Fearful Things

Henrietta, as best we can tell, is only afraid of one thing. She's not afraid of any of the things we expect her to be; she isn't afraid of the cats, or strangers (she lives for strangers), or the edge of the couch, or of falling while climbing our staircase. She's afraid of this little wooden train whistle that belongs to Sam. He put it in her room, thinking she'd find it charming, but the other night when he made it whistle, she burst into tears. Our willful little seven-month-old is inexplicably afraid of a train whistle.

I'm thinking about fear today, since it's what I felt for a good bit of it. And just as inexplicably, in a way. It's a fear I've actually been waiting for, a fear I've been anticipating for most of my life: the fear of caring for a child by myself at home during the day. I remember thinking about it a lot as a teenager and in college. I could not understand how I would survive a day with its mouth wide open ahead of me, all alone with a baby or a small child. I couldn't imagine anything more empty and depressing. I wanted kids; I just didn't know how I would get out of bed. (I think this was, in part, what I worried about when I left my job to be at home with Henrietta.)

I've been spoiled since Henrietta was born. Sam's had paternity leave, and aside from night-wakings, we've split this parenting thing pretty 50/50. We spend our days trading off taking naps when we really need them. When we need to run errands, often we all go together. We're so accustomed to doing this together that when we're on our own, we have trouble figuring out how to take a bathroom break; we're so used to just handing her off. It has not been a bad gig at all, really. I feel guilty for any complaining I've done.

But today, with Sam still recovering from his stay in the ER, I had my first taste of being at home for a good bit of the day alone with a baby who's on the move, which is somehow different from one whom you can set down and trust will be in relatively the same spot when you return from grabbing a glass of water. Sam is teaching one class in the mornings now, so he was gone from ten to noon, and when he got home, it was clear he was completely flattened by the chemicals they pumped him full of while in the hospital, so I sent him to bed. To bed until he woke up on his own.

On the move.
And the day yawned in front of me. And I grew anxious and lonely. What was I supposed to do? Nothing? Sit on the floor with her while she played? Strap her to me and do housework? Feedchangebathe her? Watch TV and eat cookies? Usually, I try to get out of the house. But it was raining pretty hard, so a walk wouldn't do it, and we were trying to get from Thursday to payday without spending any more money, and I didn't trust myself to walk the mall without spending a dime. Plus, I thought I should be able to handle it. I mean, what would be so hard about it?

I ended up holding her with one arm to my hip, and hauling out a mountain of laundry with the other arm, dumping the laundry in the middle of the living room, and perching her atop it. I felt quite clever for thinking of this. I turned on an audiobook, and handed her a brightly-colored sock whenever she fussed or her attention strayed to the fireplace or the room with the cat litter in it. This worked, more or less. It took an hour. And part of me thought, "Wow, that took an hour?!"And the other part of me thought, "That, only took an hour?!" There were so many hours to go.

On the laundry.
And the mean voice started in on me. "You should be loving this," the voice said. "What kind of a mother/woman/human are you that you don't love this? You know, Sam's better at taking care of her anyway. When she's with him, she chatters constantly. How come she's not talking to you? You must not talk to her enough. Think on this: If you were a good mom, what would you be doing right now? If you were a good mom, you would not be watching the clock, waiting for her nap, feeling exactly the way you felt at your first job at the taco shop, waiting for your shift to end. If you were a good mom, you'd probably be singing to her. You'd probably be giving her a bath, letting her splash and flap her hands.You'd probably have figured out some miniature craft appropriate for seven-month-olds, and the two of you would be doing it at the kitchen table, sunlight streaming through your cafe curtains. You don't even have cafe curtains."

I realized that we have next to zero support system around here. We have friends, but they're near the city, an hour or so away. And I have a few friends at church, but they have their hands full. In a week like this, when you begin it with a 911 call, you really need someone to help. You need someone to take the baby for a few hours while you reassemble the world. I even called someone to ask for help--which, folks, is huge for the likes of me--but she wasn't home, and by the time she got back to me, the baby was napping and it didn't seem like it mattered much anymore.

