To the New Mothers, From an Old One

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We’ve got lots of new babies coming into our lives this year: Matt’s cousin’s daughter just had her first, several close friends are having firsts, and my baby sister, eight years my junior, is having her first this summer.  (Which is sort of astounding to me, because, as one of my close friends, who has known my sister since she was just a baby, said, “Sam can’t be having a baby. She’s only 12 herself!”)  She’s not though, she’s a full-fledged grown-up, and she’s about to become a mother.  Wonders never cease.

This summer will mark my 12th anniversary of becoming a mother.  While I certainly don’t have all the answers, while the idea that I might is actually laughable, I do know with certainty a few things.  So for all the new moms or mothers-to-be out there, my few words of wisdom twelve years in:

Labor and delivery will not be what you expect, not for you and almost certainly not for your partner.  Don’t go into it with too many concrete expectations; this is absolutely one time when you want to be flexible about how you achieve your ultimate goal.

I was in labor for over 24 hours and then pushed for almost three hours with my first child.  My second had shoulder dystocia and the cord wrapped around his neck.  I had to be induced early with my third and fourth.  Don’t get your hopes set on one type of labor and delivery scenario, just shoot for the goal of delivering a healthy baby in whatever way ends up working out. And don’t get mad at your partner–they are just as clueless as you are, and they have absolutely no control over what’s happening. 

Be gentle with yourself; this will be the hardest thing your body will ever do.

Give your body permission to be sore, tired, achy, and alien.  You’ve worked hard, you don’t have to bounce back in two days.  You don’t have to wear your pre-maternity jeans home from the hospital.  It took nine months to get into the condition you’re in, give yourself nine solid months to get back to normal.

The first six weeks are just survival, pure and simple.

Please, please don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if your house is a mess and you can’t find time to shower and there’s no clean laundry and nothing to eat.  For the first six weeks, minimum, you have only two jobs: get to know that baby and get to know your new self.  Because you are certainly not the same person you were before you had a child.

No matter how you feel — good, great, or awful — you are not the first mother to feel that way.  And if you’re concerned about how you’re feeling, talk to someone about it.

There will be moments of absolute bliss and pure joy, and there will be moments when you want to quit or scream or walk away.  It’s okay to feel like that and please know you’re not alone.  If you feel like crap, don’t try to pretend you don’t — you’re allowed to feel like crap.  You are part of a massive club full of women who have felt that transcendent happiness and that bone-deep frustration and exhaustion.  Find someone you trust and talk to them about it, the good, the bad & the ugly.  It will help.

Your partner can’t read your mind and doesn’t know what’s going on inside your head.  Talk, communicate, commiserate, rely on one another, let them be completely part of the process.

If you’re breast-feeding, let your partner do the majority of diaper changes.  If you’re bottle-feeding, let them do half the feedings, including (especially!) the overnight ones.  Let them dress the baby, even if they pick bad outfits and can’t get the onesies on without help.  Rely on each other because that makes the work half as hard and the rewards twice as meaningful.  Tell them how you feel: if you’re worried about something, if you’re struggling, if you’re excited and happy, if you feel good about something.  You’re a team, act like it from the very beginning and everything will be easier.

As everyone always says, parenting is the single best and single most difficult thing you will ever do.

It’s hard.  So relentlessly hard.  It’s like nothing you’ve ever done or ever will do, this keeping and shaping and steering of another human life.  You will make mistakes.  You will question yourself.  Just keep trying.  You will experience moments of utter amazement and joy followed by moments of total despair.  You will sometimes think you might lose your mind.  It’s okay.  Twelve years in and I am still learning something new every. single. day.  All children are different, all parents are different, all families are different.  JUST KEEP TRYING.

The hard parts are worth it.  And the good parts are what makes life worth living.


Also, here’s what I’ve learned about parenting a pre-teen, and a reminder that mothers don’t have to do it all perfectly.


