Thursday, February 23, 2012

Week Three

This week finds me almost halfway through "The Hard Eight" (aka the first eight weeks following birth).

I'm still recovering from "birth-related difficulties". I'm up between three and nineteen times a night dealing with a new 7-pound roommate who indicates her oncoming need to eat by grunting like a crazed warthog for 45 minutes before beginning to wail loudly. Also, I'm breastfeeding approximately 27 hours a day.

It's been a little bit of a grind.

Then this morning, as I sat slumped over 42 ounces of Diet Coke in an attempt to ingest sufficient caffeine to allow me to remember my first name, I heard the doorbell ring. I staggered zombie-like towards the front door and opened it to find a Jehovah's Witness wearing an expression of friendly concern.

"Family life is very stressful, don't you agree?"

he asked, handing over a small pamphlet. I stared at him in a daze for a moment before responding:  

"Dude, are you familiar with the expression 'preaching to the choir'?"

I briefly considered inviting him to confirm his beliefs by coming inside to witness the insanity-inducing spectacle of my two sons standing in the center of a playroom bursting with toys of all varieties while fighting violently over a one-wheeled train, but he seemed like a nice enough fellow, so I opted to spare him the trauma and sent him on his way.

Actual pamphlet handed to me by Jehovah's Witness

After his exit, I perused the pamphlet he'd left behindThe title "ENJOY FAMILY LIFE" is followed by the question, 
  • "Can families really be happy?
and the even more damning follow up:
  • "How is it possible?"
While I'm tempted to spend the rest of this entry performing an in-depth analysis of the illustration above (I mean, do you really expect to improve family harmony by taking in two puppies and a GIANT PARROT when you already have two young kids? Bad choices, Mom and Dad!) but instead, let's focus on the headline for a moment, shall we?

Now look, I like to complain about having children as much as the next mom. And sure, I'll revel in the occasional screed on my husband's inability to remember to bring his lunch to work to the point where I've been tempted to Krazy Glue Tupperware containers directly to his palms. But, come on Jehovah's Witness pamphlet preparers! Are we actually at a point where we collectively understand family life to be so ceaselessly nightmarish that we need to ask ourselves whether happiness within such a unit is even possible?

Having "woken up" from a bad night with my newborn to face a day of potty training, dish-doing, and inter-brotherly negotiations, I have to say I really wasn't in the market for a handout on the innate despair of being a mom. But as I perused the contents of this brochure it actually began to cheer me up, because it made me that realize that even I, from the dark place I'm currently in, do not accept the premise that families are, by their very nature, a ceaseless black hole from which happiness has no hope for survival.

I mean, there's lots that's awesome about being part of a family:
  • There's the fact that even though a vague sense of misery  sometimes dominates your entire existence, you still end up laughing all day long because you have small people around who, while admittedly troublesome, also do hilarious things on a near-constant basis.
  • There's the constant intellectual challenge of trying to trick your surprisingly wily offspring into doing your will by doing things like disguising their vegetables under sufficient amounts of ranch dressing and/or claiming things during the morning dressing battle like, "But these are your fun pants!"
  • There's outings to places that are surprisingly fun that you might never have visited if you weren't just desperate to get your kids out of the house. (For us these places have included the local farm, the botanical garden, the fire station, and the duck pond at the park.  They have not, for the record, included Chuck E. Cheese - where every visit steals a piece of your soul forever.)
  • There's getting to see the world from the perspective of a two-year-old, which means delighting all day in a host of things you might miss as a regular old grown-up. (For example, did you know that the 900th airplane to fly over your house on any given day is JUST AS EXCITING as the 1st plane? Well, it is!)
And those are just the things my sleep-addled brain was able to come up during the six minutes between crises that demanded my attention.

So to you, Jehovah's Witness pamphlet I say YES! Families REALLY CAN be happy!

At least some of the time!

Until we go back to driving each other crazy, fighting over minutiae, and weeping when we realize that the laundry is not done and that there are, in fact, another two hampers full under the cabinet by the bathroom!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Day

Over the weekend my husband let me know that he'd made a dinner reservation for Tuesday night.

In response, I looked at him with the kind of bewilderment only the Mom of a two-week-old baby who has her days and nights confused can muster and shouted angrily, 

"Why would you do that? Why would anyone who loves me try to make me leave the house?"

