It was a snowy Sunday morning in mid-January and my husband and I were sitting in bed, drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. “This is nice,” he said, and I immediately thought about how this was going to be one of the last times we’d be able to do this for a while. While my two stepkids live with us and wake up at 6 am, they’re happy to watch TV and drink hot chocolate for an hour in the morning while we slowly wake up and eventually make breakfast. Within a few weeks we’d have a baby and I was pretty sure he’d have other ideas. But I wasn’t worried about being busy. I was busy as it was – I’m a beauty expert on the Marilyn Denis Show, an instructor in a post-grad book & magazine publishing program at a nearby college, and I publish a novel every year. I liked being busy. And now, I wouldn’t be busy working full-time, so I’d have so much free time to get stuff done. I had already started my list. In addition to meeting my next book deadline, I planned to write at least one more novel this year. My stepson had some furniture in his room I wanted to sand and repaint. (I’ve never sanded anything, but I was going to figure out how.) I’d never enjoyed cooking, but I told my husband I planned to make gourmet meals every night for dinner. “This is the year I become a really good cook.”
“I can’t wait,” he replied encouragingly.
And then Fitz came. And it was wonderful, and I thought after a few weeks of settling in, I’d get on that list. One of the items on my to-do list was to repaint a bookcase. I figured it would take me three hours. It took me a week.
“I think you’re trying to do too much,” my husband said. “Your job is to take care of the baby.”
Which I was doing, but when he was napping, I was rushing around trying to accomplish the 14 other things. I was lucky if I checked one item off every three days. I knew taking care of the baby would take a lot of my time but I just thought he’d also sleep a lot—and that’s when I’d get stuff done. I was sure I’d read something that said babies sleep 20 hours a day at the start – but maybe it’s just koala bears that do that?
My baby certainly didn’t sleep for 20 hours a day – and when he did sleep it seemed to be in unpredictable 20 minute intervals, with 20 minutes of crying in between. Does that math work out? Probably not, because he also needed to eat somewhere in there. I thought breastfeeding was going to be my down time – where I would read every book on the New York Times’ Top 10 Books of the Year list, as well as watch all 42 seasons of the Good Wife and Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and all the other TV shows people were talking about that I’d missed over the years.
That didn’t happen.
The only things I seemed to be able to count on was a daily cry at my frustration and sense of failure as a human being.
To give my husband a break from my pity party, I confided in one of my best friends. She listened, nodded and then told me that she completely understood. That when she was on mat leave, she, like me, was so frustrated at how little she was accomplishing, that she got a notebook and made a new to-do list for each day that included the following:
1. Take care of the baby.
At the end of the day she’d check it off.
After my guilt at not knowing this had happened to her at the time and
that I hadn’t done anything to cheer her up or help her subsided, I decided to follow suit. I made the same one-item list. Then, I started to think about the other things I was already accomplishing without giving myself credit. Because my husband would take the baby every morning with him while he walked the other two kids to school, I always showered, put on nice, clean clothes, and did my hair and makeup before 9 am. Check, check, check, and check.
Then, I added “Pump” to the list. At the start I was an occasional pumper – I
hated spending those twenty minute he was napping, pumping. But now, with it an easy task on a to-do list, I made it a once a day priority. As soon as the kids left for school, I’d pump, then shower, get dressed and do my hair and makeup.
Maybe it was the list-maker in me, but I got a strange satisfaction out of using that breast pump, despite its ridiculously loud motor. But I really was accomplishing something. I stocked up on LATCH bottles at the baby store around the corner because I’d heard they were best for helping transition from breastfeeding to bottle feeding due to the unique nipple. It moves and stretches just like the breast, so it helps a baby latch on quickly and correctly. I lined the bottles up in the freezer. I liked seeing the bottles accumulate. But more importantly, what I liked what the bottle meant: for every bottle I pumped, I suddenly had the freedom to do something else, that didn’t have to fit into a twenty-minute window when he was napping. Fitz could still get all the benefits of breastmilk, and I could have a couple of hours to myself every once in a while – to do a yoga class, get my nails done, or go to a movie with my husband. Maybe that sounds selfish, but for me, it meant being a better mom when I was with my baby. I can’t speak for Fitz, but I don’t think he minded the occasional bottle. He took the LATCH bottle as easily as he did breastfeeding—and the design helped cut down on feeding time as well as gas from sucking in air, a bonus. And the pleasure it gave my husband, grandparents or even his brother and sister to be able to give him a bottle – to care for him – made it a wonderful experience for me.
A few weeks ago I found that To-Do list I wrote in those weeks before Fitz was born. He’s nearly a year old now, and I haven’t accomplished a single item on the list. But I couldn’t be happier with the results of how I spent the past year.
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