It’s been almost 3 years since I received an important notification in the tiny apartment bathroom in Charlottesville. We’re talking positive pregnancy test here. At the time, it was like “Holy cow, I’m actually gonna have a kid. I hope she’s cute, and ummm, I hope she’s cute”. That and “Can I still run pregnant?” since I had a race coming up in 3 hours. No thought to what real 24/7 childcare was all about. I knew what the later stages of having a family was like as the oldest of 5 kids, but didn’t realize that as the first, my mom had experienced with me, the same shock I am going through with Joanie. If I had been wise I could have invested a little more time to earn some knowledge in 8th and 9th grade when my sister Molly was a baby, but I had other priorities. Deep in my Snoop Dogg phase, I didn’t want much to do with newborns especially if that meant hanging out with my mom. (Poor mom, I love her now!) So when this pregnancy occurred, I knew a baby would be the result, but what this really meant- I had no clue.
2 years into being a mom myself, I can’t believe how my life has changed and in a sense forced me to grow up. I’m not really a young mom, but even at age 29, I hadn’t put any real thought into what it would take to be a parent. Now at 31, with a 2 year degree in Advanced Baby and Toddler Care, with a minor in Traveling Solo with an Infant, I am feeling like I’m fitting well into the 30s. I am amazed at all the things I didn’t know or even foresee coming. During the pregnancy, you kind of just focus on “you” and making sure the baby you’re carrying around is safe and eventually gets out healthy.
I had a little prerequisite training as a nanny of 2 young toddlers, but it really was only a tiny smidgen of what real parenting is like. For instance, as a nanny, you get to go home before dinner. You skip the entire 7pm-7am shift which can be very complicated and unpredictable and completely break you down if you don’t have your PMA (positive mental attitude). One or 4 nights in a row it can be a complete treat when your kid (we’re talking post age 1) actually sleeps 12 hours straight, or it can be an exhausting brain wrecking puzzle piece to figure out how to get the kid back to sleep so you can function as a normal human the next day (Samuel Jackson curses a lot here, but its excused as he has a valid point – “Go the F to Sleep“.) Not a fan of the swearing, but even if you rarely catch yourself doing it, it would likely be at 3am when your kid is awake, as he is expressing himself in this poem.
I heard about this no sleep type thing and wondered how the hay I’d ever survive. The truth- I did it only because I was able to nap occasionally when she did. If I would have had to return to work, I’m sure I would have crumbled, and definitely not have had any successful running performances. But even then, there is nothing worse than the sound of anything coming from the mini tv camera next to your bed when the sun is far from returning to the surface. Looking at it from a runner’s perspective -there’s a reason why it takes women a while to return to training after childbirth.. not just so your body’s hips can return to their normal position, but so you can realistically think about if it is even worth training as you did pre-baby when you can’t get more than a 3 hour stretch of sleep at a time (at least for the first 3+ months). I was in rough shape like most parents, and still occasionally (usually bi-weekly) I get slammed once again. Even after I think she’s comfortably coasting in the 12 hours a night phase, just like that she’s up 2-5am rearing to go, wishing I could get Samuel Jackson in my room to talk her out of it. Thankfully biology makes you stay sane by continuously sending you vibes of “aww she’s really cute” or “wow she looks just like if the guy I love the most in the world and I had a kid”.
Even outside the loss of sleep category, there are/were constant realities that kept hitting me as I went through the new parent stage. The main one that kept coming up was “How do people have 2? or 3? or 6?” “Did I really think I wanted at least 3?” “How did so many humans make it to adulthood?” Now I get why there’s problems in the world. Being a parent is hard!! I didn’t give my parents nearly enough credit and most people likely don’t get why some parents chose to “stay home” until they have one themselves. The job is endless, and the credit is so little, unlike a prestigious job where you can likely go home at 6pm and not worry about it til the next morning* (ok -my experience being a tech rep this is not the case- and I realize not all jobs you can really just leave out there.. some never end) – but great parenting gives you no paycheck and if you do find work, a severe cut of that paycheck goes right back into someone watching your kid.
Why I don’t work more – if I got anything less than full time – I get paid say $15 an hour- a sitter takes a minimum of $10. This is the true cost of having a child. I never understood when Alan explained the Simpsons intro – as they ring up Maggie at the checkout – a massive $$$ pops up – the average cost per year of raising a child at the time of the show. “How could diapers and baby food be that expensive?” Duh. Not to mention flying. Joanie is now a minimum $400 to get back to see any of her relatives. You can skip shopping at designer baby boutiques – get all hand me down clothes and still fork over mass quantities of cash anytime you need a break or get work done as a parent.