Except that when she did nap, I hopped on my computer to get some work done, and the whole time I felt my heart beating fast, anxious and worried. I kept having to check myself, wondering what I was feeling frightened of. I realized I was frightened of the end of her nap. Sam was still sleeping. I didn't know how many hours I had left in me.

When she woke up, I fed her and changed her, then let her climb the stairs to our bedroom, and the two of us woke Sam up. I broke my word, but it was five o'clock, and he'd been sleeping for nearly five hours, and I justified it as worry that he wouldn't sleep tonight if he didn't get up for awhile. But that wasn't it. It was the hours. I didn't think I had any more.

When I got Sam up, the three of us stayed on the bed for awhile while Sam slowly returned to the land of wakefulness, and I tried not to complain about his nap. Complaining about a gift-nap is so uncharming.

Sam and I got to talking about the train whistle, and Sam went to get it. We had thought perhaps she was just overtired when we last tried it. But today, in full daylight, just after waking from her nap, Sam made it whistle and she burst into tears again. She trembled and climbed deeper into my lap. Sam put the train whistle away in a drawer and carried the baby downstairs. I went in the bathroom to put my hair up, to get it out of my face. I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time.

Sam said, over dinner, that he felt like a bear who had been shot with a tranquilizer gun, slept for days, and woke up to find his paw had been amputated. So while he tried to help with our bedtime routine, he mostly sat in a chair, asking if she was ready for bed yet so he could sleep. I sent him off to sleep, and wrestled the baby for another two hours before she'd settle down. And while I wrestled, I thought about this blog post, which I had started, and I thought, no no, you're not supposed to be that honest. Don't finish it; don't post it; hit delete and go to bed. There's something wrong with you that you're afraid of a day at home with your baby. Talk to your therapist about it, not your blog. No one will relate. They'll have all sorts of advice you should have thought of already. You're too depressing, too sad. They'll say you're depressed. Maybe you are depressed.

(I went to bed without the last part of this post, and now it's 1 a.m. and I just spent an hour getting her back to sleep, and now I have it:)

This should be the part where I tell a sweet story about something special that happened that made it all worth it again. And I could tell it that way: After we pulled off her day clothes and before we put on her pajamas, I tickled the warm, soft skin of her baby torso and she giggled and I laughed. It was a lovely moment. But still, by the time I got her to sleep for the night, I rolled my shoulders and shook my arms like a fighter sent back to her corner of the ring. Leaving her room, the word in my head was "depleted." I felt depleted.

I'm not depressed. And I'm a pretty good mom. And she really is a pretty good baby. She didn't have any meltdowns and she napped beautifully. She's teething, but I know things could be so much more difficult, and that they will probably get more difficult. If anything, I'm still swimming in gratitude that my husband didn't die of a heart attack on Monday. Even imagining the magnitude of that grief mapped over a day like today is overwhelming. So we were an average mom and an average baby on a fairly average day, and this job is still the hardest job I've ever had by far. The day was lonely and long and difficult. And if I have anything to say to my younger, frightened self, it's that: this day was lonely and long and difficult. And maybe I'll get more help tomorrow, but even if I don't, I'm going to do it again.


Jamie said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kira said…
Sometimes I hate my kids and I hate being a stay at home Mom. Can I say that? Me who cried COUNTLESS nights until I got married at 30 hates it sometimes. It can be a pretty crappy job. I know what you are saying. There is time to kill. That is why I went to story time at the library, playgroup, mom and me swim lessons all before Keaton was old enough to really get it. Why? I needed someone to talk to. I needed to get out. Thanks for being honest. Some days are crap (just wait until you potty train...then it is figurative AND literal).
Jamie said…
I have no insightful comments in relation to this topic at the moment, but I'm glad you didn't delete this post.

Sometimes I sprawl out all my laundry and... well, just leave all over the floor. (See? No insight at all.)

