Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Realizations

 
Our family scrapbook starts in 2006, a year after Matt and I started dating. The other day I was completely unmotivated to do anything else, so I started flipping through the scrapbook.
 
The book contains page after page of adventure. There are trips to Baton Rouge for Spanish Town Mardi Gras (complete with elaborate and fun, hot-pink costumes). There are camping road trips to Utah and Idaho and Vancouver and California. There's a sailing trip around the Greek Isles (with a stop-over in Paris). There are Random Acts of Kindness Scavenger Hunts and trips to the mountains of Colorado to celebrate birthdays with friends.
 
And then there's a picture of a pregnancy test and shortly thereafter pictures of Henry start appearing.
 
I don't often flip through our family scrapbook. It's much more common for me to flip through Henry's scrapbook which fills me with gratitude and joy and nostalgia.
 
Looking at our family scrapbook felt different because the transition from life before babies to life after babies was so transparent. It was a very different sensation to transition from our days as an independent, adventurous couple to our days as a family. Although I don't have a single regret about deciding to have children, I do miss what feels like a very distant life.
 
Part of the distance is absolutely necessary. Matt and I believe that providing the best possible environment for infants and young children involves a certain amount of sacrifice. For example, we try to honor Henry's need to nap regularly and his early bed time. We go to bed by 11pm on weekends, so we are ready to greet Henry (and the day) at 7am.
 
But part of the change came from choices that we made. I chose to stay home with Henry for 14 months to provide a solid foundation for his future development. At the same time, we chose to move to Austin, while also deciding to buy land and build house (so we could hurry and put down roots as a family). Once Henry started school, I chose to work only part-time, so that I could continue to spend quality time with him in the afternoon, while also having enough time to focus on my long-time dream of starting a school.
 
With baby Tate on the way, these kinds of choices (the ones that distance us further and further from our former life) continue. I am choosing to resign from my part-time job, so that I can provide Tate with the same solid foundation that Henry had.
 
And although all of those choices make sense to me, sometimes I am struck by the enormity of how much difficulty Matt and I have invited into our lives. We left a really strong network of new families in Houston and moved to a completely different city, right when I most needed support as a stay-at-home mom. We bought land and built a house, right when our income was at an all-time low.
 
Again, I understand why we made these choices: I didn't want to postpone my professional dream any longer (which is why we needed to move to Austin) and Matt was eager to move. We wanted to buy land and build a house when the market was still stagnant and the mortgage rates were low. Plus we wanted to put down roots in a neighborhood as soon as possible.
 
But stretching our budget so thinly has made this stage of life so much harder. Because we are in a new city with fewer connections, it took us a while to get a free babysitting co-op up-and-running, which means our date nights as a couple have been few and far between. Because we can't afford babysitters, we have to stress a lot when I have work obligations that don't fit within the typical structure of my work day (such as board meetings in the evening when Matt has to travel to Houston or meetings in the afternoon when I'm supposed to pick up Henry and Matt is supposed to be working). And not being able to go on vacation has disrupted our yearly rhythm of adventure and newness.
 
There's not really a single decision that I can look back on, pinpoint, and wish we would have done differently. I understand every choice we've made and still think that the sacrifice will be worth it once we're settled in our new house in our new neighborhood with two full-time jobs and two boys in the school I'm working at. But, darn, we've made the transition into parenthood even harder than it needed to be! (And don't even get me started on our choice to live in Austin as opposed to Florida where my family is or Indiana where Matt's family is.)
 
I'm so thankful to be able to see the end of this tunnel. Our house will be finished mid-July. Tate will be here any day. I'll start receiving a part-time salary again in October and a full-time salary in January (assuming the charter gets approved). I see paid babysitters on the horizon (when we need something in a pinch and no one in the co-op is available). And vacations! And date nights!
 
