Month 8: Mom vs. Mom

I’m not a huge Oprah fan (see previous post) but I was compelled to Tivo Tuesday’s episode. 20/20 anchor Elizabeth Vargas was on, talking about being a working mom and her decision to quit her news anchor job when she got pregnant with her second child. She came across as very likable and honest. Plus, she has good hair. Then there was the requisite batch of working mothers (WM) and stay-at-home mothers (SAHM) facing off. One SAHM was getting all up in the face of a WM because she (the WM) went back to work when her baby was only 6 weeks old.

But here’s the funny thing – I know the WM, who was identified only as a school principal. If she’s who I think she is, she’s the head of a KIPP charter school near Washington, D.C. Now, I know a lot about KIPP because my friend is the principal of a school here in Baltimore. These are academically intense middle schools for disadvantaged kids. Most students are minorities and come from very tough neighborhoods riddled with drugs and violence. The KIPP staff are super-dedicated, way-underpaid saints, in my opinion. So, hello!, if any mother ever had a good “excuse” for working outside the home, I’d say this woman has it. We’re lucky she even WANTS her job.

See, that’s a big problem I have with these stories and shows about the so-called “Mommy Wars.” They always peg working moms as these power-suit-wearing corporate types who stand on the sidelines of their kids’ soccer games yelling into their cell phones (if they make it there at all). And the SAHMs are either these twinset-clad PTA types, or Earth mothers in chunky jewelry who don’t allow refined sugar in their homes. The implication is always that the SAHMs love their kids more, and that the WMs are all gunning for CEO. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

Yet most of the moms I know – WMs and SAHMs alike – don’t fit neatly into one of those categories. Some have to work to keep their baby in diapers and Gerber’s, or because their spouse is in med school. Some work to preserve their sanity, some to make use of their expensive education, some because they run their own business, and still others work because they – gasp! – like their jobs. Still, every single one has questioned her decision at one point or another.

I may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but before I had a baby, it never occurred to me that women don’t always have a choice whether to work or stay home. And I’m not even talking about the ones who have to work to pay the bills. I’m talking about moms who don’t earn enough to justify paying for fulltime childcare. (That’d be me.) The idea that it could actually COST someone money to work still blows my mind.

For those who do have a choice, here’s my own personal philosophy on the work vs. stay home dilemma: if your job is making the world a better place, by all means, work. The school principal is a good example. Another one is a scientist I know who researches new vaccines. Hell, yeah, I want her to go back to work! Whereas let’s say, to use an example from my own job history, you work for a web site that tracks which celebrities have had plastic surgery. You really want to be paying a small fortune to daycare for that?

Of course, I’m not out saving the world. And I really have no business passing judgment on the WM vs. SAHM issue because I’m not really in either camp. As a self-employed freelancer, I stepped outside of the corporate world years ago. Paid maternity leave wasn’t an issue because no one was offering it to me. Going “back to work” for me meant hiring a babysitter a couple afternoons a week so I can shut myself in the guest room and make some phone calls. Of course, even that transition was not exactly a smooth one.

On the one hand, my job allows me some of the benefits of working without any major sacrifices. I feel lucky that after a few hours I can shut off the computer and go cuddle my baby on the couch. On the other hand, my son has no college fund. (We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a scholarship or an inheritance.)

I guess I get so riled up about this issue because there really are no “right” answers, and every single mom I know struggles with her decision at some point. Oprah pretty much summed up the only undeniable statement you can make about it: you can have it all, just not all at the same time.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: (I know, I forgot last week.) Whether you’re a WM or a SAHM, subscribe to at least one magazine that is not parenting or work-related. Join a group or pick up a hobby that has nothing to do with being a wife or mom (baby massage class: bad; aromatherapy workshop: good). Go shopping and buy something for yourself – not your house, not your husband, not your child. Not even if Baby Gap is having a huge sale.


Month 8: Jealous Again

We have a Diaper Bandit in the house. Several times now, when we’re all downstairs watching TV or eating dinner, someone has sneaked into the baby’s room, pulled a diaper out of the trash, and shredded it all over the carpet. I have a sneaking suspicion about who the culprit might be – a certain scruffy, four-legged, jealousy-riddled mutt, perhaps?

