Little kids and big waves and a mother’s panic

We go to my wife’s family cottage as often as we can in the summer. It’s a two hour drive from our home and I’m not a fan of heat or laying on the beach, but this place will hold so many grounding memories for Avery when she’s older. Her two little cousins join us there and the kids all frolic on the beach all day.

This weekend my sister-in-law and I were watching our collective three small children at the beach. We didn’t have a life jacket on Avery because the water was freezing still and we didn’t anticipate that she’d be in the water, but her older cousin was like a fish and we couldn’t get him out of the water. Avery was standing in the shallow surf, filling a watering can with water. I was sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, watching. All of a sudden she started moving out into the water after her cousin. Within a few steps she was waist deep, and the waves knocked her over. She was face down in the water and couldn’t get her footing. Within a half a second I was in the water with my shoes and clothes on (like I said, we didn’t anticipate that anyone would brave going in the icy water this weekend). I grabbed Avery and puller her over my shoulder. She barely coughed, hadn’t ingested any water, and was only a little surprised. I don’t think I was breathing. I was trying to play it cool because I didn’t want to traumatize her, but I was feeling pretty traumatized myself. The image of my baby laying face down in the icy, wavy water, struggling to get her feet under her, was too much for me. The image kept popping into my mind for the rest of the weekend. It was terrifying.

We take water safety very seriously, and would never take our eyes off of the kids near the water. Avery is in swimming lessons every winter. We normally have a rule that they have to wear floaty devices of some kind if they’re even going to be dipping a toe in the water, but we weren’t prepared for this to be a swimming day. I shouldn’t have let her stand in the surf without a life jacket on. Thank goodness I was watching so closely.

At one point before she fell in the water my sister-in-law suggested that I could head inside for a bathroom break and that she’d watch the kids. But I looked at her dealing with her 10 month old baby in the sand and watching her 3 year old wild child in the water and I didn’t feel comfortable adding another small child to her list of little people to watch and protect. I’m so glad I didn’t leave the beach. If the baby had been fussing or the 3 year old had taken off running down the beach, there may not have been someone there to grab my child from the waves. It makes me nauseous to think about.

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Women’s work is unvalued

This past weekend (from Saturday to Tuesday night, actually), my wife took our daughter to the family cottage and left me to have some focused work time. My productivity amazed me. I wrote 3 chapters of my dissertation in 4 days. I lived off of a single order of takeout and batch of muffins for all 4 days (because for once I didn’t have to prepare 3 square meals a day for my family), I showered once, and I worked from sun-up till sun-down.

I know that before I became a wife and parent I used to work long days on my schooling (and the occasional contract of paid work). I know I used to be wildly productive, and professors and advisors would comment on my efficiency. But somehow, when I became a parent, I lost that frame of reference for what productive work work could look like. When Avery was first born, I took a semester (4 months) off and just focused on taking care of baby and myself. Then I slowly dipped a toe back into work by taking on a teaching assistantship. By the first summer after Avery was born, I had become more homemaker and mom than student, and being able to churn out a single research proposal over an entire summer became something I was proud of. “Look at what I achieved WHILE cooking and cleaning for my family and taking care of a baby full time!”

What did my wife do during that time? She was an immense help at home, but from 8-5 every day she worked in an office, networking with important work people, being productive and efficient, and she got two promotions and completed countless big and important projects.

I wrote one research proposal.

From the time Avery was 1, she was in daycare part time. I had 12 hours a week to work. But you know what I spent 6 of those hours doing every week? Cleaning, cooking, trying to get my head in the game after being up all night with a sleepless child, running errands for our family on the way to daycare pick-up (really menial errands like dropping off and picking up my wife’s dry cleaning and mailing packages for my wife). Somehow I was still working from sun-up till sun-down (and let’s be honest, I was a full-time parent at all hours of the night, too) and only had a couple of hours a day to get my own work done. And when you’re doing large writing and theorizing projects like a dissertation, a couple of hours at a time is a very unproductive way to work. It can take an hour to get my head in the game.

