Doing it all?

As I write this, it is 9:07 am on Thursday morning. I was catching up on my blogs while feverishly trying to finish my son’s Christmas stocking. I read the PAIL monthly theme and decided I had to respond because doing it all with a growing baby is what I struggle with all the time.

So let’s take stock of what is on my plate right now. I am still at home this morning because my son has trouble sleeping at daycare. He woke up a bit early this morning (and twice during the night-I think he teething because he is not sleeping well and is a drooling machine) and so was ready for his morning nap very early. This has happened the past two days as well-he desperately wanted a nap even though I needed to leave for work. Unfortunately, the past two days I had meetings where others were expecting me and so, with a heavy heart, I ignored his requests for sleep and packed him off for daycare anyway. I have no meetings today and, with the fortunate situation where no one checks when I come in, I decided to let him sleep.

I am crocheting him a stocking because, well, my husband insisted. Despite my love of crafts, I was planning on buying him a stocking. But my husband said I had to make one. And of course I had to make him a Rudolph hat. And bake cookies with him (or rather, with him crawling around my feet). And buy presents and decorate the house and mail cards and all the other Christmas related activities. So here I am, December 13th, and still only about a third of the way done with his stocking. We are celebrating with one set of grandparents this weekend, so I anticipate a late night coming up to finish it before then. And let’s not mention the giant stuffed Santa I started in June that is not going to get completed and the cute Christmas jumper I bought at a consignment sale but need to move the buttons down so it will fit.

If I didn’t have to take off tomorrow for his 9 month doctor’s appointment, I might consider staying home all day. But two days out of the office (actually three since my meetings yesterday were all off campus) is a bit much for one week. Although I could really complete the work I need to do anywhere. You see, I am a college instructor and, this being finals season, my main deadline is grading 29 papers that showed up in my in-box this morning. So, yeah, another late night for me there. At least my trip across the country for next week was cancelled. Well, not cancelled, but postponed to January when I will have two other work trips. Ugh.

Doing it all. Is that what I’m doing? Sometimes it feels like I am half-doing it all. Not doing half of everything, but doing everything but only half way. I try to give my son my undivided attention when I am at home and he is awake, but there are often issues that are occupying the back of my mind while reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

Of course, I really shouldn’t be complaining. I realize how extremely fortunate I am to have a bunch of supports which allow me this sense of doing it all. I have a professional job with a lot of flexibility. Every time we fail to make it out the door at my target time, I wonder how people in other types of jobs manage this. I hit the jackpot and have my son in an employer subsidized daycare facility that is a two minute walk from my office. I can visit him every day during lunch. We can afford to hire someone to clean our house, taking a few chores off our backs.

But still, it’s an on-going task to manage it all. I’m only 9 months in and don’t have it figured out. There are things that don’t get done or don’t get done to my standards. Here is the little secret I’ve figured out about achieving the right balance – it’s impossible. There is no ideal balance that we can maintain and no surefire trick that is going to help us find it. Instead, balance is an ongoing task. We do a little bit in one area on one day and then compensate in another area the next day. There is no end-state of perfect balance, but a constant process of self-correction when we are leaning too much in any direction. There are a few “tricks” I’ve picked up, such as outsourcing my least favorite activity of cleaning the bathrooms, planning the meals and major events for the week each weekend, and making sure my husband does his share of the work (which he does-another way I am fortunate) but these are, at best, marginal improvements. Sure, I’ve learned to love the crockpot, but when I see all my friends on Pinterest highlighting time-saving and family organizational tips, I know that if there was a silver bullet, surely we would all know it by now.

Unfortunately, that response always leaves one feeling a little deflated. But I think we have to be honest about what is held up as the ideal and what is realistic. That, to me, is the secret to managing the stress that comes with a young child. Being realistic about whether what we are striving for is realistic outside of movies or extreme cases. There are some true cases where someone seems to do it all, but we have to be realistic about whether that is an outlier. For example, Einstein is a real person who was a great scientist. But that doesn’t mean that every physicist who doesn’t invent something akin to the theory of relativity is a failure. It just means that Einstein was a unique case.

I have constant worries about whether I am doing what is right for my son. I know I would not be a good SAHM, but am I still managing to give him everything he needs? And I focus mostly on his emotional and developmental needs, because certainly he has all his physical needs taken care of. But is he appropriately attached to me? (to be honest-I partly care about that for selfish reasons yet I am also aware that attachment is critical to emotional and social development). Would he be a better eater if I wasn’t trying to juggle all these things and could make sure we were home during meal time? Am I reading to him enough? Do I provide enough stimulation for his learning?

These questions have no real answer and I think we have to stop asking ourselves “enough” questions. There is always more that could be done and so “enough” is never really achieved. I don’t know how to stop asking myself these questions, though. What is needed is a shift in mindset, not a specific strategy of stress or time management.

Rooting for the evil witch

One thing about being a parent through adoption is that I am overly sensitive to the portrayal of adoption in the media-both news media and various forms of fiction. I think that’s one reason why Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. Starting with her debut novel about a home where pregnant young women were sent away to give birth in the 1950s, much of her work has incorporated themes surrounding adoption. (Of course, I first became interested in her work before our IF journey started, so maybe that doesn’t explain my interest in her work.) Her work is too complex to label it as either “pro” or “anti” adoption, but she often returns to themes about how strangers come together to form families due to unique circumstances.

But many of the adoption-related themes in the media reinforce the idea that biology trumps all in forming “real” families. And this is one theme that has held me back from completely embracing the otherwise great show of Once Upon a Time. In case you haven’t been watching this show, all the standard fairy tale characters have a second identity in the real world. In the first season, the real-life version of the characters had no recollection of their fairy tale characters even as some traits persisted. There are a few key new characters and twists in the new lives of classic characters. First, Snow White and Prince Charming have a daughter, who is now grown and apparently destined to lift the curse that created their second identity. This daughter, Emma, had a son (Henry) that she placed for adoption when he was a baby. And guess who adopted him? The wicked witch/queen (as in the one who gave Snow White the cursed apple).

While I didn’t relish the idea of the adoptive mother as the evil witch, I thought the adoption theme was well done in the first season. There was tension as Emma started to develop a relationship with Henry, but you also got the sense that maybe things would have been much smoother if they weren’t also battling for the lives of all the fairy tale characters in the town. And while Emma was attached to Henry, she was also visibly uncomfortable when he kept calling her his mother. But the second season has gone much further down the road of implying that Henry doesn’t belong in his adoptive family at all. To the extent that I started rooting for the evil queen! Has Henry’s life been so horrible that he has no soft spot for the woman who raised him?

The last episode was supposed to have a happy ending. Snow White and Prince Charming and Emma and Henry were finally reunited to be one big happy family. But I found myself reeling along with the evil queen and wishing the story had a different ending. She finally did the right thing and was rewarded by being pushed aside and reminded that she can’t possibly be Henry’s mother. The worst moment was when someone actually commented on how she reunited mother and son even as she saw her son run into another woman’s arms. Please-let the evil queen have a happy ending too!