Monday 21 November 2011

The Second Year of Motherhood; Or, How I Served Up Two-And-A-Half-Year-Old Pie

It is no secret that I have struggled a lot this year.  I have found the second year of motherhood so, so much harder than the first. Mothering two babies is intense, but I managed it by staying in the house a lot and taking on absolutely no extra commitments. This year, that hasn't felt like an option. 

I don't know. I find toddlers much harder to handle than babies, but the expectation seems to be that my life should be getting back to 'normal', now. People are asking me to do stuff again, stuff it's impossible to say no to. The expectation seems to be that after having kids for two years, I should be able to manage normal human responsibilities again. I should have hit my stride. And I did, I guess, but this year I feel like my stride sort of hit me back. 

This seems to have all started about the time I went back to work (two days a week, people, two days a week). I feel like that was the milestone that meant I had to start carrying my load again - socially, in the extended family, at church and yeah, just in my own head. I feel like I can no longer say 'no, I can't do that totally reasonable thing you've just asked me to because I am TOO OVERWHELMED by my life' when I'm also saying 'please relate to me as a serious, professional woman'. 

I feel like I somehow just should be able to manage my life now: get myself places on time; cook for the sick; all the stuff I joked about here. But that doesn't seem to be how things are. This is partly because work -  previously an annoying hum in the background of my life - has suddenly gone crazy. I was working hard before, but now I can feel it taking me over. It has never stopped been a significant aspect of my life, obviously, but it feels very front and centre now, even when I'm not physically there. If work is the shark swimming around in my subconscious, it has gone from feeling like this: 

it's there, but I can sort of ignore it when I'm not looking directly at it 
 to this:

and I'm trying to figure out how to make it fit in with everything else I have to do without getting eaten alive.

I'm not doing so well.

Last week, every single minute of every single day was scheduled. I don't mean scheduled activities like Toddler Yoga (don't you know me at all?) but we had friends over every day and we were busy every evening and on Saturday too, and this introvert does not cope well with that much contact with other humans and by the end of it I was pretty much in dissociative fugue

Speaking of having friends over, can I please digress here? I have no idea how everyone else manages to do friendship at this point in their lives.  I get it in my head - theoretically, I can see that having a close-knit group of local friends who are fighting the Poop Wars along with me would be by far the best way to survive with my sanity intact. But how am I supposed to make that work, timewise? This is a non-rhetorical question. I really want to know. We have free time in the morning. We can do stuff between about 10 and 12:30; 1 at the latest. The afternoons are a write-off because of naps and dinner and baths (when they're lucky) and some struggles with evening  behaviour.  I'm at work Wednesdays and Fridays. We always see my good friend H and her son and go to the library on Thursdays. This leaves me with 5 other hours in the week when I can see people or run errands. I used all 5 of them last week to do friend-y things. The total wall-to-wall scheduling of my days at home nearly killed me, even though I was extremely glad to be able to invest the time in those friendships. 

I guess I just kind of wonder - those of you who have that kind of close-knit local support group, how do you make that work, timewise? How do you find the hours in the day to put in that kind of commitment? None of my friends are friends with each other. So I try and I try, but I'm putting things into my diary four weeks in advance because I just can't seem to make the numbers add up to do it any other way. Or is that kind of thing (where you are always at each others' houses, cooking each other meals and putting each others' kids to bed so that you can all have frequent date nights) just an urban (okay, suburban) legend? Because it feel like it is the way motherhood is supposed to workand I feel like the only one who doesn't have it.  Do people really have that, or are lots and lots of people just lying about their village?  Curious minds want to know. Okay, digression over. 

So. Last week. Part of the reason I was so busy was that one of my friends had been scheduled to speak at a church prayer meeting but was sick and asked me to fill in for her. I'm going to be honest - I really didn't want to do it. It wasn't our church, I didn't know anybody and even though it was just a short slot about the school we're trying to start, it was a commitment I didn't really want. When she asked me to do it, I thought straw, meet camel's back. I wrestled and wrestled with my conscience about whether I should just say no way! and in the end I decided that no, I really had to do this, there was no other option. My conscience won.  

In the argument with my conscience, what I neglected to do was actually check my diary for that evening.  That is how I forgot that we had invited my sister's mother-in-law (henceforth MSMIL, who is visiting the UK at the moment, and whom I like very much) over for dinner on Tuesday night.  So. At 10:05 am Tuesday, I was racing around the kitchen, finishing up the breakfast cleanup in preparation for a visit from my new friend F at 10, ie five minutes ago.  I then had to race out to the lounge in response to a bellow of rage from Blue that always, always means that Pink has bitten him. Sure enough, his little hand had teeth marks. I drew him into me and he cried and cried next to my ear while I patted him. For thirty seconds, because then the phone rang. I would have left it, except I thought it was probably F, lost and asking for directions. With Blue bellowing in one ear, I was then rather surprised to hear MSMIL's voice asking me 'so, I was wondering what time you are going to come and pick me up this evening'. Indeed. 

