Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mama's Dirty Little Secret

I have many talents in life: I'm a fairly good baker, I have good balance, I know a lot of grammar rules, I have no fear of public speaking.  Housecleaning, however, is not one of those talents. I mean, I know how to do it. My parents were big believers in chores, and I had to do laundry, scrub my bathroom, vacuum and dust on a very regular schedule for most of my childhood. I can clean up my house quite nicely before a party (though please don't look behind my closed bedroom door), and I think I was a fairly good roommate who kept common areas neat.

But just because I know how to doesn't mean I want to. I will happily cook a three-course meal with a two-layer cake before I'll bother picking up a dust cloth or pulling out the vacuum (though I do hate the dishes after the cooking). I occasionally get bouts of motivation, where I'll clean all the bathrooms, or vacuum every bedroom, but then I run out of steam and get overwhelmed realizing how much else needs to be done (must I clean All the Things?!).
(c) Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Having children forced me to do better. Setting their tiny bodies on the floor made me realize the need to vacuum. Serving them first foods forced me to mop the kitchen floor regularly. Cloth diapers and a million tiny onesies turned laundry into my most dedicated hobby. I began to clean more, but it was never enough, and I lived with constant guilt about my dirty house and frustration knowing it needed to be cleaner.

There was another layer of guilt too. When I had Sylvia, I quit my 9-5 office job. I was a stay-at-home mom, and as such, cleaning duties fell almost entirely to me. It was part of the job I signed up for. I couldn't really get away with blaming it all on my husband anymore, as he was out of the house 40+ hours a week, and I was home most of the day. I should have had time to clean. I should have been more inspired to clean. But it never happened, and the guilt (and dust) grew.

After each of the girls were born, my parents gifted me money to hire a housekeeper, and those few months were glorious times in which All the Things were clean at the same time (!), and I actually felt at ease in my own home. I wanted desperately to keep paying them to clean for me, but the guilt of doing so as a stay-at-home mom was too great: I should be able to do this. It's part of my job description. We have one salary and money could certainly be spent better elsewhere.

But I started talking to other moms -- other stay-at-home moms -- and I learned a little secret. Lots of people hire house cleaners. I should note that my mom friends are all solidly middle class. This is not a group of society moms hanging out between spa appointments and luncheons at The Club. Yet almost all of them scrape together funds to pay someone else to clean their homes. No one really talked about it until I asked, but all were quick to admit that it was worth every penny.

So a few months ago, I hired cleaners full time. They come every other week, and it is glorious. They do a better job than I ever could, and they've relieved me of guilt, embarrassment, and probably a few health-code violations. It's worth the sacrifice to our budget to make the house run better.

This Mother's Day, I hope all you moms out there will realize that you can't do it all. It's OK to ask for help. And it turns out, more moms than you realize are getting some help. And for you dads and kids out there, for Mother's Day or any other occasion, considering getting Mom a service instead of a gift. A house cleaner, a masseuse, a tax professional, or someone to cook up three casseroles for the freezer: these pros will give mom the break she deserves, and will perhaps allow her other talents to shine through.

So I guess this means I should start baking more cakes.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sleep Update: Because You Care

I seemed to have touch a nerve with my last post, as I have heard back from quite a few folks. I was honored to have another mom -- a high school friend I had barely talked to in decades -- tell me that I was her inspiration to try gently sleep-training her 18-month-old, and it worked in one night! Another mom from Sylvia's preschool had been lying down next to her 8-year-old every evening, and after reading my post, decided that maybe she could stop. She did, and he didn't bat an eye. Now, I'm not advocating that all moms stop cuddling their babies, but these two moms were ready for some space and just needed a little encouragement to get it. I was proud to help.

Many other moms have asked me, "So, are you enjoying getting all that sleep?" To which my answer is, NO, because we're not really sleeping. I mean, it's better -- better than when we were up every 45 minutes, and better in that Amelia sleeps in the crib and I have a little more autonomy and life is slightly more predictable. But after that first successful week, she backslid quite a bit.

First, it was a few fluky nights of more regular wake-ups. It turned out she had an ear infection, which required ten days of antibiotics. After letting her do what she wanted for a week (which was to wake up every two hours), I went back to trying to get her go longer. Somewhere in the middle of all that, she cut her first two teeth. Now, some nights, she can sleep five hours. Others, she's up after 1.5 hours.

The good news is that she has the skill set: I can put her down to nap wide awake, and she'll fall asleep within two minutes. Our bedtime routine is easy and non-taxing. When she does wake up, we nurse quickly and I'm back in my bed within seven minutes. The bad news is that some nights I barely get two hours of uninterrupted sleep. And I never know which nights those are going to be.

So, bottom line: baby sleep is rarely perfect. Even those of us who make the decision to try sleep training don't end up with perfectly "trained" children. Maybe some day I'll stop nursing her at night, which would likely end some of the wake-ups, but for now I think she needs me. Or maybe she doesn't. But we're doing pretty OK, we're getting by, and I know this won't last long. I'm trying to be zen about it, realize this is my last baby, my last time to snuggle and nurse and rock at 3 a.m. Meanwhile, I'm also cheering that soon (SOON!) I won't have to snuggle and nurse and rock at 3 a.m.

So I continue to be a poor example of What To Do or even What Not to Do. We are getting by. We are being flexible. And frankly, that's about the best I can expect with a baby. For those of you with natural sleepers: good on ya! For those of you awake all night: I feel ya. And for all of us caught up in-between: this too shall pass. We'll all get some 18 years or so.