A Novel by Ann Patchett and My Lost Job: Connected by Grief Over Someone Else’s Child

I wrote my last post after talking myself out of quitting one of my jobs; I had had a horrible run-in with the grandmother of the infant in my care and was unsure that I wanted to work in a hostile environment. Last night, the decision was made for me when this child’s poor mother informed me that she couldn’t employ me any longer. I don’t know what happened, exactly and was even told by my former employer that “I am not sure you can envision the scene that took place around this decision.” I suppose that she gave in to her own mother’s ultimatum: fire that babysitter or else, something I really can’t blame her for doing in the circumstances. To give you an idea of this grandmother’s, um, tenacity, I will tell you that yesterday morning I was emailing about schedules and by evening found that I was not going back at all. It’s a complicated story and not really mine to tell. I do know that a grandmother has let her own needs supersede her daughter’s wishes and her grandson’s best interests. I am angry and sad. I didn’t get to say good-bye. I’m not sure I want to.

I felt more relief than sadness whenever I thought about how I was supposed to be at work today. I spent the day listening to the rain that would have forced me to spend even more time with the grandmother, had I stayed at that job. I also listened to the audiobook of State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. (Actress Hope Davis is the narrator and does a much better job than the narrative voice in my head ever could have. I could practically smell the humidity of the jungle.) The book is incredible, unbelievable and completely plausible at the same time. It brings back memories of all the times literature has captivated and held my attention; I probably thought of five paper topics for each of the many tropes I caught and am certain that I missed quite a few. Birds, flight, water, dreams, breath, illness, medicine, childhood, parenting, pregnancy–and those are just the completely obvious ones. Literary references would take three English professors a week to catalogue.

I immediately wanted to write about the book for the blog because its main topic is reproduction. The book review I had planned was folded in to my own story about this child I will no longer babysit when the novel’s plot began to wrap itself around the theme of love for someone else’s child and the complexity of that emotion. I am now unable to untangle my thoughts about yesterday from my thoughts about this story. It is not Patchett’s central theme, but her description of the love and passion that one can feel for someone else’s child hit me square in the chest.

I know that I have no right to the baby I have “lost” and that he is not mine. But when he fell asleep in the carrier strapped to my front and it was my job to protect him from the sun, hunger, discomfort he could hardly have understood, that role was mine. I was in charge, in that moment. My arms feel empty. And yet he is not mine. I have no way to fight to keep him in my life. There is nothing I can do but grieve.

I won’t give away how the novel I finished today touches on that particular set of emotions. But I can tell you as much as the first page says: a drug company has sent an employee to the Amazon to check on the progress of a fertility drug in development deep in the jungle and has now received a letter informing them that he has died there. The project is being run by a brilliant but inaccessible scientist, and the only way to find out what really happened, in detail (the letter is very brief), is to send someone else after him. The drug company’s interest lies in developing a chemical compound that will allow women to have their own children, to maintain their own fertility, well into their fifties, sixties, even their seventies. But because this drug is being developed in the middle of the jungle in the Amazon by foreigners observing an indigenous tribe whose women never seem to lose their fertility, the most important theme centers around what we called “the other” in my English classes. Patchett has written a protagonist and antagonist who are childless women; their lives happen to center around the reproduction and offspring of other people. If I tried to list the circumstances and traits that separate these women from each other and from other people, this blog post would turn into a dissertation. Their separateness defines them. But don’t get the wrong idea–the decision to remain childless hardly rules the lives of these women. Instead, the simple fact that they have not yet had children sets events in motion that could not have otherwise taken place. Their “otherness” lends the book an emotional structure and keeps the plot from straying into the many other lives these women encounter. The sprawling nature of both plot and setting require this, and it’s a brilliant device.

Of course, the plot forces both women to confront their otherness and tears down some of the walls that have kept them oh so very separate. It’s completely fascinating to watch. What’s the parallel to my own life? Being a nanny is all about carefully constructed walls that can only give the illusion of separation. Call me the “babysitter” and not the “nanny” even though I spent more time with the baby than you did, today, if it makes you feel better. Avoid talking about my life outside my interactions with your child if it helps you see me as just an employee. But it is always better when parents acknowledge that everyone gets attached–child to babysitter, babysitter to child, even parent to babysitter and vice versa. That is something He’s not mine. And yet I grieve. Dr. Marina Singh would understand. Ann Patchett clearly understands. It was nice, today, to see my feelings recognized in something published, since I had begun to wonder if I was just being melodramatic. If an experience has been mirrored by fiction, it feels deeply shared, somehow. I would not say that this is a book about love for children that belong to other people–that subplot surprised me quite a bit. If you were to ask me what the book is about, I’d quote an NPR reviewer who also loved State of Wonder and just say “Wow.”

