Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to Work I Go

I made a very brief mention last week that I had gone back to work. This has been an interesting experience all around, for several reasons. The decision wasn’t made lightly, but it was made sort of last minute.

The original plan had always been to return to work at the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Babycakes would be a year old, and my mom would be retiring soon after the start of the school year, making the baby’s full-time stint at daycare relatively short. I was never in any sort of panic about this plan, as I would be returning to my own classroom, to a district, school, and grade level I knew. The biggest unknown factor was whether or not something would come up with Babycakes that would require me to put off my return to work for another year.

And then we moved to Charlotte.

The original plan needed modification. Obviously there have been HUGE changes in everyone’s lives over the past 6-8 months, and the question did come up between me and the hubs if my going back to work was going to be worth it.

Because we’re effectively 750 miles from our support system at present, it all hinged on two things: landing a position at the right school, and finding the right daycare.

Both happened. I had actually narrowed our daycare choices down to three that I was comfortable with back in May, when I first started applying and interviewing. Similarly, I had three schools I would have considered comfortable choices if offered a job.

I was offered a one-year position at my number one choice of schools.

The kicker was that I was offered this position 13 days before teachers had to be back to work.

And it was a new classroom, which meant I would literally be starting with bare walls and some furniture, and that’s about it.

It was crunch time.

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I’m two weeks into the school year, and while I still feel like I’m half-assing my way through every single day, I have to think, in general, it’s going well. As the hubs predicted, it does feel good to get back to my career and socialize with people who are, you know, capable of having conversations beyond, “Give that to Mommy,” and “Nononononono…”

(Babycakes is officially a toddler. Don’t let the fact that she’s not walking yet fool you.)

At the same time, I’d sort of forgotten what it felt like to have 20-some odd kids trying to get your attention and ask for help at the same time.

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And given the fact that Babycakes is STILL not sleeping through the night and has also decided that 5:30am is the PERFECT time to wake for the day, I’m surprised I haven’t started an IV of Coca Cola by now just to get through the day.

i'm tired

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is also a HUGE district with literally HUNDREDS of schools, and there is way more paperwork and procedural stuff than was ever remotely dreamed of back at my little semi-rural district in CNY. I’m still slogging through the punch list of stuff I need to take care of within the first 30 days of work.

Hide My HEad

And of course, I’ve already caught my first cold of the school year. In fairness, I could have caught it from Babycakes, who could have picked it up at daycare. Or I could’ve brought something home from school and passed it on to her. Either way, we’ve been going through a lot of Little Remedies saline nose drops.

elsa cold

The hardest part – okay, second hardest part, because the hardest part has been actually making the decision to go back to work and put Babycakes in daycare – is allocating personal time at night and on the weekends to getting myself organized. Like, I went to school on Saturday morning for almost three hours and just did mundane stuff like finally posting the daily schedule. I’d much rather be spending my free time with my family and working on writing. But until things settle down and I actually figure out what I’m doing, I don’t foresee much of that happening.

Dowager Duchess weekend

As crazy stressful as it’s been, I am glad I decided to go back to work. I’d been starting to lose myself a little bit. I worked so hard over so many years to establish my teaching career, finish two graduate degrees, and land all the certifications I was qualified for. It wasn’t something I was ready to completely walk away from. Maybe someday I will, but not yet.

And while it may just be this one year and then I’ll have to start subbing until something permanent comes back around, so be it. At least I’m getting my feet wet again and making sure my teaching chops are still in top form.

lets do this

Though the sleeping thing has got to improve. After all, you can only consume so much Coca Cola in a day.

 

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A First Birthday Wish List

Babycakes celebrated her first birthday on Friday, and it’s both joyful and bittersweet to think of how quickly she’s growing. There have been so many changes in her small life in the past several months. The hubs and I are constantly wondering if we’re making the best choices for her health and happiness. We seem to be doing a good job – even the sleep thing is starting to straighten out.

Many days I make wishes that, for better or worse, have more to do with my peace of mind and the saving of my sanity than her overall well-being (though I hope my obsessive-compulsive tendencies toward her sleeping and eating patterns are making an impact).

