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 has been ages since I have written anything. Isn’t that one of the cruel ironies of blogging, that when you have time to write, nothing is going on and you have nothing to say. When ALL OF THE THINGS are happening and requiring much thought and analysis, you don’t have even a few minutes to write anything.
Accordingly, you are owed one of those omnibus update type posts. This is not that. This is the post where I write about one very bad thing that has happened.
The Bumby is very sick, again.
On Friday he started to seem out of sorts. No appetite, a desire for extra napping, that kind of thing. We had planned to go out to Fire Island, where we have a beach house, and so we did. Friday night, he felt warm. This kid kind of gets fevers at the drop of a hat, so we gave him some Tylenol and went to dinner. He perked up and ate some bread, and charmed the waiter by saying Thank You every time he brought something to our table. It was all very uneventful.
Saturday morning, he was still warm. We don’t have a thermometer at our beach house, so I don’t really know how warm is warm, but he was… you know. Warm. We gave him some more Tylenol and discussed our plan. We decided to take him down to the beach because it is actually cooler than the house, and he could play in the water. Even for having a fever he was behaving pretty normally. He was energetic, and happy. Plus he kept saying “Walk, walk. Beach, beach.” So off to the beach we went, promising ourselves we would stay only an hour. He played. He tried to eat small crustaceans. He filled a bucket with sand, dumped it out, and filled it again. He drank “wa-wa” the entire time. Then he crawled up into my lap and asked for milk, so I nursed him. And he fell asleep, just as our designated beach time was up.
After much hemming and hawing, we decided he needed the sleep and it would be a disaster to take him home and risk waking him up and ruining his nap when he obviously needed one, because he was a bit sick. I put a towel over us to keep the sun off of him. It wasn’t hot under the towel, honestly. I swear. I get hot very easily, and I was comfortable. After 20 minutes or so, Bumby made a meowing sound and picked his head up. He looked at me, and he was terrified. His eyes were all wide and his mouth was open. Just then, his arms started shaking and he collapsed down onto my chest. “Something is wrong with Bumby!”
I was too afraid. I handed him to my wife so she could look at him, and he went totally limp. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he was completely non-responsive. We started running to the boardwalk to take him to the clinic in our town. As we got off the beach, he stopped breathing and started turning blue. I ran ahead to get the doctor, and our friend called 911 while my wife ran behind me, holding the limp and non-responsive Bumby. I thought he was dying. I was actually fairly sure that he was dying.
By the time she caught up with me at the doctor’s office, Bumby was responsive, the proper color for a baby, and wet. My wife had a guy watering his plants hose down Bumby. Apparently, what happened was a febrile seizure. This is a harmless event and happens to some kids when their fever shoots up too fast. Frankly, I don’t care if it’s not unusual, and I don’t care if it’s harmless. I never, ever want to see it happen to my little guy again. It was terrifying. Regardless, we were med-evac’ed off the island and rushed to the ER.
Even though he was hot, and feverish, we were told not to give him water in case he had another seizure and threw it up and aspirated. After no less than five attempts, they decided they could not give Bumby an IV to re-hydrate him. He is too small, too fat, and his veins are too little. Five times, I held down my screaming baby and let them stick him with needles for no reason. Finally, hours later, I was allowed to nurse him and give him water and apple juice. It took several hours to collect urine from him because he was so dehydrated at this point. His fever hovered around 104. Which I know, because they shoved a thermometer up his ass on an hourly basis. He refused the Tylenol, so guess what they did? Yep, they held him down and forced it. He was choking and spluttering the whole time, and after they were done he promptly vomited up not only the Tylenol but the potato chips and 4 oz of water I had convinced him to eat and drink. So then they gave him the Tylenol by suppository. It was a total nightmare, and in the end they did nothing for him. I hated the hospital, all of the nurses, and one of the doctors. There was a PA that I liked, and she was the only thing that made the visit even remotely bearable (that, and the fact that the EMT liked Bumby’s real name so much that she and her wife are going to name their soon-to-be son after him).
He is still sick. He has had antibiotics for an ear infection, which maybe caused the super high fever, but maybe did not. In addition to the ER visit, he got a trip to the pediatric urgent care and his regular pediatrician. They can’t find anything wrong other than the ear infection, but it’s been six days now and his fever is still in the 101 range (I have been calling him the Heatmeiser, because he’s Mr. Hundred-and-one).
