A thousand years ago, when I was young and wasn’t planning on having kids, my mom said to me, “You know, you should do what you want. But I will say that having kids made me a better person.”
I scoffed at that, but I have a baby now and I sort of know what she means. Only, I think it would be stretching it to say that I’m a better person now. It’s more like I’m less of a mess, because someone is counting on me, and that someone has edible cheeks but no ability to earn a living if I can’t hold my shit together.
A few examples, if you’ll indulge me:
1. I’m cleaner.
You can’t tell it to look at the place, but I clean a lot more with a baby. This is entirely out of necessity. I vacuum a couple times a week now, because I got tired of picking lint out of her mucus membranes. I do the dishes every night because she might poop up her back during the night and need a bath in the morning and our kitchen sink is her bathtub. I clean the kitchen sink really well, because poop.
2. I have clearer priorities.
Basically, I have two: take care of the baby and don’t go crazy.
Almost everything is under the first one. I work, eat, sleep, clean, etc. in order to take care of the baby. The rest is under the second. I exercise, see friends, do my own writing, etc. so that I won’t go crazy. That also better enables me to meet priority No. 1.
3. I think I’m more compassionate.
I used to have a lot of opinions about the best way to do things. Some of these opinions, hilariously, were about parenting. (That’s right: before I had kids.)
Now, my feeling is that we’re all doing the best we can. Even when people do bad things, my first reaction is: “I bet they’re having a hard day.” Like someone could drive their car into a deli on purpose and I would think, “I bet he’s not getting much sleep. That would make anyone tense.”
I’m definitely a little depressed lately, so it’s possible that I’m being overly pessimistic, but I’ve been looking at the numbers and it’s pretty clear that we are never going to become homeowners.
It’s not like we we’re planning on it in the near future. We live in possibly the world’s cutest little cottage. We definitely have the best landlords on Earth. But we also live in a pretty wealthy community, and I imagine at some point, when Baboo is in school and all of her classmates live in mansions and have horses and she’s a renter, it might be an issue.
The problem is that we’ve utterly failed to win the lottery. Also, we’re middle-middle class, a segment of the population that’s dwindled to basically us. I’m too tired to Google stats for you, but our parents’ generation was able to buy a house for a box of Cracker Jack, pretty much, and now you have to have a trust fund or two six-figure salaries.
I was talking this over with Baboo’s honorary Aunt Kate this weekend, and she gave me some perspective.
“Literally everyone I know who owns a house got help.”
“I know, right?” I said, agreeing to agree but not really thinking about what she was saying.
“No, listen to me. They all got the down payment as a gift. Their parents gave them tens of thousands of dollars. Or their grandma died.”
This made me feel a little better. Not because someone’s grandma died. I’m not that evil yet.
Anyway, there are worse things than not being a homeowner. And maybe we’ll figure it out at some point. We’ve been very lucky so far — finding each other, having this Baboo when the odds were against us, and so on. But I read so many articles talking about how millennials are killing the real estate market with their poorness and I just wanted to say, don’t forget about us old losers, too. We are also poor and killing the economy with our poorness.
I did it! I blogged for 30 straight days. If you read my stuff, thanks. Your prize, apparently, is this phoned-in post.
But listen: I did learn some things this month. First and foremost: you have time for the things that are top priority. If you don’t have time to write (or exercise or whatever) it’s because that isn’t a top priority.
This doesn’t mean that you should all feel bad about yourself for not doing those low-prio things. For example, I haven’t done a sit-up in months. I did 10 the day my OB cleared me for exercise, and that was apparently enough for me, because my core is sitting in a puddle on my lap.
But it’s worth thinking about what you have time for, and what doesn’t make the cut. Recently, I haven’t had time for sleep, exercise, or seeing friends. When I realized this, I also realized that I had made myself my own last priority. That’s a common problem for moms, but it’s something that’s best to address ASAP. You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself, and so on.
Also, I discovered that I can do a fair amount of writing on my phone with my thumbs while a baby sleeps on me. That’s a useful realization, right there.
This reaction is obviously ridiculous, but it’s also no big surprise. If you’re a woman on the internet, you get used to heaping helpings of abuse whenever you state an opinion, take a position, or produce anything for public consumption. But if you point out that our culture depends on women taking on a boatload of uncompensated labor to make things work, you’ll really be in for it.
