Baby (Tic, Tic) Boom
Baby (Tic, Tic) Boom is now available on Amazon.com and on the Kindle both in the US and UK (just search for Jo Chivers).
There are some moms who find eternal and unconditional joy from raising their children. Who thank god every day that their lives are so perfect and blissful. Who given a healthy body and the financial capacity to do so would have five, ten, fifteen children. They would have them all sleep in the marital bed, breastfeed them until they were teenagers and then spend the rest of their lives sacrificing whatever they could to make their childrens’ lives perfect.
At the end of most days I am simply relieved and amazed to have kept my baby healthy and myself out of a mental institution. And, glass of wine in hand, I am thanking god that I didn’t have twins.
Just to complete the picture, there is also a good chance that I have unwashed and unkempt hair that hasn’t seen the hair stylists scissors in more months than I care to mention. Though my eye bags and wrinkles desperately need it, my face will be makeup free. My clothes will leave a lot to be desired, sloppy over-stretched yoga pants, probably worn during pregnancy and a t-shirt that has seen its far share of baby puke. My nails will be bitten to the quick and if it’s been a really bad day I will have a slight twitch above my left eye, a combination of raw nerves and lack of sleep. And the worst of it? I’ve probably been out in public like this at some point during the day, pushing the stroller, one exhausted foot after another, waiting for my darling three month old baby girl Daisy, to finally fall asleep.
Today however, is a good day. Probably as a consequence of having had a relatively good night’s sleep. I never thought I would call only being woken up twice, a good night’s sleep, but then I never thought that getting up at 6:30am would feel like a lie in or that having a shower was a luxury.
Today, I have not only had a shower, but I also washed my hair and applied some makeup. Daisy meanwhile had watched me in amazement from her bouncer, probably wondering, “who the hell is this glamorous woman and where is my mommy?”
Transformed once again into a human being, I’d looked around at my once beautiful home, which wasn’t looking quite so glamorous. Despite having a cleaner once a week and all the modern conveniences, my house still seemed to look like it had been burgled.
Every surface was covered in some kind of baby stuff. Like many before us, my husband Dave and I had believed that we could keep this whole baby thing simple. A stroller, a crib, some baby clothes, diapers, a few cute toys and you’re good to go right? Wrong! Our place looked like a Babies R Us store had thrown up in it. A swing, bouncer, play mat, toys, pacifiers, wipes, sterilizing equipment, breast pump and what seemed like thousands of burp cloths, which I’m sure were breeding somewhere.
Naively, we had thought that having a baby would have a minimal impact on both our home and our lives. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Not so long ago I had been a modern, career woman. Sharp suit, perfectly highlighted hair and I always had makeup on, even to pop to the Seven Eleven for milk on a Sunday morning. Living and working in Chicago, I had the über-chic city life I’d seen in movies and longed to live ever since I was teenager.
I was the living embodiment of the old work hard, play hard cliché. A successful and highly paid Project Manager, juggling several projects at a time, working ten to twelve hours a day, thriving from crisis to crisis, always on top of my game. At the end of each day I would hit some trendy bar with my work colleagues and then join my husband for a meal at one of the hundreds of restaurants between my office and home.
Home was an elegantly decorated penthouse condo, in a desirable Lincoln Park neighborhood (only just within, but it still counts, ask any real estate agent). My living room had an impossibly perfect cream carpet and couch, silk covered armchairs and glass side tables. The floor was littered with various candles and holders, picked up at Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and art and craft fairs that we’d browsed through on otherwise completely uneventful Saturday mornings. Other beautiful and totally non-functional objects were carefully arranged, such that our living room could easily have been mistaken for something out of a catalogue.
The kitchen was equally chic and simple, with just a few chrome appliances. These appliances and most of the contents of the cupboards were like new, mainly because they were never used. Dave and I ate out five or six nights a week. The most used items in our cupboards were the wine glasses, bottle opener, martini glasses, a cocktail shaker, oh and the coffee pot (morning after).
The rest of the house continued with this thoughtful and contemporary design and looked just as unlived in, because, well because we didn’t really live in it.
I was, quite simply, living the urban dream! And then in one momentary lapse of good judgment I’d decided to become a mom and not just a mom a ‘stay at home mom’.
But today, as I said, was a good day. Today I had managed to make myself look presentable and damn it, I was going to tackle the house too, well a piece of it anyway, starting with the disaster zone we liked to call the bedroom.