[Caveat: As I write this post, I recognize that none of these things are real "problems" and that perhaps I should delete this whole post and instead write it from the perspective of gratitude. I mean, Matt and I are healthy and we have a healthy son and hopefully another healthy one on the way. And we have maintained employment through the economic downturn in the United States. And our families are healthy. And we are incredibly privileged in so many ways. Taking a second to highlight the difficult parts isn't intended to subtract from the gratitude I feel on a daily basis; it's just a chance to say to myself, "Yes, new parenthood is hard; you've chosen to make it even harder; but the benefits of those choices are about to come to fruition--knock on wood. Just be patient."]



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5 comments:

E. said...

I appreciate this post a lot. My husband and I just had an offer accepted on a house here in Baltimore and while we are only about 45 minutes from my parents, I know that making this decision means turning my back on the kind of help my parents were able to offer my sister when she had a baby. I know that the distance means that my mom won't come over every day and help with the baby. We all make choices that make life harder for us, and just because life isn't As Hard As Possible All The Time doesn't mean that it isn't important to take time and consider choices and hard things.

I think that recognizing that we make choices that make life more difficult is important. These aren't situations where we had to do any one thing, we chose the thing that was best for us and our families at the time. Sometimes they are even the wrong decisions, but we just have to be able to take a step back, recognize why we made them, and then plot a course correction if necessary.

Carrie said...

Great post. My husband and I were just talking about a similar theme as our boys were both being less than fun to have around the house on Saturday. We used to go to bed and breakfasts frequently, visit family in Maryland, honeymooned in Hawaii, trekked to St. John USVI for a vacation, went to a wedding in California, etc.

Keep in mind that life is kind of like a big arc. On the other side of the hump are more adventures, and you'll have lots of things to discuss and reminisce about, kids to send postcards to, and general life/kid experience to draw upon during those future adventures. Also, as the kids get older, it will be fun to travel with them. We took a day trip to an aquarium and beautiful botanical gardens on Sunday, for example, and had a fantastic time as a family. Although not quite the "adventure" of the Greek isles, it was fun, different and got us out of our routine at the house. I surmise we will be able to travel further and to more exotic destinations in years to come. :)

A big key is to enjoy what now IS just for, well...what it IS! :)

Anthropolochic said...

Great post. Don't beat yourself up. All of the things you are doing are tough to do. It takes a toll. Who doesn't want a little respite - the freedom to buy what you want at the grocery store, for that matter? Ask anyone with less or more income, the bottom line is you'd have to have an insane step up in income to make the outcome s of these choices easier on you....to delegate some of the work to someone else...and then, you know, you have to ask yourself - would you want to?

In anycase, if it makes you feel better. I'm a new mom and postdoc, sole provider for the family, trying to push out publications, protect us from financial ruin and secure my family's future while pursuing a career. I moved while 6 months pregnant and we know no one here. I have a book coming out and another proposal on the way, while I try to set myself up for a very picky job market...just so we can move to another place where we know no one. I get up every morning and check this blog and marvel to my husband about how you do it - because, you know, I don't think I'd have it in me to publish multiple books, raise a toddler, bear another child, set up all these little communities, run a web businesses or, dear god, set up a school (and, with that, find donors, set up a board, submit the monolith sized application etc. etc.). What you are doing is hard and admirable work. It's okay to have good things and miss other good things.

Anyway, I realize that was a small portion of your post - but just know that your feelings are totally cool.

Andrea said...

Great post - my husband and I and toddler are about to embark on our second move between countries in a year. Each decision has been the best we could make at the time, although the outcomes haven't always been as we'd hope. We have the privileges of being able to do this but ultimately it's also been stressful and hard work too. Don't feel hard on yourself for the choices - you are putting your kids first and making a difference in the world - the two things I've decided are the most important in this stage of life.

Irene Tan said...

Great post. I resigned from my job because I wanted to provide my son with a solid foundation and security for his first years. Life throws things at you but we somehow manage to get through.

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