My daily wishes are along the lines of, “I wish the baby would sleep through the night.” Or, “I wish the baby would drink more milk from a cup.” Or, “I wish changing a diaper didn’t become an exercise in acrobatics combined with a MMA match with an octopus.” Or, “I wish it didn’t seem like the baby is actively resisting the weaning process.”

Birthdays often come with wish lists of a particular sort, usually full of toys and books and other nifty things that we think may entertain our babies or make our lives easier. But I have a different sort of wish list for Babycakes as she enters her second year of life and will soon become more and more aware of the wider world around her.

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I wish we still lived in a world where I could send her outside to play without fear that something terrible will happen to her.

I wish it were possible to guarantee that schools would never become a place of violence and tragedy.

I wish churches could remain places of worship, peace, fellowship, and sanctuary.

I wish flags would not be associated with attitudes and actions of hate.

I wish she will be valued for her intelligence, kindness, and character rather than just her looks or the clothes she wears.

I wish issues and decisions related to her healthcare would remain between her and her doctors, and that she will always have access to and be able to advocate for the medical care she needs.

I wish she need not worry about being ridiculed or ostracized for having and practicing her faith.

I wish she will always appreciate and celebrate the differences she finds in her peers, rather than learn to judge those peers negatively because of those differences.

I wish the images she sees on the nightly news will contain far more instances of kindness and caring than instances of destruction, death, and violence.

I wish the curiosity and pure joy in her eyes will never be dimmed by harsh realities, unfair disappointments, or the insensitive cruelties of others.

I wish her dreams will be nurtured by all who are meant to teach and help her along, and that those dreams will not be stifled or ignored just because she is female.

I wish she will learn that, though it’s often harder to do, acts of kindness and love will ultimately be more fulfilling to her as a person and add more to the world than acts of selfishness and blind ambition.

I wish there will still be flowers to pick, trees to climb, and clean water to wade in, and that she will be able to share the wonders of nature with her children.

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I wish she will always know how much she is loved.

Debating With Myself About Sleep Training

I really can’t complain too much about how well Babycakes sleeps. I’ve mentioned before that she’s always been a bit of a crappy napper (other than the three days we were in the hospital), but besides the first night home when the hubs and I had no clue what the hell we were doing and Babycakes spent the majority of the wee hours screaming her poor little face off, she’s really had great night sleep. By three weeks she was doing a consistent 6 hour stretch, and by 12 weeks was hitting the 10-12 hour mark every night. We had a bit of a sleep regression…thing around Thanksgiving, and since then she’s been back to waking anywhere from one to three times a night to eat. Additionally, while she was taking four pretty solid 45-minute naps a day, she suddenly started resisting naps at the beginning of January and then transitioned to three naps. She might be on the cusp of another transition down to two naps, but I’m not sure yet.

We’ve also been working on an earlier bedtime. When she was still room-sharing with us, we’d all head to bed around 9:00. This started getting a little tricky once she began sleeping those monstrously long stretches. Babies make noise in their sleep, which disturbed me, at least. And it’s kind of hard to keep from disturbing baby when you’re snoring, or tossing in bed, or getting up to go to the bathroom, whatever. That was the main reason we decided to move Babycakes to her nursery once she hit the 3-month mark. Doing so also meant we could work on putting her to bed earlier, like by 8:00, and still have a little time to be adults before heading to bed ourselves (which for a while was still close to 9:00, at least for me). Granted, that “adult time” tended, and still tends, to consist of cleaning up the kitchen from bath time and doing baby dishes and maybe finally checking some email and, occasionally, watching a TV show or that Netflix that’s been sitting there for two weeks. We have a great bedtime routine in place, and have for a long time, and the sleepy sweet spot seems to be pretty consistent between 7:30 and 8:00. (Seriously, there’s a sweet spot. Too early and it takes forever for her to fall asleep on her own. Too late and there’s the chance, if she doesn’t completely conk out while nursing, it’ll take forever for her to fall asleep, and then she has a wakeful night. I tested this last night. It was a little rough until about 1:15.)

