Empty Cup: When Motherhood Runneth Over

I’m tired. Burnt out if you will. I almost followed that up with a list of disclaimers about how I know there are a zillion people in this world that are way more exhausted than I am and have every reason to be burnt out and who would probably (understandably) label me as whiny and privileged. But I  honestly don’t have it in me right now to appropriately excuse myself of my whiny and privileged tone, so please bear with me as I get this off my chest.

147261My twins are 16 months old. They are my only children. They have been sleeping through the night for eight months. They nap every day. My parents live in the next town over and give me a generous amount of help. Technically, I should not be tired.  I should be full of life and energy. But for whatever reason, I am not. I am a stay at home mom and I love my job. Truly. Deep down I love it. But my God it is a lot of work.

Before I had kids, I was dancing professionally and working as a freelance visual artist as well. I was an avid gym-goer, a consistent maker of healthy meals, a keeper of the house and a doer of fun things with my husband, sisters, or friends.  I was a reader of books and a follower of news. A lover of the outdoors and an appreciator of the arts.

And then baby fever hit hard. My husband and I put it off for a little while, but when the time came, we were both ready and there was no denying it any longer. One baby was the immediate plan. We eventually maybe wanted a second, but we’d decide about that later. I told myself it wouldn’t be unrealistic to be a stay at home mom of one baby and still be able to consistently fit in some of my own art or dancing, or at least something of my own.

Of course it was not one baby, but two (surprise!), and now I can’t imagine it being just one. But wow. Since the day they were born, I have been slipping away from myself. Not in a way that I think I’ll never come back. I will. But right now – who I am today – is almost unrecognizable to me. I’m still “me” of course, but I’m temporarily (I hope) wilted. My entire existence is spent loving my babies and I don’t know how to leave some for myself.

I do get breaks during the week from my parents, and my load is lightened by my husband on the weekends. But even time “off” is spent catching up on daily tasks I’ve fallen behind on. And even when I find myself with free time – or choose to ignore the chores for a bit – I’m too bone-tired to muster up any creativity or stamina to even want to do anything I used to do.  

Who is this person? This can’t possibly be me…but it is and I sometimes get so discouraged by my own lack of energy that I send myself into a downward spiral of negativity and self-criticism that leads to an even deeper slump.

During the full throes of the day – when I’m in full mom-mode, I’m rarely faded and droopy.  I love these kids and I love raising them and I love doing all the fun mom things. We play and dance and read and go outside. I feed them healthy foods and keep them on a good nap schedule and bring them to playgroups. I often find myself blissfully lost in the moment, laughing so hard at their adorable silliness that tears roll down my face, or dancing so enthusiastically to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” that I end up winded. I of course have plenty of parenting-fails and plenty of days when I just don’t live up to my expectations as a mother. But when the good and the bad days are averaged out, I’d say I’m a pretty darn good mom.

As for taking care of myself, I do have some days that I make myself a nice healthy lunch, or use my girls’ naptime to exercise in my living room, or work on a long-forgotten art project after they go to bed. But overall – when averaged out – I do a pretty crappy job of taking care of myself. I like the idea of self-care. I want to feel good. But when the day is over and my beloved little monsters are in bed and I finally have a moment to myself, I have nothing left. I give myself away day after day and I just don’t have anything left over.

This lack of leftover gusto could be due to the physical stamina it takes to get through a day with twins; the double-carry, the double chase in public places, the double diaper changes, double meltdowns, double sicknesses, double doctor appointments, double…everything. Or it could be that I am an introvert in every sense of the word and after a day full of interaction – be it only with two tiny humans – I am simply drained.  Or it could that I need eight hours of sleep in order to feel rested and I don’t always get that because sometimes sick or teething toddlers = night wakings. Or it could be that I’m worrying myself into exhaustion. I worry a fair amount, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a normal mom thing to do.

Whatever the underlying cause may be, I am – in a word – tired.  I hurt. I’m dragging. I’m not fully myself. I also recognize the fact that my girls won’t be this little forever and this feeling will most likely pass. In the meantime, I would love to start bringing back small pieces of my old self. I don’t think that can mean daily trips to the gym or big blocks of time spent working on my art just yet. But maybe trying to make myself a yummy healthy lunch more days than not would be a good start. I have unwittingly set my self-care bar quite low over the past 16 months, so almost anything would be a good start. And burnt out as I may be, these babies are worth every bit of exhaustion.

