When 2 Feels Like More Than 2

photo(49)I love these shirts without apology.

I’m not a great mom.  I am, on average, a decent mom.  I have moments of greatness and moments of horror.  Which was irritatingly predicted years ago by a Meyer-Briggs personality test.  It told me what kind of parent I’d be – namely, a rather manic and topsy turvy type – and I was all, psssh, whatever.  But it was right.  I’m real good and real bad, but not quite in 50/50 parts.  On the whole, my kids will have enough traumas to give them some good stories and reasonably thick skin.  But will also love to laugh, have gotten ten million hugs and kisses, and know what it feels like to be unconditionally loved by a very imperfect person.

So perhaps my skills are lacking, but it is more and more apparent that I was born with a healthy amount of mom dorkiness and that has been fun to cultivate.  Seeing my kids together has really let me let my freak flag fly, too.  With one, I held on to some shred of former me, I think.  But now, I see former me as a nonentity.  In a good way.  I mean, she ain’t here any more, so may as well be real about it.  And I also see more clearly how blazingly fast this is all going, and it makes me in less of a hurry to get “back” to the other stuff – the looking good, the being well read, the earning a living.  I still want that stuff.  And I work at them.  But in a forgiving, mostly light-hearted way.  I don’t love my muffin top, but I’m not losing any sleep over it either (AS IF I HAD ANY SLEEP TO LOSE!!! AH HAHAHA *sob*).

And it’s not just that with two now I am that much deeper into motherhood, and that much busier and frantic.  It’s also that my house is so full.  The addition of Eli was greater than he himself.  When he laughs at his sister, when she whispers in his ear or strokes his head when he cries, when he shrieks in glee at his dad’s return home while his sister simultaneously attempts jumping jacks in anticipation of that same guy, it’s almost too much to bear.  My capacity for love and tolerance has grown more than I could’ve anticipated through it all, too.

It feels just great to unironically make terrible puns on homemade valentines.  To find my hand on my heart when I see my children love on each other.  To shut off NPR and belt out Wheels on the Bus, complete with at least eighteen invented verses including “The daddy on the bus says DRINK A GLASS OF BEER!”, while driving down the road, making Edie dance in her carseat as she sings along and Eli giggle incessantly at big sister.  Doing this doesn’t feel more or less like “me” – but “me” doesn’t seem like that important or real of a thing to define right now.  When you’ve got very little choice but to take things hour to hour, it wears you down but now and again gives you the gift of presence.  Something that I found a lot harder to grasp onto when I had more time to ponder and plan.  I’m surely grateful for my crazy little teachers, and I hope they don’t get too frustrated as I keep having to learn the same lessons over and over again.

Soon I am going to be a great-aunt again.  And my niece and I were corresponding about the addition of the second.  I don’t try to be a Debbie Downer, but I have a total inability to sugar coat.  I am always reaching for authenticity, and when it comes to offering thoughts on the experience of parenting, even though there is all this amazing and happy stuff to talk about, I immediately feel like a liar if I don’t try to get down deeper to the life changing challenges.  (Which is why I have no idea why anyone asks me anything.  All they ever get are meandering, borderline depressing responses.  But I am so glad that anyone does.  Xoxo.)  On this topic, I did manage to tell her how profound it has been to watch the love between these siblings grow.  Something outside of me and my husband, that we may guide and hopefully set a good tone for, but something that is ultimately between the two of these amazing people that they will carry for their lives.

Not that it is all rosy, I have to point out because I am terrible like that and also because whenever I get sappy I have to pull back and make bad jokes so – poof – I’m not vulnerable! C’mon!  For example.  The boy is crawling now.  And he bites feet and ankles. Incessantly.  Edie is like “YEEOUCH! He’s biting me!”  I look down to see a gleeful eight month old, who not only got a tasty chunk of flesh but also truly enjoyed the sounds of pain that it produced.  And though I honestly feel bad for her, I also just want to finish whatever menial task I have been toiling at for five times as long as it should take, so I say “Can you just climb up somewhere he can’t get you?” “Yeeaa-uuh.” she complies with a pout, never taking her eyes off baby Hannibal Lector.  And besides the blood, there’s the exhaustion, and the guilt (which flips and flops between either child), and the milliseconds of regret (“I was so good at just one kid.” “Maybe we should’ve waited longer.”) that are in themselves not all that powerful but that make you feel so very ashamed.

