(Late again on this birthday update – time and tax season are to blame. But now, here we are, just around the corner from Pickle’s 6th, so Plum certainly deserves a small ode to her 4th.)
To Plum at Four
And just like that, you turned the corner from toddler to kid. Little to big.
My sweet Plum with the “golden” hair and silly hula moves.
You are the brightest star. I finally understand what it means when they say someone is “beaming” because your huge smile IS sunshine. Actual sunshine.
You love to play and be heard. You love your own space. Your hugs are always lovely surprises.
You are brave. You love to run. You love to help (until you don’t). You love Elsie cat so much we worry slightly for her safety. You are good at being part of a team.
You are silly and smart, fun and funny. You are confident. You work hard. And more than anyone I know, the camera catches the essence of you. Perhaps because you don’t hold back, or perhaps because you just can’t help but let your light shine through.
You are my middle, and perhaps – unsure when to lead and when to follow – you just decided to do it your own dang way in your own sweet time. And I love you for it.
Happy birthday Plum. Four is awesome, and so are you.
I want a cup of tea.
Not herbal. The real stuff. With milk and sugar.
And I want someone to make me popovers.
Which I will eat warm with a little butter and cinnamon sugar.
I want someone to wash my duvet cover and then put it back on my comforter. Because if we’re honest with each other, that is a four-person job.
I want a week to declutter, shuffle and reshuffle, purge (stuff, not vomit – though both usually make you feel better), think about writing something, nap.
I want dinner to be done, meals planned. But really, I want to do that stuff myself.
I want a bedside clock for my husband that isn’t the brightest clock on the planet.
I want the socks paired.
Oh the socks.
I want not to worry about the four RSVPs, camps, birthday party to plan.
I want to be grateful that I have parties, camps, birthday parties to worry about.
I want new work shoes that I don’t have to break in.
I want to use the hours between 8:30pm and 10:30pm wisely at least once a week.
I want to figure out how on earth to spend more time being and less time doing.
I want to cook every day. Walk every day. Sleep more. Pick up less. Read to my kids more. Explore more. Love more. Give more. Fight more for the things I think are worth fighting for. And sit on a blanket on the grass in the sun.
I want to spend more time doing silly and creative things, and less time wondering what could have possibly spilled on the floor to make it that sticky. I want more time with my kids. I want more time with my husband. I want more time by myself.
I want more time having grown-up conversations. With wine. I want more music in my house. I want less dust. I want my kids to eat less yogurt.
I want more dancing in my life.
And I want the thank you notes to write themselves.
Recently, I was asked to offer some words of encouragement and advice to a friend expecting her first child. My first piece of advice? Pay no attention to even the most well-intentioned pieces of advice. With that said, here are a few things I’ve learned on my 3 trips to baby town.
- Doctors don’t want to scare you, so they don’t tell you exactly how long labor will last. But I will. Labor will last a long time. A few days. Yes, days. I know only two women whose first labors lasted less than 24-hours. Two. (I’m not counting scheduled C-sections.) And when you’re 40 weeks pregnant, anxious to meet your little one, in pain, and don’t know what to expect the whole process will seem excruciatingly long, miserable, and sometimes a bit out-of-control, no matter how well you plan. But you will be okay. You will.
- Get one of these.
- People with children who are teenagers or older will tell you to enjoy every minute, that it all goes by so fast. Those people are wrong. You won’t enjoy/savor/cherish every minute. In fact, I think it is far more likely that you’ll find a lot about caring for an infant to be tedious, repetitive, messy, exhausting and not-so-fun. BUT, it gets better, and there are lovely, quiet, rewarding, amazing moments.
- Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re doing everything wrong. You aren’t.
- Forget what the books and registry guides say. Children don’t need much: love, warmth, a food source, and when they get a little older, a toy that makes a crinkly crunchy sound. You have enough and you are enough. Get this whale for the crinkly toy part.
- Don’t feel bad about asking for what you need. If someone asks what they can do to help, tell them to bring food and hold the baby for an hour while you shower and nap. Never underestimate the restorative power of a shower and a nap. (In the reverse, if someone is over-staying their welcome, don’t feel bad about asking them to leave.)
- Bring your own pillow to the hospital. The bed is uncomfortable enough. Don’t add to your misery by sleeping on a pillow encased in rubber.
You got this, Mama.
More than four, less than six
I kiss your tangy sweaty little boy head as you push me away.
There is sand in your hair clinging to your scalp.
Because you were doing somersaults in the dirt.
I should have known.
In early evening you sit, tired from a day spent figuring out the workings of the world, inside and out.
Your little brother crawls over you. And over you again.
You don’t mind. You barely look away from the program on the TV.
You have grown so capable.
Limbs lengthening. Now all muscle and bone, and soft tight skin.
New freckles dot your nose. Your teeth used to seem so big.
Last week we saw the planets, and marveled at the vastness of the universe.
How this goes around that, and that goes around this.
And I marveled at you, my boy, who entered this world face up, eyes open.
Happy belated birthday to my dearest Pickle, a kind and generous boy who has only just started being a little too cool for my kisses.