I felt terrible - terrible. By that stage, I absolutely couldn't cancel the night's engagement. I also couldn't really hear her because of the screaming. I also couldn't ask her to phone back because F was due five minutes ago.  So I apologised profusely and... rescheduled. For Thursday. 

I enjoyed the time with F and got through the thing in the evening. Wednesday was definitely a shark-attack day at work. All the time there's a nagging voice in my head saying 'you have to make something suitably apologetically nice for dinner tomorrow!' but I mostly ignored it.  Got home late. Rummaged through the freezer. Found a box labelled 'pie insides' and I realised that it was this delicious thing - chicken, wine, rosemary, tarragon - just waiting to be put under a pastry lid. (Pastry from the shop, okay? Pastry from the shop). Definitely apologetic enough. I rejoiced.  

Thursday morning came, and I took it out of the freezer to thaw before its date with a pie dish and a hot oven.  At this point, I thought 'hmmm, I wonder when I made this?' and realised - I don't think I've made this recipe since before the babies. We used to have a regular weekly Thursday Pie Night - not always actually pie, but each week I would try a new recipe and John would attempt to get home before it congealed. This, an actual pie, was the dish for which pie night was named and it was both of our favourites. And I was pretty sure that I hadn't made it once since we became parents. That meant that I was standing and looking at two-and-a-half-year-old pie insides, unable to think of any other options for dinner, torn between potential botulism and a walk of shame to the supermarket chiller cabinet for something ready made. And really, I didn't want either. I just wanted to sit on the sofa and eat Doritos. I looked and looked at it, trying to make up my mind and feeling like a big pile of poo. Iwanted to cry great big heaving sobs at the tragedy of this frozen lump of food. 

How did I get to this point? I wondered. How can I be so utterly unable to manage my life that one dinner guest and one unexpected evening engagement is enough to tip me over the edge? I still don't have the answer to that question. I just know that it is enough to tip me over the edge. As I get older, I'm becoming more aware of my own limitations, and losing hope that I will ever become any sort of person than the one I am. What I haven't figured out is how to make it all work, or failing that, how to say 'I'm glad you can cope with preschoolers and work and still have energy left over for other social stuff but I cannot'.  

I struggle with understanding my own motivations for saying yes and saying no, too. Am I saying no because I'm lazy? Am I saying yes because I want other people to think that I'm on top of things, even when I'm not? There's a fine line, somewhere, between being real and being lazy. I don't know where that line is, but I always feel like I'm on the wrong side of it, no matter where I fall.  Usually it feels like I'm saying yes because I have no other choice, and then I hate myself for not miraculously finding some other way of getting out of stuff while not letting anybody down. Yeah, that's really going to happen. 

I do know that the busier I am, the harder it is to just relax and enjoy being with my kids. And the more I enjoy them, the better mother I am. No kidding, Claudia. Toddlers are hard work, obviously, but they are also uniquely delightful. There's something incredible about being there alongside two children while they wake up from the long sleep of infancy, as their gaze starts to turn outwards, as they begin to notice and narrate their strange and fabulous little world. I can finally start to see what is going on in their tiny little heads, see what is important to them, and it's both hilarious and a revelation. Mostly, they are thinking about animals, it seems, or their grandmothers. Pink put three words together for the first time a few months ago, saying bye-bye, big raaaah! to the lion sculpture at our local park. Blue's speech has been a bit slower, and he only did three words together for the first time last week. At first, I thought it was just toddler word salad - he came up with bath cat swimming! But then I looked and realised that he was tummy-down in his bath, thrashing his arms and legs and saying Miaaaoooowww! over and over again. Bath cat swimming, indeed. I love that crazy boy. 

I want to spend my time with them. But I've got to live in this world, too, I've got to go to work so that they can see their father on Wednesdays and Fridays, I've got to care about people outside of my own nuclear family even when I don't know how. I'm always glad I did it later, I just never want to do it right now

So, in the end, I hacked off a bit of the frozen pie insides with a wooden spoon and ate the chunk, ice crystals and all.  Food poisoning takes about six to nine hours to kick in, and it was still ten hours until dinner, so I figured that if I was still okay by the time I was pre-heating the oven, well, so was the pie. I was fine. The pie was delicious, and we all cleaned our plates. None of us got so much as a twinge (well, if MSMIL did, she never told me). It made me think: we should really institute Thursday Pie Night again. And we should invite friends.  We should do it every week! And then we can swap around to different people's houses! It will be such a great way to get to know people! Okay, I'll start thinking about babysitters - right, who will we invite? 

