Me Time, by its very name, suggests that who we are during the daily grind is not who we truly are. It begs us to search for fulfillment outside of the titles of “wife” and “mother.” It accuses precious little ones and God-given spouses for suppressing us. It reduces motherhood to a disease in which little dirty faces and endless monotonous tasks slowly suck the life out of us.
I am one of those mothers who “plans” to breastfeed to age two–as per the World Health Organization’s recommendation (amongst many others)–and is pretty militant about going to at least a year. E lasted until seventeen months, and I thought that was a little short.
R was weaned, completely, by nine months.
I have very, very mixed thoughts about this. I certainly didn’t plan it, and I don’t feel like we had much choice. She’d fallen off the chart (as in, below the 0-3% tier of averages) and was starting to look a little peaky to me–not to mention that the child was clearly hungry all the time–so it was an easy decision to introduce formula. Since she was never a comfort nurser, and didn’t nurse to sleep, either… she pretty much quit. And I realized I was prolonging it for no reason, since she wouldn’t nurse long enough to get any nutritional benefit (we’re talking seconds to a minute before she decided her thumb was preferable), and so I decided to see if anything happened if I stopped forcing it. Nothing happened. Life went on. And R gained 15% extra body weight in less than a month (putting her back in that 0-3% tier), which was a confirmation if nothing else was.
I’m a little abashed, sometimes. I have an opinion about formula brands. I never had experience to have an opinion before. I look for coupons. I used to give away the free samples. This whole thing, this bottle-feeding, this isn’t me. This isn’t what I know is “best,” and I’d totally agree with anyone who decided to preach at me in the grocery store. Yet this is what I’m doing, the little facts of our lives.
It’s given me a new level of compassion for formula-feeding mommies. How must it feel, to bring a newborn baby into the formula aisle, and cringe at every passerby and wonder what they must be thinking, judging? How do you wake yourself up five times in the middle of the night to mix up a new bottle correctly, or ascertain whether or not the old bottle is still good–all that thought, only to try to go back to sleep again afterwards? How much extra work goes into washing all those bottles? And the mess! Bottles, sippy cups… drip, drip, drip. Splash. Spit-out. Spit-up. Too-vigorous shaking leads to formula exploding out the spouts. Not to mention the expense. I haven’t figured out how much it’s costing us, but sometimes it seems like formula costs more than diapers–and it doesn’t help that the canisters generally aren’t very clear about how many servings each contains. And they seem to empty faster than water in a sieve. Lastly, there’s the psychological aspect: R doesn’t need me anymore. I can’t imagine not having that bond of needfulness with a newborn–having Daddy be able to fill my role entirely, or even a babysitter. Now that R knows all about sippy cups, I think she’d even take one from a perfect stranger! Who needs Mommy anymore?
Of course, all these downsides have an ‘upside,’ too, and presumably they’re what leads moms to not even try breastfeeding. And I’m still with the pro-breastfeeding advocates one-hundred percent: I think it’s wrong to not do as much as is reasonable and good (which I am leaving deliberately vague ;-)) to make breastfeeding a long-lasting success; certainly it’s morally wrong to tell a new mommy to just give up, that formula is just as good: that’s a definite and vicious lie.
In the meantime, though, I find myself a formula-feeding mommy for these short months until R is completely onto solids and whole milk. And if I’m honest, I have to be at least a little bit thankful for the technology and science that makes formula possible.
Apparently, it’s not all bad. 🙂
One of the major themes of larger-family life definitely seems to be chores. And, indeed, I want to teach E how to work and contribute to the home as much as she is able. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to use a two-year-old to actually accomplish anything useful. I can’t emphasize enough how much I’m still learning to do this! I do think this is an area where siblings probably make a big difference–I hope that R will observe E and learn how to do things even more quickly than E has.
