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For the Sake of My Sanity

I looked at the clock tonight, counting down the minutes until my husband got home from work. I took the kids upstairs so that I could change out of my spit-up stained clothing into my running gear. I quickly peered out my front window scanning the street for his car. Much to my surprise, I noticed my dog running around the front yard. Panic set in (for the 48th time today) and I ran downstairs to find that in the 14 seconds it took me to change my shirt and shorts, my two year old scooted down the stairs and let himself and the dog into the front yard. Again. I know, I know. Get babyproofing locks for the door handles. And I totally intend to do that, as soon as I find the free time I need to go out purchase them. Thankfully, my husband had pulled in and collected the toddler and the dog. As soon as he came in and changed out of his suit, I slipped out the front door for my run.  

My body hurt, it was hot out, my ankles ached – especially after hours and hours of chasing three children. But a three-mile run is the only thing that can sometimes save what little sanity I have left after such a long day. 

After my first child was born in 2012, I went through what many first mothers experience. Looking back, I’m certain I had postpartum depression and anxiety. I quit my job, I stayed home, I consumed myself with his caretaking. In a very cliché mom way, I lost myself. I forgot what I liked to do. I became miserable and resentful. I ended up in therapy, and slowly I found my way again.  

Having experienced that once, I have been bound and determined with my second and third pregnancies to continue to be “me.” I think it’s important to maintain a sense of self – and equally as important for my kids to know that I am much more than Mom. I’m a human, I have interests, I need five seconds alone to pee sometimes. I like to go to work. I like tattoos. I like to drink four (or more) cocktails on Friday nights. So far, I’ve stayed true to this. But although I’ve been able to continue to be ME and MOM, having a third child has brought on another challenge. It’s not “myself” that I’m at risk losing this time around – but more so my sanity.  

sanity

The first child is hard. You can’t do anything, because you haven’t yet adapted to the multitasking of motherhood. But slowly, you learn to get a few things done when the baby is asleep. When the second arrives, you’re a pro. You put the baby down for a nap, you put a show on for the toddler, and you get as much shit done before you hear Mickey announcing the arrival of the final mouseketool, hence signaling the end of both the show and your toddler’s attention span. Then the third child arrives, and if you manage to get even two out of three kids napping/relaxing at the same time, you sit. You just be. You breathe, you pee, you chug some coffee, and you stand at the front door and threaten to kill anyone who even THINKS about ringing your doorbell while your babies are sleeping.  

After Owen was born, I quickly realized my sanity was at stake.  I decided I needed to get out. I needed time away. I needed to be me. I signed up for weekly personal training sessions, which have been a life saver. Fitness is something that’s always been important to me – so working out has helped me work toward getting back to my pre-baby body AND my pre-baby mind.  

During my sessions, my trainer offers the typical trainer encouragement, saying things like, “Come on, Cait. You can do this. There is no such thing as fatigue.”  

One day, during the last five minutes of my kick ass session, he said, “Come on. Finish it. This is the hardest thing you are going to do today.” 

I laughed, because of course, he was right. Physically, it was the hardest thing I was going to do that day. But mentally, it was the easiest. The most enjoyable. The thought of going home and getting three kids fed, bathed, and in bed would most likely be the most challenging thing I did that day. Like a boss, I finished that workout. And then I went home and somehow survived bedtime routine without losing my shit on anyone. 

I guess my point is this: It’s important to maintain my sanity – for myself and ultimately for my kids. Despite the mom guilt I feel when I leave to go out by myself, I know that time away only makes me a better mom. And when things get really mentally tough, when I’m up for the fourth time at 4:00am feeding a teething and overtired baby, I’ll channel my trainer and chant to myself, “You got this, Cait. There’s no such thing as fatigue. This is the hardest thing you’ll do today.”

My Summer “Vacation”

“Oh, all you teachers. Must be nice to have the summer off every year.”

Yup, the three best things about teaching are June, July, August. Amirite? I’m just over here laying in the sun, sipping summer cocktails, enjoying some peace and quiet. Awesome, yes?

Unfortunately, I have no idea if that’s awesome because I’m home with three small children this summer.

Don’t get me wrong. I love having this extra time with my children, but hanging with three kids under five is not a vacation. So far in the two days I’ve been home this week, I’ve cooked and cleaned up six meals, prepared 45 snacks, washed about 40 bottles, wiped three different butts, watched YouTube videos of kids playing with toys, helped my kids MAKE YouTube videos of themselves playing with toys, and cleaned up dog puke twice. In just two tiny days, I’ve had one child fall off a bike and scrape his face, got soaked at soccer practice because I forgot the umbrella, and chased an escaping toddler halfway down the street. Sweet, relaxing vaca, right?

