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Love as an act of endurance, part one

When I wrote my post on help, I had a second topic I wanted to address. As it happens, I wrote about a number of things in between, but I haven’t forgotten.

I’ve written about my oldest son in a number of posts. Everything in this post is only indirectly about my son. It is mostly about me, about my first year-and-a-half as a new parent, and about the evolution of love as an act of endurance.

From my own experiences, it seems to me that raising children - a first child, especially in the first four years - is as much about endurance as it is about love. We develop the ability to endure because we have a very strong sense of responsibility. The child is ours. There’s visceral biochemistry involved.

I knew, in the hospital, whenever my son cried. Whenever any child cried, I would tense, wondering if it was mine - but the minute I heard his voice, there was no question. I knew. Also: he cried. A lot. I hated to have him away, but at the same time, I was exhausted, in pain, and in the severe stress I generally am when I’m stuck in an unfamiliar environment and strangers don’t think twice about walking into the bathroom when the door is closed and I am sitting on the toilet. Ahem.

If we have a strong, visceral attachment to our newborn infants, we also have doubt and fear and uncertainty, and in spite of the fact that the bundle which has now entered our life like a cluster bomb is new and entirely helpless, we also have things we need. As adults, we address our wants and needs, often with far less damaging consequences than our early attempts as teenagers. As parents, or as mothers, the needs of our child are now considered tantamount; they are to subsume all our needs, because: baby vs. adult. As adults, we’re expected to somehow become ideal. We warrant judgement and mockery if we fail to live up to the ideal of motherhood as it is held, often by people who will never experience it except as a very disappointed child.

Actually, that’s unfair. I don’t know about any of the rest of you, but as a childless woman myself I was highly critical and often judgemental about the parenting of other people. I would see a child having a tantrum in public and I would think: My mother would have killed us if we had done that or no child of mine is ever going to do that. I knew, of course, having had no children of my own, that there was a right way to raise children so they would behave perfectly. (I didn’t say any of this out loud, and I am profoundly grateful that I didn’t - because I say most things out loud, and this one deserved to be buried so deeply it never sees the light of day again.)

You may all laugh at me, now. I knew it because it’s easy to know this when there’s no experience of the absolute truth of the 24/7 that is motherhood. So, first and foremost, motherhood was humbling. It was humbling because all of the certainty I’d once held--the unkind certainty--that I would raise perfect children was staring me in the face.

It taught me two things. One: that I had been so wrong if being wrong were a crime my children would have been single parent children within the first week of their life. Second: if I could be that wrong about something so important, how wrong could I be about other things? How much did what I “know” reflect my total lack of experience and my youthful hubris? It changed not only the way I looked at parenting, but also the way I looked at the world. It forced me to dig deeper, to try to see the truth of a life I might never otherwise live.

It made me far less judgemental.

But I was still at sea, here. I understood ‘love’ as it pertained to me, my husband, my friends. I understood that I felt most loved where I was seen and known as myself. Love was grounded in respect, respect in knowledge. I loved my husband for who he was.

I loved my parents in a different way, but I will tell you, I have fought with no one in my life as much as my mother and I fought during my adolescence. Not even my sister. We clashed time and again over areas of respect and knowledge and inconsistencies.

I had never thought about loving a baby. I had--as so many of us do--assumed that that all-consuming love would hormonally kick in the minute labor was over and the infant was bundled and placed in my arms. I knew - I flatter myself here - how to love other people.

But…a baby is not quite a person. If an infant has likes, dislikes, they’re not immediately clear. Babies do not have shareable opinions; they do not have life-defining philosophies. They are not, however, an entirely blank slate: they exist in potential, with character traits that arrive, hidden, at birth.

How does someone who has struggled to an adult, sane, and rational definition of love & human interaction then interact with someone who … has not? How could I love someone who I did not know, and who did not know me?

#

When GEnie was still active, I went from being childless to being a mother. My son did not sleep unless he was held. If he was put down, he woke and screamed until he was picked up. He could not just be held either, unless he was asleep; he required motion. Sound. Visual stimulus. He could not, in fact, be put down - at all - until he was able to crawl.

We believe, at this point, that his stomach was not entirely fully formed (this is not infrequent with babies), and he was therefore in pain. Stimulus distracted him from that pain. So we had to hold him -- face out, arms supporting that position - and bounce him gently up and down. He would not sit in a stroller until he could walk. (We tried. Twice. He simply would not stop screaming until he was picked up.)

