Living in the Doldrums

“Crazy? I was crazy once. They put me in a hospital room full of birds. They drove me crazy. Crazy? I was crazy once. They put me in a hospital room full of birds. They drove me crazy. Crazy?…” I can still see Hal*, the awkward teenage boy I used to carpool with back in high school trying to drive me out of my skull by annoying me every morning during our half-hour commute. I wanted to throw things at him, swear at him, even in the presence of my mother or father, or force the driver to slam us into a tree so I didn’t have to hear him anymore.

This winter, which we are just a month or so into, is having a similar effect on me. I don’t really want to injure anyone. Not seriously anyway. But holy geez! These kids are driving me bonkers. This has been the coldest winter I have ever lived through. It’s in the negative digits more days than not. It’s so bitterly cold that if you’re out for more than a few minutes without a scarf over your mouth, it literally hurts to breathe. It feels like someone smacked you across the chest with a bat. So we are stuck in the house besides the days when the boys have school or it’s absolutely necessary to go to the grocery store.

Our couch has multiple purposes now. It is also a launch pad, obstacle course hurdle, diving board (the cushions are the net), and fort structure support. Mommy has also gotten a little lax on which rooms are designated for eating, so we’ve added a few grape juice polka dots to the upholstery and carpet. Our walls are striped with black tire tread marks and paint from toys that have gone “off-roading.” And I find that about once a day before I totally snap, I stop and just watch the havoc that two little boys can create using their imaginations and an over-abundance of foam balls and stuffed animals thrown from the balcony on the upper level.

In past winters when boredom is this bad, I have packed them up in the car and we’d go to get a bagel or mommy a coffee and the boys a juice just to get out of the house and change up the scenery for an hour. But it’s not so easy to do that this year. We live off of a slightly treacherous dirt road. A few weeks ago, I just missed hitting a tree head-on at the bottom of one of the curvy hills when a UPS truck was parked at the bottom. I was trying to avoid the truck. So I swerved away from it, forgetting that the road was a sheet of ice and lost control. I didn’t hit the truck, but I was headed for a tree. A giant boulder actually buffered the crash and saved us from hitting the tree as hard as we could have. Unfortunately, all of the kids were in the car. Though no one was hurt and the only damage done to the car was my rock guard falling off, Noah and Luke were rattled from the incident and now congratulate me every time I drive past that spot without hitting the tree. So that’s fun. I really enjoy that my five and three-and-a-half-year-old critique my driving ability.

Another thing that makes car rides super special is they also like to request songs from my iPod. They actually fight about whose turn it is to pick the band we will listen to. Here’s a tip for parents: only introduce your kids to music that you love so much, you will want to have it on repeat every time you are in the car. Yeah, I have yet to figure out what kind of music that would be. They are slowly killing all music that I once loved.

The one thing we have going for us is that we have a really supportive family and parents who like being around us (most of the time). We have been able to get out to my parents for long afternoons or Scott’s mom has come by a few times a week to play and give me a break. Even my brother came by one day to wrestle with the boys and wear them out. I really can’t even articulate my gratitude for our family. THANK YOU are two totally inadequate words I can offer. But they’ll have to do for now. When we thaw from the Arctic circle of hell, we will have a spectacular pool party for surviving the winter of 2013/14.

In the meantime, I am praying for stay-at-home-parents everywhere that you keep hope in your heart, sanity for your mind and a sense of humor that gets you through the truly trying days.

*Name changed because although I seriously doubt he reads this blog, I don’t want to be mean-spirited. From what I’ve heard, he actually grew up to be a really decent person and an officer in the military. Incidentally, I hope they put him in charge of something with interrogation. He’s obviously skilled at breaking people down using non-violent methods.

It’s for the “Breast”

Warning: Sensitive readers may want to know, this blog post is about to get very “real.”

When I had Gracie, my goal was to breastfeed her for the whole first year of her life. I made it six or seven months with the boys and I thought, “Meh, what’s a few more months to make it a full year. It’s good for her and for me and it’s better than having to buy formula. That stuff is expensive! And this way, I know what she’s getting from me is all natural.” In the beginning Grace was easy to nurse. She latched like a champ. She fed very consistently, other than a few clogged ducts and my supply dwindling at times (normal breastfeeding challenges) she was a dream come true.

Then at about three-months, my baby piranha sprouted her bottom two teeth. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the average baby-teething timeline, teeth usually don’t enter the picture until the kid is around six months. But I sucked it up, winced through her biting me out of frustration from teething, and continued nursing her. I still enjoyed the time with her, after all. I got used to the pain just like nursing a toothless newborn and I hardly felt it after a week or so. Then she got her top two teeth around four months. Quickly followed by the two next to her top two. So by six months, baby girl had six teeth. As you could imagine, “the girls” are starting to look a lot less like themselves these days.

Then last week she grew another tooth on the bottom and is currently working on the opposite tooth on the bottom. And the “best” part is, while she’s teething, she uses me as a chew toy. She has started pushing me away while pulling on this very sensitive part of my anatomy. I love my daughter. I want to do everything I can to make her life happy and healthy, but I have been starting to lose my resolve about breastfeeding for twelve months.