Sometimes, I think that this is why it’s so offensive to so many people (again, mostly but not entirely men) to hear that women suffer from providing said free labor. The thing is, we don’t have more hours in the day than dudes have. The work that makes life possible – cooking, cleaning, managing schedules and priorities, worrying about people’s feelings and feeding relationships with extended family and friends – takes up a lot of time. These chores also fall almost entirely to women in most households, even when women work outside the home.
Don’t believe me? Look at the data. The American Time Use Survey, which is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and shows how Americans spend their days, shows that women spend 2.19 hours per day, on average, engaging in household activities, while men spend 1.41 hours on average. Women also spend almost twice as much time caring for household members (.68 hours vs. .36 hours) and about a quarter more time purchasing goods and services (.83 hours vs. .6 hours).
Men, on the other hand, have the edge on leisure time (5.53 hours vs. 4.98 hours for women). They also work more (4.32 hours vs. 2.89 hours) – a factor in the persistent gender pay gap.
But back to dinner.
Dinner is bad and we should feel bad about it.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that I’ve heard more venting about dinner from my female friends who have male partners than just about any other domestic issue. And that’s just talking about the women who are in relationships with good men, the kind who don’t automatically think of everything related to maintaining the household as “women’s work.”
I’ve also heard plenty of excuses from male friends with female partners. “She’s just better at it than I am” is a popular explanation. (Probably! But you can get better at almost anything with practice. Why not start tonight?) Or: “I don’t know how to cook.” (Son, you’ve got a master’s degree. I bet you can learn.)
The problem seems to be that in most cases, both partners grew up in a culture where men aren’t raised to “see” domestic chores. If you follow this issue, you’ve probably seen the arguments that suggest that the solution is for women to lower their standards. This is not workable, for the simple reason that women often have lowered their standards by the time the conversation of splitting chores more equitably comes up. How do you get lower than the current state of affairs? they wonder. Stop changing the sheets … ever? Get takeout every night? Let the kids skip school and stop making doctor, dentist, and vet appointments for all time?
Most chores can be put off, if not forever, then for a while. But daily chores like making dinner have to happen, well, daily — or people will starve or eat crap all the time. Plus, there are those horror stories, rooted in scientific research, connecting the decline of the family dinner with everything from obesity to drug abuse. Lower your standards for dinner, and you might feel like you’re lowering the standard of living for your family.
This is not to say that there are no men out there who enjoy cooking or feel a responsibility to feed their families. It’s just that – again, going by what I hear from friends – it seems that men who don’t enjoy cooking feel less responsibility than women to do it anyway.
Then again, maybe the men who holler at women who express a disinclination to provide free domestic labor just have mommy issues. I’m not a psychologist.
Years ago, I worked as an editor for a large internet publisher and managed as many as 100 writers, freelancers who worked remotely. I rarely spoke to them face to face, but I felt like we knew each other — in some cases, as well as coworkers I saw every day.
Of course, all coworker relationships can get tense, and sometimes there would be conflict. In those cases, some virtual colleagues would be quite candid, especially in the forum the company kept for feedback and questions. Occasionally, someone would go HAM on the staff, cussing us out at length. Note: at least some of that time, we deserved it. Still, always disconcerting to wake up and find out that you’re getting dragged, even in a closed forum.
Invariably, when I met one of the more critical writers IRL, I was surprised to find them polite, sometimes almost meek. Being able to hide behind a digital curtain made them bold; being forced to put on pants and voice their concerns in person gave them a bad case of shyness.
Now, I work from home and I am the pants-free person and I totally get the phenomenon. It’s way easier to fire off an email than it is to pick up the phone or meet someone in person. Imagine being forced to look your colleagues in the eye as you complain to them about their behavior. The very idea!
In Mommyland, where I currently reside, there’s a similar thing. Online, you’ll be judged for every choice you make — feeding, sleeping, medical, disciplinary, and on and on and on. Still, with all my experience living and working online, I was shocked to discover that IRL, moms are largely supportive of one another.
In my mom group, I’ve never heard anyone pick on anyone’s choices — but I have heard moms defend each other against imaginary enemies and critics, often loudly and with great passion.
A typical conversation goes like this:
Mom #1, who ferberizes and has a nursery: Don’t judge me, but I let him cry it out.
Mom #2, who cosleeps and baby wears and does not cry it out: Good for you! Whatever works, mama.
Me, a crazy person: I WILL SLAP ANYONE WHO JUDGES YOU.
