A New Form of Mom Guilt

It’s 11 on a weekday morning and there is quiet in my house. My son is at school and my daughter is napping. I’ve done the laundry and have cut up the vegetables for dinner already. There is a calmness I’m not accustomed to.

Generally I spend every waking moment doing something productive but lately motivation is lacking, partially because I have contracted the cold or virus that has circulated throughout my family the past month but also because I am feeling paralyzed by my new role as stay at home mom. It is sinking in that this is it. My days are very mundane. There’s no big leveraged buyout financing to detail or egregious dividend being paid out to private equity firm at the expense of a corporate issuer that needs exposing.

Shouldn’t I be doing something purposeful? One dilemma is that there’s not much time to accomplish any great task. Naps are never predictable in this house – one might be 45 minutes or 2 hours. And usually by the time my daughter goes down and a few chores are done, my son’s school bus will be returning him to us.

I should feel relief and enjoy these few moments of peace and tranquility, but I can’t. Where I once felt guilty for working and not being available to my children when they needed or wanted me I now feel guilty if I steal a moment for myself when there’s work that could be done in the house, or if I divert my attention from either child throughout the day to check e-mail on my phone or a text message.

In my pre-kid life, I don’t recall ever feeling guilty. Does mom guilt ever go away or is it just redirected?

Hold that thought. My daughter has just awoken.

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Toddler Tantrums

My son was late to walk and talk but he was definitely early to embracing the terrible twos. We are now well into the threes and there seems to be no let-up when it comes to tantrums. He has started preemptively shouting “No” before we even ask him to do something or deny him of what he so badly needs.

While these occurrences are exhausting and frustrating as a mom, I’m trying to find humor in some of them. For example, when my son was angry that I wouldn’t allow him to play outside at 7.30am recently he looked for something to throw, choosing a very soft, quilted baby book. I found the disappointment on his face too cute to resist smiling. He was not as amused, however. When he realized his effort was innocuous, he started going for the hardcover books. Before I allowed him to hurl any at my daughter or me, I removed the remaining ones from the shelf.

More frequent occasions on which my son protests ostentatiously include: coming indoors from playing outside, offering something he doesn’t want to eat at mealtime and telling him he must wait to have something that he really wants. When I say something he doesn’t want to hear, my words are often met with “Stop it!” and “Shut up!”

These outbursts once were reserved solely for the enjoyment of me and my husband; however, recently my son’s been a little more comfortable with manifesting his emotions while on playdates, at the park or in stores. It’s embarrassing at times, but it’s also something of a rite of passage and I am trying to embrace it calmly. It’s teaching me a lot about myself and how to handle situations that are beyond my control. Let’s face it — there is no controlling a toddler mid-tantrum.

Other moms have warned me that three could be worse than two, but have assured me that four is fantastic. While I know we aren’t supposed to rush these years, I am hoping for an expeditious end to these terrible twos.

Isolating

The word that inevitably comes to mind or up in conversation with moms I’m encountering since leaving the work force is “isolating.” Despite having a kid with me at all times, the lack of adult conversation and interaction after only a few short weeks is a huge adjustment.

Feelings I had while on maternity leave with my son while living in the city have resurfaced, and even then I had only to go into the lobby of my building to talk to a doorman or find someone to chat with in the laundry room. It’s a lot harder in the suburbs where most neighbors are working during the day and the majority of stores are only within driving distance.

When I used to work, I’d just get the kids to sleep and have about 20 minutes of solitude before my husband walked in the door from his day at the office. While I’m a person who needs some quiet time, entire days bereft of adult conversation can be depressing.

Friends think now that I’m home I have ample time to chat on the phone, especially if the kids are napping. That’s just not the case. I find myself always doing something: folding laundry, straightening up the toys, vacuuming and cleaning, prepping lunch or dinner. The list is endless and the tasks are isolating.

I’m hoping that isolation will dissipate as warmer weather enables us to get outside to the park. There, I’m sure I’ll meet many moms who tell me how isolating it is to stay at home with their kids. And while that’s not necessarily stimulating conversation, misery loves company and I will be delighted to hear that I’m not alone.

 

Spring Break

This week in our town is spring break. While Cancun and partying are often associated with the customary week off from school, it takes on a whole new connotation when we are discussing it in the context of a toddler. Instead of excitement, there’s fear. Instead of anticipation, there’s anxiety. How am I going to handle my two busy children all day for 5 days?