For quite a long time, I’d say since she was at least a month old, Babycakes hasn’t been completely lights-out when I set her down after nursing. She’d be all swaddled up, full of milk, and nice and warm, and when I laid her down in her cradle, she’d do this little resettling thing before truly falling the rest of the way asleep. Even when we moved her to her own room (and went cold turkey on swaddling because she managed to accidentally flip herself on her tummy that evening), I’d lay her down, she’d do a little stretch, then settle for the marathon sleep session.

Suddenly, sleep training started to creep into the conversation. “She’s old enough now to learn to go to sleep on her own.” That’s usually how it’s phrased. And this was something I’d known for a while, long before any relatives mentioned it, or before the baby development books brought it up in force. I think she was already kinda doing this, but I wasn’t laying her down wide “awake but drowsy”, which is what sleep training basically requires them to be. Nursing to sleep is very appropriate, especially for newborns up to 3 months of age, but even beyond that if it works. And I think it’s important to really tank Babycakes up before bed. Plus she really only eats well when she’s going to sleep, not after she’s woken up (which is why the eat-play-sleep routine during the day hasn’t worked for us, at least not yet).

I’ve been a little obsessed with her sleep for a long time, particularly once we moved her to her nursery and she seemed to settle into a predictable routine revolving around her waketimes and naps. But after Thanksgiving, I felt like I was being bombarded by so much information – and let’s face it, a little bit of pressure from a lot of different sources – to start working on sleep training. Since the beginning of December, I’ve been gathering as much information as I can get my hands on about sleep training methods. I’ve read everything from the Ferber Method (also known as the dreaded “cry-it-out”), Elizabeth Pantley’s “No-Cry Sleep Solution”, the Sleep Sense program by Dana Obelman, Nicole Johnson’s Baby Sleep Site, and many others. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in. I won’t deny that there are babies out there who need sleep training so that everyone in the house can get a full night’s sleep. I’m talking about the babies who wake up every two hours or less. So yeah, there’s definitely a time and place for sleep training, if it’s what the family needs, right? Otherwise, why would there be so many pediatric sleep specialists and sleep consultants out there, promising personalized sleep plans to help your baby learn to fall asleep and stay asleep for that magic 12-hour night?

No one method seems to jive with our parenting goals and ideals, and while I can cull a lot of suggestions from each that, altogether, could make a method that’ll make me, the hubs, and Babycakes happy, it’s so overwhelming and confusing, I’m not even sure if it’s something we should systematically attempt at any point. They all contradict each other. One resource says to start working on sleep training at night, another says to do it first at naptime. One says to respond quickly when baby cries in the night, another says to set a time frame that you’ll wait (sometimes as long as ten minutes or more!) before responding if baby doesn’t go back to sleep on her own. Some say to keep baby alert during breastfeeding (have the “experts” ever actually tried doing this?), others say that because breastfeeding is so relaxing for both mom and baby, it’s an acceptable way to get baby nice and drowsy. Some say to keep baby fully awake during night feeds, even if it means changing the poor little one’s diaper in the middle of things, while others say to keep it quick and simple, not to change the diaper unless it’s a stinky one, and not to worry if baby falls asleep while nursing (though a lot of night feeds in our house happen when Babycakes isn’t even fully awake to begin with).

I recently shared a humorous but oh-so-true new mom’s take on the whole sleep training thing that illustrates how ridiculously all the expert advice contradicts itself. And here’s what I’ve determined about all the “rules” of sleep training:

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I’ve been a big proponent of following my own maternal instincts when it comes to our daughter, and while I know I’m obsessing over how much she sleeps, how well she sleeps, how she falls asleep, whether she can effectively self-soothe when she wakes up in the night, etc., she’s really doing awesome at the sleep thing. I know that.

Plus, there is stuff out there that basically says not to worry about sleep training at all because it’s more of a societal thing rather than a developmental need, it doesn’t really work, and baby will figure it out when she’s ready.

See why I’m debating with myself over this?

For now, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Babycakes generally is well-rested, happy and healthy. I’m sure at some point, we’ll have to decide on a game plan for our own version of sleep training. I do miss the nights when she was sleeping 11 or 12 hours (and waking up between 7 and 8 rather than 6 and 7, as has been the case the past several mornings), but overall we’re not desperate for sleep.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put Babycakes down for a nap.

