Sick Day: A Practice in Gratitude

Motherhood is hard and holy work. So hard, so holy.

It’s been a week. We started with Lu, fresh out of the bath, running headlong into a busted chin and her first set of stitches. The next day, Annie came down with a nasty fever virus, and six days later, she’s still not well and Lu has started her turn with it. Neither girl is sleeping well at night, and the days are filled with tracking doses of medication and trying to hydrate two littles who keep throwing up whatever goes down. Throw in work and all the laundry and basically dousing the house in Lysol — doing all these things over and over — and well… I’m tired. But today, tending to Lu, I pulled out my camera, looking for the light in the form of silver linings. All these worries and inconveniences are opportunities to seek out blessings and practice gratitude. So, these images – from backpacks home with their owners instead of at school, modern medicine, quiet moments to catch up on work, all the laundry, to a little girl who trusts me to the utmost and feels safest in my arms – are blessings among all the murmuring I’ve surely done this week. Pressing a cold cloth to a hot forehead, coaxing a piece of toast into a tummy, and praying that tomorrow is a little bit better are all ways that I’m serving my family, and I’ll let these images serve as my reminder that this work is hard but holy. 

The Girls, Currently: Vol II

Annie (almost 5): Says “losing” instead of “using,” asks really complicated questions about how we’ll get to Heaven right before bedtime, is my mini-me in nearly every aspect of her type A personality, will reliably eat only a cheeseburger with fries – all other meals are quite strongly negotiated, loves her pre-K program, still holds onto Bunny most waking moments and all sleeping ones, can write her alphabet and spell our names – though she usually forgets when mine stops and writes “mamama,” and loves reminding Lucy about the rules.
Lucy (newly 3): Uses a made-up word, “binga,” as a sub-word for something she doesn’t know – when I forgot to put dressing on her salad, she said “Mom, you forgot the binga!”, shows no fear of conquering physical obstacles but bursts into tears when being introduced to new people, has a logical solution for any problem presented, is starting to draw our portraits – darling scribbles of giant heads and long legs, will go to her room to scream into a pillow when she’s been wronged, and loves blatantly disobeying Annie and her rules.
Just a quick update, so I can look back and remember these little and wonderful things. 

The Girls, Currently

Annie (almost 4!): is doing great in her preschool program one day a week, loves dressing up and imaginative play of all sorts, is turning into the best little guide/helper/encourager for Lucy, is starting to show interest in reading and spelling, is still too little to watch Hercules (good try, Mama), practices caution in interacting with others, and still says her name is “Anniebelle Jane Warnen.” 

Lucy (almost 2!): speaks in full sentences about half of the time, wraps me up in the tightest hugs, loves to aggravate Annie but would follow her to the ends of the Earth, has great problem-solving skills, is becoming a very picky eater, is obsessed with Trolls, often treats us all like peasants (Adam says she just tolerates us), but will still stop what she’s doing several times a day, come to me, and say “I need hugs” or “you want a kiss?” or “can me hold you, Mama?” 

Mama: trying to become a seasonal decorator and failing again (a few scattered pumpkins are sufficient, right), survived Adam being on Whole30 and even adapted to continue eating a few Whole30 meals each week after it was over, writing a master’s! thesis! on Cherokee women as storytellers, writing about motherhood, and really looking forward to mashed potatoes and the dessert table on Thanksgiving.

Slow Mornings

Because I stay at home with my girls, for a long time, I felt a certain pressure to have a perfectly clean house and planned meals and a generally cheery disposition. For a few months, when I just had Annie, I think I actually accomplished this for the most part. When Lucy was born, and she needed to be on my person for her first six months, didn’t sleep through the night for nine months, and nursed all the time, that changed. I was in survival mode, consistently running on 5-6 hours of interrupted sleep. I was always behind on piles of laundry. I fought desperately to keep my kitchen sink clear of dishes. True romance became Adam texting, “I can eat a sandwich for dinner tonight.” My one saving grace was that Annie, my champion sleeper and therefore my favorite child (kidding, a little), slept 12 straight hours, until 10:00. So once I got Lucy back to sleep after her 7:00 AM feeding and waking 4-5 times during the night, I could crawl back into bed and grab a couple more hours of sleep. Lu would sleep for a good stretch, I would get a nap and feel more ready to take on the day when they both woke up.

A little before her first birthday, Lucy weaned and started sleeping through the night. Aside from a couple of setbacks from illness and teething, both girls now sleep until about 9:00. For a while, I slept until they woke up out of habit, but then I realized I could finally consistently get some quiet alone time in the morning. I also felt a little guilty about sleeping in so late after getting a full night’s rest! Even if I am up and about before they are awake, it is still my favorite daily habit to have a slow morning, where we cuddle in my bed while they drink their milk. For about fifteen minutes, we tickle and giggle and sing and snuggle. We’re still in our jammies and just finishing up breakfast by 10:00. Annie just turned three and she feels like such a kid already; her baby and toddler phase is quickly fading. She will be in school all day in a short eighteen months. I can’t believe that. Just thinking of that milestone is enough to erase all guilt I may feel of these slow mornings. Staying at home with a three year old and a fourteen month old can be exhausting and wearing, and it drains my patience some days. But I couldn’t be more thankful that I get to stop and just snuggle these girls whenever I want.  

