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.
In 2009, my wife and I talked about having babies. Specifically, I informed my then-girlfriend, who was already the mother of three, that if she did not want to have more babies, that was it. It was a deal-breaker for me. “BABIES,” I said, “plural. Not BABY.” I wanted, specifically, two babies. Also, she had to want the babies, not just be willing to go through it for me. Because babies should be wanted, all of them, each of them. There is a big difference between wanting a baby and agreeing to have a baby because the person that you love wants one. She did not answer right away. She said she would think about it, and come back to me. And she did. A day or so later, she said she was in. Whole-heartedly in. Babies I wanted, and babies I would have.
And then, you know, life happened. For one reason or another, it wasn’t time to start trying to conceive until late in 2013. Then it took us nearly a year to get pregnant. So it wasn’t until six years after that original conversation that we had our first baby together.
By the time Bumby was born, the other kids were kind of… old. The next-youngest was 9, and the oldest was 14. Having another child when your next-youngest is 9 is very different from having another child when your next-youngest is 3. To further complicate matters, the Big One was decidedly moody about the topic of adding a fourth child to our nest, and made those moods known throughout the entire experience of talking about a baby, getting pregnant with a baby, being pregnant with a baby, and having a baby. It was, frankly, rather miserable for my wife and me. Although Bumby and the Big One are fast friends now, it is far from clear that she in particular, or any of the older kids more generally, would welcome another addition with open arms.
Then there is my wife. She agreed to babies, this is true. She knows she agreed to babies. But she has reneged. She is happy with our family of six. She is not getting any younger, and although she loves our children fiercely, she also looks forward to our empty nest years (as do I!). She would like to have those empty nest years when she is still young enough to do fun empty nest things and does not have to take too many prescription medications. Before I ever got pregnant with Bumby, she made it clear. She wanted this one more child very much, but only this one more child.
So that leaves me. I wanted babies. I have been quite clear on this, always. I did not want just one pregnancy, just one baby. But I agreed to stop after one, because I still feel just as I did in 2009, that each child should be wanted by its family. Knowing how the rest of the family felt, I almost hoped that being pregnant would not live up to my expectations. Maybe I would feel about it the way so many women do — it is acceptable as a means to an end, but not altogether a great experience in and of itself. I may even be miserable, or have complications. It is weird to almost hope for these things, but I wanted it to cure me so that I would not yearn to go through it again. So that I would be content with just one baby. No such luck. I had an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy. I was at home in my body for the first time since puberty. I felt beautiful. I marveled at the changes and adored having Bumby close to me and with me, always. I wasn’t even really uncomfortable until around 37 weeks, and slept well. Something about the pregnancy hormones agreed with me, and I was just happy the entire time. I can count on one hand the number of times I was angry or sad for the entire pregnancy. Then, I had an uncomplicated vaginal birth just one day past my due date.
After which, I met Bumby. I fell in love with him, hard and fast. Postpartum came with all the rawness and separation and plummeting hormones that it always does. Sometime in those early weeks, I became furious with my wife. How could she, knowing how amazing it is to have a child, knowing how fast and fierce and primal the love is, how could she say I can’t do it again? When I agreed that maybe just one baby would be enough, I didn’t know what I was giving up. But she has been through this before. She knew what she was asking of me, and she asked it anyway. How could she? She didn’t answer.
I cooled off, and my hormones balanced out. I still wanted another child, but I stopped being mad at my wife for being done. She could not make herself want another child any more than I could make myself not want another child.
My confidence as a parent grew, and I found I can actually manage four kids on my own, while my wife works or has a late dinner. I make decisions about the older kids that I previously would have deferred to my wife. I love them more, and have more patience with them. Bumby started sleeping, and I started getting my life back. I went back to work part-time, and found a work/life balance that works for me. Bumby started walking, and talking, and making jokes. I went from staring at him adoringly, to interacting with him. The love grew. I got my hair cut, without Bumby in my lap. I left Bumby with the sitter so I could go to the 5th grade science fair with his big brother. I started planning our spring garden, now that I have a fun toddler to plant it with, instead of a baby who won’t be set down long enough for me to plant even one tomato plant. I became me again. But now, me with Bumby.
