If our summer days are defined by chaos, they nevertheless have a sort of rhythm, a structure that provides at least a semblance of order in the midst of the unpredictability that comes with a newborn. Etta is still in that [WONDERFUL MAGICAL HEAVENLY] stage where she sleeps really late in the morning, and the goal is to be ready to leave as soon as she wakes around 9. I nurse her and then we try to get out as quickly as possible, trusting that the blissful combo of DC humidity and stroller motion will knock her out and keep her snoozing. We spend the mornings doing all of our favorite summer activities around Capitol Hill, visiting friends, hitting splash pads and parks, procuring treats, riding the metro, and coming home at the last possible minute before naps. I then devote myself to that special insanity that comes from trying to get two kids to nap (not on me) at the same time so I can have a few minutes “off duty,” to do really important things like watch the most boring season of The Bachelorette ever. (Pause to appreciate that I AM NOT WRITING A DISSERTATION DURING NAPTIME! I get excited about it every single day.) After naps, we usually head back outdoors until dinner, less from preference and more from necessity. From dinner until I finally slip into bed, there are various versions of chaos and trying to figure out the best way to get both kids ready for bed, trying to remember what worked the night before, and trying to have the house in some semblance of order at night. We have yet to find a truly successful method to accomplish this goal.
It’s crazy, and there are lots of really hard moments figuring out what I’m doing with two kids. But there are lots of really good moments too. I love summers in this city with Henry, love the sticky hands and sweaty faces and sun drenched days. I love watching Henry dote on his sister and eagerly want to help with her, even if his fervor for helping is not matched by restraint and I spend a lot of time issuing statements like “DO NOT pick her up!” or “She doesn’t want you to put her face in your armpit!” or “Henry, were teeth a part of that kiss you just gave?” or “She doesn’t understand that you are showing you love her by covering her face with toy cars!” or “Etta can’t digest that salami!” But yesterday there was a precious moment where they snuggled in his crib and he introduced her to his stuffed animals and then excitedly told her about what he had done with James over the weekend.
We are taking it day by day around here, and that is not my strength. I like to have a Plan, a long view of where we are going and how we are going to get there. This is especially true with baby schedules and sleep, and deviating from any sort of system rips apart at my sanity. When Etta wakes earlier than usual for a middle of the night feeding, I have been known to spiral into despair quickly, seeing our entire carefully mapped day unravel. I want the days to come with regularity, and frankly, they just can’t right now.
So we are taking it day by day. I have nursed her to get her to lengthen a nap while I chase Henry at the park or on the metro. Etta gets maybe one nap each day in the “correct” spot, and the majority of her sleeping happens in the stroller or the carseat or the stroller seat carried upstairs and propped in the kitchen sink because that’s the only secure place Henry can’t mess with it. It kills me a little, the way I can’t dig in and start establishing a schedule. But to do that I would just have to lock us inside and plop Henry in front of the TV all day and we aren’t willing to do that. So each day, each hour, each minute, I’m just doing What Works with a nod to What Is Needed in the longterm sleep and schedule goals department (and ironically- she is sleeping wayyyy better at night than Henry was at this age and naps are about the same, which is to say erratic and frustrating). I try to have her sleep at the right time, respect wake times, not nurse to sleep, etc, and for the most part- we succeed. But not always, and every time I need to “cave” on something to preserve the present peace of our day, I’m trying to see it is a victory, not a defeat. Day by day, I tell myself, let’s win today and figure out tomorrow later.
The days form patterns of wins and losses, steps forward and backwards, chaos and calm. It’s hard sometimes to zoom out and see the weeks. But that’s what I need to do, the doctor told me. I sat on the crinkly paper-covered table at my six-week postpartum appointment and couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. Be honest, James had told me that morning, Promise me that you’ll tell him how you are feeling. And I did. I told him about how much I was crying, about how I couldn’t control my emotions, about the darkness that sometimes swallowed up our sunny days. I told him that I felt sad and angry and unhinged, and I didn’t feel like this after Henry. He didn’t just tell me that it was normal, or that it was due to being tired- though obviously that is a part of it. He listened to me cry and talked with me about what we need to watch for and what we should do. Look at the weeks, he reminded me, Don’t be defined by the isolated days. And looking back at the past 8 weeks, I see lots of hard days, lots of bad moments, poor decisions, and failures. But those 8 weeks as a whole are so much more beautiful then all the amassed days. Each week moves closer to thriving, closer to regaining stability, even if naps are crappy and unpredictable and bedtime is a new variation of crazy every night. The past 8 weeks of being this new family unit have had so many fresh mercies and deep blessings, rising up beyond the dark days and hard moments. They show us learning to love, understand, and enjoy each other.
So we are taking it day by day and week by week and leaning in to trying to learn how to do this next stage of life in our family.