My husband worked three day weeks for the entirety of his vacation, because it gave him more time at home for the longest possible period. And I will admit up front that I deeply envied him the ability to go back to work. He could: answer the phone. Eat a meal. Go to the bathroom, all without the certainty of interruption. I would put my son into his car bed and go to the bathroom while he screamed his lungs out, at home.

Sleep was…a thing of the past. It was fractured, broken, and hugely variable. I was, to put it mildly, a wreck. I was also a new mother. The latter almost guarantees the former. Lack of sleep is a subtle torture, and it eats away at everything. I do not think I have ever cried so much as I did during my oldest son’s first two months of life; I was exhausted. Again: new mother. This is common.

But we’re often afraid to say this because it works against the Hallmark version of the good mother. It makes us sounds as if we don’t appreciate baby boot camp. And it is boot camp. You don’t get proper food, you don’t get proper sleep. You do everything on autopilot, and some things, you do not do at all. The house was a mess.

I was not a Hallmark mother. I was desperately trying to get a book finished on deadline because I had assumed that it would not be difficult to find one hour out of a day in which to write. One hour. It was, as it turned out, almost impossible. So: stress. It was the first time I had not been working full-time since we were married. And we needed the income. It wasn’t optional. I did not make much money writing, at that time - but the little I did make was required.

I kept waiting for the happy glow of sentiment that would make this all seem worthwhile and pleasant. I felt like an alien. I would go to meetings with other mothers and they all seemed happy and content and I felt like a monster. After our sixteen week meeting with the labor coach and the parents in that class, I turned to the labor coach, feeling like an utter failure and said, “Why is every other baby but ours sleeping through the night?”

She gave me a very funny look and said, “Oh, they’re not.”

“But they all said they were.”

“They’re lying. Or they’re defining “through the night” in a way that does not actually mean what the words say.”

I am, at heart, a very straightforward person. A geek. I said, “But--but why would they lie?”

And she said, “for a hundred different reasons. No one wants to look like a bad parent. No one wants unhelpful advice. No one wants to listen to their parents criticize them for their parenting. It’s much, much easier to say ‘yes’ when asked if the baby is sleeping.”

#

I had all the biological impulses, all the physical reactions - to his crying, for instance - but they were dissociated from me. I was even afraid to touch him too much because I had hated being touched as a child, and if he hated it, he had no way of expressing it, no way of telling me to keep my distance. I was trying to treat him as if he were another independent person. Flailing.

I would start emails and finish them hours later, in bits and pieces. I asked most of my friends not to call because I couldn’t answer the phone without screaming (his) or crying, and on the off chance that he fell asleep, I could at least sit down with him, instead of the constant walking and bouncing - but the phone would wake him.

So: I was isolated, I was exhausted, I was a zombie. No two months of my life before or since were as difficult as the first two months of life with my first child.

When I did finally, slowly, come back to a very changed life, my son was fifteen months old. At fifteen months, I fell in love with him. But it took that long before my fear of failure, my lack of sleep, my inability to instantly emotionally bond stepped out of my way.

Did I share this with my son? No. What very little energy I husbanded went into time with him. I learned to smile. I learned to laugh. I sang instead of speaking (because that often caught his attention). I would lie down on the floor, on my stomach, to play with him. For hours. The vacuum cleaner made him scream. He instantly panicked if it was turned on. Multiple attempts to acclimatize him to this sound utterly failed. So, I may have mentioned the house was a mess. My husband would take the baby out for a walk, and I would do the noise-making cleaning. Or, you know, collapse on the couch and stare listlessly at the ceiling.

I did not mention GEnie by accident.

GEnie was a board that hosted a lot of authors, and each was given their own discussion topic. Each author set the tone for their topic; they were their own moderators. There were topics I loved because of the discussions they hosted, and topics I avoided because of the flames.

But one author’s topic caught and held my attention. She was a respected SF author, and she had married a man who had a six year old son. She had dogs. She got along well with the six year old until the day he found out that she was marrying his father - that his father and his mother would therefore never live together again. Then, he became insecure.

Her husband worked the usual Monday to Friday out of the house job; she was a writer, and she was therefore home. So she undertook the childcare. Children were not part of her future plans before she met her husband, and she found herself entirely lost at sea. She did not want to replace the child’s mother, and she didn’t want to step on the child’s toes or disrespect his boundaries; she wanted to give him respect & room.

