Chicago mom makes peace with not being perfect

Neuroscience has proven that being a mom actually makes you smarter and the whole “mommy brain” business is a myth. Hmm. Who am I to quibble with scientific research, but from where I sit, the combination of sleeplessness, sore nipples and a throbbing C-scar isn’t helping anybody complete The New York Times Sunday crossword.

I had my second son in September 2012. He was sweet and adorable. However, he thought sleep was for suckers and acted like he was being dipped into molten lava when we had the audacity to put him down. I’d had a C-section so my own movements were ginger at best. On top of all that, nursing was going terribly. My daily schedule amounted to this pattern on repeat: fitful nursing session, supplemental bottle, pumping session to boost my supply. When I was finished, it was time to start all over again. The baby and I were a two-headed monster of misery and exhaustion.

My toddler was 2 ½ at the time and definitely took a back seat during those first six weeks. I changed his diaper, fed him and indulged the occasional cuddle, but he spent most of his times playing independently with his toys.

On a particularly brutal day about three weeks postpartum, I was completely wrung out. My eyes were open, but I was essentially in a low-grade coma. Eventually my vacant stare turned to the direction of my toddler. He was clad only in a diaper, crouched on the floor in a defensive posture to keep the curious cats at bay while he ate pouches he had retrieved from the pantry. I gasped and said aloud “Oh my God, he’s Mowgli.”

Had I fed him breakfast? I couldn’t remember. Lunch? Definitely not. Yep, I had completely forgotten to feed my kid, so he took matters into his own hands. He didn’t even ask me for lunch – he just fended for himself. He was pleased as punch. I wanted to die. My distraction had turned my child feral. All he needed was a sloth bear best friend and the picture would be complete.

After feeding him a proper lunch, hugging him tightly and indulging in some guilty tears, I decided to decrease the ambition of my daily goals. I couldn’t change the baby’s brutal feeding schedule, but everything else went up in smoke. I gave up on the piles of laundry, the disastrous kitchen and everything else that didn’t fulfill a basic need. Was everyone fed, clothed and relatively unscathed at the end of the day? Gold medal. Survival mode isn’t glamorous, but it gets the job done.

The most jarring part of this experience was the abrupt loss of any initial smugness my husband and I had about being experts the second time around. As far as I could tell, having two kids amounted to constantly choosing one to neglect. Baby’s hungry? His turn. Toddler wedged halfway through the cat door? That one. Baby spews “Exorcist” vomit all over his clothes, our clothes, the couch and the rug? We have a winner!

Things have normalized now that the boys are 3 ½ and one, and I’m happy to report that all meals are taken at the table rather than crouched on the family room floor.

I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve made my peace with it. “Happily muddling through” is not the most inspiring message to stitch onto a pillow, but it works for me.

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