I Look Like Somebody’s Mom. Probably Because I Am. And I’m OK With That.
Parenting often feels like walking through water with all of my clothes on. Everything is damp, I’m moving more slowly than I ever thought possible, I’m more exhausted than I ever have been, and I just can’t seem to get anywhere, let alone to my destination. Come to think of it, I’ve completely forgotten what my destination even was to begin with. I’ve gone hours before having the chance to go to the bathroom. Days without a drink of water (ok, probably like 30 minutes, but I get dehydrated quickly) and I recently went nine months without wine.
It’s not easy to parent small people and it’s even harder to parent two small people. I think many of us have a tendency, or a desire perhaps, to paper over the challenges of raising kids. To focus only on the highs, of which there are many. But acknowledging the challenges doesn’t diminish the wonders. It doesn’t negate that some aspects of parenting are miraculous, life-altering, and utterly wonderful. And other aspects are filled with poop–usually in a literal sense.
Where I’m At: The Mommywoods Edition
Why am I writing about parenting when I’m supposed to be writing about money? Because I am so very in it. So very in the thick of the dirty, tiring work required by my two-year-old and two-month-old daughters. And I promise I’ll weave in some financial lessons here too, unless I forget on account of the fact that this post was written over the course of two weeks, approximately five minutes at a time while one child or another (or both) clung to me/I read them a book/did a puzzle with them/nursed the baby/wiped something of indeterminate origin off the floor with my foot.
I am the queen of the multitask, as is every other parent on earth. It’s true that having kids has made me more efficient and effective. I get a lot done every day because I am focused and my windows of time to work are infuriatingly brief. Did you know you can clean an entire bathroom during a 20-minute episode of Daniel Tiger? You can. Did you know you can do an entire yoga routine during a 20-minute episode of Daniel Tiger? You can. Did you know you can fold and put away an entire household’s clean laundry during a 20-minute episode of Daniel Tiger? You can. Did you know that Daniel Tiger is god’s gift to parents? He is.
Everything I do has to take my kids into consideration and must work around their schedules. Going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, taking a shower, sleeping, eating… let alone herculean things like leaving the house. Every aspect of my life–and my husband’s life–is dominated by our two niblets. I’m OK with that, mostly because I know they will only get older and more independent and less reliant on their parents (right?! I mean surely five-year-olds can pull up their own pants and don’t walk around with their bums hanging out?).
I know, I just know, that Mr. Tikhvinskoe and I will miss this stage one day. This early phase of our lives as a family of four. This seemingly impossible time with a toddler and an infant. I suppose I’ll think fondly about being woken up to feed Littlewoods multiple times a night. Of hearing Babywoods wail that she wants more “sweet toetaytoe” when she already has an entire freaking sweet potato on her plate. Of herding two crying children into the library/church/playgroup while both cling to me with their tiny claws and one of them pretends she has forgotten how to walk and passersby gawk at the modern mother trying to have it all and, in that moment, so clearly failing. It’s hard to see that end right now when the entire human experience happens before 8am most days. But I know that end is there. Somewhere.
Savoring And The Ease of The Second
Since I know the end of their childhoods looms and maturity will happen, I’m trying to savor Littlewoods’ infancy. It grates on my nerves when people say, “they grow up so fast,” as they smile at me and I grimace back with infant spit running down the inside of my shirt (my first clean shirt in days) and my toddler is lying on the floor picking dirt off my boots (again, why?!). Because let me tell you, it does not go fast when you’re in the middle of it. It goes glacially. Each day is a marathon. A long and painful one that you didn’t train for. And no one is standing on the sidelines handing you snacks or cheering you on. I’ve also heard tell that the days are long, but the years short. I might be able to buy into that one.
With our first daughter, the first six months or so were a complete haze. I was exhausted, terrified we were screwing up, unsure of what this tiny person would do next, and completely overwhelmed at the loss of my freedom. With the second kid, however, things are much easier. It’s nowhere near the mind-blowing alteration of going from zero to one kid. We know what we’re doing (sort of), we’re not stressed out (mostly), we know that infant-hood doesn’t actually last all that long (thank goodness), and our lives are already orchestrated around children (there’s a trampoline and a slide in the middle of our “dining” room).
When Babywoods screamed for me in the middle of the night at two months old, I panicked she’d be doing it until she went to kindergarten. Mercifully, she was done with that by six months old. And so as Littlewoods cries to nurse in the middle of the night now, I go to her in a state of exhausted calm. I have a roadmap of how this will end (spoiler alert: with sleep training). I find that knowing what to expect makes all the difference for my mindset and how I respond to my kids.
This is, incidentally, also how I feel about managing my finances. Knowing what to do with my money and what to expect removes the anxiety I used to feel about it. So much of our anxiety around our money is born of not knowing. Of not knowing how much we’re spending, how much we’re making, and where it’s all going every month. Grant yourself the peace of ironing out these basics. Track your spending. Write down all of your debts with interest rates. Know exactly what your take-home pay is each month. Then, make a plan.
I read a million parenting books before and after Babywoods was born, but nothing prepared me to be a parent quite so well as actually being a parent. It’s an on-the-job type of learning experience. Or at least, it is for me. Although the books do help and I still avidly consume them. I figure someone has to know more about parenting than me–and they do! Here’s a list of books I’ve found most helpful.
