Like most parents, I have an ideal balanced life I am constantly straining to achieve. I want to be a good and involved mom to Elanor, but not so over-involved that she doesn’t breathe without my coaxing it through her (iiiiiiinhale, and exhale–not so quickly!). I want to be a good wife, and do something crazy like get face time with him every day. I want to devote time to my own interests and professional goals-this year, if all goes as planned, I will have made about $500 writing…I’d like to make it $1,000 next year.
I had the best version of balance I could manage in Boston until Ravi was laid off. That was probably when the ground started to shift beneath my feet. Taking the job in Singapore was absolutely the right move, but it, too, contributed to changes in our family dynamic. In my parenting.
In the first month here, I don’t know that much changed. I left E with B while I apartment hunted, but otherwise, she was with me all the time. I was her mom, I did all but the worst smelling diaper changes (there have to be SOME perks to having a helper, right?). I don’t think I “missed” much more of Elanor than I would have in Boston, giving her a weekly day with the grandparents and taking some me time during football games.
Looking back, it’s pretty easy to understand that where things began to go wrong was my 10 round fight against the superbacteria food poisoning. Where I didn’t leave the toilet for 3 weeks. When I did, I was weak, I was exhausted, and I was sick. Sure, I’d listlessly lay on the couch and stare as E played, but I wasn’t interacting so much.
At some point, B started getting up with Elanor in the morning (especially as she is becoming an increasingly early riser–9 am in this family is considered the ass crack of Dawn), and Ravi started working later and later (getting home at 9, 9:30, 10…sometimes later). Getting time with R meant staying up until 1/2…and then needing an hour or two to fall asleep somewhere between 3 and 4. And while I may not be awake at 9, by 10 the construction next door has forced me out of dreamland.
In the past few months there have been illnesses that have sidelined me for a week at a time…not because I’m a baby, but because my immune system just isn’t up to the Asian superbugs it’s constantly encountering.
Over the past month, I’ve had more and more trouble sleeping, sometimes feeling lucky to get 3 hours. I’ve felt like a zombie. I’ve felt like everything…and here’s the big one…ESPECIALLY ELANOR is irritating and overwhelming.
And I realize that I’ve begun to withdraw from her. So slowly, in fact, that it took a wake-up call recently for me to realize that she is a virtual stranger to me. Sure, I’m putting in a few hours of face time, but more often than not, if she becomes overwhelming, rather than deal with it (as I would have no choice to do back home), I have the option of handing her over to B and chilling out.
It’s not that any of these things are necessarily bad or wrong in small amounts. But when you add up the increased irritation due to lack of sleep, the constant construction noise (luckily you can only hear it on one side of the house usually), the fact that E is getting older and is now at a point where if she wants attention she (like any other kid) will do whatever it takes because it’s attention-good or bad, the fact that E is very strong willed and constantly in boundary testing mode, that she doesn’t want to be in the stroller, that I do want to be working on my own stuff too, and mix it with a giant dose of “I’ve gone off my mood stabilizing medication” it’s kind of a fucked-up mess.
It’s the kind of fucked up mess where I looked in the mirror today and saw not quite Mrs. X from “The Nanny Diaries” but someone who, without correction, could become her.
I’m appalled by it.
But that loathing for what I see means it’s not too late to fix it.
I’m trying to create a schedule where I have fixed times to be working, and fixed times to be with Elanor. I need to give up control in some areas (maybe grocery shopping) where I am doing things that don’t necessarily NEED to be done by me to create additional time to do stuff with E.
I’ve also started taking sleeping pills, which obviously is a SHORT TERM solution, but getting caught up on my sleep is a non-negotiable. Everything else feels so overwhelming and futile when I’m sort on sleep—I’m more likely to yell at the baby for minor infractions (how DARE you take the ribbon out of your hair) as opposed to rolling my eyes. With a full night of sleep, I’m far better equipped to deal with a toddler acting like a toddler.
