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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Healing

There is an experience from my childbirth that I don't talk about much because I feel like it seems minor or even silly to anyone on the outside, but it was deeply scarring for me. I can go months without thinking about it, but when I do, I cry. Every time. Or I distract myself from thinking about it so that I don't cry.

Ellis was born with a periurethral cyst that no one seemed to be able to figure out while we were in the hospital When we saw the pediatrician at four days old, it was already gone, and he stated it's common due to the hormone fluctuations from the birthing parent. But while she was in the hospital, she had all kinds of residents and doctors waking her up from her sleep to undiaper her and check it out. The attending urologist said there could possibly be a urethral blockage, or if it was hurting her she wouldn't pee, and that would be a concern. So they ordered an ultrasound to check her bladder and kidneys. All of this we later learned was completely unnecessary, and they were overreacting to something they shouldn't have been alarmed by.

To transport her to the ultrasound room, she was put in an incubator. She was brand new and terrified and cried the whole way there. Trapped in this incubator that muffled her screams. Alone and helpless with no one holding her, comforting her, reassuring her. It felt like the longest walk of my life getting to the ultrasound room, down all kinds of hallways and up elevators (it wasn't in the maternity ward). I cried with her. I hated that the incubator was protecting everyone from her screams, so they could all ignore that this was happening. She was in a box for so long, confused and scared and not being responded to.

Neither parent is permitted to carry newborns in the hallway, even in the maternity ward. They have to be in the bassinet, so that they aren't accidentally dropped. I accepted this even as I thought it was absurd and even as every instinct screamed out that I needed to grab and comfort my baby, that she needed to be on my chest, against my skin, in my arms. My womb and my arms and my heart were empty and grieving as I dragged my newly postpartum self down those endless halls. My baby needed me, and I wasn't there.

I recently processed this with my wife and told her that I can't stop thinking how I should have been a pain in the ass to get what I needed for Ellis. That I should have refused the sonogram if I couldn't carry her myself. Roll me in a wheelchair if you need to. She assured me that that wouldn't have been possible, and they would have fought me back equally and just not permitted it because the fear of liability is that real.

But at least I would have known that I had tried everything I could.

As soon as we got to the room, I grabbed her right out and nursed her while they set up the machine. I remember the person saying, "Okay, you can hold her until the tech gets here," and myself thinking, "Oh thanks for your permission. Try to stop me."

I can't say why this was so deeply traumatic for me, except that it was such an early experience of already feeling I wasn't protecting my child from preventable anguish. After doing nothing but protecting her and having her near me, IN me, she was now ripped away from me and wailing and I felt like I let it happen. Or at least I didn't fight enough against it.

Yesterday began the healing for me, for the first time.

We took her to the dermatologist to check out this little spot on her chin that has been there for about six months without improvement. It looks like a tiny scab with a red bump underneath. Ellis hates going to the doctor, cries and wiggles away when they're looking in her ears, using the stethoscope on her back, etc. It's not just the shots that upset her, it's everything! I was so nervous about this appointment. I didn't tell her in advance we were going to the doctor's because I didn't think she could handle it that far ahead of time, and didn't want her to have a hard time getting into the car if she thought she was getting shots. I waited until we were in the waiting room, and while my wife was filling out the paperwork, I explained that a doctor was going to look at her chin and make sure it's okay. She knows there's a bump there, she's touched it before and we've commented on it. So she touched her chin and said, "Doctor. Chin." She did this off and on throughout our half hour wait, and I would reinforce it. "Yes, baby, the doctor is going to look at your chin."

We could see her getting nervous when we went into the exam room. It looked like her regular doctor's office, so she was starting to make connections in her brain. We tried to distract her and act regular and it seemed to ease her anxiety a little, but the long wait for the doctor wasn't helpful. However, when he came in, she immediately remembered what he was there for. She sat on my lap and let him tilt her face up and examine the spot. It took him some time, and he had to leave to get a light and come back to look at it more closely. She stayed still the whole time. I had her snuggled with her back against my chest and kept telling her what a good job she was doing letting the doctor look at her chin. We praised her generously afterward, and the whole way to the car she would point at passersby and ask, "Doctor?"