What I’ve learned from trying to work part time with part time child support is that I will never be wildly successful unless my work is valued at the same level as my wife’s paid work. It’s because my work is seen as less important (by me, too) that I get relegated to cooking and cleaning for the family (a couple of hours a day). That I do every single daycare drop off and pick up (there’s 40 min of every day right there). That I run all of our errands, and get up with our sleep-challenged child every single time through the night.

My wife often jests that our lifestyle is going to change when I get a job. That we won’t be able to have fancy dinners as often, and that we’ll have to have a less clean house. But I don’t want that, either… I want to take care of my family so we can life a low stress, healthy life. But I also want to make money and excel at a career one day. I’m just realizing now, looking back over the last almost 3 years, that I’m not sure that kind of balance is possible.

An all-over-the-place update

I don’t have much to write about these days because life is pretty comfortable, reliable, predictable… There’s nothing stressing me out and nothing I feel the need to log in this blog-bank of memories.

But I don’t want to stop blogging… So here’s an uneventful update 😊

1. My wife took Avery to the cottage for 4 days so I could work on my dissertation. It’s day 2 and I miss her like crazy, and my life feels devoid of meaning without my family to dote on and serve. Maybe I do need to find a career, afterall….. Anyway, I’ve completed an additional chapter in the last 2 days, and I hope to complete at least one more in the next 2 days! I have these chapters drafted already, but there are a lot of blanks to fill in and restructuring to do. My overall dissertation is 7 chapters long, and now 2 have been submitted to my advisor. We’re getting there.

2. I’m spending a lot of time in the garden lately. It’s my happy place. I haven’t been blogging over at my hobby homestead WordPress account, but I do post almost daily on my @thehobbyhomestead Instagram account. I’m really into wild edibles and edible perennials these days.

Avery is really into plants and gardening already. She begs to go plant things on a daily basis, and she tenderly checks up on the food and flowers we have growing. My FAVOURITE thing is to watch her cup her hands around the herbs and take a deep inhale, appreciating all the aromas. She is my mini-me right now and I hope she never grows out of it.

3. We’ve been sick for 2 weeks. WTF is up with springtime colds?? Avery has also wet the bed the last 2 nights, which she only ever does when she’s getting a virus, so I’m not hopeful that our sick streak is coming to an end any time soon. No matter how many colds we get, though, nothing will ever be as bad as Avery’s first winter in daycare. 12 separate viruses in 12 weeks. But now she’s a big kid (that’s what we tell her, anyway) with a big kid’s immune system. The occasional cold can’t bring us down.

4. Still living in limbo over the baby #2 decision. If I haven’t made it clear, I’m 100% on board. I’ve given my wife all the power in making the final decision, because I got all the power in deciding to have baby #1. And life would not be pleasant if I forced my wife into becoming a parent again – not fair to anyone in our family. So we wait and see…..

Life is complicated – and there’s no “perfect time”

Life is complicated. Being in a “good place” is not just an issue of having marital satisfaction, or having it all, or balancing work and family, or having more sex, or mental and physical health… It’s all inextricably linked.

These are all front-and-centre issues on my plate. When I try to address one, I find I can’t fix anything in isolation, but when I try to address everything together I feel overwhelmed.

We’re once again discussing the possibility of baby #2, but there are many things we’d like to “fix” about our lives first (putting our relationship first more of the time, being in a good place with work, not feeling the need to work overtime, wanting and having more sex, being mentally and physically healthy). But every time we try to fix one of these things, it’s a temporary fix. That’s because you can’t address one thing without all of the others. And also, you can’t expect to live a perfectly satisfactory life on all of these dimensions all of the time. I don’t think so, anyway.

It all reminds me of the common expectation we (as Western society) put on ourselves to be married and have stable housing and employment before being “ready” to have a baby. Sure, having all of those things MIGHT make your journey into parenthood easier, but it also might not, and it also might all fall to shit when you actually do have a baby.

So, yes, we would love to have a perfect marriage, perfect jobs, and perfect health before having another child, but what I’ve learned from having one child without all of the boxes ticked is that there definitely is no perfect time. There’s no perfect life situation. There’s benefit to having some financial security, but nothing is certain anyway. Also, we have pretty darn OK marital satisfaction, job satisfaction, and health, for the record.

