Lesson 68: Parenthood will make you cry

Or is that just me?

Since having a baby, I’ve noticed that I’m much more sentimental. I’ve always been a bit of a loose cannon when it comes to emotions (I like to call it being passionate… Other people tend to call it stubborn, having a short fuse, or being overly emotional. Whatever.), but parenthood has greatly increased the chance that I will cry.

Tiny J

Sappy commercial? Tears.

J outgrew his 18-month clothes? Tears.

News story about something terrible happening to a child? Tears.

His haircut makes him look like a little boy? Tears.

A song about how quickly time goes by? Tears.

 

I work in a school. Moms frequently cry during conferences when they are worried about their children. Post-baby, I’m very likely to cry right along with them.

 

It’s not that I sit around and cry all day, but my eyes spend a great deal of time being watery. At first I blamed it on hormones that were still in need of balancing. Two-years post-baby, I realize that it’s just being a mom. Everything is sweeter now, and the little things are so much more meaningful. The tears that frequent my eyes are rarely sad tears–they’re usually joyful tears, or empathetic tears. And they’re almost always tears that are caused by this enormous amount of love that I never knew I had in me.

I warn you now, if you’re a parent, the following video has a high likelihood of causing a serious case of the sniffles. But I have to share it for two reasons: 1. The growing advertising agency where my husband works created it and I am very proud of them. Good things come in small packages. 2. It’s beautiful. The message is just really beautiful.

If you’re an expecting parent, watch it now, but then watch it again after Baby arrives. I promise, there will be a difference in how you see it later. I expect there will be a difference to me when my child is 6, then 10, then 24.

So grab a few tissues, sit back, and smile.

Advice to New Parents:

Lesson 66: Your baby’s first birthday party doesn’t have to be a circus

In honor of my baby boy’s 2nd birthday (which is today! Holy crap! Where does the time go?!), a little walk down memory lane from this time last year…

Let’s face it: First birthday parties are for the parents, not the kid. The kid has no idea what’s going on, will have absolutely zero memory of the occasion, and would probably prefer to not have everybody stare at him and clap while he shoves his face in a cake.

Contemplating...

That said–did I have a blast planning my son’s first birthday party? Hell yeah, I did.

But everything I did, I did because I wanted to. I didn’t spend a ton of money and I didn’t compare anything I did with what other moms did. I had an idea, I Googled it, I told my husband what I wanted, and he designed the decorations for me. All the food was homemade, nothing fancy. The “Mommy Wars” can suck it, because I’m not playing that game.

The only thing that was perhaps a little overdone was the guest list–we invited a lot of people! But as I put together the guest list, there were just so many people who I cared about and wanted to share this milestone with. One big thing I learned during my first year of parenting is, when a person loves your kid, your own love for that person grows exponentially. I suddenly looked at friends who had been in my life for years, and when they looked at my child with love, they truly became family. A birthday party is a celebration of family, so I wanted them there with us. We won’t be going all out and having everybody we love at every party–but there’s just something about that first birthday that demands special attention.

Because we had so many people coming, we wanted to make it clear that we weren’t gift-grabbing. We wanted people to celebrate with us; we weren’t trying to create a Toys ‘R Us in our living room. We chose to ask people to make donations to our local Children’s Hospital in J’s honor, rather than bringing gifts. Some people complained about not being able to bring J a gift, others brought them anyway–and that was totally fine. We simply didn’t want it to be an expectation. And we are so blessed with so many things, why not share some of that good fortune?

I wasn’t so consumed with planning the party that I forgot to make J’s actual birthday special. His birthday fell during the week, and his party wasn’t until the following Saturday. Bo and I got him a huge cupcake and let him have his way with it.

Going... ...going... Gone!

Then we took him to a fun Mexican restaurant for dinner (he needed a bath first!). We thought he would love it when they came to sing to him, but instead it scared the shit out of him. But overall, it was fun and I think he enjoyed himself.