It’s just easier to make real connections with people offline — and easier to go a little crazy when you spend too much time in the virtual world.
When Donald Trump became president, I lost my mind for a while. I spent hours every day scanning Twitter and Facebook and Google News looking for signs of our imminent doom. And then, of course, I spent a lot of time fighting with people online — jumping into other people’s space and telling them why they were wrong and unfriending people and so on.
Finally, Adam suggested that I spend more time in real-life spaces, and less time online. His job as a nurse is entirely in the real world, and he doesn’t spend very much time on the internet at all.
“Look,” he said. “At my job, I have to take care of people who believe all kinds of things that I don’t necessarily believe — sometimes people who’ve done things I can’t imagine. But I’m dealing with them in real life, which means that we can’t hide behind that anonymity. And the thing is, if you spend enough time with people, it’s hard not to recognize their humanity. You see what we have in common, not what divides us.”
What I’m saying is, if you’re like me and you tend to fall into internet rabbit holes, follow Adam’s advice and get outside once in a while. Also, if you can swing it, marry a nurse.
So, as I type this at you, Baboo is screaming her head off in the next room and I am slowly losing my tiny pointed mind.
We are sleep training, which at the moment means that I’m sleep training, as Adam is at work and also would die of heartache if he were here.
We originally said we wouldn’t sleep train. We both felt strongly that it was cruel to let children cry it out and we weren’t going to do it. Adam found a bunch of studies online that said that sleep training was basically child abuse and destroyed babies’ brains and souls and made them into loveless, hollow shells who couldn’t form connections to other people. So obviously, we were against it.
Then Baboo stopped sleeping for more than three hours at a stretch, months after sleeping six or seven hours in a row, and I decided that sleep training sounded like an amazing invention, like antibiotics or streaming video services — you know, stuff we hobbled along without as a species for hundreds of years, but without which modern life would be impossible.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I’d tell Adam at 3 am, holding a bright-eyed and wide-awake Baboo, after getting a whopping 45 minutes of sleep myself. “I’m going to disintegrate with exhaustion.”
And that’s what it felt like, too, like I would melt like a bad guy who drinks from the wrong Grail in an Indiana Jones movie.
“I know,” he’d whisper back. “I’m sorry. Let me tag in.”
“Baby, you can’t. You have to be at work in four hours. You have to get some more sleep.”
And on and on.
The worst part was that our household schedule was precariously balanced between work and baby care. In order to make things work, I needed three full workdays per week and at least an hour per day to catch up on paperwork and email and check things. But instead, I was spending 16 or 18 hours a day on baby care during my days on, and stealing an hour for work after that. Most nights, I slept three hours.
On Adam’s days taking care of Baboo, I could catch up on sleep and work … but the math never quite worked out. One of us always had an appointment or an emergency would come up, and I’d lose hours of work time during the day, which had to be made up at night. My sleep always suffered.
It’s hard to say why Baboo stopped being a good sleeper. Teething might have been part of it. But I think the real problem is that she learned irregular habits from us. We let her take her naps on us, because she cried in the crib, and stayed up soothing her at night until she fell asleep on our shoulder.
Finally, I had it.
“I want to sleep train,” I explained calmly to Adam during another 3 am crisis. “This baby no longer sleeps. It can’t be good for her to sleep for seven hours a night and catnap on us for 45 minutes during the day.”
OK, that’s a lie. Here’s what I really said.
“I WANT TO SLEEP TRAIN. I DON’T CARE IF IT’S BAD FOR THE BABY. NOT SLEEP TRAINING HER IS BAD FOR ME. ME, DO YOU HEAR? I WANT YOU TO HELP ME SLEEP TRAIN THIS BABY BECAUSE OF ME, ME, ME.”
Adam recoiled slightly, like my hair had turned into snakes and those snakes had started snapping at him.
One thing they don’t tell you about having a baby is that you and your partner will disagree about things — important things like sleep and finances and who does what around the house — and that you’ll have to hammer out a compromise in order to proceed. No one can win. No one can lose. If you as parents can’t come to a decision as a team, your family will turn into two armed camps.
We came pretty close.
“How are you feeling today?” Adam asked me solicitously after a long, sleepless night.
“Weirdly better than I should. But, you know, tired.”
“You seem better than last night,” he said. “I thought you were going to build a baby coop out in the yard.”
