During the spring of 2009, a few months before I became pregnant with my daughter, I co-hosted a dinner-party baby shower for a friend at my house in
Texas. The theme was twinkle, twinkle, little star
and I had decorated four card tables in my living room with blue and yellow
table cloths and sparkly star centerpieces.
We had planned a four course menu and with each course, my friend moved
from table to table in order to have time to speak with each guest
individually. As white Christmas lights
sparkled above our heads (my staple decoration for any party I host) and the tea
lights’ warm glow glistened upon our faces, I sat listening to a mother of two
as she spoke to my pregnant friend. “Being
a parent is the most amazing experience,” she said. “Your heart is no longer a part of you, but
rather it is walking around outside of your body.” I remember thinking how fantastically poetic
that statement sounded.
After two plus years of being a parent, complete with an uncountable number of sleepless nights, ear infections, teething problems, dirty diapers, picking food up off the floor, making sure you have the pacifier, wipes, diapers, the bottles with powder, the bottle of water, the crackers, the blanket, the sippy cup full of juice in the diaper bag, while making sure you have enough formula and baby food in the cabinet and milk in the fridge, the whining, the begging, the questions – why aren’t you tired, why won’t you eat, and really, just why won’t you stop crying. . . while not without its wonderfully memorable and rewarding moments, I think I may, just may, finally understand what the baby shower guest had been getting at. I was talking to my college roommate on the phone last weekend. She’s planning a trip to visit me in a few months and I was telling her how much my daughter had changed since she had seen her last. “She’s just so amazing, you may not even recognize her,” I told her. She has a nephew just a few days older than my daughter and she replied that my daughter was probably just like her nephew – running around and talking up a storm. Yes. True. But my initial reflexive thought to her statement was “No. No, she’s exactly like me.”
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and a working-mom. After both experiences I can say I have total respect for both positions as just having kids period is hard work. Each job has its pros and cons and still to this day, I can not say with certainty which one I liked better. I remember driving to my office for the first year of my daughter’s life and as I pulled into the parking garage, I took a sip out of my jumbo-sized cup of coffee, and thought “I feel so defeated.” Here in Leiden, after feeding my family four meals a day (yes, snack time is important for all of us), washing the dishes and bottles, vacuuming, washing clothes, running the dishwasher daily, as the clock nears 6:00 p.m., I anxiously wait for my husband to return home from work. Both kids are screaming, dinner is on the stove, and the dogs are barking to be fed, I am once again reminded that I am constantly outnumbered in the household, and I think to myself, “I feel so defeated.” It’s a different defeated, but both scenarios require large amounts of physical exhaustion, time-management, and either way – you never quite feel like you’re doing a good enough job.
To my surprise, I never felt guilty about dropping my daughter off at daycare in
(well, at least not after the first few days).
The women at her school loved
their jobs and they loved my daughter.
They had full nights of sleep, had someone to answer the phone, prepare
the meals, and had the advantage of years and years of experience caring for
children. My daughter learned to be
independent and social and knew her letters and numbers before the age of
two. I got to dress up everyday, meet
friends for lunch, use an analytical side of my brain, and help our family
successfully complete Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step #2 before we moved here. Now that I am with them all day everyday, I do sometimes feel guilty about the way I
can lose it with my children. I do get
annoyed and angry. A lot of my
dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that they are both so small (especially
when we first arrived) and inevitably, they’d cry at the same time and I would
have to pick one to attend to first. This broke my heart while making me crazy with
frustration because I couldn’t meet their needs like I wanted to. It just wasn’t physically possible, yet I
felt an immense guilt and anger about it all.
I wish it were not so, but after many late-night discussions with my
husband questioning our place in the universe - why are we here and what’s the
point, I think this is a key part of completing this rotation. We are both facing sides of our personality
which are not exactly flattering. There
is nowhere to run and hide and no luxury of ignoring certain qualities, but
with that self-awareness and acknowledgement, comes growth and understanding of
not only ourselves, but each other, and our children.