No Relation: The Nanny’s Heartache

The hardest thing about working as a nanny is that when it’s great, it’s a lot like living in the middle of a doomed love affair (if a bit less melodramatic). I know the good-bye is coming, eventually, but I just can’t help myself. I fall in love, hard, every time. I suppose it’s possible that one of “my” kids will stay in my life forever, but until we have settled down someplace, it’s just not likely.

I’ve been thinking of all the kids I don’t see anymore ever since I got to chat online for a minute with a mom I was close to before the family moved back to Norway. I watched her baby turn into a toddler. Several of her words are still English words, because I spoke English to her consistently (due to my complete ignorance of Norwegian). We talk about a visit to Norway, which Nathan and I would love, and they talk about coming back

I’m also thinking about love and good-bye because I watched The Nanny Diaries on TV. It’s hard to admit it publicly, since the movie is pretty terrible, but while I’m at it, I might as well also admit to having read the book. Both had me rolling my eyes and both made it hard to sympathize with any of the adult characters/caricatures. But there’s one moment in both the book and the movie that makes me want to watch/read–the first time the child tells the nanny that he loves her. She narrates something about how it’s going to make it hard to leave her job but she loves him back so she’ll say so. And she tells him she loves him, too. But it’s just that few seconds where the kid looks up with all that love in his eyes that gets to me. I don’t take the jobs with the crazy families, and I have a policy against raising other people’s children, no matter how good the money might be. (In reality, wealthy families usually pay less than middle-class families. Just FYI.) The point is this: while I don’t relate to the heartache of spending days with and being ripped apart from a child whose parents treat him like a custom-made accessory to a fabulous life, I have experienced love for a child I know I will eventually leave.

They move away, go to school, grow up, and I am not a relative. This is one reason I would like to teach in my own classroom; I didn’t feel like an auntie to the kids at the school where I worked over the summer. But who am I kidding? I would miss them; it would hurt. Still–there is something different about spending hours alone with a child over the course of months or even years. I find myself scrambling to capture “firsts” on camera and calling my husband, thrilled to tell him that the baby pointed at something for the first time or practiced standing by herself. (Pointing is a pretty major developmental milestone.) I never feel like their mother. But when the toddler I was babysitting twice a week got into a rather exclusive preschool, I beamed like a proud aunt. This news meant that I would lose a source of income; and yet, I was thrilled. It was probably a matter of names crossed off a waiting list, not even the kind of school that makes two-year-olds “interview.” And yet, I felt pride. I brag about their eyes, their smiles, their curls, their dispositions, as though I share the gene pool these traits came from. This summer, two children I love moved away and, this fall, one went to school.

I don’t want to be treated like a relative by the families I work for. Relatives have fewer boundaries and don’t have to pay me as much, if anything, for childcare. Because I’m not a relative, it would be a strange almost lie, too. Friend of the family is the best I can hope for, and I do enjoy that role. But again–friends of the family just don’t usually bond with the baby while feeding him a bottle, all alone, in a silent house.

I wonder if my desire to have a baby of my own would have taken on this sense of urgency even if I didn’t spend my workdays caring for children. I suspect that the same thing that feeds that desire is what lets me feel so close to the tiny humans whose lives I am privileged to witness for a short time. There are never any tearful good-byes in my world, because in real life, the nanny isn’t fired suddenly one morning and shoved into a waiting taxi, leaving a screaming child on the driveway. I also spend most of my time with children under three, and time exists very differently for the infant/toddler set. Most of them won’t remember me. Their complete absorption in the present moment is what pulls me into the beauty of sunlight dancing through trees. I’m being literal, here: babies love to watch shadows and light. Their despair at Mom’s departure reminds me that yes, it does hurt to see your favorite person in the whole world go, even if she will be back in a few hours. And I love them all the more desperately for not understanding that, this time, our good-bye just might be forever.