.... Um, yeah. Balance. Not going to find it that way, Claudia. Which is a shame, because it really would be fun; you know, if I was someone utterly different from the person I actually am.  Maybe we can do it later. Maybe life won't always feel this busy. Maybe I'll get my work under control. Maybe the tantrums will stop. Maybe I'll suddenly find that I'm sliding along in a groove after all. Maybe things will feel manageable again soon, and we can start it up in what, six months time? Right now, that feels like a great idea. But then I look at everything, and realise that nothing is going to change any time soon. This stage, this second-year-of-motherhood feeling, is already well into my third year. Maybe it's not the stage; maybe it's just me. Which is fine, I guess - if I can work out how to slow down enough to enjoy the wonderful parts of toddler-ing and not be chafing after a different sort of life, after being a different version of myself who would somehow manage all of this better. There is a lot about this time of life that is hard, but I want to enjoy the good parts as much as I can. 

So don't take it personally, but I won't be inviting you over for regular group dinners. Or, if I do, pre-book an appointment to see a gastrointestinal specialist.  You'll probably be eating two-and-a-half-year-old pie. 


  1. Not sure if you are asking for advice (you did say "non-rhetorical" right?) but here's what works for me:

    1. Having a child who can feed & dress himself

    2. Google calendar which automatically syncs with my phone. There is almost never a time that I'm not either sitting in front of a computer OR mere steps away from my phone. Anytime I have ANYWHERE to be (including daily things like school pick up) I enter an appt and an alarm at an appropriately pro-active time. If it's something like dinner with MSMIL that is far enough in advance that I might forget about it, I set two alarms. One about an hour ahead of time and another a couple of days ahead so I can mentally prepare myself. Yes, I have to mentally prepare myself for a dinner date. My friends have learned to ask "Is it on your calendar?" because they know that if it isn't on the calendar I just don't show up.

    3. Speaking of friends, I have one local mom friend and one local non-mom friend. That's it. I'd rather have a couple of good, close friends that I can call on when I need them (and vice versa) than 10 semi-friends that require a lot of upkeep without being able to really rely on them. I have about 15-20 good long distance friends that I can check in with on FB and be very connected to (i.e. diversity in my friendships) without the guilt of "I still haven't firmed up a date for getting together even though she asked me a month ago." These are very, very, good friends that I can keep up with while in my pjs.

    Also, that fine line between being real and being lazy? I have trampled that line so much I can't find it anymore.

  2. I get like this too. I have kids, go to school 5 days a week, am in the car at least 5 hours per week just getting places, have karate 2 nights per week, my oldest now has the volunteer type stuff I do.

    One deviation from my schedule and I just about lose it lol.

  3. Thank you for writing this. Seriously. I'm there. The first year... well, you get the new mother go free pass. But honestly, I found the second year soooo much harder. Probably the chronic sleep deprivation is part of it, the pure exhaustion of a full year of extreme parenting. I too wonder about those fabled close knit groups of friends who get to socialize. I mostly socialize online, and it is eroding my sanity. For several months I had a weekly play date with a relative with a child the same age as mine. It worked because we were at the same place in many ways. As long as no one required medical treatment and everyone got something to eat, we considered the day a raving success. It worked because we admit we have each lowered our standards and we pretend not to see minor skirmishes. Oh, it also worked because we were both unemployed at the time. Now, I'm working part time and she's doing a part time course and we are lucky to meet up once a month.

  4. I find it quite sad that our western society has piled so many impossible expectations on mothers. We are somehow meant to jet around from the gym to the shops to the Tiny Tots Gymnastic group, decaf nonfat latte in one hand and iPhone in the other, our slim and trim selves wrapped in trendy and clean (!) clothing, while holding down an exciting and relevant job, maintaining an exciting romantic relationship and entertaining exciting friends.

    I suspect that the view from the outside is much more attractive than the reality. I think that these Super Moms may appear to effortlessly manage their lives, but they're spinning plates.

    Give yourself a break. Having toddlers is an exhausting, exhausting job.... having twin toddlers is downright ridiculous. They're fine. You're fine. Why carry around a load of guilt? Early childhood is meant to be a slow time of peace -- well, as much peace as toddlers will allow -- as the children discover the world they live in. There will be plenty of time for Thursday Pie nights later.