It took a month of training my daughter to not throw her food on the floor (something the daycare tolerated, but drove me insane), and now we were working on “No run off!” As you know, our lives are very pedestrian and running down sidewalks and chasing after her is not only dangerous but embarrassing. (As if I needed more reasons for the neighbors’ eyebrows to rise.) But as both children grow older, there is more understanding and predictability, which soothes my nerves more than a Mozart CD and a glass of Pinot Noir.
I have a brother 4 years younger than me and I always remember thinking that he was my baby. I wanted to take care of him and perhaps, do everything my mother did. My siblings always called me ‘bossy’ and made fun of this undesirable character flaw. But as my daughter grows, I will often hear her shouting “No baby!” from the other room. I will sigh, put down the spoon I was cooking with, and turn the corner flustered and ready to scold her for yelling at her brother, but I’m stopped short. I am instantly apologetic for my near-outburst because she is right. The baby is about to pull on the computer cord or is crawling too close to an electrical socket. She’s not telling him what to do to tell him what to do – she’s imitating me. More humorously, I also hear her telling
(our dog) to eat his food and for Dash to stay away from Tyler’s
food. “ Tyler
Eat! No Dash – Go Away!” she shouts from
her highchair as she officiates the activities below like a tennis judge. These are words she has heard for months
straight. (For some reason, we just
can’t find a Dutch dog food Tyler
will gobble up like we had in the U.S. So with that, like my children, I have one
dog that picks at his food and another that had an empty pit of a stomach. Each scenario comes with its own
frustrations. We’ll see what happens
when the baby is old enough to pick food off of my daughter’s plate.) She will hold her stuffed Minnie Mouse and
bounce her up and down, shushing softly, patting her on her back, as I do the
same with the baby. She sees me in
shorts and a tank top and runs to get her play cans of food. These are her ‘weights’ and she excitedly
“works-out” with me regularly in the living room. She loves ‘cooking’ and I have taught her how
to make guacamole using her play avocados, tomatoes, and onions as examples. After hearing her shout my name all day long
for 6 months straight, my son started saying “Mama” when we visited Bruges and
has been repeating it incessantly ever since.
I was witness to the 1st time my son pulled up on the coffee table
and caught the 2nd go around on video. These are all things that perhaps, I would
not have been able to experience or understand in its entirety, had I still
been working full-time in the U.S. So as life handed me a job during the first year
plus of my daughter’s life and a position as a stay-at-home mom now, neither of
which was a particularly conscious decision on my part, but rather it was
simply the best way to survive in each chapter, I am grateful for the
advantages each one provides and the perspective to recognize them.
Do I feel a slight sense of identity loss as the ABCs, Row Row Row Your Boat and the Wheels on the Bus songs replace my previously-daily phrases of ‘inventory investment schedule”, “in-transit reconciliation”, and “finished goods balances”? Yes. I do. But after months of spending time with my children, I find myself, my true self rather, walking around outside of my body in the form of my children. My Baby Girl loves to sing, dance, has an excellent memory, and superb sense of direction. She doesn’t just get tired and go to sleep. In a sleepy state, unfortunately, her energy level rises and she becomes angry and physically rambunctious. She’s never met a stranger, becomes ecstatic when people visit us at home, and has adopted our handyman as “Opa”. Her teachers have described her as “very confident” and “fearless.” When no other Dutch children would pet the mouse at the farm, she ran up to the front of the group and petted the tiny rodent (not exactly something I would do.) My Little Man is perpetually laughing and is constantly analyzing his surroundings. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself in all these ways, but really, as a parent, isn’t that what we all like to see: A more confident and happy, version of ourselves? Moving to The Netherlands, I had fully anticipated learning about different cultures and history and I think we’re well on our way to accomplishing this feat. But to find and learn more about myself, during a move across the world, was not really a thought I had entertained. As I watch my children grow and learn everyday, it’s been a surprising but welcomed discovery. So go ahead babies, take your piece of my heart, and let it soar.