Tips For Ignoring Stupid Parenting Advice

When I’m caring for other people’s children, I sometimes get unwanted and unnecessary advice and/or commentary. I’m told that this happens to their actual parents as well, so I feel like it’s good practice for becoming a mother. My favorite is the commentary: “Oh, no! He’s so unhappy!” Wow, thank you. Is that what the crying means? Good thing you were here, random lady at the park! So here are my top five tips for dealing with Random Park Lady, Opinionated Relative and I-Don’t-Have-Kids-But-I-Have-A-Dog Neighbor.[hr]
[ordered_list style=”decimal”]

  1. Listen/pretend to listen to her, if at all possible. Smile and nod. Or not. She probably won’t notice if you’re frowning. She just wants to feel like you heard her, in my experience, and probably gets more out of dispensing advice than anything else.
  2. Do not say “I tried that, but it didn’t work.” Even if you did exactly what your “friend” advises, she will claim that her tip is brand new information
  3. Along the same vein, do not point out that she is wrong. Example from real life: she says “Oh, he’s so unhappy!” but he is actually very happy and screeching and squawking just for fun. I learned from previous experience that this particularly obnoxious woman loves to argue; so I shrug. I do not commit to agreeing or disagreeing with her. She usually looses interest. If I argue and try to convince her that he is happy, she will argue back, whether it makes sense or not.
  4. If she’s going to be around consistently (like a relative), do not back down, even if it makes you uncomfortable. “No. Thank you. No. Thank you.” Rinse. Repeat. Back down now, and she’ll feel all the more eager to dispense advice in the future. “No. Thank you.”
  5. If it’s absolutely necessary that you not offend this person (or, I suppose, if you’re just really keen on avoiding confrontation), fall back on a higher authority. For the babysitter, that’s Mom. With my own kids, I plan on using The Doctor. Pediatrician, child psychologist, real or imaginary. “Oh, his doctor feels really strongly about that.” It’s vague, and I can always go to “It’s really hard to talk about it” if I feel like making things really awkward.


How to Grow a Happy, Healthy Family Despite “Crippling” Anxiety

Lately, I have no idea what makes me so determined and hopeful about this baby stuff; I got a migraine last night for the first time in ten days or so and through the pain found myself wondering how I will do when pregnancy makes the triptans (migraine medicine) too dangerous. When the triptan (Frova is my poison) took effect and I was capable of thought once more, I found myself thinking very sad thoughts about medicine, pregnancy and breast feeding. I am lucky that the medicine I really need, the stuff that keeps the crazy in check, is safe–we think. Or at least safer than no medicine. But I worry about the migraine thing–what if the pregnancy hormones make them come back frequently? How will I parent an infant if all I want is darkness and silence?

I will let you in on a little something if you are unfamiliar with the kind of anxiety that comes with a full-on mental disorder (or two, in my case): anxiety loves a downward spiral. I start off thinking “Wow, this headache really hurts” and, before you can say “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” three times fast, I’ve already moved on to “I should not even try being pregnant. What are am I thinking?!”

Trying to argue with thoughts like this is like trying to argue with a crazy person, so the only thing to do is ignore them until they stop. But not unlike the crazier people in my life, they have a way of hanging out in the background. So, I was not surprised when this same thought occurred to me again, this morning, when my head still hurt. Then, I saw a quote on a Facebook page that can always cheer me up; it’s called I Am That Girl. I had forgotten about this quote, but I have read it many times before: [quote]I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. -Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee.[/quote] Mental illness can seem like a gun to one’s head. I do not exaggerate. But friends, here is what I know in my bones: this time, I’m going to win. I am going to grow a happy, healthy family. Don’t tell me what the odds are, because it just doesn’t matter. This time, I win.

Three generations of my family. Mom, Grandma and Sister all had beautiful babies. I will do it, too.

Nice to Meet You, Dr. Perinatal Mental Health Expert!

Today, I got a phone call I’ve been anxiously awaiting; I left a message over a week ago and finally heard back today. I spoke with Dr. P, who apologized profusely for not getting back to me sooner. We talked for a little bit, and she was kind enough to say, “I have to commend you; most of the women we see [in women’s mental health] come in and say ‘Oh no! I’m pregnant! Now what!'”