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In the past two days, I’ve taken three kids to three different doctor’s appointments, including the psychologist for my five year old and the feeding therapist for the baby (Yes, feeding therapy is actually a thing). Today I took my two year old to the pediatrician since he was up half the night screaming. Thankfully, it turns out he’s not sick, he’s just an asshole , um, a toddler.

Even as I attempt to type this, there is a baby spitting up butternut squash all over his play mat and a five year old who just announced that he “needs to go poop real bad,” so I better finish this shit up before he needs me to wipe his ass.

When I had only one child, summer was slightly easier. I made sure to plan trips to the zoo, play dates, picnics, and science projects. Last summer, I smartened up and signed up to teach summer school, which was really a decent balance between work and time at home with the kids. This year, since Owen was born, I decided to enjoy some time at home with all three children. They are only little once, right?

The teacher in me still wants to attempt the art projects and fun summer events, but doing anything with three kids is pretty much a total shit show the majority of the time. So far this summer, the only place I’ve taken all three in public is the pediatrician (which is an entirely separate post on its own). I’d consider taking them to the library, but I’m afraid I’d be arrested for the amount of money I owe in overdue fees. So last week, out of desperation, I piled them into the car without any plan in place as far as where we were going. I took them to the gas station where I bought them crappy fidget spinners, drove them through the car wash, and then ran through the McDonald’s drive thru for Happy Meals on our way home. Compared to a day at the children’s museum, I was feeling like this little trip out was pretty pathetic, but to my surprise, they were totally pumped. Who knew that a $7 ride through the car wash could be so exhilarating?

All jokes aside and despite the challenges, I’m obviously so happy for this extra time with my kids. I’m thankful that my boys are spending their summer at home, swimming with friends, eating popsicles, riding bikes, and running through sprinklers. Despite the fun, and for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m thinking that next year, it’s time to sign them up for a few weeks of summer camp.

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Outnumbered and Out of Control

“Mom, Gannon has a Sharpie!” 

It’s a good thing my five year old likes to tattle because otherwise a lot of really bad shit would have gone down with that Sharpie.

This is life with three children. 

I remember hearing toddler horror stories about kids who colored all over the walls and flushed cell phones down toilets. I know kids are insane and this shit occasionally happens, but I’m not going to lie, a very small part of me judged wondered about the parents. What the hell are you doing when your kid is coloring your on your walls with a Sharpie? How is it possible that your child is left alone, unsupervised, long enough to find a Sharpie and then redecorate your house? 

Then, we had our third baby, 20 months after our second baby. It all became very clear to me. When you have three kids under five, someone is unsupervised at all times, whether you like it or not. 

Unfortunately, feeding and caring for a needy newborn means my very independent and capable two year old has let himself out the front door and played around in the yard by himself once (or twice). It doesn’t make me a bad mom, or neglectful, it just means that it’s not humanly possible for me to have eyes on all three at all times. Obviously, we’ve learned to lock the front door. 

My escape artist.

My escape artist.

When I found out we were expecting our third, I asked a friend of mine who also has three kids about how she manages being outnumbered. 

“Well we’ve lowered our standards, obviously,” she replied. 

This made me laugh at the time, but now I totally get it. Our first child wore expensive toddler shoes when he was learning to walk. We served him vegetables at every meal, even if he refused to eat them. We held tight to his strict napping schedule and made sure we tracked and limited his screen time. These days, my kids play outside without shoes, eat freezy pops by the box, and skip naps whenever necessary if it means getting where we need to be on time. And when I’m really feeling like a rebel, I let them eat dinner in front of the laptop while they watch other kids play video games on YouTube.  

So the next time you see a toddler playing in the front yard alone, instead of contemplating calling CPS, pick that kid up and carry him inside. Surely the mother is busy trying to breastfeed a baby, while on the phone with the pediatrician, and trying to get someone dressed for soccer practice all at the same time. 

And for those of you moms who are expecting your third, or fourth, my advice is simple. Relax a little. Forgive yourself when the kids are chaos. Lower your standards just a little bit, and um, don’t forget to lock your front door. 

Motherhood: My New Normal

Two boys and a tunnel. Just another normal day around here.