This one incident felt like such a triumph that it truly started some healing for me. In social work, we talk about trauma re-enactment: putting yourself in the same situation hoping for a different outcome. Generally this doesn't go well and refers more to people who, say, are sexually promiscuous after sexual assault in an unconscious effort to feel more in charge of the situation and to feel more empowered but then often don't, so they keep repeating it. Or people who were physically abused unconsciously choosing partners who end up being abusive, thinking this time they can avoid the violence by behaving differently or helping the person change. In this case, I wasn't creating the situation, it was brought to me. But I was truly able to do something different to feel more in control, more supportive, more helpful to Ellis, and I was able to see her feel calm and confident as a result. It was tremendously healing, and I can see now why people with deeper traumas sometimes spend their whole life trying to achieve that.

Maybe I can finally let go of that early experience, or at least have less emotional intensity when I think of it.

(Epilogue: The spot is a spitz nevus, benign, which the dermatologist recommends having removed because there is a new birth mark in it, which makes it more likely to become melanoma later in her life.)


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Spirited Child

My daughter is what is considered "high needs" or "spirited," which is one of three general baby temperaments, and only 10-12% of babies are in this category. I didn't learn this til she was maybe six months old, but it put everything into perspective. I read an article about it, and she exhibited every single characteristic but one, out of maybe eleven. It was remarkable. And suddenly I was able to see her as a certain temperament and personality type rather than just a fussy baby getting on my last nerve.

She craves security, and that plays out in so many ways. She doesn't let anyone steamroll her, expresses her needs loudly and clearly. She knows what she wants and she'll make sure you do too - but she can also be reasoned with if she can't have it. Her emotions run hot and strong, but this includes her affection. Two of my friends with very mellow babies envy us that. I told them once that I envied how chill their babies are, how they can just sit in a high chair or stroller without a fuss, don't lose their temper at the slightest frustration, can be totally at peace sleeping on their own or at least transitioned to it without too much difficulty. And both of them said to me, "but I don't get the all consuming hugs and cuddles that you do. I envy all the snuggly moments you have." I joked (but I also mean it) that this must be nature's way of ensuring these babies' survival. They have to work extra hard to stay in your good graces because you can get frustrated and overwhelmed with them so quickly. You can't stay in that place when she is literally bowling you over with hugs, and petting your skin, and nuzzling your chest.

This temperament may make her difficult to parent, but she has serious potential to be one hell of a go-getter as an adult. She's going to be passionate and confident and a leader. She's going to be a trailblazer. I was an easygoing baby, and I'm a pushover adult, haha - so I love the idea that this feistiness may mean a strong personality as an adult in a good way.

My job is not to extinguish her fire. My job is to help her channel it appropriately so it doesn't burn everything around her and take her down with it, but instead fuels her in a positive way. It's going to be quite a challenge, because it's not in my nature to be as firm as I'll have to be to help her do this. But at the same time, my soft, warm, compassionate nature helps me help her adjust to a world that can seem a bit much for her, whereas a more domineering personality would butt heads with her a lot. Nicole is more of a type A personality, and it can be so easy to engage in power struggles in her effort to guide Ellis down the right path. If we can balance each other out as parents, we could do a smash up job of parenting this amazing little person. It's going to be quite the undertaking, but I'm up for it! I have to be.

Ellis at 19 Months

Ellis's little quirks that I never want to forget, because they're all so fleeting:

  • She loves this book of sounds with farm animals. The farmer is looking for one of his piglets, and everywhere he goes to look for it, he just sees other animals, and you can press the buttons to hear their sounds. Ellis loves it because she knows the names of the animals and the sounds they make, so it makes her feel like she's mastered something. She knows what to expect. She responds in exactly the same way with every reading, which I find so endearing. One page ends with, "Uh oh! One of the pigs is missing!" and she repeats "missing." Just that word out of the whole page, and every time. Then when the farmer checks the barn, there's a barn owl at the top of the page. She squeals and points and says, "Owl!!! Hoo, hoo!" every time, as if she didn't know she'd find it there, despite having just read the book three times. She just gets so excited by owls and elephants, recognizing them everywhere and pointing them out in the smallest of places. Then when the farmer finds the pig, the book says, "There she is! She's resting in the shade of the apple tree," and Ellis says, "yeah!" I die.