Yes, you can understand why these discussions caught and held my interest. It was like gazing into a mirror. But she was willing to talk about these things in public because she was not the child’s biological mother. She talked about her sense of alienation; of being outside while keeping an eye on the children, and realizing she had far more in common with the grandmothers and caretakers than she did with the mothers. She spoke about the way her life was reduced to shopping for children’s clothing, grocery shopping to make meals because if she didn’t meals were on a very shaky schedule, and school duties.

And she said one thing, one day, for which I had to comment. She was at a low point in her entry into motherhood, and she was certain that had she been the child’s biological mother, she would not have any of these feelings. She would have that bonding, and that instant affinity, that would somehow make life just work.

And so, I said, and this is paraphrase because I don’t have the GEnie records for those topics anymore; I just remember the sense of the discussion, “What makes you think that biological mothers don’t have this reaction? What makes you think we don’t get tired, we don’t feel lost, we don’t wonder what happened to the lives we struggled so hard to build? We’re just as lost when we start. They don’t have mandatory parenting classes. The only difference is we don’t doubt that we are the child’s parents, because demonstrably, we are.”

And she said, “Wait, wait. You mean you’ve felt this way as a biological mother?”

And I said, “Oh yes. I think a lot of us do, but we don’t normally speak about it because we don’t want to look or sound like bad parents. We don’t have doubts about our feelings that we can blame on not being biological parents--demonstrably, we are. But we have the same fears, the same sense of inadequacy.”

And she said, “I have to think about this.”

I don’t know too much about what happened to her after this. She left GEnie, and I had so little time to spend on-line that I kind of left everything for a while, because my oldest child was very, very time intensive and as he slept less, there was no time for much else. Son, writing, and household chores. Sleep was still not plentiful.

But by this time, I accepted the responsibilities that I had chosen. I learned to endure the endless days of play-doh in the breakfast nook (I mean this: we could be there for four hours). The 5 minute walks between the house and the playground that took almost an hour, because every pebble had to be inspected, every crack in the sidewalk, every small twig. I learned to see the world as my son saw it, and to try to find the joy and the humor in it because I had to do it anyway. I grew to love the time because I was old enough to teach myself how to do this. I threw much of myself into his life because, among other things, it was my job. It did not come naturally, to me. I had to work at it.

But, you know, writing came naturally to me - but writing well enough to be published most assuredly did not. Parenting was the same. It’s just that writing was not and had never been a 24/7 thing.

Was I perfect at parenting? Hardly. But I was good at keeping the frustration to myself on most days. On the days I simply couldn’t - well, we had timeouts for those, and when my son was two and a half, I could stick myself in my room for ten minutes without risking hideous injury on his part.

And years later, I read an interview in LOCUS with this author, and she spoke with happy--and great--affection of “my kid”. It made me smile, because although I did not read or correspond with her again I understood that she had chosen to make the same journey that I had.

Comments

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chomiji
Jun. 14th, 2012 12:53 am (UTC)

Thank you so much for posting this.

I had similar experiences when I had my daughter, and the sleeplessness threw me so far out of whack that I went into post-partum depression. I joined a mothers' support group, only to discover that I was the only one who seemed to be having any problems with her baby. At our final session, one woman sought me out to thank me. Her little boy was colicky, and she hadn't felt like speaking up, but she was comforted by my confessions. I'm glad I was able to help, but it wasn't exactly the experience I was seeking.

Now, 20 years later, I can easily understand that of course all these Type A Washington DC moms wouldn't want to confess that something wasn't going well.

msagara
Jun. 14th, 2012 03:07 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this.

And thank you for reading. This is kind of the first part of a discussion about where the concept of love as an act of endurance comes from. I think it’s necessary when dealing with children.

But I think it’s vastly less positive when dealing with adult relationships.
fadethecat
Jun. 14th, 2012 02:47 am (UTC)
This was tough to read.

I want to have children. I'm actively trying to have children. And I admit that, on reading all of this--which is about love, and the happy ending--my visceral reaction is "Oh hell, I don't ever want to do that." I worry that I'm too selfish to be any good at being a parent, especially if there's not the warm fuzzy overriding sense of Perfect Parenthood that Hallmark wants me to believe exists.