~ Brittni

We Traveled With Two Toddlers and Survived

144838 (1)I returned home Monday evening with my husband (Jim) and our girls after a four-day trip to visit Jim’s family in North Carolina. The logistics of this trip were fairly simple by general traveling standards; a short, direct flight, a quiet air b&b to ourselves just five minutes from the family members we were there to visit, a spacious rental car with two rental car seats, two portable cribs waiting for us when we got there, lent to us by Jim’s brother, two generous rides from my mom to and from the airport at the start and end of the trip…
Yet there is no amount of simplicity or convenience that could have made traveling with 15-month-old twins easy. It was far easier than it could have been, definitely. And for that I am extremely grateful. But not easy.
I’ll spare you the full list of details, but in short, this four-day endeavor required a lot of planning, teamwork, and a solid sense of humor, and I am proud to say that Jim and I somehow managed all three.
Of course we had our moments (namely fruit pouches being accidentally squirted all over the seat of the rental car, our kids refusing to ride in their wagon for a 2+ mile walk, and a double meltdown at the airport (during which the parent -to -toddler ratio felt far too low). Thankfully, these fleeting moments were outweighed by the joy of spending time with family and by the sense of accomplishment of having survived our first plane-travel as a family of four.
Overall, it was successful, fun, and well worth it. It filled my travel quota for the foreseeable future though because when it comes to being a full-time parent of twin toddlers, there really is no place like home.
~Brittni

Why I Won’t Be Dressing My Twins in Halloween Costumes This Year

jonathan-talbert-530599-unsplashI adore fall. I’m your classic pumpkin-loving, sweater-wearing, apple-picking New England gal. Minus, unfortunately, the pumpkin-spice lattes. I can’t stomach the sugar or caffeine in those suckers, much to my dismay. But lattes aside, fall is my season. I was born in the fall. My husband was born in the fall. Our twins were born in the fall (okay they were born TWO days before the first day of fall, which I’m counting as fall) and I expect they’ll grow up to love pumpkins and wear sweaters and pick apples.

Yet, despite all of this, I have no plans to dress my 13-month-old twins in costume for Halloween tonight. Not because I don’t love Halloween (I was one of those annoying kids who dressed up and went trick or treating well into my early teens). But rather because finding/making/buying costumes for my toddlers, who are not old enough to remotely comprehend what Halloween is, just did not make it onto my list of priorities this year. Yes, I have a list. And everything on it is either important to me, important to my family, or otherwise important to someone or something that matters.

Keeping the kids healthy and happy? Important.  Grocery shopping? Important.  Family time? Important. Paying the bills? Important.  Date nights with my husband now and then to keep our marriage from being eaten alive by the fine art of parenting twins? Important.  Sleep, exercise, occasionally eating something other than the crust off my girls’ peanut butter toast? Important.  Voting? Important.  Laundry? Semi-important.  My super awesome seasonal pumpkin-carving job that I absolutely LOVE? Important.

Scrambling to dress my girls in costume for the sake of some cute photos? Not important.

“But they’re twiiiiinsssss!!!!” I know. That actually just makes it much more difficult and less appealing to dress them up. Twice the effort, twice the price, and almost zero chance of getting a single decent photo in which both of them are looking at the camera, let alone smiling. And then what? I’ve spent valuable time (and precious, limited energy) doing something they will forget by the time they wake up the next morning and that I will remember simply as a stressful couple of days of neglecting my own needs for the sake of a few lousy pictures.

I had a moment of mildly reconsidering this decision and even searched around for child-friendly Halloween events that might make dressing up a little more worth it, but all events are taking place either after their bedtime or during their nap time and let me tell you – Almost nothing is worth getting in the way of either of those.

So bring on fall in all of its beauty and splendor, but I’ll pass on Halloween this year. My girls will be in bed at their usual 6:30pm bedtime and I won’t be far behind.

~ Brittni

Two Peas in the Pod: Pregnancy Update

Peas in the pod update picWell I’m 33 weeks along in my twin pregnancy and, with two healthy buns in the oven and no complications thus far, I’m feeling like a pretty lucky mama. Each baby is almost 4.5 pounds – right on track! This is fabulous, but also means I am lugging around almost 9 pounds of baby and oh boy am I feeling it. With about a month left to go though, I know gravity’s pull is only going to get stronger, so I have been sticking fairly diligently to my daily walks or swims in the hopes that I might remain somewhat mobile for these remaining few weeks.

I’ve also been nesting up a storm, which keeps me pretty busy. I have suddenly gone from someone who is downright repelled by the mundane task of organizing to someone who cannot get enough of it. Motherhood is a strange thing indeed. I have a “pregnancy to-do list”, which includes everything from installing car seats, to decorating the nursery, to organizing my mountain of papers and binders that has been my “filing system” for the past three years. The thing is though, I made this pregnancy to-do list months ago – back when my baby bump was cute and manageable and time was aplenty. Well my nesting instincts just finally kicked in a week or so ago, my bump is most definitely not cute and manageable anymore, and time is running out.  Thank goodness I’m feeling reasonably well physically (as long as I allot time for frequent naps) because all of this last-minute nesting is a lot of work!