  • At day care, the staff pat the babies on the backs to help them fall asleep. They say Ellis is one of the ones who needs that, but they start with the youngest/neediest and half the time she's asleep by the time they get to her. Anyway, Ellis has started doing this with dolls and even with us. She pats her stuffed animal on the back and then just walks away when she decides he's asleep. My wife, Nicole, sleeps on the couch many nights because bedsharing makes her very anxious but Ellis goes hysterical at being put in her own space, so she has a setup of sheets and a blanket down there. One of Ellis's games now is to pull the blanket over Nicole, pat her and say "shhhh" with a finger to her lips, and then wake Nicole up. She will push Nicole's face down if Nicole is supposed to be pretending to be asleep but isn't, and she wakes her up pretty roughly when it's time! It's the sweetest thing to see her do these little rituals. She also offers food to her toys and sometimes even lets them nurse with her!

  • Ellis's language is astonishing. She's learning multiple new words every day, and has started to pair them together to get a point across: "elephant sticker off," "shoe on," "mama, up." One time she wanted to go outside and had to string together a whole series of words. She started by saying, "Mama, hand," and walking me to the back door. Then, "coat on? shoe on? Door. Door!" This morning she wanted to play with her little Daniel Tiger figurine but couldn't find him. She knew where he was, but I didn't, because I had been working the night before when she played with him with Nicole. She said, "Dannel. Trolley. Dannel trolley. Attairs (upstairs)." She then took the trolley and went to the bottom of the stairs and waited for me. We went up, and sure enough he was next to the bed. Communication does much to ease everyone's frustrations. It's an incredible thing to watch develop! For AGES, she's been saying "na na" to indicate she needs or wants something - food, a toy, help doing something, etc. It was so constant that it was often annoying, and now we can go a whole day without hearing it sometimes. She just has so many words now that she doesn't often need this generic word to get our attention.

  • Some of her baby words are evolving, and it's actually a pretty sad loss! For apple, she used to say "bapple," then it became "appool," and now it's just "apple." She says "nan?" for "again" and I dread the day we lose that. It's been with us for so long, and was so refreshing when she was able to say it because it's something she needs to communicate frequently - when she wants a playful move repeated (like playing airplane), hear a song again in the car, read a book again. She says "epplane" for airplane and "effant" for elephant.

  • When Ellis asks for a song to be repeated in the car and I say, "Okay," she says back to me, "Okay, baby." It's absolutely hilarious because it's like holding a mirror up to myself. Like oh, I must really say that a lot to her!

  • The other day, Nicole was going to get a snack of Lucky Charms, thinking she was being sneaky but she wasn't, not nearly enough. Ellis caught sight of it and went nuts, so Nicole sat on the kitchen floor with her and traded off spoonfuls. Ellis sat right across from her, cross legged and with straight posture, like she was waiting for an organized activity to take place, and just waited patiently for her turn for a spoonful. Then she looked at me and said, "Mama, sit," and patted the floor next to her. I sat down, and she pointed at the cereal, waiting for me to take a spoonful too. I never want to forget that moment, the three of us sitting in a circle cross legged on the kitchen floor, taking turns eating Lucky Charms.
I've waited my whole life for this stage, and now that I'm in a place to better appreciate it, I'm just savoring every morsel. These little games, the interactions, the squeals and giggles, the full body tackle hugs. Her repeating the names of her friends over and over to herself in the stroller, singing to her music, clapping her doll's hands to a song or putting it to bed, saying "mama" and my whole heart just collapses into a puddle as I scoop her up and say "yes, baby?" and feel grateful that it doesn't yet bother her for me to do that.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Discovering her "Dibling"

Shortly after Ellis was born, we signed up with the Donor Sibling Registry. You create a profile and include your sperm bank and donor number, and matches are flagged for you. We were quite disappointed that there were none for us. Then in the spring, we got an email from a single mother by choice who had just registered her daughter, and we came up as a match. She asked if we wanted to meet up, and we said of course!

