Parenting journal: Moving through the middle

I was reading old blog posts and I found one where I’d observed: you can’t write about something when you’re in the middle of it. Of course I had forgotten this. As a parent to a young toddler, I am definitely, undeniably in the middle of it — for some values of “it”. And yet, having now been a parent for more than two years, I am definitely, happily, thank GOD, no longer in the middle of it — for other values of “it”! But what is “it”? What is still too close to be seen; what do I now have some perspective on?

Messy-haired toddler dragging a toy dinosaur around by its neck

What I am no longer in the middle of?

The most wrecking sleep deprivation.

I still have significant sleep debt, and I honestly don’t know when that’s ever going to get better (maybe when I’m fifty?!). But we can generally count on sleeping through the night, these days, knock on wood. That is, if I were to go to bed when my daughter does (as opposed to sitting up near midnight tapping away on my laptop, as I am currently and imprudently doing), I could get a solid nine or ten hours of sleep, almost every night. (Of course — sigh — I never do this. But I could.)

Breastfeeding.

We are in the process of gradual weaning; we’re now down to one quick nurse at naptime and again at bedtime, sometimes neither, if we’re not home during one of those times. I nursed far longer than some people do, but still not as long as others do. There are a lot of things that are possible now that we’re nearly weaned. I’ve regained a lot of bodily autonomy, for one. I’m more comfortable a lot of the time. And I can wear non-nursing bras, and shirts that don’t open up the middle! It’s very exciting. I’m being a little bit flippant, but seriously, when you’re nursing, it’s not wrong to say that everything else in your life revolves around the nursing relationship, or at least has to accommodate it. Breastfeeding is beautiful and tender and important but it’s also really obstructive, a lot of the time, whether you’re doing it day and night, or having to pump round-the-clock because you’re not there all day and night. I am glad we did it but I will also be very glad to be done with it.

Being on-call 24-7. Owl plays quite well by herself, much of the time. I can’t say for sure, but I think she is more independent in this than many other kids her age. Basically, as long as she’s in a safe environment, I can do something else for even a couple of hours at a time. Of course, it’s never a truly safe environment (whether we’re at home or elsewhere), so I can’t really ever quite relax. I can’t write or paint, for instance (or nap); those require a different kind of concentration. But I can do a fair bit of cooking, or put away all the laundry in one go, or answer a whole lot of emails at once, or just read a book. It’s a vast improvement.

Toddler studying a picture book

Being on-call at all, sometimes. I can now leave Owl with other people, for longer periods of time, with no separation anxiety. Before, when we were more dependent on nursing, I always had to be sure to return within a few hours. Now I can stay out for an entire day, or even overnight. It’s nice to be away for long enough to miss her.

Domestic chaos. I have largely got a handle on domestic life now, which is partly due to having a small apartment, partly due to having a regular babysitter, and partly due to being able to outsource some tasks, like deep cleaning and grocery delivery. I cook almost all of our meals now (or we eat the leftovers; I don’t cook every single day!), as well as desserts and many of our snacks. Our apartment is organized in a way that supports our routines, and Mondays are usually laundry days. I can tidy very passably in twenty minutes (just don’t look at the kitchen sink), even more impressively in forty (just don’t poke into the corners of the room or run your finger along the top of the piano), and extremely nicely in two hours (just don’t look at the stove, unless the cleaning lady has been here very recently, in which case, oooh, look, isn’t it beautiful?!).

Short stack of pancakes with sauce being drizzled on

Complete neglect of my own body. I now do, on a sort-of regular basis, yoga, dance, walking, and stretching. I get my hair cut when it needs cutting, I get a massage once a month or so, I’ve even had a facial, twice. I’m re-learning how to tell when I’m hungry and when I’m full. I have new bras and undies and socks, clothes and shoes that fit my current body, and a small and happy-making collection of lipsticks (and one of hand creams/balms). I still need to go to sleep earlier, but real self-care is no longer the “yeah, right, that’s impossible” that it was a year ago.

Holey short-term memory. No longer the mind like the steel trapdoor, I can actually remember what I was saying a minute ago, if I get interrupted. Not only that, I can do the kind of short-term memory stacking that is just necessary once you hit a certain point of responsibility. You know, like when you’re cooking and you use the last of some ingredient. When you’re at a good place to pause, you wash your hands, get out your phone and, first reading and then swiping away a notification, open your shopping list, update it, then do the thing you got the notification for, put the phone away, notice that the laundry needs to go into the dryer, do that, and then still remember to wash your hands again and come back to whatever you were cooking — and it didn’t get burned. A year ago, once a thought was gone, it was just gone. (This was true of Erik as well.) It was immensely frustrating.

Vasona Lake Park, Los Gatos, California

That said, what’s still confusing/difficult?

Art-making. I find a little more time, a little more energy, a little more space for this now. But it’s still so sporadic, and not only that, it feels scattered; I don’t know what I want to work on, when I do have the ability to do anything.

Friends/social life. I have always been happiest when I have regular chances to see friends, and preferably for longish sessions — my ideal get-together is a cozy meal and a couple of hours’ conversation, followed by a meandering walk or lounging together at home. This is… not the way one socializes with a baby or toddler in tow, at least not without plenty of help. But I am finding new ways to approximate this kind of contact, whether it’s seeing friends while Owl is with her sitter, or having a combination meal and playdate at our apartment. This simply wasn’t achievable until quite recently.

Potentially draining things pile up way faster than I expect. Unlike in my pre-parenting life, one bad night, a sick partner, a more complicated schedule, or any physical ailment whether mild or not, affects me quite intensely. My brain hasn’t caught up to this new state of being; I still think, for instance, that I should be able to stay up till two and be reasonably functional the next day. Then I’ll find myself in a high state of stress and wonder why on earth I’m so exhausted. The buffer isn’t there anymore. Any small additional strain makes me incredibly tired — and I so rarely remember that; I just feel frantic, but drained, and anxious about it because I don’t understand why. I think, really, my brain just isn’t a good judge of what my body registers as tiring. I should probably just stop listening to my brain and listen to my body instead, particularly when I feel tired.

Balance. Maybe balance is an illusion that can never be reached, but still, I don’t even know what my ideal is. I don’t think I want to spend all my time with Owl and doing domestic things. But what would I prefer to be doing, instead? I consult my wise inner voice and it shrugs and say, “Dunno. I’m tired.” (Is that a valid answer? Maybe that’s a valid answer.)

Erik. I’ve gotten less tired and less stressed over the past year, but I’m worried for him it’s been the reverse. Not going to say more about that since this is my blog and not his, but it does weigh on me.

Basically everything Owl-related for the next year or two. Potty training. Toddler bed. Preschool? (Forest school? Language immersion? Montessori, Waldorf, etc?) Continue with music class? So many things to think about, decisions to be made, research to do.

I’m at a point now where I can more fully appreciate what’s lovely about this time, even as I continue to fret over what I’m not doing and where we’re all going and what comes next from here. As a friend with slightly older children said to me around Christmas: yes, it is so overwhelming when your child is home all the time and you have to tend to them at every moment. And yet? Before you know it, they’re at school and this time with just you — just you, your home, and family life as the center of your mutual existence — will never come again. I keep telling myself that it is 100% okay to do “nothing” for two or three (or even more) years while my daughter is little. I think I may finally be starting to believe that.

Lisa carrying her 2yo on her back

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