I am not good at endurance, and I don't know that I could do that. And having a kid doesn't have an easy back-out option. There is no point at two months in where you can go "On second thought, this isn't working out. How about a goat instead?" Thinking about this kind of commitment, and the way someone else gets to define my life for years and years, terrifies me. Which makes me feel like a bad person.

But it's probably for the best that I think about this beforehand, and not afterward.
msagara
Jun. 14th, 2012 03:05 am (UTC)
Thinking about this kind of commitment, and the way someone else gets to define my life for years and years, terrifies me. Which makes me feel like a bad person.

I don’t think you should in any way feel like a bad person for this. If anyone other than a baby took over and controlled almost every aspect of your life, people would be concerned; they would tell you upfront that this wasn’t healthy.

Children are a source of joy - but there’s a lot of mundane, tired work interspersed with those moments - and I think if people were more honest about this one of two things would happen:

1. No one would ever have children. This would obviously not be the best thing for the shape of our society as it stands.

2. People would have more realistic expectations and a better sense of how to define boundaries of their lives in a way that allowed them to fulfill their needs as a person without losing sight of their role as a parent.
(no subject) - fadethecat - Jun. 14th, 2012 03:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chrysoula - Jun. 14th, 2012 03:45 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - salanth - Jun. 15th, 2012 12:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Jun. 15th, 2012 12:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bohemiancoast - Jun. 14th, 2012 09:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fadethecat - Jun. 14th, 2012 05:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
wldhrsjen3
Jun. 14th, 2012 03:36 am (UTC)
OH, my goodness. Thank you *so* much for posting this. My first child - my daughter - was born the winter our farm faced economic ruin. My husband and I were young and had been married less than two years. Although we knew we wanted children, she was a bit of a surprise. It didn't help that everyone in his family told us we were too young to be parents (I was 22). I spent most of that winter alone, overwhelmed, and completely unprepared for the emotional turmoil. I was exhausted, stressed, and deeply, profoundly afraid that I was going to be a colossal failure as a mother. But I couldn't verbalize any of my doubts or worries - because I was a *mom.* I was supposed to be filled with bliss at the sight of my darling baby's toothless gums. I was supposed to be some serene madonna gently rocking her placid infant, not a wild-haired woman trying not to cry as her baby fusses at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. And even if I could have told anyone how I felt, everyone else was busy with more important concerns.

It took me a long, long, long time to realize that what I felt was probably normal. It took longer yet for me to feel that I was doing okay as a mother.

And now, suddenly, all those old doubts are hissing in my ears. My daughter is now twelve and everything I thought I knew about parenting is slowly twisting inside out. Sometimes she needs independence, sometimes she craves reassurance. Sometimes she wants to be treated as my little girl, and sometimes she's sassy and opinionated and hormonal. Sometimes we push each other's buttons and I just... gah. I could ramble on, but I'll just say that your words are so comforting to me. Thank you for your honesty. *Thank you.*
msagara
Jun. 14th, 2012 04:05 am (UTC)
It took me a long, long, long time to realize that what I felt was probably normal. It took longer yet for me to feel that I was doing okay as a mother.

I think the truth is we always feel like we’re not quite doing enough. We’re not quite doing okay. Because our children our enormously important and if we do a bad job, they bear that burden forever.

I actually think this is normal. But people have different ways of coping with that fear; sometimes people drown it in metrics. Sometimes they drown it in really weird pissing contests.

And children always change because they have to - they’re growing up. It means we can’t even had rules that work and rules that don’t; we can’t be rigid and deterministic because there’s such a balance between being realistic and breaking spirit. So, yes, I consider it a much harder job than writing a novel. Or even several.
(no subject) - bohemiancoast - Jun. 14th, 2012 09:42 am (UTC) - Expand
comrade_cat
Jun. 14th, 2012 03:38 am (UTC)
Wow. This strengthens and renews my decision never to have children. I can't deal with lack of sleep. I either sleep or have a nervous breakdown.

I'm surprised there aren't more incidents of moms either suiciding or abusing given the depression rate in this country. But I do have a sense in the abstract that other people do lack of sleep better than I do. The trouble is that they don't do it *as well as they think they do*.