Since then we've emailed off and on, frequently sometimes and then long periods of time without. They live in central New Jersey, and we discussed possibly meeting at a playground or park midway over the summer. Life was busy as always, and plans never materialized. Ellis's first birthday went by in May, and the other baby's in August. We finally both got deliberate about making plans in November, and last weekend we met up at an indoor play space for toddlers in Hoboken, NJ.

I wasn't sure what to expect. When we first emailed, I mostly noted her lack of personable communication. She was very straightforward, not as exuberantly emotive as I was with exclamation points and smiley faces. I do read a lot from that kind of thing, and wondered if she would be warm, and how this relationship would look.

The meeting was wonderful! Conversation was natural for the most part, and it was fun to watch the girls together. They're only three months apart, so they were doing a lot of the same things. The other baby is more physical, walking at an earlier age than Ellis was crawling, but is saying only a handful of words whereas Ellis picks up three to four new words every day. Their personalities were also night and day. We have a spirited, high needs kid that has the two of us juggling and barely able to eat our own meals when we have her at a restaurant, because she does not want to be in the high chair for any longer than she has to to eat. You'd better be willing to have her on your lap and walk around while waiting for the food, and when she's done eating, you'd better be done too! At lunch, the other baby sat in her high chair completely content the whole meal. In their strollers, Ellis fussed loudly demanding to either be moving and going outside, or else let out. The other baby just sat and chilled in her stroller no matter where we went or how long we stopped, until she was taken out. I'm glad for her sake, as a single mom without family nearby, that her baby is so much more easygoing!

I appreciate that she lives just far enough away that we neither of us would have the expectation of frequent meetings. It took us this long just to organize one! I had looked her up on Facebook to see what she looked like (we had exchanged photos of the girls, but not of ourselves), but intentionally did not send her a friend request. We seem to have a mutual unspoken understanding that we don't want to get TOO friendly. For me, that's because of the fear that it could go sour, and what that would mean for our kids. Yes, it's nice for us as adults to connect over our experiences too - but we can do that with anyone in our situations. The fact that we used the same donor does not really enhance that. But our kids, this is their life. This is their chance to know other people with shared genes and similar conception stories. That is the focus and the priority. Being friendly and in touch but not too enmeshed is the perfect place to be. We had a great time, and we'll do it once or twice a year so the girls grow up knowing who they are, and can then make the choice to have more contact when they're older if they choose. I suggested exchanging holiday cards which they can kind of "collect" from each other as they grow up, and that idea was met with enthusiasm.

I'm so glad we're establishing this connection for Ellis!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Adjusting - Our New Normal

Oh how life has changed! If I could have the best of all possible worlds, I would be able to pick Ellis up from day care around 2:00 after her nap each day, and just have more time with her than I do now. But in the absence of that possibility, this is the next best. We are all so happy.

When I first started dropping Ellis at day care, she cried and clung to me a little. She would ask to nurse, presumably for the extra snuggles as well as trying to delay the inevitable. I gave her kisses and told her I would be back later, and then I left to sob on my way to the car.

In just over a week, she was no longer crying at drop-off. She would give a little sad look at me over the staff's shoulder, but she would reach for them as I handed her over, and she didn't cry. In less than a month, she was kicking her legs with excitement to see the other babies she recognizes (10 kids between the ages of 7 months and 2 years) and snuggle into me with a shy smile as a couple of them called her name excitedly.

All the mixed emotions! Mostly I felt (and feel) just so, so happy and relieved. I have seen her reach out for each of the three staff. She feels comforted when they hold her (she doesn't let just anyone hold her) and reacts with giggles and smiles when they get playful with her. She looks forward to seeing the other kids, and it's wild to me to hear them saying, "Ellis!!" and running up to hug her. (Most of the parents are teachers, so they've mostly been there an hour already when she arrives, and she is usually the last to be picked up.) She eats and naps really well for them - the power of routine!

