In April, my baby turned one. I don’t know how a year went by that quickly, but alas, here we are. We celebrated with a bacon-themed birthday in June, which was the earliest I could muster the energy for hosting a party. We ordered pizza, I made a truly terrible tequila punch (sometimes the Google fails you) and doctored up a store-bought cake to look way fancier than it had any business looking, and Michael spent upward of six hours making a homemade piñata with the kind of precision only engineers and professional craft bloggers can access. I cried once, when it became blatantly obvious we were not going to be ready for our intended start time (which, God bless our friends, was forty-five minutes before anyone showed up anyway). But overall, I’d call the thing a success. Welcome to parenting, brought to you by Maddie.
When Michael and I were first getting serious about having kids a few years back, I wrote my fears and anxieties out here on APW. Most of them were of an existential nature. What would it feel like to love another human as much as we love our kid? What would I do with all my normal everyone-is-going-to-die anxiety when there’s an actual living piece of me out in the world? Those fears and anxieties are still at play, though they are somehow quieter now that our kid is actually here in the world. I think it’s because most of the time I’m too busy actually loving up on him to worry about what it feels like to love him a much as I do. Or maybe it’s just because he’s not a teenager who can drive yet. I’ll report back when he starts trying to shove forks into power outlets.
What I didn’t write about were my anxieties around the logistics of adding another human to an already maxed-out household. Which, if I’m being honest, is the thing I worried about most. Michael and I waited to have kids until we were emotionally prepared for the responsibility of parenting. But that delay happened to coincide perfectly with our careers taking a sharp turn for the ambitious. Add to that the fact that we don’t have any close family in our immediate proximity, or hell, even any friends closer than a fifteen minute drive, plus a constant stream of “I hate my husband, he’s such a moron” in parenting forums and think-pieces online, and you’ve got a great recipe for anxiety. But we’ve made it an entire year and haven’t murdered each other yet. So, to celebrate that, I thought I’d share some of the things we figured out this year to help get us through:
1. Daycare is magic.
When Michael and I first got together (in high school for those of you sitting in the back), I made him promise me he would become a stay-at-home dad when we had kids. Growing up the oldest of five children, I knew I wasn’t going to be cut out for SAHM life. But then Meg had her two kids, and I saw how beautifully her daycare providers became part of her family. (Hell, they are part of my family now.) And I wanted that for myself. So we enrolled Lincoln in daycare at three months old when I went back to work. And my god, is daycare a godsend. It’s not just about being able to go back to work, because that’s a personal decision and I begrudge no one theirs. But daycare is very badly filling the support gap we’re missing by having no family nearby.
When there’s an after-work event, or if Michael and I need a date night, we can choose to make it work if we want to. It can be expensive, yes. But it’s significantly better than simply having no options, and it’s an expense we’re usually happy to prioritize. (It’s also way less expensive than one of us quitting our jobs to stay home.) More importantly, though, daycare is an emotional support system for me. It’s really nice having other adults nearby who care about my baby as much as I do, and who will envelope him into their fold. Because then the burden of helping turn him into a good human isn’t resting squarely on Michael’s and my shoulders. And in exchange, we get a sense of community and extended family where we otherwise might not have it. Plus, as an added bonus, we get to support a small woman-owned business in our community.
2. The puppy really did help.
I used to joke that my dog was my beta baby, and we were testing our parenting abilities on her before committing to the real thing. And while I will acknowledge that puppies and babies are vastly different creatures to raise (who’s more challenging is still up for debate in our particular household), it was immensely helpful getting a high-energy puppy before we had a baby. With our first, very, very broken dog, we were able to practice sleepless nights, so by the time baby came around, lack of rest didn’t leave us shell shocked. And with puppy number two, we had no choice but to get our logistical shit together, because puppies need stability and structure and regular potty breaks. So we forced ourselves to adopt a consistent routine throughout the week to ensure that she gets enough walks, attention, and care. And I had to start sleeping more regularly, because my pain-in-the-ass animal wakes up at 6:45 on the nose, rain or shine. So by the time our kid was born, our routine was already halfway to where it needed to be, whereas two years ago we were basically living in anarchy. And we have the world’s biggest lap dog to thank for that.
3. Meal boxes are still great.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but the part of parenthood I was most anxious about was… dinner. Nope, not the crying. Not the diapers. Not the sleepless nights. Dinner. As you may recall, meal planning has always been a weakness in our household. So I just couldn’t wrap my head around how I was going to get dinner on the table each night (I cook, Michael cleans) with a whole new human in our household to care for. Blue Apron was great while it lasted, but those damn meals took nearly an hour to prepare. So I went on a mission to find a meal box that was delicious and family friendly.
