On Gray Hairs and Disney World

I found my first gray hair today.

I sat in the passenger seat of the car while my husband drove us to the movie theater for our first date without the kids in over a year.  I flipped the visor down, opened the mirror to inspect my makeup, and spotted it front and center at the hairline on my forehead.  Seemingly innocuous, comparatively short to the rest of my hairs.  Sturdy.  I plucked it just to be sure that it was what I thought it was.  I set it against the black sleeve of my husband’s coat for contrast.  It was, without a doubt, a silver strand.

Hard to believe he's only a handful of weeks away from his first birthday.

Hard to believe he’s only a handful of weeks away from his first birthday.

I held it between my fingers for a bit, twisting it this way and that, holding it against the sunlight as we rode along.  Could I really have gray hair?  But I’m only…

Then I realized: I’m not only anything anymore.  I’m not only twenty-something.  I’m not only thirty.  I’m in my thirties.  And I have two children.  I’m a mother, barreling towards middle-aged at lightning speed.  And once I get there, I’ll soon have high-schoolers.  After that, adult children.  Grandmotherhood.  Death.

How did this happen?  How do I stop it?

More importantly, how do I enjoy the here and now?  The single strand of gray hair?

I’m not sure why, but this seems to be the year for going to Disney World.  Several friends in my Facebook news feed have either recently been, are currently visiting, or are planning a trip to what’s widely considered the happiest place on Earth (And it is.  I have been and can verify.)  I find myself envious of these families who are treating their young children to such an adventure.  I imagine what fun it must be to break the news to them that they’ll soon be on a plane to meet Mickey Mouse.

It's heartbreaking to stop and realize just how quickly she's growing.

She’s getting so big and so smart, so quickly. She’s become a whole little person.

You might say that I can’t wait to take my kids there.

My husband and I have agreed for a while now that we would take a trip to Disney World when all of our children were old enough to remember it, enjoy it, and ride on most of the rides.  No babies, no strollers, no diaper bags, no parent having to ride the bench with an infant or toddler all day while the other one gets to do the fun stuff.  Since we plan on having another child, we estimate that we’ll be going to see The Mouse when our kids are 9, 7, and 5.  Since our oldest is only 2 now, that means seven more years of waiting our turn for the big Disney trip.

Seven years.  That’s a long time to wait and to have to hear about everyone else’s awesome time in Disney World.  Nearly a decade will pass between now and the time we finally pack our bags for Orlando.  And I find myself saying things like “I can’t wait to take my kids to Disney World.”  And I need to stop saying things like that.  Because I also say things like, “I can’t wait until the ten month-old starts walking,” and “I can’t wait until the toddler is potty-trained.”  I can’t wait for this, I can’t wait for that.

I can wait.  I want to wait.

This is all happening too fast.  Much faster than I’d like.  And there’s absolutely nothing that I or anybody else can do to slow it down.  The kids are growing, the hairs on my head are changing colors.  Life is happening, ticking along, meandering towards its inevitable end.  It’s terrifying.  So when I say things like “I can’t wait for this,” what I’m really saying is that I’m impatient with the speed at which life is traveling and I need this event or that milestone to happen faster, to arrive sooner.  And that’s simply not true.  If anything, I’d rather that life move a whole hell of a lot slower than faster.

I can wait.  Disney World and baby’s first steps can wait, too.  (Potty-training could actually happen any time it wants to.  I welcome it with wide open arms.)

I know that nursing won't last forever.  We're in no rush, we're on no schedule.

I know that nursing won’t last forever. We’re in no rush, we’re on no schedule.

I don’t say any of this with the intention of dismissing the very real challenges of everyday life.  Today is hard.  It is hard to take care of two small children.  It is hard to get such little sleep.  It’s hard not to want them to be independent, to be able to dress and feed themselves.  It’s hard to spend most of my day negotiating with a toddler on absolutely everything, from the color of the socks she’ll agree to wear to the right color dinner plate that she’ll let you put her food on.  It’s hard to nurse a baby what seems like a hundred times a day.  Life, right now, can be hard.

But I promise I’ll savor it.  I’ll savor these hard days, because the days after them will be hard for different, probably bigger, reasons.  Parents will pass away, and surviving that pain will be immeasurably harder than fighting over sock choices.  Teenaged children will keep secrets from us, and accepting that we are not needed for everything anymore will be far harder than nursing a baby.  Life will get harder.  On we will go.