P.S. Blogger needs to provide a way to edit comments.
Jamie said…
(That deleted comment was also mine, but even LESS insightful. Hard to imagine, I know.)
Douglas said…
It's hard. You are not weird. Try to move to a place near a library, with singing time. If not, enroll in some sort of playgroup/singing group baby massage or something. You need to know several parents that live close. The older they get the easier it gets. (with the possible exception of potty training.) Soon she will be a little buddy that you can talk to. That is fun.
Douglas said…
I did't read Kira's comment before I wrote mine, but I think we could be friends.
Emily said…
Oh, Dej. That "craft appropriate for a seven-month-old" comment made me laugh out loud. You are SO not alone on this one. We signed up for Netflix when Elizabeth was a baby for precisely this reason.

The only advice/ideas I have is to try and build a routine, besides just her napping and feeding schedule. (And maybe you do this already but here goes.) Make one day wash day, another shopping day, etc. It's monotonous, but it's better then staring at a blank day stretching endlessly ahead of you.

And while you're doing whatever you're doing, if you start to feel afraid, just talk to HP, tell her what you're doing. Talk to her b/c you just need to hear another voice.

When you guys get settled in your new place, the first thing on the list should be finding other mothers to hang out with. Play dates are so for the moms, not the kids. And story time at the library is awesome.

I also remember my therapist, when i was having post-partum anxiety, teaching me how to handle the fear as it creeps in. You look around, get in tune with your five senses, and ask yourself, is everyone okay? Is my baby okay? Am I okay? Then everything is okay and it's going to be okay. Just try to be only in the moment.

Katherine said…
Yes. My 22 month old is in full-time daycare while I work part time. Some days I bring her home at 4:45pm and I'm counting the minutes until my husband comes home at 5:45pm. Really, can I barely handle one hour? Other days are better; Wednesday we went to the zoo before I dropped her off at the daycare at lunch time. I think late afternoons are just guaranteed to be bad.

My second is due this fall. I'm going to keep the baby home while I work. I'm scared.
Deja said…
Jamie, sprawling on my laundry and leaving it there sounds like an excellent afternoon to me. Thank you for reading. I always like when you comment.

Doug, Kira is my sister. And you'd totally be friends. ;) Thank you for your kind comment.

Kira, that's good to hear, actually. I tried to find stuff like that around here and there wasn't much, but maybe I didn't look right.

Emily, that really really helps. Thank you.

belann said…
As your momma, and the mother of your 5 other siblings, there were plenty of days that felt like that,especially those days when I couldn't take walks. I walked Amara to Sears nearly every day to buy red licorice. That's about all I could afford, but I needed something to do. It's hard to go from your own self-absorbed life to being responsible for someone else, I'm here to tell you. But as you know it is totally worth it. Wouldn't trade any of those days now.
Anna said…
1. "What was I supposed to do? Nothing? Sit on the floor with her while she played? Strap her to me and do housework? Feedchangebathe her? Watch TV and eat cookies?" Yes to all of those. When you have a whole day, you do ALL of those. And sing. And get out of the house.

2. When I go to the bathroom, my kids either cry in their beds or come with me. Maybe this is TMI, but Ada squats by the toilet so she can see, squeals with delight, and asks for more. I'm hoping it helps her with potty training...

3. The loneliness and lack of support has given me a new perspective on polygamy. I still don't want to practice it, but I can see the benefits.
Meeshab said…
Ya, totally all normal. The whole big day and sometimes there was too much time so I didn't get anything done at all! I call Scott to say I am bored. There are plenty of housewifey things to do but I don't want to! They are dumb!! I remember just wanting to hand Nate off to Scott the second he walked in the door. I was happy to make dinner, clean up all the dishes myself just to not have to be responsible for someone or have them attached to me. Now? This very moment? He is skateboarding around town with his friends and I just want him to come home. Not worried about the stairs or cat litter. Worried about him skating in the street or that he is lying to me and really at a girls house. Eeek it just gets harder and easier at the same time. Now I have so much time (kinda) but it's lonely without all the needy babies. It is all weird. I have time but am bogged down by housework and feeding 3 big boys and dumb stupid stuff. I just want wings some days to fly fly fly far away from my life. Ha Ha.
Eh I probably said to much :)
See Mack Snow said…
If I were eloquent enough to do justice in trying to explain my deepest fears about someday becoming a mother, it would sound just like that. Down to the details. I have no freaking clue what to do with them all day long, and when I try to imagine it, it scares the heck out of me.