For a while, we were doing Gobble, which promises to take 15 minutes from start to finish. It was by far the fastest meal box I’ve ever used (the longest any meal ever took was 25 minutes from start to finish), and it’s great if you like meat and potatoes. But the recipes didn’t feel complex enough to warrant the cost, and the ingredients weren’t quite as fresh as I’d like (if I’m going to microwave mashed potatoes, I might as well go the grocery store and buy them by the tub). After a metric ton of research, we recently switched to Sun Basket, and so far, it’s been filling the gap in our nightly routine. They have a set of quick dinner options with every menu, so most of what we get each week takes less than 30 minutes from prep to plate. And unlike Blue Apron and Gobble, they are more health-forward (most of the meals we eat are under 600 calories, with organic ingredients, and a good mix of vegetables and proteins). Right now our baby eats his own dinner, then we put him to bed and make our own dinner, but I’m hoping we can keep on trucking with our meal boxes once he’s a little older and eating with us at the dinner table. Because I tried to do a spontaneous grocery shopping trip once last month, and I ended up spending $300 and walking out with no idea what I’d bought. Seriously, I can’t be trusted y’all.
4. Everyone is a friend.
I won’t mince words here. It can be overwhelming raising a baby without much family support nearby. Adding to our isolation, Michael and I work an hour away from each other. So when it came time to pick the aforementioned daycare, we had to choose a “default” parent. Aka the person who would do drop offs and pickups and get the kid from daycare when he’s sick. And since I was offered the flexibility to go back to work at 90 percent time (meaning I go in at 10 a.m. every morning instead of 9 a.m.), I drew that short straw. (Or, well, the long straw depending on how you look at it. I really enjoy the extra time I get with Lincoln at daycare drop off and pickup.) But even with the added work flexibility, our days… are long. And they look something like this:
- 6:00–6:30: Wake up, give baby bottle, snuggle in bed for a minute
- 7:15: Michael leaves for work at 7:15 while the kiddo and I get ready for school and work. We do breakfast, pack lunches, and every other day(ish) I strap my kid into a baby seat in the bathroom so I can take a shower.
- 8:30–9:00: Kiddo and I leave the house, and hopefully sometime in the previous few hours, the dog got a walk or a game of fetch. We spend half an hour in the car to daycare drop off.
- 10:00–5:15: I work feverishly until the very last moment, at which point I realize I’m already late for pickup and rush to grab him from daycare.
- 5:30–6:30: We commute home, and are usually pulling into the driveway by 6:30.
- 6:30–7:30: We play, hang out, feed the baby dinner, and Michael gets Lincoln ready for bed. Then it’s book and bedtime.
- 7:30–9:00: Pants come off, leggings go on. I read the internet for a minute and then get dinner started. Michael does the dishes. We’re usually sitting down to eat sometime between 8:00 and 9:00.
- 9:00–10:00: We sit down and watch an hour of TV and then go to bed. Or if work is busy that week, Michael goes to bed and I stay up late doing things like… writing this post.
With that kind of schedule, it’s really easy to get isolated in your parenting bubble. So to combat that isolation, we make friends with everyone. Sometimes when I get home from work, we’ll grab the dog and take Lincoln for a walk up the driveway to visit the guy who sells fruit. Or on the weekends, we randomly pop in on our neighbors just to say hello and do trips to our friendly neighborhood gas station (it’s the only other thing within walking distance). Everywhere we go, whether it’s Target or the vet or the mailbox, we invite people to care about our baby. I’ve made friends with our new daycare provider and let her fifteen-year-old daughter babysit when I have work functions. Our dog-trainer-turned-friend is helping out next week while daycare is on summer break. I will probably never join a mom group, because ain’t nobody got time for that. But these small gestures make it feel less like we are alone raising our kid together.
5. Sometimes It’s just hard.
Okay, so what I said about the schedule above? Sometimes it’s just hard. And some weeks it really doesn’t feel like we’re making it work at all. And the birthday party we threw? It took nearly a week to clean up the mess, because we were both so burned out from throwing it (well, mostly from life, and then a party on top of that). There is immense pressure in our culture to either be nailing parenthood or joking about how much you’re failing at it. And I don’t want to buy into either of those narratives. I think we’re good parents, and sometimes I think maybe our house will never be clean again. But I’m trying to give myself patience and forgiveness while we’re figuring it out.
And the same goes for our marriage. A few weeks back, we secured childcare for an entire Saturday, so that Michael and I could spend some much needed time together remembering what it’s like to hang out instead of constantly jumping from responsibility to responsibility. At least, that’s what I told myself we were going to do. Instead, I led us on a forced tornado of house cleaning that made everyone grumpier than when they started, because I was trying to win at all things. And spoiler alert: you can’t win at all the things. I should have just let the house be messy, gone on a date with Michael, and honored what I really needed that day. But I also didn’t beat myself up about it. Because you live and you learn. And forgiveness is probably the most important skill I’m honing in new parenthood. Forgiving myself, my partner, my marriage, all of it.
If there is one thing I’m grateful for, it’s that Michael and I started laying the groundwork for having kids long before any kids actually came along. But that doesn’t mean this year has been easy. It has been equal parts wonderful, stressful, overwhelming, and exhausting. And just when we feel like we have the hang of things, everything changes. Recently I left for a four-day work trip and came home to what felt like an entirely different child. (Toddlers, man. They are a trip!) But amid the constantly fluctuating energy of our household, I have made a commitment to not martyring ourselves. So here’s hoping in another year, we still won’t have murdered each other, and we will have figured out a few more things.
What are your logistical fears about having kids? Or if you already have kids, how are you and your partner making it work? (fist bump to my single moms in the house if it’s just you making it work.)