Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hill Country

Over the summer I had been toying with the idea of taking a weekend getaway before the baby is born--a babymoon, if you will. HP is in such good place with his routine and sleeping (sporadic napping aside) that I knew he would be comfortable having someone else staying with him. Once the baby arrives, it will be a long time before we will have the freedom to be child-free overnight. I wanted to capitalize on the opportunity this fall before we are in the throes of newborn-dom.

Before I had firmed up any plans, Neil's parents offered to fund a weekend getaway as their birthday present to him. His mom even came down to visit so she could watch HP all day and night Saturday while we headed out on our own. Don't worry, I fully appreciate both their generosity and our good fortune.

So on Saturday morning, we got picked up a rental car and headed west into the Hill Country. The weather was more Oregonian than Texan--unseasonably cool, cloudy, and drizzling. In a word, perfect. We hiked, we read, we ate, and generally enjoyed breathing in the country air.

Our weekend adventure was the first time we had both left HP for a full day/night. We have each taken trips away from our son, but HP was always with the other parent overnight if the one was gone. Unsurprisingly, HP did great and loved spending time with his grandma. He didn't even ask about us once, which I take to be a good sign.

Now we are back in the city, with no plans to leave in the near (or far) future. We both appreciated the break from the city and the chance to spend an extended amount of parenting-free time together.

A happy birthday indeed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

(Maybe) a family of three

Photo of our family when HP was two days old by Jennifer Borget Photography
I have been going back through some of my old writing from last fall, and wanted to share this piece. Clearly, we have since decided to have another child. Moving from where we were when I wrote this to where we are today is a different story for another time, but I wanted to publish this to remind myself where we were and what it looked like for us to wrestle with opposing viewpoints in our marriage.

At just shy of fourteen months, my son mastered walking. After weeks of taking hesitant steps before returning to the more familiar motion of crawling, he now happily toddles across the room. He is unabashedly proud of this newest accomplishment, and often throws a sneaky grin over his shoulder when he reaches his destination. When he is feeling less modest, he enthusiastically claps. In moments like those, it is hard to imagine not adding another child to our family.

If you had asked me a decade ago how many children I wanted to have, I would have confidently answered three or four. Two seemed too few, more than four seemed unwieldy. If you had posed the same question on the eve of my wedding, I would have responded two or three and my soon-to-be husband would have said one or two. I figured we would end up compromising with the overlap--two. But children are not something you compromise on and today—more than a year into parenting our son—we would both answer maybe just the one.

It was responsible and productive to talk about having children before we got married, but it was a purely speculative exercise. We tried our best to imagine what it would be like and how we would feel, but thinking about it and living it are different beasts. After wrestling with the reality of the latter, it was clear we needed to integrate our past ideas with our present lives to create a workable vision for the future.

At first, this integration looked more like manipulation as I struggled to let go of my desire for a larger family. I knew that my husband was leaning toward only having one child, but I naively thought I could change his mind. Sure, you only want one child, but I really want two, so that’s what will happen. I did not say that out loud, because even at the time I could hear how selfish it sounded. Children require a lot of time, attention, and sacrifice from their caregivers. They bring joy into our lives, but they also bring stress. Despite what well-meaning strangers on the street would have us believe, the joy does not take away the stress; you have to make room for both in your life. Our son brings love and happiness to our home that would not be present without him, but acknowledging that fact does not lessen the sleep deprivation, accompanying irritability, or feeling of being spread too thin.

After months of going back and forth, we reached a stale mate.  I wanted another child; he did not.  When I got desperate to bring him around to my side, I resorted to the regret card.  You know the one--the I just don’t want to look back on my life forty years from now and wish that we had had another, and the I can see myself regretting not having a child, but not the reverse.


If I was asking him to seriously consider the idea of having another child, then I needed to seriously consider the idea of stopping with one.

So I did. I set aside my preconceived notion that a family of three would be incomplete and sat with the idea of our son being an only child. In that process I realized that holding on too tightly to a decade-old idea of what I thought our family should be was preventing me from enjoying what our family is.

Ironically, one of the things that convinced me I could be happy stopping with one was the very regret argument I tried to use on my husband, only now I worry that we might regret having a second child, not the reverse.

I do not worry that we would not love that child; there is always more love to give. I do not worry that we would be unable to adjust to new routines and schedules; our parenting journey so far has been nothing if not a crash course in flexibility. I do not worry that we would resent the child; we are capable of dealing with our emotions in a way that would not transfer them onto our son or daughter.

