A while ago, someone asked me to write about how we keep balance in our lives, as two lawyers with four kids and three pets and two houses. The answer is that we don’t.
The big one has just started her senior year. This means ACTs, college applications, a job, 5 AP classes, cheerleading, and a driver’s license. She needs our help with almost all of these things.
Boo has started her freshman year of high school. She has a set of friends that are all a bit entitled, and a bit fast. The kind of entitled and the kind of fast where they are allowed to traipse around New York City at 14 years old with no adult, after having each received $100 of spending money from their parents. She recently burst into my office while I was working, without knocking, and said, “Can you give me some money? I’m in a hurry.” I did not give her money. She needs to learn to navigate these friendships without becoming an asshole. She needs our help with this.
Our older youngest boy is in 7th grade now. We don’t think his reading and writing are where they should be, and he is having a hard time making friends. He seems lonely, and he seems sad. He needs help figuring out why the reading and writing still haven’t clicked for him, and he needs to find his place in the social nightmare that is middle school. He needs our help in this hard time, or at least some extra attention and love.
Bumby is 2 and a half. He starts preschool tomorrow. He alternates between shouting “I don’t like you mama! I can do it ALL BY MYSELF! GO AWAY!” and crying, clinging to my legs, and swearing his love for me, begging me not to leave him with Dada (his babysitter). His language is so developed that it is hard to remember that he has no logic and no impulse control. He is afraid of being dropped off at school; he is afraid of new friends. Sometimes he wakes in the night and calls for us, just to know we are there. He needs our help.
My wife’s job has been all-consuming for about the last year now, as she works in a highly regulated industry that has become incredibly unpredictable under Trump. She has been working late, and when she isn’t, she basically talks about nothing but her job. She needs mental and emotional support, and doesn’t have much capacity for the day-to-day house chores.
I have been picking up lots of slack, and feeling under-appreciated. We have had two toilets break in the last week (Bumby was very excited to tell the plumber that the toilet was “TOTALLY FREAKING OUT”). A friend has gifted us a piano that they no longer use, and I have to find someone who can move it to our house but also our credit cards are up to the max and we can’t afford to pay someone $500 to move a free piano right now, and yet I very much want to get Bumby lessons next year so we should take advantage of it (first world problems, I know). I got slammed at work on a deal for a European client, meaning lots of early morning conference calls, and my wife can’t help me cover the childcare because of her own demanding job.
For example: During a conference call last week, while I had no childcare and had plopped Bumby in front of PJ Masks on Youtube, the plumber left to go get parts and water started pouring through the ceiling from the broken toilet upstairs. I put the phone on mute and mopped it up, and put a bowl under the leak. As soon as I sat down again, I got a text from the school that it was on lockdown due to a “suspicious person attempting to gain admittance.” I frantically tried to reach the kids to make sure they were okay while also actually paying attention to the work call, which was actually kind of important and required me to speak and take notes. (The kids are fine, the person was caught by local police.) Bumby hit a button on the computer that caused his show to minimize, and started shouting for me. Also the dog had refused to poop that morning and started barking at the door for a walk. I got an email at the end of the call from my boss that said, “Will you follow up on all open points, please?”
We are drowning.
We had our 5 year wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Through various complicated logistical arrangements involving 4 different childcare providers, we cobbled together a way to have a night away, sans kids, for the first time since Bumby was born. It was heaven. We were us again. We window shopped, and went on a sailboat ride, and drank a whole bottle of wine before dinner even started. We ate at 10pm in a restaurant that did not have high chairs. I felt like I looked at my wife at one point and felt like, “Who are you? You look vaguely like the woman who has been living in my house, but you actually look at me, and see me, and smile at me.” I’m sure she felt the same. In a way, this has made it all worse, because the contrast is so stark.
We need to figure this shit out, starting with ourselves. Long, long ago, before Bumby, before the dog, when we had only one house and thought our life was so fucking complicated, we were lying in bed one weekend morning (HAHAHAHA your life is not complicated if you can lie in bed in the morning!) and we said to each other, with solemn straight faces, that our relationship was the most important part of our life. The parental relationship, we told each other, is the bedrock of the family. The kids feel okay when the adults feel okay. You can’t take care of them when you’re not taking care of yourself. All of those kinds of things. And for those reasons, we were not going to give up our date nights, even though her ex was telling the kids that the fact that we left them with a babysitter once a month meant we did not love them.
