Friday, September 25, 2009

Back to work--How we do it.

A few weeks ago, Lyn and I went back to work in a serious way. In August we both fiddled around with work, doing some and getting used to our schedules, but in September we started back in earnest. It's not easy. Everything that was hard about our lives pre-baby is now just a little bit harder.

We both work. Lyn has gone back to full-time work. I am almost full time (I am teaching one less course this semester than I normally would do). Yet one of us is home with the baby all of the time. How do we do that? Why do we do that?

How we do it

Before Ira's arrival, we each worked four days a week, fitting our full-time jobs into those four days and each staying home with Leigh one day a week, sometimes working nights or Sundays when deadlines loomed or finals struck. Leigh was in daycare three days a week. Now that we are back to work with Ira, Leigh is in daycare four days a week (and loving her new daycare, by the way). On Mondays and Fridays, I'm home with Ira alone, getting work done while he naps during the day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lyn is home alone with Ira doing the same work & baby routine. We already knew combining work and baby would be feasible for us, because we did something similar when Leigh was a baby (combining work and a toddler? Not so much). On Wednesdays I am home with both kids and just trying to survive the day. That means I'm at work for two long days (8am to 7pm on Tuesday, 8am to 5:30 on Thursday). Lyn similarly works three fairly long days but is usually home by dinner time (about 6 or 6:30 in our house). Since we both have somewhat cyclical work (Gail's work turns over on a semester schedule, I have frequent grant and conference deadlines) there are times when one or the other of us is swamped, and needs to find more work hours, at night or on Sunday. It is nice to know that each of us is capable of stepping up the house and care duties when the other is doing more outside work, and to know that the tables will probably turn shortly.

I am currently doing more time at home than Lyn. When we were thinking through this scheme last year, this seemed like a good idea -- a way for me to get lots of time with Ira and to counteract the way that responsibility for baby-care can tip toward the parent that gave birth. But we've now realized that it also has the unfortunate side effect of giving me more experience handling both kids at once, which might leave Lyn feeling less confident as a parent of two. Lyn does get to have evening time on Tuesdays (and was the first parent to successfully navigate bedtime for two solo), but we have also made plans for her to take a weekend solo parenting while I go away for a weekend on my own, something I'm very very excited about.

Why we do it

We could put both Leigh and Ira in daycare full-time. But that's expensive, especially where we live, and would obliterate one of our take-home salaries completely. But more importantly, we both want to have a chance to experience and enjoy parenting during infancy and early childhood. On the other end of the spectrum, one of us could choose to stay home with both kids. Lyn did a couple of chunks of time as primarily a stay-at-home mom with Leigh (and I once did a month solo parenting, with Leigh in outside care only three days during that time), and we really didn't like what started to happen in our relationship during those times. When Lyn was at home full time with Leigh, she became the more experienced parent and more of the parenting fell to her even when I was home. We noticed that I was gradually gaining power in the relationship, in subtle but real ways. After all, I had work and that took precedence over things that Lyn might want or need to do, because I made money and Lyn did not. When I was parenting on my own for that month, it was challenging to find our way back to parenting as a team once Lyn was back. We decided after those brief experiments that we both wanted and needed to stay in the work force, but that we also wanted to prioritize time with kids and time as a family.

So here we are. Most days seem a little crazy. One parent gets up early (after a night "off" with no baby-feeding responsibilities) and gets into work for the day. The other parent gets up, perhaps a little later, feeds Ira, and gets Leigh to daycare. That parent then goes home and alternates caring for Ira and working. Any chores that need to be done are fit into times that Ira is awake so that precious nap times can be saved for working. At the end of the day, that parent heads back to daycare to pick up Leigh, and then back home to make dinner. A little later the out-of-the-house working parent for that day comes home and we all have dinner, kids bedtime, followed by a round of nightly chores, and any catch-up work if needed. During the week we feel stretched pretty thin. But on the weekends we take Shabbat for rest (NO computers!). Leigh goes to grandma's house on Saturday night (Thanks Grandma!), while Lyn and I have a "date" while the baby sleeps (usually including a movie and some wine, and a luxurious neglect of any looming chores). Every other Sunday morning someone goes grocery shopping and then we get ready to do it all over again. Hmm. Now that I put it that way, it doesn't seem quite so hard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Babies and Strangers

When out and about now, I often carry Ira facing out (in a ring sling). I never really did that with Leigh. She was quite easily overstimulated, and really seemed to need the protection of being able to tuck her head up against us, so I almost always carried her tummy-to-tummy. In contrast, Ira is quite happy facing out or in, and since we're trying to gently push him into something like a nap schedule, carrying him facing out can be a good way to keep him happily awake when needed.

Over the last week or so, I've noticed that this means many more people talk to me about the baby, or make googley eyes at him, or smile in that way that only a baby can make you smile. At 3 1/2 months he often will give them a good smile back. At a coffeeshop I go to sometimes, dads in particular have started several conversations. One guy opened up about his 8-year-old who lives in another state. Another dad and I compared notes about pacifiers. Sometimes someone will even touch the baby (gasp!). Sometimes people give me advice I don't really want (often about how hot/cold he is or whether or not he's really OK in that carrier).

Over the years I've been privy several conversations among parents bemoaning the slew of unsolicited advice that comes your way once you're out and about with a baby, or the horrors of old ladies coming up and pinching your baby's cheeks, or annoyance at the rubberneckers always trying to get a peek in the stroller. While I sort of understand the annoyance, I actually love (most*) such interactions. I see them as the last shred of our instinct to communally care for our young. When strangers interact with Ira, I see a piece of what it means to be human. I feel a little less like I'm on a tiny island containing only my small family, and more like our baby is part of the whole world.

