Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Never would I ever ...

Don't let the smile fool you, there is FEAR in those eyes.
"When I'm a parent ... "

Let me stop you right there, oh childless ones who say these words. You think you're so wise. Well, I hate to speak in terms of absolutes, but you're not. Despite how many kids you've babysat for or how many younger siblings you've taken care of, you have no idea how your mind somehow changes and, dare I say it, warps  when you have a child of your very own. A child you're responsible for shaping and turning into a decent human being. Not to mention, you have to keep this child alive! And, though a lofty goal, at the very least, you picture these happy, heartfelt moments with your children 24/7.

I won't spoil the surprise for when you find out in the first 48 hours at home with your new child that these heartfelt moments are hard to come by when you're not even sure what you're supposed to do with this little one and you're sleep deprived and you're questioning every single thing you're doing and wondering if you're doing them all wrong.

And, as soon as you find the answer you're looking for and something "works," the next day, you'll be searching for a new answer to a new question and/or the answer you just found that worked will no longer work.



Here are a list of "When I'm a parent" phrases I (stupidly) said:

1. I will not give my daughter formula
My ex-mother-in-law worked in a pediatrician's office (lucky, I know) and they were given endless supplies of formula they weren't allowed to give out. So, it would accumulate. When I was pregnant, she collected it for me and we had a good four-month's worth by the time L. was born. Yet, I read in the books and drank the Breast is Best Kool-Aid online and in mommy forums and I was committed to breast feeding. All the time. I made it through college, I told myself, I could make it through a few months of sleep deprivation.

After a rocky start, finding out I needed a nipple shield so L. would know to feed, and reading a book a week with all the sitting time I had, I began craving my freedom.

Yes, I loved the closeness to my daughter and the time only we shared, but I think the INTJ in me was screaming for at least a little freedom. I pumped and froze that, but it was still about 20 minutes of me feeling like I was going to moo any second just so I could get a break later when someone else fed L. Finally, I hit the 6-month mark and I made peace with myself that I could wean her onto formula and give my breasts a rest.

All this said, I understand the pain moms must feel when they have their heart set on breastfeeding and it doesn't work out. And I would never say, "It's not all it's cracked up to be" to anyone. It's just a personal preference that changed for me.

2. I will not let her watch TV until she is exactly 2-years-old.
"Curious George" is well-loved in our home.
After the first three days keeping her away from any screen at all, that meant no screen time for me either.

"What if I'm watching it and she turns her head to the TV and accidentally gets some?! I'm a terrible mom!" Please, feel free to insert those weird water drops they draw around Cathy's head in the '90s comic as you picture me saying these things to myself.

By the end of the third day, I lost touch with the world, it seemed. It was before the days of everyone having a smartphone and I still had just a basic cell phone that barely had internet access. I could check Facebook, Twitter and my email and that would be about it. And I was still petrified L. would turn her head and see the screen when I did so.

I slowly began to give myself excuses to watch TV. "She's still only seeing things all blurry." "She sleeps all day, sounds won't hurt if she hears the TV." "The voices in my head are not as entertaining as they used to be when I was getting the right amount of sleep." "The days are just so. Damn. Long!"

Soon, I found myself re-watching my DVDs of "Friends" and "The Office" as I was falling asleep and putting them on repeat so throughout the night, I would be up so often and for so long, I would end up watching a disk a night, even if the episodes I saw ended up out of order.

Then, I gave in and realized if I didn't distract myself with something, I would go crazy listening to this part of my brain that I apparently also birthed that didn't think I was doing anything right and was screwing everything up. In a way, TV saved me.

And, for the record, when she was slow to talk, it was a DVD that finally got her to learn basic words because she would pay more attention to it than she would me when I would try to teach her. So, Brainy Baby English, thanks. You may not get to tout that you contribute to genius, but hearing my daughter finally repeat words was worth the $3 I paid in a desperate attempt at Goodwill for you.

3. I will not post excessive photos of my daughter on social media.
I've heard tons of friends who are not parents complain that their feeds are being completely overrun with baby pictures. Some even have the nerve to complain to me about it. Look, I dealt with your repetative photos of you holding a red cup, making a duck face almost every weekend. You can deal with a few baby pictures.

And, if you can't, feel free to ignore me on Facebook. I won't be offended. I've probably hidden you and your selfies or you attention-seeking vague statuses already. I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to hiding people on Facebook I don't have things in common with anymore.

I happen to follow my friends on Facebook who have had children and I "Like" the Facebook pages of mommy blogs I enjoy reading about parenting. I feel I can have conversations with these people and having kids has helped me reconnect with friends I've even lost touch with over the years.