So, what’s wrong with Bumby? No one knows. Did this happen because we stupidly took a feverish baby to the beach? No one knows. In any event, I am partly glad we made the decisions that we did, because if we had gone home or not gone to the beach in the first place, he would have been napping in his crib. Which means he in all likelihood he would have had the seizure anyway, only he would have been alone instead of in my arms. I might not have even known it happened, because the whole thing was basically silent. This realization has caused us to sleep with Bumby for each of the last five nights, so that we can be sure he is breathing and alive at all times. So far, so good.
We are supposed to go back to the beach this weekend with some friends. Obviously, if Bumby has even the hint of a fever, we are not doing that. But if he doesn’t have a fever… I still don’t know. I am scared to have him someplace where we can’t easily get to a good hospital. I am just sort of scared in general. I haven’t gone into work all week because I am afraid that he will take a turn for the worse and I will be an hour away. If I knew what was wrong with him I might be able to deal, but I don’t and I might not ever. He might just be a kid who gets scary-high fevers from nothing or anything.
Anyway, that’s it. That’s the very bad thing that has happened. Is happening, whatever.
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.
Over the past few weeks, I have been reading the book Fully Fertile, by Tami Quinn, Beth Heller, and Jeanie Lee Bussell. Because our first insemination will take place during the month of July, we are about four months away. This week, I’m going to start going through the exercises in the book, and will update this blog with my progress. Before I get started though, I wanted to write a bit about why a woman who has never even tried to get pregnant thinks that a book about infertility will be so useful.
I work in an extraordinarily high-stress environment. Last summer, when we got married, this high-stress job had an extremely negative impact on my ability to enjoy my own wedding. I started this particular job about 13 months ago, so when I was in the run up to the wedding, I was still relatively new, and had a difficult time (still do, in fact, have a difficult time) creating boundaries between my work and the rest of my life. Add to that the fact that we planned on having our wedding at our home, which required significant work before it would be ready for the event, and my stress reach a level in the weeks before the wedding where all I wanted was for the wedding to be over so that I could rest. With a wedding, a person is able to force her way through this kind of stress, and the wedding day comes and goes whether you are ready for it or not. The first three days of our honeymoon, my wife and I both spent much of the time sleeping. The result of taking on too much and pushing through was that a few weeks after the wedding, I realized that felt like I had missed it.
This process won’t work with respect to getting pregnant and having a baby. You can’t force this kind of thing. Aside from that, I don’t want to. One thing I learned from my wedding is that just because you can do it all, it doesn’t mean you should. Recently, I’ve been very, very stressed. I’ve been snapping at the kids, suffered from insomnia, and had to go for a run at 10pm because of my work stress and dissatisfaction wiht my job. I can’t quit it right now, so I realized that I had to really do something to deal with the stress I am under. That’s where Fully Fertile comes in. Even though I am not struggling with infertility — to my knowledge — I knew I needed a way to get in touch with my body, my mind, my emotions, and just take care of myself during this extremely difficult and stressful time. I’m doing the exercises in the book in the context of planning for a baby, but I am doing them to take care of myself and give myself the support I know I’ll need to make it through the next year-plus at a job I find so stressful and challenging to cope with, while also going through the life-changing process of having a baby.
The Fully Fertile program uses yoga, Oriental Medicine, nutrition, and spiritual practices like meditation to optimize physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and provide support for the conception process. But the posts in this series won’t just focus on what the exercises in the book are — you will need to purchase the book to get that. And I’m not here to sell books. Instead, these posts will be my journey, using the book as a tool, to try to get in touch with my own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health to support myself through a time I know will be challenging. I invite anyone who is going through a similar process to join in.
Because I’m a type-A, driven sort of person, I know that I need to focus my attention somewhere, to avoid becoming a bit obsessive and drive my stress levels even higher if we aren’t able to conceive right away. The exercises will give me a focal point and give me something to work on so that I can prioritize self-care, otherwise managing my health and stress will definitely take a back seat to the ever-growing To Do list.
Lastly, although the Fully Fertile program is designed to be done over the course of 12 weeks, which means I technically would not need to start until mid-April in order to have completed all of the exercises by the time we are ready for our first insemination, I have no illusions that there won’t be hiccups along the way. There may be a super-busy week where I’m not able to do the exercises, or there may be a particular topic that I get stuck on and want to spend more than one week on. To that end, I’ve purposely built in some slippage, to give myself permission to be imperfect in this. It’s very important to me that my stress-reduction plan does not become just another stressor in my already hectic life. So don’t be surprised if you see multiple posts for the same week’s worth of exercises.