Dear Facebook: Thoughts on Our Time Apart

I’ve never been big on giving things up for Lent, even though as a former Catholic, it should be a part of my cultural heritage. Prior to this year, I’m pretty sure the last time I partook in this ritual was 2006, when I gave up coffee. Needless to say, it was a rough six weeks.

This year, I happened to be perusing Facebook on Ash Wednesday and came across a “goodbye” post stating that one of my friends would be returning to the News Feed after Easter. On a whim, at that exact moment, I decided to make the same decision. It would be good for me, I reasoned, to spend less time checking my device, to refrain from sharing my every random thought, to put less stock in the number of comments or “likes” each of my posts received. The timing worked; I would most likely be back on the ‘Book just in time for the arrival of baby number three.

After four-plus weeks of this experiment, here is what I have learned:

1) It’s a Good Thing I’m Not a Smoker. Why? Because I suck at quitting. I did really well for a week or two, then I started to slip here and there. I mostly blame this blog, because Facebook remains the best way to announce a new post, and I can’t resist reading my friends’ responses. After I had cheated once, it was easy to do it again, just a quick peek to see if I had any notifications. Still, I would estimate that during Lent I have spent about 95% less time on Facebook, and for me that is a giant success, all things considered.

2) The Fear of “Missing Something” is an Illusion… Mostly. On a Monday morning a few weeks ago, I walked into school and was nearly accosted by a student asking, “Did you see the black and blue dress?!?!” Backing away slowly, I responded that no, I had not. A little further up the hall, another student stopped me. “Is it black and blue, or is it white and gold?” I seriously thought I was being punked, but apparently this was a thing that not only middle school students, but normal, well-adjusted adults were talking about and debating. It was exactly the kind of nonsense that I was happy to miss out on during my Facebook sabbatical.

At the same time, there were some things that I genuinely did miss: exciting announcements, birthdays, entertaining anecdotes or cute family photos from my friends and acquaintances. I know what some of you might say- if you’re really friends with someone, you’ll keep in touch with them somewhere other than Facebook. The disappointing truth is, I can barely keep up with my immediate family and few closest friends the “old-fashioned” way. Yesterday I attempted to video chat with my sister and her kids, but the connection kept freezing and my own two troublemakers kept talking over their aunt and cousin. Even returning a text often takes a few hours to a day due to the distractions of home, work, and ankle-biters. Facebook is simply the most efficient way to find out what is new in the lives of the wide array of people with whom I am connected. It doesn’t matter if I’m related to you, if I know you well, if I haven’t seen you in ten years, or if we don’t even really talk that much when we see each other in person. If we’re friends on Facebook, I have at least a passing interest in what you have going on or what you have to say.

3) It’s Not Just About Me. Conversely, I didn’t realize, until I significantly cut back on Facebook, how much other people, particularly mine and Matt’s families, rely on Facebook for updates about us. My in-laws just happened to be out of the country on vacation for the past few weeks, and I got a text message from New Zealand: “We miss seeing pictures of the girls on Facebook. Send us some, please!”

4) I’m Not a Masochist. Now that I’ve broken the cycle of Facebook addiction and can cut my usage back from dozens of times a day to once every few days, I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. No, it’s not Easter yet, but I have a pretty emotional and stressful couple of weeks ahead of me as I finish out my career as a teacher, for now, at least, and prepare to become a mother of three. I may need to vent, and I definitely need all the support I can get. I think (and I’ll say a couple of prayers too) that God will forgive me for that.

The Countdown: For This Teacher, School is Almost Out

It is 4:55 a.m. This is not a time of day that I normally see (and based on my current observations, I’m not missing much), but insomnia has come to call. When my youngest woke up around 3:30 calling for her “bobby”, a name she at some point gave to her pacifier and by which we all now call it, I couldn’t get myself settled again. Perhaps it’s my giant belly or loose, painful pregnancy joints that are keeping me from getting much-needed rest. More likely the culprit is my over-worked, over-active brain that just can’t fit all of its worry and anxiety into the waking sixteen hours of the day.