- Sometimes her “helping” actually creates more work. E helps me unload the dishwasher–she pulls everything out and hands it to me to put in the cabinet. This takes a much longer time than if I did it all by myself, but she’s learning discipline. She also knows where the soap is (and how to open the childproof catch on the cabinet :-o) and gets it out and puts it in the soap tray. I think the next step is to have her unload and assemble the items into appropriate piles so I can just move the pile into the cabinet. Another thing she helps me do is the laundry. She can drag the bin from its home in the linen closet to the laundry room, and help me empty it into the washer. Technically, since we have a front-loading washer, she really physically could do all the laundry, but she has trouble distinguishing between dirty and clean clothes. So I try to help her know which pile of clothes goes where, and monitor closely that the ones in the dirty basket don’t get thrown in the dryer. One day, maybe, she’ll get the hang of this. Right now, her favorite part is pushing the start button.
- She can learn to be kind. Okay, this isn’t exactly a chore, but with a little toddling sister around, E definitely has to “share” sometimes. I try mostly to let them sort things out on their own–making sure E doesn’t take advantage of her size, or get too upset when R is being rude (as ten-month-olds are apt to be). I encourage sharing when I can, rather than forcing it. “E, I think R wants to play with the doll.” Nine times out of ten, E will happily hand it over at the mere suggestion, and the other time I figure–well, adults don’t want to share all their toys all the time, either. I’m trying to impart a pattern of selflessness, generosity, and wise decision-making, rather than a simple obedient slave mentality. Another, more chore-related way we try to teach kindness to E is by encouraging her to “help” R with her chores. If R makes a mess, E can help clean it up. (It helps that E loves to clean and would clean up her parents’ messes if she could!)
- She can clean up most of the messes she makes. Sometimes this isn’t time-efficient, like after dinner when the girls head up to their bath, but most of the time, E is required to at least help clean up after herself. Some of this she enjoys–cleaning up food, for instance–and some of it is definitely a discipline, like cleaning up her toys before she gets new ones out. I love our toy bins for this, because while things have a general place where they belong, it’s very easy for even a toddler to throw a bunch of Fisher-Price toys into a bin, or slide them onto a shelf. No complicated packaging or difficult finagling to get things back in their proper place. It’s like grown-ups having a drawer for all their cooking utensils rather than hanging each one back on its own hook: as long as the drawer is big enough and the contents sufficiently sparse, it’s a much quicker and easier system.
- She can fix some of her own food. She can open the fridge and get out her and R’s milk (another opportunity to be kind!). She also understands that fruits generally need to be washed, and will drag a chair over the sink and wash her own apples and grapes, which she often shares with R after taking them off the stem. She likes to make her own peanut butter sandwiches, although successful completion of that task requires so much supervision that I usually don’t go there!
E has learned how to undress herself pretty well, and I think learning how to dress herself might be one of the next things on our agenda. She also really likes to help cook, and has a vague understanding of how to operate the toaster oven (the only cooking appliance really within her reach), but since we have a gas range, that’s one “chore” I’d rather tackle when she’s a little more dependable around an open flame! In the meantime, she helps stir and mix things… usually only when Daddy’s home.
This is another “what works at our house” post–I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, but for us, this has been genius.
Our main laundry bin is two kitchen-sized trash cans that live on the floor of our linen closet. They’re pretty big–packed full, they fill up my front-loading washer. One is labeled “lights” and one is labeled “darks,” and each one has a large lingerie bag (i.e. a giant mesh bag) hanging from a hook. Socks go in the lingerie bag, with the rule that only matching pairs can go in. This helps greatly at preventing lonely socks, because it prevents pants or the washer from “eating” the tiny little baby ones. I lost so many socks before I hit on that idea.
Then there is a small laundry bin anywhere that is so many steps away from the linen closet that it encourages clothes to otherwise end up on the floor–right now, this is just in the downstairs shower, but I also have a little bin that I set up in the nursery from time to time.
So, when it’s time to do laundry, I empty the small bins into the larger one, then carry the entire trash can off to my laundry room and upend it into the washer. Easy-peasy and quick. I wash the socks in the lingerie bags; besides helping keep track of the socks, this actually makes it much easier and faster to fold the other clothes, because I’m not having to untangle socks (or rip static-filled socks away from towels) from the other clothes, or find a place to toss them until I pair them. I divide our towels (and sheets) up into lights and darks and wash them with our clothes. I try to do laundry before the bins are about three-quarters full, which works out to be about one day a week. The size of the bins really “forces” me to allow no more than two loads to stack up, because the washer will hold everything that fits in one bin, no matter how stuffed it is. So unless we’re stashing dirty clothes somewhere else, it’s impossible to have more than two loads to do at a time. I find folding the clothes, however, a much easier task if the bins are not all the way full–and the clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkled.
