Facial injuries: the unofficial badge of the bad mother?

For my son, it’s a moment of pain soon forgotten. For me, it’s a visible outward sign of my failings as a mother. Too dramatic? Probably.

My kids don’t hurt themselves all that often, but when they do, it’s usually in the face, which is just super great. There was the time that 10 month-old Bean fell forward and caught the corner of the coffee table right between the eyes. He has a thin white scar. A few months later as he was learning to walk, he tripped over the edge of a mat at baby boot camp* and landed on his cheek, on my stainless steel water bottle. The bruise added some colour to the vacation photos from our  friends’ wedding in Mexico the next week. Monkey has suffered a couple of truck-to-face injuries, courtesy of Bean. And, if I put off trimming their fingernails one day too long, both boys will invariably seize the opportunity to give themselves a gash on the cheek or nose during the night.

As I am pretty much a walking guilt factory, until those bruises or cuts heal they’re ongoing reminders of how I somehow let my boys down – even if the injury wasn’t preventable, isn’t serious, or didn’t happen on my watch.

Yesterday I was on my way out the door when my cell rang. It was daycare. Bean had tipped over in his chair and hit his mouth against the table. He was bleeding a lot, and very upset, and I should come get him.

I rushed to daycare and found all the kids sitting at the table, Bean whimpering in the teacher’s lap. He had blood around his mouth and on his hands. He reached for me and I picked him up, only to realize that he had just wet his pants. He hasn’t done that in ages. I took him downstairs and changed him, as he sobbed that his tooth and his mouth hurt and begged me to make it better.

I am a feeler. And strong emotions make me cry, whether it’s sadness, anger, fear, or happiness. When I see another person’s genuine tears, there is a 97% chance that I will tear up too. And it’s only gotten worse with age. Now that I’m a mother, I can pretty much forget the possibility that I’ll get through a day without crying at least once. At first I blamed the pregnancy hormones. Then I blamed the new mother hormones. Then the pregnancy hormones again. Then I tried blaming my postpartum depression. But whatever the reason, all the blame-throwing in the world can’t change the simple fact that I am a huge, sappy sap.

Yesterday with my own child, I was helpless. On the drive home as he cried in his car seat, I cried too. Because he was in pain, and because I was worried. Because his tooth might be damaged, might turn grey and fall out. Because it was my fault. Because I was the one who put him in daycare, even if it was just one day a week. He didn’t need to be there – I’m on maternity leave. He could have been home with me. He might not have gotten hurt.

Thankfully, he couldn’t see my tears, and I had them under control by the time we got home. But it was still a struggle. (Side note – at least my inner empathy sensors can distinguish the difference between legitimate and not-so-legitimate toddler trauma. Otherwise I would be facing some serious dehydration.) Bean spent the afternoon with cuddles and movies, and was feeling better by evening. Still, his gums are bruised and puffy, and I’ll be on dead-tooth-watch for a few days. (We called the dentist and he said there was nothing to do but wait.)

So here are my questions to the other mothers and feelers out there. Am I as ridiculous as I feel to be so torn up over a tooth injury? How do you keep it in when you feel your kids’ pain? And do you feel the guilt too? Do you beat yourselves up over the bumps and bruises?

* Despite the name, baby boot camp is for the mums, not the babies. But hey, boot camp for babies could be great too! Teach them some discipline right from the start. Am I right? Anyone?

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My Monkey

Monkey

There is something sweet and slightly painful about the babyhood of my second child. Maybe it’s that my memory of my first baby is slightly foggy and coloured by my knowledge of him as a toddler; maybe it’s that Monkey will likely be our last baby. I don’t remember the same sense of mine with Bean as I have with Monkey. Maybe it’s that I’ve learned to savour it, because as he grows he will not be just mine anymore. Maybe it’s that I’m beginning to know firsthand what all the elderly ladies who stop me in the grocery store say – it goes by so fast.

Monkey’s smiles are still mostly for me. He looks into my eyes and his face lights up. I imitate his sounds and he chuckles. I enter the room and he looks for me. I sit down on the floor and he crawls over to me. At 8 months old, he is still mine. And I am selfish. I don’t want to share him, yet.