 

Italy, Part Three: Naples, Vesuvius & Pompeii

Naples with Kids

We took the train from Rome to Naples on the third day of our trip and again, loved the train ride.  It’s a really relaxing way to travel, seeming to slow down the often-frantic pace of traveling and forcing you to sit and look out the window as the scenery goes by.  We found train travel in Italy to be a fantastic way to get around this beautiful country!

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We arrived at around 10:30 AM and took a taxi from the train station to our next Airbnb apartment, which was very cool and VERY modern.  The apartment had several lofted sleeping areas that the kids LOVED, but for the sake of safety, we wouldn’t even let them sleep on the highest one.  (Not to mention that it was lofted above the room Matt and I were planning to sleep in, and the whole point of the Airbnb is so I don’t have to share a room with my kids on the trip!)

Naples sort of shocked me though; it is a DENSE city. 

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We had three very important events planned for our short (one-night only!) stay in Naples: a horseback ride up the side of Mt. Vesuvius, dinner with an old friend of ours who just moved to Naples for work last fall, and a tour of the ruins of Pompeii.  We were only in this area for about 30 hours, but we packed a lot in.

We booked the horse ride up Mt. Vesuvius months in advance; I read about it on Pinterest while researching the trip and, as far as I can tell, Horse Riding Naples is the only company that does this type of tour up the volcano. 

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It. Was. Epic.

Bridget and Gabe each had their own horse, but Owen and Quinn rode with me and Matt.  Although they were both annoyed that they couldn’t be on their own even though they’d both ridden before, once we actually started up the side of the mountain, I was really relieved the smaller kids were with adults.  Parts of the trail were really narrow and pretty rocky and uneven; in some areas my boots touched the rocky outcrops on either side of the trail we rode through.  Although it was absolutely breath-taking and amazing, if Owen and Quinn had been on their own I would have been really nervous about their ability to stay on through the particularly steep sections and to keep the horses going in the right direction.

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The ride itself really was not difficult at all; there was another family with us who had never ridden a horse at all before, and they had no trouble.  The guides and the horses know what they’re doing.  The scenery was pretty unbelievable the whole way up the side of the mountain.  But I was still glad that my smallest children — both weighing in under 60 lbs — were attached to adults with a little more strength and sense.   IMG_0888

When we reached our clearing, bordering a lava field from the last eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 1944, and looking out at the most amazing vista of Naples and the Bay of Napoli, we dismounted to give ourselves and the horses a little rest and so we could explore this incredible location.  It was breath-takingly beautiful and just unreal. 

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The kids spent a good twenty minutes climbing around on the lava, picking through the rocks and pocketing some souvenirs.  Our guide Roberto pointed out some key sites and showed us the smoke rising from the crater higher up on the mountain, evidence that Vesuvius is still very much an active volcano.  It was absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

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After an equally amazing descent back to the stables, Roberto shared with us some lovely red wine made by his family from their vineyard located just a little ways away there at the base of Vesuvius.  Our other guides, it turned out, were Roberto’s uncle and his cousin!  The whole experience was so unique; rather than feeling like tourists simply looking at and hearing about this renowned and historic location, we were actively exploring it alongside people who had lived there their whole lives.  Such an immersive experience is hard to come by on a short trip, and I was so grateful for the experience.  The children ABSOLUTELY loved it and have said it was the coolest thing EVER.

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That night we met our friend Liz at a little restaurant not far from our apartment for dinner.  In Italy most restaurants don’t open for dinner until quite late by American standards, but we made a reservation for 7:30 — the earliest possible time to book.  We were literally the only ones there.  The food, as you’d expect, was amazing, and it was lovely to catch up with an old friend in a new place.

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The next morning we woke up and packed up — we had a tour of Pompeii that morning and instead of returning to the apartment afterwards, we had a car service picking us up at the entrance gate to Pompeii to drive us to our next stop on the Amalfi coast. 

Although there was a direct train from the station near our apartment to the Porta Marina gate of Pompeii ruins, we decided instead to take a cab.  With 6 suitcases and 6 backpacks, the train, though a much cheaper option, sounded a bit daunting.  Our cab driver brought us right to the Pompeii train station we’d have gotten off at anyway — we wanted to go there because there was a bag check service where we could leave our luggage while we did our tour of the ruins.