Staff told me that the first couple of weeks, she would occasionally go to the door and fuss and sign to nurse, basically trying to find me or figure out when I would come back. Then she would start to go to the door saying "mama, mama" after other kids would start getting picked up. After a week or two, she didn't blink during the day, and now runs excitedly into my arms and asks to nurse, but then afterward wants me to put her down so she can keep playing! It's like she's excited to have me join her there, but kind of wants me to stay there with her, not take her away. I couldn't want anything more for her than that.

Mondays and Tuesdays I work from 1:00-9:00. We get the whole morning together, and it's amazing. We have music class at 10:30 on Tuesdays, and then Mondays are free for doctor's appointments or little fun activities, like the park or a botanical garden. My wife picks her up after work and we try to have an easy dinner setup for those nights, because I know from experience that nighttime can be so hard on your own, between dinner and bath and bed and feeling exhausted yourself. I try to make it as easy on my wife as I can, such as by setting out her pajamas and diaper and towel on the bed. My wife struggled at first to get her to bed, because Ellis was used to nursing to sleep and would keep crying for me. It took her a couple hours the first few times, until Ellis got used to it. Just like with day care itself, she had to learn what to expect. She soon learned that I would always come back, that she would wake up later in the night and I would be there and she could nurse. She now falls asleep for Nicole much faster than she does for me - this past Tuesday, it took ten minutes!

I'm impressed with Ellis's resiliency as much as my own. I'm kept very busy at work, and it's work that I'm enjoying. Being busy makes it easier, because the day speeds by and then I'm power walking to my car to get to her as fast as possible, and that reunion feels soooo good. Weekends and days off are like total treasures. I have so much more patience when she is fussy or clingy, because there is too much time where I'm not around to indulge that. I'm more attentive, more involved, more hands on. Less "biding the time" and more being fully present with her. She gets nurturing and attention and free play and reading and crafting during the day, and then she goes back to a mama with endless affection and doting and attention. I feel more exhausted in a lot of ways, working full-time and not getting to then come home and kick my feet up with Netflix like I used to before I was a parent, but I also feel more re-energized in others.

I have occasional guilt, which I try to work on even as I try to accept that it's normal and the maternal condition, whether employed outside the home or not. As explained on an episode of my favorite podcast One Bad Mother, we're all exhausted and fighting guilt and trying to find time. That's mothering, no matter what our differences.

We couldn't afford for me to stay home full-time. There weren't enough corners to cut to make up what we would lack once our renter inevitably moves out. (We've had a roommate, a close friend, for the past almost year, and she will be here probably another six months.) We were struggling even with that income, and without it, forget it. But the guilt comes in as far as the fact that I'm happy with this lifestyle, that it's not "just" because I "have to," but rather a family routine and situation that feels very comfortable and fulfilling. I miss Ellis every day, but I feel so lucky I got her first year home. I'm so grateful that I witnessed her first major milestones, and that I was there for round the clock one-on-one care that she couldn't have gotten in a day care setting. Not everyone has that luxury, and I may not a second time around. I'm so glad that she's there at an age where she can run around screeching with her little friends, play outside, do simple crafts. And I'm glad I get to enjoy a career that I love, where I feel helpful to people and have already seen rewarding outcomes with work I've done with clients, and which afford us the ability to breathe when it comes to basic necessities, and also a little bit extra.

We've adjusted and we've got a good thing going for ourselves. We're doing a good job with this family thing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ellis at 14 Months

What a joy Ellis is! She's changing so fast that I feel an urgency to write about some of her quirks so I can remember them forever.

She is talking so much! Her first word was "hi" at 11 months, followed quickly by "baby." Now she also says ball, Momo (Elmo), bye, hello (when the phone rings!), mama, Nana, Papa, Baba (how she tries to say Gramma and Grampa), cart, no, gee (geese), got (goat), kack kack  (quack quack), and others. She is constantly babbling, sometimes saying things with such emphasis that I feel an urgency around trying to figure out what it is! She'll have her eyebrows lifted so high as she enunciates gibberish.