Birthday ice cream!

Traditions are really important to me, and I don’t want birthdays to get lost in the party. I love the time we got to spend with just the 3 of us, just as much as I loved the big celebration.

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Lesson 65: Parents are so predictable

Parents love to offer advice. It doesn’t come from a place of superiority (in most cases). I think it’s more likely that it comes from a place of nostalgia and helpfulness. Even so, there are things that you will hear over and over and it will begin to wear your nerves. Try really hard to smile and nod, rather than replying, “No shit.”

By the way, I’m sure I’m guilty of saying some of this myself. It just rolls on off the tongue. For those of you who did not reply with some bit of sarcasm to me, I thank you.

“Time will fly by!”

Since your newborn doubled in size about 5 seconds after you brought him home from the hospital, you’ve probably already figured that one out. Though it’s true, I have to point out–you really have no clue. You think you do, and then one day you look at your baby and he’s not a baby anymore. And then you look at him and he looks just like a little boy. And then one day you go to put his shoes on, and his feet have grown 2 sizes overnight. So every time you think you know how fast time goes by, you’ll keep getting those little reminders that tell you, you truly have no idea just how fast it goes.

So I think this one, as much as it is repeated, is justified. But still…

What you want to say: No shit. Are you trying to make me cry?

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?! Plus with my super badonka boobs, my milk is stout, yo.

“Time to start baby-proofing!”

As soon as Baby starts crawling, everybody will snicker as if they know some big secret and demand that you immediately move to a rubber room. But the fact is, many of us choose to not baby-proof, or at least to do very limited baby-proofing. In our family, we baby-proof only to the extent that it allows us to be lazy at times; otherwise, our son is learning what he can and cannot touch, climb on, lick, or stick a screwdriver in.

What you want to say: It’s Evolution. Crawling is no huge secret. We kinda figured, and definitely hoped, he’d do it one day.

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?!

“Now you’re in trouble!”

Once Baby starts walking, the shit is really going to hit the fan! Things are going to be so much different!

No they’re not. Once she’s mobile, she’s mobile. Period. Her type of mobility doesn’t really change all that much. In fact, it was a brief respite for us as J learned to walk since he actually walked slower than he crawled.

What you want to say: Please. I was in trouble just as soon as my pregnancy test showed a big plus sign and I realized my husband had been out of town the month she was conceived.* This is nothing.

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?! Such a blessing.

“Oh, now you’re really in trouble!”

If walking didn’t blow your mind, running will. You might as well give it up. No parent ever in the history of parenting has been able to survive their toddler running. It just can’t be done.

Truth? Once J learned to run, he was also pretty darn good at following simple directives. Now, had he been born with the ability to run, we probably would have been in some serious trouble. But as it is, the way development goes in a nice little pattern, we didn’t have a problem.

What you want to say: Nah. He’s leash- and crate-trained. We don’t anticipate any problems.

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?!

“When are you having another one?”

You know what? Maybe never. Maybe she doesn’t want more kids. Maybe she can’t have more kids. Maybe she’s been trying for months and months to get pregnant again and hasn’t yet had any luck. Unless you’re close friends with the mother in question, this question is way off limits.

What you want to say: I’m just waiting for my husband to go out of town again…

What you should say: That’s really not your business.

*That was pure sarcasm. My husband is most definitely my Baby Daddy. I’m far too lazy to have an affair. Relax.

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Lesson 61: Your child thinks you’re beautiful

Mommy & J

This is my favorite picture of me and J. I mostly love it because he looks so happy, just thrilled to be alive. I couldn’t have hoped for a better facial expression than the one he’s giving his Daddy, who’s standing behind the camera. But I also love it because he is strategically placed to hide my tummy. I won’t lie, that’s not an accident.

In October, 2012, Allison Tate wrote an article for the Huffington Post when she realized that, of all the photos starring her four children, she was in very few. Why? Clearly she’s a big part of their lives; she’s their mother, after all. It’s likely that she was with them during many of those milestones, family events, play dates, and holidays. If the point of photos is to document, why wasn’t she documenting the full story?