A woman I know – a brand new mom – reached out on Facebook the other day to mention how much her world had been rocked by the arrival of her son. She mentioned this without a positive or negative spin. There was no whining or wonder, just a mom noting how much her life had changed and how much hard work parenting a newborn is.
Then came the responses. There were so many women telling her to enjoy her baby! Cherish these moments! Change is good! He is adorable! Welcome to your new normal! Your life has been changed for the better! It is a love you’ve never known! Welcome to MY world – now you get it! You’ll miss these days when they’re gone!
Blarghggghhlll, these posts gave me reflux.
How do we forget so quickly?
Why does “We’ve done it, so can you.” sound so dismissive rather than supportive?
The subtext of so many of these types of comments seems unkind and unsupportive:
Enjoy your baby! (Stop whining. We’ve all been there.)
Cherish these moments! (Stop whining. Why dwell on the bad stuff?)
Change is good! (Stop whining. What did you expect?)
How do we forget that the newborn “new normal” is occasionally terrifying, always exhausting, and can throw a person completely off kilter, no matter how much they love the little milky, loose-skinned, froggy-legged baby asleep on their chest?
I think my poet friend’s response was best “You are doing it! And you can do it! ❤ ❤ ❤ “ No subtext. Just support and love from another new mom who isn’t so far past that newborn world-rocking that she forgets what it is like.
Because it is so hard – it is bigger, more all-encompassing than that even. And you just do it. You get through the days, you get through the nights. You have good moments, bad ones, lots of tired ones. You call in your village if you have one. Or you call your village if they are far away. Or you call your doctor. You accept help, pay for it, ask for it, or struggle through without it. You do it. You just do.
I’m making a promise to myself that I’ll try my darnedest not to forget the feelings, the exhaustion, the crazy way the universe shifted completely when Pickle was born. And I promise my friends that I’ll never demand that they cherish their baby and enjoy every damn moment. I’ll just love them, remind them of their own strength, hold them up when they need me to and bring dinner when possible.
Birthing babies is incredibly complicated and incredibly simple all at once. And while it is pretty freaking amazing, it rarely goes exactly according to (the meticulously researched, single-spaced, holistic birth) plan.
My guess is that it is just the universe’s way of saying, “You know how you thought you were prepared and in charge? You’re not. Welcome to parenthood. Neener neener.”
Parenting is full of a whole lot of unexpected events and feelings – some good, some bad, many hysterical and enlightening.
Some things I didn’t expect as a parent…
… how much I would simultaneously love and fear finger paints, stickers and silence.
… baby neck and armpit cheese.
… how very tired I would be.
… how happy and how sad I would be to see myself – traits both good and bad – reflected in my tiny people.
… how big a 2-year-old’s feelings are.
… how much it feels like failure or just getting by sometimes. And how universal that feeling is.
… how much work bedtime would be. And how lovely a quiet, full, sleeping house can be.
… how delicious baby cheeks, elbows, bellies and toes are.
… how much I would need to nurture my friendships. And just how much effort and scheduling that takes now.
… how amazing human development really is. From a helpless, little, human blob to a walker and talker in just about 365 days?! Unreal. Really.
… how much I love to be silly, to play, and to laugh with my children.
… how much I love whole milk yogurt.
… how much I feel like this is something I was supposed to do with my life, even in the hardest moments.
1. The other day, I actually thought that it might be nice to get sick. But only sick enough that I would feel justified in staying home and sleeping all day.
2. There is a dead frog in my car. Somewhere. Thankfully (?) it is flat and dried.
3. I sometimes feel bad about:
a. not reading The New Yorker;
b. not eating enough fish;
c. sometimes writing “congrats” instead of “congratulations,” because that’s just lazy.
4. I don’t watch much TV, except for Wild Kratts and Curious George, so I’m woefully behind in my knowledge of news and pop culture. And I don’t really go anywhere interesting anymore. This paired with my usual state of exhaustion means that I am, in fact, only able to talk about my children. I do recognize how annoying this is.
5. My children think they have the power to change stoplights and songs on the radio using only their minds. This is going to come back to bite me, I’m sure.
I saw them. Sitting outside in the August overcast cool. They had drinks, cocktails, beer, small plates. They were leaning back, relaxed. They were talking. Laughing. Sipping.
Brunch. 2pm on a Sunday.
I looked at them and thought that perhaps after brunch, they’d wander home, flip through a magazine, take a nap under a spinning ceiling fan, belly full and head a little swimmy from the mimosas. They’d wake up, maybe shop a bit for nothing in particular, and without a list or itinerary. They’d pick up a piece of fish or some scallops for dinner. They’d take a walk. They’d take a drive. They’d go pick some raspberries. They’d consider going to the movies and decide against it. They’d finish reading the Sunday paper or the latest New Yorker. Maybe that woman would research a new bathroom fixture, pluck her eyebrows. Maybe she’d spend some time sorting old photos or looking up new recipes, listening to a podcast of storytellers. Maybe she’d finally clean out that closet. Make some raspberry muffins. Fold some laundry. Lie in bed in the quiet and think.
I miss that.
I miss brunch.
I miss the me I used to get to be. I miss being untethered.
