Monday, July 12, 2010

Life at a Mommy Pace

We've had a good few days at home. Still no problems with the tube feedings or the pump, though checking Becca's blood sugar is pretty rough. John has quit. He's done with poking and torturing. There's just nothing like pinning down your child and making them bleed to strengthen the parent-child bond. They've all been normal since we've been home, but since a few of them have been on the low side of normal, I'm sticking it out (pun intended) and keeping up with them at least a couple of times a day. We see the endocrinologist next Tuesday, so we're supposed to do another full week of them. She did throw up at lunch today, which was disheartening (not to mention disgusting). I thought we have moved past that. I'm really over cleaning up vomit. To complicate the issue, Becca's not supposed to take a real bath until the end of this week. I figured a little water wouldn't be as bad as crusted puke, though, so I let her splash in about an inch of water while I wiped her down. She was a happy, happy girl.

I did have a bit of a mommy revelation today, though. But first: a confession.

I have issues.

News to you, I know. Ha. Let's face it; they are myriad, but let's focus on one tonight. I feel the need to justify my existence and, more specifically, to justify the use of my time. I feel guilty if I can't prove that I have been productive each day. Blame it on the Protestant work ethic coupled with some good old Southern girl guilt or on the uber-high parental expectations I had growing up (yeah, I'm talking about you mom and dad - you know it!) or both, but I feel like I have wasted the universe's space and time if I can't show you that my day was worth it.

And I don't think I'm alone here. My guess is that there are lots of moms (and lots of pastors, incidentally) that secretly or not so secretly, consciously or unconsciously think and feel the same way. Think about it and give me an "AMEN" if you are out there lurking.

Theologically, I know this is a big, nasty lie. I know that I am a child of God, unconditionally loved and cherished. And I know that I'm really not important enough for "the universe" to be concerned with whether my little plot of earthly resources is well-spent. But despite two degrees in theology and a whole darn lot of therapy, I can't shake the feeling, the terror, that I am not good enough, that I have not done enough.

So, I roll with it. And I find ways to convince myself that I am okay, even though I secretly (or, as I said, not so secretly) know that if I'm okay, it has nothing to do with what I've done with my 16 waking hours. But I sleep better at night if I can play my little games, which translates into accomplishing a lot. Enough, that is.

The problem is, as a mom, you can never do enough. There is always more to do for your children, your spouse, your house, your community, the world. (And yes, saving the world is my job, after all.) I suspect the same is true for dads, too, but never having been a dad, I can't speak to that one. I felt this way as a pastor as well, but now that I'm a mom it's like the pastor guilt times a million. There's a good chance that part of the weight I feel has to do with my ambivalence regarding Becca's entre into the world and my (body's) role in her rough start, but let's face it: I'd probably feel the same way anyway. I do have issues, you know.

Since I've left the (paid) working world, this feeling has gotten even more out of hand because there is often very little to show for my time and energy at the end of the day, not even a paycheck. (Especially not a paycheck?). Yes, there is a child well-fed (or whom I've attempted to feed well), cared for, loved, played with, read to, snuggled, tickled, and tortured (with glucose meters, g-tube cleanings, and the extrication of my glasses (her favorite "toy") from her smudgey little hands), but as glorious and beatific as that tiny little tippy-nosed face is, I know that it will all need to be done again tomorrow. Even if I do get around to cleaning the house or cooking dinner, again, it will all need to be repeated tomorrow (or 5 minutes after said cleaning). The dogs will again bark and beg for food in the morning. Nothing is ever finished. Sure, I do plenty, but nothing is ever done. As much as I love and adore being a mother (wouldn't trade it for anything...absolutely anything), this dynamic + my issues = fairly incompatible. (After all, we're all looking for "baggage that goes with mine," right? Yep, name that musical!)

But, like I said, I roll with it, and recently I began rolling with it by making lists. No, not lists of things that I need to do (been making those for a while), but of the things I've done. It's all about alleviating (perceived) guilt and justifying my lack of income to my dear husband, who, by the way, asks for no such justification. See above, under "issues." At the end of the day, when I'm exhausted and not sure why, I can look back over my list and pack myself on the back, knowing that (most days) I have done something. Ergo, I am okay. (Again, see "issues," above.)