This article, The Mom Stays in the Picture, seemed to strike a familiar cord with a lot of moms–it had over 6 million views. I know it was familiar to me.

I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days. To be honest, I avoid even mirrors. When I see myself in pictures, it makes me wince. I know I am far from alone; I know that many of my friends also avoid the camera. It seems logical. We’re sporting mama bodies and we’re not as young as we used to be. We don’t always have time to blow dry our hair, apply make-up, perhaps even bathe…The kids are so much cuter than we are; better to just take their pictures, we think. – See more at: http://allisonslatertate.com/the-mom-stays-in-the-picture/#sthash.ipOVgAdP.dpuf

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eyed my tummy scornfully; how many times I’ve wished that I had worn my retainer more often so that my teeth were straighter; how many times I’ve worn long sleeves in the summer time because I couldn’t stand to look at my arms that particular day, or long pants in the stifling heat of July because I hate how big my calves are and would prefer that nobody saw my scarred knees from childhood; or how many times I’ve made my husband retake the same picture over and over until I found an angle that made my face look a little less round.

But I don’t want my son to see that. I don’t want him to notice that mommy tries to hide her round face–after all, isn’t his face, the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen, shaped like my own? And if I ever have a daughter who inherits all those body parts that I try to hide, how will I ever convince her that she’s beautiful if I can’t find it in myself?

Someday, I want them to see me, documented, sitting right there beside them: me, the woman who gave birth to them, whom they can thank for their ample thighs and their pretty hair; me, the woman who nursed them all for the first years of their lives, enduring porn star-sized boobs and leaking through her shirts for months on end…me, who cried when I dropped them off at preschool, breathed in the smell of their post-bath hair when I read them bedtime stories…I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother. I want to be in the picture…I want them to see how much I am here, how my body looks wrapped around them in a hug, how loved they are. See more at: http://allisonslatertate.com/the-mom-stays-in-the-picture/#sthash.ipOVgAdP.dpuf

Through loving my son, I find more love for myself. I look at him sometimes and think, I made that. And if I can grow such a miracle in this imperfect body of mine, how bad can it really be? The arms I try to hide are the same ones that hug him when he cries and toss him in the air to make him laugh hysterically. Those legs that always seemed so awful are strong and enable me to play chase with him, take him for long walks, and provide a lap for him to sit on while I read to him. When my son looks at me, he doesn’t see that I didn’t apply makeup that day or that I threw my hair in a ponytail for the 4th day in a row. He just sees his mama, the woman who loves him, comforts him, rocks him, feeds him.

And when I plant kisses all over his delightful little face that looks so much like my own, and he giggles and puts his hands on my cheeks to pull my face toward his to do it all over again, he’s not looking at the nose I think is too big. He’s looking at my eyes–and he thinks I’m beautiful.

 Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were. Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives. – See more at: http://allisonslatertate.com/the-mom-stays-in-the-picture/#sthash.ipOVgAdP.dpuf

So get in the picture. Let your children see how much you love them, and in turn, how much you love yourself. Don’t worry that you may not look your best. You look like their mom, and that is, and always will be, good enough.

If you have a favorite picture of you and your child(ren), I’d love to see it!

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Lesson 59: Things we made fun of, then couldn’t live without

Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play I knew we would be keeping J in our room for the first few months, so we purchased a pack and play, knowing we’d get plenty of use out of it while traveling, and could also use it in our bedroom for him to sleep. Bassinets are cute and all, but why in the world did I need yet another place for my baby to sleep?