I made the bed for the first time in ages and I even scattered my beautiful Chinese embroidered cushions over it, which for the last twelve weeks had been lurking with the dust and fluff under the bed. Then I tackled the clothes mountain, the bottom of which scared me to death, but it had to be done. It was quite a job but at the end of it there were three piles, which I had efficiently sorted;
- Clean, but creased (definitely ok to wear again),
- Cleanish, with the odd spot of baby sick or other unidentifiable substance (ok to wear if desperate),
- So dirty it should have picked itself up and jumped into the washer (probably shouldn’t wear unless I want to be mistaken for a bag lady).
And around these piles, were clear floor, not clean, but clear. No toys, no burp cloths just clear carpet, I’d almost forgotten what color it was, it had been hidden for so long.
The rest of the house was a different matter, but there was only so much damage I could repair in one morning.
A little after 8:00am, the phone rang, mine and Michele’s early morning Mommy touch-base.
“So, Roman was up every two hours and took at least an hour to get back to sleep every time.” Michele sounded exhausted, you could hear that just talking was an effort.
“I know I should probably let her cry, but it just breaks my heart and I end up so fraught that I never get back to sleep. And on top of it all, when I got up at 4:00am to get her bottle, I knocked the last tub of formula onto the kitchen floor. I was just so tired and I didn’t know what to do so I scraped off the top layer of powder, while Clive went out looking for an all night store. How awful is that?”
“What?” I asked. “Scraping formula from your filth ridden floor or sending your poor sleep deprived, overworked husband out driving around Chicago in the middle of the night!”
Michele managed a tired laugh, “I know, I know, what else could I have done! But God, why does it have to be this hard?”
“Coffee?” I asked.
“Double dose of, see you in an hour.”
You see, the saving grace in all of this is that I am not alone. As recommended by my OB/GYN, Dave and I enthusiastically signed up for pre-natal classes, in the deluded hope that we would at least be prepared for both birth and baby. This is where Michele and I had met.
We watched the birthing videos with the other soon to be moms and dads looking joyously and devotedly at each other, responding with the appropriate “oohs”, “aahs” and “isn’t it beautiful”.
Michele and I weren’t really feeling it.
“Oh my God, that’s disgusting,” I’d cried, to the evident shock of the rest of the group.
“I’ve changed my mind,” Michele had said to her husband, “I’m not sure this baby idea is such a great one after all.” She was trying to be lighthearted, but her expression showed she was genuinely horrified. I had to agree. It’s funny, you know the mechanics of how this works and you see the diagrams when you’re a kid learning about the birds and the bees, but when you see a real human being trying to push out something that clearly is far too big for the doorway it’s chosen, you realize, ‘shit that’s what I’m going to have to do.’ Beauty of childbirth? Give me a break. It’s certainly miraculous, it’s unfortunately necessary, but pretty it most certainly is not! And all these women were clearly under the influence of something if they couldn’t see that.
With similar views on our impending deliveries and both being from England miles away from family, Michele and I had instantly bonded. By the end of the course we had exchanged telephone numbers and for many months bemoaned the downsides of pregnancy over several dishes of ice-cream and cups of tea or hot chocolate.
Like me, Michele had once had the perfect, professional city life. As a senior employee in a PR firm she had been organized, prepared, unflappable and always, always immaculately dressed in a smart but fashionable suit and fabulous heels. And like me, pregnancy hadn’t always been the glowing experience she had expected. For a good chunk of her pregnancy she had had the morning, afternoon and nighttime sickness, surviving on almost nothing but tomato soup, toast and jelly beans, the only things she could stomach.
One day during our pregnancy Michele and I had met for lunch in a little café behind the Peninsula Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Michele’s normally perfectly sleek, pulled back chestnut hair was mostly a tangle with a few stray strands sticking wetly to her sweaty grey/green face and she was desperately rubbing at a white patch on the lapel of her navy jacket.
“I’m so sorry Beth,” she gasped, “but I can’t do lunch today now. I have a huge meeting with a potential client this afternoon, I have sick all down my suit and I’m sweating like a pig.”
“I was on my way here and I walked past a guy eating a burger. It’s never bothered me up until now, but the smell! You’re not going to believe this, but I threw up in the trash can outside Nieman Marcus. Everyone was staring. If anyone from the office saw me, I’ll die, just look at the state of me. Anyway I have to at least get a new shirt to wear before this afternoon and you know what Bloomies is like on a Friday lunchtime, we’ll catch up later.”
And this was Michele’s life for almost nine months. Ask her where the nearest toilet (or if desperate trash can) can be found, from any point in downtown Chicago and she will tell you.
