A New Era

Finally! After weeks and weeks of PER traveling, we’ve hired a regular sitter to help out with Aleksander. Hurrah!!! Today was her first day, and it worked out perfectly.

Aleksander took a crazy long nap – three hours! He woke up just as Kelly arrived. Despite all that sleep, he was very out of sorts. Even his snack didn’t seem to help. So I stayed around for about a half hour. But eventually as he started to get comfortable with Kelly, I was able to slip off into the kitchen. I got things cleaned up and dinner started. Then I made my way down to my office in the basement. For months, it’s been looking like it got hit by some kind of natural disaster. After just a half hour, it already looks so much better. I can’t wait for it to be a productive space again.

The best part of all this was that I could hear Aleksander’s laugh ringing through the house. He obviously got over his crankiness and started bonding with Kelly! The two of them had so much fun playing all kinds of silly games. It almost made me want to go join them … almost 🙂

PER is away again this week. He was gone for seven out of eight weeks in February and March. And now it is about every other week. Every time he goes away, I feel like I hardly get anything done. The house turns to chaos. (Okay, I know I’ve never been the neatest person, but it really is driving me nuts!) I barely got my lesson plans together to teach on Saturday mornings. I’m so behind on my photographs. I have over 600 pictures to go through from the last six weeks! And obviously, I wasn’t doing any blogging. All my efforts go in to Aleksander. And resting up during his nap, so I can make it through the rest of the day. It isn’t that he’s so difficult. Most of the time, he’s great. He plays really well by himself. But of course, I never know when or for how long he’ll do that. And then when he does have a bad day, or if I’m sick, things can spin out of control pretty fast.

I know this is just the first day of our new experiment. But I really think it is going to make a huge difference – the beginning of a new era for me as a mom. Having this break not only gives me a chance to get some things done or take a rest if I need it, but I think it’s really good for Aleksander, too. He has a ball playing with Kelly, and then he gets a mom who’s refreshed and relaxed for the rest of the evening. We’ll see how it goes! Now if only I could figure out how to get more help for PER, so he can doesn’t have to travel so much….

Question: How do you manage to get a break in the day? Or do you at all?!

In-Laws

I must be one of the luckiest people I know. Not only do I have a fabulous relationship with my parents, but I get along great with my in-laws, too! They are visiting from the Netherlands for almost 2 weeks. Which means I get to have a hair cut, see my chiropractor, and go out with a girlfriend for a massage and tea!! What a week!

That’s not to say the road has always been smooth. I am the worst at asking for help. So when my in-laws have visited in the past, I’ve always had trouble asking them to watch Aleksander or help with the cooking or cleaning or whatever. Even when they came for 2 whole weeks when Aleksander was just 2 weeks old. And here’s the kicker – my mother-in-law is so very respectful that she doesn’t want to step on my toes and butt in! So we’ve sometimes been at something of a stalemate. She wants to help, and I want her to help, but there we were on opposite sides of the room waiting for the other to make the first move. (I know, this doesn’t seem like a real problem compared to the nightmare stories I’ve heard from friends.) But it was a real problem for me and even led to a meltdown or two, especially during that first post-baby visit.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things. First, I need to let go of control and actually let someone else take care of my child. (Funny that I almost have an easier time of it with a babysitter than with family!) And then I’ve learned to strategize a bit. Instead of waiting until the moment when I need or want the help, I try to prepare for it in advance. I’ll say something like, “Tomorrow I’d like to work on my lesson plans in the afternoon.” Then the next afternoon, it just kind of happens – I leave Aleksander in good hands and slip away to my office. For this visit, I got even bolder. I just started making appointments: the hair dresser, the doctor, the massage therapist, yoga class, etc. I had an email from my father-in-law the week before they arrived, so I was able to respond and give them a heads-up that I was going to take full advantage of their visit. It’s going great! I’m getting out of the house, and I know Aleksander is in good hands. And they’re loving all the time they get to spend with him.

Question: How do you deal with your in-law issues?

Wie geht’s dir?

I just read an entry on the blog Rookie Moms about joining a mother’s group and how difficult it can be to talk about all the real issues we may be having. So often, we want to demonstrate to the world that everything is fine – no post-delivery pain, sleeping babies, easy breastfeeding, etc. – as if we’re supposed to be instantly transformed into Super Mom when we give birth. We put way too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. But how often is that really the case?

I have been fortunate enough to find a group of supportive women to go on this journey with. We met in prenatal yoga. Our instructor encouraged us to get to know each other outside of class, and it’s some of the best advice I got during pregnancy. Five of us began meeting after yoga for lunch and for walks in the park. We’d ask questions about each other’s pregnancies and check in to see if what we were experiencing was “normal.” I learned so much from these amazing women. One by one, we each gave birth to a beautiful baby boy (yup, all boys!). For over a year now, we’ve been meeting every Thursday at each other’s houses (I call it the Boys’ Club). We’ve gotten to watch each other’s boys grow from infants to toddlers. And we’ve benefited from friendships that are open enough for us to talk about everything we experience as new moms – from all the joys to all the difficulties.