I can wait.  All of it can wait.  Today is all I’ve got.  This toddler, this baby, and this husband are what I’ve got here and now.

Oh, and this gray hair.  And I can definitely wait on getting more of those.

“So, What Do You Do All Day?”

When I initially made the big jump from full-time desk jockey to stay-at-home mom, I worried about how my child and I could possibly fill up 9-10 hours’ worth of space.  For five days in a row.  And still like each other at the end of the week.

Obviously, we figured that part out pretty quickly, since babies/toddlers demand a crapload of attention and variety in their activities.  So, just what is it that we do all day, you may ask?  (You may not actually be asking that.  You may not really care.  But my kid — and her friends — are super cute, so at least enjoy the adorableness of the following photos, taken on an average Monday.)

Starting the day with a whole-grain flaxseed waffle, banana, milk, and a smile.

Headed out the door, on our way to the library!

B's -- ahem -- friend, JJ, getting a smooch at the library.

B's daredevil friend, E, scaling the train table at the library. How gorgeous is this little girl?

Next stop: Grandma & Pap's house for lunch (which is always tastier when schmeared on the face).

Here, she's playing one of her favorite "games" with her Pap. They each put on a hat and model it in front of the mirror. It's crazy adorable.

Stacking cups are still one of her all-time favorite toys. She's loved them since she was six months old. Her grandparents keep a set in the toybox at their house for her.

Back home! While Mama cooks dinner, Dadda (a.k.a: Mr. T) keeps her entertained by doing... what else? Hanging the swing in the dining room.

Tonight's menu: Stir-fry over brown rice.

After dinner, it's time for lots of belly zerbets from Dadda. Serious giggles ensue.

Before she hits the hay, it's time for one last round of num-nums. Here, we're nursing while watching homebirth videos on YouTube in an effort to prep her for the (alleged) pending arrival of baby brother.

Aaaaaand that's a wrap, folks! Bedtime! She's not super crazy about this time of day, as evidenced by the screaming. (PS: A big-girl room makeover is coming this summer. Please ignore the blah white walls and bedding until then.)

It’s a glamourous life, to be sure.  Whether it’s plastic cups, spaghetti stains, or nighttime tantrums, the dull moments are few and far between.  The smiles and the love, though, are abundant.  This is what we do all day.  And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

My 2011 Sucked. Or Did It?

There are about 8 hours left in the year 2011 and frankly, I’m not sad to see them – or it – go.

This was a big year for our little family.  In fact, I’d be willing to go on record as naming it the single biggest year (in terms of change) I’ve ever had.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  Here’s my wrap-up:

  • I fed my child another woman’s breastmilk this year.  After finally coming to terms with my low supply and B’s subsequent poor weight gain, I reached out to Human Milk 4 Human Babies (formerly Eats on Feets) to ask for donations from moms who, unlike me, were blessed with an abundant supply of the good stuff.  I’m grateful for the donor milk – and for the newfound friendship in the woman who shared it – but I could never quite shake the feeling of failure.  This was my tipping point for the peak of my PPD/A.
  • I suffered from acute postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD/A) this year.  Technically, I suffered from it in 2010, too, but 2011 was the year I faced it head-on and got myself into a therapist’s office  to do something about it.  Confronting this truth was painful and ugly and difficult.  And I didn’t make it through the full 52 weeks without smashing a few things and crying myself to sleep on occasion.
  • I quit my job this year.  To be more accurate, I quit the entire professional workforce this year.  After evaluating our life and what we considered to be really important (such as a happy marriage, time with our daughter, my mental and emotional health), my husband and I made a bold decision to let me stay at home to raise our child.  It took many long conversations, debates, late nights, and tears, but Mr. T and I eventually agreed that the best thing for me was to jump ship.  We knew that this decision held unpleasant consequences, but the benefits outweighed the risks as far as we were concerned.  Which leads me to the next highlight of 2011:
  • My husband and I walked away from our underwater mortgage this year.  When we bought our house five years ago, we thought that the market was as low as it could go, and were assured as much by our realtor at the time.  As the months and years ticked by, though, we watched our home’s value drop dramatically, our property taxes increase exponentially, and our hopes of ever selling our “starter home” to move on to bigger and better things crushed under the weight of the botched American dream.  We tried to do the right thing and short sell the property but were hijacked at the last minute by the insurance company who held our Private Mortgage Insurance, AIG.  They demanded $22,000 from us in order to allow the sale to go to closing.  Obviously, for two people who could no longer afford the mortgage in the first place, this was out of the question.  So we’re now in the midst of a fine foreclosure mess.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a blip on our radar.  I mean, so what?  So we got foreclosed on.  Big deal.  So have tons of other people.  But it’s hard not to feel ashamed sometimes, to wonder if we did the right thing.
  • I peed on a stick in a Kmart bathroom back in June and found out, then and there, that we were pregnant again.  (At the time, our daughter was only 9 months old.)  I cannot begin to describe the whirlwind of emotions that followed that moment but, in brief sum, it looked something like this: terror, shock, elation, worry, excitement, acceptance, fortitude, joy.  And that was all within the first 24 hours of the positive test.