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We met our tour guide Jeanette, again from Angel Tours, at the gate to Pompeii and she expedited us through the line, another benefit of the tour service.  Jeanette was an extremely knowledgeable and personable guide; she kept the kids absolutely engaged throughout the day.  Pompeii was big — bigger than I anticipated — and we saw a lot of it.  Again Gabe was really proud of his knowledge of Ancient Romans when he was able to answer several questions on the tour. 

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Before our trip we’d also made a point to read a few books geared toward Owen and Quinn that would give them a better understanding of what we’d be seeing: Vacation Under the Volcano is a Magic Tree House book about Mt. Vesuvius that did a really good job of explaining what happened without being terrifying.  We also read the Magic Tree House non-fiction companion book about Ancient Rome and Pompeii that I highly recommend if you’re traveling to Pompeii with younger kids.  And actually, I read both books out loud to all the kids over the course of a few evenings before the trip, so I think even my older kids learned a lot from the books that they were able to relate to the real thing when we were there.

The most interesting thing I think we all took away from our tour of Pompeii was this: scientists have learned that Vesuvius has a fairly regular eruption cycle.  The last major eruption took place in 79 A.D. and covered the city of Pompeii in the ash that preserved it until the present day.  Prior to that, the last major eruption was approximately 1,900 years earlier, and then again about 1,900 years before that.  There are also usually smaller eruptions about every 60-70 years, but those don’t generally result in major destruction — the last one took place in 1944 and created the lava field on the side of the mountain that we saw on our horse ride up Vesuvius.  However, 72 years have passed since the last minor volcanic eruption of Vesuvius.  And 1,937 years have passed since the last major eruption.  Some people believe that the volcano “skipped” the last minor eruption because she is gearing up for the major one that’s due…basically now.  You could almost see the gears in the kids’ heads turning as our tour guide posed the questions to them and let them do the math.  A bit unnerving certainly, but our guide assured us that scientists monitor the volcano very closely for any uptick in activity, so we were perfectly safe.  That little tidbit, though? An absolute highlight that has been widely discussed over and over since the trip.

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Although we were only in the Naples area for less than 2 days, it was one of the most interesting parts of the trip.  Between the incomparable horse ride up the face of an active volcano and the in-depth tour of the incredible ruins at Pompei, I felt like we’d really made the most of our time there.  I’d highly recommend both activities if you’re planning a trip to that area!


Also, here are Part One in RomePart Two in Florence of our Italian vacation!


 

Sympathetic Vomiters

image via Scary Mommy

image via Scary Mommy

Have you seen the text exchange between a husband and wife when their young son barfed in the car with the dad?  It had me in tears, I was laughing so hard. 

Matt is a sympathetic vomiter, too.  He can deal with a lot of really gross stuff — and HAS, as a father to four kids — but barf is just not one of them.

Once, when B was about 7 or 8, she had a stomach bug.  Knowing she was going to barf, she got out of bed, made it to the bathroom, and just let loose all over the place: the walls, the shower curtain, the still-closed toilet, the floor, the bath mat, all covered in puke.  There was vomit pretty much everywhere but IN the toilet, the one place you’d hope for.  From downstairs we heard her wail and ran to help.  I beat Matt to the bathroom, but he was only about four steps behind me.  I took one look at the room and threw a hand up to stop him from coming any closer; I knew if he saw that carnage, he would lose it too.  So I gave Bridget to him and he supervised her getting showered while I mopped up the bathroom.  He stood in the hallway passing me cleaning supplies with his nose pinched closed and he still gagged.

Parenting is a balancing act with each of us bringing specific strengths and weaknesses to the table.  Some things I am good at and some things I suck at.  Same for Matt.  We all have our strong suits, and cleaning puke is not one of Matt’s.  But at least we never had to get the cops involved.


Also, more amazing parenting moments: boys are weird, and a love note from my middle son.


 

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