* I do have my limits, however. The random drunk guy yelling at me that my 6 week old was hungry as he cried while I tried to get set up to nurse in a crowded subway station really ticked me off.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nursing Nag

I was talking with a good friend about her upcoming baby, and she asked me for the dirt on what it was like last time when Gail was nursing and I wasn't. The short answer is that it was way better than I expected it to be. The combination of reading Rachel Pepper's book about lesbian pregnancy, which more or less makes it sound like if a non-bio-mom touches the baby, the baby will starve to death (only slight overstatement), too much Dr. Sears, and a few essays in the Other Mother Anthology by Harlyn Aizley had me convinced that I was (a) completely unnecessary and (b) would have to wait at least 2 (or 3 or 4 or ...) years until my child was done nursing before she would even bother to look at me. Yeah, I might have blown it a little out of proportion, but it's hard to know that ahead of time. And since then, I've met plenty of families (straight and queer) in which (a) and (b) are pretty much true for non-nursing parents, so I don't think I was completely making it up.

We already know that in terms of those particular worries, things turned out fine. But the conversation got me thinking about the ways in which things weren't fine. My friend and I were talking about the particular pressures on queer families, and how we seem to feel this collective pressure to "be perfect." I certainly did. I felt like I needed to do absolutely everything "the right" way in order to prove I wasn't messing up our kid, since, somewhere in there, a part of me believed I probably shouldn't have a kid at all. Pressure like that is never good, and for me, it manifested as an intense desire for Leigh to NEVER EVER EVER have even one teeny tiny drop of formula. I had completely internalized the idea that if nursing "failed," it would probably be my fault for not being "supportive" enough. After all, I did have mixed feelings about not personally nursing our hopefully breastfed baby, and surely, it would be my mixed feelings that led to "failure," maybe because I would do something awful like pressure Gail to pumps so I could give a bottle (this specific dire scenario is warned against very strongly in Pepper's book...those pesky non-bio-moms -- always trying to take care of the baby!).

So that put me in a position where (a) our baby had to have all-breastmilk-all-the-time so that I would have proof we were "doing it right," and so I wouldn't be blamed for feeding "wrong" (possibly mostly blamed by me, but still, we all know there's plenty of judgment to go around on the infant feeding front) and (b) I wasn't making any milk. While not quite a recipe for disaster, it is close, and this confluence of factors is a lot of why I pressured Gail way too much. about feeding. Not at first. At first I was the picture of the "supportive" partner. No. The problem started when she went back to work, and I turned into the pumping nag. I was home with Leigh, and thus very aware of our milk stash. My constant worry about how much milk we had made for way too many conversations about how much milk was in the fridge, how much milk was in the freezer, how many times Gail pumped, how many times she planned to pump the next day, whether or not she was drinking enough water, whether or not it was time for her to take fenugreek again, rinse and repeat. We were never even close to being out of milk. We kept a steady freezer stash (not the mountain we generate now, but enough) and Gail did a wonderful job finding time to pump at work. But I still worried about it. All the time. Because we had to do it right. I put way too much pumping pressure on Gail.

I am very sincerely sorry for this, and I've told her, and she accepted my apology. But I'm a little sad that it took me until now to realize how not nice that was, and to genuinely apologize.

Parenting Blog Roundup

  • Double X: Why won't feminists admit the pleasure of infants? This article by Katie Roiphe touched off many discussions, including the comments on the original post, a follow up post on double X, a great response over at Shapely Prose, a response to the response from Blue Milk, and many more discussions on other blogs. Personally, I've fallen in love with a couple of babies, and it is great. But of course life goes on, those babies grow up to be toddlers, kids, and eventually adults, and no parents can indulge in the newborn crush phase forever. And in many families there's more than one parent, and I don't hear that parent getting to be a part of this newborn lovefest. What I'd really love to hear is dads writing essays about how society seems to completely ignore their overwhelming love for their children. Loving children isn't a feminist issue, it's a human issue.
  • Two Women Blogging: Eve and Her Two Mothers I found this post by Jay moving because she's trying to deal honestly with the difficulties of interacting with her daughter's birth mother. It made me think about our own family choices and how Leigh and Ira have a donor and donor siblings that may someday be important to them. That fact makes me uncomfortable, and has at times felt threatening to my family. For me, it helps to remember that while they aren't people I consider to be part of my family, my children may feel differently. I really appreciated getting to see how another family, constituted differently, deals with this issue.
  • Free Range Kids: Dear Abby -- Again with the Abductors? Lenore weighs in on Dear Abby's fear-mongering and the fact that are kids really aren't in much danger from random abductions and molestation by strangers. It's nice to be reminded once in a while to be a little less afraid.
  • Adjustment [and] Disorder: In Which I Add My Two (Make that Ten) Cents to The Bad Mother Dialogue…Here's an great post by SWMama about "The Bad Mother." In it, she discusses the way that confessing "I'm such a bad mother because...." actually "only serves to continue the already damaging trend of mothers judging, criticizing, and putting down other mothers."
  • Damn Straight. Those of us that parent queerspawn would probably do well to learn what they think when they grow up. This blog isn't very frequently updated, but I enjoy reading what Abigail had to say and checking out her links.