I have to imagine that one of the greatest struggles of maternity leave has got to be finding the will and strength to leave the house. Actually, I don’t have to imagine, because I know this to be true. When I was on mat leave the first time around, the seduction of Netflix, combined with both my fear of Mommy and Me groups, hatred of cold weather and just general laziness found my new baby and I spending the better part many winter weeks hanging out around the house. I don’t mean to brag, but together, my newborn and I crushed the entire series of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. quicker than you can say, “We were on a break”. When the weather finally warmed up, we’d leave the house to go for walks, meet up with the odd friend who might not be working during the day, and eventually, I did muster up the courage to join a Singalong group at the library once a week with a friend and her baby (let’s be honest, I never would have gone alone). Every time I made the effort to leave the house, I was glad to have done it, though one realization came to me every single time: it’s hard.
It’s hard remembering all of the things you need to do before you strap your (probably screaming) baby into their car seat to get ready to leave the house (likely 20 minutes later than you intended to). It’s hard to dress your infant in outfits that are both adorable and seasonally appropriate. It’s hard to time things perfectly so that your nursing baby has been fed close enough to your departure that they won’t be hungry the moment you slide into the driver’s seat of the minivan, but not so close to the car ride that the bumps in the road cause them to throw up all over the outfit you so carefully selected mere minutes before. It’s hard to adjust to having to pack 72 different items into a diaper bag in case your baby has a blowout or throws up or gets hungry or gets tired or gets bored or gets fussy while you’re out of the house. It’s hard to find time to actually take a shower and maybe put on “real” clothes or makeup or deodorant so that you, yourself, look and smell like the loose definition of a human.
This was how I felt when I had a newborn. And now I have a toddler. A very active, very curious, very hungry, very messy, very stubborn, very clever, (but also very cute, lovable, kind and hilarious – I need to mention these things) toddler. And that toddler has an infant sister. So, I still have a newborn. But I also have a toddler. If I thought leaving the house was tricky before, my eyes have now been opened to what the word “tricky” can actually mean.
Now, leaving the house means everything it did before, in addition to also having to prepare my toddler for such expeditions. It means making sure we’ve tried to use the potty before we put our jackets on, bringing spare pants, underwear, and even shirts (because yes, peeing on your shirt is somehow possible). It means feeding my toddler, keeping in mind that, while he may have loved peanut butter toast yesterday, he probably hates it today, and remembering that if I make the mistake of letting him have chocolate milk in the morning, no other beverage choice will suffice for the rest of the day. It means remembering to pack snacks and drinks (see chocolate milk tip above), but remembering to account for the crumb factor if they’ll be eating those snacks any place that an adult human will eventually have to clean up after them. It means planning each outing during a window of time that will actually be worthwhile because the tides of the earth are likely to shift if my toddler misses his nap. It means choosing errands in order of importance and feasibility because, depending on my levels of energy and sanity that day, it’s either best to knock the most challenging ones off the list first or to leave them in the “maybe later” pile.
And, once we’ve arrived at our destination, things don’t get a lot easier. When my husband is working and I’m solo parenting, having a toddler and an infant in tow means more challenges and choices, like trying to pry a runaway two year old off of the drum kit in the middle of a sermon at church while carrying a baby in my arms (unfortunately, that’s not a hypothetical situation – sorry, Pastor). If I’m going grocery shopping, I have to choose the store with the biggest cart so that I can fit my groceries, toddler, and infant in a car seat in together, because I am apparently the only mom on the planet who doesn’t know how to properly put on a Baby Bjorn by herself. If I’m meeting up with a friend for a playdate with her kids, we both have to be prepared to assume the role of referee when our toddlers decide that the only toys they want are the ones their playmate is using. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that there have been times when I’ve wondered what on earth I was thinking once we’ve gotten somewhere and debated whether it was too early to just phone it in and go home. Sidenote: single parents are my true heroes and inspiration because they do this every damn day.
Sometimes I think about the time in my life when leaving the house literally meant just that. I wanted to go somewhere, so I went. When I got to that place, I did what I came to do, and had enough hands to carry a latte and maybe even a doughnut while doing it. Now, if I’m carrying a doughnut, you best believe I’m having to share it with my toddler, so I rarely even bother (just kidding, I get him his own because I hate sharing).
Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who overthinks most things, so now when I’ve ventured out of the house and feel like I’m totally blowing it, I contemplate how many people are there to witness and wonder what they’re thinking. If I’m not already sweating from juggling a heavy carseat and a squirmy toddler, I soon will be. I try to laugh it off, but inside, I can’t wait to just get the heck outta there so I can go home and write a blog post about it in the hopes that someone will read it and say they’ve been there, too.
While I’m here, I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who’s ever picked up on the stress I tried to hide in these types of scenarios and has said, in one way or another, “You’re doing a great job”. You really can’t know how much that sentiment means to a parent who feels 100% the opposite, whether they show it or not. If you’re ever wondering if it’s a good time to tell a mom or a dad that they’re doing a good job, trust me. It’s a good time. Throw that compliment around like confetti, because it makes us want to party more than thousands of tiny pieces of paper ever could.
Anyway. If you’ve ever wondered whether your friend with young kids has vanished off of the face of the planet or has been held captive by a band of pirates because you haven’t seen them in a while, rest assured that they have not. They are simply watching their 650 000th episode of PAW Patrol, longing to get out and see the sun, but deciding that tomorrow might be a better day to do it.