Rock 'n PlaySo we brought J home from the hospital, where he had slept in the perfect-sized little bassinet with just the right incline, and we placed that tiny little bundle in the gigantic pack and play. It just didn’t seem nearly as cozy, and I guess he agreed. He slept fitfully for 2 nights (and I know, he was a newborn, it’s kinda to be expected–but he wasn’t just waking up every couple of hours, he never really slept peacefully at all). We were exhausted by the 3rd night and I had read some very positive reviews about the Rock ‘n Play–moms were swearing that the cozy space and incline made all the difference for their newborns. So we forked over the $60 or so (we would have paid much, much more) and took a shot. And damned if it didn’t work! J slept 5 hours straight that night–I didn’t, because I kept waking up to make sure he was breathing. But progress is progress, right?

Angelcare monitor. These were stupid because I wasn’t going to be that mom who constantly worried about her child. Plus, I’d read that they’re bad because they often give false alarms. I didn’t want to be dependent on it, and feed my fears. Being the obsessive nerd I am, I knew that the risk for SIDS greatly decreased at 4 months, so that was the magic number that would make me ready to move J to his own room. However, by the time he was 3 months old, we were ready to go ahead and evict him from our room (dude was a noisy sleeper). We moved him to his nursery and, even though it was right down the hall, it was entirely too far for me. I was used to being able to reach over and put my hand on his tummy to reassure myself that he was still breathing in the middle of the night. Turns out, I was that that mom and I worried about my baby. A lot.

Angelcare monitorSo I ordered the Angelcare monitor, Bo installed it for me, and I slept peacefully that night. And as it turns out, if you read the instructions carefully, there’s a suggestion off to the side in small print to use a piece of plywood under the pad of the monitor that goes under Baby’s mattress. We did that and the only false alarms we ever had were when J got a little older and would burrow in the very corner of the crib, or the batteries were getting low (which, by the way, this only happens in the middle of the night–just like your smoke alarms).

Video monitor. I wish I would have figured out at the same time that I would love my Angelcare monitor and my video monitor, because then I could have just bought an Angelcare video monitor. But I’m a slow learner. (However, no, having a separate monitor from the Angelcare does not mean you have to carry around two monitors.)

Summer Infant Baby TouchI didn’t want to get a video monitor in the beginning because I’m a pretty obsessive person and I feared I would spend all of my time staring at the monitor. As it turned out, I’m so obsessive that I constantly wondered what every little noise was. When we started sleep training and J would suddenly get quiet, I wanted to open the door and check on him–but I knew I couldn’t because that would ruin any progress we’d made so far that night. When he coughed, was he awake or just coughing in his sleep? Had he even gone to sleep yet? I wanted to be able to lay my eyes on him without the risk of waking him up if he was asleep. Enter the video monitor. I hardly ever look at it actually, but it’s nice to be able to see him if I want.

Mommy’s Bliss Gripe WaterWe didn’t actually make fun of this product–we just didn’t know what it was. I’d read about it, but it seemed like a bunch of hoodoo to me. But J had acid reflux and I swear that stuff helped soothe him. Every single time that kid cried for “no reason,” he stopped the moment we gave him gripe water. Hell, maybe he was crying because he liked the taste of the gripe water. Whatever. I don’t care. All I know is, it works.

Mommy's Bliss Gripe WaterNoseFridaNo way in hell was I ever going to suck snot from my kid’s nose. That’s disgusting. Except, as it turns out, yes I was going to and no it wasn’t disgusting. That thing works a zillion times better than those crappy little bulbs, they’re easier to clean, and they have filters and a very long tube that prevent snot from getting in your mouth. Best of all, it helps your kid breathe–which helps your kid sleep–which makes everybody happy.

NoseFridaBaby food makerI was pretty certain from the beginning that I would be making J’s food myself. I didn’t see the point in buying all those over-priced little jars. They taste awful, take up too much room in the cabinets, and I could make it myself for half the price. Plus, and most importantly, I could control exactly what went in his food (and what didn’t go in his food) if I made it myself.

But do you know how many times Bo and I walked by the Beaba display at Buy Buy Baby and laughed our heads off at the absurdity? Why buy that costly little machine when you could just steam your vegetables on the stove, then use your food processor to puree it? It seemed silly to spend all that money when we already had all the supplies we needed.

