Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tighten Up

Splash, splash.  My booted feet are briskly tromping along the rainy streets of Leiden at 10:30 p.m.  A black umbrella is in my right hand.  As I look right and left at the pedestrian cross walk, I’m glaring through the street-lights and raindrops.  I cross the quiet street, turn left, and as I work my way towards the center of town, I reflect on the scene I left just minutes before in my home.  “Fine!  I will go,” I shout above the baby’s cries.  My husband is attempting to console the bright red-faced baby by rocking him back and forth, loudly shushing him.  The room is dark except for the light coming from our closet, but despite the attempt of creating a soothing environment, there is no stopping the baby’s madness at this moment in time.  I’ve opened every cupboard in our bathroom and kitchen searching for it, but it was a pointless search.  I already knew we did not have it.      
“They’re not going to have it either,” V had told me, “there’s nothing we can do.”  But I am crazed with determination.  I have my American Thinking Hat on.  This is the hat I wear when I say, “Okay, if I had this problem at home.  What would I do?” and then I attempt to solve the problem using the same solution I came up with, but with the Dutch resources available to me.  This methodology is rarely successful.   Splash, splash.  The sounds of my boots on the wet sidewalk are muffled.  There are few people out.  I find a small refuge from the dark, rain, and loneliness as I pass quickly through one side of the train station and out the other.  I continue my march.  Little Man is having stomach problems of considerable pain.   If I were in Texas, at 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening, I would get in my car, drive the 100 yards to the 24-hour CVS pharmacy around the corner (okay, Dutch readers, go ahead and snicker, but yes, I would have driven around the corner because it was dark, rainy, and CVS has a parking lot.  In my defense, there isn’t a sidewalk linking my neighborhood street to the store.)  Either way, I would have driven, made a bee-line to the baby products at the back of the store, picked up the infant gas medicine (Mylicon), paid the cashier, and raced home.  A few drops of the liquid relief, and done.  My baby boy would be happy and asleep before 10:45.  Problem solved, efficiently and effectively.  As I sat on our bed wringing my hands and watching my husband rock the baby, the options ran through my head.  Pharmacy where I can purchase Dutch-version on infant medicine (Infacol):  Closed at 5:00 p.m.  Can I get Infacol at the grocery store:  No.  And even if I could, grocery stores closed at 9:00 p.m.  What about the train station drug store?  Doesn’t the train station drug store stay open later that 5?  Yes.  It stays open until 6:00.  No. No. No.  I need to tighten up on my emotional reigns, but I no longer even have them in my hands.  They are flapping around me uncontrollably, whipping myself and everyone else around me.  I refuse to give up.  I am an American!  I am a survivor!  I am a think-outside-the-box-Mother!  So what do I do?  I had already communicated The Solution to V, and while he did not say no, I could tell he was wearier in his eagerness to participate in The Plan.  Not able to take the baby’s crying for a minute longer, I jump off the bed, grab my boots in frenzy, and shout ridiculous nonsense to my husband, “I don’t care if the Nightmarkt doesn’t have it.  I’m going to be the parent at least finds out!  There has GOT to be something we can do!  He is a tension increaser!  Even AskMoxie describes it!  He will NOT cry himself to sleep.” and I rush out of the house with my dog Tyler looking at me pitifully from behind the foyer glass door.  I’ve never been to the Nightmarkt before, but I knew of its existence.  Questionable characters were lurking in darkness of neighboring store doorways, but I wasn’t scared.  My eyes focused on the ground and I gritted my teeth.  I may be only 5 feet tall, but I imagined myself walking with the fierceness of Rocky.  Just go ahead and say something to me, I baited, in my head.  You with have the Wrath of Mama reigning down upon you like a hurricane you’ve never seen on this continent.  I passed the youths without attracting any attention and I switched my focus back to the task.  I knew the shop wasn’t going to have the Infacol.  But that didn’t stop me.  I had to KNOW.  I walk in.  It’s like a 7-11 with nearly as many goods in a space a tenth of the size.  After a brief visit to the baby section:  Diapers, wipes, formula (not the kind we use of course, but good to know, anyway).  I don’t see it and I ask the guy behind the counter.  I’m not sure if he speaks English.  I’m not even sure if he speaks Dutch.  He kind of looks and me quizzically, then bends down behind the counter.  Yes.  All the medicine is hidden from view.  “Infacol – baby medicine.  Gas.” I say slowly. . . he rummages around for what seems like half-an-hour, and he pops back up with a “No.”  My shoulders drop and the breath I didn’t realize I was holding escaped from my lips.  Still not willing to admit defeat, I run back over to the baby section and pick up two bottles with Dutch labels reminiscent of old-fashioned whiskey bottles.  I bring them to him.  “Are these herbal remedies for gas?” hopeful and doubtful, I ask him.  He pretends to read the labels then just shakes his head in confusion.  