His older brother is a part of the world. He has friends. He smiles and laughs and talks to other people. Bean is his own little person, and it is wonderful and beautiful to see him developing relationships and friendships and opinions and independence. But Monkey is still mine. I am his world. He is my baby. He fits on my hip; he belongs under my chin. His little body was so recently a part of mine, and our bond is still physical.

What is it that changes this bond? It loosens and stretches without us being conscious of it, exactly. As our babies grow up and grow in independence, they grow away from us, bit by bit. Bean still needs me, and will always need me in some way, I hope. We will always be bonded, but nothing is the same as the elemental, physical bond of a mother and baby.

As I gaze into my Monkey’s sweet, smiling face and open, trusting eyes, I am struck by the gift that babyhood is. I am privileged to hold and nurture and protect a life that is pure and innocent. There is nothing dishonest in a baby – his smiles mean happiness, and his cries mean sadness, discomfort, or need. There is no guile, only instinct. And this baby stage is so fleeting.

So I will hold onto my Monkey for as long as I can. One day I will have to share him, I know. As his small world expands day by day, I will explore it with him. Gradually my tight hold will loosen, and one day I will let him go. But not just yet. For now, he is still mine.

What am I even writing about, anyway?

It’s day 3 of my challenge to post every day of November, and I’ve already had my blog’s first existential crisis.* I mentioned to someone today that I had started writing a blog, and they asked what it was about, and I couldn’t come up with an answer that satisfied me, and then I had A Moment. The kind of moment in which your brain takes a very small thing down a spiraling path of crazy reasoning, and suddenly that small thing represents the very meaning of your existence.

existential

So what am I writing about? For me, the what is inextricably linked with the why. Why am I writing? What is the point?

I began writing this blog for three reasons:

1) I sent a friend an email detailing a ridiculous conversation I’d had with my toddler, and she replied that she would totally read a blog consisting entirely of my conversations with him. That planted the seed.

2) I was beginning to drag myself out of the dark pit of postpartum depression and thought that writing about it would provide some opportunities for reflection, self-examination, and healing.

3) I was filled with longing for the person I used to be. When I was young and full of potential I thought I would be a writer. When I grew up, instead of pursuing creativity I went the route of stability – practical education, defined career path. Terrified of others reading my writing and finding it lacking, I found other things to occupy my time. I suppose I saw this blog as an opportunity to recapture the person I maybe could have been, had I been a bit braver and chosen the path less travelled.

So, how have I done?

1) I’ve written about Bean. He continues to say ridiculous things, and it is so very amusing to record them and share them with you on What-my-kid-said Wednesdays.

2) I’ve been writing about my experience of postpartum depression, though I haven’t shared it yet. It’s still deeply personal; I’ve only shared my struggle with a handful of people in real life, and while in many ways it’s easier to be honest behind the anonymity of a blog, it’s still tough to hit that “publish” button. My palms get a bit sweaty just thinking about it. But it’s coming.

Aside from writing about depression itself, this blog has helped me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I’d been feeling swallowed up by this maternity leave, consumed by the day-to-day details of babies and toddlers, like I had no identity other than “Mum.” Even though I’m writing about being a mother, the act of writing helps me feel like more than just a mother.

3) I can’t go back to the person I was, and I wouldn’t want to. My life is a good life. But I can search for elements of the old me that bring me happiness. I can flex my creative muscles, weakened from lack of use, and try to live up to some of the potential I once had.

That’s the why. So what is this blog about? What am I even writing about, anyway?

Motherhood. Kids. Life. Self.

Humour. Sadness. Friendship. Depression.

Writing. Reflection. Commentary. Community.

I’m writing for me, so this blog can be whatever I want it to be.

 

* I Googled existential crisis just for fun, and check it out – there’s a WikiHow page for “How to Deal with an Existential Crisis (with Pictures).” Ha!

My year-long vacation

When I was pregnant with Bean, a man I worked with asked me if I was looking forward to my year-long vacation. (I love Canada and its one-year maternity leave.) Now, this man was not exactly an expert on child-bearing, child-rearing, or anything to do with women or babies. He legitimately thought that part of the office baby pool would include guessing the mother’s weight. (Not happening.)