And that brings me to today.

Becca slept until a little after 8, for which I am ever so grateful. (Prior to our hospital stay, she regularly slept until 8. I was afraid that the two weeks of waking at 5:30 had broken her of her routine. We'll see how tomorrow goes!) I didn't really get down to the business of the day until 9, but between 9 and 12:30, I went hog wild. I:
  • checked Becca's blood sugar (80 - just over our minimum of 70);
  • gave her breakfast (no small feat, though it be a very small feast);
  • left a message for the Williamson County Children's Special Services lady (transferring and recertifying Becca's case);
  • call the pre-school I was hoping to get Becca into twice (bad news: 3 kids ahead of her on the waiting list, could be a year!);
  • called our new TEIS service coordinator and scheduled her visit (Thursday at 11);
  • talked to our new physical therapist and rearranged a couple of weeks' appointments;
  • left a message at our new pediatrician's office and eventually talked to a nurse (suggested that I call the surgeon's office to see if Becca needed to be seen for a fever of 100.6 since we are 4 days post-op) and scheduled Becca's hospital follow-up appointment (for Friday);
  • called the NICU follow-up clinic twice to reschedule an appointment
  • called Loew's Vanderbilt Plaza twice to check on a charge on our credit card for the night we stayed there as part of the prematurity conference a few weeks ago (for which Vandy was footing the bill);
  • called the surgery clinic twice (where the nurse decided that we are probably safe not bringing her in unless she shows additional symptoms);
  • talked to Nana Dana to give her an update her girl;
  • unpacked 3 boxes in Becca's room;
  • began reorganizing her closet and dresser; and
  • hung artwork in Becca's room,
all while playing with, entertaining, distracting, coloring with, and snuggling my sweet (and mischievous) small child. (Without utilizing the TV, other than 20 minutes of Elmo's World, I might add.)

12:30 rolled around, and I started the lunch-nap routine, which was so disgustingly interrupted by massive amounts of vomiting (a "large emesis," they would have called it in the hospital) and the subsequent bathing, laundering, and kitchen-cleaning (including disassembling the dishwasher in order to wash her booster seat) that ensued.

By the time the clock struck 3, Becca was sleeping, and I was starving, grossed-out, and exhausted. Like, stick a fork in me. And I couldn't figure out why. So I made my list. And then I was even more tired. I slapped together a PB&J, called it lunch, and killed brain cells reading coupon match-ups and watching TLC. There was no way I was getting back to my other list - the to be done list - because I was spent.

I looked at my list again and though, "Duh. Of course you're worn out. In addition to your basic mothering tasks, you did about a million things already." The problem is that they are things that don't look or feel like things. I mean, I hadn't left the house or even showered! It's just the stuff that I had to do to make all the other days work out. And I'm not thinking in terms of oh-my-life-with-a-special-needs-child-is-so-hard; for the most part, if it weren't those calls I had to make, it would probably be other mom-related calls: to preschools, mother's groups, bible studies, moms of playmates, etc. Maybe it would have been a few less, but it would have been something.

So I guess the revelation is this: those ancillary parenting tasks - the ones that nobody else probably realizes you do and the ones that don't even make it to the to-do list because they make the to-do's possible in the first place - those tasks ARE something. They are work. They are tedious, but they have to get done. Yeah, it may look like sitting (ha! try chasing a toddler around a not really child-proofed house!) on the phone in my p.j.'s is an easy life, but it's not. It's work. It's part of the best job that I've ever had, the job that I would never, ever unchoose, but as with any job, it's work. And when you have a lot of work to you, you've got to pace yourself. Sure, you could go all out and never take a breath for 3 hours, but the other 5 (or so) hours of your workday aren't going to be nearly as productive. Motherhood is a marathon, and while I won't call every day a marathon in its own right, it's at least a 5 or 10k, and I don't know about you, but that's certainly not a sprint for me.

