If I had written this a couple of months ago, many of you would most likely be questioning my sanity and/or how many illegal substances I had consumed. Because after Isaiah was born, I was seriously and ridiculously and completely high. You know when you fall in love and the world is so stunningly beautiful that mashed potatoes and puddles and snowflakes all have equal ability to bring tears to your eyes?
I was that kind of high.
At my baby shower, a dear friend gave me Leah Dietrich's book of Thank Yous in which she thanks everything from clean sheets to assumptions to scissors. I loved the simple, creative exercise in gratitude, and took up the practice in those early weeks. To give you an idea of just how high I was, the first time I took Isaiah grocery shopping, he projectile vomited the entire contents of his stomach all over the store. Here is what my journal entry was for that day:
"Dear projectile vomit,
Thanks for making an ordinary trip to the grocery store extraordinary."
I thanked projectile vomit.
This pretty much sails right past the optimistic half-full mark and lands squarely in the deep end.
So how did so many things in my life come together to create this ulterior universe of rainbows and butterflies that made even vomit look beautiful? I could get all 'airy fairy and hippy dippy' on you and pull the Grace-of-God card, but if you already are a God-fearing individual your response would be something like, 'duh,' and if you are not a God-fearing individual there would be a certain amount of eye-rolling. Neither of which I am interested in eliciting. The truth is, I'm not entirely sure. I can only guess at the practical steps I took as well as the circumstances I had no control over that seemed to contribute. So...an incomplete (legal) recipe for extreme happiness:
1. After transitioning from a vegetarian diet (no meat, lots of grains) to a paleo diet (no grains, lots of meat) six months before getting pregnant, I miraculously reclaimed my health. And miracle, it did seem. I know that many suffer much worse physical ailments, but living with chronic fatigue and two small children was easily the most difficult period of my life. It didn't bode well for my marriage either. By the time Violet was a year and a half, I knew something needed to change. I was doing these children a serious disservice and that wasn't fair. Close friends had recently embarked on the GAPS diet (extreme paleo), and the girls and I soon followed suit. It was a slow uphill, but it was steady. My pregnancy with Isaiah was WORLDS different than with Violet. Energy! A mere two weeks of mild morning sickness! (Relative) emotional stability!
2. When Isaiah was born, Sisay stayed home for an entire month. And he did EVERYTHING. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, morning routine, school drop-off and pick-up, grocery shopping, and—most impressive—getting up with the girls at an hour that only slightly resembles morning but is more akin to torture. And he did it all with a smile. I had the luxury of being fully immersed in my babymoon, my only job being to nurse (while reading a string of excellent novels), change diapers, and gaze into my sweet son’s eyes for hours on end.
3. Food! We had friends bringing us amazing dinners for TEN days after the birth. It was overwhelming. It was delicious. It was the most helpful thing anyone could have ever done. If you know of anyone having a baby, go to mealbaby.com RIGHT NOW. You will be providing such a service.
4. Grandparents. We’ve lived under the same roof with my parents now for a year. I now know that feeling of being utterly-alone-never-alone that I thought was par for the course…doesn’t have to exist. Shouldn’t exist. It really does take a village to raise a child—or at least to raise a sane parent. Need someone to hold the baby at 7 AM so I can take a shower? Call Grandpa. Need a break on Saturday morning? Have the grandparents take the girls to the children’s museum. Need to separate the girls so they stop beating each other? Send one to Grandma to work in the art studio. My dad cut back his work hours when Isaiah was born (I swear I never asked him to!) and he now doubles as Samaya’s personal chauffeur to and from school and my mother’s helper. (He prefers ‘au pair’ but he doesn’t speak French.) On Thursdays he escorts us to the grocery store. It’s pretty much the highlight of the week.
5. Sisterhood. Over the past few months, Samaya and Violet have gotten increasingly closer. There was a noticeable shift when Samaya started school. She thrived. Violet audibly sighed in relief to have a couple hours every morning in which she didn’t feel compelled to compete. They both seemed to find a peace that had previously eluded them. And when they were reunited at the end of the morning, it was like the angels were singing. Or akin to that for a mother. They would immediately get lost together in deep imaginative play, often for hours at a time. (Their rotation of games most often includes ‘Midwife,’ ‘Doctor,’ and ‘Mommy-Baby.’)
6. I changed my goal from ‘being perfect’ to ‘being happy.’ Simple dinners, unfolded laundry, dirty dishes, skipped playgroups, even (gasp!) screens. This last one has been hardest for me, but you know what? I’m pretty sure Barney is far less damaging than their mother yelling at them. Also, I’ve given myself permission to feel incredibly accomplished even if—no—especially if I hang out in bed all day with the babies.
7. Better communication with the husband. Maybe before I die I will make in through an entire day without accusing or assuming. It’s astounding how detrimental these two ‘a’ words can be and remarkable the difference when they are replaced by another little ‘a’ word: asking.
What do you mean? (by that tone of voice, action, word)
How can I help?
Can you help?
8. Sleep. I finally learned how to sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep is precious. Sleep cannot be underestimated. Sleep is a game changer. Sleep can be soooo hard to choose at 7:30 PM, but oh so worth it at 4:30 AM. It’s time to recommit to this one.
9. The third child. Yes, you know the drill by now. Breastfeeding is second nature. Their first cold doesn’t send you to the doctor’s office. Baths are completely optional. But really each child is so unique that so many things you thought you had under your belt are simply irrelevant. What really makes the third child easier is that you stop trying to figure it all out. On a good sleep schedule? It won’t last. Not sleeping at all? That won’t last either. I spent so much of my time with Samaya and Violet pouring over child development books and googling ‘how to get my kid to sleep through the night without crying it out’ and ‘techniques for dealing with an angry/ fearful/ sensitive child.’ I got so carried away with trying to fix them that I forgot to really enjoy them. I still do my best to pay attention to what Isaiah is trying to communicate to me, but I make sure his voice is louder than all the parenting books and well-meaning mothers combined.
10. I figured out how to say no to any commitment that was unnecessary/ put stress on our family. It turns out others arise who are far more capable than I and everyone wins.
11. Screens: iPads. iPods. iPhones. Computers. Televisions. They are friends. Not enemies. Quality time interacting with real people is of course ideal, but watching countless youtube videos of ‘babies being born’ (the current obsession) and plenty of PBS is more than okay as well. They are learning just how powerful women are, strengthening math and literacy skills, honing interpersonal skills, and, most importantly, not learning what it feels like to be yelled at by an overtired/trying-to-cook-dinner/need-to-get-something-done parent.
12. The baby himself! My beautiful, perfect son who makes my heart ache with love a million times a day.
Truly, the stars aligned for us and for that I am so profoundly grateful.
Truly, the stars aligned for us and for that I am so profoundly grateful.