I don’t know if we’re going to come out of this round of discussions with a decision to TTC again. I’m not hopeful. I’m frustrated by the process – by the back and forth, the hashing out of worries and fears, the conditions and ultimatums. I wish we could just have an accidental pregnancy. An “oops! My dreams came true.”

Matching aprons

My heart can’t handle the love I have for this little one. Sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode (do you know that feeling? Your heart skips a beat and flutters and you can’t catch your breath – why do we feel that sensation in our actual hearts, when the love hormones have nothing to do with that organ??) Anyway, I’m so beyond thankful to be the mommy of this little bug. I must have been a saint in a past life to deserve this girl.

My wife got us these matching aprons for mother’s day (and all I got her was a lousy beer t-shirt 😂). My life is a dream.

Mother’s Day

It’s almost that time of year again… I’ve hesitated to write about mother’s day previously because I don’t want to sound entitled or whiney, but having to share mother’s day with your partner kind of sucks. I know I sometimes need Hallmark to remind me to treat my wife to some affection and attention, but I’d also love it if mother’s day could be a day where I don’t have to plan a gift and a special meal and make sure my partner is feeling special. It’s crappy of me, I know, because my wife is a mom, too, and she rarely gets recognition for it.

We’ve talked about one of us “getting” father’s day instead, but I would also feel weird expecting pampering on a day called father’s day. So in the end, being in a same-sex parenting partnership seems to mean that you’ll never get a special day all to yourself where you don’t have to explicitly think about the well-being and happiness of your family.

And that’s all I want, really. I want to sleep in, drink coffee by myself, in my yard, and then spend the day gardening and doing my own thing. I’d love it if meals appeared in front of me. But instead, it’s just an ordinary day in the life, except my wife and I exchange gifts (a practice I don’t like but my other half does), and we have some sort of special meal, that we either make together, or go out for.

I suppose one day when our kid is older she can pamper us both, but at this stage in life, it’s just another Hallmark obligation for me.

The Tantrum

Martini in hand, I’m sitting on the kitchen floor, as far away from the sounds of my tantruming child as possible without leaving the house. It’s my wife’s turn to do bedtime. Our 2 year old has been showing us the meaning of “terrible two’s” over the last two nights (not to brag, but tantrums aren’t exactly an every day occurrence over here). She’s in a phase of screaming “NO” in our faces just to see what will happen – just to see how much power she has in this family, and to see what it takes to make us cave. We’re blundering through this phase, as I’m sure most parents do, just trying not to fuck up our child – in my mind, it’s all about striking the balance between disciplining the bad behaviour while making sure she feels loved unconditionally.

These evenings of bad behaviour bring out the parenting tensions between us. Usually we’re on the same page, but certain things seem to highlight our parenting differences (mostly just sleep issues and disciplining tantrums). We’ve learned to save our heated discussions for after our daughter has gone to bed, and that has two benefits: 1) our daughter won’t hear us disagreeing about how to discipline her, which would weaken our stance, and 2) our strong opinions and emotional reactions have had time to settle and we’re better able to discuss logically, without getting upset. So currently, I’m letting my emotional reaction settle and my wife is carrying on doing bedtime routine with a wildly disobedient child.

Is it weird that one of my favourite times to be with my child is immediately following a tantrum? It’s like the biggest payoff of parenting. You put up with the absolute worst that your child can give: the hitting, the scratching, the demon-voiced scream, the dead eyes that make her look like a zombie, the sweating and the snot and the absolute inability to reason – or even to hear another human voice. And then it breaks – like a demon was exorcised from her body and my real daughter was released from its clutches. Her gaze changes, and she looks around as if she didn’t know where she had landed, and she reaches out to me for comfort. I imagine that a tantrum is a scary experience. It seems that she loses control over herself, and that the emotional reaction is bigger than she is. Lately, when the tantrum ends, she has started to say with a mix of pride and disbelief, “I calmed down!” She holds me tight, she chokes out the last of her sobs, and sometimes she even says “sorry” for the outburst. It’s the closest bonding we have now that she no longer breastfeeds.

So maybe I’m a little possessive over how I deal with tantrums. I want to be close to her for comfort. I want to model how calm I can be while she’s flying off her handle. I want to See the clarity in her eyes return. I want to be there for all of it.