This past weekend was like a record-scratch. We remembered this moment, and this conversation, and the sad, trite truth of it. We worked all day on closing up the beach house for the season while bickering with each other over details and alternatingly disappearing for an hour or so to go manage our jobs, and after Bumby went to bed, we poured ourselves glasses of cheap red wine, and we talked to each other.
We sorted through lots of tangled up crap and hurt feelings, and put our date nights back on the calendar. The entitled middle child is going to babysit for us — at a discounted rate — and that will be the only spending money she gets. Grandma is going to tutor the big brother, giving him adult attention and help with his writing at the same time. The oldest one is going to have to do some of this college stuff on her own, because for god’s sake she’s about to be living by herself in less than a year. Also, we will suggest she drop one of the AP classes so she can actually have some sleep and some fun her senior year. We will put Bumby to bed earlier so he is better able to cope with the changes in his life, and give ourselves some more time together in the evenings. My wife is going to take Bumby to school on Thursday mornings so I can go into work early, and do a few loads of laundry each week. We budgeted a way to pay off our credit cards just in time to rack them up again for Christmas.
Then we went to bed ourselves, with dishes stacked in the sink and 37 unread emails. Things looked a bit better in the morning.
It looks like Bumby has weaned. Not to sound braggy, or jinx myself or anything, but our breastfeeding relationship was pretty much exactly what I wanted for us. Although I think this was the right time for it to be over, I am still a bit sad. This is how it went for us:
3 seconds in: I haven’t really even processed yet that Bumby is born, and a boy, when he is flopped onto my bare chest. He wiggles around. Amazingly, he can lift up his own head. I think that he looks like a small turtle, lying there on his tummy with his head bobbing around. The first thing he does is nurse, before he even looks at me.
2 weeks in: I literally hit my wife in the face for having the nerve to be SLEEPING, when some of us are trying to BREASTFEED, with tears streaming down my face from the pain. We weren’t doing it right, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
4 weeks in: I read the La Leche League book and find the forum. I learn to let Bumby take the lead (i.e., I ignore the advice of the nurse in the hospital to force it) and it becomes more comfortable. I start to relax. It’s tolerable. I think I will make it to 3 months, then quit.
6 weeks in: I get thrush, which I have heard called “athletes foot of the boob.” This is a pretty accurate description of what it feels like. There is no sleeping, and I have to go to some weird pharmacy on Long Island to get the specific ointment that my hippie OB has prescribed for us. It works, and the thrush goes away, but not before I ignore, in an exhausted daze, the fact that a pipe has burst behind our house and we have a water bill over $1,000 because water has been pouring out inside of our back wall for days. Oops.
Five months in: I am still, magically, gloriously, on maternity leave. It is sunny and hot. It is June. We have gone to the farmer’s market, Bumby in the Ergo. We took the dog on a long nature trail walk, and go home. I lie on the bed and nurse Bumby while simultaneously eating farmers market strawberries. I think that having a baby is the greatest. Being a mom is the greatest. This is just how it should be. We take a nap with the windows open and the warm breeze blowing. He still won’t sleep unless he is on top of me, so I take full advantage of this and nap with him every single day.
A year in: He stops taking bottles. I still pump religiously, but the amount he will drink drops and drops. He has never wanted freezer milk, but would tolerate refrigerator milk until now. I finally taste it and realize it tastes AWFUL. Probably I have high lipase or something, but Bumby is such a hungry guy that he just drank the bottles anyway while I was at work. I continue to pump, even though I change jobs and have to go down to a weird little room because my office has glass walls. I dump the nasty tasting milk down the drain. He stays nice and fat, nursing when I am home and eating food when I am not.
18 months in: We nurse only in the morning, at naptime if I am home, and at bedtime. While I nurse him, I sing. His favorite is Baby Beluga. He has learned to talk, and calls nursing, or breasts, or milk, or anything associated therewith “Maka.” He says “Maka mama. That maka all done. Switch maka. Maka maka moo moo moo.” I tell him it’s not polite to insinuate that your mother is a cow.
Two years in: We drop the bedtime nursing. He doesn’t ask for a couple days, and I don’t offer. One night he says “Maka mama” at bedtime, and I say, “Sorry Bumbs. We don’t do maka at bedtime anymore. You can have maka in the morning.” He says okay, and we sing and rock in the chair. I am surprised that he doesn’t cry, but he doesn’t.