Gracie is not allowed in the baby’s room. She wouldn’t dare step a paw over the threshold when we’re upstairs. And she’s not really the destructive type. (Several stacks of junk mail and a pair of C.’s glasses notwithstanding.) So what’s going on? Gracie’s been bitten by the green-eyed monster. All the smooches, baby talk, walks, and other positive attention that used to be lavished on her is now bestowed on the small fuzzy-headed interloper who came out of nowhere 8 months ago.

Gracie used to be allowed up on the bed for the occasional snuggle. Now Miles has taken over her spot. She used to get daily walks. Now she’s too rambunctious to handle with the stroller, so she’s usually left at home. We used to take her to the dog park every weekend. Now trips to the tot lot take precedence. It’s no wonder she’s got it in for Miles. Or at least his diapers, anyway.

I’d like to think I’m more evolved than an animal who once fell face-first into a duck pond. But I’m no stranger to jealousy. (Or is it envy? I never could understand the difference.) Just recently, when my parents came to visit my newborn niece, but we couldn’t go because Miles had the teeniest hint of a cold, I felt a twinge of unpleasantness. And there it was again when the cute bookstore clerk completely ignored me but lit up like Times Square at the perky pair of college girls behind me in line. (Even when my butt did look like that in tight jeans, I was too self-conscious to wear them.)

If I’m totally honest with myself, there are actually quite a few things that incite envy in me:

I’m jealous that my friends with baby girls can buy cute clothes in colors other than baby blue, navy blue, brick red, army green, or burnt orange, and that they can dress their offspring in outfits that don’t feature sports logos or heavy machinery.

I’m jealous of people whose houses are cleaner and better furnished than mine.

I’m jealous of people who can afford to shop at Anthropologie regularly.

I’m jealous of people who have family nearby (read: free babysitters) and can go out on regular date nights without breaking the bank.

I’m jealous of my neighbors whose baby was sleeping through the night at 7 weeks.

I’m jealous of other married-with-a-baby couples who have sex more than we do. (You can just tell, OK?) But not as jealous as I am of other couples who get more sleep.

I’m jealous (or is it suspicious?) of couples who say they never fight.

I’m jealous of people my age who are already super-successful in their careers.

I’m jealous of people who excel at a sport. (A REAL sport, not badminton or archery or something lame.)

I’m jealous that I didn’t write this book, from a mom’s perspective.

I’m jealous of people who change the world. (Oprah: enough already! You’re making the rest of us look bad.)

I’m jealous of people who are completely confident in who they are.

But, you know, being jealous is really a huge waste of time and energy. And those are two things a busy mom can’t afford to squander. My time’s better spent cuddling my darling baby boy. And cleaning up those shredded diapers on his floor ...


Month 8: It Gets Easier

I’m an aunt! My brother and his wife welcomed baby Chloe over the weekend. My niece weighed in at a whopping 8 lbs., 4 oz. – bigger even than my little brute! Lucky for her, she looks like her mama. (Hee, hee…) I had the honor of being her first visitor.

When I stepped into that hospital room, my own experience came flooding back. (Believe it or not, 7 mos. ago feels like an ETERNITY.) Like me, my sister-in-law looked exhausted and a bit shell-shocked. Like C., my brother timidly changed the baby’s diaper as if he were disarming a bomb that might explode at any second. (Actually, Chloe sort of did during the diaper change. Good thing the nurse was assisting.)

“It gets easier,” I assured them, with all the wisdom of a person who’s been a mom for about as long as it's been since her last dental appointment. But does it really? I reflected on the ride home. I decided that, yes, some aspects of new parenthood do get easier, but others get harder. For instance:

EASIER: Sleep. As hard as it is to believe at first, you will eventually be able to sleep somewhat soundly while the baby is sleeping. You will no longer wake, quaking with fear, at every tiny snort or cough. You will not leap out of bed multiple times throughout the night for the thermometer or nose-suction thingie or phone to dial 911. In time, you will be able to sleep in another room, even on another floor. You will come to embrace the baby monitor as the ultimate freedom.