And you know what? I can’t imagine having another baby. I sometimes would like to have an afternoon of baby Bumby back, where we just nurse and nap and I eat strawberries in the sunshine while he stares at his own hand. My pregnancy and our first year as a family of six were the hardest and most wonderful months of my life, and I will remember them forever. But I don’t want to do them again, and I don’t want to do them with another baby. I am done, with one. I am sure that I will still have my moments of longing, but in the main I am, shockingly, at peace with this.
Before Bumby was born, we were a blended family. A family, yes, but there always seemed to be shifting alliances — me on the one side and my wife and the kids on the other, or the adults on one side, and the kids on the other. Various divisions. Bumby has brought us all together. We have gone from a collection of people, to a whole family. One family. We are all brought together by loving this little guy more than we thought we ever could. We don’t need another baby, because we are complete now. I don’t need another baby, because I had the baby I was meant to have. Thanks, Bumbs.
Holy cow. I normally don’t like blog posts that start out really apologetic for not posting more often, but seriously, it has been a long time. Since my latest appearance, I have been doing two things (and only two things). Working, and going on vacations. Specifically, babymoons.
The type of work that I do (I am a lawyer) is basically a glorified hourly position. Sure, I am salaried, but there is a “minimum expectation” (code for “we can fire you if you don’t do this”) that I will bill (not work, bill) 2,000 hours a year. This means that if I am not actively doing client work, it doesn’t count. So those hours that I spend sitting at my desk waiting for someone to give me something to do? Those don’t count. Same with required client development, administrative tasks, and anything else that my boss tells a client we will do for them as a freebie in order to bring in more work. Also, lunch, or those 10 minutes you talk to your mom in the middle of the day, or your co-worker’s birthday cupcake party, or a bathroom break. None of that counts. If you are pretty efficient, you can bill 8 hours and work 9 or 10. But some days, I come to work, don’t have much to do, and although I am here from 9:30 to 6:30, I walk out having billed only 5 or 6 hours.
So, what, you ask, is 2,000 hours on an annual basis (okay, you didn’t ask this, but I am telling you anyway, because I love the billable-hours rant)? It’s 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, every day other than 10 federal holidays. Gosh, I wonder why new moms struggle with this job. Anyway, that means that if I want to take a vacation, or am sick, or if i have one of those 5 or 6 hour days, I have to make up the time later. I know, wah, wah, cry me a river, I make boatloads of money to work that much. But it’s a lot of pressure at the end of the year, when the end date for those 2,000 hours is approaching. At my particular firm, that end date is October 31 (so that they have time to tally up the hours and pay bonuses out by the end of the calendar year). Coming into September, I was about 125 hours behind, from aforementioned vacation days and slow periods. I had basically given up on making it. It seemed kind of insurmountable, working an extra 60-70 hours each month on top of full time, but then I got staffed on a crazy-busy project and started working 17 or 18 hour days (plus an hour commute each way), and the 2,000 hours bogey was suddenly within sight. Anyway, 8 weeks and some exhaustion-related braxton hicks contractions later, I hit my target hours. The bottom line for me, hitting those 2,000 hours, is a pretty big bonus, that would make it so that I could, if I so chose, stay home with the baby for an additional 6 months without pay. So that was part of the driving force. And also, I didn’t exactly have a choice about the 18 hour days, so it at least gave me a reason to do that. At the end of the day on October 31, I had a grand total of 2,002 billable hours. Hopefully, I didn’t mis-count my hours, because that is sort of uncomfortably close. But I made it! And then I took a nap.
Now, the babymoons.
In October, smack in the middle of billable-hour hell, we had planned to take a cruise with the kids. My wife was adamantly anti-cruise for a very long time because she thought only old people went on them. I lobbied for years, and finally, we had a long weekend with the kids, couldn’t think of what to do with them, and got a great deal. And so, in honor of Christopher Columbus enslaving/exterminating native populations in the Bahamas, we took the long weekend and visited the Bahamas ourselves (although we did not enslave anyone or bring disease). As I have sort of vaguely mentioned a few times, the kids are not that kicked up about the fact that we are having a baby (yes, still). So we thought it would be fun to do something all together, one last hurrah for the family of five before we are a family of 6 and there is a long list of things we can’t do because of nap schedules and age restrictions and the like. Of course, we did not phrase it like this to the kids, we just said, “Yay! We’re going on a cruise!” The kids had a great time. The wife is a total convert. I am, weirdly, a little freaked out by the whole experience. Here are the pros and cons of the cruise, for me:
1. No cell phones or wi-fi. This means I can’t work. At all. It also means that the then-13 now-14 year old had a forced break from all social media. She was super-pissed about this at first, but for the 4 days we were gone, she was seriously so much happier than I have seen her in a long while. Apparently that horrible feeling you aren’t cool enough in high school but get to leave at the door when you go home, you don’t so much get to leave at the door when you are literally getting numerical popularity rank updates on an ongoing basis in the form of Instagram likes.