    As a mother of teens, I can tell you that it does change. If I could go back in time and do the toddler years all over again, I'd cancel my responsibilities. I'd quit the job that seemed so important at the time. I'd blithely say, "Hmm, no, I don't think I will," when people called to ask me. I'd step down from leadership in the church. I'd play much more playdough, I'd vaccum less, and I'd take more photos. (You have that one covered.) These days go quickly, much more quickly that I believed at the time.

    Hang in there. Be kind to yourself! It gets easier. :)

  5. I have no friends either and I don't have a job. I suspect there's no answer to this question, but please shoot me an email if you find one!

  6. Two thoughts; I am now even more scared of going back to work after we adopt the child we don't have yet; and it sounds like your friends need to know each other. How about Holding Court every fortnight at your house/the park/a long-suffering cafe? Anyone that wants to see you has to come there.

  7. I can relate to everything you've written here. For perspective, I'd like to offer the following information about myself: I am typing this while wearing my pajamas at 1:52pm, having not started the laundry I was going to start first thing this morning. I have only one child and do not have a job outside my house. I only keep one scheduled play date with a friend each week, and feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the preschool co-op we attend two afternoons per month.

    Modern motherhood is full of expectations, and it is a challenge to figure out how to balance an introverted personality with all we feel we should be doing. I have friends who seem to be able to manage everything with a smile, plus fit in five workouts per week, and it is very hard to look at their lives and feel like I am not in some way inferior. But those people have limitations as well, and to think that they are somehow doing things better than I am isn't true or helpful. Maybe for me, being able to say no when I need to is the skill I'm meant to cultivate. I read a book called Boundaries some years ago (and probably should re-read it), and the one thing I took away that I still remember is a simple instruction. "If you can't say no, then you can't say yes." When I am asked to do something and feel like I can't say no, that's a red flag for me. Which doesn't mean that I still don't let my guilty conscience sucker me into saying yes when I really shouldn't, but when I am the being the best version of myself (also known as the Oprah version), I do respect my limits.

    Interestingly enough, the time of my life when I was best at discerning when I could say yes was when I was taking a yoga class. I really took that "honor your edge" stuff to heart. The problem is that I had to respect my limits and say no to a weekly yoga class for the time being. Maybe I need to say no to something else and yes to yoga. (But not toddler yoga. That sounds like torture.)

  8. Something has to give, and it can't be our kids. I took up triathlon training this summer (what was I thinking?) and realized that cleaning the house and growing vegetables in the garden were history. But my little guy got in lots of bike riding and running and swimming with Mommy. Resulting in not too many long distance trainings in anything, but I got to spend time with my child. More important than being competitive. Had to just say No to going to hubby's band's gig Saturday night -- little one came down with a horrible cold. Chose the good mother route over the good wife route. I'm pretty much down to a couple of friends at this point, mostly moms of my son's friends. Eventually he won't need me -- so I'm ok with being a homebody for now. And if someone comes over for dinner, they better bring it with them! LOL!

  9. First off, you ATE THE UNCOOKED FROZEN PIE INSIDES???? EWwww. Claud, that is so gross. What if you had gotten food poisoning which hit you just an hour before the MSMIL had arrived? Then you would have had no dinner for her and the sound of you puking would have been her evening companion.

    Second of all, I think Magnolia and I could be best friends. I love when she said the part about feeling overwhelmed by the twice monthly preschool coop duties. I so relate!

    Basically this post is a repeat of the emails my 2 best friends (we all live in different states but have been best friends since we were 14) send each other on a regular basis.
    "Where is my village?" "Do you have a village?" "When do you see friends?" "Do I have ANY friends anymore?" "Am I being lazy or just 'saying no'?" And on and on.

    BOTH of my best friends resolved this situation by moving. The first moved back to the neighborhood she was raised in. Practically next door to her mom. She now has a support system, back up babysitter, and all of her old childhood friends. The other moved to a neighborhood where everything she needs is walkeable - daycare, preschool, grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy, gym, park. She only spends time with friends who are also neighbors.

    They both sacrificed in the friends department and sacrificed to some extent their locations. But they feel less overwhelmed.

    I often give in to laziness. I also never invite anyone over for dinner (thus never any cooking or major cleaning required of me.) Church group hasn't happened since we adopted Ariam. I feel as if I am having a major social life if I get together with one friend minus children and/or do one socially responsible thing (like a speaking engagement) once/month.

    I think it is how it is right now. I have to keep reminding myself that when she is 8, 10, 13! she will no longer care that much for my company. And she will be able to wipe her own butt. So there. It's just a few years like this and then we move on to the next stage which will probably allow for a lot more social time....

