Sunday, May 15, 2011

Finding Balance Along the Way

Today, it rains. I sit at Cafe Javasti in Wedgwood, my favorite weekend writing spot, and drink Oolong tea (still not drinking coffee, sigh). I almost didn't get away this morning-- two poor nights of sleep in a row have compelled me to ask my husband to let me sleep in, thus cutting into my writing time. But, alas, here I am, if only for an hour or so. I need my weekly moment away from Cedar and the home to sip my tea, breathe, and decompress. Digest.

Today, like many mornings where I sit down to write for this blog, I ask myself what I have to say. More specifically, I ask myself what I have to say that won't take ten hours to unravel and then some-- if there's anything short and focused I can spew out in one sitting that is nevertheless still remotely interesting to anyone besides myself. It's important to me to not wait too long between posts, because when this happens it makes me feel depressed. As I've said here before, this blog is my lifeline to my writing life. Without it, right now, I do not feel much like a writer. Short abbreviated notes scribbled in my journal don't do much to satisfy the writer in me. If this blog is my lifeline, then those disconnected journaling sessions are like little floats that keep me bobbing along the way. Whatever. Enough with metaphors. Onward.

Being a parent to a one-year-old, and not having much money to hire babysitters, there is a lot in my life these days that doesn't get done or satisfied. Of course, we are not alone in this situation. It is part of the reality of being a parent to a young child. It is a part of the sacrifice we willingly make in exchange for the joy of creating a family together. Shone in the right light, it is a rollicking, thrilling adventure-- this thing called our life. Each day, we wake up tired and go to bed exhausted, and somehow tasty dinners still manage to get cooked, family walks have become our main form of entertainment, bills get paid, groceries purchased, dishes washed, and glasses of wine drunk at the end of the night with a sigh of sweet relief. (Have you seen the new picture book, Go the Fok To Sleep? It is hilarious, and if you are a parent, you should go to the bookstore soon if only to read it once.)

Somehow, the essential tasks manage to get done. And what gets left out? Sadly, a lot of friends don't get called or seen, or if they do, it is far too seldom. Late-night collage or dance sessions with my sisters don't happen anymore, and music doesn't get to be played loud at night. Date nights happen only rarely in our household, and even then, I still can't eat most of what is served in restaurants, so we've only gone out to eat a handful of times in the last year. Concerts and shows at clubs are a distant reality too. I envy the parents of good sleepers who are able to easily go out for a night, or-- still unimaginable to me-- even go away for an overnight stay. Someday, yes, this will happen. But we are on the slow train when it comes to weaning Cedar from his dependency on his mama (and I'm not even talking about weaning literally; that isn't going to happen for another year or more). 

Case in point: it was only a month or so ago that we started involving Matthew more actively in the going to bed routine. Before, he'd help with baths, pajamas, and stories, sure, but the crucial nursing and singing of lullabies and falling asleep portion was solely my responsibility. Now, I am gratefully happy to report that my husband and I share this job. If Cedar does not seem to be falling asleep at the breast (which is more often now than not ), then I'll say goodnight and call Papa in to the room, then leave. Cedar will cry in protest for a minute-- or ten, or thirty, depending on his mood-- but eventually (usually after crawling around the bed, patting Papa on his body, and otherwise playing around) he will quiet down and grow tired enough that he will just lie there and fall asleep. Then, an hour or so later, when Cedar usually wakes up again, Matthew is the one who goes in and lies next to him again until he falls back asleep. 

I can't tell you what a huge relief this has been. To not be the one who has to listen closely for Cedar's stirring cries while we attempt to watch an episode of Mad Men, to listen and determine whether he is truly waking or not, then hurry in before he wakes even more and put him back to sleep--and to do this, again and again and again, all night long. I still do it in the middle of the night when we're all in bed, but if Matthew and I haven't gone to bed yet, it's now Matthew's responsibility. We are hoping that if Cedar knows he's not going to always get Mama when he wakes (and especially not Mama's boob), then he might learn to let himself go back to sleep easier when he stirs. So far, this doesn't seem to be happening, but the good news is that he is now way more accepting of the comforting of Papa's presence, and in turn, I feel much more free to go out for the night without worrying that I am going to come home to a screaming baby who has been up for an hour, demanding my return. 