As her delivery date came closer she spent a good deal of her time worrying about the very strange twinges, sensations and actual physical pains she was experiencing. All a very normal part of pregnancy her obstetrician assured her, to which Michele responded, “well not in the bloody brochure I had!” I think Dr Lewis had serious reservations about delivering Michele’s baby.
Now with our three month old babies, we had long passed the ‘blissed out’ new baby phase, had moved through the ‘this is a bit more difficult than I thought but I’ll get the hang of it’ phase and were well and truly into the ‘oh my god what have I gotten myself into’ phase. Even though we’d wanted these little bundles of joy so much, even though just looking in their dear little faces sometimes made us so happy we could burst, life with them wasn’t always exactly how we’d dreamt it would be. We were both pretty much clueless, muddling our way though, thinking back to a time when things had been easier, more predictable and wondering if we would ever gain control of our lives again. But we had each other and we talked every day no matter what happened. We kept each other sane, when everything around us seemed to be in chaos.
The coffee shop had also become part of our daily ritual, always in the morning and often in the afternoon. Unfortunately I was breastfeeding, so as much as I needed the caffeine, that was out for me. But Michele had been adamant that although she would give her child everything else in her power to give, she wasn’t giving away her boobs. I think the gallons of coffee she drank were all that got her through!
It was a beautiful sunny August day, but already hot. I threw on a loose fitting summery skirt and t-shirt, (both from pile one), a pair of very cool sunglasses and a smear of lip gloss. Along with my clean long dark blond hair I actually looked like I had it all together for once. Daisy who always looked gorgeous, I put in a summery dress and floppy hat and off we went.
When I walked through the door of the coffee shop, Michele already had the largest cup of super strong coffee in front of her. She looked slim and elegant in a soft lilac summer dress and sandals, her long was hair tied back and she had on a huge pair of sunglasses. When she saw me coming over she lifted them onto her head, at which point I could see just how tired she was.
“Hi, wow you look great, did you get some sleep?” she asked.
“Actually yes.” I felt a little guilty admitting it for some reason, like it was a forbidden thing.
“Bitch! I’m so jealous. And just look at this one here,” she said pointing at Roman, who was sleeping like, well like a baby (stupid expression clearly started by someone with no experience with a newborn). “Two seconds in a stroller and she’s sleeping like a little angel. I got Clive to take her with him in the car last night to get some peace and quiet and to send her off to sleep. I just couldn’t take the pacing and rocking any more. God, this is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world and I don’t even have the ability to soothe my own baby to sleep. Do you think she hates me?” she asked.
“No, of course she doesn’t hate you, she loves you, you know that.”
“She has a funny way of showing it! I sometimes wonder if she’s mine at all. You know, maybe she got switched with another baby in the hospital and she’s desperately trying to tell me that I’m just not her mom.”
“If she did Clive must have fathered another child, she’s the image of him. And, he’s probably the least likely guy I know to ever have a love child, he has been utterly devoted to you since you were pregnant, I can’t see where he would have had the time or energy. I just wish Dave would take some notes from him.”
“I know. He is an absolute sweetheart, I just don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s been up half the night, he has a day full of meetings and he’s promised to be home early to give me a break. I’ve told him we need to get our Wills sorted, because at this rate, this parenting thing is going to kill us. I wish our parents could give us some help.”
“I know it’s hard when you live so far away from family, but you should be careful what you wish for. I have the mother-in-law from hell visiting in less than a week and she’s just more help than I can cope with.”
“But at least you get some relief when she’s here,” Michele said. “My parents are so busy traveling around the world on their various holidays that I don’t think they have the time for us. On their one five day visit to see their grandchild, they managed to fit in three meals out, the museums and two shopping trips to Michigan Avenue. And Clive’s parents only live in New York, not even a two hour flight you’d think they’d be here all the time, but we never see them either.”
“But don’t you remember Margaret visiting when Daisy was just born?” I recalled. “I was a nervous wreck by the time she left. I wasn’t holding Daisy right for breastfeeding, I was using the swing too much, I wasn’t eating enough to feed her properly, I should get her out in the fresh air more. The woman left me feeling like the most hopeless mother in the world. No trust me you’re better off without them, no one to judge you. And the damn woman is going to be here in just two days, god I feel sick just thinking about it.”
Michele looked over my shoulder just as the door opened and grimaced, “talking of judgment and feeling sick, don’t look now but Louise has just walked in.”
