Alone Again. Sort Of.

After four months, my mother has had the gall to return to her own life temporarily, and has left me alone with my own child for two weeks.

How could she?!?! I’m not prepared for this, obviously! Who approved any of this?

After over a year of more extreme isolation than even I am accustomed to (I am an especially isolated person even in normal times, but even I typically take trips to see other people every few months or so), it’s been comforting to have company for so long.

I like being alone — I don’t really get lonely like other people do. I sort of live in my own world. But toward the end of quarantine, it was starting to be enough already. And then at some point, it occurred to me that I was about to give birth and then I would probably never be alone ever again (the economy being what it is).

That was hard to wrap my mind around, but over the past few months, I haven’t pined for solitude much. Maybe a bit at odd moments. And now that Mom has left, I feel a bit melancholy. I normally do when a houseguest leaves, but I didn’t think I would this time because I have Edith. But I’m finding that she doesn’t really feel like a separate person to me. She feels more like an extension of myself, like there’s just more of me now, and it’s even more troublesome to take care of my basic needs than it was before. That’s surely healthy for both of us, right?

Probably it will be different when she’s talking and mobile and can exercise her own will.

Meanwhile, we played for awhile, and then Edith watched from her swing, appalled, as I attempted to gasp through a 25 minute HIIT video. She was pretty patient (if obviously humiliated for me) until I propped her up in her donut in the bathroom and got in the shower at which point, she was like, “BITCH THIS CAN’T WAIT TILL I’M ASLEEP?” Which was fair enough. She played some more, and then she fell asleep for several hours and I watched TV and finished the novel I was reading. It was too hot today for our walk.

When she woke up, I managed to give her a bath in the sink by myself, which I was proud of, because it’s unwieldy, and she only pooped in the tub a tiny bit. And now she’s propped in my lap while I type this over her shoulders, and for some reason, she is tolerating this. Soon we’ll go to bed.

So, all in all, a successful first half of a day? Only 13.5 more to go, not that I’m counting, because I’m perfectly capable of parenting my own baby. Perfectly capable!

Tough Crowd

The baby smiles at me a lot and talks to me periodically, but she will not laugh at me. I thought she didn’t laugh at all, until I mentioned this one day and my mother said, “oh, she laughs all the time!” Then, the other day, I heard her absolutely losing her shit at something the nanny was doing. I ran in, and she wasn’t just laughing, she was waving her arms and legs back and forth in hysterics.

Today, I was determined to make her laugh. I spent the whole day pulling faces at her and dancing around maniacally, and she stared at me soberly, brow knitted. She looked confused, maybe slightly concerned, but I could elicit nothing even approaching amusement.

At the end of the day, her grandmother got back from running errands and came over to say hi, and the baby immediately broke into a delighted peal of laughter.

Nobody thinks their mother is funny, I guess.

Mom Guilt

I thought that I would be immune to mom guilt, because I typically am not subject to the pressures that come from wanting to be socially accepted or approved of, since I am genuinely comfortable being entirely isolated from other people (this is not really a good thing). However, I have been surprised to find that I am not immune.

By “mom guilt” I specifically mean guilt over something that I do not truly believe is harming my child, but still feel guilty about due to social stigma. This is to be distinguished from worry over things that I do suspect might be harming my child, which I shall term “mom anxiety.” I have a shitload of mom anxiety; I’m constantly worried that I’m not doing enough for Edith, or that I’m doing things wrong or making mistakes that will harm her, or even just short-changing her in some way. But this is surely inevitable if you actually care about your child? As a parent, you assume 100% control over the body, environment, health, happiness, and life of a tiny, helpless, extremely fragile infant. If you don’t worry constantly that you’re messing that up, you’re a sociopath.

Mom guilt is different. Mom guilt is feeling guilty for not adhering to the social expectations for mothers even if you don’t feel those standards actually affect the health and happiness of your child. I did not expect I would give a shit about these pressures, and I mostly don’t, but I do find that I constantly feel guilty and bad for doing my own thing instead of playing with Edith while the nanny is here.

Strictly speaking, I do not technically need a nanny while I’m on parental leave. I hired one to come a few days a week in preparation for something that didn’t end up happening, but she really is wonderful, so I’m glad that I hired her anyhow. Edith adores her and has an excellent time playing with her. I do not worry that spending time with the nanny instead of me is harming Edith. For one thing, research pretty clearly indicates that it’s good for children to bond with multiple adults and to have lots of people who care about them in their lives. For another, I am dealing a lot better than I thought I would with the lack of sleep that comes with having a baby, but still, I am largely braindead and frequently on autopilot, and even on the best days, I am not fresh and creative and engaging as a playmate, and the nanny is. I’m pretty sure Edith has more fun with her than she does me, and while I’m occasionally jealous of this, I do not worry it’s a bad thing — I want Edith to be having as much fun as possible. I want her to have fun with lots of people. I want her to be having fun all the time!

So, I don’t have mom anxiety about the nanny, but I do have mom guilt. I do not feel guilty if I use the time to exercise, or to shower, or to nap, or to do necessary chores and errands. And I would not feel guilty if I used the time to do something that would advance my career or earn money (I don’t), or to cook (I don’t cook). That is to say, it seems acceptable to take advantage of help in order to look after my physical or financial needs.