When I was about 30 weeks pregnant, I started looking up baby food recipes. I just wanted some idea of what to expect. It seemed like it might be a lot of work and I wanted to have a game plan (again, I’m a nerd you guys). That’s when I started picturing myself with a little baby on my hip and a kitchen with dirty dishes all over it. And all of a sudden, a baby food maker, a machine that could steam and puree the food all in one, didn’t seem like such a stupid idea after all.

Cuisinart BabyI read some reviews on Amazon and went with the Kidsline Baby Chef Ultimate Baby Food Maker–and it worked well at first. I used it happily for about 5 months before the processor part stopped working. After that, Bo did the research and he came up with the CuisinartBaby. We bought that and I’ve used it ever since with absolutely no problems. In addition, it has a more efficient steamer than the Kidsline and it also seems to have a more powerful motor to puree. At a price of about $50 for the Kidsline and $110 for the Cuisinart, it’s no wonder that the Cuisinart is a better product. You get what you pay for, so I at least don’t feel like I was ripped off with the Kidsline. I just wish I would have made a different choice and gone with quality over price to start with.

What are your must-have baby/toddler items (particularly any you made fun of before realizing their awesomeness)?

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Lesson 43: Going back to work is really hard

Leaving my baby to go back to work was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. People say that all the time, don’t they– “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” But this is the only time I’ve ever meant it when I said it. It was really the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had been warned, but I had no concept of how hard it would actually be.

I work in a school and J was born in late March while I was off work on Spring Break. I was lucky in that I was able to work right up until his birth, take the rest of the school year off, and then spend the entire summer with him. J was almost 5 months old by the time I had to return to work. I feel really fortunate to have had that time with him, as I know many moms have to return to work at 12 weeks or sooner.

My plan after graduating from college was to go to graduate school, travel, start a career, get married, have a baby, return to work. In that order. And I made it all the way up to “have a baby” before I came to a skidding halt. Return to work? No thank you. I was quite content nurturing my little one every day. The thought of sending him off to somebody else every day made my stomach turn cold. It never once occurred to me that I actually might enjoy being a stay-at-home-mom.

We had arranged for quality childcare for our son when I was only 2 months pregnant. So when August arrived and my return to work crept ever closer, I knew he was going to a good place and I knew his teacher had a great reputation. And maybe that knowledge helped, but it did not stop me from having mild panic.

I’m a pretty emotional person, so I don’t know if it’s as hard on every mom. Judging by how hard it was for some of my friends, I suspect it is hard for many. I cried every day for the 2 weeks preceding my return to work. The week before I returned full-time, I dropped him at daycare sporadically so that we could both adjust. J did fine; I was a fruit loop.

Finally, the Sunday night before I was to return to work full time, I just lost it. I sobbed like I have never sobbed before (and here we go again with the eyes filling up with tears just remembering how it felt–God, I am such a cry baby). I didn’t want my child to be “raised by somebody else.” I didn’t want to wake him up early every morning so that I would have time to nurse him before leaving for work; I didn’t want to pump milk 4 times a day so somebody else could feed it to him; I didn’t want to miss his first word, his first crawl, his first steps; I didn’t want to miss a single second of him. All of a sudden, my grand plan to have a career while raising children didn’t seem so grand. All I wanted was to be a mom.

Unfortunately, my bank account didn’t agree with my heart. My husband and I crunched the numbers every which way and it always came down to the same thing: stay home or have health insurance and pay the mortgage. I guess you can imagine which prevailed.