2. No planning of what to do. We just kind of showed up and had a vacation. We didn’t have to decide where to go to dinner, or what the schedule was, or anything. We just turned up, put on some sunscreen and had a vacation. After years of planning trips with kids, this was such a relief.
3. It was really fun. It was cheesy, yes, but fun. We were all just sort of relaxed and happy, bopping around doing fun activities and playing a LOT of shuffle-board, while totally unreachable by the outside world. Did I mention no cell phones or wi-fi?
1. The food buffets. They are truly frightening. I can’t say more because I don’t like to think about it.
2. The drinking. I am a big drinker (seriously, I love to drink) and even I was a little horrified by the sight of the pool deck bar at 4 pm on the day we left Florida and headed out to sea. On the other hand, all 3 kids can now do the Cupid Shuffle in the midst of a herd of wasted and uncoordinated adults, so I guess that’s something.
All in all, a great trip for everyone. And 4 much-needed days of relaxation for me in the middle of billable hour hell.
The second babymoon, which was just for myself and the wife, was this past weekend. The kids were with their dad for Veterans Day, so we took Friday through Monday and snuck off to the Turks and Caicos. This is the view from our little balcony (and also the only picture on my phone — the rest are still on the real camera, so in 3 years when I get around to uploading them, someone can see them).
We did a lot of sleeping (both in bed and on the beach), a little exploring, and a lot of eating. And, ahem, “re-connecting,” shall we say. It was so nice to actually spend time alone with my wife for the first time in weeks. Also, let’s be honest, this will be the last time in a long time. We are entering the crazy-busy holiday season, and then we will have a new baby. It was nice to be reminded why I like her so much. She’s so funny. And thoughtful. And buys me ice cream whenever I want it. If you are pregnant or your partner is pregnant, and you’re thinking you don’t need to take a babymoon, I respectfully urge you to change your mind. Maybe you don’t need to in the strictest sense, but if you can swing it, it’s wonderful. You don’t need to go someplace fancy. I am honestly only about 90% certain our hotel did not have bed bugs, for example. But spending time with the person you have chosen to make this baby with, away from the to-do lists and chores and jobs and friends and kids, even if it’s just the Holiday Inn 2 towns away from where you live, is so nice. And you can just pay off the credit card later, whatever.
And now, to keep you hooked on the saga that is my life, later this week I will tell you all about how and why I changed obstetricians at 29 weeks pregnant. And also, at some point, the nursery. I know, the suspense is killing you.
My wife and I got married two years ago, next Monday. Our wedding was beautiful, memorable, and filled with love. It was also at our house. On an island that is only reachable by a boat. This seemed like a great idea at the time, but made for a logistical nightmare, and a lot (LOT) of pre-wedding stress.
The day of our rehearsal, I finally started to relax and enjoy the event. Then, we got to the restaurant where we had booked our rehearsal dinner. More specifically, I had booked our rehearsal dinner. And they informed me that I had actually booked it for the following evening. As in, the day of the actual wedding. Thinking back, I absolutely did do this. I had said August 25th so many times in the wedding planning, that it did not actually occur to me that I needed to book the rehearsal dinner for August 24th. They scrambled, and moved people, and made room for our rehearsal dinner, which went just fine. But we sill laugh about that feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we realized I had, in fact, booked the rehearsal dinner for the day of the wedding. A million other things went wrong, and they all make the best stories. A week before the wedding, we still had to order alcohol, and our friend who owned a restaurant organized an impromptu wine tasting party in our kitchen. Two days before the wedding, we realized we had forgotten about programs, and one dear friend designed them, while another with very nimble fingers tied hundreds of tiny bows so they would look just right. My mom scrubbed the floor of our house on her hands and knees until her knees actually bled (I did not know this could happen) in the days leading up to the wedding. These are the things we remember from our wedding — the mistakes that we made, and the hundreds of ways, big and small, that our friends, family, and complete strangers said, “Don’t worry. We got your back. Go get married and don’t worry about it.”