Checking in on the BIAW goal….

Well, somehow the nap and sleep fairies were very kind to me this week. Not only did I meet my Book in a Week goals, I surpassed my word count goal. Granted, only by about 200 words or so, but it put me square in the middle of what could be the penultimate chapter of the historical romance, so that’s good. I’d been stuck for a while.

Additionally, I managed to dust every room in the house, clean three bathrooms (the master bath shower notwithstanding, because that’s a whole party all in itself), vacuum, wrap Christmas presents, make and wrap my niece’s birthday present, and watch two episodes of “Crossbones” with the hubs.

Oh, I also got a request to submit some sample chapters to an editor. 🙂 I know nothing could come of it, but it’s the first time I’ve been asked to submit pages. So bonus points for me.

I’m signing off, for the most part, for the rest of the year. I hope everyone has a restful, happy, and safe holiday week, and I’ll see you all in 2015!

What I’ve Learned About Being a Mother

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Today, Babycakes is three months old.

How did that happen?

In this time, I’ve learned several things about motherhood, at least in my own life and for my own baby, that I never imagined I’d learn. Let me share.

  • You do actually forget how much labor hurt. I mean, I know it hurt. I remember crying, struggling to breathe through back labor, throwing up, squeezing my husband’s hand, and, at one point saying, “I don’t think I can do this!” But I don’t physically remember the pain.
  • You shouldn’t doubt your maternal instincts. They’re called instincts for a reason. We’re programmed to intuitively know certain things, and that includes knowing what to do for our babies. I spent a lot of time in the beginning (and admittedly still) second-guessing myself. Am I feeding Babycakes often enough/too often? Do I respond too quickly when she cries, or not quickly enough? Is she getting enough stimulation and learning time? Do I hold her too much or not enough? Once I learned to stop questioning myself and start listening to my daughter, things seemed to get a lot easier.
  • You are the expert on your own child. Sure, it’s great to read up on all the different parenting techniques and ask for advice. But you’re also going to get a lot of unsolicited input from a lot of people, especially well-meaning relatives who think you should’ve been giving the baby cereal by now and nursing her to sleep is a bad thing. But as with maternal instincts, I am the most knowledgeable person when it comes to my baby. And I’m going to do what seems right to me. Will I make mistakes? Sure. Probably already have. Oh well.
  • That whole “babies sleep all the time” thing is a total myth. At least in my house. Babycakes is a stellar sleeper at night – we were getting 5-6 hour stretches by 3 weeks, and now she regularly sleeps up to 10 hours a night, interrupted by an early morning feed. But she does not like to nap at all. The lack of time during the day to do anything but entertain her is offset by the uninterrupted sleep we’ve been getting.
  • No baby is as adorable/smart/funny/etc. as yours. My daughter still hasn’t really figured out her hands, and tummy time is like torture. But she figures things out that we didn’t think she was developmentally ready to do. Plus she’s hilarious. And beautiful. And far too alert for her own good – she has to look at and listen to everything. That’s probably why she’s such a crappy napper. She communicates to us in her own language that can sound like anything from a kitten to a baby wookie, and responds when we imitate. She’ll be going to Harvard next week, I’m sure.
  • Each baby accepts things out in their own time. Babycakes screamed her face off every time we put her in the car or stroller for the first month of her life, which was particularly challenging since she also hates pacifiers. Suddenly last week, the car was no longer akin to being put on the rack (though she still hates the buckling/unbuckling process), and just on Tuesday the stroller was not a torture device. She loves eating milk off a spoon, but still won’t take a bottle, even if it’s the only option she has.
  • Things will hit your emotions in weird ways. All it takes sometimes is a particular song on the radio to make me well up. It took all my willpower not to start sobbing in the doctor’s office waiting room when one of those hungry-kids-in-Africa commercials came on the TV. I cry sometimes when I see tears in my baby’s eyes. It was probably harder on me for her to get her first set of vaccines than it was for me, though she’d probably assert the opposite if she could say more than, “Ah-goo.”
  • You will discover immense capacity for worry. Along with hypersensitivity to every sound your baby makes. You want only the best, and for your baby to be happy and healthy. You’ll wonder every minute you’re awake in the middle of the night if the baby is sleeping okay. You’ll reach over and lay your hand (gently) on her chest to feel that it’s still rising and falling properly. You might even try to get her to squirm a little in her sleep, just to make sure she’s alright. Moms have been doing this, I’m sure, for centuries.
  • Your capacity for worry will be nothing compared to your capacity for love. I loved my baby before I ever met her, but since she’s been born, I often find myself overwhelmed by how much I love her. There are many times I’ll be snuggling and rocking her after she’s fallen asleep nursing, and I just can’t contain my tears of joy and love. The first time my husband found me practically sobbing over our newborn, he was afraid something was very wrong. But rather, everything was very right.
  • You will finally understand how much your own mother loves you. My mom said to me recently, “You know how you feel about her? That’s how I feel about you.”