I had mentioned my psychiatrist’s name in my message, because I knew that he was familiar with some of the doctors at the program. Turns out, they know each other quite well. I have no idea how well or why, because psychiatrists just never tell you very much about themselves. So the conversation quickly moved to who, exactly, I should make an appointment to see. I could see one of the fellows (or interns? not sure). Or I could see one of their supervisors. (Both options are in New York City, but I knew that trip would be necessary.) Now, I am all about helping doctors learn. Dr. C was fellow (intern?) when I met him, and he was still awesome. These psychiatrists already have their MDs; they’re being trained in women’s mental health, specifically, so they know a whole lot more than your average psychiatrist. I did have one thought, though, and it turned out to be a good one–if I am adding another member to my growing-fast team of medical/mental health professionals, wouldn’t it be nice if two of them already knew each other? Dr. P agreed.

Now, we just have to find a time to meet. That’s not going to be super easy… but I still feel like I’m one step closer to Baby. I needed to feel that, today. Thanks, Dr. P!

Rethinking Sports… “Just Do It” For The Kids.

I have fond memories of playing catch with my dad. I enjoyed softball for awhile. I even had fun on the soccer team for a whole year, thanks to my friend Jessica. But, true to the polarized mind of the teenager who sees only in black and white, if I were the “Smart Girl,” then I most certainly was not going to be athletic. (Kids did actually use “Smart Girl” to taunt me. I still don’t know why that was such a bad thing.) Team sports at my school were dominated by girls who played down their intelligence. I remember one girl who did well in school and in sports, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she participated in things like running and swimming–teams, but more dependent on individual achievement than basketball and volleyball, the girls’ sports that really drew crowds.

My niece is old enough to participate in sports, already, and it’s really important to me to encourage her in both school and athletics. I think I missed out on a lot of fun, but I also envy people for whom physical activity comes naturally. I want my niece (and nephew!) to want sports to be part of their lives, for all the obvious reasons, but also to keep them safe. Check this out: [quote]Although sports and physical activity are a part of girls’ and boys’ lives in and out of school at varying levels, girls tend to be less active than boys. The sports, education, youth development, and out-of-school time fields can provide opportunity for girls to engage in positive, healthy physical activity.[/quote]

        • In 2005, a much higher percentage of adolescent males participate in vigorous physical activity than do their female peers. Within all racial and ethnic subgroups, activity levels for males are between 13 and 19 percentage points higher than for females. For all grades, activity levels for males are between 10 and 20 percentage points higher than for females. (ChildTrends.org, Child and Youth Indicators Databank: Vigorous Physical Activity by Youth, 2006)
        • In 2005, more high school females (72.2%) than their male counterparts (56.2%) did not meet currently recommended levels of physical activity—doing any kind of physical that increased their heart rate and made them breathe hard for a total of at least 60 minutes per day. (Centers for Disease Control, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States 2005)
        • The more physically active girls are, the greater their self-esteem and the more satisfied they are with their weight, regardless of how much they weigh. Eighty-three percent of very active girls say that physical activity makes them feel good about themselves. (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))
        • For girls ages 11-17 it is the perception of being overweight, not just weight alone, that inhibits participation in sports and physical activities. (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))
        • For teen girls, being both physically active and a team sports participant is associated with a lower prevalence of sexual risk-taking behaviors. (Kulig, K., Brener, N. & McManus, T. Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2003)
        • A study of school reading texts found that boys were represented in physical activities 65% of the time, while girls were represented 35% of the time. In addition, boys dominated throwing and catching activities, while girls dominated dance and swing-set activities. (Henschel-Pellet, H.A. Research Quarterly, 2001) —Girl Scouts of America

All of this makes sense to me–if you are aware of the amazing things your teenage body can do you’re bound to have a more accurate perception of what it looks like–except the part at the end about school texts. I do not want my niece or nephew or any kids I may have to be reading in their darn textbooks that boys are the real athletes. But even if they do, I figure that the women in their lives can counteract that image. How? Well, I’m not sure it’ll work, but I have two ideas, so far.