(I don't want this to come across as a criticism of you! Just sort of my horror at the idea of being in that predicament. And of course the slight unease that I am closer to people I've seen who abuse/neglect than I usually think.)
chrysoula
Jun. 14th, 2012 03:50 am (UTC)
New moms have lots of nervous breakdowns. :-) Biology helps them sleepwalk to do what's required, sometimes. Sometimes coparents help. But there's still moments of sitting next to a sobbing baby sobbing yourself. Then life goes on.
(no subject) - msagara - Jun. 14th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC) - Expand
rosefox
Jun. 14th, 2012 04:01 am (UTC)
I feel deeply fortunate that many, many of my friends have written posts like this at various times, and talked honestly about the stresses and difficulties of being parents. One of my partners wants to have a child in a couple of years, and I feel like we're going into that situation really well-informed.

I'm also really glad there are three of us to help with child-raising, and that we're all old hands at dealing with chronic insomnia, jetlag, and delayed sleep phase syndrome, and at knowing when we're being irrational because we're sleep-deprived. I'm actually rather looking forward to the "boot camp" nature of parenthood in hopes that it will help all our bodies learn how to sleep whenever sleeping is possible, the way soldiers and doctors do.

I truly have no idea how people raise children with a less than 3:2 adult:child ratio.
janni
Jun. 15th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
I remember, just out of college, visiting a friend and her husband and their infant twins. Two other friends were with me, and I felt like that ratio, 5 adults to 2 children, was actually about right. :-)
(Deleted comment)
nightsinger
Jun. 14th, 2012 05:33 am (UTC)
As the first-time mother of a four-month-old, albeit a very "easy" (inasmuch as any four-month-old is ever "easy") one... thank you for this, and for all of your parenting/family posts.

I have been reading closely and enjoying and finding points to mull upon in and consider things in new lights from each of your posts on parenting and family, especially the recent series of them. And I have to say -- thank you. Thank you for writing them, and thank you for saying these things that no one else has said, or at least not in the way you have! They speak to me (especially this one -- I'd highlight specific sentences, but I think I'd end up quoting too many paragraphs to be reasonable), and I find them to be a great comfort, in addition to the rest.

I've spent the last three hours trying to put the baby to bed; as I got to the middle of reading this post, he finally fell asleep. So thank you for that, too -- even though it's just a coincidence of timing, I'll give you a share of the credit. ;)
msagara
Jun. 14th, 2012 07:35 am (UTC)
I've spent the last three hours trying to put the baby to bed; as I got to the middle of reading this post, he finally fell asleep. So thank you for that, too -- even though it's just a coincidence of timing, I'll give you a share of the credit. ;)

I found the infant stage so very hard; two was easy in comparison. In fact, pretty much every age was easy in comparison *wry g*. But...there are happy things I miss so much from that age now. It’s why I love other people’s babies - I see the cute and the sunshine, but it’s not me that is going to get broken, terrible sleep and multiple diaper changes.

Seriously, in the early days, there was one four hour stretch in the middle of the night where we had to change diapers 10 times. We really do laugh about a lot of things now - but at the time, not so much.

My husband was also really good about rushing home to provide baby relief. He honestly felt that going back to work was easy in comparison - and that helped.
spiffikins
Jun. 14th, 2012 05:40 am (UTC)
I was talking to a friend of mine today - she has an 8 month old son. They've had it rough - baby was born with a heart defect and he spent his first 3 months in hospital going through multiple surgeries.

She was telling me how much she *hates* Blue's Clues - but baby boy *loves* it - so every morning they watch Blue's Clues because while he's watching that show, he doesn't fight her on eating - and she *needs* to get him to eat as much as possible to keep his weight up.

She said to me "we never planned on having him watching tv at 6 months - it wasn't in the Plan".

But - as she's figured out - there's the Baby you *imagine* having before he arrives - and then there's your Real Kid - and you learn to do What Works for the kid you *actually* have.
lyssabits
Jun. 14th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Blues Clues

I'm not a fan either, but honestly, it's the LEAST offensive of all the other kid's shows I've watched. I remember loving Sesame Street as a kid but now I can't stand to watch it. It's so.. busy. Loud. It and most other kids shows make my teeth ache with the over-acting and the squeaky voices. (I now have a lot of sympathy for my father who used to complain about the anime we watched as teens and frankly, most of my friends, having "squeaky high voices". He had definite preferences over which friends of mine he didn't mind, most of whom were male or mellow girls with deep voices. ;) ) Blues Clues is boring but that's precisely what I like about it now. ;) I literally can tune my brain out and NOT PAY ATTENTION to it.
mizkit
Jun. 14th, 2012 06:39 am (UTC)
I also cried for two months after my son was born. My mother was convinced I was suffering post-partum depression, but I was suffering sheer freaking exhaustion. Also the cat was dying, which really didn't help, but yeah.