I sat there for a moment trying to decide whether or not to say "hell" just there. It's more accurate.
faith said…
Oh, goodness, what *are* cafe curtains?!

When I start thinking about all the "good mom" things I'm not doing, it can be helpful to think about the bad mom things I'm not doing. Not "bad mom," but really Bad Mom things. I'm not beating my kids. I'm not letting them starve. I love them and I wouldn't give them back (most days). Some days that's the best we've got.

I think that a big part of things is like what your mom said about leaving behind your self-absorbed life to take care of someone else. It is easy to get caught up in ourselves. And it takes a lot of work to undo the work of our previous life-time. And it's scary to think that we're leaving ourselves behind. That's all we know.

And the days that I get caught up in that and start to feel like I can't do anything the way I am supposed to, I can acknowledge that I do not want to feel that way. And I am pretty sure that God can work with that. That I can improve a little bit at a time.
Reba said…
You nailed it. I remember the aching emptiness of time and just trying to fill it. No one to talk to (let's face it, everyone feels a little silly when you narrate every second of your life to o keep a conversation with baby) and acres and acres of time. It gets easier, when there are school schedules to meet and longer, more consistent times to remember who you are. I don't think it makes you a bad person to admit it. And not everyone is a baby mom. I much prefer the preschool/elementary mom thing I've got going on now, and my mother-in-law was an awesome teenager mom, but still doesn't love the little kid grandma stage. You'll get through this, promise.
Dawn said…
Brave Deja...hope you realize that you did well to bravely post and not delete. You often write the common experience. Maybe it helps you feel more 'normal', not weird and together we've had the same fears & thoughts.

Milena's first year I stayed home (we lived with your Grandma Donna that year). When her Dad and my Mom left for work each morning, I hated that...the hours stretched out endlessly. Most of my friends didn't have babies or were working. The Mommie & me class I went to was ONCE a week, for only an hour. I was bored, full of guilt for feeling that, I felt like a dolt. I cleaned, planned meals, took care of the baby and then... Just bummed. It was the longest year of my life!
I'm pretty sure any mom can relate to this! I was so excited when I saw you put on an audiobook. Audiobooks saved my sanity when I only had tiny kids.

I think you are an awesome mom. And next time, call me! I'm usually home :)
Annie said…
I Can completely relate. I remember the first time I really felt this when Roo was going to work full time and Esmé was about 4 months. I couldn't believe this was going to be my life--this boredom and monotony. But it really does get better, or maybe you just get more used to it. All the stuff about making routines and schedules and finding ANYTHING to get you out of the house is crucial. Have a grocery shop day, a library day, a mall day, a special activity day, a play group day (hopefully your ward has one??) etc. Sometimes I put the kids in the car and just drive around. Pinterest has ideas for toddler/baby activities. (Sometimes that just makes me feel worse, though, cause I'm often too lazy to be that creative.)

The thing that surprised me the most about motherhood is the boredom. It is HARD WORK to push through sometimes. It just is. I like what Emily said, be in the moment. Don't worry about how you're going to handle this forever. Just worry about this one hour.

You're doing a good job!
Amara said…
All of what everybody said, AND. I never could "play with the kids". These preschool moms that spend hours playing tea party and "pretend store" etc. with their kids? Used to make me hate myself. I used to comfort myself all the time by telling myself that at least I wasn't a drug addict or abusive mother. I agree with the library idea. Even though I do almost exclusively audiobooks, it's a way to shop without spending money. You get all of this "stuff" that's free! Plus you have to go back to return them. I would check out gardening books and parenting books and cookbooks. Creating is also a great way to feel validated even if you're only making a valance (two straight seams)or planting a grocery store annual in the yard. Then my kids would sit on the floor and play with fabric scraps, or utensils out of the kitchen drawer while I worked around them and sometimes got so frustrated I could scream, but there would be my little plant at the end of the day, or pie, or valance. They were always most interested in stuff I was using, and their stuff bored me, so I'd do my thing and they'd come along for the ride. Yeah I was a crappy mom in that way and more than a little selfish, but I survived.
Deja said…
You guys are all wonderful and I love you. Thank you. Really, thank you.