But I do worry about the impact a second child would have on our family system. My first obligation is to our marriage and I fear that another child would ask more of it than I am prepared to. Yes, it is a sacrifice to put aside my desire for a larger family. But it would be more of a sacrifice to put our family in a position where the balance between stress and joy tipped in the wrong direction. If having another child means stretching us further than we are capable, then I want to stop with one. Could our marriage survive having another child? Yes--I have no doubt.  But merely surviving feels like an awfully low bar to set.

If circumstances in our life were different, this conversation might have had another outcome. But part of living in the adult world is making decisions based on the cards we are holding, not the ones we hoped to draw.

Intellectually, I came the conclusion that stopping with one child might be the smartest course for our family. But it took longer for my emotions to catch up to my brain. I needed time to mourn the future we may never have and acknowledge what I was losing.

I may never be pregnant and get to feel a child growing and moving inside of me. I may never hold a sleepy newborn of my own as she drifts in and out of sleep. I may never see another child learn to crawl, walk, talk, read, or dance. I may never witness a second child’s first day of school, graduation, wedding day, and the thousand moments before, after, and in between that make a life.

And that’s okay.

I am doing my best to embrace the journey as it unfolds with my son. Even if we have another child, all of those experiences would eventually be in the past. Time moves forward, children grow up, and all of the milestones and sweet moments become memories, no matter how many children we have. 

The longer I sit with the idea of being a family of three, the less it feels like a sacrifice and the more it feels like it could be right choice for us. When I told my husband that I was comfortable with the idea of our son being our only child, he was the one unwilling to permanently close that door.

Before these recent conversations, I always strongly and passionately argued for having another child—and soon! My enthusiasm made him feel the need to stand more firmly on the side of stopping with one lest he become swept away by my relentless attempts to persuade.

Once I stopped approaching these discussions with an obvious motive, we could both admit our doubts—his about our son being an only child, and mine about adding to our family. The tables had turned. Now he was the one convincing me not to abandon on the possibility of another child.

We have tentatively decided to remain a family of three. It is not the final word for either of us; it is more of a natural default position while we decide the best path forward for our family. I still feel the pull to have another child and find myself daydreaming about how our family would look with two children instead of one. He still has reservations about expanding beyond our current size, both logistical and philosophical. But neither of us is willing to convince the other while we have lingering doubts about our respective positions. 

I have come to accept that it is a leap of faith either way. If we decide not to have any more children, we have to let go of all of the possibilities another child would bring. If we have another child, we have to let go of our anxiety about how we would juggle the competing needs of a new child, our son, our marriage, and ourselves.

Decades from now, I am confident we will not regret our choice—whatever it may be—because neither choice will leave with some less-than version of an otherwise ideal family; it will leave us with our family.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

To do before I'm due

We are two months (or less) from this baby being on the outside. Before s/he makes his or her appearance, there are a few things we'd like to accomplish. Forgive the long list, but it helps me to take all of these thoughts out of my brain and onto the page.
  • More decluttering/minimizing/organizing. Specifically:
    • The big closet. We've sorted through the stuff we want to get rid of, but what's left is inaccessible. We need to create a system so we can easily get to our winter clothes and other items.
    • The pantry. I have already gone through this area once, but it could use more culling and organization.
    • The back porch and utility closet. I'm looking forward to spending more time on our deck once the weather cools off. Having a clutter-free area will make the experience much more pleasant.
    • Our external hard drive. We've been through multiple laptops since we started using this drive and I know we have duplicates or even triplicates of many photos stored under different names. I need to sort through, delete, and organize the files in a way that is easy to understand. We also want to start using a cloud backup system for our documents and photos.
  • Make freezer meals. I'd like to have several meals stocked up along with muffins, bread, and other staples to help us in those first few months. 
  • Decide where we are going to put the baby and set up that space. Our rental house has a weird layout and we aren't sure how to best use the space. Eventually we want HP and the baby to share a room, but that won't be for at least a year. For the first few weeks the baby will be in our room, but after that we need to have a plan in place. I am leaning toward converting the office, even though it means the baby will be on the opposite end of the house from us. Either way, it will require some consolidation and reorganization.
  • Build these shelves for HP. He loves to read and his books are everywhere, which makes me batty. Once these are in place we can rotate books through as needed.
  • Sign me up for life insurance. Neil has coverage through his work, but I do not. We'll just get a short term plan in case anything happens while our children are young. I have looked into it multiple times, but have never followed through.
  • Go to the dentist. At our two-year well-check they told us HP should start seeing the dentist yearly. It will be much easier to take him before the baby is born. Neil had his cleaning yesterday and mine is next week, so we'll all be set in that department soon.
  • Make Christmas plans. We are staying in Austin for Christmas, but we need to find out if anyone in our families is traveling and how we are handling gifts this year. My family just buys for the kids, but I am not sure what Neil's family's approach will be this year since it is unlikely that we'll all be together. I know I will not have the mental or physical energy to find thoughtful gifts after the baby arrives, so I want to get everything together early.
Writing it all out makes the list seem manageable. Neil's mom is visiting this weekend, but then our weekends are open until the birth. Right now, I am feeling a lot of motivation to tackle these tasks (nesting, anyone?). Hopefully that feeling lasts for the next seven weeks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Labor of love