The first few weeks back were pretty hard. I have the most amazing principal (and friend), though, who is also a mom–and always a mom first. She gave me grace when I couldn’t quite seem to make it to work on time while I was adjusting to getting my baby fed and ready before work every day, even though I’m sure she knew that what actually took the most of my time wasn’t the necessities, but the long hugs and kisses goodbye. She let me lose it and cry in her office when I thought I just couldn’t stand it anymore. She gave me grace when I was the first one out every afternoon, just so I could spend 10 more minutes with my son in the evenings. She never made me feel guilty when I needed to leave early to take J to a well-child visit or stay home with him because he was sick. She never minded if I had to leave a meeting or be late to an appointment because I had to pump. She supported me, cried with me, and loved me through it–and by giving me love and grace, she gave my child love and grace. I truly don’t know how working moms without that kind of support manage it all.

I love my job, I love the people I work with and, quite honestly, we need the income and the health insurance my job provides. So here I am almost 2 years later and I can tell you, it doesn’t get easier. It becomes tolerable if you love your job. But leaving your child every morning does not get easier (unless he’s been a real pill that morning–it can be easy on those days).

So for now, I raise my child the best way I can. I miss him every day and I’m eager to get home to him every afternoon. But I also know that I’m doing the best I can for my family. And I know that, above all else, I am Mom first.

Lesson 39: Never Say Never

I hate Elf on the Shelf. I despise Elf on the Shelf. I openly mock my friends who participate in Elf on the Shelf.

I can’t really put my finger on why it bothers me so much. Perhaps it’s the commercialism of it, or the Pinterestism of it, or maybe it’s the creepy factor. Maybe it’s the bribery behind it. That damn little elf is nothing but a tattletale.

The premise that you need an elf to bribe your kid to behave makes me grit my teeth. But then, isn’t that what we do when we tell kids they’re going on Santa’s naughty list? Why do these fall into different categories in my head?

I recently read a blog post in which the writer asked, “What do you do to inspire good behavior from your kids during the holidays?” How about doing the same things you do the other 11 months out of the year? You do do something the other 11 months, right? Whatever happened to teaching your kid to behave because it’s the right thing to do, not because some creepy doll is spying on them and reporting bad behavior back to Santa? What about teaching them that there are real, rather than fictional, consequences?

Look, I don’t think for a second that I have this whole parenting thing figured out–not by a longshot. And I’m not above bribery; I’ve done it in a pinch. I know it’s not a good idea, but I also know that there are times when I feel like ripping my hair out and I really need him to stop screaming for just. a. minute. please. So yeah, I’ve stuffed a cookie in his mouth just to shut him up. I make conscious decisions way too often that I know are not the best choices for my child in the long run. But sanity comes at a price.

And I know that not everybody who does Elf on the Shelf does it for the purpose of bribery, so don’t get your panties in a wad. But I also know that if I did Elf on the Shelf, it would mainly be for the purpose of bribery. I absolutely would use it to bribe my child, without a doubt.

But at the end of the day, I’d like my son to behave because he knows right from wrong, not out of fear or bribery. So there will be no Elf on any shelves in this house.

But I have to wonder if this is like one of those things you say before you’re a parent…

You know like, I would never allow my child to act like that!

What happens when J comes home one day and wants to know why Elfie never comes to visit him? What do I tell him? Do I tell him that Mommy and Daddy don’t like Elfie and haven’t extended him an invitation to our home, or do I go out and buy a stupid elf?

Probably, I’ll go out and buy a stupid elf. And probably, I’ll take it to the level of ridiculousness that I currently laugh at. Because that’s what I do.

But just maybe this is one of the things that Bo and I will hold our ground on. Because we do both firmly believe that one shouldn’t place “fear and suspicion into a season and a holiday that are meant to be about love, togetherness, and forgiveness.”

Either way, if you one day see me posting Facebook photos of Elfie’s most recent shenanigans, or if you learn that I’m a closet Elfiator, know that I already told myself I told you so.

Lesson 34: Your friendships will change…

…but they don’t have to end.

Once you have a child you’re going to find that all of a sudden you don’t have quite as much free time (or energy!) to go out in the evenings. Saturday nights don’t look like this anymore:

Friends

(No more hanging with the girls every night–although the bunny slippers can probably stay.)