Two boys and a tunnel. Just another normal day around here.

 

After a long week of work and parenting, I sneaked upstairs tonight with a glass of wine and slipped into the tub for a quick ten minutes alone before starting the bedtime routines. I made a mental note to thank my husband for this brief break, since any alone time these days is rare and precious.

I carefully poured the baby bubble bath into the steaming water, pushed aside the boats and bath toys… and I didn’t think twice. Then it occurred to me that four years ago, I would have laughed (and probably cried) at the strangeness of this situation. It would have felt awkward and hilarious to be washing up with tear free baby shampoo and setting my wine on the edge of the bath next to my son’s tiny squirt toys. But now, four years and another baby later, I realized that the reason this no longer feels so odd is simply because motherhood has finally become my new normal.

Some will argue that a woman becomes a mother when she conceives, but accepting the title doesn’t mean that the role comes naturally. I remember how weird it felt to carry the infant car seat around with me everywhere I went in those first few months (which wasn’t many places, except for drive thru coffee shops and the occasional trip to Target). I felt so anxious, so aware of the people around me who I was convinced could tell that I had no idea what I was doing.

I even felt like a stranger in my own house. My bedroom at night looked as though a baby bomb had gone off – diapers and wipes strewn around the changing table, the bassinet pushed closely to my side of the bed to make for easy nighttime breast feeding sessions. My night stand was stocked with anything that I could possibly need to survive the night with a newborn, like diaper cream, extra pajamas, receiving blankets, nose suction, a thermometer, infant Tylenol, and a multitude of other items that I surely did not need.

The first time we took my son to the pediatrician, the final page of the paperwork required a parent signature. My mind went blank. Parent signature? Omigod. That’s me. And next to my signature was the “relationship to patient” line where I wrote “Mother” for the first time. Surely I was not old enough (albeit I was 26) or mature enough to be solely responsible for another human being…. Right?!

After eight weeks at home, I reluctantly returned to my full time job. My son’s diaper bag was the size of a small suitcase, packed with enough stuff for him to survive at least three weeks. And then I packed my lunch, my work bag, my pump, and a cooler for breast milk. Did it seriously take this much preparation and planning for one day out of house?! I was fairly certain that I wasn’t capable of this chaos – and I eventually did resign from my position before returning to work 18 months later.

Now, ten months after my second child was born, motherhood in general has become, well, normal. I’m used to the fact that my dining room will always be used as a playroom for the boys. I’ve accepted that I will probably never sleep soundly through an entire night ever again. It doesn’t feel weird to me that my grocery list is dominated by baby products and kid friendly meals rather than steaks, scallops and other delicious food I’m sure I ate prior to having children. It doesn’t bother me that it takes at least two hours to get myself and the kids out of the door each morning before work. I don’t think twice when I crawl into the backseat on road trips and make animal noises for an hour to soothe my fussy baby. These things would have all felt absurd, hilarious, and overwhelming a few years back. And now, four years after I accepted this role in motherhood, I can finally say that I really feel like a mom.

So for all of the new mothers out there who feel as though they aren’t as natural and prepared as they had expected to be: hang tight. After a couple of years, a few tears, and probably another baby – motherhood will finally become your new normal. And you most likely won’t ever want to change a thing (except maybe the sleep deprivation– a few uninterrupted hours would definitely be nice).

The Parenting Pendulum

A pendulum is a weight that is suspended from a pivot so that it can swing freely back and forth. When resting, it sits quietly in its equilibrium position. Now let me just say that this info came straight from Wikipedia, solely because I failed physics in high school and barely passed it in college. It looks like a simple object to me, but is definitely characterized by some complicated physics shit that I will never seem to fully grasp (gravity, force, acceleration, blah blah blah….).

My life as a parent feels very similar to what I can observe and understand about the pendulum. Parenting may seem simple, but is often more complicated than can ever be described. As a mother of two who works full time, I am constantly swung in separate directions, feeling myself pulled by the forces of both career and raising kids.

When I had my first child, I struggled with finding the balance between being my best as a mother and an employee – as I’m sure almost every parent does. I felt the mom guilt sweeping over my skin well before my sparse eight weeks of maternity leave came to an end. I was unhappy in my position at work in general, and in the end, I decided it wasn’t worth losing the time with my son. I quit, stayed home a few days a week, and spent a few days watching another mother’s children to make some extra cash so that I could afford to be away from “work.”