This pregnancy came as a bit of a shock.

  • The joy didn’t last for long.  Before I even had a chance to dig out my old maternity clothes, the rug was pulled out from under us when I started bleeding.  All day.  Every day.  For almost a month.  (Sorry, this next part is going to get a bit TMI-ish.)  I passed huge clots and, each time I did, I was certain they were tiny little embryos or placentas.  I called my midwife nearly every other day, crying and worrying and asking what we could do.  Eventually, I saw a perinatologist who tested my progesterone levels, confirming that they were low and that this was the cause of the heavy bleeding.  Because I was still nursing B at the time, my progesterone levels hadn’t regulated yet and were being suppressed by the nursing.  The doctor put me on progesterone supplements and advised me to stop nursing my daughter.  I was not given great odds that, even with these efforts, the pregnancy would continue.  So I took only half of her advice and continued to nurse B.  I was distraught enough as it was over the idea of miscarrying; I couldn’t then handle the emotions that were sure to come with a weaning process that, quite frankly, neither of us wanted.  So I took a gamble.  Eventually, the bleeding did stop once I’d made it into the safety of the second trimester and the placenta was developed enough to produce progesterone on its own for me.  And I’m still pregnant.  31 weeks today, to be exact.  But damn, that first trimester was a physical/emotional/mental doozy.

So that’s that.  My year, in a nutshell.  Pretty shitty, right?  A breastfeeding failure, a PPD mess of a mother, a job-quitter, a foreclosure statistic, then knocked up again – years before we were ready – only to come this close to suffering a traumatic miscarriage.  Oy.

Except, let’s spin this a bit:

  • Breastfeeding failure?  How about breastfeeding SUCCESS.   I mean hey, I didn’t quit, right?  In fact, I still haven’t.  31 weeks pregnant and am actually nursing Big Sister-to-Be as we speak (er, type).
  • Postpartum depression SURVIVOR.  As in, I’m better.  Happier.  More aware of what to look out for this next time so that I can get treated right away if it shows up again.  That’s a huge advantage to have.
  • Job-quitter, yes.  Also, though, a life-restructurer.   Not long after I quit my job, I dove headfirst into doula training with Birth Arts International.  I’ve already had two birth clients and am eager to take on more once I’ve given myself some maternity leave for O’Baby.
  • Yes, I am a foreclosure statistic.  Again, though, this was part of a restructuring of our entire lives.  The roof over our heads – and whether it was owned or rented – was just one small piece of a much larger puzzle.  I’ve come to terms with this one.  We were proactive about it and made the decision that was best for our family; not the one that was best for the mortgage company.
  • So I almost had a miscarriage.  But I didn’t, did I?  I may not be having the easiest pregnancy in the world (Braxton-Hicks since 20 weeks, daily morning sickness well beyond the first trimester, out-of-control heartburn, insomnia, I could go on and on), but I am, in fact, still pregnant.  And having that too-close-for-comfort brush with the unthinkable made us realize just how badly we really wanted the baby that we didn’t think we wanted.

I suppose putting things into perspective like that makes 2011 look not so bad.  I’m actually pretty grateful for these experiences.  Good ones and bad ones alike; for the former gave us happy memories and the latter, lessons learned.  They’ve each laid the groundwork for a happier, healthier 2012 and beyond.

May your New Year be chock-full of all kinds of experiences.

-Suzanne

Does Staying at Home Give Moms a Case of the Sads?

A study from the December issue of the Journal of Family Psychology was released this week revealing that mothers who work outside of the home are “happier and healthier” than stay-at-home mothers. The study’s authors, Cheryl Buehler and Marion O’Brien from University of North Carolina at Greensboro, suggest that working mothers reported to be in better health and were less likely to report symptoms of depression than their stay-at-home counterparts, potentially because the latter group is more “socially isolated.”

Is she happier than you?