She is so active and wants to run everywhere. She took her first steps just after a year, by 13.5 months was doing the zombie walk, and by 14 just taking off. She's incredibly social, waving and saying "hi" to adults and children alike, even past the age where babies generally start to get a little more reserved. However, she only wants to be held by people she knows well.

She looooves reading. I waited so long for this! Peers would talk about their babies loving books and she just didn't. We could maybe get through a couple pages, but they didn't hold her attention. (Same for TV shows - I would hear about someone else's 6-month-old's favorite show, and I could barely distract Ellis with something long enough to trim her nails.) Then suddenly, just around her first birthday, she got so into them. She was able to focus for longer and just became interested. She brings us the same ones to read over and over, and it can be hard to introduce a new one now. She'll smack it aside and hand you a familiar one. I used to wonder if I had done something wrong. Maybe I didn't read to her enough early on and she just wasn't going to be into books. But she just had to grow into them, and that was at a different rate than other babies.

Ellis has gotten so smart. According to Wonder Weeks, one of her recent developmental leaps ended with her having the ability to think more into the future. So she could plan and manipulate. I don't mean that with a negative connotation, but rather that she can figure out how to get her needs met. Does Mom respond more favorably if I whine and nag, or if I act sweet and affectionate? What will a smile get me?

The first time I noticed it was when I was trying to transition her to the crib for naps again in preparation for day care. She would sign "more," which she does mostly when she wants food, and I took her downstairs for a snack. Putting her down hungry just seemed like it would sabotage my efforts. She ate almost all of her snack, but then signed it again when I put her back in the crib. That's when I knew she was trying to think of how to communicate to me to get me to take her out! "Hmmm, if I ask for food, she has to take me out of the crib to feed me." Smart little cookie. But I know she understands enough for me to tell her why I can't meet her demand. So I would say, "No, baby, it's all done. Sleepy time now." ("All done" and "sleepy time" are very familiar phrases.) And she would let out a loud cry, because she knew what I was telling her and did NOT like it! Being able to interact like this is incredible. For her to think that much into something and for us to figure out how to communicate that to each other. It's amazing to witness.

She's also been trying to figure out how things work around her. Stacking things, putting things together, playing with buckles and Velcro. She wants to push ALL the buttons around her, and gets absolutely ecstatic at the sight of an escalator. She says "Whoaaaaaa!" and "Wowwwwww!" very dramatically when something piques her interest. It's always in context and tends to make people around her crack up.

She's such a spitfire, wild and adventurous. But she's also clingy and affectionate. It's a high needs combination that fills my heart just as much as it drains my energy. I love this sweet girl more than life itself. There has never been anyone like her ever in the world.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Back to Work

The day has finally come. Our goal was for me to be home Ellis's first year, and we made that. She is 14 and a half months, and I start my full-time job on Monday.

I'm so emotional. I was in denial for so long, until I went to visit the office and sign some documents. HR had said the earliest I would be able to start was the second week of August, due to all the clearances they would need. I told myself that organizations tend to be a bit chaotic, so it would probably be the third week, and since I would be going on vacation the week after that, maybe I could tell them that because of childcare, I couldn't start until after Labor Day. I chose the latest possible fingerprinting appointment, and stalled on bringing in my marriage certificate (they wanted it to prove my change of name since my diploma is in my maiden name, and asked that I bring it within a week; I waited exactly a week). Despite all this, when I went to visit the office, my new supervisor said he had already scheduled a client to see me on August 8, in case I wanted to come in for a day or two the week before to get acquainted before jumping in. That made it really real that I would be starting in A WEEK, and I cried the whole way home, and then off and on for several hours afterward.

