like that of a person with narcolepsy. Essentially, my body doesn’t naturally allow me to stay in deep, restorative sleep, which causes excessive daytime sleepiness as well as body pain. For years, my main method of treatment has been to take twice nightly doses of a highly regulated medication that, if sold on the black market, is used by reprehensible individuals as the date rape drug. This medication basically knocks my body immediately into that deep level of sleep that I need in order to function well during the day.

When baby E was really little and still feeding at night, K and I took shifts that would allow me to continue taking my medicine: K would get up with E in the middle of the night and I would take the very early morning feedings to allow K to sleep in. Now that E more or less sleeps through the night, I go to bed early, take my meds, rise early and take care of E in the morning while K stays in bed a little bit longer.

These strategies seemed to work pretty decently for a while, but I’ve noticed that my consumption of caffeine has dramatically increased over the course of these past few months. By 1 or 2 pm, I feel practically comatose and in desperate need of a nap. I have, at times, inadvertently fallen asleep at my desk while in the middle of a project, and have also felt simultaneous exhaustion while feeling jittery and wired from caffeine. This experience needs to be contrasted a bit with the typical level of mama exhaustion, and there’s an element of that at play here, too. What I mean is that my narcoleptic symptoms are more active than they have been in the past several years.

I was pretty fearful of how the addition of a child would impact my already disordered sleep and knew that I’d likely need to consider adjustments to the management of it. I had a regularly scheduled neurologist appointment yesterday and took the opportunity to address some of these recent developments with my excessive daytime sleepiness (folks, that is an actual diagnosis). The suggested approach is to add a prescribed stimulant during the day to see if that helps me to maintain wakefulness. I’m a little nervous about the new strategy, which basically means I take a drug to sleep and a drug to be awake (better living through chemistry – yeah!), but we are starting off with the mildest stimulant they can prescribe me to see if it helps. If it doesn’t, they’ll likely try increasingly stronger stimulants until we find something that works.

I’m really hopeful that this will work for me because I have felt so damn miserable and exhausted the past couple of months. Feeling like I would do anything for a nap makes me feel guilty and sad to be missing out on time with my beloved child and partner, and trudging through the day this way makes me a less present and enjoyable partner and mother. I’m also hopeful that the new medicine will allow me to gradually taper the caffeine consumption, which I think is making me anxious and agitated at times.

Fingers crossed!

Working Parent Pity Party

Joyful little queerspawn

E tries to roll from back to front

That face right there? It’s what inspires me to get up at 5:30 in the morning (not just because he’s hungrily crying), to bust my butt at work to earn a living wage to provide for him, and to do what I can to give him the best life possible. I am so grateful that we were able to conceive this little joy and that we have the privilege of raising him. My life has such different meaning now that he’s in it, and being his mama brings me a sense of fulfillment that I never thought was attainable.

But it is goddamn hard, yo.

There’s a reason why I’ve been seriously neglecting this blog and it’s because most days, I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel. Each morning feels like a total race to get the three of us ready and get out the door, drop E off at daycare, then drop K off at his vanpool pick up, then attempt to get to my job by 8 a.m. I put in a nine-hour workday, staring at the clock the entire time so I don’t leave too late, get caught in rush hour traffic and keep my precious little one at daycare any longer than he has to be.

Then, I haul ass to his daycare, grab all of his bottles and diapers, and exit the premises with my treasured man and overflowing hands. I rush to a brief but vital errand or home to tend to a few chores like emptying/rinsing his bottles, emptying the diapers from his daycare wetbag into our dirty diaper bin, and letting the dogs out to relieve themselves. I often try to squeeze the start of a major chore like tossing a load of laundry into the washer, prioritizing his cloth diapers over our clothes, or giving E a quick bath, and attempt to feed him a bottle. Then, we race back out the door less than an hour later to pick Daddy up from his vanpool drop off location. If K encounters traffic and/or forgets his phone at home and cannot text me when they’re getting close in order to time our departure (both happened this week – sigh), I end up waiting at the vanpool pickup location with a very cranky baby, who cries whenever the car stops.

K and I rush home with E, where we throw a frenzied meal into our faces, and separately tend to chores like washing/prepping bottles, starting/continuing laundry, washing dishes, and making our lunches and preparing E’s belongings for the following day, while our adorable son either snoozes or plays in his bouncy seat. Sometimes we manage to watch a tv show on DVR while we complete some of these tasks. We somehow muster the energy to play with E and enjoy his company during the little time we have at home with him. We change him, get him ready for bed and try to all get to sleep by 10:30 p.m.

We’re all doing the best that we can, but it tears me up that I’m often so exhausted by the end of the day that I can’t be energetic or entirely present for E. If we didn’t need my paycheck, I would likely try to find a way to stay home with our baby, though I see him thriving in a daycare setting.

I knew it would be our reality, as we share a car and K commutes 45-60 minutes each way for work, that I would spend a lot of time driving around before and after work. I feel like an unpaid taxi driver and the amount of time wasted in the car really eats at me some days. We’re trying to prioritize the saving toward a second car, but it likely won’t happen anytime soon. I know that having access to another car will really help to free up some time because I could get to work even earlier while K does drop-off at daycare, then I could run an errand or do a chore or two before getting E from daycare, K could run an errand on the way home from his vanpool, and we could spend a lot more time at home with each other. I keep dreaming of the day that this is our reality.

