Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to avoid stress hives and therapeutic drinking

Growing up as part of a set of triplets I remember that my mom belonged to a support group called "Mothers of Multiples" or MOMs. We would go to picnics in which a bunch of little twins and triplets would run around making unsuspecting picnic-goers do double takes and wonder if someone had slipped something in their lemonade.  My memories were of picnics. I'm guessing my moms were of crying on other MOM's barf-stained shoulders, relieved that other people could relate to her circle of hell.

So, I feel funny about this post even before I'm going to write it.  I'm getting used to 2 kids, separated by 3 years. Certainly not the chaos my mom suffered through, but it's been an adjustment.

This is why: As a mom of your first baby you are showered with a weird kind of anonymous love from all corners of humanity.  That once surly bus driver looks at you with your new life and offers a smile.  Strangers spark up conversations as if you were two dog owners at a park.  You haven't had this many people smile at you since that day you inadvertently tucked the bottom of your skirt into your underwear.  You and your baby are a lightning rod of goodwill and peace.   You emanate love and earth-mama goddessness.

But once you are the mother of more than one, you become "that lady at the grocery store."  You know the one - she's got cheerios in her unwashed hair, screaming over her crying baby to plead with her toddler, who's hopped up on apple juice, to stop wiping snot on upbought merchandise, FERTHELOVEOFGOD. People no longer look at her with affection but with pity and maybe a bit of disgust. Her.

So, I guess that's me now.

But the reality is that I vacillate between feeling like a multitasking superhero (Japan: that one is mine, OK?) and like I wish someone would just commit me to an institution so I could take a nap or three.

When I'm on top of this stuff, it's like I have an efficiency high from my multitasking prowess. I'm rubbing the back of one kid to lull him expertly to sleep, while simultaneously nursing the baby and emailing my husband with my left toe.  I'm just like my multitasking superhero "Octomom," (meaning that I can do 8 things at once not that I am a media hungry delusional with too many offspring). My brain is high fiving itself repeatedly.  I'm hoping they give awards for this stuff.

But when I'm not "on top of this stuff" I'm screaming "JUST WAIT A FREAKIN MINUTE" at my confused child for asking if he can have something to drink, which is a reasonable request, but the baby has been screaming in my ear for the last 30 minutes, has just shat all over himself, and I've been wearing the same tampon since yesterday.  So, I'm no longer Octomom.  I'm Chaotic Crazypants Mom, whose superpower is irrational behavior and ability to repel people with unpredictable anger.

I'm guessing this resonates.  I mean 47% of all momblogs have the words "wine" or "vodka" in their title or tagline, so I'm thinking we're all a bit harried.

But here's the thing, in Kenya I've rarely seen a mom lose her shit because junior refused to get dressed or go down for his nap.  The response I've seen most often to a tantrum is laughter and a shoulder shrug.  Then the kid gets over it and we all move on.  I could be off on this, but it seems the moms in Kenya are just not as tightly wound as in the US.

Maybe it's because the "village" is helping to ease the mothering burden.  Or because children are more obedient out of necessity.  Or because a tantrum looks like small potatoes when compared to the bigger stress of finding enough money for school fees and keeping the children healthy in the face of poor medical care.

I'm not positive (as an "armchair anthropologist" I half make this stuff up), but I get the sense that there is something else here. I think it's about expectations and our willingness or unwillingness to let life control us.

Take sleeping.  We Americans expect our kids to nap.  And to nap, more or less, when we ask them to.  Even babies.

I have cried heaving sobs when a child or baby would not take a nap at an expected time so that I could have JUST ONE MOMENT to do something for myself.  Like laundry.

When both kids are sleeping at the same time, I congratulate myself.  When I'm losing the sleep battle, I'm rage-filled Chaotic Crazypants mom.  Wouldn't it be nice if I could just go what life deals me a little more?

Yesterday afternoon I was nursing Emmet to sleep.  All three other children in our house were asleep.  He was exhausted and "overdue" for his own nap, and if he were to fall asleep, as expected, I would get that near mythical mid-day moment of silence.  I sat there until my arm fell asleep as he sweetly suckled himself to slumber.  And then, just as I was about to put him down, his big eyes sprang open and his lips formed into a smile.

But this time, instead of brain screaming "YOU MISERABLE BASTARD, WHY WON'T YOU SLEEP?!?!" and sprouting a stress hive (as I am wont to do), I tried to savor the sweetness of the moment.  Not what I wanted it to be, but what it was.  Channeling my image of that Kenyan mom, I chuckled to myself and shrugged my shoulders.  And it worked.  I didn't get Emmet back to sleep, but I got myself back to happy.  

Linking up again with the wonderful yeahwrite community.


  1. Keep laughing and shrugging woman!!! I am so glad I have your posts and so glad you find the time somewhere in the chaos.

  2. Great post, honest and thoughtful! I definitely think that we are wound too tight in the West, we have so many books that tell us how our kids are meant to behave, but our kids just don't seem to READ those books! I have only one child and I wish I had more, if only so that I could enjoy having a baby a tiny bit more than I did the first time - I also wish that I could have shrugged and laughed more.

  3. How I wish helpful things like this was on the interwebz when I was in my own "Chaotic Crazypants Mom" stage. I, at the very least, could have used a village to remind me to shrug and laugh it off.

    Great post! Ellen

  4. shrugging, laughing, the occasional quiet moment in the bathroom WITH THE DOOR WEDGED SHUT (even if you have to throw your entire body against said door to close it)...Many people have said this lately but it does seem as if in the US & other first world countries there is this expectation that The Books will tell us how to do it...and that if we just follow Chapter 1, steps 10-15, all will be well. Which is of course, crap. Do what you can, yell if you have to, laugh wherever you can find the glimmer of a giggle. Get yourself back to happy...that matters waaay more than naptime.

  5. So, if you worry less you'll feel better? You might be on to something. I bet you could write a book about it ;) Kudos to you. It is very hard to let go, but sounds like you have some excellent role models!

  6. As a Mom of a 2.5 year old, an 8 month old, and helping to raise my 6.6 year old stepson, I love the idea of being institutionalized so that I can take a nap!

  7. What an enjoyable look at expectations and how managing them is as ongoing as parenting itself.

  8. Oh you amazing woman! I never managed to get myself happy in those situations. Though I didn't sprout stress hives either, which is pretty impressive! Once again it's amazing how some things transcend nationality. The local women here also seemingly don't give a shit if their kids sleep or not. And if they fall asleep when they're out and about, they just carry them around - even if they're huge 4-year-olds. Incredible. It does give me pause for thought when I'm reminded of the literally hundreds and hundreds of days that were ruined or at least shaped by having to work around naptimes.

    I've been in absentia for work reasons and am really just catching up now. How are you so prolific, while share-parenting a tribe and smiling at non-sleeping newborns? Large kudos x

  9. Yep... You are right. The smile and shrug work way better for all involved than the tantrum we sometimes end up throwing in response to their tantrums. There is a similar response here in Bali. Over everything, actually. They laugh and smile so much, and brush things off with "No Problem!" When you embrace the fact that you cannot control the world around you, "No problem" is a lot easier to say. Hmmm... There might be a blog post in there.

    1. Definitely is. Probably a tome in there. Write it!

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