Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Life Happened Instead

About a year ago, I planned an ambitious slate of books and activities for first grade. I thought I was being reasonable, anticipating a slow start with a baby due in July, but I had no idea what was in store for us.

Second Son was born and we had a quiet first month at home, starting school when he was about four weeks old. At first, I was pleased with how we progressed. We were finishing our lessons and my house was in reasonable order. As time went on, though, I began to struggle.

Some babies are content no matter where they are or what's going on. Second Daughter was like that. She had her moments and seasons where she needed more attention, but overall she was happy to just be where she could see her big brother and sister and chatter with me as I worked.

Some babies, though, require just a bit more of their mamas. I call them "high maintenance." First Son was high maintenance. Back then, we had one baby, a 400 square foot apartment, and Kansas Dad handled much of the baby care while I worked. I naively thought it was tough those few times I tried to be productive and he was uncooperative. Then, Second Son came along. He was also a high maintenance baby. Only now I was home alone most days with three other kids and a whole lot more house to manage.

If I put Second Son down to clear the table, he cried. If I put him down to wash the dishes, he cried. If I put him down to make a meal for the other kids, he cried. If I put him down to change Second Daughter's diaper, he cried. If I put him down to wash my hands, he cried. If I put him down to go to the bathroom, he cried. (I could go on, but it's getting a little redundant, don't you think?)

If I put him in the carrier to clear the table, wash the dishes, prepare a meal or wash my hands, he cried. For months he was only content being carried in the football hold. That boy wanted undivided attention. In fact, Kansas Dad and I quickly learned he was happiest with one adult holding him and another adult entertaining him.

I hinted at Second Son's neediness a little on the blog, but I couldn't bring myself to write about it a lot. I didn't want to complain and I certainly didn't want people to think we didn't love every chubby bit of him. Because we did. Oh, but I struggled! I like my kitchen tidy and my laundry clean. If it isn't, I feel terrible. I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else. But I also can't bear to let my little one cry and cry and cry just so I can fold a few clothes. So usually, we both cried. Isn't that how it is? I also found myself speaking a little sharper than I liked to the other children because I was so stressed by Second Son's constant needs and tears.

Let me be clear: Second Son was healthy. He did not have colic. He just wanted to be held all day by someone who wasn't doing anything else. If he had that, he was content. Does that sound like too much to ask?

One night in November, I was sitting on the sofa with Kansas Dad while all the kids slept. I said, "I'm not feeling very well," leaned over and was out. The next thing I knew, Kansas Dad was kneeling before me calling my name repeatedly and looking very concerned. I talked to the doctor who assured me healthy people are not supposed to faint. He ran a series of tests, but in his opinion I was doing too much. I tried to explain that I was only doing the minimum, but he insisted, "You need to set priorities. Whatever you think you need to be doing is too much."

I pondered his advice for a few days. Of course, if we had been dealing with serious illness, I would have recognized the need to limit our lessons or alter my daily goals, but I was just trying to do the dishes and the laundry and the lessons. How could I do less? Eventually, though, I realized this time, these few months when Second Son was so little, he required more of me than dishes and laundry. When I am pregnant, I cut back on my responsibilities drastically because growing a little person is hard work for my body and mind. I give myself the freedom to focus my energy on the baby. Second Son just needed that energy a little bit longer. Though at times I felt like his needs extended unceasingly into the future, logically I knew he'd soon outgrow it. First Son outgrew it and so would Second Son. So I set my sights on six months or nine months or one year and prayed a lot about making some changes.

I pared back our lessons and outside activities. I gave myself permission to wash the table, stack the dirty dishes by the sink and then leave them until Kansas Dad was home. Most importantly, I gave up trying to make dinner. By the end of the day, Second Son and I were both tired. Trying to prepare a meal while he cried was probably my greatest source of stress. Instead, Kansas Dad made something simple when he got home. He usually still does.

Kansas Dad was a solid source of aid, comfort, understanding and support during all these months. In addition to making dinner most nights, he often finished washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, folding the clothes, washing the bathroom or all sorts of other odd jobs just because he knew I hated to leave them half-done but had been unable to get back to them.

Second Son is now nine months old. I do not think it's an exaggeration to say we're just now getting to a place I like to be. I'm still not making dinner most nights, but the lessons, laundry and dishes are getting done with little crying from Second Son. Perhaps we would have gotten here sooner if I hadn't gotten horribly ill just after Christmas with an infection resistant to the first-choice antibiotics. Or perhaps the infection gave me the freedom I needed to cut back even more.