The addict’s adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” is certainly applicable to parents of young kids. My children aren’t yet able to entertain themselves and rely heavily upon me as a playmate and enabler of their enjoyment. I find being out of the house is often easier for all of us. Being confined indoors leads to claustrophobia and trouble.

Somehow we survived this morning of spontaneity, thanks largely to the good weather. I even managed to put both kids down for a nap at the same time, affording me some time to be productive (clean the kitchen and fold laundry). When they wake I hope to meet up with one of my son’s friends and his mom at the park in town.

While I’ve got activities loosely lined up for the next four days, I’m very aware that even with careful consideration, my kids may disrupt my plans. Let’s face it: I wasn’t planning on croup, fever or three trips to the doctor’s office the first two weeks of being home with my kids. But that happened and it was no “break.”


Peanut Profile

A recent post left me wondering, what if there was a dating app for moms? Then yesterday, almost serendipitously, I came across an article about Peanut, an app that basically facilitates mom friendships. It got me wondering about my potential mom profile.

I would highlight my interests in travel, fitness, fashion, reading, but would also stress that I no longer have time to indulge in any of these, aside from perusing the occasional magazine or newspaper article, or anything on my phone that can be read between house work and mothering.

Things I’m passionate about: wine, knowledge and being a mom.

I couldn’t live without: caffeine, wine, vegetables and my children.

Career highlights: being a reporter at one of the biggest media companies in the world and being a mom, even though the latter is the hardest job I’ve ever had and I’m in way over my head.

My perfect day would look something like: Wake up from the sunshine coming through the windows, have breakfast and coffee while watching the news, go for a run, take a shower that lasted longer than 3 minutes, take my kids to the park, barbecue something delicious for dinner to eat with my family while drinking amazing wine, finishing the bottle while watching a movie with my husband and both of us staying awake for it.

I’m not a stranger to online dating (I met my husband on e-Harmony), but I don’t plan to sign up for Peanut just yet. Still, it’s nice to know someone’s already developed what could be a useful tool for moms to make one area of life a little easier.

 

Constant Company

When I became a mom, I was pretty much prepared for the changes my life would undergo. I knew I’d have less time for myself, but what I wasn’t expecting was the audience I’d have anytime I needed to go to the bathroom or take a shower.

My quiet morning coffee while watching the news has been replaced by eating cold toast while trying to tune out repetitive episodes of Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig, with the occasional diaper change, milk refill and the frequent game of picking up my daughter’s milk cup and cheerios.

Surely, that’s deserving of a few seconds in solitude to run to the bathroom? Not in this house.

If I tell my son I’ll be right back, he says, “I’m coming too.” If I try to sneak away, he follows me, now that he’s able to operate the baby gate and reach the light switch. My daughter might cry, or might get herself into her own mischief of crawling up the stairs or climbing onto a table. It’s almost easier to just take the kids with me in the first place.

And yet, despite the constant company, being at home with the kids all day can get pretty lonely. While being a mom is extremely fulfilling on some levels, it is a stark contrast to the vitality derived from nearly 15 years of leaving an apartment each day to get to a job, which required interaction with an array of bankers, investors as well as writers, editors and media relations people. City dwelling pretty much ensured that you were a part of the buzz below at all times.

As I sit in my office typing, my son’s at school and my daughter is napping. There is silence. I know I should revel in each precious moment, but there’s too much to do before my son returns and my daughter wakes. That reminds me, I better use the loo now.

Another Day, Another Sick Child

My son was at school. My daughter was in the middle of her nap. I was enjoying some rare quiet time and doing some writing. That’s when I received the phone call from my son’s school. It was the nurse informing me he had a fever and I needed to come get him.

This came out of nowhere, much like illness itself in a child. I quickly woke my daughter and put her in the car, driving to the school. When I got there, my toddler was sitting on the bench, wearing his coat and holding his backpack. He walked over to me and started crying, hugging me tightly.

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I’m sure he was frightened being away from home and feeling so awful. I am glad I was able to drop everything and get to him as quickly as I could. I was available to take him to the doctor the next day, and just hold and comfort him as much as possible.

This is exactly why I chose to leave my job and stay at home with my kids: I want to be there for these moments when they need me. Like my financial advisor said when I informed him of our decision to be a one-income family for now, “Is it nice to have more money? Yes. But there are more important things.”

I can think of at least two.

My son was fever free and back to school quickly, but, as it typically goes, my daughter came down with the same virus the next day.