Speaking of sprints, I'm pretty sure there was a way to make this post much shorter. Alas, I can't even abbreviate my thoughts tonight. I apologize. But if you have any energy left, I'd love to hear your thoughts, whether you are a mom or not. How do you pace yourself throughout the day? When is enough enough? How do you balance your working with your being?

But now it's time to clear my dry erase board and start on tomorrow's list. Again.


  1. I think I love you a little more now. I had this conversation with myself today, except, I don't actually do anything. (Since I'm an unemployed high school student without a kid in the middle of summertime)

    So.. I've been doing the reverse.. creating to do lists and actually getting them done! Tomorrow my book shelf shall be the victim... dun dun dun.

    I love you!! :)
    Em. :)

  2. I don't know how to pace myself either. After my pregnancy with Ellie and the pre-term labor - this time around with Sam's I did a little better - still too much. I don't know how to stop. I go back and forth between being envious of Josh for siting and relaxing even though there is tons to do around the house and being frustrated that he isn't doing stuff around the house. It's a constant battle, one that I continue to waffle between winning and losing. I don't know how to get off the merry-go-round. I wonder if it's just part of our nature and nurture. Don't know if any of this makes sense.

  3. You're right- dads deal with the same anxieties, and it's like being a pastor x a million. Churches had a pastor before you and will have one after you. You're the only dad/mom that little one is ever going to get.

    Thanks for sharing your feelings and reminding us that we're not alone.

  4. Nance---you are absolutely not the first mother to feel this way. There are days around here where the kids and I don't even change out of our jammies. I sometimes feel guilty about not drawing a paycheck, but at bedtime when Nathan gives me a kiss, I totally remember why I don't. :) I feel like somedays are so busy with things Joel can't (or doesn't) paying bills, grocery shopping, washing and folding 6 loads of the end of the day I rattle off to him what I did, just so he doesn't think I sat around all day watching HGTV and eating popcorn!

    Keep up the good work of being COO/CFO of Hill Industries and raising a beautiful child! You may not draw a monetary paycheck, but your life is rich with love from your friends and family. :)

  5. Nancy...never forget that "the hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world!" As days melted into one another and some days melted into one another in jammies with the laundry piling up, I found this important truth all too easy to forget. Mommying (and Daddying) is a holy calling from God. Parenting is the MOST important thing you will ever do...even the tortuous stuff that helps them stay healthy (btw, you are my hero-can't imagine how hard it is to do what you are doing-the nasal bulbous thing and eye drops were the hardest thing I ever had to do and that was awful...praying for you)...whatever your work, it is bright with potential and what you do, including wiping up vomit, is a gift to the entire world...I pray that when you take those TLC breaks (and maybe a nap...remember when we were forced to take one in kindergarten and the wisdom of that!?!) the Spirit will continue to visit you and remind you of all you have done and keep your focus there and not on what is left to do. And even more...I pray that the Spirit will show you how what you are doing is making love visible not only to Becca but to all of us who are privileged to walk alongside you when we read your Blog. Love to you! Ann Self

  6. Amen, sista!! There's not a paycheck big enough for a mom's and/or dad's work. Just keep lovin' on the little one - and I'll try not to duct tape mine to a wall!!

  7. Last week in a period of 24 hours I visited my grandfather who is rapidly dying of cancer, my grandmother who has dementia and can't remember anything for more than about 15 minutes, and my 2 week old nephew. In the midst of all those visits and the joy and sadness that went with them I re-realized something. That something is how precious life is just because it is life, not because of how productive it is. None of these 3 people are capable of being productive and it didn't make a bit of difference to me or God. Sure my grandparents used to be "productive" in the sense that they worked and provided for themselves and their families and tried to do their part in the community. But none of this is what makes them valuable. I can't imagine deciding that just because my grandpa can't work or weld or be the kind of grandpa that he used to be that he isn't worthy of my love or devotion. And who would say that because a baby can't do it's share of taking care of its self it is not worthy of love and care??? If I could do it all over again I'd count the time I spent with them as just as (and maybe more) important than anything else I could have been doing. So, I guess I'm trying to say that I really related to your post and want to say thanks for your candor. And I want to 2nd your conclusion that its really not about what you do but about the fact that you are. And also what you do for John and Becca is an incredible gift to them both.