Why I Trust Both God & Science

Over the past couple of years, it seems like you can’t turn on the TV or read something on the Internet without being bombarded with the apparent battle between scientific and religious communities. For those on the far ends of either spectrum, trusting the opposite viewpoint is unacceptable. On the one end, if you put any trust in scientific theory and evidence, you’re probably a sinner, heretic, etc. On the other end, if you adhere to any sort of faith in God, you’re unenlightened and in danger of damaging your children, undoing hundreds of years’ worth of progress, etc.

I’ve never quite understood why science and religion, or more simply, having faith in a Higher Power (whatever you call that Higher Power), had to be mutually exclusive. I’m what people might refer to as a “cradle Catholic”, and what’s more, I’m a practicing, devout Catholic. Believe me, it wasn’t easy at times in high school and college when people, including your close friends, look at you funny because you would rather go to the Sunday evening student Mass than linger at the dining hall. But having a strong faith in God and finding a sense of comfort and community in practicing my religious beliefs has helped me in many ways over the years. I try to live my faith, and I hope it’s made me a better person as I’ve grown into adulthood.

At the same time, science fascinates me. Other than a disappointing experience with high school biology, that is. I love learning about new scientific discoveries, reading about how theories have changed over time, what our scientific community is attempting to do next. Astronomy particularly holds my interest. There’s something amazing in gazing at the night sky and knowing how vast the universe is, how many worlds, galaxies and, possibly, intelligent life forms may be out there.

Science and religion have both served me well. I have seen science save the lives of those I love, but I have also seen miracles occur in the world around me.

This morning, our daughter was baptized in the Catholic faith, and as this special event, this beautiful sacrament of welcome, drew near, I found myself thinking more and more about why I need to have both God and science in my life, and why I hope she will come to appreciate both in hers.

Thanks to science, my grandfather’s cancer was caught in time to administer a course of treatment that was suppose to give us a few more good years with him. Within a few months, he was in complete remission, and ended up having over ten wonderful years before his health began to get shaky for other reasons. Almost four years ago, this same grandfather, who was the deacon of our church for 21 years, could not be healed by science. However, science was able to keep him from pain in his last hours, and he lingered until we stood around his hospital bed and said the Lord’s Prayer. He passed peacefully the moment we finished. This wonderful man of great faith, who always prayed for everyone else, needed us to pray with him before he could leave us for the Heaven he believed – knew – was waiting for him.

Science could not, however, determine why I lost two pregnancies to early miscarriage, or why, despite dozens of tests, treatments, and medically assisted tries, we had such trouble conceiving a child. It was only after we stopped asking for what we wanted and instead let God do for us what we needed that we finally (unexpectedly!) were given a child. In fact, almost seven months before I got pregnant, I dreamed of holding a blue-eyed baby girl. Not only did I know her name, but I swear, the baby in my dream looked exactly like my daughter. I think God was showing me a glimpse of what was in store for us.

When carrying that beautiful baby, faith in God kept me strong when I was scared out of my mind with worrying that one wrong move, or just more bad luck, would result in another miscarriage.

Science, on the other hand, let me see my baby’s body and heartbeat in those crucial early weeks when so much can go wrong. Later, science showed that she was growing properly, though we still had to put faith in God that she would remain healthy and strong.