I’m working on setting limits with Ravi. If you’re not home by X, I’m having dinner. I am going to go to bed by Z, and I need him to respect that and do everything he can to help me reach my goal of a full night of sleep.
But perhaps the most difficult dynamic I need to redefine is that with B. To use a poor analogy–the classic advice given to teachers is “don’t smile before Christmas.” One can always loosen up the rules, but it’s far harder to become tougher. I am a green, wet-behind-the-ears employer. And for a good two months, B was the only person I really knew or saw regularly. I was very invested in E & B developing a good relationship. But over time, between illness and whatever, I gave her too much authority. To the point where I put E in bed a few days ago and lay down myself and B decided that E had cried too long and let her out…without knocking on my door/texting me/or checking in with me at all whether it was okay or not (we are not completely consistent with this point, so I can see why she thought she was doing the right thing…but it was an overstep to empower herself to make that kind of call when I was 10 feet away…and I found out about it in the morning.)
Some of it is cultural. I don’t need B to be in the kitchen all day and I don’t want her to be sitting in her room waiting for me to call on her to do X. So B is hanging out with us in the living room, which is fine. She likes Project Runway as much as I do, and other American TV that we put on some of the time. The problem is that she entertains E too much…which at first glance might seem like a weird thing to say. However, one of my parenting goals is to raise a child who does not need to be entertained…who can engage in solitary play. That solitary play was the means by which my sanity was kept in Boston, but she seems to be losing it for lack of practice. Which means she needs to be left alone for 5 minutes to play on her own and regain it (and when we’re home alone and I’m letting her do it, I see that ability still there). It’s just not the way people raise kids here–here they are small princes/princesses who are attended to in every way (I’m getting tired of people being shocked she can feed herself by hand or with a spoon), so it goes against everything B has been taught by every employer before me and every class she’s taken to let E just play on her own.
It’s also a hard line in that I want E to learn to negotiate and adapt to different rules with different adults. She won’t be going to pre-k here (10k USD for a year of pre-k? Um, how about 2 sets of round-trip tickets from Singapore to Boston for our family instead?) and I refuse to throw that kind of money away. We can put it away and pay for MIT instead in the 2020’s. Public school isn’t an option for so many reasons it would merit its own post. So having said that, I do need to give E opportunities to be in situations like school where other adults and rules are in play.
But then, as much as I appreciate B trying to teach Elanor things, I was woken one morning by E shrieking NO NO NO NO DOWN DOWN NO NO…and came out to see Ebeth trying to “teach” Elanor the alphabet. She’s seen me do flash cards and work with Elanor and she knows that we value academic achievement. But the difference is that I do them with E in a very animated matter and for only as long as SHE is interested in doing them. While I’m not a certified Pre-K teacher, I do, at least, know far more about what I’m doing and why than B does…and while the emulation is flattering, the means by which the emulation is being carried out is counterproductive to the overall goal–teach E to love learning.
Finally, and this is the one where I feel most lost, is that B is genuinely invested in E. Perhaps too much. She has a daughter who lives with her mother (the girl’s grandmother) and she hasn’t had much opportunity to raise her. Her former employer expected B to deal with all child related issues, so she was sort of a de-facto mom there, too. *I* am Elanor’s mom…which I had been establishing, but lost when I through illness and laziness stepped back and let her deal with E. Now that I am re-asserting control, there is (at least I perceive there to be) frustration, and anger on her part. We’ve talked a bit about it, and I’m also trying to keep it relating concretely back to our trip to the US in November, where I will be responsible for Ellie on my own with no equivalent person to B, but I definitely get the sense that she doesn’t necessarily approve. We are NOWHERE near it, but if I have to, I do always have the option of letting her go and sending her home…but I would hate to. She loves E, she is a huge help, and especially with a second pregnancy on the horizon, I’d be stupid not to think I need help (and live in help is the only real option…believe me, we’d prefer a live out solution).
But I’m not blaming B for stepping up to bat…I’m angry with myself for sitting on the bench too long. But here and now, I admit that I’ve made mistakes and it’s time to rectify them.