  10. They were COOKED,, they just weren't THAWED. Still VERY VERY GROSS, but just one tiny notch closer to adult behaviour, imho.

    Jules, I need to try that second alarm. I did put the dinner into my phone, and it VERY helpfully beeped at me to say MSMIL DINNER! exactly as I was driving out to go to the church thing. Helpful.

    Gwen, I totally agree. My problem is that I am trying to do as LITTLE as possible (nothing I do at church is anything leadership-y, and I only work 2 days so that J can be home on those 2 days and be superdad) and it still feels like way too much. Mary (finding Magnolia) described my threshold exactly :)

    Amanda, you are spot on, it's the deviations that make it feel impossible! It's not so much the thing itself as the unexpectedness (well, it's both but it's the second that is ARRGGHHHH rather than just uh-oh).

    Barbaloot, 'fabled' is exactly the right word. Yeah.

    kareydk, I find that my worry is that when something has to give sometimes it IS the kids, if not in quantity of time, at least in quality. That's not how I want to be! Your training sounds great... resisting the desire to add something like that to my schedule :)

    Oh, and Jamey, I will DEFINITELY email you if I ever figure this stuff out. Count on it. But you could probably look away for a while and not miss anything...

    And DrSpouse.... glad to help. Not. Sorry.

    (WHY doesn't blogger have threaded comments....?)

  11. Sigh. There are so many things I could comment here. I think about this crap all the time and have come to the smart conclusion to blame it on the women before us. It turns out, you cannot do it all. CANNOT.

    I knew I was past the point of no return when people would marvel and me going off about some scheduling issue and say 'wow, how do you do it all?' And now I answer, well, either I'm not or I'm not doing it very well.

    It's not just a time organization issue, it's a brain organization issue, which is why 2 days a week for you feels like so much more than that.

    My own sister, mother of twins and then two more, bringer home of big loads of bacon back in the day, traveler extraordinaire, workout machine, bringer of all things to all parties, friend of a gazillion (seriously, when she joined fb she had more friends than me in 2 minutes) is at the point of saying no to everything. She's afraid to plan ANYTHING during her days, she barely works, her kids are in school all day, but she has PTSD when it comes to her previous 'have it all' life. She's so afraid to feel that way again.

    So, do as I do, which is learn from her. Do not do it all. Say no whenever the hell you want. Be selfish about that elusive village people lie about. Serve frozen pizza to guests. I'll expect nothing more when I peel myself away from my insane life and come visit, others who are also escaping in tow.

  12. I think the close-knit tribe of mommy friends thing is a total myth. I believed in it so hard that I tried to make one three different times. Then I read somewhere that women in their 30's are the loneliest demographic. That made a lot more sense.

    If any of you have a close-knit tribe of mommy friends, I don't want to hear about it, ok? Leave me to my illusions.

  13. I am crafting a blog post on this topic as we speak but here is how I do it. I cheat a lot. I wash my kids only once a week, I crock pot, I really don't care what other moms think and I only am friends with moms who think like me. I don't clean, my husband does all of that. I do have play dates during nap time and we put pack n plays in every room of my house even bathrooms, put the kids down and we have the best play date possible, the kind with sleeping kids and lots of girl talk. My mom friends didn't know each other at first but now they all get together with or with out me. A new mom is added by any existing mom but we all know the rules NO judgey moms allowed!

  14. Usually when I do play dates with friends its not for my kids. It is for my mental health: It's only with moms I like and my kids better damn well like the kids these moms have. The play dates are FOR ME, as hard as they are sometimes because someone inevitably misses a nap or gets grumpy. I work from home for the most part, except for the occasional photo shoots and I do all of it from 11pm-3am. It's the ONLY way I can do it, so if I had to work during the day I do not know how I would make it happen, honestly. One of my friends works full time but picks up daughter from day care and heads straight here for a dinner time and pre bed time playdate from like 4:30-6:30 until the kids are tired and screamy. Just throwing out there...don't know if it is helpful. I certainly don't have it all together, dinner times are getting worse and worse due to lack of ability to prepare and keep children alive while I cook. I am thinking about serving them bread and cheese and apples for the next year.

  15. I really think the second year is harder than the first...I've been calling it my sophomore slump (do you have those there?). The first year is hard, but it's exciting and thrilling that you finally made it to the big leagues and get to hang with the cool kids...the second year, reality hits and you realize that you still have to survive a few more years of this and it's really not as glamorous as you thought it would be.

    Can you tell me where Sylvia lives? I want to be one of her mom friends...

  16. Oh, and things could have been worse - I really thought you were going to tell us that you served your MSMIL pie that your two-and-a-half year old children made!