So life with the two of them has been harder than I imagined.  And more important than I could’ve imagined.  I don’t know that I believe I was destined for any of this.  Life in any other of the infinite directions it could’ve taken would’ve had its own unique meaning.  But I’m glad to be living in this plane of existence, that’s for sure.  I am a little sorry for my husband, who sees me fall to the floor in defeat over my day to day struggles, and then has to listen to me cry when he mentions not wanting any more kids (a position I ostensibly agree with, but just don’t have the heart to assent to any, erm, permanent solutions just yet).  I don’t feel that bad for him, though, because even on my worst days, I am pretty integral in him coming home to these little people.  And sometimes I make brownies or tell him to just go to the gym and I’ll deal with naptime alone.

Today, I was home with both of them, and it’s lousy outside, and we were all super tired.  But sometimes that means an outing is even more necessary so we don’t just get on each other’s nerves.  We went to a nearby megachurch that has a giant indoor playground so the kids could blow off steam.  But about fifteen minutes after arriving, another child there dropped a load up on the structure and they had to shut it down for biohazard cleanup.  And I felt … nothing.  Not annoyance.  Not grossed out.  Not even anymore tired than when I arrived.  Just like, well, okay.  Let’s eat a snack and head on home.  I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but that, for me, is what having two kids has done.  I’m good with that.

Keeping them alive

Recently, an old friend and I were communicating via a popular social media site (Friendster, perhaps?).  She was soon due to birth her second child, and was experiencing the predictable excitement colored with a bit of dread.  And so, as I am wont to do, I began do dole out heaps of Rachael’s Unsolicited Advice on Life.  I commented things like yeah, coordinating naps is a hassle, and, the older one will have a period of adjustment.  But she was like, um, I’m more concerned with keeping them both alive.  Touché. 

Now, Big Sis Edie has given me sufficient scares to be sure.  Make no mistake: children do / try to do pretty much all of the things one is warned about, and all those things that one is instinctively afraid of.  Edie has subjected herself and me to plastic bags over her head, spastic slapping at an in-use stove top, nearly performing finger-amputation with my sewing scissors, and even splitting her eyebrow open by falling – from a seated position – onto a plastic mixing bowl at apparently just the perfect angle.  And all of this from a child who did not crawl until she was eleven months old and who has a relatively low threshold for danger.  

 

Just a little head glue.  No thang at all.

 

Edie also has a mom who has absolutely no threshold for danger.  I was the kid crying at the bottom of the mall escalator while her mom cheerily (frantically?) begged her to get on.  Kind of hard to obey when you are basically certain that this metal monster is going to inhale you and spit you out in ribbon form! Nowawdays, I get through life by bullying myself while involuntarily imagining nightmarish outcomes to everyday scenarios in order to get through these tasks.  Well, I tell myself after a bit of turbulence, if the plane is going down, my screams aren’t going to change anything, so I may as well sit back and try to relax before the engines explode.  But oddly, I’ve been able to take most of the kid stuff in stride.  At least in the moment of it all I stay calm.  Though I bet my grey hairs could be directly linked to my repressed terror. 

“Keeping the kids alive” is a jokey, self-deprecating parenting cliché.  But my son is making it a legitimate task these days.  And while I am still generally able to get by, he is making it a challenge.  And making it really, really hard to ever sit down to write anything like this.

Par exemple: Eli has generally enjoyed his bassinet attachment on the stroller.  It’s comfy and unencumbered in there, giving him a bit of room to squirm around.  In fact, he quickly discovered that he could easily roll around in there, much to his delight.  But when, I (never had time to) wonder, is it time to graduate him to the five point restraint?  Maybe when walks become a game of whack-a-mole, except the mole is your son’s butt which keeps popping up as he attempts to crawl out of the bassinet and onto the sidewalk below.

Then there are other restraining devices.  Big sister loved her bouncie seat.  Eli?  He tolerated it for a bit.  But I started to get the feeling that it wasn’t his favorite place to be…
And then, there is this fun new activity.  I call it Socket Hunting.  No, actually I call it “bleargh!”  I captured this little series today once I could see the idea spark.  Not captured: me hurling my phone once I realized that he’d figured out how to scale the base boards at was thisclose to getting a digit in there.  Most likely a well-moistened digit.

