For better or for worse

There’s a long list of people out there who say that having kids changed their marriage forever. And they’re usually none too positive when they say it, seemingly hoping to travel back in time and remain childless if the opportunity were available. “Don’t get us wrong, we love our kid(s),” they all insist. “But…..”

And there it is – the BUT heard ‘round the world. The BUT that only married people with kids can understand. The BUT that scares couples everywhere away from the baby path.

Here’s my thinking – there’s really no way for a marriage not to change when a little one comes along. It’s an entirely different life, made up of three people rather than just two. It’s a threesome (or foursome, or fivesome…) for all eternity. I think anyone would find an eternal threesome a difficult relationship to manage.

Before having children, a marriage is pretty black and white. Every month at work, you receive a salary to confirm that you’re doing your job correctly. You have rational, adult conversations with rational, adult people and decisions are made, well – rationally. And then you come home, and you have all your free time to spend doing exactly what the two of you love to do together.

It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s your own.

Things inevitably change when you invite a third person to the party. 80% of your days are like your good days at work – and when they’re good, trust me, they’re really, really good. Your child does something simple, which seems extraordinary to you, and you smile lovingly across the table at your spouse. You both smile a lot on those days, and you feel closer to this family unit you’ve created than you ever imagined. You’re bound deeply together by a miniature package of extraordinariness. This is how children change a marriage for the better.

You don’t always hear that side of the story, and that’s a shame.

More often, you hear about the other 20%. On those days, you’re dealing with an irrational boss who refuses to issue clear instructions, and who just does whatever they damn well please. On these days, you’re moody and almost definitely short-tempered. You feel like a failure in one way or another, or maybe in a hundred ways all together. It’s been a bad day at work for one or both of you – there’s tension in the air, one or both of you is pissed off, and angry words may be spoken.

It happens. For better or for worse.

At Casa Svendsen, we’ve definitely had an 80/20 split over the past year. There is truly a domino effect of emotional happiness in our house, which begins with the smallest (and yet most powerful) one among us. When Per Christian has a good day, then so does Mommy. There are lots of giggles and silly stories to share in the evening. Pappa comes home to a happy house and is, by extension, also happy.

The opposite curve works the same way in reverse – a grumpy baby leads to a grumpy Mommy, who feels exhausted and run down by the end of the day. I then, of course, take it all out on Per when he walks in the door. On these days, Pappa has to bear the brunt of all my own feelings of maternal inadequacy because our son is too young to shoulder such burdens.

Luckily for us all, Per errs on the less emotional end of the spectrum and realizes, quite rationally, that whatever troubles await him at home shall soon pass. Per Christian won’t always be so small and require so much work. I won’t always be home alone caring for him. We won’t always find him such a mystery to understand or feel ourselves to be so helpless – although I do expect that we’ll always feel entirely inadequate for the task.

Is it all worth it, you wonder? The simple answer is “yes,” but the more honest answer is “not always.” Here’s the thing – despite the challenges of the 20%, I really, really don’t want a time machine (most of the time). I would not give up my son for all the free time in the world (most of the time). Yes, I’m tired and yes, I do miss my former ability to impersonate a calm, rational adult. And of course I miss our carefree days alone, drinking Prosecco for breakfast on a lazy Saturday morning, as opposed to venting on my husband all my furies after a difficult day of tending to our meatloaf.

But my son is a part of me, taken directly out of my body and walking (stumbling, actually…) around in real life right before my very eyes. How miraculous is that? I can watch him and see reflections in him of both my husband and me. He is an extraordinary being; I can find no other words for it. And when I see my son in this light, I know that I love my husband and my family down to my deepest, darkest core.

So yes, children change a marriage, there’s no way around it. We lose our tempers more often and are made to bear more responsibility than we could ever previously imagine. We will never, ever again get to be selfish and think about only ourselves. Our threesome is here to stay, and all the subtleties of joining three separate people into one loving family unit have to be managed with care.

There are 20% of hard times for our unit, when my husband has to play the roll of punching bag because the real criminal agent is too young to understand Mommy’s frustrations.

But then there are 80% of really great times, when I walk in the door and see my son literally bouncing with excitement over my arrival. And then I see my husband standing right behind him, with an equally large smile on his face. We’re a family, and we’re so very blessed.