Friends

(No more hitting up the local pub on a whim.)

Friends

(It’s a theme party. Shut up.)

If you’re a working parent, you might find that those 3 hours you get to spend with your child each weekday are precious, sacred. It’s pretty hard to get me to give up a moment of that time.

The same goes for the weekends–after being able to spend very little time with my son during the week, I soak up the time on the weekends.

Not to mention, all of a sudden going out becomes more expensive. Now it’s not just dinner and drinks–you have to hire a babysitter. It adds up.

And if you’re breastfeeding your baby, it adds a whole new dimension to it. You can’t just leave a bottle of formula or expressed milk for the kid and forget about it. At some point during your fun-filled night, you’re going to have to excuse yourself to go sit in a dark car and pump. Sometimes twice.

And even if you make it all happen and you go out on a Friday evening with your buddies, there’s no sleeping in the next day. Junior doesn’t really care that you stayed out too late. 7am (if you’re lucky) comes at the same time, even on Saturday morning.

If you have a family support system who can help you out every now and then, count your blessings. We get to leave our son with his grandmother sometimes for an overnight stay. This allows us to go out on a Saturday night, and sleep late on Sunday. But that’s not free either. Our price is in the form of a Nana-hangover. J, like most kids, doesn’t sleep quite as well in his pack-n-play. He goes to sleep later, wakes up earlier, and usually refuses his nap. She’s way too cool and exciting–so he will fight sleep like the plague, and once the kid is off his self-imposed schedule, all hell breaks loose. By the time we pick him up on Sunday afternoon, he’s exhausted–which means we bring him home and struggle with him for the rest of the day. Then he wakes up frequently throughout the next night and way too early the next morning. It usually only takes 24 hours for him to fall back into his normal routine. But that’s a 24-hour debt we have to pay.

Is it worth it? Without a doubt. But we also don’t want to over-use our free babysitter. So for all of the above-mentioned reasons, going out just doesn’t happen as frequently as it did pre- Baby J.

This is how weekends look now:

Friday nights after kidsFriday nights after kids

Friday nights after kidsFriday nights after kids

(And I’m fine with that.)

Some friends understand this, some don’t. Some get tired of the rejected invitations and so you gradually stop hearing from them. It’s sometimes those without kids, those who are in a different place in their lives, that you might find yourself drifting away from. But I’ve also found that sometimes parents with kids who are older have forgotten what it’s like to have young kids. And sometimes parents who do have young kids just don’t have the same struggles we do, whether it’s because their kid is on a less-structured schedule, or they get to spend more time with them during the week so going out doesn’t feel like such a sacrifice, or paying a babysitter doesn’t cut into their budget quite as much–whatever the reason, they don’t always get it either. Everybody’s situation is different.

Still others make the best of it–they don’t mind coming to your house for a cookout and drinks. They don’t mind that at 9pm, you’re fighting to keep your eyes open. They just hug you, say they’ll see you soon, then head out to wherever their night is taking them–while you go to bed.

Your friendship circle will expand too. You’ll make “mom friends,” and they may be ladies who you wouldn’t have necessarily met or been friends with if you didn’t share the bond of motherhood. It’s important to balance your new friendships with your old ones. Maybe you think your mom friends “get it” more than your friends without kids–and maybe you’re right. But don’t jump on the “you don’t understand” wagon if you haven’t bothered to stop and explain it. They may not have kids, but they do have responsibilities–they might get a whole lot more than you think if you’ll give them the chance to do so.

And here’s where they’ll change for the good: you will have the opportunity to love them so much more. Those friends who stick around, who encourage you as a parent, who love your kid, who ask you about him, love on him, babysit him so you can go out with your husband. You will love those friends like you never knew you could love a friend. Because anybody who loves your baby, secures a place in your heart.

Lesson 31: (for your visitors) What to say to and do for a New Mom

Chances are, after you actually have a baby, a lot of your ideas on parenting will change. Among those things is how to be of help to a new mom, what to say to her, and what to do to make her life a little easier.