The timing of this report couldn’t have been more perfect for this newbie blogger. For the intents and purposes of Homestead Instead, a discussion about the health and well-being of working versus stay-at-home mothers couldn’t be more relevant… or juicy, for that matter. I’ve been mapping out my argument in my head for this all week.

I relentlessly pored over study after study about the benefits of being a stay-at-home mother and the positive effects it has on children. I bookmarked countless pages and copied and pasted excerpts that would support my “Nuh-uh! Stay-at-home moms are better and you can suck it” rebuttal that I would publish.

And then I deleted all of it.

You see, I have absolutely no desire to dip even a single toe into the Mommy Wars waters. I’ve been on both sides of this tall, divisive fence and can report rather objectively that the grass on each side is the exact same shade of greenish-brown. Neither landscape is perfect. Neither is better, neither is worse. Both are hard as hell and are deserving of the respect, sympathy, and camaraderie of those on the other side.

So here’s the crux of my juicy, relevant blog post on the subject: Let’s do better, get better, and be better. Let’s prove them wrong. I mean, if the alleged experts purport that being an unemployed stay-at-home mom is going to make you depressed and unhealthy, let’s do something about that.  If their suggestion that SAHMs are “socially isolated,” is correct, let’s all open our front doors wide and get ourselves and our kidlets out of the house. If this isn’t something you’re already doing, here are some tips to get started:

  • If you’re a breastfeeding mom, find a La Leche League meeting nearby and drop in to swap stories with some likeminded lactating ladies.
  • Search for a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group to join.
  • If fitness is your thing (or if you’re trying to make it become your thing) see if there’s a Stroller Strides meetup near you.
  • Other great places to meet other moms and their respective playdate companions include your local library, public park, city/county rec center, and even local coffee shops and bookstores as they often have singalong or storytime events during the week.

Still stuck in the house? Make the day something that’s fun for you and the kiddo(s) instead of something to be tolerated. There was a notable mood-lifting that happened for both me and my daughter when our days went from playing with the same boring toys over and over, to testing the waters with experiential and sensory play.  Oh, and Pinterest is an excellent place to search for more un-boring ideas for educational play for toddlers.

Personally, this study does not apply to me. Being a stay-at-home mom has been much better for my overall emotional and mental health. While I was financially more comfortable being a full-time working mother and had fewer life stresses in that regard, I was also riddled with anxiety – and a touch of depression – over being away from my daughter all day. I have found more happiness and health outside of the workplace than I did in it, so I suppose I’m an exception to what Buehler and O’Brien are suggesting is the norm. That being said, I can see how easy it is to become stuck in a rut, overwhelmed, feeling a loss of personal identity, or feeling less equal than your partner because you don’t generate income for the family. If any of these fit the bill for you, I would encourage you to talk to your partner, a trusted friend or family member, or seek support from a local parenting group like those I mentioned above.

The UNC Greensboro study isn’t the first to suggest that stay-at-home moms are more depressed than their working counterparts. In fact, it’s been reported that as many as 57% of stay-at-home moms report some symptoms of depression.  I’m a die-hard advocate for maternal health from all angles, including mental and emotional, so please take stock  of where you stand on the happiness spectrum and act accordingly. Motherhood ≠ Martyrdom, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that you should “suck it up” for the kids’ sake, especially since your health is almost as important to their well-being as it is to your own.

Finally, I would be doing a great disservice to my own efforts in reviewing and analyzing this study if I didn’t highlight a few key points that seemed to have gotten lost in the incendiary, Mommy War-declaration headlines that the media reduced its findings to (like this one and this one and this one):

  • The study did not account for the reason(s) behind the unemployed mothers’ status [e.g.: whether it was a conscious choice, a forced choice (perhaps due to unavailable/unaffordable daycare or familial/cultural pressure), or simply due to the unavailability of a job given the status of the economy (including whether or not the mother was terminated or laid off from a previous employer)]. Any of the aforementioned factors could certainly skew the reporting of depressive symptoms, but were not taken into consideration.
  • The mothers who participated in the study each only had one child; none were parents of multiple children.
  • “Working mother” was defined only by quantity of hours worked; it did not take into account professional status, shift work, or job flexibility, any of which could potentially alter the findings if the working mother groups had been isolated to these respective identifiers.
  • The relationship between the mothers’ well-being and their employment status virtually disappeared once the child entered grade school.
  • Couple functioning, or level of intimacy between the mothers and their significant others, was not affected by employment status.

Be well, all,

Suzanne