Two years, two months in: My grandfather is dying. I have never been away from Bumby overnight before, but I leave for Michigan without a thought. I learn that he is dying, and two hours later I am sitting on a flight. Bumby only nurses in the morning now, but halfway through the 5 days I am in Michigan caring for my grandfather, I realize I am painfully engorged, although it has taken more than two full days to get here. I take a hot shower and hand express. I am surprised how much milk there still is. When I get home, I ask Bumby if Mommy took good care of him. He frowns at me and says, “Mommy doesn’t know Baby Beluga.” Otherwise, it seems things went just fine. I tell her she better listen to the Raffi album a bit more in case I need to travel again.
Two years, three months in: Bumby still nurses in the morning. Mommy gets him from his bed and he crawls in our bed with me, snuggles up, and says “Maka maka moo moo moo. PUH-LEEZE.” He is working on being a “polite young man.” If I happen to be up already when he wakes up, he is usually too distracted to nurse, but goes right back to it the next day.
Two years, four months in: Bumby gets a double ear infection. He naps longer during the day, fusses all night, and sleeps in, while we battle his 105 fever. We can’t let it spike, or we risk another seizure and another trip to the ER. We set our alarm and alternate Tylenol, Motrin, Tylenol, Motrin, all day and all night. Even though I feel like a zombie, I am always awake before him in the morning, and he doesn’t nurse those days. One day, before his nap, we sit down to sing in the rocking chair, and he says, “Maka mama. Naptime maka.” I say okay, and it takes me longer to sing Baby Beluga than it takes him to nurse. A few days later, he is well again, and up before me. He snuggles into bed and says, “Maka maka moo moo moo. Please.” He tries to nurse, then frowns at me and says, “That maka all gone. Let’s go downstairs and PLAY!” He doesn’t ask again.
I have barely any time to write. In 11 minutes, I have to let the nanny go and my wife will be home, and I still have work I am desperately trying to wrap up. Today, the nanny took Bumbs to the zoo in the morning. They looked at animals, ate a sandwich on a bench, and rode the bug-go-round. They came home and had a snack, then Bumby took a nap while the nanny folded one load of laundry. She took a break, then tidied the kitchen a bit. Then she took Bumby to the playground, and home for a bath. Right now I can hear them belting BABYYYYY BELUUUUUUUGA over the monitor as he gets his jammies on.
Her list of accomplishments for the day: fun activities with a small thing, one load of laundry folded, multiple snacks, and about 4 dishes loaded into the dishwasher. And yet, I feel like she did a great job today.
If I had that list of accomplishments, I would think I had slacked off. Why didn’t I get some errands done while I was out, instead of going to the zoo AND the playground? Why was I taking a break during nap instead of sending out some work emails, or ordering groceries, or trimming the hedges, or putting in a couple more loads of laundry, or paying bills?
Perhaps I should re-think what it means to be productive on the days I am home with my son.
I had never been away from Bumby overnight before, until a few weeks ago. My grandfather, who is (was – I keep forgetting to say was) extremely old, had fallen particularly ill and was not expected to live more than a day or so. I rushed home to Michigan without a thought. Alone.
While I was there, my grandfather rebounded a bit, and we put him on home hospice care. Three nights, one panic attack and a good deal of ordering around the senior generation of my family later, I flew home. My wife had a work dinner the following night, so I headed up to put Bumby to bed on my own.
“I want stomp stomp stomp.”
WHAT? “Is that a book?”
“Yes. Stomp stomp stomp!”
Hm. I wonder what the fuck we’re talking about. “What book is stomp stomp stomp, sweetie? Is it a big book or a small book?”
<looks at me like I’m an idiot> “It’s STOMP STOMP STOMP. It goes STOMP STOMP STOMP. STOMP STOMP STOMP.”
Oh god, 3 nights away and I don’t even know his favorite book anymore. “Does it have dinosaurs in it?”
“Mmmm. Not REALLY. It has STOMP STOMP STOMP. And hairplane.” (Yes, this is how he pronounces it.)
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. It has an airplane. “Does it have other machines? Is it the big book with all the cars and planes?”
“NO. IT’S STOMP STOMP STOMP.”
