In honor of Willa's 1/2 birthday today, I want to share a few things that have surprised us about parenting so far. This list certainly is not meant to speak to universal truths about parenthood; rather, it's just what we've noticed about our experience. Anyway, here it goes!
We really don't like being away from her
Pre-kid, I imagined vacations just the two of us and continuing to travel for work. I imagined running errands after work and leaving my kid in daycare.
Post-kid: I imagine family vacations. Plus, I think of all the exciting places we'll go just the two of us...in twenty years. The second I'm finished with work, I'm practically running to the daycare. This isn't to say I don't appreciate an occasional date night where a family member is available to watch her (I do!); it's just completely different than I thought it'd be.
Progress is Often Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Willa's baby book has a section for "sleep habits" each month. I imagined her sleep would get better and better, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when she slept 9 hour stretches after only a couple of months. However, I didn't consider that regressions exist. The last week or so, she has been up every 3 or 4 hours and went from eating 7 times a day to more like 12. It's a growth spurt and maybe she is starting to get sore gums, but it was tough. Sunday night, she slept 7 hours for the first time in a week, and on Monday, I felt amazing.
You CAN Function With Less Sleep
Pre-kid: I was the biggest "sleep baby" feeling absolutely wretched if I didn't get at least 8 hours of sleep.
Post-kid: I consider 6 hours decent, and I still function (for the most part).
It's Really Hard to Get Anything Else Done
Even though my parent friends had warned me that getting a load of laundry done would be an accomplishment for a day home with a baby, I imagined that Willa would nap and we would accomplish chores, check email, grade, etc. In reality, Willa will nap in the car or in our arms. Otherwise, she'll nap in something (crib, swing) maybe for 20-30 minutes (unless she's at daycare--she will nap for them in a crib--teach me your ways!) Basically, our whole weekend is meal prep, laundry, and taking turns entertaining Willa so the other person can grade or do other tasks. We really don't mind, since we're making the choice to have her home with us more during the week (we pay for more hours of care than what we use); we just underestimated how totally consuming childcare is.
She Fits Right In
I'm surprised how much everything feels the same; we're totally ourselves around Willa, and it's like she has always been here. She is still in our room (see #1) in her bassinet, and she'll even "sleep in" with us on the weekends, which we are especially thankful for after she's up at night a couple of times. Wherever we go, for the most part, she's cool with it (with the exception of a high school football game--loud cheering during bedtime isn't her favorite). She's a part of our dinner conversation (sometimes screaming, but not in an angry way), and she is the funniest person we know. I thought it'd take more time for her to feel like part of our family, but it's so natural having her that it's weird thinking about before she was born.
Having a Baby Changed My Relationship With Lola and Zoe
I'm sad to admit that I was rather grumpy about Lola and Zoe after we brought Willa home from the hospital, and I'm including this because no one warned me to expect this, though I've found it is really common after talking to friends. A baby is so much responsibility that meeting additional needs just felt like a lot on top of that, especially in the beginning. The cats would contribute to additional night wake ups, and I was very protective of Willa and terrified they'd jump into her bassinet. Luckily, those fears were unfounded. Lola mostly stays out of Willa's way while Zoe is now looking to make Willa a friend. Now that they've adjusted, the cats are not waking us up as much. Watching Willa interact with them is pretty adorable, and I'm a lot less overwhelmed than I was in the beginning. While we still have crazy moments, like taking Zoe to the vet 3 times in the course of a month to make sure her UTI had been properly treated--(it had been), we both love Lola and Zoe and their cuddles. These fur cats are, and always will be, our "original babies."
I'm Leaning Out (a Little)
Before having kids, I read Lean In and thought "totally," but I can say without a doubt that one of my best decisions was backing off of taking on teaching overload this year. I want to be able to give 100% to my students, and this means maintaining my own standards like fast grading turnaround and same day email response, so keeping my numbers manageable was key for me. If there's something going on late at work that's meaningful to the students or to the college, I will absolutely do it, but I'm more choosey now and won't attend every single extra event.
While I haven't found a great way to fit writing in post-kid, I know I will have time this summer. My new motto is "Right now isn't always," which is my way of reminding myself that this phase doesn't last forever. The things that are truly important (as writing is) are going to get worked back in. For now, I'm just giving myself some grace since I truly cannot "do it all."
Breastfeeding is Really Time Consuming
I never realized the amount of time that breastfeeding and pumping would take. I'm going to give a rough estimate that on a regular day, I spend 3.5 hours of my day breastfeeding or pumping. If Willa is going through a growth spurt, it may take up even more of the day. I never anticipated how much of a time commitment it would be, but I suppose I'll file that under things I'm glad I didn't know.
We're Closer Than Ever
Having a baby is difficult on a marriage: I don't recommend it as an action plan to strengthen a relationship. You will have less time for each other (and for yourselves), and you'll be overly exhausted; at times, you'll take the other person for granted. Things get real really fast, and your relationship becomes even more intimate as there is no room for pretenses of any kind. But at the same time you're in that fog, you are united for an amazing cause: to help this little person to grow up loved and nurtured. Brendan makes sure we maintain our sense of humor. We show our love for one another through dozens of little gestures throughout the day, and I feel lucky to be loving the two of them.
You Learn Fast
Before we had Willa, we took all these classes at the hospital: baby care, infant CPR, breastfeeding, labor preparation. Right before she was born, I freaked out that I still hadn't mastered the swaddle. I tried practicing on stuffed animals, and my swaddles were a mess. Right after she was born, the task of being a mom felt so big and difficult. The first few weeks back at work, I remember feeling like I would never feel on top of things again. But all those feelings of inadequacy fade. I think because, through it all, your baby believes you can do it...and before you know it, you are.
Here's to the best half year,