In the last couple of months, I have backed my car into a parked vehicle (TWICE), bounced our mortgage check, messed up an obstetrician appointment time by an hour, and now, most recently, invited friends to our beach house on our anniversary.
When I backed the car into a parked vehicle the first time, my wife was amused. When I did it the second time, she was a bit disappointed. When I bounced the mortgage check, she was irritated. When I messed up the appointment time (we were an hour early), she was a little mad that she had missed a meeting at work for it. When I basically forgot our anniversary, she was pretty hurt and angry.
I don’t know what to say to her. I am messing things up! It’s hormones, pregnancy brain, whatever you want to call it. I lack organizational skills right now (and also the ability to turn all the way around and see where I am going while driving backwards, apparently). I’m sorry, and pregnant. She is pretty forgiving. She knows that our anniversary is important to me. I love anniversaries, and Valentine’s day, and basically any other excuse for us to have a fancy date. But still, I am annoying as hell to live with right now. I guess I hope that a few years from now, we will laugh at all of this, and these will be our good memories. Like, remember when you were pregnant and messed up all the things, right in a row? Honestly, though, I kind of hope that this “memory making” part is over soon, before there are significant monetary or relationship consequences.
In the last month, I have been consistently busier at work than ever before in the five years I’ve been a lawyer. I’ve made it home before the kids are in bed only a handful of times, and have gone into the office for full workdays on the weekends. I am stressed, I am tired, and I am short-tempered.
My wife has also had a crazy-stressful run at work. She is emotionally exhausted, and picking up all the slack at home caused by my long hours. She is stressed, she is tired, and she is short-tempered.
Normally, for us anyway, this kind of a situation would cause us to fight. We are both passionately strong-willed women who are often convinced of our own underlying competence and general right-ness. And we’re both lawyers! In the lead up to our wedding last year, we snapped, argued, and debated our way up to the altar. On our honeymoon, with the stress of the wedding behind us and a long stretch of days to be together, we talked about the wedding and decided that if we could so the whole thing over again, there was only one thing we’d do differently. We’d spend the night together the night before the wedding.
See, we had this huge misunderstanding on our wedding day, caused 100% by the fact that we couldn’t really communicate with each other. We had decided not to see each other until we walked down the aisle, so the getting-ready portion of the day was a series if clipped cell phone conversations, ambiguous text messages, and comments filtered through well-intentioned friends and relatives. If we had seen each other, face to face, and just talked for even a few minutes, that last minute misunderstanding-turned-argument could have been avoided.
And so, we made another vow to each other on our honeymoon, one that I think is every bit as important as the vows we made at our wedding. Going forward, we promised each other, over dinner on a soft night in the Caribbean, we would lean in to each other. When things got hard, and stressful, and we had too much on our plates and too little time, we would support each other and rely on our marriage and our love for each other to get us through.
Over the past year, this has been tested. Sometimes we have failed, and we’ve taken our stress out on each other, we’ve let disagreements escalate into arguments and arguments into full-scale fights. We’ve let parenting disagreements get the better of us.
But this time, by some small miracle or by sheer force of will, we are doing it right. When I snapped at my wife for an entire day on Sunday, she was patient with me. When I hung up on her yesterday after she took it poorly that it would be another 16 hour workday for me, I called back and apologized for taking it out on her that I was so frustrated with work. But mostly, we’ve just leaned on each other, talked, cried, and fought through our stressful life side by side, instead of head to head.
I am shocked how much trying to get pregnant has added to the stress of it all. I’m convinced that we were too late with the insemination this month, and that I’m not pregnant. My wife is more hopeful than that, and has been having conversations with our little peanut that I’m not privy to. This is the piece that has been so important to me this month. I need her hope. I need to believe we didn’t waste our precious time and money doing something that was pointless. Even if this isn’t the month, I need to believe that it could be the month (or could have been the month, if it turns out not to be). I need her telling me that, you know what? People get pregnant in war zones. Those women have more stress and less sleep than I do, and they get pregnant. Maybe it’s not the optimal thing for fertility, to be working 16 hours a day and commuting for 3, but it’s also not the end of the story. So she tucks me in, keeps the dog quiet for what few hours of sleep I get, and rubs my shoulder on the weekend (yes, only one shoulder, then she got tired – I take what I can get) to get the knots out.