I also relied on science to provide me with a medical regimen that was intended to prevent miscarriage – a route my doctor felt was a precaution more than a need, but it gave me reassurance that I was doing all I possibly could to maintain my pregnancy. I still prayed every night that we would get to meet our beautiful girl and enjoy the years ahead as she grows.

When Babycakes decided not to come into the world as scheduled, science got labor started. Science allowed the medical staff on the Labor & Delivery floor to monitor me and the baby and do whatever they could to help me deal with the pain. I didn’t have a focal point during labor, or a particular breathing pattern, or anything like that. What I did was pray.

After 12 hours of labor, science could not, however, resolve one tiny issue that would prevent me from a “natural” delivery. But science did allow for a relatively quick and safe c-section that brought my baby into the world without putting her in distress. Science had not been able to predict that the cord would be (loosely) wrapped around her neck, though through science, the OR staff was able to keep her from taking her first breath until they had suctioned the meconium she’d swallowed in utero, keeping her from dangerously aspirating it as would have happened in a vaginal birth. My body didn’t allow my daughter to be born through my efforts during labor – or perhaps, as I believe, God knew the danger that delivery could cause and prevented it from occurring. Either way, when my husband brought our daughter to me for my first glimpse at her sweet face, the first thing I said to her was, “Thank God for you – I dreamed of you.”

I know as she grows, science will be there to help keep her healthy, to make her well when she gets sick, at least in body. I hope our guidance, and the guidance of her family, will help her develop a strong faith in God that will keep her healthy in spirit and heal her soul. When she’s older, I do want her to ask questions about both her religion and science, and I want her to explore both to find answers. I want her to be curious about stars and planets while appreciating the beauty of the Milky Way in a spiritual, faithful way. I want her to realize that science will be there to provide information and explanations, but God will be there to provide comfort and love.

Many people live very full lives through exclusive trust in either God or science.

I need both.

Writing with a Newborn – Ha!

“Babies sleep most of the time.”

HA!

My daughter (let’s call her Babycakes, as that was her nickname before she was born and we were keeping her name top secret), is five weeks old today. (Holy crap, already?) It’s been an interesting few weeks. She’s a very good baby, really doesn’t fuss much unless she’s hungry, outside of her “fussy time” of course. And she sleeps like a champ at night. We’re already getting 4-5 hour stretches, and Monday, by some miracle, she slept almost 6 and 1/2 hours straight.

During the day? Not so much.

I figured we’d have a little bit of a writing hiatus until she was on a feeding and napping schedule, and I wasn’t bone tired and in need of naps myself. But then I’d be able to use those long naps babies are suppose to take to get some good writing done, both on my fiction as well as a few freelance jobs (I started freelancing part time just before Babycakes was born).

She did not get the memo, apparently. She sleeps for twenty minutes at a time, if that, unless she’s being held or worn in the Mobywrap. It’s just enough time to attend to Nature’s Call and stuff a sandwich in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong. I love snuggling her. It’s hard to set her down (now even more so because I know she’ll wake up within minutes, wanting to be held). Yes, it is developmentally appropriate for a newborn to want that snuggly security, especially since I’m also acting as a 24/7 restaurant, and she gets very insistent when the service is slow. And the fact that she doesn’t really nap well during the day probably contributes to her sleeping so well at night already. Getting solid chunks of sleep at night has probably really helped me recover from the c-section I ended up needing after 12 hours of labor.

But, oh, to have her napping 2-3 hour stretches twice a day, rather than 5-6 twenty to forty-five minute catnaps! As rested as I feel in the morning, I’m fried by the time the hubs gets home from work. Thank God my mother has been able to come over every day to help with laundry and cleaning and occupying Babycakes so I can get a physical break a little earlier in the day than 5:oo.

So not so much with the writing yet. I’ve read and been told that, eventually, her sleep habits will mature and she will not only sleep through the night (meaning 7-8 hours before waking to eat), but she’ll settle into at least one longer nap during the day. So there’s hope.

That said, I have already informed the hubs that my September BIAW goal  for next week is to finish chapter 27 of the historical romance, and it’s going to require some uninterrupted time in the evenings while he’s home and can entertain Babycakes. I’ll even take a half hour if I can get it. No word count goal or anything. Just finish the chapter I started before she was born.