So this has been a big change, allowing me to feel a much overdue sense of expansion when it comes to things I can do in my life. I am much freer to go out and meet a friend at a bar, or even go out to a show if I should so desire. But the truth is, I usually still opt to stay home, because I am tired and I want to go to bed by 10:30 so that I can wake up and feel refreshed by 7:00. And when you only have two hours to chill out at the end of the day (after the baby is asleep and the kitchen cleaned-- for if we don't clean it at night then guess who has to do it anyway in the morning), it often sounds more restorative to me to just sit and talk to my husband on the couch with a glass of wine, and some music playing quietly. To surf Facebook (yes, it's true, sad as this sometimes seems), to read, to take a hot shower (with the heat turned on or else Cedar will hear the water and wake up-- did I mention that he is a light sleeper?), and then to drape my body over the exercise ball and stretch those tight back and neck muscles that get strained each day from carrying around my twenty-five pound baby.

Someday, things will change. Someday, Cedar will sleep better and my husband and I will get hungry enough for more time together that we will make the effort and fork over the money for a babysitter. But for now, I am resigned to this period and I know it will go quickly. In the meantime, I have adapted to these new parameters of what kind of "fun" a weekend can hold, and to how long it takes to get things done.

For example, this weekend. Yesterday, the three of us plus my mom went to see a Chinese drumming and dance performance at the Seattle Center which I'd gotten free tickets to. We timed it perfectly between Cedar's naps, fed him avocado and rice puffs along the way, and he enjoyed the show from my lap, bouncing and clapping and mesmerized by the lights. We were home by three, with time left in the day for a nap, a long walk with Fergie, a new batch of beer brewed by Matthew, and a dinner of fried rice with chicken, peas, and carrots for all. 

And today, Matthew's brother and sister-in-law are visiting from Olympia. We're borrowing my sister's truck so that we can haul a bunch of branches to the dump from the cedar tree that fell in our yard several months ago, I'm going to take Cedar and Fergie for a walk, and later on, we'll all barbeque. I won't mention all the things that aren't getting done, all the things on our list that have been there forever (like budgeting, doing research and contacting people for our future remodel, mopping the floors, various childproofing tasks, overdue phone calls, and of course, any and all of my more involved writing projects which are pretty much just on hold for now-- though I don't know how much longer I can placidly accept this as the status quo). 

Okay, so I will and did just mention some of the things. But my point is that I have been learning to accept our current limitations-- which almost all have to do with a lack of time. And in turn, I appreciate all the more the small successes that occur when we manage to achieve a relatively health balance between working for money, indoor chores, outdoor chores, family time with Cedar (and now Fergie too), time with friends, down time, solitary time, and finally-- so importantly, and sadly what often gets squeezed out the first-- time for Matthew and I to reconnect as a couple, to try and remember a glimpse of our pre-child reality, the energy that brought us together in the first place.

Balance. Priorities. Acceptance. Patience. Perspective. All of these qualities are necessary and called upon when learning how to become parents, how to create a new family, and how to merge into a new fluid, working organism. And, of course, we can't forget to throw in a lot of silliness, a few tears, and an occasional roar of wildness rearing it's head in a rebellious demand for change along the way.


  1. Thank you for listening to your life! You're one of the very few people who's advice I seek when I'm in a confusing time. It's because you are able to listen to what life is tellinbg you. If it's, patience, balance and acceptance, peppered with tears and silliness, that's all layered into the rich life-wisdom cassarole you dig into to share with others.

  2. Thank you, Heidi, dear. Thank YOU for reading and listening and responding. Miss you, friend.



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