I knew Louise through her husband Alistair, who I’d worked with pre-baby. He seemed so normal and lovely, but I guess his ‘made fresh from home’ lunches should have given her away. Wild mushroom risotto, chicken and sundried tomato linguine, leek and pancetta quiche. Leftovers you would assume, but no, the woman made these meals in advance and froze them, ready in their microwavable boxes for Alistair to take to work. Even a sandwich would be mozzarella with roasted peppers and eggplant on a rosemary ciabatta. But Louise already had two children, Francoise three and Ameila who was almost two and I felt that her experience would be helpful. By the time I’d realized what a nightmare she was, I’d become her pet project, to convert hopeless disorganized Beth into a Supermom, basically into another Louise I think. But maybe I’m being unfair, she was kind at heart, had often delivered delicious meals to heat up and was always ready to dash over in any emergency. If only she didn’t make me feel like such a lost cause.
“Oh Christ, is it too late to make a getaway?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so.”
And then there she was looming over us. Perfectly highlighted blond hair, pressed kakis and white shirt and gorgeous high heeled sandals (yes I did say high heels and yes I did say she had two children under the age of four!). Her face was perfectly made up and she looked like she hadn’t a care in the world, like, well like she didn’t have any kids to be frank.
“Hi, sweeties how are you? God Michele you look awful.”
“Thanks Louise that makes me feel so much better!” Michele muttered.
“Honestly sweetie what’s going on? Listen let me grab a drink and you can tell me all about it. Can I get you something Beth?”
“Just a small decaf latte, thanks Louise.”
“Are you sure, not good when you’re breastfeeding you know, oh well I’m sure you know best,” she said, quite clearly thinking just the opposite. “Be right back.”
“Whoopee can’t wait,” Michele groaned.
“Shh, she’ll hear you.”
“Well for God’s sake, if she gets any chirpier I swear I’ll have to kill her in some long and painful way, the woman just drives me nuts.”
“I know, but I really think she means to be helpful,” I lamely offered.
“So sweetie,” she was back. “What’s going on with you, why are we looking like such a Droopy Dora?” Michele gave me a, ‘I mean it, I’ll kill her look!’ and opened her mouth to speak.
“She’s just has a bad night with Roman,” I said quickly anticipating a barrage of foul language. “We all have them don’t we?”
“Well both Francoise and Amelia slept through the night from around six weeks, so not really. It’s all about providing structure and routine and the right environment for sleep, so that they know what is expected of them. Of course my two were exceptionally perceptive from a very young age.”
Michele was looking like she might explode any minute, so I quickly changed the subject. “So what are you up to today Louise, where are the kids?”
“Oh Martha is watching them for an hour,” Martha was Louise’s cleaner/nanny/all around angel. “I just have to get a manicure. I’m doing a meal for Alistair’s boss and his wife tonight. The meal is all under control, goats cheese and leek tarts, followed by Beef Wellington and triple chocolate mousse, just keeping it basic you know, but my god my nails are just a mess.”
I looked down at my ragged bitten nails and across at her, what seemed to me to be perfectly polished ones, but I wasn’t about to argue.
“Anyway look I must dash, Michele if you need anything just shout, I’ll drop round later with some goulash I have in the freezer, so you don’t have to worry about cooking tonight, you look like you could do with a good meal. You two really should think about joining my gym, a good thirty minutes on the elliptical will do you the world of good. You know exercise really does give you so much energy and there’s great daycare there. Promise me you’ll think about it. Anyway catch you later, have a great day.” And with that she was gone again.
“Stupid bloody woman,” Michele fumed. “Go to the sodding gym? It will give you energy! Is she high or what? I barely manage to find the strength to get dressed and walk down the stairs in the morning and she wants me to go and do thirty minutes on the elliptical, is she bloody insane or what?” With that Roman woke up and started crying. “Oh crap!” Michele muttered. “I thought I was at least going to get to drink my coffee in peace. Ok sweetheart, come on then, lets get you out of there, do you want some milk?”
As Michele fished around in her bag for a bottle I tentatively said, “You know that may not be a bad idea, the gym I mean. It would at least give us a break for an hour, give us something to think about other than when the next feed is due, or if a diaper needs changing.”
“You’re serious,” she said. “You honestly want to go exercise, oh please Roman, you don’t want the bottle and you’re dry, please don’t give me a hard time, not today.” Roman was quickly working herself up into a frenzy.
“No you’re right,” I said. Of course she was, where did I have the energy or time to exercise? “Silly idea, never mind, look Daisy’s beginning to fuss too, lets walk for a bit, see if we can quiet them down, then I must get back and try to sort my place out a bit more. I can’t possibly have Dave’s mom thinking I‘m not coping, after all ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ and all that.” For some reason Michele and I found that completely hilarious and despite our individual troubles, left the coffee shop in a fit of giggles.