Expired Sunscreen

Hey friends, what time is it? Why it’s time for Andrea’s annual blog post!

I looked at the date stamps on my last couple of posts and laughed so hard — has it been a year already!? In the time it’s taken me to write three blog posts, some of my friends have given birth to their second and, yes, even their third children.

In the time it’s taken me to write three blog posts, my child has morphed from an infant to a sassy toddler. In the time it’s taken me to write three blog posts, my sunscreen has expired, but I used it anyway and we spent three hours in the park this afternoon so my face is prettttty red right now.

Amazingly, some of the stuff I was struggling with a year ago, I’ve finally figured out. My guilt over not writing down every adorable thing Alice said and did? We have a notebook for that now! Do my husband and I catch every little pearl that falls out of her mouth? No. But we’re keeping a running list of her special vocabulary so that on days when she suddenly starts saying “Cookie MONSTER” instead of “Cookie Monsah,” we know we’ll always have that list to look back on when all we really want to do is weep.

Writing? I dropped the novel revisions that were making me tear my hair out and started a new, invigorating project that I really enjoy thinking about maybe writing some day. When Alice is in kindergarten maybe? I’m fine with that. I’m actually still enthralled with the process of raising my tiny human, and will happily put writing on a low simmer for a while. I have a “mom writers” group that meets semi-regularly, and it’s enough for me right now.

The house? It is getting cleaner. Shockingly. I think I’m finally out of survival mode now, really. Things are stabilizing, normalizing. It’s surreal, but it’s happening.

If I could describe these past two years, I’d probably break it down like this:

The First Six Months: Complete fog and insanity. Lots of bleach. Major anxiety and OCD, and helpless frustration at the constant mess. No idea what I was doing. A terrible feeling of being torn between motherhood and career. An even worse suspicion that I was not a good mom and didn’t even enjoy being a mom.

Somewhere Around The Nine Month Mark: I made friends with my baby! We started to like each other. We came to an understanding. I started to believe that I was indeed a good mom. But I still had days when I didn’t enjoy it. Ongoing frustration with the mess in the house. Convinced Alice was hitting peak cuteness. Tired, very tired. Alice was still nursing and still not sleeping through the night.

Alice’s First Birthday: A mild sense of relief mingled with sadness that the first year was up. I was convinced that NOW Alice was hitting peak cuteness. When Alice’s first birthday party was over I went home and cried because we didn’t have enough snacks. Yes, I actually did that. I should also mention that Alice’s first birthday party took place on my actual 38th birthday. Which is to say that I, a nearly forty-year-old woman, cried because I’d failed to provide enough snacks at a child’s birthday party. Alice was still nursing and still not sleeping through the night.

At 19 Months: Alice slept through the night. I’ll never forget it. It was Christmas morning. We woke up and it was 8:21am. I nearly wept. If I hadn’t been up til 2am the night before, drinking Scotch and baking, I would have felt really, really well-rested.

Somewhere after this point, two things happened. First, I caught up on my sleep. I had strange, vivid dreams, the result of an entire year-and-a-half of little to no proper REM sleep. My skin repaired itself as I slept, and changed texture. The bags under my eyes halved in size. I felt unstoppable. I got a short bob haircut. I was on fire. After a year and a half, we were sleeping through the night! Perhaps appropriately, the overwhelming feeling at this point was that of waking from a dream, and I realized that I had probably been at least mildly clinically insane for at least the first year of Alice’s life. But I was better now, I was sure.

Then I developed insomnia.

I because anxious and worried and irritable. I decided I hated my new haircut. Winter came and with it came the colds…. one after the other. By late March, I’d had a head cold as often as I’d had my period. I counted somewhere between 3-5 days that month when I’d been able to breathe through my nose. Sometimes my depression would swing me low and limp and quiet, other times it fired up into screaming fits when I would yell at Alice or my husband. I would wake up at 4 or 5am and not be able to go back to sleep. I would wander around the house. I would scrub the kitchen floor.

I read a lot of articles about matrescence. I wondered when, or if, winter would ever end. Alice was still nursing, is still nursing. Is that weird? Her canine teeth grew in and the vampiric effect seemed apt some days. I suspected that I was not a good mom and didn’t even enjoy being a mom. Parenting a toddler could sometimes be so…. boring. I was so miserable and exhausted there were days that I felt I might actually slowly be dying and I just thought, “Meh.”

Alice did eventually get used to a babysitter, and to daycare, and I was able to slip off on my own from time to time. Usually, in these precious hours when I probably should have been working, I went to the pool and swam. I reveled in the anonymity of my goggles and swim cap, rejoiced in being absolutely and utterly alone, and drank in the profound luxury of being unreachable by phone or any other means. I would spend hours at the gym, two hours at a time, hiding. Steam room/swimming pool/sauna, nobody can find me, I’m not here.

At the Two Year Mark: The same feeling I had at Alice’s first birthday (relief mingled with nostalgia) sweeps back over me. Doubled, this time, of course.

I ache inside when I think that my baby days are over. (Though there’s much joy in having a toddler. I find I identity with toddlers quite a bit. They’re impulsive, inquisitive, curious. They enjoy testing things and people and situations. They’re joyful and empathetic and capable of profound emotion. And they’re completely fucking bonkers. I get that, I really do.)

But I also feel… something else. I can’t put my finger on it or express it exactly. Mostly it’s a sense of being battle-scarred and proud of it, of enjoying something hard won. A sense of calm? A sense that a deeper well of empathy has opened up inside me? Or maybe it’s a sense of pride and comfort in the knowledge that if ever I had a friend who was a new mom and she wanted to cry over something that was seemingly trivial but felt utterly heart-wrenching (not having enough snacks at a child’s birthday party, say), I would listen, and let her cry, and assure her that she was only very mildly clinically insane and that it was totally okay.