Having been at work all of one week, there are some things that I have figured out about this whole “I’m-a-working-mom-and-I-have-two-kids” thing. This much I know:
1) In order to save your sanity, you need to make dinner for your three-year-old the night before you intend to serve it. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you are a brilliant sous-chef/snake charmer at once. I don’t care if you’re a child psychologist, a teacher, or a prison guard (these are all professions I assume would be helpful to anyone who becomes a parent). The fact is, your older kid—and I don’t care how old your little genius is—that older one will do whatever she can to thwart you as you try to make a healthy dinner (which she will then merely look at rather than eat, much to your annoyance). Attempts to derail your best intentions include (but are not limited to): random tantrums, the “carry me!” routine (though said three-year-old has nowhere to go), requests to play hairstylist (which usually end with your having tufts of hair ripped from your scalp), and supplications for “Sesame Street” (“NO, not THAT one, Mommy! The OTHER one! With Bert!”). And the worst: “accidents” that you know damn well were done on purpose simply to get attention and manipulate you. Truly, there have been moments this week when I have genuinely thought that Lila spent the entire day at nursery school/daycare plotting how she could undermine me. Sure, she says she’s “coloring” over there (why am I paying $1500 a month for this!? For this price, she should be fluent in Japanese and making ME dinner each night.), but I think we all know that “coloring” really means “I sat in a corner with my best friend constructing ways to ruin Mommy’s well-oiled-parenting-machine while simultaneously looking adorable and naïve.”
In a moment of parenting glory, I realized that I had to out-fox the fox. If she wasn’t going to let me make dinner, well, I wasn’t going to let her SEE me make dinner. After Lila goes to sleep, and Eliana is also asleep, I come downstairs to get dinner together for me and Husband. As I make our dinner, I set aside the food that she will eat (look at) for dinner the next day. This is a fucking genius strategy; even Lila is amazed. Each day, she has asked, “Hey, when did you make dinner, Mommy?” which I interpret to really mean “Curses! FOILED AGAIN!” Eat it, Lila. Mommy’s won.
2) To successfully bathe your baby, you must distract the older child. Short of giving your kid firecrackers and a match, I don’t care how you do it—just get the job done, people. On an ambitious day, I will distract Lila with fingerpaint, which paralyzes her in her seat at first because she loves painting, and in the end, because she hates being dirty and will refuse to do anything until her fingers are cleaned by a professional (read: me). Fingerpaint works on a good day. On a day when Mommy is feeling creative, inspired, and like if there was some sort of Mommy Olympics, I would totally kick ass and take names. (Mommy Olympic sports categories should include: Fastest At Shape-Sorting Clean-Up, Quickest Bottle Assembly, and Fastest Feeding. Alternatively, if you and your other mommy friends are looking for a way to pass the playdate hours, may I recommend somehow making a drinking game out of this? I’m pretty convinced that, minus the moral depravity of it, this could be a fucking phenomenal business idea.).
More frequently, Mommy is feeling like a bum who just needs to catch a break, for the love of God. At this point, the TV is my best friend. There, I said it, and you know what? I’m not ashamed at all. The only downside to this strategy is that as your older one watches, your baby is going to have the theme song to “SuperWhy!” ingrained in her subconscious so deeply that, even as an adult, it is likely that when she takes a shower, she will start singing something like, “Super readers…to the rescue!” Small price to pay. Pop on the DVR, enjoy the mellifluous sounds of “Superwhy!” in the background, and clean that dirty baby up! Relish in your own awesomeness as you have one kid cleaned and ready for bed. And it’s not even six o’clock yet!
3) Bedtime is a fucking nightmare. There’s just no getting around that. With one kid, it was a sweet, lovely time of day when Lila and I could cuddle, whispering sweet nothings into one another’s ears without a care in the world. One more story? Sure! Why the hell not? Life is short! Now that I’ve got two kids? One more story? Are you out of your gourd!? Life is short!
Bedtime need not be a nightmare; you just need to reassess what “bedtime” means. If you thought it meant snuggling with your baby in a glider in the purple glow of dusk as you read various “touch-and-feel” books to your precocious eleven-week-old, well, that was back in the day when you had just one little critter. With two kids, if you’re alone without a co-parent at bedtime, you are up shit’s creek, my friend, and you can toss sentimentality out the window, along with What to Expect The First Year. Eliana doesn’t get that special baby-Mommy-time, sadly. Am I vaguely concerned that she’ll grow up feeling less loved as a result, never make a meaningful adult relationship, and go on to feel unappreciated and isolated as an adult because of it? Yup, I sure am! Can I do anything about it? Therapy perhaps, but truly, who has time for therapy when you have two kids and a job?