I would like to say that I am the same person I was before I had children. But I’m not. The very center of me has changed. I am tied to them and there is never a moment they aren’t with me. In me.
And now, even when I get that time, that time to myself, to enjoy lazy brunches, to browse bookshops, to just be, by myself, and to recreate those untethered times, I recognize they are just that — recreations. They are wonderful and restorative times, but they are recreations of a time and a me that no longer exist. And when my hour or two is over I slip off that costume of my former self and return to being me, the current edition.
Still, sometimes, I miss brunch. I’ve replaced it with unreasonable wake up calls, too much cold coffee, Cheerios on the floor. But I also get tiny toenails, perspectives on the world from those new to it, and the warmth and heaviness of small sleeping bodies laying, growing, breathing, against mine. And though sometimes I miss the way brunch used to be, the changed me wouldn’t trade. And I know that’s the way it is supposed to be.
Bedtime for Pickle. We’re trying to rein it back, since it keeps getting longer and longer. It is a long-ish routine to start with, but really, it should be simple enough: pajamas, TV show, pull-up, teeth, 2 books, 2 songs, bed. How long can that possibly take?
Forever. That’s how long.
My sister, amazed by his creativity and persistence, encouraged me to write down Pickle’s stall tactics/questions/pre-bed needs wants and desires. So here is a (non-exhaustive!) list. Yes, these are all real. And yes, this is why bedtime takes forever.
- I have to pee.
- I have to poop.
- I want you to come sit with me while I poop. So we can chat. No I’m not done yet.
- I don’t want to wear overnight undies (aka pull-ups).
- My overnight undies itch.
- My overnight undies are too hot.
- My overnight undies hurt me.
- These pajamas are too hot.
- I want to take my pants off.
- These pajamas are too cold.
- I need to floss because I have yuckies on my teeth.
- I need to shower because I have so many yuckies. I didn’t wash all of my parts in the bath earlier tonight.
- I have to wash my hands.
- My hands hurt.
- My belly hurts. It feels like boo-boos.
- I need a “belly fixer” (Tums).
- I want to do “belly fixers” (a completely made-up placebo I came up with that consists of vaguely yoga-ish poses that will make belly ailments go away).
- I have to throw up.
- I have to pet the cat. I love her.
- I want the cat in my room.
- I want the cat on my bed.
- The cat licked my head. I want the cat off of my bed.
- I want the cat out of my room.
- I’m thirsty but I don’t want water. I want milk, and then I want to brush my teeth again.
- I’m hungry.
- I want to do three more flips on your bed.
- I just need to sit on this large pile of clothes and pretend it is a horse.
- I want the light on in my room.
- I want the light off in your room.
- I want to read more books by myself.
- I do not like any of the 60 books in my room.
- I want you to read me more books.
- I want the light off.
- I want the curtains open.
- I want the curtains closed.
- I want the curtains open again, but just a little bit.
- I want my door closed.
- I want my door closed, but not all the way.
- I just need to try to tie the legs of my pajamas in a knot.
- I’m a little sad.
- I want you to check my room for lions and bears.
- I have to pee.
- I need an extra cuddle from you.
- I need an extra cuddle from Dad.
- I want to talk about things.
- I want to tell you something.
- I have a question.
- I want to tell you a secret.
- I have a surprise for you.
- I want you to sing me three songs.
- I didn’t like those songs; I want you to sing four more.
- Do you know a song about blueberries?
- My penis itches.
- Do you know a song about donkeys?
- I know a song about blueberries. I will sing it to you. (Cue 8 minute mash-up of songs he knows – none of which have anything to do with blueberries – interspersed with nonsense words.)
- I want to sing you three more songs (of the same long, made-up variety).
- I want you to sing me three more songs (including the full-length versions of Wheels on the Bus and She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain).
- What does ______________ mean (insert each line of each song here)?
- I want to talk about the day (this has included discussions about dog vomit, the origins and purpose of hospitals, and the ins and outs of air travel).
- I want to talk about tomorrow.
- I don’t like the plan for tomorrow and would like to discuss changing it.
- I want to negotiate donuts and lots of TV for tomorrow.
- I want a treat right now.
- I have yuckies on my teeth and need to brush them again.
- I want to see my sister. I love her.
- I want to hug my sister.
- I want to bring my sister something.
- I want to take something from my sister.
- I need Alfie/Cubby/Baby Bear/Monkey. (Always a stuffed animal conveniently not located in his room.)
- I’m still hungry.
- I want an apple. Peeled, but not cut up.
- I want more water.
- I have to pee again, and I want you to come with me.
- My blanket is too hot.
- I want a cold blanket.
- I don’t want any blankets.
- Where is my other blanket?
- Why do we need blankets?
- I want your blanket.
- I want you to make me a nest of blankets on my bed.
- The nest of blankets you made me is not right. I want to make the nest. (Cue 10 minutes of nest-making.)
- The nest I made is all wrong! I blame you! And I’m still thirsty!
- Where is the cat?
- I need to wear my hat/headlamp/bear slippers/stethoscope to bed.
- I’m not tired.
- I want the light back on.
- I want Dad.
- Why are you yelling at me?
- I have to pee again.