 

 

My motherly instinct to act now and react later was pushed to what may be its limit last week when Eli did one of the most dreaded, most steeped in lore moves.  He is, of course, only seven months old, so I’m the first to point out that him “doing” always means me “letting.”  Which is to say, I know I’m to blame, but I also know that I try really hard!  Which is all to lead up to the event: he rolled off his changing table and fell to the ground.  He’s rolled off before, but into my arms.  And I know he’s a wild man up there, so I often have to resort to sweeping a leg over top him to pin his 17ish lb self down, much to his dislike.  This time, I turned my head to grab a diaper.  My arms were not on him but I thought that my body was close enough to feel him squirm so that I could stop anything before it happened.  I was right there.  But not quite right there, apparently, because after an eternal moment of silence, I heard a thud.  And then a worse silence.  And then, quite happily, a scream.  In the moment, I wasn’t surprised or upset. I held him and rocked him, and he was so frightened.  Only later, I was frightened too.  But he’s 100%, and he learned just absolutely nothing at all from the experience.  I stress-ate half a roll of Thin Mints and vowed to do better.  Somehow I’m still optimistic, though, that I’m going to keep them all alive.

Sedona: you’re gorgeous. Let’s meet again not real soon.

Writing here from gorgeous, spell-binding Sedona, Arizona.  But, I should not be here.  This is a cautionary tale, a tale in defiance of the Facebook photos of babies napping under beach umbrellas, families standing proudly in front of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, and bright smiles from car seats.  I don’t doubt that there are kids so flexible and easy-going that traveling with them is (relatively) enjoyable.  But I do know that I don’t have them.  And that, nevertheless, I, too, could manufacture a very happy picture of it all with careful editing.

So, husband-of-mine has been traveling a lot since starting his job about a year and a half ago.  And 2013 was to start off with a flurry of trips – five in four months? Something like that.  In an effort to appease the Irritated Wife Goddess, he convinced me that we should all go to Sedona.  I don’t mean to place blame on him.  I’d never have suggested joining him because I make roughly $10 a month (more, but not much more), and we are getting by without getting ahead right now, so I may mope about money occasionally but it is not my wont to spearhead any efforts to lay out large amounts of cash.  But when he brought it up, I was cautious but excited.  And as he pressed, I got more excited and was soon on board.  Could we afford it?!  Um, kind of!  (Thank you, Christmas money!)  Plus most of the cost would be shouldered by his work, since they paid for his travel and lodging.  We’d shell out for an upgraded room and plane tickets for us lay folk.

We should’ve taken a hint from the beginning.  I looked at the website and drooled.  Breathtaking place, inside and out.  Top notch spa.  Yoga classes, led meditation.  A juice bar!  I said to myself “This looks amazing!” And I said it so loud that I didn’t here the little reasonable voice that said “Dear, this is not for you.”  The first message came with the price quotes on an upgraded room.  One of the biggest burdens of traveling with partially-formed humans is that they go to bed early.  Like, 7 or 8 pm early.  And – though I have been told this is not always the case – mine don’t just not got to bed at their time with out much fire, brimstone, and gnashing of teeth.  And – again, Facebook photos tell me this is not a rule – but mine do not, ever, ever, just “pass out.”  Those pictures you may post of little Suzie “all tuckered out from her big day!” head-first onto her high chair, or face-planted into a couch amid a raucous party?  I don’t dislike you for posting them, dear friends.  Truly.  Live and be well.  Life’s not about evening scores, and I am sure you have your challenges that may far exceed my own.  But, I must admit these images make me weep just a little.  No, mine scream and holler, possibly vomit, definitely kick, and generally go freaking bananas until there is a dark room, white noise machine, clean jammies, and often my boob.  I know not the joys of “aww, Honey, look at Johnny! He’s asleep over there in his Big Wheel!”  If Little Johnny were mine own, I would put him and his Big Wheel in the car and drive straight the ER because something must have gone terribly wrong.

But I digress.  Room cost.  Yes. To avoid the whole having to remain motionless and silent for several hours so that the children can sleep when they must, we decided to get a room with bedrooms.  A “casita,” as it were.  Casita – Spanish for little house.  How lovely sounding is that?  The quote for an upgrade to a 2 bedroom casita was one bajillion dollars.  But a one bedroom was only half a bajillion.  We swallowed hard, and I said that I cold not in good conscience allow us to spend the full bajillion.  I’d make the one bedroom work.  All four of us, one of whom does not nearly sleep through the night and another who suffers from voice immodulation, in one room.  My hair must have been standing on end when I committed to this, but I ignored it and pressed on.