I hate making cookies. I am not much of a baker to begin with, and of all the types of baking, cookie making is my least favorite. It's just so labor intensive. At least with a cake you just mix up the batter and dump in the pan. With cookies, you have to make the dough, spoon them onto a sheet, bake them, then take them off to cool. I know, I know--it's not that hard. But it's hard enough that I make them only once a year, for Neil's birthday.

I regularly make all kinds of things from scratch and cook dinner most every night, so it is not as though I avoid time in the kitchen. But for some reason, I have a mental block about cookies. Case in point: For his birthday dinner I made a butternut squash galette, which took longer and was more involved than a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but it was the latter I dreaded making.

I almost skipped it this year since Neil's mother is coming into town a few days after his birthday and I am fairly confident that she'll bring cookies. Not only that, she is a cookie making expert. My cookies never turn out as well as hers, so I figure, why bother? He'll get a treat and I will be off the hook.

But it is his birthday, and he does love cookies, so I managed to stop my whining and made him a batch. They're a little thick and floury and a few got overdone on the bottom, but they are still cookies.

Happy birthday, Neil. For you (and only you), I will make cookies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Making (even more!) room

This weekend I read Everything That Remains, which inspired me to jettison piles of our belongings. I don't necessarily recommend the book, which is a memoir of two men who abandoned their corporate, consumerist lifestyle and embraced minimalism, but I found the concept fascinating.

Space is a premium in our new house with only two closets for the three, soon to be four, of us. I felt great after our last trip to Goodwill, but reading the book showed me that I can let go of so much more.

In the book, the authors talked about how people hold on to items "just in case," when years and year go by without that case ever presenting itself. Guilty. If something is useful, I feel like we should keep it, even if we don't actually use it. When I objectively looked at the situation I saw how silly it was to keep these kinds of "useful" items around. So gone are the chopsticks rolling around in the kitchen, the skirts I haven't worn for years, and the exercise equipment collecting dust.

I also identified with the concept of objects representing our identity. We hold on to books because we want people to know that we are well-read, board games because we want to show we are are fun-loving, crafting supplies because we want to feel creative. Sometimes we are trying to tell those stories to other people, but a lot of the time we are telling them to ourselves. Admitting to myself that I am never going to read my religion textbooks from college again and removing them from the shelf felt fantastic. So did donating the empty picture frames that taunted me with my inability to print out photos to place inside.

My biggest challenge has been letting go of gifts people have bought for me over the years. I feel intense guilt donating or selling an item someone gave us, even if I never use it. There are a couple of big-ticket items I am still holding onto because I can't get over the fact someone gave it to me, even though I almost never use either one. The gift givers would want me to pass it on to someone who would use it, right?

Earlier this week I sorted through my portion of our dresser drawers, went through HP's toys and books, the kitchen drawers, our bookshelf, and am finally finishing sorting through and digitizing our CD collection. Next task: the file cabinet. I am fairly certain I have our electric bills from five years ago neatly filed in a folder. Seems unlikely that I will need those in the future.

When a friend and her daughter came over yesterday she said, "Your house looks so clean!" My response: "Clean? You mean that it looks liberated from all of the physical objects that were mentally and emotionally weighing me down? Why yes it does."

Okay, I didn't say that. But I thought it.

Less stuff. More space. So liberating.