I don’t know what I’d do without these incredible women. They have been my lifeline since Aleksander was born. I think there are at least two reasons we’ve been able to be so open and honest with each other. For one, we were drawn to each other as like-minded women (although we all certainly have our own ways of raising our boys!). But we all made the effort from the beginning to talk about anything and everything. Second, I think it helped that we met during pregnancy. Even before our children were born, we were engaging in pretty personal conversations. So making the transition once we became mothers wasn’t too hard.

But not everyone is so fortunate. It saddens me to think of moms out there who have to one to turn to. The author of the Rookie Moms post suggests some phrases that might help open up the channels of conversation when joining a mothers group. Things like, “This is hard to talk about …” or “I’m embarrassed to say this …”. These openers could be really helpful to talk about the difficult issues we face as new (or even experienced) mothers. Still, while these phrases help open the door, they can still take quite a lot of courage to initiate. Wouldn’t it be nice of the women in a mom’s group asked each other how things were going … and really meant it?

When I was studying in Germany as a grad student, my friends and I used to meet at our favorite pub on Friday nights. Over a beer, we’d ask each other “Wie geht’s dir?” In German, that means “how are you?” or “how’s it going?” For an American this question is taken rather lightly. The conversation goes something like: “How are you?” – “Fine, thanks, how are you?” – “Fine.” – and the two people go their separate ways. In Germany, the question is only asked if one wants a real answer. So even though my friends were also American, we asked the question in the German manner: Wie geht’s dir? It was great. We all had an opportunity to talk about our frustrations and difficulties at the university or in the culture or whatever.

So next time you’re at a mom’s group, try asking one of the other moms, “How are you? Really. How are you?” (You don’t have to do it in German!)

Question: Do you have other moms you can really talk to?

Finding Support

Sometimes I wonder how my own mother did this. Or my grandmothers. You don’t often hear stories about exhaustion, meltdowns, the frustration of never knowing what to do. Did they experience these things, too? (If they did, they’re not telling … or maybe they’ve conveniently forgotten….) Or am I missing something?

Well, I think there is something I’m missing: a community of support.

They didn’t just live in nuclear families; they lived in extended families. They all had parents and siblings close-by. In other words, they had help. You know the saying… it takes a village. (Harvey Karp talks about this particular issue in his book The Happiest Toddler on the Block, pp. 24-26.)

My parents live in Florida. They try to visit often. But as much as they love visiting their “baby grands,” they also have full, stimulating lives in their gulf coast town. So they’re not always available to fly up to Philly at the drop of a hat. My husband’s parents live in the Netherlands – even further away! Despite being an ocean away, they make a remarkable effort to visit three times a year.

I love when our parents visit. Not only is it fun to see them interact with Aleksander, but I can actually get things done that have been lingering on a dust-covered to-do list.

However, a visit is not at all the same as having family live nearby. I sometimes find myself getting jealous of my friends who live close to their families. How great would it be to have built-in babysitters? (Okay, that can come with drawbacks, too. Like when you don’t approve of how your mother-in-law is taking care of your little one! But I think that’s another topic….)

My husband is a true prince and takes wonderful care of Aleksander when he’s home. But of course, he goes off to work every day. He also travels a lot for his work, so I sometimes have Aleksander 24/7 for a whole week. When PER is gone, I don’t get anything else done. It’s all I can do to care for Aleksander. I even go to bed right after he does. And I’m wrecked by the end of the week.

As much as I love being a full-time mother, I also know how important it is to have support and to sometimes get a break. I simply can’t do it alone. So what do I do when there is no built-in support?

I could call on my friends to help me out. But they all have babies around the same age as Aleksander. Maybe when they’re older, we can trade afternoons of child-care, but these little guys are a handful all on their own for now. So for now, I just look forward to our weekly playdates when I get to have some adult conversation and chat about what our boys are up to. It is such a big help to be able to talk about our issues with the boys, get new ideas, and compare and contrast them (not in a “my-son-is-better-than-yours” way, but in a way that assures us that they’re all unique individuals who are doing just fine). As much as I love our Boys’ Club meetings, they still don’t give me the break I need.

So I go on to Plan B…  That’s “B” as in babysitter. I’m collecting a list.

Aleksander has had a few different sitters since he was about 2 months old. But I never seem to have more than one or two on my list at a time, and they are busy with other families or other jobs or school, etc. It makes it difficult to get the help I need when I need it. It’s even hard to do something as simple as getting my hair cut! So I’m getting proactive. We’ve belonged to Sitter City for almost a year now, but I haven’t had much luck at finding sitters through their website. With our subscription about to run out in mid-January, I decided to take one last crack at it. And I’m getting a tremendous response! Almost 20 women have responded to my post. This week alone, I’m interviewing three college women. And I have the contacts of a few more to call on if I need them. That makes for a pretty solid list!

And that means I should be able to go to that weekly yoga class I mentioned earlier. And with PER’s upcoming travels, I’ll be able to get some real help. I can feel the relief of it already! It may not be a village, but it’ll work for me!

Question: Where do you find the support you need?