Even though I know I try not to blame too much of my little anti-social quirks on my INTJ personality, I do get annoyed when people ask me in real life about what L.'s is up to and I just want to say, "Have you not seen my Facebook page?" OK, that's a little extreme. It's maybe about 40 percent true, though.

4. I will be the crafty mom!
The wall in L.'s room, made by taping off triangles.
I especially enjoy chalkboard paint just because of it's
use as a temporary display for art.
To a point, I'm pretty crafty when it comes to L. But, I'm not as crafty as I wanted to be before having her. I wanted to do a craft a day. Then I realized, that would mean a mess a day. That would mean a craft I have to keep for a really long time. A sentimental decoration collecting dust. And, in essence, I would be displaying a cardboard tube or egg carton I would have been quite happy just throwing away.

As much as I love being creative, I love creativity when it serves a real purpose. I know my daughter's talented. I have the photos to prove it. Photos that exist in a Photobucket album or on Facebook (which may contribute to No. 3), but I don't necessarily want to save every piece of art that gets made.

Don't take this as me being a heartless mom. Those popsicle stick ornaments will gladly accumulate on my Christmas tree. And whatever Mother's Day present I receive made with macaroni glued on cardboard will be cherished. I'll appreciate whatever my daughter puts her talent and heart into. But, I will probably follow my mom's footsteps and save the most prized and quietly dispose of the less important pieces.

5. I will effectively discipline and be able to say, "No!"
If this were the case, I wouldn't be reading an average of three parenting books a year, mostly having to deal with discipline because, the fact is, L.'s reaction to discipline changes every time. Sometimes, I can calmly say no and quietly not budge and she'll get the idea. Sometimes, I have to count to three then pick her up and bring her to time out. Sometimes, when I realize it's not a big enough deal to fight about, I'll give in and realize it's more of an inconvenience to me than it is actually "wrong."

There are times (usually when she's at her father's and I have some post-L. time perspective) when I can look back on my reaction to a situation and take from it what worked and what didn't. And I'm slowly collecting those observations so discipline can remain effective and consistent. But, she's 2. Things change from week to week, it seems. The only thing I can do is keep the rules simple and let her know what they are.

*****

At least there are a few things I was actually right about before I had L.:

I will learn something new every single day.
Whether it's from a book I'm reading about parenting or whether it's finding out a new food L. will eat, I'm constantly gathering information throughout the day about this little life.

I spend too much time analyzing everything I do and not living in the moment.
Having a child, you don't have time to do that. Even in bed, when I would usually do most of my reflecting on the day, I'm too tired now and I just want to sleep. Maybe I'll try to think of a thing or two, but, for the most part, I think about the good things and fall asleep.

I will remain my own person. Not just someone's mom.
I love my daughter, but she's just as much her own person as I am mine. If you don't believe me, ask her. I have also gone so far as to not use her picture as my profile picture on Facebook or Twitter. She's most likely in my profile pictures, but I'm always in the photo too. I don't judge parents who have their child as their profile photo, it's just not my personal preference.

I will learn to speak up.
Believe it or not, this was a big transformation that seemed to happen overnight. All of a sudden, once I had to be the voice for someone who couldn't speak yet, I found the strength to make phone calls I didn't think I could. And, if I had weak moments where I couldn't make the call, I could at least write emails to the people I needed to talk with. Something clicked within me where I wasn't this shy person anymore around strangers.

I wasn't all of a sudden this assertive person my mom was. Believe me, I heard quite a lot about that "squeaky wheel," and I was also well aware of how her "squeaky wheel" probably resulted in our food being spit in at restaurants. But I do know to ask for what I want, to say what I need to say, and when I don't have to let something pass just because it would be inconvenient to bring it up. It's a good skill to have and I'm glad to have gained it.

I have no idea what I'm doing.
Every day before having L., no matter how many books or blogs I read, no matter how many moms I talked to, I knew I was unprepared. And, until my doctor finally diagnosed me with Postpartum Anxiety, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. I was so overwhelmed with the feeling I didn't know what I was doing.  I finally saw the doctor and told her I felt like I had PMS all the time, I was constantly biting the inside of my cheeks until they were raw out of frustration and anxiety, and I basically felt like I was running a race and the finish line kept moving just out of reach.

The thing is, I don't know if I'll ever get over this feeling, but at least I have tools to keep my anxiety to a minimum. And, as much as it's against my personality, I can always ask for help.