David replied, 

"But it's Valentine's Day."

I'd forgotten, to say the least. I managed a half-hearted,


and agreed that I would attempt to spit shine myself enough to be presentable for public consumption if we could make a reservation for no later than 6pm.

So it was that Tuesday night found me limping out towards a small Italian place in Beverly Hills leaning heavily on my honey's arm.
The place was packed and so we ended up at a small corner table that was situated about 6 inches from the table next to us.

David and I settled in for appetizers and some romantic conversation about our eldest child's toilet habits until we found ourselves distracted by the couple at the adjoining table.

They both had to be close to 90. His name was Murray and hers was Estelle. He wore a navy sports coat and she was in a sweater and pearls. 

The two of them sat eating quietly for long periods but when they did talk their conversation sounded like this:

MURRAY: You know? These clams were the right choice. They are simply delicious.
ESTELLE: I am so glad you are enjoying them, my darling.

ESTELLE: That sweet waitress was right. This coffee is wonderful.
MURRAY: I'm so happy you like it, sweetheart.

MURRAY: I think we should treat ourselves to the ricotta cheesecake tonight!
ESTELLE: If that sounds good to you, my dear, I'd love it.

David and I were completely transfixed by the sheer wonderfulness of these two people. Their every interaction was so positive, and they just seemed so perfectly thrilled to be sitting together over $12 bowls of pasta at a little Italian restaurant on Valentine's Day.

Every time the waitress cleared away a course Murray and Estelle would reach out to each other and hold hands until the next round of food arrived. 

At some point the proximity of our tables caused me to bump elbows with Murray and he excused himself profusely. We got to chatting and they asked us how long we'd been married. When I told them four years Murray laughed and announced happily,

"Well, we've got you beat by fifty-eight!"

They were looking forward to celebrating their 63rd anniversary in the Spring.

We told Murray and Estelle about our two boys and about how excited we were to have a brand new baby girl at home, and they were thrilled for us. 

Estelle had lots of advice for surviving a houseful of small children (she had done it herself on a limited budget and without much help),

"Just remember" she said, "When the going gets tough, and it will, that the tough times don't last and you'll be OK in the end. Just stick together and lean on each other, that's what's important."

Murray told David,

"I pray for you that your children someday have children of their own, because you will never know joy in your life like being a Grandparent. We've never been happier in our lives."

And you could tell just talking to Murray and Estelle that it was true. That they had leaned on each other in tough times and that it had made their lives easier. That they had struggled to achieve things side-by-side and now were each grateful to the other as they looked back. That they were, as they neared the end of their journey together, just really happy people. 

I will be 99 years old if I make it to my 63rd anniversary, so I'm not super hopeful that David and I can reunite at Murray and Estelle's table on Valentine's Day 2075. But as we said our goodbyes and the two of them got up to leave their table hand in hand, David and I both felt like we'd been given a gift by the Valentine's Day Fairy by their example. (And frankly, said V-Day Fairy owed me BIG TIME after leaving me sobbing while desperately consuming fistfuls of chocolate for every Valentine's Day in my twenties.)

They made it seem like it was a simple thing to enjoy life, treat each other kindly, and keep things in perspective. In reality, of course, we know that it's not all that easy. In the three days since meeting Murray and Estelle, David and I have already thought seriously about murdering each other a half a dozen times as we've tried to juggle three kids, two jobs, and a house between us.  

But we're trying at least to stay in touch with our inner Murray and Estelle. We make an effort to be more patient with each other, to enjoy the small moments of joy that come along, and to hold fast to the simple thought that when all else fails...

...we can always try splitting some cheesecake.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I've Stayed Up All Night for Dopier Reasons

You may have noticed by now that the blog did not appear this week. This is because instead of composing a new post on the non-delights of late-stage pregnancy I was busy making this:

Yes, folks, there's a new Dictator in town, and it's a GIRL! A veritable dictatrix!

We are home from the hospital and I'm settling into week one of motherhood. I'm doing night feedings, attempting to establish a latch, constantly icing my nether regions and once again marveling that I'd managed to block out just how grim this period really is.

Except for the part where you're ecstatic all the time because you get to look at a tiny new face all day.

More soon...