Luckily, I fell into my dream job two years ago. With this brought the financial ability to welcome another child – which ironically has also created my current dilemma. Between caring for two children and upholding my responsibilities as a full time employee, I am constantly swinging in opposite directions. As I care for my kids, a small part of my brain is still carrying the energy from work – the stress, the demands. When I’m at work, a large part of my heart is hurting to be with my children who need me, especially when they are sick, tired, or sad to see me go.

It’s a constant struggle – passing my attention back and forth between the two things that I care so much about. I’ve worked my ass off to earn a Master’s degree in Education and I’ve finally landed the position I’ve dreamed about – the position that has allowed me to afford to have a second child in the first place. But sadly, the ludicrous cost of childcare in this country combined with the lack of reliable options makes things even more challenging. I refuse to give up my career, because it keeps me sane many days, but I still find it hard to give 100% of my time, attention, and energy to my kids and my career at any given time.

As mentioned before, when the pendulum is not moving, it sits in its resting, equilibrium position. One thing that I know for sure is that in motherhood, there is often no resting position. Whether we work full time, work from home, work as a full time mother, or some crazy combination of these things, maybe the answer to this never ending struggle is to find our equilibrium. As my parenting pendulum swings forcefully from side to side between home and work, I am going to make it my goal to slow down every once in a while and find my resting place.

My Brief Blogging Break

So over the past two months, you may have noticed that I’ve been a little MIA from the blogosphere. I’m sure many of you were really concerned that I finally fell over the edge of the mommy mountain and decided to give up blogging AND parenting all together due to the out of control chaos involved in raising children. Or maybe you just assumed I’d finally checked myself into rehab due to the over-excessive, toddler-induced wine drinking that takes place around here on a regular basis. Don’t get your granny panties in a bunch. I appreciate your deep concern, but no need to worry. I haven’t thrown my child to the wolves. I’m not stuck in a permanent pinot grigio hangover. I’ve just been pretty damn busy, and I’m sure you can all relate in some way or another. So let me catch you up to date.

I know I’ve bored you to death with the topic of kids and careers in the past. I’ll try not to get to long and drawn out about it again at the moment. But, let me just say, kids + careers = chaos. I’m going to try to make this long story short. I’m a certified teacher by trade and I worked in the field of early childhood education prior to having my son. After he was born, I made the decision to stay at home for a year and then attempt to transition into a position in the school districts. In case you aren’t from New York State, I will fill you in on a little secret. Getting a teaching job in this area has pretty much the same odds as winning the lottery, getting struck by lightning, or getting pregnant with quintuplets naturally. It’s damn near impossible. So in September, I started working as a substitute teacher and then eventually took a full time teacher aide position in hopes to get my foot in the door.

Well, I got my foot in the door all right and then had the door slammed several times (leaving me with a figurative sore foot and a disheartened outlook). In the past two months, I’ve gone on six job interviews for various positions and haven’t yet secured a full time teaching position for September. As of right now, I’ll be returning as an aide in the fall. Which is totally fine, of course, but I was hoping for my own classroom.

Now besides the fact that I clearly believe that I am the most amazing, dedicated teacher on the planet, I also believe I deserve a position solely based on the amount of work that goes into trying to search for a job while raising a child (and working full-time). Just attempting to use my laptop to complete job applications with a child in the house is challenge. If you are a parent, you get what I’m saying here. My toddler actually believes that every electronic device in this house belongs to him and serves no other purpose than the play Thomas the Tank Engine videos on YouTube. So trying to convince him to give me a few minutes to write a cover letter hasn’t gone over very well. To be honest, I have no fucking idea what I’ve even applied for because I’m trying to move so quickly while working on the computer, attempting to finish an application before a computer coup d’é·tat organized by the toddler occurs.

Then, of course, there is the actual interview. Printing resumes, creating folders, coordinating a babysitter. It’s exhausting to think about. And trying to get out of the house on time in a freshly pressed suit without being attacked by greasy fingers and dog hair is pretty much like a mission straight out of the motherhood matrix.

Considering the amount of effort it takes to get an interview scheduled and actually get there in a presentable manner, I should be handed a position just based on the fact that I showed up.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. And with all of the effort I’ve been putting into finding a teaching job, I was forced to take a little time away from my website. But here I am, back at it. I’ve decided not to let the job search get me down and to continue to work on the things I enjoy – like blogging and drinking wine. Oh, and parenting, of course.

So stay tuned. Lots of tales about the tireless toddler are on their way.