Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One month learning curve

Ooh child things are gonna be easier
Ooh child things'll be brighter.
-Beth Orton

In the weeks leading up to Henry's arrival I spent those frustrating sleepless nights laying awake thinking about all of the things that I should be doing.  The only thing worse than insomnia is the added component of the knowledge that things are about to become difficult and all you can do is think about it.  A few days before delivery, I mustered some energy, emerged from my paralyzed state and set to work on a project.  I decided that I was going to make "coming home" outfits for the kids.  Henry needed something neutral to come home in (at this point, his gender was still a mystery) and I thought it would be a cute photo opportunity for the kids to match on that first day home.  The final product was adorable...adorably unrealistic.  A few hours after Henry's birth the kids arrived - Julia was wearing her pinafore "Big Sister" dress with Charlie's "Big Brother" shirt underneath of it (something about the Big Brother writing should have tipped off my well meaning mother-in-law or the fact that the 24-month shirt looked like inappropriate attire on a 4-year old). Julia, fresh from cutting her own hair, was barrette-less to pull this whole image together. Charlie was dressed in mismatched attire with a crust of his latest sneezes all over his face.  I looked down at Henry in his pure, newborn state and I wanted to shield him from this disheveled crew that was about to interrupt his sleep.  It was perfect.  The perfect reminder to throw away the "coming home outfit" mentality and just get by from here on out.
Having your third child is a far cry from having your first.  I learned this the last time around.  It's tough to reenter that blissful first child world that we experienced 4 years ago.  The world where Julia slept on my chest for the entire day while I wondered how I would ever be mobile again.  I miss those days, but I also worried a lot more then and I invested my time and money in things that didn't really matter.  Now I know what Henry needs.  He needs to sleep on my chest, but he will also do just fine in a sling or wrap or in the swing.  He doesn't need anything new.  He will be just fine if he cries a little bit.  We can wing it for bath time and dip him in with the kids.  I don't have to fret over pumping and when to introduce a bottle.  Julia decided that she wanted to feed him the other day and so I pumped and we all found out that he was just fine.  Recently I read an article that highlights the preparation involved with parenting.  It emphasizes lowering your standards.  Once these standards are lowered, lower them some more.  In full embrace of this concept, until further notice, there will be no matching outfits, no beautiful pictures that I can capture of the three of them (I will leave that up to the professionals), there will be no gourmet dinners that I've cooked with my own hands, we will rely on the amazing kindness of our community (which has fed us for the month and has added a freezer stash for the weeks to come).  Pajamas can be changed at noon (sometime soggy diapers too).  The fact that milk is seeped and spit into my clothing helps me to rationalize my constant rotation of yoga pants.  Henry can use pink bibs if that's what is available, and Scout can lick his face a time or two.  It's okay that I can't remember what we named him for the life of me, especially when on the phone with our pediatrician.  I feel like I'm on Jeopardy and the answer is right at the tip of my tongue.  In my defense, I usually get it right at the buzzer.
I'm okay with all of this.  I really am.  So is Henry.  He is so laid back.  He doesn't mind if Julia kisses him incessantly or that Charlie wants to give him a Dr. kit check up (under close supervision!).  He has remained immune to the billions of germs that have entered into and permeated this house over the past month.  We've both even called a truce on the wake-up calls every 2 hours that have not let up - we've decided that this is our best chance at time together and we're going to live it up!
The part that's hard is the complete shift in dynamics within our family.  Our independent little girl has become increasingly independent.  Though this is developmentally appropriate, I just want to put her in a sling to force a cuddle or two.  She is so grown up!  Charlie is really struggling with this transition.  He was once unphased by much and now is very much aware that he's not the baby. Though I was getting antsy in the hospital post-delivery, I sometimes transport myself to that place in my mind.  The place where it was the nurse's job to make sure everything was okay and the only thing that you had to worry about was documenting the last feeding and diaper change.  I laugh at the simplicity of it.
The stark reality of the first month at home is that it's not easy.  Blending little personalities and needs with post-partum recovery and sleep deprivation is an interesting concoction with a variety of crazy outcomes. Though I've heard statements like "you look so good" or "so put together" (and I use them myself when encouraging a new mom), those words seem overwhelming to me.  What does good really look like?  When you're living from feeding to feeding with tantrums abound and attempting to keep up with a schedule that feels overwhelming if it involves any type of transition but just as overwhelming if there are no plans on the horizon, it seems impossible to be anything more than functioning.  On most days I laugh at how I have reworked standards that I never thought I'd be okay with.  I am pretty proud of how we're doing despite a lack of structure.  Maybe we will never abandon this idea of lower standards.  Who really set these standards anyway?  Yes, there are some non-negotiables, but for the most part these "standards" are ones that I've set for myself - doing the things that I think make me a good mom and give me some sort of sense that my children will be well adapted, eat from a variety of food groups, and will experience enough freedom to guarantee that they won't be living in my basement at age 40.  Pure sugar for breakfast once in a while won't thwart this plan.  Neither will the fact that Charlie is dressed like a princess by his sister instead of allowing them to get outside a bit more.  In fact, in the long run, the lowering of standards will make me a better parent.  I will never again be the mother who dotes on every detail as I did as a brand new parent.  I am more relaxed now.  It doesn't all have to get done, it doesn't all have to look "good".  I hope that my kids look back someday and realize that during even the stressful times, they remained well loved and that having a sibling made their lives better.  I think they will.  And the good news?  Even if they need therapy in a few years to recover from the lack of structure, I'll at least have one child who remains unphased by this whole ordeal.  As you can see in the photos below, throughout our month of transition, Henry has slept through it all.  
And another tip on having multiple children: enlist help.  Whether it's the grocery store clerk who offers to load your groceries, the amazing friends and neighbors around you who offer home cooked meals or a quick "reality check" visit, or family who is willing to enter into the lion's den of your home for a few days to survive this chaos with you...say YES to it all!  
Thank you to everyone who has kept this family going! 
And now onto month TWO...