Parenting journal: Ordinary days

written at 10:25 AM

It’s one of those mornings when no matter what I do with Owl, she fusses or otherwise requires my attention. Put her on the blanket, she was happy for awhile, but yelled loudly and at length to attract Lyapa’s attention. (Needless to say, this had the opposite effect.)

Since she seemed happy, I tried to cook myself some breakfast, but within minutes her yelling had turned to complaining. Tried to feed her, she only ate half-heartedly and meanwhile grabbed and scratched at my breasts with her tiny sharp fingernails and kicked at my crotch with her tiny sharp toenails. (I’ve got a new yellow bruise on my left breast that can only be from her fist.) Held her, she fussed. Put her back on the blanket with a new toy, she fussed because she couldn’t get it into her mouth. Tried to hold her while gulping down the oatmeal I finally managed to cook, she flailed and grabbed. Erik just took her from me which is why I can write this, but she’s still fussing, and meanwhile I feel like a failure for involving Erik when he should be working. And I’m feeling bad about all the emails I’m behind on, and dreading going to Pilates later, because I’m already tired and don’t want to do anything. I think it’s good for me, as a new parent, to get out and see people and do things, but let’s be honest: some days I just don’t wanna.

It’s all up and down. On Saturday we went out for breakfast and a walk by the lake, and then we went to a party of writer friends and I was able to bake cookies and cut up vegetables and cheese and we talked and ate and I fed Owl and she napped on Erik or me and it all worked fine, even though their (sweet, but loud) dogs had her on edge. On Sunday (yesterday) we walked to the grocery store and Erik made delicious nabe and we did laundry and I did a million tiny digital organization tasks I’d been meaning to do for almost three months, and that felt really good. It’s just… you never know what you’re going to get: a fussy day, or an easy one? Even within a single day it can vary. A happy baby can turn into a screamer within seconds. Or a baby who’s been fussing for forty-five minutes suddenly conks out and then you get an hour or two of peace and recuperation. And these are just the ordinary days.

This is our apartment, right now.

messy main room

Experienced parents advise to just let everything go as much as possible, when coping with a new baby: don’t worry about the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, etc. To that I say yes, but… (a) does a 5+ month old still count as ‘new baby’? I feel like I should have moved on from this by now, (b) I have to do something non-baby or I really do feel like a failure, and (c) We live in a tiny apartment; if I really did let it all go it would take over the place (see photo!!). But I was talking to my sister the other day and wondering how she managed to find time to cook so often when Teddy was this age, and after comparing notes for awhile she said, “Well, that’s why you don’t have time to cook! You’re organizing Meetups and going to Pilates and I’m just staying at home being antisocial!” It is true. I suppose all new parents find the trade-offs they can live with, and that looks a little different for everyone.

My trouble is that I forget there isn’t momentum anymore, at least not consistently. (I’ve made this mistake with my art as well.) I’ll have a few good days in a row and instead of thinking, oh, how nice that I had a few good days in a row, I’ll think, oho, now I have this all figured out, once and for all! And I’ll set some balls in motion that I’ll then have to ignore/retract once the good days slip away. And then I’ll go several more days (or a week, or three) letting everything slide and then one day I wake up and realize there are all these half-finished tasks I meant to do weeks ago and then I feel panicky, and of course that’ll happen on a day like today.

Last night I was rereading my pregnancy journal and remembering that pregnancy was a lot like this, in that I had to remind myself forcibly to always keep some energy in reserve. I do that now, physically, but I think I have to train myself to do it in terms of plans and future scheduling too — like maybe I need to actually make a hard limit on how much stuff I have planned in any given week (and do this several weeks out so I’m not surprised). Or I need to just do what I’ve done before at times when I felt busy and overwhelmed, which is make a list of everything requiring my attention, just to see what’s on my plate. I think I’ll try that. That should at least be doable, right? Just making a list, as my goal for today (along with taking knives to the market for sharpening, and going to Pilates)?

handwritten list

added at 4:16 PM

She’s still fussing a lot and yelling at Lyapa. But I did make my list, and went to Pilates, and dropped off the knives, and ate a good lunch and a solid snack as well, and put away the groceries I’d ordered. And I realize now that what I needed wasn’t the list by itself, but to evaluate my expectations and recalibrate them to what my life is like now, on a day like today — not a good day, not a bad day, just an ordinary day. And an ordinary day, I remind myself, is the greatest of gifts. It is life.