Instead, Eliana’s in her pajamas and swaddle (read: baby straight-jacket) promptly after her 5:30ish bath, and then it’s time for her to rest on my lap as I feed (read: show) Lila her dinner. I jiggle my leg incessantly like I’ve got the DTs in order to get Eliana to kick off into dreamland while I simultaneously read Lila stories as she pretends to eat. By the time Lila is done eating (read: looking at) dinner, Lila and I head upstairs to put Eliana in her crib. If I’m lucky, Lila will not ask to be carried at this point, and we can go up the stairs together like three civilized human beings. If I’m not lucky, Lila will demand to be carried, and the three of us go up the stairs like one large, deformed Quadimodo-esque ogre because I’ve ended up caving in rather than dealing with a three-year-old-tantrum forty-five minutes before Lila’s bedtime. Feel free to judge me. Then I’ll feel free to punch you in the face.
Once we are in Eliana’s room, it’s song time. “Baby songs,” as Lila likes to call them. Lila and I sing songs to Eliana together—in a nightly moment of true tenderness that is appreciated, and in all likelihood, will be remembered, only by me. Eliana’s nose is nuzzled in the crook of my arm, and she is asleep, or not really asleep. The softness of her cheek reminds me of the cool, smooth feel of a nectarine in the summer. She sighs contentedly, and in her sleep, her arm spastically reaches towards me as if it’s compelled by some magnetic force. At this point, Lila starts to get impatient, so I tell her to turn on Eliana’s nightlight, which is already on, but will give Lila something to do as I try to make The Transfer from arms to crib. Eliana turns her head, and her soft cheek presses firmly against my arm, as if she senses I am ready to move her, to begin the don’t-cross-the-red-wire-with-the-blue-wire-transfer of sleeping child to crib. With Lila distracted, I lift Eliana up, place her in the crib, put a binky in her mouth, take Lila’s hand, and shut the door behind me. And with that, victory is MINE. One down, one to go. Then, Lila’s bedtime can proceed, much to her delight, as if Eliana never existed.
So those are the things I have figured out. There is a list that could go on for centuries about things I have not figured out, but the most serious thing I have not figured out it this: pumping at work.
First of all, I’ll say it: I resent that in the one free moment that I have at school when I’m not teaching, I’ve got to haul ass to some sad-looking individual bathroom stall in order to pump milk out of my near-bursting boobakas. Like all nursing working mothers, before returning to work, I spent several night feeding strategizing how and where I would pump. Best option: the single female bathroom stall at the front of the EXTREMELY conservative private school where I teach.
Last week, with my fourth period class over at 12:20, I booked it down the hall with my “Pump In Style” bag to the single stall bathroom. (If this bag is “pumping in style,” I’m really interested to see what “Pumping-Looking-Like-You-Popped-Out-of-an-Eighties-Mentos-Commercial” looks like.) With only thirty-seven minutes for my lunch period, during which I would have to pump, eat, and visit Eliana in her upstairs daycare room, I furiously tried to open up the single stall women’s bathroom. SHIT: someone was in there. In my new teaching schedule, I literally do not have time for someone else to poop. I glanced at the men’s single stall next door. The door was ajar. It was empty.
I did what I had to do—I went in, and I didn’t look back, in spite of the fact that I knew damn well that my going into a men’s stall would be extremely controversial at my extremely conservative private school. But the boobs needed juicing, and it didn’t really matter where it had to happen. There, I set up shop. Bottles? Check. Funnels? Check. Weird yellow piece with white “membrane” thingies? Check. Tubing? Check. I was ready to go. I set up the pump—which always feels a little like what I imagine setting up a bomb must feel like—and got to work milking myself. Nothing like attaching mini-vacuums to your tits to help you relax in your downtime. I mean, that’s what I always say.
That was when I heard it: a knock on the door. SHIT. I couldn’t say, “Hang on! I’m pumping my ta-tas!” because then I would expose myself as a woman in the men’s bathroom. Scandale! My heart started racing, and I just prayed fervently the man would just go away. But the dude clearly had to poop—he knocked on the door again—this time, louder. He even jostled the door in that threatening way that screams, “I’m going to dump in my pants if you don’t let me in right now!”
I did the only thing I thought I could do: I made the loudest, most offensive farting noise I could muster with my mouth.
And thankfully, that was when I heard the man’s footsteps back away, slowly but surely. It was like two alpha lions had crossed on the savanna, and one had been defeated. I was victorious, but what was the price? My dignity. Honesty. And an extremely compelling fart noise.
So yeah, I can put the kids to sleep on my own now. But no, I can’t figure out how to milk myself in the middle of the day without making it into an even more degrading process than it already is.
Win some, lose some.