Etc. I finally learned that Stomp Stomp Stomp is this book:
Not because I figured it out, but because he found it on his shelf. Apparently, when my wife reads it, she yells “STAMP STAMP STAMP” at one point when postman number 2 is stamping the letters. Even though this does not appear anywhere in the book. There are some farm animals at the back of the book (so it’s not really about animals, but it has some in it) and an airplane transports the mail. Sheesh. It also apparently has a mama and a mommy, even though I tried to tell Bumby that the pictures he thought were the boy’s mama and mommy were actually two other children. Oh well.
So, a child who can speak is a double edged sword. On the one hand, they can explain things to you and (theoretically, at least) follow simple instructions. On the other hand, sometimes they make no sense. To us, anyway.
Back in March of last year, one of the partners I did about half of my work for quit my law firm and went to another firm. I was in the middle of dealing with a move and Bumby having pneumonia. I totally couldn’t deal. When I emerged from the fog just a bit, I lawyered the problem. I did a pros and cons list for each firm. I made a five year plan. When I stepped back and looked at it, I came to the conclusion that I needed to move to the new firm. There were lots of reasons, which all looked very good on my lists.
The problem, however, was that my gut was screaming “DON’T DO IT” the entire time I was analyzing it. The partner who was remaining at my old firm was a guy I just like much better than almost anyone I have ever worked with, although he is close to retirement age. I had friends at my old firm. I was pushing myself to view “no female partners” at the new firm as a good thing because I knew it meant they would love to make a female partner, but it still felt like such a red flag, even though everyone I met was very nice and did not seem particularly sexist (you know, any more than usual guys you work with). I cried every day from the day I gave notice until I started at my new firm, which was right after Memorial Day.
Anyway, not that surprisingly, I have regretted my decision pretty consistently for the last 8 months. I could go into the reasons, but the bottom line is just that I was miserable. I work for two reasons (other than the paying-the-mortgage type reasons). One is because I actually really like being a lawyer. The other is because I am a happier person when I talk to people other than my wife and kids. The work at the new firm was boring, and I had no friends. And I had no idea how to go about getting better work, and no way to make friends, because the associates were super unfriendly. So I went through about a three month process of pining for my old job before I finally took a page out of Bumby’s book. When he gets into stuff, he comes right up to me and says, “I made a big mess. I need help!” Well, I had made a big mess, and I needed help, too. It strikes me over and over again how simply he views the world, and how often that is the best approach. He doesn’t lie. He asks for what he needs. He tries to do it himself but has no shame in admitting he needs help. When he’s hurt, he cries and reaches for someone to hug. He says “I love you” all the time. Sometimes, things are not that complicated. My two year old pretty much has it all figured out.
So I scheduled lunch with the guy I liked so much from my old firm, and asked for my job back. He said he would need a few days to talk to other partners at the firm and see if they thought they could keep me busy and what the reception was in general. Less than 24 hours later, he called me and said they’d be delighted to have me. Less than two weeks after that, I had cleared conflicts and had an offer letter in hand. When I gave notice, my boss at my new firm said that he actually thought going back was going to be a good move for me, after hearing my complaints about the new firm.
I start on Tuesday at my new/old job. I am looking forward to female mentors, friends in the office, and work that I find interesting again. My gut is feeling much better about this job move than the last one.
Which is of course about Trump, right? It’s all we read about, think about, talk about. What will the madman do next? How will we get through it? Nevertheless, I am here to interrupt this newsfeed with something else entirely.
Bumby is TWO. On his birthday, we went to the American Museum of Natural History. I don’t know why I never remember that Bumby does not actually like outings that last more than 2 hours, but I don’t. Anyway, my parents were in town, and my sister came, and Mala came (that is what he calls my mother-in-law) and all of our millions of children. We had two cars full. Which means of course we left at 10:30 instead of 9 am. I wanted to leave at 9, so that we could maximize our time there before nap. Wellllll yeah no. Not with that many people.
The dinosaur bones were boring, but Bumby liked running up and down the small inclines between the rooms, and he liked all the taxidermy animals, which I weirdly did too until I realized that in order to have a stuffed baby gorilla you had to have killed a baby gorilla. Then they all made me feel a little sick. Anyway, Bumby doesn’t know about killing of baby gorillas, so he loved them of course. He ran up to each one and said, “Hey, monkey! Come on out! No jumpin on the bed!” and then searched around in vain for a handle or a door or some way to open the glass case and free the monkeys (which were, of course, not actually monkeys, but gorillas and lemurs and other such things). Here is a blurry photo as an example:
After doing this for a while, we moved on to the Native American exhibits, where he pointed out “This one’s a mama, and this one’s a mommy.” Haha to my wife, all the “mommy” ones were actually men. She is not masculine, by the way, at all. Then he spotted a fellow toddler and raced over, screaming “NEW FRIEND.” He aggressively hugged him until I pulled him off, because the parents looked vaguely horrified and the kid was about to cry.