Mom, I love that licorice story.

Anna, that is hilarious. And useful. (Item 2)

Reba, very useful to think of moms having sort of a prime age group. I wonder what mine will be.

Meeshie, totally fascinating to think of her out playing with friends. I can't even picture it. And Nate is a good good kid. He'll be just fine.

Faith, thanks. You always have a balanced perspective.

Dawn, I love your stories. And that's exactly how I feel. What a relief I'm (obviously) in awesome company.

Annie, isn't it weird that in a way that's the hardest part (or one of them)--dealing with the boredom. I'm glad to hear it will get better. I do think it must be a learned skill. I haven't had to practice.

Amara, your kids are turning out awesome, so I think this system must work. And I love that idea--doing what I love and bringing her along.
Dawn said…
Ok how many of us just laid on the floor holding a doll or action figure or toy and just made it move pretending to play? Evan especially was fooled I was actually playing with him...I was actually sorta snoozing and thinking about Hawaii or something
Deja said…
Dawn; I'm glad that game is a classic. I've been playing it for sure. And Hawaii! That made me laugh.

Two more replies I nearly forgot!

Mackensie; sometimes we need the word "hell." I do. I'm glad you could relate. And that you commented. Comments from you are a treat indeed.

Mary Anne; I thought of calling, but you're definitely one I think has her hands full. ;)

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cula said…
There are days when I detest my children. I was lucky to have my mom at home with me. The last 3 years have been a huge adjustment. The first year after she died was the worst year of my life. Not only was I grieving the loss of my mom and friend but I was having to figure out to juggle a 6yr old, a 3yr old, and three daycare kids all by myself. Three years later and I'm just now getting the hang of it; barely. We all have bad days and at the end of them I try to think of atleast 5 things I'm grateful for. It helps me keep things in perspective.
AM said…
Outings!! I see I am merely repeating what others have said, but this is the key to survival for me. I have to plan stuff for all his intervals of wakefulness... every morning before the first nap we take a long walk. If I don't have a nap-interval activity planned for the mid part of the day, it's rough. So we go to the grocery store more than Josh would like, or we go to the mall and Jack runs in delight around the Disney store, or we play in parks or make play dates or whatever. I have found that this has gotten easier as Jack has gotten older--Henrietta's stage right now is hard because she's mobile but not able to conquer the outdoors by herself. Activities are a lot easier to plan once your baby has fun walking.

I think everything I'm about to say you already know: there are many lovely moments to mothering, and these should be cherished. There is also much of boredom, frustration, and wanting-to-pull-your-hair-out. Sometimes it really is boring to sit on the ground and play with Jack for an hour. But that is what a person his age does, and one of the best things a parent can do for their infant's development is to play with them, so I do it. I remind myself that these days, long though they seem, really are fleeting. The baby stage is 2 years at most, and then they are children rapidly becoming adults. Eeeek! I reminded myself this a lot (like, every couple of minutes) during the first 4 months of Jack's life when he was either screaming or sleeping in my arms. All I did was hold kid all day long, sometimes even while I went to the bathroom. But those days are gone now and he has changed so much.

The other thing that helps my sanity is having Jack on a sleep schedule. Granted, it took the kid a long time to sleep through the night (a year), but even when he was waking up 2-3 times a night it helped me so much to be able to put him to bed at 6pm and know that I was going to have at least 4-6 uninterrupted hours with Josh to get centered and recharge. The hardest time for me was the first 4 months when he was a nightmare sleeper and the only time he wasn't in my arms was when Josh was holding him after hie got home from work.

But as you know, the key to all this is that we love our babies more than anything else, and so we find a way to carry on. I get totally freaked when I think about having another baby with Jack, even while I'm longing to get pregnant again... not sure how people work out the logistics on a newborn AND a toddler, but apparently they all do it.

You are a wonderful mother, and you inspire and help all the rest of us to be reflective and contribute our experiences. I'm so glad you think and write, even when it's a stretch to do so.

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