  17. 1) thank you for the word "fugue" I just used it in Scrabble with my husband.

    2) I have my village over to my house or we go over there. We don't clean up, we don't cook, we usually have a pot of coffee. We let the kids tear the houses up to their hearts content. We talk in between breaking up arguments, etc. It's not perfect but it's something. They were still the people I called when I was hiding in the closet talking about "little Tommy"* driving me out of my ever loving mind because they knew little Tommy* and his propensity to do so.

    *Little Tommy is not a real kid. ;)

    3) yes, yes, say no when it's needed. There will be a time years? from now when you are sitting with a friend over a cup of coffee remembering how the idea of this very thing seemed so far removed from your life just a few short years ago. It's a phase.

    Much, much love to you.

  18. Pink, blue, and the hubby are your true friends. Add one that you can truly count on and cannot live without. That's all you need, and real friends will wait. The rest are just dribble. You will lose this time with your babies forever. Forever. As in gone.
    Don't squander it on commitments. Do what you must, work, wash, and eat takeout if it gives you five more minutes to savor forever. Trust me you won't regret it. I have a 13, 9, and am adopting a 19 month old currently. Really, it's forever that counts.

  19. Oh yes, oh yes. I am trying to pretend that I don't have to go back to work for 2 days/week in just over 2 months for many of the same concerns you cite. For 2 years before our adoption, I was working 2.5 days/week, with no kids, had maybe 1-2 evening commitments/week, and some regular church youth leadership (Sunday School and 1 event/month)...and felt overwhelmed - the yard was neglected, the house was kinda maintained inside, but only with a great deal of ongoing motivation and push to do so.

    With three kids (they joined us 6 months ago), I continue to feel unproductive and incredibly SLOW in everything I do. I feel guilty when I don't dedicate the whole day to doing kid stuff (even though I actually think kids need to learn that the world does not actually revolve around them), and also feel guilty when I spend a very kid-focused day and get nothing else accomplished (like the basics...laundry, unprocessed lunch foods, etc.). My husband cleaned our upstairs tonight while I was out, for the first time in literally about 3 months (and we have 2 large hounds and 2 cats in addition to the kids - I am amazed we can breathe while while we sleep with all that dust). I simply cannot be up there cleaning when I'm the only parent home - when kids are awake, they have nothing to do up there except dismantle everything, and when they are asleep, I can't work in their rooms.

    I agree with another responder that having kids look after basic hygeine, feeding, dressing, (bed-making), etc. as soon as possible is super-helpful. My boys (3 and 4) are quite good at all that. As far as social interaction, my sister is my closest friend and has two little ones as well. We have kids in the same music class, so get to chat once a week there. I run errands after that, since we're already out. one day/week, our eldest goes to school, and after I drop him off I take the two youngest to my in-laws church, where they attend nursery while I attend a small group study with other moms. I am also part of a book club with a few close friends - we rotate homes, and meet in the evening once a month. Our church small group is full of kids, and we meet every other Sunday. That makes 4 opportunities to connect with friends and other moms, two of those are weekly, one is monthly, and one is every-other-week. Right now, I don't do anything else. We don't have evening commitments on week-nights, and very few on weekends, and pretty much never host (although I would like to have people over more).

    As far as home upkeep, I know that quality and quantity time with the kids is the biggest priority in my life (and theirs) at the moment, but I also need to give myself permission to do the occasional bit of housekeeping, etc., without feeling like I'm leaving the kids to fend for themselves for an hour (during which they can, of course, continue to interact with me).

    Anyway, I am still working toward a balance that feels fair to my kids (and home) and that is comfortable for me. I wonder if it is sometimes partly about choosing a stance and sticking with it (e.g., during this toddler season, I will not maintain certain commitments or activities, and that's ok), and then perhaps experiencing more peace about having a firm position. Dunno, but thanks for posting about this.

  20. Well, it's just my opinion, but toddlers are way harder than babies. Babies are hard enough but toddlers can MOVE. They get into stuff, beat each other, and eat non-food.

    I do have a little group of mom's that I go out with once a week. We meet at a little crappy bar and knit. Really, we knit. We all put our kids to bed and their fathers take care of them. We go out around 8 and stay until usually 11 or so, sometimes later. So the answer is we carve our time in stone and take it out of our sleep. Totally worth it.

  21. quick! I'm supposed to be at work already but I couldn't cope so I needed a blog break before actually setting off :)

    I love the "i hit my stride and it hit me back" - I'm going to have to use that a LOT over the next while!

    will comment properly later but hang in there :)

    hey, you're home today - I love thinking about my friends all over the world and what they're doing.

