Third time’s a charm . . . when it’s not a hex

At least twice a day another mom pulls me aside and asks, “How is it,” her voice dropping nearly to a whisper, laced with a mixture of reverence and fear, “with three?” Since stringing thoughts together into a logical narrative feels a bit beyond me at the moment, I present a series of random reflections on life with a newborn this third time around:

  • Every morning is like stepping off a red-eye, except on a red-eye you can at least hope for five hours of sleep; and when you’re awoken it’s by people offering food, not demanding it. Plus usually you don’t disembark knowing you’re boarding another plane that night and every night, indefinitely.
  • It turns out I didn’t truly understand the phrase “emotional roller coaster ride” until recently. Exhilaration, panic, exhilaration, panic. Sometimes I glow with confidence and elation, proud of my ability to keep all three of my precious children happy. A few moments later I find myself crying in frustration and defeat as one person’s mood or misstep throws all four of us off-kilter. I am the most gentle, flexible, playful, and creative parent a child could want. The next hour exhaustion rears its head, and I meet even trifling offenses with red-faced anger. I am almost overpowered by gratitude for my three little blessings, our home, our city, and our occupations. Later that day I compose a text message demanding that my husband quit his dream job so that we can move to Montana and live off our savings; in that moment I’ll sacrifice anything just not to be left alone with all three children again. When it’s just the four of us, we are up and we are down. We fire on all cylinders or smoke billows up from under the hood. There is no middle ground.
  • My baby doesn’t fall asleep; she needs to be pushed.
  • While changing into my pajamas at 7:05 p.m., I noticed a dried piece of scrambled eggs tucked inside my nursing bra. Before (and between) children I would have been disgusted as well as grateful that I was the one disrobing me that particular evening. Not these days. I just shrugged and thought, “Hell, at least I got dressed.”
  • I envy healthy newborns’ zest for eating. Can you imagine being so into your meal that you respond with indignance when someone tries to convince you to stop in order to change out of the pants you’ve just wet?
  • I’ve come to resent people who say, “I was up half the night” like that’s an impressively bad thing. Going to sleep when the kids do at seven, getting out of bed at seven the next morning, and banking six hours of sleep in one-hour stints (or, please God, two-hour increments) is actually a fairly decent night’s sleep for the mother of a newborn.
  • I’m ridiculously productive and efficient – at tasks that require only one hand. That means I’m able to do laundry, but not fold it. Brush my teeth, but not wash my face. Eat, but not cook. You get the idea.
  • Why do I try desperately to get the baby to sleep, only to wake her ten minutes later by sniffing her head or hovering over her mouth to make sure she’s still breathing? Will I never learn? I think after three kids we can safely say, no, I will not.
  • Week one post-delivery my big kids both caught a head cold (waking on alternate nights, of course). Week two, pinworm. Week three they brought home a second cold, and this time infected the baby. That’s when I stopped counting weeks. She’s two months old, but I still refer to this as our third week. A bout of hand, foot, and mouth disease went around Stuart’s new preschool two weeks ago, and we remained unscathed. Take that, Science.
  • My autocorrect changes “wine” to “whine.” Enough said.
  • I get annoyed when strangers hear my newborn crying and say, “my, she’s hungry” or “poor thing’s tired.” As a first-time parent it was worse; I wanted to murder them. “She just fucking ate,” I’d scream inside my head. What gives? I would never presume to know what another person’s baby needs. Okay, that’s a lie. I’d definitely presume, but I’d keep my mouth shut. I’d like to see my kids grow up, not die in some sort of hormone-fueled rampage.
  • My shirt is now soaked in someone else’s regurgitated beverage even more often than it was in college.
  • I’m obsessed with establishing a sidewalk cutout and elevator hierarchy in order to avoid awkward, time-consuming pauses. Here’s what I’ve got: (1) person in a wheelchair because he or she is sick or severely disabled, (2) person in a wheelchair because he or she is old, (3) handy-capable person in a wheelchair, (4) person pushing a shopping cart filled with belongings, (5) double stroller with small wheels, (6) single stroller with small wheels, (7) person pushing a dolly laden with packages, (8) double stroller with big wheels, (9) single stroller with big wheels, (10) person pulling a suitcase, (11) person pushing an empty dolly, (12) Segway, (13) bike, and (14) able-bodied person who presumes an inalienable right to walk in a straight line or avoid stairs. My biggest theoretical dilemma lies in implementation of numbers (1) and (2), but I figure if I approach an elevator or sidewalk cutout at the same time as two people in wheelchairs, both of whom appear sick and old, I can sit back and let them duke it out.
  • Baby poop is all liquid and gas, almost no solid.
  • When I get my older kids in bed, the promise of sleep renders me punch drunk. Taken to the extreme the giddiness caused me to text Ian the following: “The kids went down easy like your sister on a first date.” Luckily he doesn’t have a sister (and, as you’ve probably discerned by now, he’s careful not to leave his phone where coworkers can read my texts).