Yes, germs are the one thing kids have no problem sharing.

Moms Seeking Moms

Female relationships are tricky. As a young girl I was the target of what would be known today as bullying, when the cool girls ostracized me and gossiped behind my back all because I danced with the wrong boy. My experience left me alone at the lunch table, but also guarded around women for much of my life.

I generally made friends with males because they weren’t judgmental. After all, there’s no film called Mean Boys.

However, as a mom I find myself in the presence of a lot more females and if I want to make new friends they are likely to be those moms of my children’s peers, and they are often found at the classes my kids attend or the playground.

Trying to form female bonds as we age has proven to be a lot like dating. We want to find like-minded mates who share similar interests, and all the better if our kids could get along. It’s really not that easy though. The consensus from women I’ve encountered is discomfort and frustration in their search, too.

Are we focusing too much on our differences? We probably are more similar than the surface might suggest. We’ve survived sleepless nights, sick kids, tantrums, work-life balance, spousal disputes and family issues. We probably all revel in the hugs and kisses bestowed upon us by our offspring and may all agree that there’s no sweeter sound than the voice of our happy children. These commonalities may serve as a foundation for friendship. Yet, it would be nice to share a glass of wine (or bottle) with someone I’d also like to call my friend.

Rising, But Not Shining

In my previous life I lived alone in New York City. I would set my alarm for 4.45am so that I could exercise, have breakfast at home while watching the news and maybe do the laundry before getting to my desk at 8am. Yes, I was certainly a morning person.

It’s one thing to make the choice to wake up early and another thing to be forced out of sleep by a toddler who most mornings at 4.20am screams: “Hello? Mama, you coming?”

I’ve tried ignoring him but he gets louder and then wakes our daughter. I’ve gone into his room to tell him it’s too early to get up and that he must go back to sleep. This approach is often met with violent screams and slamming hands into the wall while shouting “No” and “Stop it!” I’ve sat in the chair in his room to offer comfort to him, but he doesn’t sleep and neither do I. I’ve also climbed in bed with him only to be rolled on top of and hit in the face, hardly relaxing.

My husband and I thought for sure daylight saving time would offer some solace and we’d be victors of an extra hour of sleep in the morning. The first week provided a glimmer of hope when our son successfully went to bed at 7-7.30pm and woke at 5.15-5.30 a few mornings. And while the later bedtime has stuck, the early morning rising has returned, much to our dismay.

The pediatrician has told me any effort on my part to change my son’s sleep is futile because he is set to wake early. I can’t and don’t want to believe this but I feel that he has shown his resolve.

He’s also shown me up and I no longer would call myself a morning person.

Master of Manipulation

My 3-year-old started a new pre-school five days a week last month. He “gets” to ride on the school bus as part of the program in which he’s enrolled. It may sound like bliss to have about 3 hours a day without a tantrum-prone toddler whose favorite word is “No,” but the drama surrounding getting him on that bus each day is exhausting.

 

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He enthusiastically gets dressed and helps me pack his backpack and snack for the day. He eagerly wants to wait outside and watch for the bus with me. Then, the bus comes into sight and the game begins. Some days, his feet form roots. He freezes and I have to pull him to the doors of the bus. Other days he runs right up to the open doors and then stops dead in his tracks. He rarely will walk up the steps himself so I must lift and hand him over to the aide as he whimpers, “Mama, Mama.”

Everyday. Every. Single. Day.

And yet, I remind myself this is an improvement. He had been going to a preschool 2 days a week for 2 ½ hours that required I drop him off at the classroom. It was a similar experience: he’d happily get dressed for school, get in the car, carry his book bag into the school building and as soon as the classroom door opened, he froze. After six months he still cried or clung to me as I would say goodbye. He literally went from my arms to the teacher’s on many occasions.

I’ve asked my son why he does this and he always says, “I miss Mama.” While the cuteness of his response is endearing, it’s not lost on me that he’s probably just saying that.

His former teacher said it wasn’t separation anxiety and reassured me that he stopped crying within 30 seconds of my departure. The bus aide also has relayed to me that he calms down quickly and after the first couple of weeks he no longer even cries. Upon drop-off I’m told each day “he had a great day,” and the teacher has written me to say he is a “delight” to have in class. So the performance I suppose is really just for Mama.

I’m glad to hear that, of course, but it doesn’t make me feel better to know that I am being played by my toddler.

Everyday. Every. Single. Day.