Running. Wow. I never knew the “+” essentially meant – you think running pregnant feels hard? Wait til you have to push a heavy cart of wheels basically at all times (especially when your husband’s career involves heavy travel). Not only the actual pushing/running but calculating the best time it can fit into your child’s day so they don’t fall asleep and ruin their real nap/have a meltdown because they don’t want to be restrained, etc- The cost for stroller free running – $20+ for an outing getting a sitter, max of an hour on a treadmill (once I discovered a gym with childcare), bribing people in which I now feel I am in great debt. I was thankful to be a part of the coaching staff at Westview High school last fall. Part of that deal it was agreed that Joanie was team baby, as head coach Rebecca Martin (one of the most amazing people on planet Earth) watched Joanie as I went off to run with the kids. Of course when Alan is home, we do swap shifts, and I run Joanie free, but this usually means he takes prime time (AM) and I go 2nd shift (usually lunch time), but I’m not complaining here!! Thank you Alan- please come back home (next return is in 8 days!!)
Then there’s getting sick. It’s easy to forget the trauma of how a simple cold can wreck havoc on your family when its the heart of summer and her last one was in June. It basically can turn the sweetest, cutest, most well behaved baby into a basket case and complete meltdown crazed wildebeest. During her first 4 months of daycare, she went from one sickness to another, constantly coughing, snotting and let’s just say double the work adding to the exhaustion of parenting. It’s all part of life though, daycare or not, kids are destined to be sick til the immune system is built up.
So what tips would I give first time pregnant mamas?
– Soak up the quiet nights and sleep as much as possible to the point you are tired of sleeping. Use that for ammo as you charge into the first year of your child’s life and reflect on how boring it was to get long stretches of uninterrupted sleep.
– Go on as many dates as possible. They are free for now! Even if you feel fat and unattractive, go out to some place without any mirrors near by, and live it up with your husband!! Same with hanging with your friends. Do it now before “past her bedtime” and being highly distracted becomes an obstacle.
-Offer to babysit or watch a friend/relative’s baby for free. Sounds like a rip off, but this will be life as you know it very soon. You won’t get paid, so do it with love and take notes on what these parents do that work, or do not
-I never really read any baby books but if you’re bored during the pregnancy, it couldn’t hurt. I would say its more important to know about taking care of a baby, rather than spend the time reading endless pregnancy books. If you have ever seen “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” show you’ll quickly understand that energy wasted on knowing exactly what to do during this time, matters very little, outside the basic – take care of yourself. I have yet to see a show with a handicap baby, although many of the unknowingly pregnant women did zilch for prenatal care (although I obviously would recommend it – just not stress on every little tidbit of pregnant wisdom there is out there). Yet, I would imagine even if you read every book on infant care, you’d still find moments where you pretty much have blown it. It’s all about experience.
-Take advantage of the midwives, nurses, or extra care you get in the hospital/birthing center/ wherever you gave birth during the hours/days after the baby arrives. I arrived back at my apartment about 3 hours after giving birth and my reaction “wow she’s tiny. Like a lot smaller than I expected. Now what do I do?” My instinct – don’t let her die. Stay close. Very close. Make sure she’s breathing and get up to check various times of the night. And day. I was super attached and nervous even when she was asleep that something would go wrong if I didn’t watch constantly, which became me sleeping an inch away from her bassinet. I never left my baby’s side, which caused some fear about being on constant watch and not really leaving the responsibility to someone else. It wasn’t til she was about 2-3 months, and she could roll over, that I lost that phobia. It could have stemmed from having no relief/trust in anyone from hour 1. Take advantage of all the help you can before the newborn phase passes and you’re really on your own!
-When you end up lost, find someone who knows their stuff. I was so thankful to find the “baby whisperer” Jan Weeks. We connected when I did a nanny search for one of my best friend’s weddings back in Portland when we were still in VA. She showed me the light as someone with great experience and knowledge for anything and all things babies. Plus she just showed me how to do this “job” having more fun. If it wasn’t for her sleep training around 5 months, I would have never experienced the joy of a baby who finally fell in love with her crib and zero nursing from 9-6am from that point on. Jan is available in the Portland area for anyone in need!!!
Me getting handed over newborn baby Joanie- the equivalent of Billy Madison getting the company handed over to him before he won the Academic Decathlon.”I don’t know. Don’t think about it. Just hand it over”.
That’s all for my ranting on learning to be a parent for now! All the negatives never outweigh the positives. The rough stages always pass and make you enjoy what previously could be seen as “dull moments” . Your 2 year old becomes your best friend and you can’t imagine life without them. Having Joanie has been a game changer, but for the best and is it basically means never a dull day. Now that she’s basically saying every single word in the English language, it is even more entertaining to hear what’s in the mind of a 2 year old! Good luck to my sister in law Chen expecting her first this November !! Also a note to please excuse my constant tweets and blog posts on stroller running. Each run, I feel a great accomplishment has happened with mass amounts of effort, especially as the weight continues to increase (maybe my tires are a little flat too…) I’m just trying to give myself gold stars of encouragement so I keep my miles up!!! 🙂