One: I’m going to participate in watching sports. Turns out, I actually enjoy it. I always was a competitive person! I’m starting now, so that I know the rules by the time our future children see us watching football together. Nathan did spend about eight hours watching NFL football yesterday, and I’m not sure I want to set that example. I do want them to see us watching his–now our–favorite team. (The Jets. He grew up on Long Island. I grew up watching the Vikings, but I’ll just own up now to not being very loyal… and to liking the Jets cheer better.) I love the ritual, and I still find it adorable that my normally un-superstitious husband has to wear his jersey and eat more or less the same foods every Sunday. To be fair, the Jets almost lost the time he forgot his jersey, and they just barely won after he remembered to put it on. Oh, and remind me to repeat in ten years the fantastic conversation we had about why there are no female kickers in football. There’s no physical disadvantage, unlike in every other position in the game, but it’s still not at all open to women. Court cases have gotten some women onto college teams, but they had a rough time. Brave women, all of them!

Two: I’m going to run around with my kids and throw a ball with accuracy and force. I practice with our dog, although I often use a “ball chucker” so my arm doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall off. Catching a ball might take a little more work. For some reason I’ve always been able to throw any kind of ball, even a football, pretty well, but I now psych myself out of catching things. I will not giggle and run away, though. I will at least try and catch the stupid thing. Hey, it may just show them that you can enjoy doing things even if you’re not good at them! Just don’t blame me for demanding a good game of Scrabble sometimes just to prove I can dominate at something.

My brother-in-law and my husband are both totally awesome about answering my questions when we’re watching a game. And they both watcheverything. World Cup time is particularly awesome. Women’s World Cup games get air time, too. I have awesome memories of watching the NBA finals when the Lakers were great in the late 1990s. My sister and her then boyfriend (now husband) live in Los Angeles. I spent time there every summer as a kid. (She’s eleven years older than I am.) I watched the games with my sister, future brother-in-law and his friends. No one minded answering my questions during commercial breaks, and it was the first time I understood what was happening. It was really cool to hang out with grown-ups, and it was really cool to see my sister enjoying the game as much as ay of the guys. I still feel like an outsider in this weird world of sports, but a game is a game. Like I said, I have always been competitive.

Do you have other ideas about what I can do to show the kids in my life that women belong in sports, too? I can’t change the fact that mens’ professional sports get a lot more attention. But I can make being active a natural part of our family’s life. I can have a sense of humor about the fact that my strengths lie in my intellectual, rather than physical pursuits, without just giving up at everything physical. What else can I do, having spent most of my time reading? Please, more ideas! Oh, and do the commercials that air during sporting events push back against the image of seeing Mom and Dad watching the game? I worry about that. They’re just so awful.

As a matter of fact, please “dislike” this on YouTube. It makes me red-in-the-face angry every time I see it! Why would any reasonable woman demand that “her” man stop doing something he enjoys just because women are not supposed to like it, too? This is just bull crap in so many ways. And this is what I want to fight against just by showing the kids in my life that I can cheer for an awesome catch or recognize an awesome play.

McDonald’s: Sundays Are For Watching Football?

Sibling Activity: Make Your Own Volcano!

I babysit siblings twice a week, and the age difference makes it pretty hard to find things we can all do together–18 months + 4.5 years = recipe for frustration. What to do if the older brother just wants to play with his beloved Legos but the younger brother wants to smash that Lego helicopter and chew on the pieces?

Last week, we made a volcano!

We made the base out of homemade play dough and, in case you missed this elementary school milestone, the eruption happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar. First, the base! We made ours out of homemade play dough with this fantastically wonderful recipe. [It really is the “squishiest,” but double the recipe twice–it’s proportioned for small amounts of different colors, about the size of what you’d get in a purchased play dough jar. You need a lot more than that for a good volcano! We did well with a recipe doubled once but could have used more.] Here’s why making play dough was a great activity:

  • Play dough is fun to make and includes only food ingredients (flour, water, salt, cream of tartar, etc.). This means that both kids can measure and pour. The toddler loved doing this with me and the older one was thrilled to do it all by himself!
  • If the toddler sneaks something into his mouth, it’s no big deal, provided you stop him before he consumes enough of anything to give himself a stomach ache. This little dude is a cuddle bear, so he doesn’t mind sitting on my lap, which made this easier.
  • If you’re talking to a preschooler with enough maturity to respect cooking safety, he can stir as the play dough “cooks.” I asked this one to recite the rules before we turned anything on; his mom does a great job cooking with the kids, so he had had a lot of practice!
  • Measuring and pouring teaches the same skill set that kids use to do math and science.
  • We put a little food coloring in our play dough to try to make it brown–you could make it any color you want. We didn’t want food coloring to transfer to our hands after the play dough was all done, though.
  • You can talk about the chemistry of cooking while it’s happening, if you have a youngster as curious as my friend! Why does it form a ball? Because the water made everything dissolve together when it was wet, but it’s not as wet now, is it? Why? Heat makes water turn to gas, as we can see from the steam, so the now stuck together ingredients are getting dry. And that is why it forms a ball in the pan! (Yes, he’s a very smart kid who totally participated in that conversation. So much fun.)
  • While we cooked the play dough, the toddler was mostly happy playing with something else. Chemistry talk seems to bore him, understandably, and signal that it’s time to entertain himself! he did sometimes enjoy watching the chemistry happen from the safety of my arms.
  • Tip: only make the play dough if you have a lot of time. If you’re not pressed for time, you can stay calm and stay unattached to immediate success. Children just do very poorly with adult stress over perfection or time constraints. All of the play dough ingredients are inexpensive, and you can always start over. All of them are easy to clean up. None of them ruin clothes, so you can be playful about spills. If you do have to start over, mention that everyone who has ever cooked anything has had to start over.
  • The play dough cools off in about the time it takes to eat a good snack!
On to the volcano! As luck would have it, my toddler friend needed a nap after his snack. It was easier to make the “volcano” with just the two of us, but we did it in the backyard, so I suspect that if I had given the younger brother some play dough of his own or set him up with the sidewalk chalk, he would have been happy.

  • We made the volcano on a piece of cardboard so that we could move it around and used a baby food jar as the “mouth” for the eruption. Cutest thing C has ever said? “Won’t the eruption wake up my brother?” I explained that this eruption was for eyes, not ears, because it didn’t have fire like real volcanos. SO SWEET.
  • We put baking soda (lots–I let him pour) and food coloring (red + yellow) inside the baby food jar. Lots of baking soda turned out to be a great idea, because we could just pour some more vinegar inside every time we wanted a new eruption!
  • We used an ENTIRE GALLON of vinegar! I was so glad we had set up outside! C also experimented with putting baking soda on his hands, putting his hands in the puddles of vinegar we had made and feeling it fizz! He giggled with pure joy. He may even be interested in helping clean the bathtub, since I told him that I use the fizzy mixture to clean mine…

After the smashing success of our science project this week, I wanted a chemistry reminder, so I thought I’d include this for you:

[quote/]What actually happens is this: the acetic acid (that’s what makes vinegar sour) reacts with sodium bicarbonate (a compound that’s in baking soda) to form carbonic acid. It’s really a double replacement reaction. Carbonic acid is unstable, and it immediately falls apart into carbon dioxide and water (it’s a decomposition reaction). The bubbles you see from the reaction come from the carbon dioxide escaping the solution that is left. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so, it flows almost like water when it overflows the container. It is a gas that you exhale (though in small amounts), because it is a product of the reactions that keep your body going. What’s left is a dilute solution of sodium acetate in water.[/quote] [typography font=”Cantarell” size=”12″ size_format=”px”]Experiments By Students For Students[/typography]

Happy Parents, Happy Baby

laughing mother & baby

This is my friend Avi & her son. (Not the family in this post, but aren't they CUTE?) Go visit Avi at her blog, www.themamafesto.com!

[hr] I spend three full days each week with a baby who is, to paraphrase a family friend, the kind of baby who makes me want babies. More than I’ve ever wanted one before. I spend so much time smiling back at this fat and happy baby that my cheeks often hurt at the end of the day.

This baby’s schedule is a bit complicated, however, so I get a lot of questions about this family, sometimes impertinent questions. Yes, there are two nannies. Dad takes the baby one day a week. Grandma takes for one afternoon. Yes, mom works 9-6, sometimes more. Here are some of the more annoying things people say:

“Why did she have a baby now if her work takes up so much of her time?”

“I don’t understand why people have kids if they’re just going to put them in childcare all the time.”