Along with the less than pleasurable aspect of nursing an eight month old with the mouth of a toddler, my supply has started to become alarmingly low because she is eating table foods and not nursing as long as she used to. I am facing a sad truth which I really didn’t want to consider eight months ago.

This is not a knock on moms who choose never to breastfeed. Believe me, I get it! It’s a lot of work and for some moms with certain careers or physical issues, it just can’t happen. And for some, it’s a personal choice and they don’t want to. Whatever the case, I understand everyone’s situation is different. I, for one, have always enjoyed the bonding time with my babies and haven’t minded breastfeeding. However, I am enjoying it a little less as of late. I don’t hold it against her, she’s only eight months old. But I feel in my heart the time has come for me to let Grace have a bottle with (brace yourself…) formula.

Yes, organic-food-buying (usually), cloth-diapering (most of the time), all-natural-home-cleaner-using-mama has decided to give Grace the “devil dust.” I bought a container of the stuff last week and she’s had about three bottles now and really likes it. It’s a little stinky, and I feel my heart sink each time I have to make her a bottle feeling just slightly wimpy about my decision to supplement her.

But she seems happier. Fuller. And she can go to town on that bottle nipple! Then I noticed something else today. When I actually do nurse her from me, she seems happier to be with me. You’d think that would feel like salt in the wound for me as if I’m depriving her, but it’s kind of the opposite. It makes me feel she still likes me best, but she wouldn’t know that if she didn’t have the bottle sometimes. And she’s still getting what she needs. I’m not quitting cold turkey or anything. That would be very hard for both of us. But I have made my peace with the choice. I know that sounds odd. Scott thinks I am crazy and probably just trying to rationalize my decision even though he’s been encouraging me to do this since she cut her first tooth.

But I also realize that there is a bigger lesson to be learned in all of this. It’s not always about what I want to happen. I forget that all the time. I will get something in my head about the way I want things to be. But sometimes, I am given signs over and over again that I need to be able to change; to be adaptable. I remember a story my cousin Angela told me when she taught kindergarten years ago. A kid in her class asked her at their prayer circle, “Mrs. Igielski, why doesn’t God always hear our prayers?” Angie was trying to think of an answer when one of the other students gave the answer so perfectly and with just the right amount of attitude, “Because sometimes it’s not all about you!”

And there it is. It’s not all about me or what I want. And maybe I could keep up with breastfeeding, although both Grace and I are getting frustrated with it. So then I look at how much I am still enjoying what I have with her. How really, I am not a failing because I had to deviate from my goal. I need to allow myself the very thing I named my daughter after: GRACE.

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Sure she looks cute, but check out those chompers!

Welcoming Joseph

On Tuesday I drove slid to Royal Oak Beaumont hospital to meet my new little nephew Joseph Palte. He is even more handsome in person than pictures can portray. He looks just like his daddy with a hint of my beautiful sister mixed in as well. I think his hands move just like hers do.

And to see my sweet little sister lying on the hospital bed exhausted and vulnerable, but stronger than she could ever know; so raw to new emotions and feelings that a mother can’t get her mind around after the birth of her first child, reminded me of just how terrifying and surreal it all is. You can read every book about becoming a parent that has ever been written. You can try to imagine that moment a million times in your mind. You can hold dozens of newborns and think you will have some understanding of how you will feel when you become a mother, but you have no idea how your story will go until that day arrives.

My sister began her journey very humbly. She has said all along that she knew it would be difficult and knew her life would change even acknowledging that she didn’t know to what degree. She allowed me to flex my “older-sister-muscles” and state my opinions on what sort of stroller or car seat I would get and even let me come along when she and Eric went to register at Babies R Us. She has been so open-minded and courageous in spite of morning-sickness through half of her pregnancy, her O.B. quitting his practice when she was very far along and then beginning to see my O.B. instead. She rolled with every punch thrown at her. I kept feeling the whole time like she was even more qualified at this mothering-business before she became one than I have become in five years of actually being a mother.

When I held her son in my arms on Tuesday night, and as his daddy told me the story of Joey’s birth, I couldn’t help but feel a new-found camaraderie with my sister. I glanced up at her occasionally when I could pull my gaze away from her perfect little boy and her eyes were brimming with tears, her lip quivered holding back her emotions, because I think on some level she probably couldn’t believe all she had been through in the past twenty-four hours had really happened. She now has her own birth story of her own child. It’s nothing from a book. It’s not another mother’s story. It’s hers.

She can tell about how Joey decided to come into the world in the middle of a Polar Vortex, when the temperature plummeted lower than it has in decades. The roads were more like driving on a glacier. Maybe Joseph is already an adventurer at heart! But these will be Cathy’s details to share.

I am so proud of her. She probably hasn’t processed all of the emotions because sometimes in those first few days you can even forget you have to breathe. But when you get really lost and overwhelmed, Cathy, just remember that’s all you have to do. I love you! Congratulations to you and Eric.

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Joseph Matthew Palte born January 7, 2014