In the meantime, I’m going to take at least one moment each day to acknowledge that this is fucking hard, that I’m hardly the first or only parent to go through it, and that this face is beyond worth it:

E's drop-off this morning at daycare

/pityparty

Working Daddy

Do you know that I have a running list of blog topics that I want to post about.  I didn’t want our blog to become one of those pregnancy blogs that disappears after the kiddo arrives, but it’s looking a little like that these days, huh?

My 11 week leave was a magical time. I got to learn all about how this little creature we created likes to be cared for.  I was able to see the beginnings of his personality.  I could devote every minute of everyday caring for E if I wanted to (which is sure easy to do as a new parent).  It wasn’t always perfect, or easy, caring for E by myself during the day.  He really struggled with terrible reflux, and it took a while to get the proper treatment.  There were some days that were a blur of epic vomiting and terrible screaming after very meal. I give a lot of love and credit to C who went back to work so soon after his birth so we wouldn’t be too financially impacted.  She didn’t get as much time home with him, and while I worked hard caring for him, I also got to experience all the joy that comes with spending hours and hours with a cuddly new baby.

And then it all came to an abrupt end……and I went back to work on Monday of this week.  It’s been a rocky transition.  I miss the way his head smells and the way his breath smells. I miss staring at him all day long (and let’s be honest—taking pictures of him all day long).  I miss knowing what he is doing every second.  I miss, and have anxiety about, making decisions about every little thing he does, and how he/we spend our day.  (I know this sounds real crazy.)  Now I have to trust that his other caregivers are making the right decisions and taking good care of our little guy.

The good news is I love his daycare.  I love the staff, the philosophy, the community of other working parents we are meeting there.  Without these positive feelings I would have never survived this week.  I know I don’t need to worry about the quality of his care, and that is a huge burden to let go of.  Now I just am left feeling heartbroken and missing him.

On my first day back I  managed not to cry all day.  I was emotional a little on the car ride home, probably out of sheer exhaustion.  I waited until Carrie and E were sleeping. Then I broke down and bawled, crying myself to sleep. The thought of leaving him again and getting up and doing it all over again (the 2 hour commute, the stress of playing catch up at work, the exhaustion, all the extra chooses that come with parenting that need to get done on a weeknight) was overwhelming.

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Who could leave this face?

While I muddled through Monday and Tuesday, I was feeling pretty decent on Wednesday.  Today I had a few moments where I forgot I was just off for almost 3 months.  There are some benefits to being back at work. Eating lunch slowly, uninterrupted feels downright decadent. I really love what I do, and genuinely like 90 percent of my co-workers. While the work I do doesn’t save lives ( or feel as important as child rearing) I do know that I’m doing good work and contributing to patient communication and shared decision-making fields. If I have to work outside the home it’s a pretty great job.

I’m having a hard time not feeling envious of other families who have more flexible schedules, work part-time, or are financially able to have someone stay home. I hate these feelings, and feel embarrassed to be complaining about being securely employed. I also hate all the guilt and the thoughts I sometimes have like….”if you couldn’t stay home with him why did you even have him!”  I know that is so DRAMATIC, but if I’m being honest, I’ve battled thoughts like these a lot for the past 3 weeks.  

I’m working on not feeling sad or angry about our reality. I want to remember those lovely 11 weeks when all I did was take walks with E and watch him take in the world. I will never take an hour for granted on a weekday night, and will fiercely savor the weekends.

Many people this week have told me that it gets easier as time goes on.  I can say that C and E are sleeping, and I’m up late blogging instead of crying my eyes out.  That’s some progress right?

I DON’T WANNAAAAAAAA!

Cue temper tantrum.

I can’t believe my ridiculously short maternity leave is almost over. I return for half time work on Monday and for full-time work the following Monday. When I first envisioned this whole motherhood thing, I thought it would be mind numbingly dull and that I’d be literally racing to return to my professional job. While I will say that parenting an infant has been as much work as I had expected, I am definitely dragging my heels about leaving my precious baby. The only consolation is that K and I have staggered our return to work, so E will be home with him for at least a few more weeks.

The first four or five weeks of E’s life have felt like struggling to learn how to run on a hamster wheel. We’ve dealt with inconsolable crying, terrible reflux symptoms, a near constant need to be held during the daytime. E’s just starting to provide us with those moments that make the earlier hardships so worth it – lopsided smiles, funny clucks, coos, etc. I don’t want to miss these moments!

I never thought I would say that I have times during which I really wish I could be a stay at home mom, but I really do. We truly cannot afford for me to do such a thing, though, as my salary quite literally keeps the roof over our heads. I’m grateful for all that we have right now, but it doesn’t usually feel like much, and it would be so much harder if I stayed home.

It’s going to be so hard to leave this face for 8-9 hours each day:

Happy diaper change!

Be prepared for a lot of future pity party mama posts. 😦