“So it wasn’t a planned pregnancy?”

Note that the pronoun is always “she.” As if only one half of a married couple just decided to have a kid, all by herself. As if anyone outside that nuclear family has any idea what really happened around that pregnancy. (I also don’t want to know–I don’t want the set mental images that would come with those answers.)

So, I would like to state for the record that I have rarely seen any family do such a great job finding exactly the combination of childcare solutions to suit them. Since those questions usually contain thinly veiled hostility towards this child’s mother, usually because she works a lot, it’s also important to me to advertise how creativity keeps everybody as happy as any I’ve ever seen.

About today’s featured mom: she who works very hard and, this week, travelled for work for the first time since her son was born. I totally admire this woman’s career and the business she started. I admire the fact that she had an idea that would actually improve this planet, followed through with it, hired employees to help her and committed to promoting the heck out of her business. I admire the persistence that is visible when she’s doing something as basic as asking her own mother for advice about a promotional email. She also happens to be a great mom. A great mom with a great partner who is a great dad. Together, they have assembled a team that is comprised of nannies (two), grandma (one) and, of course, Dad. With some help from a dog and two cats.

The genius of this family’s plan lies in the size of this team–the very thing that I hear criticized most often. I’m thinking of making flyers, so that I don’t have to keep repeating myself:

  1. Why not put the kid in day care? Because she runs her business from an office that is located just yards from her own parents’ home. If a nanny cares for the baby at the grandparents’ home, Baby and Mom can enjoy breastfeeding every two to three hours. You know what’s really awesome to see? Mom and baby taking a few minutes out of a busy day to bond. I just sort of stand back and let them have their moment. It’s so beautiful. That’s not available to moms who put their kids in group childcare; they don’t suffer irreparable damage or anything, but I’m sure lots of those moms would love a setup like the one this mom has! [FYI, the plan is to put the baby in group childcare when he’s older because they understand that socializing with other children is healthy.]
  2. Why hire someone outside the family? This one is obvious to me, but whatever. First, because this is my JOB, I have a lot of training in current thoughts about infant safety, how to put the baby to sleep, infant nutrition, child development, etc. And no matter how much they know, Grandma and Grandpa don’t want to give their entire week over to providing free childcare. I wouldn’t! And Mom doesn’t want to give them free reign. She has thought a lot about what this baby will eat, wear on his adorable little tushie and, especially, how to put him to sleep consistently. She has a lot more control over what her nannies do than she has over what her mom does. If you don’t understand that, you clearly have never seen a mother and daughter argue.  Also, the nannies carefully record our entire days with Baby, so mom gets a detailed record of what happened, when he ate, what we played, time outside–you name it, we write it down. And that’s just more reliable when you’ve paid someone to do it! Grandma does a good job, too, when it’s her turn, but I still think the system works best when the employees do it on most days.
  3. Why are there are two nannies? I am there most days and a student spends time with the baby one day a week. If I get sick, Mom has someone else she can call. (And, for the record, Dad is in charge one whole day a week.) Oh, and if Mom goes out of town, Dad has two different people to call to help while he teaches a night class at a local university.

The point: There is NO RIGHT ANSWER when it comes to childcare. Mom staying at home is not always the right answer. Dad staying at home is not always the right answer. Take this family’s effort to heart: they looked at their priorities–not just what Baby “needs” but what Mom and Dad need, too. Everybody in this family is happy whenever I see them! Mom and Dad love their jobs. They are passionate about what they do. They are so passionate about being parents. They miss Baby when they’re gone, which means that they give him their full attention when they come back. Baby loves his playmates. And, in case you missed it the first time, I’ll repeat this: I spend so much time smiling back at this baby that my cheeks actually hurt.

It doesn’t bother me that people in general are especially curious when it comes to families. It’s the one thing everybody has in common, so we’re obviously interested in how other people’s families work. It definitely bothers me that so many people are so quick to judge, as though a woman becomes public property the minute she conceives a child. Example: complete strangers fascinated by a pregnant women often feel compelled touch her belly. Is there any other time when people feel comfortable asking if they can touch a woman’s body? Or worse, they might not ask and just put a hand on her! And why is it ok for strangers to ask me when I’m going to have kids? To give me advice about when to have kids? How many kids to have? What gender to wish for? They never ask Nathan!