It finally hit me, and I felt all the emotions. Anxiety and insecurity about the job weren't even at the forefront. It was all about leaving Ellis. Devastation at being separated from her so soon. Disappointment at all the things we would miss out on now that she's old enough to do more. Guilt and sadness at leaving her with other people the majority of her day and just getting her in time for dinner and bedtime routine. I wanted this baby SO BADLY, and tried so hard for her, and now I'm handing her over to someone else for most of her good hours, for most of her early life?? It feels so unnatural!

And then I remind myself that I've been relishing our time together in a way that isn't sustainable. We got a cleaning lady a few months ago, which has been critical to marital harmony. But I was using babysitting money to pay for this service, and we can't keep her if I'm not bringing in income. There is no room for it in our budget otherwise. And before we finally broke down and hired her, we spent most of a year fighting over cleaning. Ellis is high needs and clingy, crying and grabbing at my legs just while I make breakfast in the mornings. Cleaning has been next to impossible. I also just suck at it, to be honest. I can't keep a schedule, and I spend every day feeling guilty about all the things I SHOULD be doing and postponing them to the next day.

I remind myself that it's summer, and it's easy to be sentimental when we can be outside all day every day. Ellis is SO happy outside. I remind myself of what winter was like, feeling stir crazy and yet not knowing what to do with her in the cold. Dreading bundling us both up just to, what, go to the mall again? Another library? If I'm not working, we can't afford regular trips to children's museums and play spaces. We can't afford classes or groups. I felt a rock in my stomach every Sunday evening at the emptiness of the week ahead, not knowing what to do with her every day. I started to write out a schedule so I wouldn't go crazy, and some days it was just "dry cleaning and grocery shopping" and I didn't know what to do with the rest of that day. It's easy to forget that right now when I can just sit outside with her in the sunshine all day or go to the pool.

I remind myself that the grass is always greener. That with no change on the horizon, I sometimes felt an existential panic. That it's only with a deadline, an end in sight, that I'm panicking and appreciating every second. Living like I was dying, as the song goes. I don't care if I use a ton of gas driving to all the new parks and places. I don't care if I charge lunches on my credit card while we're out. It doesn't matter because soon our time is over. If it WEREN'T soon over, I would still have that Sunday evening knot in my stomach about how to fill our days, ALL THOSE HOURS, in the upcoming week. It's the deadline that's making every moment so precious. That's just the truth.

The reality of staying home with Ellis would include a lot of things that I spent a full year trying and failing to do. I wouldn't be able to afford to take Ellis places (not many free indoor places in the winter, and I really struggled with cabin fever last year) and would have to be really on top of housekeeping, which I kept telling myself I would get better at and just couldn't seem to. It just wasn't a lifestyle that was working for us. I'm going to miss my baby terribly, but I need to stop feeling anxious about my shortcomings and create a new normal that works better for our family and makes us all as happy as possible.

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The above was begun the weekend before starting my job, and I didn't have time to finish it, as so often happens when I try to sit down and write. Ellis is not a good sleeper, and I'm lucky if I clean up the kitchen and her toys and sit down with a snack and TV for an hour or two before she's up and I just go to bed for the night.

But now it's Friday of my first week at work. So the rest of my thoughts and feelings that were in anticipation are lost now, but I can write from a different place.

WE MADE IT.

Choosing a day care was tough, but I found a great spot walking distance from home. It's a licensed family group day care, a smaller and more intimate setting than day care centers. A space will open up after Labor Day, but she spent two days there while I was at new hire appointments, and she did so well. She had a blast with the other kids and the toys, she ate well, she napped well. This reduced my anxiety so much. She cried when I returned and clung to me nursing for a few minutes, but then wanted back down to play. She would just check periodically that I was still there and come back for a quick nuzzle occasionally.

We're piecing together childcare until September, and this week she went with my mother-in-law. I work 1-9 Mondays and Tuesdays, so I got a half day with her before dropping her off, which I loved. However, it made me feel BEYOND exhausted at the end of the day because I felt like I had a pretty full day of parenting, a full day of work, and then no time to unwind before bed and doing it all over again. But it was worth it to have two half days less of her being in someone else's care, and to have that extra time together. My wife put her to bed those evenings. She was in charge of the whole nighttime routine, which I know from experience is difficult by yourself. When Nicole would have late meetings in the city, I dreaded the evening, even though I was alone with Ellis all day just fine! Evening is just so much tougher on your own, between dinner and bath and bedtime. We have a good team routine set up.