Oh, and, what NOT to say.

What to Do

If you’ve been invited to visit the family in the hospital, call and ask Dad when it will be a good time to visit. Then, an hour or so before time to arrive, send him a text, ask if it’s still a good time and what you can bring them to eat or drink.

Wait for Mom to invite you to hold her baby. She may not be ready to give her up just yet. Maybe she wants her to sleep undisturbed. Maybe she doesn’t want to pass her around for whatever reason. Maybe she’s eyeing you, waiting for you to wash your hands. If some time goes by and Mom doesn’t offer to hand her over, then it’s probably okay to show her that you’d like to hold the baby by saying something like, She’s so beautiful. I’d love to get my hands on her when you’re ready. If Mom ignores or avoids your statement, leave it alone. For whatever reason, she doesn’t want you to hold her baby right now. Be okay with that. It’s (probably) not personal.

Wash and sanitize your hands before touching her baby. Don’t make her ask you to wash your hands; it’s uncomfortable. Just do it yourself and make sure she knows that you have.

Prepare a few meals in advance, freeze them, and bring them over to leave in her freezer.

Bring dinner for the family, clean out the dishwasher, offer to watch the baby while she takes a shower or naps, bring a basket of snacky items, etc. Just be helpful.

If you want to bring a gift for the baby, consider checking their baby registry to see if there are any lingering items that have yet to be purchased.

What to Say

You’re doing a great job! Chances are, Mom is feeling tired, overwhelmed and emotional. Tell her she’s doing a good job! And on top of that, pick out one specific thing that you’re truly impressed with/admire and point that one thing out to her.

Along the same lines, You’re a really good mom. It’s the best compliment you can pay a mom. Ever.

What a beautiful baby! Let me tell you, a genuine compliment about my child will get you further in my good graces than a glass of wine. And that’s saying a lot.

It will get better. Your baby won’t always cry. He will sleep through the night. He won’t always need to nurse every 2 hours. He will stop spitting up all over the place. He will eventually stop teething. The temper tantrums will stop. No phase is forever. You will learn how to balance your time better. There will come a day when it takes you less than 2 hours to leave the house. The days are long, but the years are, indeed, short. That doesn’t mean you have to cherish every moment, but just know that it does get better.

What NOT to Do or Say

Let me know if you need anything. That’s tough because it puts Mom in the position of having to call you and ask for a favor. Instead, say I’m going to bring dinner tomorrow. What would you like? or I’m at Publix. What do you need? or I’m going to do your laundry. Is that okay? or Where’s your vacuum cleaner?

Don’t stay too long. Go, bring dinner, help her out around the house, watch the baby for a bit so Mom can shower or take a nap–but then get out. Don’t cross the line between helping and becoming a guest. She doesn’t need to feel like she has to entertain you.

Sleep when the baby sleeps. That’s a great idea! So are you going to be the one to come prepare the meals, clean the house, take care of the other kids, or whatever else it is that she needs to accomplish in order to feel sane?

He’s so small! Since many people equate size with health, this type of comment can worry a new mom. The mom who thought her baby was just perfect may now look at him and start to wonder if something is wrong with him. Is he eating enough? Am I producing enough milk? Should I wake him to feed him more often? Instead, He’s so beautiful and has the most perfect _____! is always a good thing to say.

Isn’t motherhood the best thing ever? Motherhood is awesome. Most of the time. But sometimes it sucks. Please don’t make Mom feel guilty for sometimes wondering if she made a colossal mistake. Of course she loves her baby, but sometimes she’s exhausted and leaking milk everywhere and everybody is annoying the hell out of her and she’d like to run away. Maybe try, When you feel like leaving your husband and child and running off to Tahiti, you know you can call me so I can babysit while you get a pedicure, right?

Don’t give advice unless she asks for it.

Are you going to have more? Holy Jesus. At least let her episiotomy stitches heal first.