I’ve heard other insomniacs refer to what they call “the list”- the items that occupy their mind like a revolving door during the hours when they should be asleep. Mine contains a litany of baby-related chores, most of which I have not yet gotten around to completing: order a better baby carrier, make sure my pump is in working condition, unpack and take stock of newborn clothes, get a “labor day” game plan in order, buy a leash for my one-year-old. On top of that, the stomach virus made its way into our home early yesterday morning, and though at this point we’ve only had one man down, I can’t help fretting over who might fall victim next. Finally, I’m attempting to process the very recent news that, due to changes in funding, our four-year-old’s fabulous, public-school pre-K program will now accept only children within a certain income bracket. This puts “find a new pre-school for Maggie” way up there on the list of things stressing me out. But there’s one major item I’ve left off, which for me encompasses almost every conceivable emotion and is never far from my racing mind: what I have termed “The Countdown”.

18. The number of school days remaining before my due date. The amount of time I have left to be a teacher- at least for a while. I have always had a love-hate relationship with my profession, wishing I could leave the meetings, planning, and paperwork to someone else while I bantered with my students and did my best to make sure they left my room having learned at least one new, valuable piece of wisdom or information. I have whined about the low pay, the innumerable hoops we teachers have to jump through, the hours after-school and on weekends that have been sucked away from my family and funneled into English or Social Studies prep. I have vented my frustrations about school dynamics (adults being just as cliquey and mean as middle-schoolers much of the time) and worried that my colleagues didn’t respect me or recognize how hard I was working.

Over the past ten years, since I joined AmeriCorps as a mentor straight out of college, I have been either Ms. Dunn or Mrs. Pray to over 1,000 young people. I have done my best to make my subject matter to them and to serve as a model of respect and concern for others. I have worked with and commiserated with some amazing, amazing, men and women. I have attended plays, musical performances, ball games. I have told my husband countless stories about kids that he would probably never meet, but who I couldn’t help talking about when I got home from school. For the past several years, at least since having my own children, I have taken a moment out of every morning to say a quick prayer to God: “Lord, let me put aside my own worries and problems and be present for these children today.”

When I made the choice to step out of the classroom for the time being in order to be more present for my own family, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Other moms I know who have made the same transition tell me that I’ll never look back. I’m not so sure about that, but I can say that I am looking forward to each of the 18 days left on my school calendar. The ticking clock may be one more source of stress, but it is also a blessing, a rare opportunity to once again appreciate what it was that drew me to teaching in the first place. Maybe tonight, when sleep is once again eluding me, I’ll try counting my blessings instead of sheep.

The Pregnancy Progression: Lessons from One to Three

My kids don’t even wear Luvs diapers, and I promise you I am not on the company’s payroll, but if you haven’t seen the series of “First Kid, Second Kid” commercials, and you have at least two children, please look them up. You will not be disappointed. From our labor plans to breastfeeding to the foods we allow them to eat and things we allow them to play with, our attitudes change significantly from the first child to the second, and, from what I’ve heard, to any subsequent children after that.

The same, it seems, is true of pregnancy. Let’s do a quick recap:

Pregnancy #1
After waiting the requisite 12-13 weeks, I announced my pregnancy in person to as many people as possible in order to up the “specialness” factor. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. (I tried to get my husband to read it too, but I’m pretty sure that was a fail.) Each week I looked up my growing child’s milestones to find out if he or she was the size of a grape, a kiwi, or an eggplant. I did my best to follow all of the typical pregnancy rules: no soft cheeses, deli meat, sushi, etc. I went so far as to scour the grocery store for pasteurized blue cheese dressing which, by the way, exists, and is disgusting. A glass of wine was a rare treat; I think I snuck a glass of champagne at a wedding.

The focus of pregnancy #1 was mainly on taking care of myself and, by extension, our baby. I recall with extreme nostalgia coming home from work and napping on the couch while Matt made dinner. I slept in on Saturdays and then got up and went to the gym. If I were to find a picture of what my arms looked like when I was pregnant with Maggie, I would probably cry. Chin-ups and dips… two words that have not been in my vocabulary since 2010.

And oh, the fearful anticipation of labor, of actually welcoming baby and bringing him or her home to keep. Maggie was due on October 2nd, a Sunday, and I had taken off of work for the entire previous week because I was so afraid of going into labor while teaching. So, for nearly two weeks I spent an hour or more each day walking, hoping it would speed up the process, and much of the rest of the day either napping or watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix.