But I can see after all my physical needs and still have time left over, and what I mostly want to use that extra time for is to read, think, write, etc. That is, I want to use the time to look after my intellectual needs. And I feel great guilt about this, because as a new mom, I am not supposed to have any intellectual needs. I am only supposed to be interested in my baby. But I have not had a lobotomy and I need to use my mind now just as much as I needed to use it before I had Edith — more actually, because I have so much more to think about now.

I didn’t realize I was feeling this way until one day, I noticed that I was pretending to be napping when I was actually reading. Why was I pretending, I wondered? And I found that I felt guilty about reading while someone else played with my child. And then I thought that if I had a husband, he would 100% slip off to watch sports or something while the nanny was here, and people might think that was exasperating or even shitty of him, but no one would actually expect any different, because we do not expect men to be endlessly absorbed by the mostly stultifying work of caring for an infant, but we do expect for that work to be inherently interesting (or at least satisfying) to women.

Women admit to each other pretty readily that there is little more tedious than caring for an infant, but still, I feel like it’s not acceptable to outsource any of that. And I can already hear the women reading this saying, “but taking care of your own needs will make you a better mother to her!” and ok, that is true when it comes to my physical needs (which is maybe why I think it’s acceptable to take advantage of help to meet them), but honestly, spending time on my intellectual needs doesn’t actually make me a better mother; I’m the same with Edith either way. It’s just for me. And that’s the key of the mommy martyr pressure — once you have a child, you are not supposed to care about yourself at all anymore.

And the thing is, I don’t! Hell, I barely cared about myself before I had a child. But I still get bored, and I find boredom is a more difficult thing for me to tolerate than exhaustion, and I’ve surprised myself by feeling ashamed of this.

Pool Day

Today, we (my mother, the nanny, and I) took the baby to the neighborhood pool. It’s a nice pool, with a covered baby pool and a pretty elaborate splash pad. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over two years, but I’d never used the pool, because I figured it’d be full of kids. But now I have a kid, so I took her down there.

You would not think it would take three adults to transport one very small baby to a pool, but between the diaper bag, the towels, the changes of clothes, the baby in her car seat, someone to take video of the experience, etc., we all had our hands full.

Edith is a very expressive baby generally, but when she is experiencing something new, she has a winning poker face. I swam her around in the baby pool for awhile, and she remained quite stoic throughout. She complained a couple of times when she knew for sure she did not like something (being tipped onto her back, for example), but otherwise, it was tough to say whether she was enjoying herself or not. If she could talk, I believe she would have said “I’m processing.” I think everything Edith does is perfect, but I especially think this is a rad way to be — she doesn’t feel pressured to perform delight or to provide feedback she isn’t ready to give. If you saw a movie with her and upon emerging asked “what did you think?” she would say, “if I cared to express an opinion, you would already have it.” Power moves.

Later, I perched her on my knee on the side of the baby pool and let her dip her feet in periodically. She seemed extremely interested in all the other children at the pool, particularly the big boys who were cannonballing off the side of the deeper end, and a little girl all in purple who was playing with swim rings in the baby pool.

I really wanted to walk her through the splash pad, but one thing at a time. We have all summer.

The experience wore us both out, and Edith napped all afternoon while I watched Mythic Quest. A delightful day.

Forty

I turned forty today. It feels like I’ve been forty for a long time, so although it’s rather a milestone birthday, it doesn’t feel like one.

The main thing about being forty is that I’m a mother now. I had a baby three and a half months ago. I’m not one of those people who think that everyone should have children, or that people cannot really understand life until they have a child, but for me personally, I was a real dead inside piece of shit before I had my daughter, and now I feel joy and sadness and all sorts of things. It’s as if when I went into the hospital, the world was in black-and-white, and I came out and it was in color.

Today, we (my mother, my daughter, and I) went to lunch at a restaurant and sat on the patio because we’re still a little nervous about taking the baby inside places, especially when they are crowded, which this place was because it’s Saturday. It’s boiling hot in Texas and there were fans and misters on the patio. This was the baby’s third time at a restaurant, which also means that it was my third time at a restaurant in about a year and a half. Ordinary things seem new to me twice over — because the world is opening back up a little and I have not done them in so long, and because I am getting to see all of them through my baby’s eyes and everything is a new adventure for her. She wore a navy blue onesie with flowers on it, and we worried that she might be getting too much sun, or that it might be too hot. She has bright red hair, and it’s long enough now that when she’s hot, it gets sweaty and curly in the back and fluffs up into a little ducktail.

I’m typing this in bed, and my daughter is right next to me in her basinet. She was asleep, but she has woken up and is staring at the ceiling fan now, and waving her arms back and forth. Every night I’m just amazed that I have this awesome little person next to me, that I get to end the day with her, and then we wake up and spend another day together.

It’s all so much fun! I hadn’t had fun in years, and now everything is fun. I was so deeply bored and had been for so long, and now everything is interesting.

So, I’m looking forward to my 40s overall.