“Would there be heat and a water bottle?” I asked. “Because that seems like AN AMAZING IDEA. I HOPE YOU DON’T THINK THAT I’VE GIVEN UP ON THE IDEA OF SLEEP TRAINING, BECAUSE I ASSURE YOU THAT I HAVE NOT. I WANT TO SLEEP TRAIN. LET’S SLEEP TRAIN. WHEN CAN WE START SLEEP TRAINING?”
Our compromise was that we’d sleep train, but only after getting a bunch of books and agreeing on an approach. My friend Ilisa recommended Ferber, which I wasn’t sure about, because I’d heard that he advised parents to lock their children in the cellar and put in ear plugs, and then have a silent disco in their homes while smoking marijuana jazz cigarettes and laughing about how stupid babies are.
But it turns out, Ferber doesn’t actually say any of that. Instead, he recommends “progressive waiting,” which is basically putting your sleepy baby in her crib and then leaving for three minutes, coming back in and soothing her, then leaving for five minutes, then soothing again, and then leaving for 10 minutes. You do this over a series of days, and your baby cries bloody blue Jesus. But because you keep coming back in and reassuring her, supposedly she won’t grow up to put you in a home at the first opportunity.
I’ll let you know about that last part.
My parents came to visit us this weekend and sent us out on a date and then sneakily started Ferberizing Baboo while we weren’t there to fuck it up. She went to sleep in half an hour — about three cycles of leaving-and-soothing.
Now I’m here trying to do the same for naps. It took 45 minutes this morning, give or take, but now she’s sleeping peacefully, in her crib. If you’ve never been in this spot, I probably can’t express to you what a miracle this is.
For now, I raise my iced coffee to my parents, my friend Ilisa, and Ferber. Let’s hope we’re not messing this baby up. But I have to think having a mom who isn’t exhausted and can earn a living is better for Babs than being allowed to sleep on a parent 24/7.
Anyway, I guess we’ll see. It’s not like the stakes are high, ha ha ha ha ha ha sob.
It’s getting in trouble. There, social media previewers, I saved you a click.
I’ve spent most of my life worrying that I’ll get in trouble with authority figures ranging from teachers and parents to bosses and clients. I’m a born rule follower who became a writer, meaning that I’m a type A person who’s chosen a sort of unconventional working life, and so I spend a lot of my time coping with low-grade anxiety and fear of disappointing someone important … but I have no idea who that person is.
Now that I’m a grownup by any measure — I’m old, I’m responsible for a human baby, etc. — you’d think I’d stop worrying about that. After all, I have plenty of other things to worry about. But no. My problem now is that I’m worried about failing to live up to expectations I can’t define.
This might just be adulthood (late onset variety). Or maybe I’m just not enlightened yet, and when I reach the next stage of my emotional and spiritual development, I’ll be able to become my own mental boss and worry only about living up to my own expectations. I really don’t know. But if I figure it out, you can bet I’ll be making my fortune off that self-help book.
Just a brief note, because we’re wrapping up celebrations and I can only hide ‘n type for so long.
Today was our Thanksgiving observed. My folks, Adam’s mom, and my aunt and uncle came over and brought so much food, I’m shocked we found room for the leftovers. We ate turkey and lasagna and vegetables and potatoes and rolls and pie and ice cream and wine, and I’m pretty I’m going to pass out soon, but it was worth it.
Also, I’d like to say that my family is the best and you should definitely have them at your next dinner party. My mom and aunt talked me through the turkey and didn’t make fun of me when I cried for a minute because I didn’t have enough bowls.
“Are you kidding?” my aunt said later, when I apologized. “You don’t have to say you’re sorry for being sad. A couple of times when I was throwing Thanksgiving, I got downright pissy.”
My aunt is the least pissy person I know, so this was very reassuring. I mean, she was a teacher for 20 or 30 years and perpetually sunny, come rain or administrative snafus.
I just finished wrestling Baboo to the ground so that I could put saline drops in her nose. I’m lucky I didn’t lose an eye.
There’s nothing sadder than a baby with a cold. They just have no idea what’s happening to them. Baboo keeps looking at me for help and there’s not much I can do beyond torture her with the saline drops.
The nurse at the pediatrician’s office told Adam we could give her some Tylenol but I’m trying to use that sparingly. What with the endless teething, it seems like we could be giving her Tylenol every four hours round the clock, but that’s not great for her tiny, brand-new liver.
I’ll tell you, though, I’m beat. I knew I’d wear a lot of hats as a new mom, but I didn’t know that one of them would be “baby wrestler.”