  8. I felt like you do for years and it took the voice of a total stranger to help shift my perspective. Julie said it perfectly. "What you do for John and Becca is an incredible gift to them both."

  9. I can totally relate to the protestant-work ethic thing. My whole self-worth is chained to my to-do list some days, and how many little boxes I got to check off. Productivity is VERY important to me, both at work and at home.

    Glad you're home and getting into a routine. Sorry I couldn't bring you KFC that night! Let's get the girls together soon. Zoo?

  10. Jennifer McCluskeyJuly 14, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    Hey Speas. . . Thanks for your post. I've actually been really struggling with the whole "productivity" thing recently as I'm deciding what to do with my current job situation when I become a mom in (gasp)4 months. So did I really spend all this money for a Duke degree and grad school in order to become a stay at home mom? I also feel the high childhood expectations you mention (from myself, more than my parents). But Matt said something to me the other day. . . that jobs are always out there, but having a baby is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or at least it likely will be only once for us. So, really, being a parent is much more important than how much money I bring home at the end of the day, as long as my wonderful hubby brings home enough for us to eat and have a roof over our heads. And from hearing what you and other mom's do every day, it will likely be the busiest job I ever do too.

  11. You are totally not alone on this one, Nancy. And as someone who has been at it a little longer, but still doesn't have it figured out, here are my two cents. I often get overwhelmed with my to-do list, especially cleaning. I've found it helpful to assign certain tasks to certain days: floors on Monday, bathrooms on Tuesday, kids' rooms on Wednesday, etc. That way if it's Monday and my bathroom is disgusting, I don't feel any pressure to deal with it right then b/c its day is coming. I do this with my list of other stuff, too. I look ahead and what needs to be done, and assign everything to a day that coming week. That way, I can just take bite-size pieces every day and not feel overwhelmed by the whole list.

    And most of all, remember Phil 4:8: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right . . . think about such things. Don't buy into the lie! The truth is that every minute you spend with your daughter or serving your family might not ever be seen by others, but it is reaping eternal rewards. As Becca heads off to Harvard someday :) you will definitely not be wishing you'd spent more time proving you are good enough. Besides, Christ already did that for you.

    Pace yourself . . . the race is long. But definitely worth it.


  12. Girl, you are a hoot. I feel the same way when it is my "day off". I am more tired and think i have accomplished less. I think I tried to "make it up" to my baby for not carrying her full term for the first year. Then i gave myself a break. It is hard, very hard, to continue the 3 hour feedings with a two year old. You have no freedom to spend the day at the pool or the zoo. You dont feel like you can call a sitter for fear of something going wrong. We certainly cant do everything but we give it our best. You have no idea how strong other moms know you are. It is the little smile or giggle or steps that make it all worthwhile and show what you have accomplished as a mom. I find myself thinking "if she could just..." and then she does and i think of something else i want her to do. Right now i just want her to eat. One of the simple things most parents take for granted~ I hope when she does, i never do~

  13. I could respond in an equally long post, but I'll keep my comment short. All I can say is "Amen!" and that I could have written this post. It was like you were describing my day! (Oh, and Cohen has issues with throwing up, too. We thought he was growing out of it; he hasn't had any "episodes" for nearly two months, and what do you know, TODAY he threw up at lunch. The chair he sits in will just never be the same. Even Resolve high traffic foam is no match for that boy's vomit.) I'm right there with you, Nancy. I feel like I have to justify what I do everyday b/c I don't earn a paycheck, and sometimes I feel guilty if Matt comes home and I'm sitting on the couch watching TLC or a show off the DVR while the kids are finishing their naps. He doesn't make me feel guilty, and he never expects me to justify my work as a SAHM, but that guilt is always present. I think I might make my own list tomorrow of everything I do and see just how much I really do get accomplished. I'm sure it'll be a revelation just as yours was. :o) But I'm with you, I wouldn't trade my days at home with my kids for anything in this world. I can't imagine a better (and, no doubt, harder) job or any that is more rewarding.