That’s just how a marriage with children works. For better or for worse.

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My superhero self

There are hundreds of articles and pieces of advice out there about what to expect from your post-baby body. Changes in hip and waist sizes (ugh!), changes in bra sizes (fabulous!), hair loss, tender joints and sore lady parts…. You name it, someone out there is postpartum and feelin’ it.

But nobody told me about Mommy Ears. Not visible to the naked eye, Mommy Ears is a curious phenomena that only newly-minted mothers can appreciate. (Fathers are, apparently, immune.)

It results in a heightened sense of sonic abilities – some are so powerful they could land you on the cast of Heroes or X-Men. You can hear the tiniest peep from your little one several rooms away and at all hours of the day or night. You can instantly distinguish your little one’s cries amid all the other noise at the shopping mall or your mommy group meeting. You can sleep through earthquakes and natural disasters, but never through your little one crying.

This is some serious Superhero stuff.

Take, for example, my experiences over the last several nights. Lille Per Christian is teething up a storm, so everything I knew about his sleeping and eating habits has flown out the window. Damn.

So I’m deep in an exhausted sleep and wake suddenly for no reason at 2:50 am.

I lay in bed, body tense, holding my breath.

30 seconds…. 90 seconds…. three minutes….

Whew. Nothing. Roll back over to sleep.

But NO! There it is. A small whimper from the nursery. A pint-sized stirring that warns me my son is awakening at a most unappreciated hour. I leave him for a few more minutes to make sure, during which time his small murmurings become much louder and more insistent. A few more minutes to make double-y sure…. Yep. The little guy is up.

How is it possible that those tiny sounds can travel through walls and sealed doors to snatch me so abruptly from Slumberville? I can sleep through all manner of drunken debauchery on the streets outside my bedroom window, but I wake at this?!

Mommy ears, I’m telling’ ya.

I’m unsure if these abilities will intensify or weaken as Per Christian gets older and I grow more comfortable with my Superhero powers. I half-expect he’ll be a 27-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in the Zambian outback and I’ll still be laying awake at night for the sound of him waking.

But I guess that’s all part of being a Mommy (aka Superhero).

Note: This image is NOT representative of Per Christian during teething.

The end is near

Gentlemen, beware. This post involves talk of The Boobs. You have been warned.

I always planned to breastfeed Per Christian until he was nine months old. This may sound like an arbitrary number, but it was based upon the fact that we’ll be traveling to the US for the holidays this year and I wanted to easily feed him on the plane. I don’t know all the nutritional facts about breastfeeding for nine months, but I do know what it’s like to have a fussy baby on a long-haul flight. I wanted to avoid that as much as possible.

But the fact is – I just don’t have it. For whatever reason, my supply is about done. I’ve exhausted myself with pumping sessions to try and keep it up, but I’m about to forfeit the game. My mind is going numb with the rhythmic whirring sound of the electric pump; my wrists are developing carpel tunnel from the manual version. And it’s almost embarrassing to admit how skilled I’ve become at one-handed Tetris on the iPhone. I have always despised pumping with a heated passion, it’s like being at the dairy farm and having your worth measured by how many ounces you produce each day.

I have no idea how other mothers manage. Is it all worth it, I wonder? (FYI – I know I’m not the only one out there with such fierce pumping-fueled hatred. See herehere and here for more of the same.)

I’ve somehow managed to compare the end of breastfeeding in my head to those protesters’ signs outside the Capitol building. They all predict doomsday around the corner and your inevitable persecution for being such an unworthy sloth.

Save yourself!
The End is near!
Have you prayed lately?

I know this pressure and sense of judgement is only in my head. I know breastfeeding for six months is a great accomplishment. I know my son is well-fed and happy (his heavily-dimpled arms and legs are proof of that). But still I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic already. This stage of Per Christian’s baby-hood is coming to a close and it went by so quickly. Did I appreciate it enough while it was here? Should I have spent a little less time complaining and more time enjoying the moment?

It’s sad to know that our days are numbered and we’ll never get these moments back. On the other hand, I’m so, so thrilled to be moving off the dairy farm and getting rid of that evil pump. Far thee well, you squeezer of flesh and crusher of nipples!