I know that it’s going to be hard to brush off this kind of criticism when I am a mother. But I really hope that I can learn to look at our choices and ask: are we happy? If everyone is happy, more or less, then we are doing just fine. If I stay home, I will eventually cry about money and wonder if I should have worked full-time. If I work full-time, I will cry about missing a milestone and wonder if I should have stayed home. I hope that I remember to ask, “Am I happy?” Because chances if I am happy in my day-to-day life, my kid(s) have a much better chance of being happy themselves.

My Psychiatrist Calls Me Back on Sunday! and Introducing BuSpar

This is what my meds look like in the morning. See the empty "S"? That's for Sunday--yep, I took my meds today.

Quick update: I’m back up to 1.5 mg of Klonopin as of today. I talked to my psychiatrist, who has always encouraged me to call or email whenever I have a question. He called me back on a Sunday! Yes, that’s right, I have one responsible doctor. Probably because it was Sunday, the conversation was short and sweet: what I am experiencing is too intense. The vivid dreams and night sweats shouldn’t be happening. The high-level daytime anxiety pretty much confirms that it’s Klonopin’s fault. He asked questions like “Have you accidentally forgotten a dose of Effexor? Accidentally doubled up?” But no. I’m super careful. I also have a really dorky pill container with the days of the week, to take even more thinking out of the daily medication routine. I don’t wake up very quickly and sometimes wonder if a conversation or event that took place while I was half asleep did actually happen. I sometimes have to check to make sure I took the meds and counting how many are left in the bottle gets old real fast.

So here’s the next step: I go on a replacement medication called BuSpar/buspirone. When it kicks in, we try tapering the benzos again, hoping that the anti-anxiety BuSpar will prevent the kind of anxiety I’m feeling with even the smallest decrease Klonopin. This one is “mild,” in the words of my doc, so we’re hoping I can stay on it, even during pregnancy. Let’s switch it out! Adding another chemical is preferable to going through anything like this past week ever again. Because guess what? Pregnant ladies/fetuses and mommies/babies cannot afford to be getting any more bad sleep than they already get and feeling super high anxiety is really bad for everyone. Oh, and that link up there? That’s the Wiki article on BuSpar which, strangely, is the closest thing I could find to what my doc said on the phone. So start there if you’re curious about the drug. Well… Here we go again…

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Too Soon to Cry Mercy? I Want My Medication Back!

“I have no talent for certainty.” Jane Austen

It’s been eight days since I tapered my morning dose of Klonopin from 1.5 mg to 1 mg, and it’s been eight days since I had a good night’s sleep. I wake up soaked from night sweats with a jaw clenched so tightly it aches all day. Sometimes I sleep for twelve hours, sometimes for four. I dream about looking for some lost thing or person, but I never know exactly what I am looking for. My nights are full of problems with solutions that seem just out of reach. I just want to go back to eight hours. I want to fall asleep at 10:00 pm and wake up at 8:00 am again. I want to stop grinding my teeth so hard I’m afraid to knock out a filling.

For the first few days, I thought I just had to tough it out. But when I don’t get enough sleep, I get migraines. Understand this: I do not remember ever getting regular, consistent sleep until my early twenties. I remember watching the clock tick past ten, eleven, even midnight, as a child in grade school. (This is a classic sign of childhood anxiety, by the way.) Regular sleep was the first change that helped my anxiety, outside medication. I want my sleep back!

I’m not sure what to do, except ask my psychiatrist if this will end soon. Maybe I need a sleep aid to get me through this time. Maybe we need to make some other change to my medication. But I’m discouraged. I just didn’t see this coming. I expected harder days; I didn’t expect to feel lucky that I only had one migraine in over a week of terrible sleep. I didn’t expect to fall asleep with the kids I babysit in the middle of the day. [For the record, I wake up at the tiniest noise if I’m babysitting. R (18 months) threw one little teddy bear out of his crib, and the sound woke me up.] I didn’t expect to be baking scones at 3 am and watching Dr. Who. Everyone knows that’s a daytime activity!

Brown Butter Scones, with Teff, Whole Wheat, Oat and So Much Butter.

In the meantime, I think today I’ll go for a very long bike ride and hope that wearing myself out physically helps. Any other suggestions?