HARDER: Sleep. Your baby will stop spending 95% of her time sleeping. You will become consumed with getting her to sleep, keeping her asleep, and making sure she sleeps at the correct times.

EASIER: Breastfeeding. There will come a day when you don’t require 7 pillows, a special footstool, two pairs of hands, a reference book, and a cold beverage in order to nurse your baby.

HARDER: Breastfeeding. Your baby will become larger and more active. He may not tolerate having his head discreetly covered by a blanket, and may in fact rip off that blanket on a crowded airplane, causing you to flash your seatmates and two passing flight attendants. You will not care. You might even laugh.

EASIER: Changing diapers. Eventually, your baby will not wet and/or dirty 12-14 diapers and a half-dozen outfits each day. She may even be able to get through the whole night with one Overnite diaper. And you won’t have to execute those complex origami folds to accommodate the umbilical cord.

HARDER: Changing diapers. Once your baby starts eating solid foods, the urge to gag while changing a dirty diaper may become uncontrollable. Plus, the baby is no longer willing to lie placidly on his back for 10 seconds and will torque his small torso violently, knocking everything off the changing table in the process.

Hmmm. If the point of this exercise was to reassure the new parents, I’m not sure I accomplished that. So I’ll end on a positive note: it will get easier to accept that you’re responsible for this tiny, delicate creature you’ve brought into the world, and harder to imagine how you ever lived without her.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Buy some of these plastic bags that will steam-clean your breast pump accessories, pacifiers, and bottles in the microwave in 3 minutes flat.


Month 7: Ho-Ho-Home At Last

Holy Holiday Hell. I have crossed over to the dark side: those bah-humbug types who dread the holidays. It was my baby’s first Christmas; I should have been excited. Instead, days before we left for the grandparents’, I was consumed with doing laundry, trying to find and pack all the gifts I’d hidden throughout the house, transferring all liquids into clear Ziploc bags, and hoping I didn’t forget some crucial baby item. Plus, I was already dreading my solo return flight with Miles. (C. was to return home earlier for work.) How would I possibly manuever us and all our gear through the airport by myself?

The trip there wasn’t that bad. We filled an entire luggage cart with all our gear – sort of embarrassing for someone who’s always prided herself on packing light. We made it through security with all our belongings. (Though they almost confiscated my mom’s perfume. Who knew I was supposed to open and unwrap the sealed box and put THAT in a Ziploc bag, too?!) We made it through the flight with no meltdowns (on the part of baby or parents). We managed to install the carseat in the rental car.

Only we didn’t bank on Miles’ reaction to all the lights, cameras, and action of Christmas with the family. On our last trip, he was 3 mos. old and slept whenever, wherever. This time, he was “on” all day long, every day. Now, Miles is a social little guy. He rose to the occasion, entertaining two sets of grandparents, six cousins, and countless aunts, uncles, and other visitors with his repertoire of cute baby antics. But when it was time to wind down in the evening, he didn’t. He woke up every two to three hours all night long, every night, complaining loudly and hoarsely about the accommodations.

I can understand. It was hard for me, too, to leave my comfy pillowtop mattress and down duvet to sleep in a series of strange beds. But at least I was given a bed, rather than a thin, crackly old Pack ‘n’ Play. After the comforts of his crib, Miles wasn’t having it. He cried and cried and cried until we brought him in bed with us. Then I would doze fitfully off and on until morning, afraid he would wake the whole household or roll out of bed. So it wasn’t a very restful "vacation."

By the fifth night of this, we’d all had enough. I changed my ticket and flew back with C., arriving home at 1 a.m. The next day, all was well with the world. Miles lolled in his crib, cooing over the baby monitor, while I snuggled up under the covers in my own bed for an extra half-hour’s sleep. There were no more gifts to smuggle through security, no more portable cribs to assemble, and no one we needed to be “on” for. We were home at last.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Every couple of weeks or so, sort through the baby’s clothes and weed out the stuff that’s too small. That way, you won’t have to root through piles of newborn onesies in the middle of the night for something dry that actually fits.

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