He then gave himself a time out. When he was a little younger we noticed he would get over-stimulated and bite his siblings, so we started taking him aside for a time out when this would happen. Now he gives himself a time out when the stimulation is too much. After about 5 time outs, we decided he needed to just go. Everyone except my sister and I left to get a table at the pizza place, and my sister and I went to get the coats. We went through the ocean exhibit, where he was fascinated by the “big baby beluga” which was actually a blue whale. We waited in line for coats, and he blew his nose on my face (my grossest parenting moment yet, actually).
After going home and taking a nap, some friends came over and we drank wine and ate cake and everyone gave him presents except for us, because ours were ordered from Amazon Prime and were late (of course). He still does not have them, because we’re trying to space the new toys out a little. And that was that – a day off from the chaos that is swirling around us on a daily basis. A little reprieve, courtesy of the boy who taught me to slow down and take a break in the first place.
This weekend, my wife and I joined in the New York march with Bumby and Boo. I don’t need to tell you that it was empowering and overwhelming and yes, at times even a little boring as we stood still for hours on the streets of midtown that were for once gridlocked with humans, instead of cars.
At one point, Boo and her friends joined a chant of “build a fence around Mike Pence.” After it died down, I heard the man behind her say, “That was clever! Let’s give these girls credit for starting it even if they didn’t. Who doesn’t love cute little girls?” The “cute little girls” ranged in age from 13-18 and yes, were cute, but were also extremely pissed off. Which they told him. It’s like some people are trying to miss the point, right?
So it was Boo’s first march, and Bumby’s first march, and it was also my wife’s first march. She never really felt called to participate in political action before. She didn’t even vote in some past presidential elections (in fairness, she was in the hospital after giving birth 4 weeks early, but still….). It was a big day for the family. It was the start of our resistance to what the Republican agenda and the Trump administration are trying to do to our country.
I don’t have much to say in this moment except solidarity, sisters. They may take us down but they will take us down fighting.
Yesterday, my wife and I woke up grouchy. We were trying to pack away a million Christmas decorations and do approximately 950 loads of laundry and had to shovel the walks and it was cold out. Also, I wanted coffee and Bumby insisted on helping me make it which of course meant half the water was dumped in the coffee part and half the coffee grounds were on the floor. When my wife came in from walking the dog, she snarked about the likely-gross Bumby coffee. I snarked back about something, I don’t know what. And this continued for a bit until I got a little mean and made my wife cry. She went upstairs. I thought I would give her some space, but really it is more likely I didn’t want to admit I had been an asshole.
But Bumby. Nothing gets by him.”Mommy crying.”
“Yes. Mommy’s crying.”
“Well, no. I mean, she might want a nap. But she’s crying because I hurt her feelings.”
He hopped down off the couch and grabbed my hand. He started dragging me toward the stairs. “Mama. I’m sorry, Mommy. Gentle gentle. I’m sorry.”
This is what we tell him when he hits or scratches or otherwise attempts to injure us or his siblings when he is frustrated. You say you’re sorry, and show the person you know how to be gentle in your touching. So, right. Also with feelings.
We walk upstairs and find Mommy at the computer reading about Trump. (Hard to see how this would make her feel better, but to each her own, right?)
“Sorry, Mommy,” says Bumby.
“No no. You didn’t do it. I hurt Mommy, not you. You are fine.” He looks at me expectantly. So I say to her, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” She looks at me a bit skeptically but gives me a hug.
“Gentle,” prompts Bumby.
“Yes, gentle. I will be gentle with them.” The hug becomes real, and we go downstairs.
The coffee was not ruined after all. We ate toast and cleaned house and played outside and watched the Steelers pommel the Dolphins. It was a really good, tiring day. Sometimes when you hurt someone, it’s best to apologize like a toddler, to just say you’re sorry and promise to do better, without explaining your side or making a lot of excuses or discussing who started it.