Laundry is, by far, my least favorite household chore, but the fact that the clothes come pre-sorted because we have two bins makes it much nicer and more efficient, not to mention less smelly since I don’t have to fuss through the dirty clothes–I just dump them in!
Sometimes I feel like a lot of people want me to get rid of my kids. Can’t you get a babysitter? Don’t you want to put them in the nursery? Can’t you leave them with your mom? Let’s have a mom’s night out. I should add–I don’t mean my husband. He’s mostly like me; rather bring them with us than get rid of them.
Our next-door neighbor was telling me a few weeks ago that they tried to go on their “honeymoon” (which they hadn’t had after their wedding) after their children were born, and they made it exactly one day before driving all the way back home to get their kids because they realized they’d rather have them along. I love that.
It’s one of the things that I like about midwife-assisted birth. Our kids come to all the appointments with me, and that’s the way everyone involved seems to think it should be. They talk to them and include them and even have a room full of toys for them to play with. They recognize the family structure and that birth is a family event.
But so many people just don’t “get” the fact that I’m a mom, a mom to young children, and with very few carefully measured exceptions, I feel very strongly that my place is where my children are. It’s the same principle that makes me find daycare such a repulsive option–our kids are our responsibility, and delegating that responsibility to someone else on a regular basis just doesn’t jive with me, whether it’s for daycare or a weekly “night out” with my husband or a weekly “mom’s night” with other women. I mean, really, consider the idea that a full seventh of the time, Mommy isn’t home for dinner and baths and bedtime. That’s an enormous shifting”“shirking, I dare say”“of responsibility. Especially with children as young as ours.
So, no, I’m not going to find a babysitter so I can have a night out with the girls or even a regular date night with my husband. My husband is the best babysitter there is, but he isn’t me. Our responsibilities in this role are not equal; daddies can’t stand in for mommies any more than mommies can stand in for daddies. God gave our children a mother. I’m not going to make plans to regularly abandon my primary mission field, or to throw my babies’ schedules into flux. I don’t “need” a break. Sometimes I need to have my perspective fixed; sometimes I confuse selfishness with necessity. But this is my job, my calling–and it doesn’t stop just so I can have some social time.
I love it, most deliriously, when people understand that kids don’t wreck things. I love going to a church where the kids are in the service. One time we were visiting a church–a church much too small to afford a nursery–and the pastor remarked that once they had to sit in church with a baby screaming every Sunday through the whole service for a few months straight, because there wasn’t anything else to do and that it was fine. That it was church, and that they wanted the parents to be able to come, and that they learned to cope with the distraction–they got over it. This was the explanation I got after apologizing that our two month old had been a (tiny) bit noisy in the morning’s service, and it blew me away. I would love a “Mom’s Retreat” that welcomed moms with nursing infants and toddlers. I really, really, appreciate anything at all that gives me fellowship and socialization with other people without expecting me to dump my kids in someone else’s lap.
Because, well–I like my kids.
Before pregnancy deep-tiredness hit, and before I had a second walking daughter, I was sorta-kinda starting to get a handle on balancing cooking with the other parts of my daily routine. I’m convinced that this is one of the many areas of organizational skills in which different things work for different people, with no One True Solution, but here are some of the things that worked well in our busy little house:
Once a Month Cooking… just not once a month.
I love the idea of once-a-month-cooking (if you haven’t heard of it, Google knows all :-)), but it doesn’t really work with a newborn or young, mom-clingy baby. An all-day cooking session, in our house, with our kids running around wreaking their usual havoc? Not going to happen, even if I could convince S to devote a whole weekend of every month to mommy-free childcare.