In the same way, nothing will prepare you for managing your money quite like getting down to the business of managing your money. You can read all the tips and tricks you want for budgeting and saving and investing, but until you start doing it, you won’t know what your personal plan will be. You won’t know how much money you can save in a month until you buckle down and do it.
I Look Like Somebody’s Mom
Going through the day, I’m pretty proud of myself for not yelling at my kids and for calmly (can we say “beatifically” with a straight face?) singing about cleaning up toys while my two-year-old alternates between cleaning up toys and rolling around on the floor (why?!), decidedly not cleaning up toys. I’m pretty pleased that both kids are happy and healthy and, let’s be honest, still alive at the end of the day. But then sometimes I catch myself in the mirror (by accident, I assure you) and wonder who this mom is staring back at me.
I was lethargically singing a song (there’s A LOT of singing in our house) I made up about brushing teeth the other evening as I poked the toothbrush around Babywoods’ mouth in the farce that passes for brushing a toddler’s teeth when I looked up at myself in the mirror and was stunned. I looked so tired, so old, so puffy, so much like someone’s mom.
I’m thrilled to be a mom, I’m proud of my children, I love them fiercely and without end, but I am mildly shocked that I now look the part. I’m still wearing maternity clothes two months after Littlewoods’ birth. I haven’t had time to shave my legs since she was born (thought about it the other morning while in the shower, didn’t have time, haven’t thought about it since). And I look as exhausted as I am. I don’t dislike how I look, I also don’t really care, but it’s a shocking realization that something has tipped in my life and in my appearance. I show the wear of carrying and birthing two children. I am older and more lined. I can’t tell if I have grey hairs or blond hairs (lets be honest, it’s grey… no one goes blond).
A Ceaseless Tide Of Work And Worry
Parenting is a ceaseless tide of work. It’s an endless exercise in pushing yourself to the outer limits of patience (and I thought I was impatient before having kids… HAH!), creativity (which I have a short supply of to begin with… ), physical labor (carrying a toddler, barnacled to the exterior of the occupied infant carrier, sobbing “cuddle me, momma!!!!” is ridiculously draining and heart-warming). Then there’s the mental exhaustion of responding with interest and teaching with enthusiasm (“what’s that noise, momma?” is Babywoods’ constant refrain. I mean seriously, kid, I have no idea what that random humming noise is inside our house. Either the refrigerator or, you know, the gas line about to blow up. Even chances I’d say).
Parenting is also a way of signing yourself up for a lifetime of anxiety. When you have children, there is LITERALLY no end of things to worry about. First, I worried that I wasn’t getting pregnant, then I worried about the health of the fetus while I was pregnant, next up was anxiety over childbirth, then SIDs and every other danger imaginable, the possibility of them eating too much or too little, concern that they might knock another child over in pursuit of an orange at playgroup, then the other night I woke up in a panic that Babywoods had somehow swallowed a screw and that it would perforate her bowel (how I even think of these things defies reality)… truly, there is no end.
Of course parenting is also a way of signing yourself up for unimaginable joy. For a fulfillment so deep I didn’t know it existed. For a happy sense of calm and of profound love. Not to mention hilarity. Kids are fonts of unintentional comedy. One of Babywoods’ recent commentaries on life: “I am sharing with my parents. I am very kind.” This right after she ran into a wall, bounced off of it, and kept running… I mean seriously.
Often, the frustration and the elation come side by side. The other evening, I called Babywoods to dinner and, when I didn’t hear a thunderous scamper, came out to explore. I found her sprawled out on the couch, wearing a blanket, a pirate hat, and a pair of sunglasses. Stone faced, she told me that she was “hiding out and investigating the couch” and so couldn’t come eat dinner. I hid behind a wall to laugh for a moment before marching her into dinner. Truly, the highs of parenting are the highest highs imaginable and the lows are pretty much the gutter. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of sleeplessness.
Lean Into The Phase Of Life You’re In
I chose to be a parent. I very consciously made it happen and yet, I’m still stunned by its complexities. For now I’m still walking through water with clothes on, but it won’t always be this way. I’m leaning into the phase of life I’m in–a phrase I love to repeat here on Tikhvinskoe because I find it so apt for most life journeys. If you’re in the phase of needing to pay down debt, then LEAN INTO that. Put all of your effort towards eradicating your debt. Do everything you can to save in every area possible and pour your money into paying off your debt–every month that you don’t, you’re losing more money. So let that motivate you.
Since I’m the parent of very young children, I am embracing that. I am fully bought into it. I am putting all of my effort towards their care. Because this will not always be my phase. I will graduate into mommy of elementary school kids with girl scouts and soccer and skiing and children who will miraculously be away from me all day long. I will miss them then, I know I will. Not to mention when they go to high school and then actually leave their parents’ nest (at least, we hope they eventually leave the nest… ).
So for now, I will try to savor these moments, grim as they sometimes feel, riddled as they are with the pathos of being two years old in a world where everyone is bigger, shot through with the torment of trying to not just make it through the day, but engage and enrich and inspire these little people.
Finding peace in the present moment isn’t always possible, but there are windows every day where it can happen. Or so I tell myself. As I write these words, Littlewoods is snoring in her carrier on my chest and Babywoods is reading a book out loud to herself in the big brown chair in our living room. My arm is soaking wet from a recent infant spit-up, I need to prepare lunch soon, and for the love of god someone should vacuum these floors. But I will savor this nanosecond of contentment, of peace, and of the present.
What phase of life are you in? How do you embrace the good and bad of where you’re at?
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