I also thought it would be easier than it was to find just one hour a day to write. I have never been so grateful that I worked so hard to have 8 months of maternity leave, because I would have died if I'd had to write a book during that time.

And I, OTOH, was sort of embarrassed *to* fall in love with my son instantly. I didn't think that bizarre wash of hormones or whatever would hit me like that, and I found it...stereotypical and vaguely embarrassing.

Seriously, a friend of mine and I were discussing the whole insane personal/societal expectations of mothers from the moment pregnancy is announced, and we kept talking about writing the Practical Guide to Pregnancy & Baby's First Years, in which the first question of "You're pregnant! Are you excited?" could be legitimately met with, "No. I'm tired, my feet itch, I have to pee all the time, and I find none of this exciting. Perhaps when there is an actual baby I will be excited, but right now? No."

Because Jesus, you'd think you'd confessed to torturing teddy bears if you say something like that, but it *cannot* be that unusual of an experience. I got excited once during my pregnancy, when I lost my mucus plug and I thought, "Baby sooner rather than later!" The excitement lasted about three and a half minutes.
_ocelott_
Jun. 14th, 2012 06:46 am (UTC)
I was lucky enough to be in love with my babies before they were even born. With my first, a combination of post-pregnancy hormones and issues with breastfeeding caused me to break down sobbing in the hospital, which was apparently enough to convince all the doctors I was suffering from post-partum depression. (I wasn't.) Interestingly, the literature they give you in that situation very clearly states that it's perfectly normal not to instantly love your baby, that there's nothing wrong with you if you don't feel like you're bonding, that millions of new mothers feel this way and it's ok, you've only just met this baby and you have plenty of time to develop those feelings later on. Would be lovely if they'd explain that to new mothers beforehand, instead of using the information as damage control afterwards...
la_marquise_de_
Jun. 14th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
Having watched several of my friends raise their children, I am filled with respect and awe for them.
Thank you.
lily_bless_her
Jun. 14th, 2012 11:05 am (UTC)
I love my children dearly, I never planned to have any - but just wasn't very good at the actual planning not to have them. I am not a natural mother - I breast fed because I knew I would be rubbish at preparing bottles. But it has been a very hard road. I envy these parents that are able to hand their beautifully behaved, sleeping through the night babies, to anyone and going out and having 'social' lives. I could happily strangle the next parent that tells me that their child slept through the night at 6 weeks. I felt a failure. Mine were 3/4 before they slept through the night. Now, they're comatose most of the time. I have been told it was due to them having very active enquiring minds. Ha!
They are now 21, 20 and 14 and the challenges are different but still there. I spent one afternoon recently advising son and heir One, that the fact that he was in Chelmsford, was a bit worrying, when he was on his way to a heavy metal concert in Birmingham from Swansea (bless him, he was going with his girlfriend and was taking earplugs as he is sensitive to noise), I then had to tell him what train he had to get next, where he had to change, what platform he had to get to...isn't the internet a wonderful thing?...interspersed with several conversations with son and heir two, who was trying to find Manchester Art Gallery - I'm afraid the conversation got a bit heated..'It's a bloody large building with colonades, you must be able to see it'...all this and having a whinging daughter wanting to see her favourite programme on the internet. In the end all three were happy - one found the o2 arena in time, one said 'ssshhh' when I phoned him 'I'm there now' and the manic pixie settled in to watch some incomprehensible rubbish programme. I was exhausted. But happy. All were doing what they wanted and I was relieved. I think that is the essence of parenting. We do the best we can, with the abilities we have and then let them get on with it.
I still don't sleep, I still worry, I'm still chronically short of money, I do have a social life (I belly dance), I have done the best I could and I think they have turned out pretty well. I'm very proud....now I'm off to the next challenge.
roseaponi
Jun. 14th, 2012 12:34 pm (UTC)
I wonder how much of the "ideal mother" image comes from that rosy glow that gets cast over memories? I suddenly remembered so many things about dealing with my first baby when I had my second. How to arrange pillows so that I could catnap while serving as a baby mattress. How to assemble the tube/bottle finger-feed thing. How to deal with poop emergencies. How to keep calm and do first aid at the sight of baby blood. Knowing that as soon as their heads are through being soft, they will be as hard as little bowling balls and will get slung back into your face, and you will have either a fat lip or a swollen nose or possibly two black eyes afterward.