What does work, however, is to take the concept and instead cook one recipe at a time, in lieu of a normal dinner. I found that it worked really well to start the cooking early in the day, so I didn’t have to worry about how long the prep would take or what interruptions might ensue. The recipes might make three or four meals, and I’d usually pop one in the fridge to eat later that night for dinner, and put the rest in the freezer for another day. Cooking larger quantities of a single recipe doesn’t take too much longer than cooking a regular dinner, but once the routine gets going, I only had to cook twice a week to have a consistent stock of freezer meals for the other nights of the week, with plenty to spare for sharing or busier weeks.
The major downside is that you end up with massive amounts of a recipe before you actually know how it tastes, and that was actually quite a problem for us. It’s not as easy as it might seem to convert regular recipes to freezer-ready meals–the math is easy enough, but knowing how the food is going to react to being frozen takes more experience than I have, and it was also surprising how many recipes, when trebled, ended up needing prep bowls far larger than any my kitchen possesses. Put these factors together, and using regular recipes ended up as a disaster a little too often. Recipes that are actually designed for once-a-month cooking, on the other hand, are somewhat hard to come by outside of books (which cost money!) and aren’t quite as polished or reviewed, in general, as regular recipes.
I am very much out of this rotation, presently, but I think it’s the best long-term solution for my brain and cooking. But I definitely need to spend some serious effort and time into finding recipes that are freezer-tested… and our-family-approved. 🙂
Computers do all the work.
So, if I’m not doing once-a-month recipes right now, what am I doing? I’m relying heavily on various websites that let me put together a collection of recipes and assemble a grocery list for me. I’m a big fan of kraftfoods.com, which–for free–allows me to pick from their very large database of easy, reviewed, acceptably-tasty recipes, add them to a list, and print them all out with a grocery list. The recipes aren’t as “healthy” or as economical as I might get from one of my cookbooks, since they rely heavily on Kraft foods (salad dressings, mac n cheese, Velveeta, and so on), but they reliably make everyone in my family happy when they’re on the dinner table, and are usually pretty easy and quick to throw together. And I love how much time I save not writing out my own grocery list.
Another site I’ve been trying out is Food on the Table. It is not free, except for a very basic version that limits you to three meals at a time, and in fact is a bit pricey at about $6-$10 per month. But the awesome thing about it (besides not relying on Kraft’s desire to sell their own products!) is that it reads the store circular and guides you to recipes that try to maximize use of items that are on sale. This probably is of limited use to someone who’s a massive coupon-clipper and price-matcher, but to a mom like me, who is struggling just to find time to plan dinner, much less a shopping expedition, it can actually save a lot of money. If I use the Kraft recipes, I can try to pick ones that match ingredients I have on hand, but I’m probably still going to have to buy three or so packages of meat per week, and with Food on the Table, I can make those packages ones that are on sale. It saves a lot of time, and does have a less… biased… collection of recipes that seem to rely on fresher, more natural food. The big caveat here is that I haven’t actually cooked any of said recipes yet, and if they turn out to be less than tasty, the site really won’t be of much use to me. (On a sidenote, another cool feature of the site is that it asks what is more important to you for the week–ease, taste, cost–and helps build your recipe selections based on that criterion.)
Lastly… I try to have at least one meal in the freezer that’s easy. Whether it’s frozen pizza or a bag of Bertolli’s pasta, it’s good to have something to fall back on during those crazy-tired pregnancy days, days when I’m unexpectedly away from home up until dinnertime, or days when one of the kids goes haywire or gets sick. It’s a major stress relief just to know that it’s there–that dinner can magically appear in twenty minutes or less without any prepwork.
In many ways, my thoughts about the stay-at-home-daughter “movement” are still in flux–so this isn’t an endorsement!–but this blog by one of them is full of many excellent ideas and thoughts, perhaps particularly for those who are not yet married, although I’m finding many good posts that are perfectly applicable to me as well! I love the perspective of spending one’s pre-marriage life in preparation for one’s married life. This post, by the author’s sister, is also well worth reading. One quote:
As young women not yet married, we have the responsibility to become as well-rounded and useful as we can be. Right now you probably don’t have the full care of running the home–this is an excellent opportunity to prepare yourself for the rest of your life. The more helpful skills we acquire, the more useful, the more of a blessing we will be to our future husbands and families.
Aren’t I full of linky randomness today? This is what happens when I’m so tired I’m falling asleep accidentally…