I put the mystery bottles back on the shelf, notice but ignore the large end-cap wine display out of the corner of my eye, duck my head, and wander back out into the rain.  I’m not even past the large window of the Nightmarkt before I stop in my tracks, pop my head up, and place an imaginary slap on my forehead.  “Chamomile” I whisper to myself.  I have an entire box of chamomile tea in my pantry on the suggestion from my nurse friend here in The Netherlands last time Little Man had a stomach ache.  Like the people who turn down the car radio when they’re trying to find a house number, in the midst of the howling child, I just hadn’t been able to think of the solution before.  The baby was still crying in my husband’s arms when I returned twenty-five minutes later.  Frustrated, I enlightened him on the simple solution neither one of us had thought of before, and brewed the tea.  I put a few ounces in his bottle and within minutes, Little Man’s stomach had calmed and he was fast asleep in my arms, to the wide-eyed amazement of my husband.  I placed the baby in his crib and quietly closed the door, but the next battle was brewing.  I faced my husband. . .
   How many times have I talked with my new friends here in The Netherlands and I’ve heard, “He just doesn’t get it,” and well, to be honest, how many times have I said that exact same phrase to V, to his face?  Ugh.  I don’t even want to admit it.  Through all my (limited, I’ll admit, I’m a mom of two, when do I have a lot of time to) research. . . I have found a lot of information, pats-on-the-back, giiirl-it’s-going-to-be-okay-just-hang-in-there support for the stay-at-home-mom (and really, ALL moms) and the stress it takes on your self-esteem, identity, and relationship with the kids.  But I can’t find a lot about the relationship with your husband.  This is a huge piece of being a Mom, right? 
  Back up a minute.  One of the things I loved most about V when I met him was his transparency to love – his friends, his dog, and me.  We communicated everything from the very beginning.  He always encouraged me to tell him what was on my mind, and he listened in a way that solved problems and made me confident in our love and respect for each other.  Before and after we got married, V and I always did everything together.  There were no - your chores, my chores, back in the States, especially pre-children.  We rebuilt a fence together: slugging that sledgehammer was exhilarating for me.  We’ve painted three different houses together.  We both mow laws.  We both do dishes.  We both take out trash.  Even during our wedding-planning days, he would call and make the appointments with the florists.  I was traveling a lot with my job and didn’t have a very private cube at my office, complete with a few eavesdropping co-workers.  The conservative Baton Rouge florists would actually smirk and ask him, “Why are you making the appointment?” He would simply respond, “It’s just easier this way,” then make an asterisk by their name. 
  So with all that information, the two-income family back in the States suited that part of our relationship quite well.  I was responsible for dropping our daughter off at school and picking her up, but that was a job I enjoyed quite a lot.  It was more time with her and I got to see her smiling face when the day was done.  We were basically always home at the same time, so all duties were shared.  Or at least, “Okay – you give her a bath while I clean the dishes,” with two, it’s a little more difficult. “Okay – let’s give them both a bath, and the dishes will just have to wait,” but the point is, work time was work time for both of us, and family time was family time for both of us.  It was equal and shared. 
   Here, as a stay-at-home-mom, in the heat of a discussion, I actually find myself saying things to him like, “You get to leave this house without the kids everyday and get paid for it.”  I know.  Hardly helpful, and I hang my head.  I love my kids and I love spending time with them.  Again, I’m learning more about them and myself that I ever would have had I still been working.  But the limitations of where I can go with both of them and the fact that I’m not contributing to the household income (which, I must say, has caused more than a few hyper-ventilating episodes by this CPA), sometimes makes me think and say and do things I wouldn’t otherwise do if I was able to find a job here in The Netherlands that didn’t require me to speak Dutch, and paid me more than the daycare costs of doing so.
  Is it fair? As stay-at-home-moms, we are around our children all day long but sometimes feel resentment towards our husbands when they just “don’t get it?” Is it a communication failure or are we holding them to a standard higher that is humanly achievable?  It is because the kids are ours that we feel like they should innately understand all the nuisances and jobs that come along with raising the kids?  Do we understand everything that goes on at their full-time job?  I am very lucky in that I have public accounting experience and that V is a very involved Dad.  I do think that we can talk each other’s language, which is a huge starting point.  I can put things into his daily terminology if needed.  I can say things like, “Okay. . . so your partner calls you up during dinner on Friday night and tells you that you’re going to have to pull an all-nighter on Monday night in order to get the report out on time. . . do you think you’d be happy with that message?  Was it delivered to you in a timely manner?”  (This line was in response to a conversation during dinner on a Friday evening telling me that he was going to be at a client on Monday and Tuesday, which would require an over-night stay – with a baby that wakes up in the middle of the night, this news was not received without due consideration) and once I put the situation in the context of a public accounting assignment, we kind of laughed at the analogy and he agreed that letting me know sooner would have been a better way to approach the news.  But I think for the most part, V DOES get it.  He just does things different than I do.  His focus is not always with the kids and in the end, it is probably okay.  “Why was the baby crying?” I asked him last Sunday afternoon.  “Crying?  When?” he said.  “Yes.  Crying, when I was upstairs with Baby Girl.  You were down here with him and I heard a crash and he started howling.  What was that all about?” I asked him.  V looked at me blankly.  “He was okay.  I don’t remember why he was crying,” he said dismissively.  I was amazed that he could eliminate the cause of his screams from his memory – if only, I was able to do such things. . .  “You don’t remember?  What was the final score of the LSU game you were watching this morning?” I asked.  I saw the hint of a smile and a quick evaporation, “I don’t remember,” he answered, staring at me intently.  “I don’t believe you.  I’m pretty sure you can remember the exact score of the game, but yet, you can’t tell me why our son was screaming his head off, I heard water running, a shuffle of feet and other movement – all of which I could hear from upstairs, but yet – you can’t tell me what happened?!?!”  In his defense, he did remember.  And to be honest, it was not a big deal.  I just made it one.  Because I was emotionally involved with every cry my baby exerted, even from the second floor. 
  I think being a mother is hard.  Your babies are physically part of the woman’s body for forty weeks (give or take) and so with that unequal beginning, add a ton of wacky hormones, we women are already put in an extremely emotional place that our husbands are not privy to.  If you’re a stay-at-home mom, this gig is unlike any job you’ve ever had because the results of your hard work are not instantly tangible.  You’ve turned in your badge and there are no raises, no bonuses, and no promotions.  Even on a day you’ve worked your absolute hardest, stayed focused, multi-tasked like a pro, and physically exhausted yourself, there’s still no guarantee that your boss or your clients (aka your children) are going to be happy at the end of the day.  Actually, chances are that they won’t.  Because that’s what kids do.  That’s tough.     
  Do we really want our husbands to be as emotionally involved as we are?  To be honest, would that make things better or worse?  Isn’t that why we were attracted to them in the first place?  Their ability to keep their cool, offer an objective perspective, and give logical advice when we were irate about pre-children problems such as, bridesmaids dresses or shoes? 
   I don’t have any answers to any of the questions I posed above.  But I do have hope.  I think that as the tiresomeness of The Jobs of raising two small children become less tedious, more fun, less labor-intensive, and more rewarding, everything will get better.  SuperNanny says, (Your toddler) “wants more attention than it is humanly possible to give, and he wants it for longer than there are hours in the day.”  That helps me feel better about the task we’re facing.  Individually and together, it’s a seemingly impossible one, but every day is a learning experience and we’re getting better at it.  As the months pass, the physical demands of the children lessen, the emotional relationships grow, and my husband and I are able to spend more time focusing on each other.  Even now, we spend a few hours in the evenings together, sitting and talking uninterrupted, which is a welcome change compared to the first few months of being here, when our baby boy was just three months old.  We may argue more than we had in our previous life pre-children, but our smiles are deeper and have been compounded on the tiny faces around us.  My Director at my previous job, after breaking the news to him that I was pregnant responded with the following, "As a parent, you will have your highest highs and your lowest lows," and to this day, I think there is no truer statement that describes parenthood.  With time, everything improves.  Someday V and I will be able to hold hands again walking down the street, instead of pushing strollers.  Our family will be a line across the sidewalk, all four of us, Red Rover Red Rover style, before I even know it.    In the meantime, I’m going to keep a mindful eye on the new roles we play in our Netherlands life: the balance of work, family and self needs we both face.  While I’m at it, I’ll see if I can trade my American Thinking Cap in for a Dutch one.  And maybe get a matching one for V.    

1 comment:

  1. I was listening to some douchey business podcast the other day (occupational hazard when you're chained to your desk 40 hours a week), and the following quote stood out, so I wrote it down:

    "The real world operates with one measurement: are you good at what you do or can someone else do it better?"

    The Jobs involved in taking care of your kids might not be what you thought, or might even suck sometimes, but can someone else do it better? Seems like definitely no, in your case. You're really good at the jobs!

    Of course, releasing our attachment to the outcome is a whole 'nother struggle, regardless of which jobs we choose to do. Heh. xo