  • I ran into the male OB resident who examined my lady parts upon arrival at labor and delivery three weeks postpartum . . . on the sidewalk, three blocks from my house. I felt surprisingly (1) unabashed, and (2) glad I’d gotten waxed the week before the birth. In retrospect, I’ve always been this way. Back when I was a chubby middle schooler, I used to plan my jogging route so as to pass by my crushes’ homes, confident in my sweaty red cheeks. Sure, there was a lot of unpretty going on, but I rested easy having telegraphed my effort to improve the situation.
  • Though they’d seem to describe the same series of events, the phrases “I got her down” and “she fell asleep” carry vastly different practical and emotional connotations.
  • I love how pleasantly surprised babies are by the appearance of the second breast. Picture remaining a wee-bit hungry after finishing a delectable helping of salmon a la plancha only to have another serving magically plopped down in front of your face. I don’t have to fantasize. My sister-in-law ordered me four boxes of salmon a la plancha from Munchery.com as part of the sanity-preserving meal registry with which I’ve been blessed this time around. I shafted the kids, fed them leftovers, and ate two full entrées myself.
  • If I haven’t called you it’s because I’m doing everything I can to get through each day; if I have called you it’s because I’m doing everything I can to get through each day. Either way, please let me off the hook. (That line will only ring true if you’re old enough to remember the days when answering the phone required lifting the receiver off a literal hook.)
  • I go absolutely apeshit with concealed glee when someone assumes this is my first dance at the ball. Especially when they inevitably say, “Just wait ‘til your second; your standards will loosen up.” As a first-time parent this type of comment – that implies any anxiety or rigidity is borne of inexperience rather than love, commitment, or rational processing of data – drove me insane. Now I just smile, nod gratefully, and plot how to go about running into them with all three well-behaved kids in tow.
  • I knew a scarcity of parental resources would create at least a little sibling rivalry, but I expected the kids to resent the baby. Instead, they fawn over her and pick fights with each other. Because that makes sense how?
  • The first time around I felt vaguely embarrassed about nursing and covered up in the presence of men, particularly my squeamish brothers. Now I’ll whip a nipple out of my shirt and pop it in her mouth with no hesitation whatsoever – in crowded three-star restaurants, in Meeting for Worship on Sundays, on public transportation, and even walking down the street. It’s not a principled stance, just a total acceptance of my boob as an instrument of food production.
  • Although, I do delight in oversharing about the physical aspects of nursing – as well as pregnancy and labor – with my brothers and brothers-in-law. I’m not blind to their sensibilities, just amused by their discomfort. I think that’s how hippies must feel when they give stinky, lingering hugs to the rest of us.
  • Two of the coping mechanisms I developed during Vivi’s infancy continue to preserve my sanity: (1) each day I set a fairly modest goal like “cry fewer than three times” or “keep the children alive,” and (2) I add almost everything I do to my to-do list (sometimes after I’ve already accomplished the task, simply for the pleasure of retroactively checking it off) including such noteworthy items as “shower,” “clip nails,” and “put in contacts.” WARNING: A parent, especially a Type A or obsessive-compulsive one, must never add “do laundry” to a task list. If I were captured by a terrorist organization, they could break me simply by putting this ultimate Sisyphean chore on my list (you know, if changing the angle of my placemats or knocking my hallway runner askew didn’t work first).
  • After dealing with a sick kiddo the first time around and a reflux-ridden first few weeks with the subsequent two (praise be to the developers of Prevacid), I will never stop being amazed and grateful when my baby eats, opens her eyes without screaming, and sleeps.
  • Josie is our own little start-up, privately-held of course.
  • Baby skin works magic. No matter how tempestuous our teapot gets, I can rub my cheek on some uber-soft newborn flesh and get an instant infusion of Zen. Like Motrin for cramps, it’s not enough to make everything okay, but it certainly takes the edge off.

Though there’s a bit of “two steps forward, one step back” going on (or “no steps anywhere,” as the case may be, since Stuey dislocated my toe yesterday), week-on-week my blessed yet overwhelming life consistently improves. I figure the trajectory should continue in a positive direction, at least until Josie hits the terrific twos or Vivi goes through puberty. Knock on wood. Rub the rabbit foot. Ice the broken foot.

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One thought on “Third time’s a charm . . . when it’s not a hex

  1. Well, dearie, before Macy was born, your Mom accused me of not wanting him – one of the rare hurtful things she rarely said, but she was picking up on my feeling overwhelmed(and I was). All I can say is that it just keeps getting better, though it’s hard to appreciate that from your one-armed position… We love you and have complete faith in your competencies and love. Don’t forget what I said when Rachel came home…

    Sent from my iPhone

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