Hallmark people had their babies long enough ago that it seems so survivable now. :)
birdhousefrog
Jun. 14th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah. What she said. Oh my. The first four months were hell, as you say, though she was, by comparison, an easy baby in many ways. But her being easier didn't mean that I bonded. I didn't. I ran back to work and turned her over to a nanny. Then to daycare. In the end, that didn't work. The learning delays showed up. In a preschool video, I saw how stressed she was being taped, trying to remember her name...and she was FOUR. That was when I quit, told them to find a replacement. That was when daycare stopped, though I kept her in preschool. That was when I knew that my husband (who had desperately wanted a child) wasn't going to give up his job, but someone had to.

And, alas, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a year, I had my fist assessment of just how far off any "normal" curve she was. And my first list of suggested interventions. Eventually, the psychologist suggested that I get a student to babysit a few hours a week because I was clearly losing my sanity.

I don't regret the sacrifice, the taking up of this responsibility. She is now on her way to being a teenager and able to hold her own among "normals." She has talents that I've had time to open up for her, such as weaving as a way of expressing her love of color and pattern.

But yes, I hear you in terms of what it's like to be a new parent. And yes, I hear you in terms of learning not to judge other parents, though I still cast an evil eye at parents who don't know how to take a firm stand and nip a public tantrum of 'want, want, want' in the bud.

I'm just shocked that these little tiny things don't come out with a guidebook, an operating manual. :D

I still envy parents who have kids that require much less maintenance than mine does. I envy parents who have kids that WANT to be part of the greater world, interact with other kids, say "bye mom!" and take off. I still resent interruptions when my head is full of a tax calculation or some fictional world. But nowadays, I just ask if it's something that HAS to be done/answered/handled right then. And if it is, I do it. That's my job.

And I'm rewarded for it with a great deal of trust and love from her. I'm rewarded by her increasing self-reliance and independent spirit. It takes her longer to get there, but she WANTS to be independent and self-reliant. So I must have done something right.

My parents can't remember being as concerned over parenting, except when a sister developed epilepsy in her teen years. I know my sisters weren't as concerned. Both of them worked full time. I was the one who had the child with the greatest need.

I met someone when she was about two who was honest enough to say that she still resented her son at age five, that anger wasn't uncommon. It was such a relief to hear that. I wasn't alone in my feelings.

And that person on Genie? Hmmm, I might know who she was. She might have been my writer in residence at Clarion, who certainly had similar circumstances.

Oz
msagara
Jun. 14th, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
And I'm rewarded for it with a great deal of trust and love from her. I'm rewarded by her increasing self-reliance and independent spirit. It takes her longer to get there, but she WANTS to be independent and self-reliant. So I must have done something right.

Yes, this. My son was in no way an easy baby; he was not an easy child. But: he was such a sunny little kid. He was generous, he was as helpful as we let him be.

I worked from home - and my parents would come by in the early days so I could at least get a couple of hours of sleep - because my son did not sleep at night at all until he was about 2 months old, and then it was spotty. He was a champion napper. He took naps, period.

He liked other children. He frequently didn’t know how to interact with them, and because of the ASD it was hard. I envied my husband the ability to go to work, because it seemed like a break, a vacation - but at the same time, in the end, my son needed someone at home. He needed someone who could see the world through his lens and try to explain it to him. So: envy, yes, and some resentment, but also: necessary. It was necessary, and we did the work.
(no subject) - birdhousefrog - Jun. 14th, 2012 08:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
kate_nepveu
Jun. 14th, 2012 03:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this post.

My kids were/are only mildly difficult as infants, relatively speaking, and yet there were and are days when the black humor of "did not expose on hillside" is the best I can say about the day.

(Oddly I had instant emotional bonds but I could never tell their crying from any other baby's that might be going down the hospital hallway.)
msagara
Jun. 14th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
My kids were/are only mildly difficult as infants, relatively speaking, and yet there were and are days when the black humor of "did not expose on hillside" is the best I can say about the day.

My mother had a less black sense of humor, so in the early months, I had to be careful what I said - but I found black humor so helpful.
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