  22. I love the place where Claudia gets to think out loud. Also- I don't have the time to read through the plethora of comments, but I did catch hotflawedmama's thing... and I so agree with her. That number 2 is spot on.


  23. You are too hard on yourself. ENJOY this time with your kids. It will be over before you know it. They will be in school all day, you'll be in work all day. Learn to say NO. Screw what anyone thinks, except for your kids and husband. The best advice I ever got about parenting: Know the difference between what is important and what is essential.

  24. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. So much resonates with me. I think I have narrowed down why I always feel so stuck in slow motion/unable to finish things/not able to take on what I want/'should', etc: the constant changing of roles I must do in a typical day. Drop my (freaking out, temper-tantrumy) toddler at school -- having failed obviously and publicly at being Awesome Mom that morning -- then having to switch gears immediately into Fabulous, On-the-Ball Professional Lady Who Has to Be 10X More Fabulous Than Before So Nobody Thinks I'm 'Slacking Off' Now That I'm A Mom. Then back to Awesome Mom. Then try to squeeze in Thoughtful, Loving, Sexy, Wife after toddler is in bed. But then probably have to put back on Professional Lady for a while and then oops I hear crying at 3am, it's Awesome Mom time again.

    Etc, etc. Oh and I guess I've even forgotten the Great, Caring, Fun Friend role in there. See?

    These comments you're getting are awesome. Thank you for opening up this dialogue. I have to laugh recalling my own childhood, and my mom's (totally NOT MILF-y and not expected to be) friends coming over to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and laugh and ignore us kids while we just about killed ourselves in the backyard. The good old days, for sure.

    P.S. Your writing is freaking incredible.

  25. I'm pretty sure botulism can only exist in uncooked food. Once it's been heated to a certain temperature it dies. I would think that applies to frozen as well. How could it survive in the freezer? So I think you were worrying needlessly on that one.

    I have no idea how people live their lives. Here's me: totally overwhelmed by my 3 year old and feeling like I don't have time for my friends. Feeling like I don't have time for myself (which is TRUE). Then, what do I do? I go and start an every weekend volunteering commitment that will last at least a year. The weird thing is though that every time I go to my volunteering gig (with my Little Sister) I always feel grumpy about it. In the car I complain to myself that I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO GIVE ANYONE. Then this weird thing happens: I get rejuvenated and nourished and energized by hanging out with my Little Sister. It happens every time like that. It tells me that i need to push myself a little more, but to be sure to push myself in a really valid and purposeful direction.

  26. I've been chatting with women old & young about all these very issues for the past many years and have come up with ... well, not much!

    My gut tells me that our expectations are way, way too high. Our generation of women seems to think we can do it all - the career, the family, the perfect organic, domestic but not too domestic homestead, the village the, the, the. I am not sure if the women before us told us we could do it all or if we are just putting the pressure on ourselves?

    Here's the thing - I think we CAN have it all. Over a life-time. Just not all at once.

    PS Heat the heck out of that old food and you should be fine.

  27. If the fact that I started this comment over 24 hours ago doesn't show that I am in the same boat as you, I don't know what will!! It's seems like it should be getting gradually better for me with my boys being 5 and 4 now, but I keep wondering when things are going to get any easier. I have found myself unable to even respond to emails or calls from places where I used to volunteer my time. Basically, the thought overwhelms me to nearly paralysis, but I have no valid excuses other than I can't seem to keep my head above water and thinking any further ahead than 12 hours seems to give me heart palpitations.

    This week being Thanksgiving, it is extra hectic because I am the hostess as always and my loving family decided to come a day early....without telling me!!! Oh dear. Just wanted to let you know, you are not alone!

  28. I'm in my 13th year of parenthood and life keeps changing. I think we had a good rhythm going for awhile, but now that I'm back to working full time life seems crazy again and I'm feeling much the same as you are!

  29. Judging from these replies, I'm not the only one who was shouting Me Too as I was reading this at midnight last night when I was simultaneously Skyping a friend in crisis and doing our speech pathology homework and creating a creative and fabulous blog post of my own. Phew!

    I think I razed my village to the ground in way that would have looked very similar to Anzus troops in Vietnam circa 1968. Friends. Come. Last. That's the bottom line. I cannot do it all. I can't.

    I miss my friends, I'm saddened that I'm missing so much with them. I'm saddened that they aren't part of my daughter's daily life, that she doesn't know them intimately and love them like I do. But it's all I can do to keep my chin above water as it is.

    I figure my friends will still be there when TT starts school. And if not, that's really sad too but I can't help it now.