If I have any regrets, it's that I didn't ask for more help. There are lots of people who could have come and held Second Son for me once a week or so while I tackled a few tasks. I hated to ask because we couldn't afford to pay anything, but I think they would have happily come anyway. I'm sorry I did not allow them the opportunity to serve. One day I'll be in a position to run over to a friend's house for a few hours to give her a break and I hope and pray she'll ask. (I did ask for help when Kansas Dad had to return to work and I was still feeling so ill. I am very much indebted to my mother-in-law and friends who each took a day off from their busy lives to come comfort me and hold Second Son. I have no idea how we would have fared during those days without help.)

I've been debating whether I should tell this story. My blog tends to the upbeat, the successes, the joys. But it has been surfacing in my mind as the homeschool reviews remind me how much I'd hoped to do this year that never happened. Mostly, though, I wanted to share a little of our experiences because I know we're not the only ones. I wanted to put it up there on the blog that sometimes the first year is hard, even for healthy mothers with healthy babies.

Please take the advice of a mother who has been there: If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help. Cut seriously back on your goals. Relax your standards. If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression, please do not delay in talking with a doctor, but even if you don't believe it's something quite that serious, you still deserve peace in your life and in your heart. Give yourself some time.

Your baby will grow. He will learn to sit, to play, to roll around the room to reach all sorts of choking hazards you are sure you hid away.

One day, you will realize the baby has been taking a nap for an hour, the house is clean, the other children are playing happily in the spring sunshine and maybe, just maybe, dinner is almost ready.

11 comments:

  1. This post brought me to tears, Kansas Mom. Thank you. And God bless you. You are a wonderful wife, a wonderful mother and a beautiful child of God. I am blessed to know you.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this Kansas Mom. Your kiddos are so blessed to have you and Kansas Dad! You are wonderful parents! Please know I'm just a phone call away and I'd be happy to help in whatever way I can. Blessings!

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  3. Oh, I've had my share of feeling overwhelmed in this past year. It IS hard to ask for help. I think we all like to think that we can handle it all. I remember some days just feeling so overwhelmed and stressed that my hands were shaking and my heart was racing. Thankfully it's getting better, especially now that school is winding down, but my house sure has suffered and the kids have gotten yelled at a few too many times. I wish I had known more, though. I could have come over and taken all kids outside or something. I guess it was winter, though, so that might not have helped too much. We could have at least talked and vented, though. That always helps me. Yay to Kansas Dad for stepping up to the plate!

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  4. One day the dishes will be done, the laundry will be folded, dinner will be in the oven and you will realize that you did not do any of it or even ask anyone to do it. The four kids who kept you from cleaning, laundry and dinner for a decade did it themselves. At some point, the training and sacrifice pay off and you'll find yourself feeling guilty over Mother's Day gifts because you those four kids make you look so good.

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  5. Monica and Michelle, you ladies are too sweet! It has been so helpful to read your blogs and talk with you this year.

    H of B, you probably would have heard more about it if I hadn't stopped coming to the playgroups! I know you have about all you can handle with precocious Anthony, too. Hopefully we'll get to just hang out more often this summer.

    Sandy, thank you! I know logically they will grow up and do things like make dinner, but it's very hard to imagine!

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  6. Laurie BergeronMay 8, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    I think this was an important post, Kansas Mom! I read your blog all the time and never feel compelled to comment until now. I was praying for you all winter when things somehow just didn't seem "right" (Holy Spirit nudgings, I'm sure!) on the Range! I'm glad you shared your struggles and new insights into how to raise a family of four and ask for help when you need it...

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  7. Laurie, thank you for your comment! And your prayers! I had no idea you were reading the blog all this time. I hope things are going well for you in your new home.

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  8. I came over to your blog from Afterthoughts and just want to say that it's really essential that you tell this kind of story. Thank God for blogs so that more women (and maybe men) can read it and benefit from what we pray will be only vicarious experience. So, thank you!

    The truth is, even the most energetic and healthy mothers never do all that *might* be done for and with their families. Just being there, strong enough to smile and hug, is important. God bless you!

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  9. GretchenJoanna, welcome to the Range! Thank you for your kind comments. I've heard from a lot of friends who had similar experiences in the past year. Perhaps we all just have set our expectations too high for the first year and then feel disappointed with the reality.

    It is so important to be able to smile at our children! That was one benefit I saw immediately. When I let my chores wait and held and played with Second Son, I was able to smile at him and enjoy his laughs and smiles more.

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  10. I just came over form City Wife, Country Life. Thank you so much for this post.With my second baby, I feel as though it's my first that needs so much more time and attention now. Your post has helped me realize that that need is legitimate and a priority. I guess my laundry will keep for tomorrow.

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  11. Anonymous, your comment has made me very happy, though I'm sorry your oldest is being a little demanding right now. I hope you're snuggled up together right now while the laundry sits! This time will pass and one day they'll be off playing together (hopefully not getting into too much trouble).

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Comments make me happy; thanks for speaking up!