Then we had to look at the physical travel aspect.  3.5 hour flight.  2.5 hour drive.  Not fun, but we can do it!  Forgot about that whole 1.5 hours before the flight.  And the hour to get the rental car.  And surprisingly bad head winds.  Not to mention potty breaks for toddler-sized bladders. All told, we ended up at a travel time of nine hours.  I don’t think we ever did the math, though we could’ve.  Willful ignorance.  Remember that fire, brimstone and gnashing of teeth? There was a goodly amount of it in that 9 hours, and during and in between such times, there was an all-hands-on-deck level of effort to keep the wee ones managably fed, kempt, and amused.

Edie feeding Baby Jane on PHX airport bus.  Legit cute.  Nearing the age of travel-readiness.
 Pretty much the only pic I got of Eli because he spent the trip screaming, 
fussing, not sleeping, or sleeping at inconvenient hours. 

We arrived, saw the grounds and got into our quarters, and everything was stunning! Stunning!  Not to mention thoughtful details.  For example, there is a fireplace in our room that you can turn on with a light switch located only 2 ½ feet above the ground!  Perfect for a curious three-year old.  And an indoor pool.  That you can go in if you are over 16.  Trails galore that are inaccessible by stroller.  I have no problem with any of these on principle.  I am well aware that my three year-old is not conducive to the Zen-like experience that patrons of this resort are paying, literally, bajillions of dollars to enjoy. My issue is with my own inability to get it through my own thick skull that vacations with little kids are now “vacations.”  Or maybe “ “vacations” ”.

Now, it does not help that I got sick on day one, sicker on day two, ending up feverish, exhausted and rather snippy, and currently settled into a hacking cough and an inability to be further than three feet from a box of Kleenex. But germ-mongers that children are, me getting sick is not exactly shocking. And I basically begged for an incapacitating illness when I spastically highlighted the resort’s activity schedule like an over-enthusiastic and over-grown summer camper.

Oh, you and your bright eyes, Monday-Rachael.

Two of the best things about this place?  We have a kitchenette and there is a gratis laundry room only steps from our front door.  It took me a day to realize that what I was most excited about would also be what resulted in me doing dishes and laundry, without access to a dishwasher or my extra-jumbo-sized front loading washer or dryer.

The three year old is on the verge of being at the age of enjoying this.  But she’s not quite there.  Upon gazing out at the majestic red rocks that fill up the panoramic view out our window, I said with awe “Edie, look at that!”  She looks up, and then asks for the second time “But who BRINGED these orange juices?!?!”, unable to let go of the mystery of how tiny bottles of OJ ended up on our porch this morning.  “The orange juice people.  I don’t know! What do you think of the rocks?”  *Smacks lips after taking another sip of glorious magic juice and walks away*  But she is generally easy to travel with, as long as you pay loads of attention to her, and – here’s the big one – she may not be flexible about sleeping on the go, but once you’ve got it right, the child sleeps through the night.

Static electricity and bananas.

Compare: the seven month old.  Who generally wakes twice a night, but here in sunny Arizona, wakes up when he hears a bed sheet move.  A bed sheet!  I do not exaggerate! I have been in bed here now three nights, holding back scratching an itch or rolling to a position where my arm is not being deprived of blood because at that moment there is nary a sound coming from that pack’n’play. And when I give into my pitiful, mortal urge, WAAAH!! Instantly! And we’ve got a serious white noise machine going on full blast.  It’s a frightening talent.  But, he makes up for it during the day.  Wait! Nope! He just cries. And cries.  And it’s exhausting.  He just wants to be home. And so do I.

I am glad to be here. It truly is a wonder.  But I’ve got to remember to be a little more patient with it all.  As fondly as I’ll remember the highlights, this has taken it out of me like what.  And I’m a-day dreaming of my bed, of a napping schedule, of being able to roll over or blow my nose without fear of reprisal.  These little baby days are short, and there are many good things about this time.  But few of these good things are apparent in a hotel or road trip setting.  It’s telling that I’m excited to have a kitchen and a place to wash my clothes.  There’s a lot of beauty in routine and comfort.  No question it’s what kids need and crave.  Time for our wild outings to be to the zoo instead of across the country, I think.  Next time I want to impress my kids, I’ll just sneak around the house, deposit a couple of Odwalla’s on the porch, and ding’n’ditch.  They’ll be dazzled and I won’t be clucking my tongue at a resort’s choice not to offer scent-free detergent.

The “my family vacations are always peaceful and joyful” shot. Pretty cool one.  I did have to straight beg her to pose for it, however.

To all of you who love traveling with your littles: God bless.  For those whose own anal retentiveness and children make stay-cations seem a lot more appealing, lets all meet up at a spa in 2016.  A thirty and over spa.  I’ll pack the highlighters.