I laughed off the comment, knowing that my year of maternity leave would be anything but a vacation. But despite my somewhat smug protests that it was going to be a crazy year full of sleep deprivation and crying and stress and laundry and diapers, a deep-down part of me was pretty sure that it would be easy. Relaxing. Idyllic. And it was, all of it, from sleep deprivation down to idyllic.

The first few months were hard. It felt like for every minute that Bean slept, I spent ten more on the internet trying to figure out how to make him sleep longer. We had rough patches. There were dark moments in the middle of the night. My notions of how to be a parent were constantly shattered by this changeable, demanding, adorable creature. But we got into a routine. We read books, went to baby groups, went for walks and hikes. I made art to hang on Bean’s bedroom walls. We used cloth diapers. I found a great baby bootcamp and lost nearly all of the baby weight. And I found, to my surprise, that in the quiet moments with nothing planned, I was perfectly content to just watch him and marvel at the miracle that was Bean. When the year was over, I was sad to leave my perfect boy, but excited to get back to the working world where my mind was challenged and the discussion didn’t always revolve around poop.

When I was pregnant with Monkey, the joke around my busy, stressful office was that this was my nine-month exit strategy; I was on the year-on, year-off plan, and after this second year-long vacation there would be a third, and a fourth, etc. (Not happening.) I’m now six months into maternity leave and it is nothing like the first one.

The first few months were a blur. Somehow the dreaded affliction of mommy-brain had taken a chunk out of my brain and I couldn’t remember any of the specifics from when Bean was a baby. How long did he sleep at night? How old was he when he started to take consistent naps? How often did he nurse? Did he cry this much? The road map that I assumed I would have with my second child was blank, and I was muddling through again (with the help of my trusty friend Google. What did people do before the internet? Seriously!). Only this time, it wasn’t just me and the tiny puke-and-poop-factory, I also had a two year-old. A loving, running, tantrum-ing, laughing, yelling, throwing, hugging, did-I-mention-yelling, two year-old.

“Can I hold the baby?”

“The baby is touching me! Make him stop!”

“Look Mummy, I ride baby like a horse!”

“Sshhhh! Baby is sleeping! SSHHHH!!! BABY IS SLEEEEEPING!!!!”

“I love him.”

“Don’t hold the baby, pick me up! Pick me up!”

“Mummy, play with me! Play with me!”

No more hours of lying on the floor, gazing into the baby’s eyes. Yes, we lie on the floor, but I’m on guard to protect Monkey’s head from the odd flying dumptruck. No more leisurely walks with other mamas as our babies snooze in strollers. Instead I’m packing Monkey in the Ergo and Bean in the stroller, desperately trying to make it out of the house, to a park, and back in the narrow window between Monkey’s first two naps and before Bean’s nap. Cloth diapering, ha! I’m barely coping with our regular laundry, thank you very much. We went to a baby group once. It was in a park, and I was the only mama with a toddler also in tow. Monkey slept in his stroller with the cover over him. While the other mamas laid their babes out on blankets and chatted in the peaceful shade of an oak tree, I was hopelessly distracted as Bean tore from one end of the field to the other, hiding behind trees and shouting “find me, Mummy!” Eventually he spotted the playground at the far end of the park and our time at baby group was over. Monkey hadn’t woken up – for all the other mamas knew, I was an insane woman with an empty stroller and a maniac toddler son who had just come to eavesdrop on their conversation.

Yes, this year-long vacation has been different. It’s harder to get out of the house, and it’s lonelier. But now that the fog of the first few months is over, I’m realizing that this time around is sweeter somehow. Monkey is my last baby, and I’m determined to soak up all of his baby goodness. I’m acutely aware of the depth of his knee dimples, and the perfectly circular whorl of hair on the crown of his head. As cliched as it is, I know how quickly this baby stage goes. And I get to be home for this year of Bean’s toddlerhood. The messes, the games, the drama, the development. The divine mispronunciations. The spontaneous hugs, the uncontrollable laughter, the “you’re my best, Mummy.”

Here at the mid-point of my year-long vacation, I can truly and honestly say, from the bottom of my heart, this has been nothing like a vacation. Well, unless you don’t typically shower a lot on vacation. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.