When labor finally did kick in I went to the hospital hilariously early and was sent home with instructions to wait “until the pain became MUCH more intense”. I spent the next day and a half feeling humiliated and willing myself to last until my next doctor’s appointment so as to avoid another dread encounter with the labor and delivery night shift. After about a total of 48 hours in labor, it was a girl! and we began the difficult transition between a family of two and a family of three, a change for which not even nine months can prepare you.

Pregnancy #2
After Maggie we went through a crisis of “Do we or don’t we?” Both my husband and I had always envisioned ourselves with more than one child, but we had started to feel pretty comfortable with the ease of finding a babysitter for one, which left us able to enjoy some of the experiences of our pre-baby existence. On top of that, Maggie was a willful child, and the thought of having to tend to the needs of an infant while supervising timeouts and tantrums was incredibly overwhelming.

Still, we decided to go for it, thinking that it would be better in the long run for Maggie to have a sibling. The feeling, upon learning of my second pregnancy, was more hesitant than jubilant, but when I started to bleed heavily around six weeks, all I wanted was for my new little not-quite-a-person-yet to pull through. I called my parents and tearfully told them the news, wishing I could have waited but needing their prayers and support. We did the same with Matt’s family, saying something along the lines of, “There are complications, but we want you to know.” It was a terrifying ten days or so until the bleeding stopped, but with continued observation and frequent ultrasounds my doctor finally coaxed me into believing that everything was going to be okay and, miraculously, it was.

After our initial scare, the second pregnancy very much revolved around reassuring Maggie of our love for her and preparing her for sisterhood. We spent a great deal of quality time together in the months leading up to Ceci’s birth, eating ridiculous amounts of ice cream (my craving of choice for #2), getting Maggie situated in her new “big girl” room, working on potty training, and cuddling on the couch while I napped and Maggie watched back-to-back episodes of Sesame Street.

Did I feel 100% read for Ceci to arrive? Not really. Was I nervous about having to do the whole labor thing again? Yes. Did I feel confident that we would seamlessly incorporate the new baby into our lives? Absolutely not. But a planned induction (for the sake of convenience, which I probably would not do again) took some of the anxiety out of the equation, and in the end everything ended up entirely hunky-dory. Yup, I said it: Hunky-dory.

Pregnancy #3
It snuck up on me, it really did. Two kids seemed to be going well, and hey, why not? Let’s have another! So, shortly after Ceci’s first birthday, there was the plus sign on the stick yet again. When I found out, Matt was on an overnight concert trip with some friends, and it’s a testament to the third pregnancy and the state of my brain that I honestly can’t remember if I texted him or called him to share the news. Either way, he was in great spirits, and so was I, and we kind of just figured, “Hey, why not?- Can you tell this has been kind of the theme of this whole pregnancy? –  Let’s spread the joy!” We wasted no time in telling whoever we felt like telling.

There have been a host of other differences between this pregnancy and the others. As I said before, this has been the “Hey, why not?” time around. While my life with a four-year-old and a one-year-old is certainly NOT relaxing, my attitude toward the child I’m carrying has had to be. For example: Pregnancy rules? Seriously? If there is food in front of me, I am going to eat it. I like goat cheese. I like to lick the bowl after I make cupcakes, regardless of the presence of raw eggs. I mean, I’m not going to go out and eat ten cans of tuna and OD on mercury, but I am also not going to be made to feel guilty for eating a turkey sandwich.

Mostly (and I hope my unborn child won’t take this the wrong way), I have just not had the luxury of being able to focus much on this pregnancy. I have two kids who demand a lot of my time and attention, and I know that with number three, this is the easiest part. She’s contained. She doesn’t talk back or stand on tables or cry inconsolably because I place the wrong cup in front of her. I don’t have to chase her or worry that I will lose my patience with her.

At this point, I’m six-ish weeks from meeting my newest little girl, and do I feel 100% ready? Not really. Am I nervous about having to do the whole labor thing again? Yes. Do I feel confident that we will seamlessly incorporate the new baby into our lives? Absolutely not. But what I’ve learned by this point is that part of what makes being a mom so amazing is the ability to adapt and accept and make each child feel as special and loved as the next, and I do feel 100% ready to do that.