Slow Down, Mama

This evening, I left work and headed to pick up Annie. She was with my family at my sister’s softball game, and I was going to get her there early so she wouldn’t be out in the heat long. I got there a little after the game started, and she was content, drinking her milk, just peering at those around her. I sat down next to her and said, “Hi, baby.” She turned to me, and I picked her up. She laughed and put both of her tiny hands on my face. My sweet daughter, who I’d missed all day, had missed me, too. Any stress I’d felt at work quickly faded, and we were content.

We loaded up and started the forty-five minute drive home. Annie was restless and cried, loudly, from the moment I put her in her car seat. I needed to get home, so I could unload the dishwasher, start dinner, pick up the house, feed Annie again. Instead, I pulled over and got Annie out of her seat. She looked so relieved that I had come to rescue her! She needed me. We sat in the driver’s seat, and she gnawed on the steering wheel and laughed at the cute baby in the mirror. We sat there for about ten minutes, and when I put her back in her seat, she fussed a little, but quickly calmed down and fell asleep.

I work full-time, and at 5:00, I switch gears. I put my remaining energy into being a good mama and a good wife. Those last five or so hours of the day is what I have with my family during the week, and I try to make the most of it. At the end of the day, I’m tired. And I sometimes feel like I haven’t done enough. My kitchen floor desperately needs mopped, and the laundry is piling up (how is it so endless?). However – not always, but usually – I have loved. I have loved my husband and I have loved my girl by taking care of them the best way I know how. Tonight, that meant pulling over and holding my baby for a few minutes before we hit the ground running again.

Annie has taught me so much already. Every once in a while, she gives me a gentle reminder to slow down. And then she rewards me with her lopsided smile.Thank you for that, lovie.

P.S. I have ideas on a post on being a working mother rolling around in my head, but surprise – haven’t found time to put it together! But for now, I’ll leave you with this: I really believe we’re all working mothers, whether you are away from your baby forty hours a week, or if you’ve taken on the full-time job of raising your baby. I think both ways can be so hard. So whatever you’re doing, if you’re doing the best you can, you’re doing a good job.

An Open Letter to Those Who Currently Do Not Have Small Children

This letter is to those who currently do not have small children, possibly falling under one of the following categories:
Single and ready to mingle
Newly married and obliviously blissful
Married for a while without kids
Basically: single/dating/married folks who would maybe, possibly like to one day have children
Dear One or More of the Above,
One day, you may like to become a parent. Recently, I’ve been blessed by becoming Mama to a little angel baby named Annie. She is my heart, my world, my everything. And seeing my husband become a father is pure joy. Really, parenthood is the best thing ever.
During pregnancy, people were always telling us all these negative things, like: “Your lives will never be the same. You won’t be able to do the things you used to do or want to do because of that baby.” First of all, hey, you Negative Nancy! Enough! Second of all, it turns out they were sort of right. Great.
But it’s not quite what you think. Yes, before you have children, you should go to late movies, go out to eat, travel the world, whatever. You can do these things with small children, but it gets a bit more complicated. It takes me an extra hour to get ready to leave the house, and then Annie will still probably decide she needs a new diaper right before leaving, so traveling the world may be a bit much right now.
So do all those things and enjoy those bits of freedom – but most of all, I am here to tell you that first and foremost, before your little bundle of joy arrives, you need to SLEEP ALL THE TIME. SLEEP, my friends! That is what you cannot do when you have a baby, and that is what you’ll miss the most. I promise. And ladies, if you plan to be a nursing mama for any amount of time, go ahead and sleep a little extra. Your little angel baby will wake up hungry every two hours for a while. Around the clock. No matter what. That means you may get an hour or so of sleep in between, if you can even fall asleep. Annie now takes a bottle, so Adam can help feed her, which is awesome. However, even by taking turns during the night, it’s still tough to get more than 3 or  4 hours of sleep at a time. I may even grab a nap during the day, totaling about 6 or 7 hours, which is swell. But I can’t remember what it’s like to sleep through the night, and from what they say, it will be several months before that happens again. I took it all for granted, those nights of sleeping for ten hours straight. Ahh, bliss.
So, friends, if you want to have children one day, please know good, solid rest will no longer be a part of your life. However, it is so worth it. You’ll love your little one so much it hurts your sleepy heart, and when she finally goes to sleep, you may even skip that precious cat nap. You’ll want to pick her up and cuddle her because you miss her. You’ll stay awake and stare at her sweet face. Then you’ll kick yourself a couple of hours later when she wakes up and you’ve still not slept. Still worth it, because – newborn sleep smiles, y’all. Nothing better.