Ellis had a tough time falling asleep without her usual routine, but the second night was already much better than the first. Nicole was a trooper, really coming through to help make our family's new life work. She just carried her straight to our bed (usually she spends her first few hours in the crib and we bring her in after the first or second wakeup so that everyone gets more sleep), and I came home and curled up next to her.  At her next wakeup, she couldn't believe I was there, and waved at me as she sleepily latched on and closed her eyes. It was just what we both needed. Bedsharing has become an incredible source of connection for us after a day apart, and I don't want to give it up anytime soon.

The 9-5 days were much easier, even though it meant a full day of babysitting for Ellis. I had so much more energy at work and got to enjoy our regular evenings at home as a family - because though I get Monday and Tuesday mornings with Ellis, I don't see Nicole really on those days.

On Monday, I dropped her off at my mother-in-law's and she had a really hard time. She was fine 20 seconds after I left, but that leaving is HARD and probably always will be. When I came home, she smiled at me and hugged me gleefully before asking to nurse. She then clung to me the rest of the time we spent there. Tuesday, she clung a little less. She did frequent check-ins, but wanted to play. Wednesday and Thursday, she was so secure that I could cry. She walked around the whole house, going into rooms where we weren't. She didn't think I was going to leave again, because I haven't been. She's observing the routine of our days now. She knows we'll spend a little time there, and then go home together. My mother-in-law said Ellis doesn't let her out of her sight during the day, wanting to be underfoot if my mother-in-law is trying to do a task, which is also how she's always been at home with me but not really with others. She transfers that right to my mother-in-law when I leave. But when we're both there, she's just so free.

I like our new normal. I'm enjoying my job and it keeps me busy enough that I don't just sit tearfully at my desk like I thought I would. It also helps knowing she's safe and loved and having a blast. The only thing I wish I could change is the amount of time. I do hate that it's time for dinner, bath, and bed when I get home. I wish I could be home by 2 or 3 and still have some playtime. But I'm grateful for the two full mornings a week we have to still go to music group and do other things together.

It's also hard to miss some things. I'm so lucky that I was home over a year and got all those major milestones. I'm beyond grateful. But in just a few days, she's already walking so differently! She has so much space at my mother-in-law's, and there's also a dog there she likes to chase and play with, so she's just had so much free practice. I came to get her Thursday and she was racing around like it was nothing. I wanted to cry thinking how that progress just happened and I wasn't there. I don't know how much I would have noticed it if I was there, it's the absence that makes it so obvious, but that makes me feel like I was gone for such a long time and missed so much!

Last weekend when I was getting emotional about going to work, I thought a few times, "This is just so unnatural! To hand over our small, developing children to someone else to take care of for the majority of their day." I knew that it was necessary for us. I knew that it was necessary for ME in so many ways. And I knew that non-primary caregivers have to work and aren't expected to feel that same strain. Nicole went back to work two weeks after Ellis was born. She's ONLY gotten evenings, weekends, holidays, and vacations with Ellis practically since birth! But it's not expected that that should feel so unnatural for her. It's just how life works. You gotta work to live. But at least she knew Ellis was home with me, and it would be easier on me too if I knew she was home with Nicole instead of in day care. There is so much great about this that makes me know rationally it's the right choice for us, and that Ellis will not only be fine, but thrive. But it does not come without serious emotional conflict.

The silver lining is I don't feel anxious about a single second with her anymore. I don't feel bored and then guilty about feeling bored. I don't feel antsy. Every hour is precious. I've been working since I was 15 years old, and having a routine and living for the weekends and holidays and vacations is comforting.

WE MADE IT. And we'll continue making it. Our family is healthy and whole and adaptable and solidly bonded. We're making it through life together, and it feels wonderful.