    I used to fantastise that we'd be in and out of each others' homes and eating dinner here and there and putting our kids to bed in each others' beds too ... but umm, that's when I thought my daughter was going to be as portable as a wine cooler. Instead I have a daughter who can't eat her dinner if the table isn't laid correctly and can't go to sleep unless the blanket is wrapped left to right (not right to left, noooooooooooooooooooooooo). So, not portable then.

    It is what it is.

    I like the sound of that pie. The heated version.

  30. I haven't read all the comments but I just wanted to say I have six kids now aged between 7 years and 2.5 months and hands down the second year between the first birthday and the second birthday (actually, a couple of months after their second birthday) is the most difficult stage for me. I love and adore them and there are about a bazilion things about that age that just make me want to pee myself they are so cute but seriously - they drive me INSANE at that age. Old enough to be mobile, CONSTANTLY pushing limits, even their pre-verbal stuff gets scarily close to back chat and anti-social behaviour is at its peak (well, at least until they get to the teen years. I haven't got there yet.) The Village is a total myth nowdays so far as I can tell. Most of our friends work full time and juggle their kids so don't have time to scratch themselves, live interstate, or are so hyper-scheduled you have to book a year in advance for coffee. My friend effort is once a week I write an e-mail to a friend, phone a friend and send a card or package to a friend (I don't do birthdays, I never remember - I just do random 'thinking of you' gifts and cards). I hope to get back to inviting one friend a month over for dinner soon (it's been a crazy couple of months since my youngest was born, long story) but even that is a big stretch some days.

  31. I know exactly what you mean. This post made me laugh so much! I think you're doing a much better job than you think you are.
    amy x

  32. hi Claudia, yet another great post. i'm sorry you are struggling. you said something about getting older and noticing your limitations and losing hope that you'll ever be anyone other than who you are (this made me profoundly sad). I wonder if you are not willing to really know your limitations or accept them? I've come to know and accept my limits and I'm so much happier for it. This means I don't put pressure on myself to say yes when I want to say no (but I've never been that kind of woman anyway). I quit work recently so I could be a full-time mum and focus on the kids and home and not drive myself insane trying to be all things to all people (I know I'm lucky to be able to make the choice and I'm not being judgey about those who choose to work, I'm just saying for me that this is the time to be a full-time mum ie that's my limit). That all said, toddlerhood is very hard and all-consuming, and you have TWO of them. I wouldn't care that you are now two years in; you have two toddlers and if folks don't understand that then so what? (incidentally, I bet people do understand that but you are putting this pressure on yourself and sending signals that you can do it all, which leads folk to then add to that pressure by asking you to do stuff you really don't have time for). I guess what I'm saying boils down to you accepting your limitations and making them your friend. A smart woman should be able to pick and choose what and how much she wants to deal with and shouldn't be dragged around by feelings of guilt, incompetence or any other manipulatively negative stuff. How exhausting. Lastly, toddlerhood shall pass and the load will lighten up - but not before you have the horrible threes (which no-one ever talks about!!) God, I could go on and on. Not sure why this hit such a nerve in me, except I hate to hear you be down on yourself because I so admire you (and not because I think of you as someone who can "do it all"). Apologies for making assertions about what you are thinking when of course I don't really know and could be wayyyyy off. Sending good vibes to you.

  33. Claudia, I've been reading your blog for at least a year now and have never commented. This post moved me to do so. One commenter above mentioned the book Boundaries (it's by Henry Cloud). I so recommend it in all the spare time you have! I felt very strongly that if I can't say no, I can't say yet. And saying no is (or rather was) SO DIFFICULT!!! I say have a No party, where you say no to everything for a while, and see how it fits. It is increadibly empowering to say no. At least it was for me. And there doesn't need to be any explanation. A simply "no, I won't be able to do this" works. So liberating!!!! It took practice, but going on a no binge helped put it in place. I did that, and I can say no so much more easily now, and I encourage and cheer on my friends to do it as well. And my yesses are much happier now, much more honest. I wish you luck in finding your powerful and caring voice of no! Hang in there and here's to frozen pizza! :o) Leo

  34. Thanks for linking to the chicken and leek pie recipe. I decided to go completely off script for Thanksgiving this year and not make the traditional meal. I made the pie instead: easy, delicious and a big hit with my guests.

  35. Very interesting and comprehensive report. Thank you.

  36. What I know of toddlers is that they are difficult, difficult and more difficult, in between the adorableness (bath cat swimming--how cute is that?). Sounds like you are doing really well, actually--I don't even have kids and I have to limit myself to one social engagement during the work week as otherwise I just can't keep organized. Add kids to that picture--scary. :-)

  37. I know I'm late, but my thoughts are: Hugs...Say No...protect you....those that matter most will understand


Over to you!