Speaking of a lot of work, these hormones have self-admittedly made me a lot of work – to live with that is. My husband deserves a quick shout-out here because I know that my emotional ups and downs and all-arounds can be a bit much at times (for both of us), and yet he handles them like a champ and never fails to be the loving supportive man he so naturally is. My mom is another one I couldn’t make it through this pregnancy without. My dad too for that matter. Call me needy, but I have never been so grateful to live a mere eight minutes my parents’ house. And my sisters are the just best, cutest aunts-to-be ever. These babies have a whole lot of loving arms ready and waiting to welcome them into the world, and for that I am so very grateful.

I found out at my ultrasound today that baby A (the twin who will be delivered first) is still bum-down (or breech). She’s been breech for several weeks now despite all of my well-meaning inversion exercises and underwater handstands. Whatever will be will be, but I’m still hoping she decides to flip sometime very soon.  And on that note, upside-down I go. Thanks for checking in!

~ Brittni

School Fever

Daughter:  Some of my most potent memories of  kindergarten are of seemingly insignificant moments that, to me, felt larger than life, such as when my teacher would have to say my name who- knows -how- many times before she got my attention. That was always so embarrassing.

I remember one morning at circle time, I was fixated on the material of the sneakers I was wearing. They were new & white and I was tracing designs over the smooth leather with my finger when I heard my name.  I knew as soon as I looked up that the teacher had been saying my name for a while because my entire class was staring at me, some of them stifling giggles.

“Are those new sneakers?”, the teacher asked me. I turned every shade of red
and fought back tears as I nodded my head. “It’s your turn”, she said, looking
both concerned and a little amused. I don’t remember what it was that we were
taking turns doing, probably because my distress over being the subject of
everyone’s mild amusement in that moment made me too numb to fully register
whatever followed.

That was not the first or the last time something like that happened in school. It was bad enough each time it happened though that I started to figure out in my later years of elementary school how to avoid such clumsy calamities. If I focused hard enough, I usually didn’t miss anything important. The thing is though, this took a huge amount of effort, as my instincts were to drift into my own world, which I found to be much more interesting than most things we were doing in school.

Nevertheless, I got better at making myself pay attention. I used everything I had to focus and I started to be praised for it. I became the “good listener”. I could tell that the teachers liked me because I didn’t cause trouble or noise or extra work for them. So I kept using all of my energy to pay attention. I kept being quiet and still and “good” because the praise felt nice. I could see and hear how the teachers got angry with the kids who were not quiet and still and good and I did not want that to be me.

Soon enough I started acting out at home. I was like an erupting volcano who had spent all her energy pretending to be a stoic mountain all day. I would cry and yell and lash out at my family.  And I felt incredibly guilty about this. I did not understand how I could be so well-praised at school and so monstrous at home. How could I be labeled as “sweet” and “respectful” and “quiet” at school while at home I was becoming entirely the opposite?

I didn’t know that the school version of myself was sucking me dry. I simply did not have it in me to be a stoic mountain for more than seven hours each day – seven hours of desks, text books, rules, lines, people, and generally way more structure than is natural for a free-spirited child who craves space, creativity, nature, and movement.

In second grade I discovered the beauty of staying home sick. I really was sick a few times and I swear the joy of not getting on that bus and going to school was worth any fever, sinus infection, or sore throat I had to pay for it. So some days, when I woke up and knew I couldn’t possibly manage to be the perfect school-version of myself that day, I would put on a semi-believable sick act; I’d do the classic holding the thermometer under the lamp; I’d fake-shiver as if I had the chills; I’d sneakily plug in my mom’s heating pad and hold it to my forehead for a few minutes so when my mom checked my head with her hand, she would say, “Oh…I guess you do feel a little clammy”.

I used every trick I could think of and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. On days that it did, I was the happiest girl alive – delving into art projects and books while simultaneously trying to act sick. I could sense that my parents were leery on those days. They weren’t sure what to think and that certainly added a pang of shame to my joy. But the bliss of not having to be who I felt like I had to be at school was just too good to give up. On those days, I was not monstrous at home. I was just me. I was happy and pleasant and not like an erupting volcano. And it was easy to just be me. It was a relief – for both me and my family – which is probably why my parents let it happen sometimes even if they suspected I wasn’t truly sick. We all needed a break now and then from volcano-Brittni and this is how we got it I suppose.

Then one day in school we were color-coding our multiplication tables. I had just finished sharpening all of my colored pencils when the boy at the desk next to me grabbed them from me and broke all the tips off with his hand. He gave them back to me laughing and, as I started to ask him why he did that, my teacher walked up to my desk and said in his deep stern voice, “Brittni, you’ve missed too much school to be fooling around. You need to focus on catching up on your work.”

It took all my strength not to cry as I crouched over my worksheet and started filling in my multiplication table with my now flat-tipped colored pencils. I was angry at the boy who broke my pencils and I was angry at my teacher for blaming me for the commotion, but mostly I was angry at myself for not focusing harder. For letting it happen. For not standing up for myself. And I felt trapped because I knew there would be no more “sick days” for me that year.