One Year of Awesome Advice.

One of my very favorite, most beloved friends once said to me, “the worst thing about having kids is that it magnifies every single bad personality trait you have.” Back when she said it, I laughed and nodded. Now I think she deserves a MacArthur Grant.

The small boy turned one last month. We threw him one of those disgustingly adorable parties where every detail deserved some kind of slit-your-wrists Pinterest award. The theme was “Holy Duck Aut is One!” and the festivities had approximately zero to do with celebrating his arrival at the ripe old age of one. He didn’t do shit. We were celebrating the achievement that is making it through the first year of raising a human. We celebrated in the park with duck cupcakes and a huge vat of Cheerios filled with toys, finger sandwiches with no crusts, PB+J pinwheels, and the most obnoxious, handmade, hooded towel party favors that I did just so that all the other moms would feel really, really bad about themselves. Eventually he is going to make me throw him a Disney themed party with gross paper products from iParty and and favors that single-handedly keep China from developing a middle class, but for now he is unable to form sentences and therefore every action is considered consent. Duck themed picnic in the park? “Hells yeah, Mups!” he replied, “let’s do that shit!”

Pretty much all of our friends are already biting the proverbial bullet and getting knocked up with their second. I understand their reasons, they want two. Eventually. Like down the line. Like when “it’s all said and done” they want two offspring. So even though going through it all again so soon makes them tear up, they are doing it now. Getting it over with, if you will. Needless to say, the hubs and I are not there yet. More accurately, we’re not entirely sure what we want now, never mind what we are going to want eventually.

If I had to think of some things that I’d rather do than be pregnant again, they would fall somewhere between being Anne Frank’s sister and an overnight guest at Bin Laden’s in May of 2011. I don’t even really remember hating pregnancy that much– like the physical act of carrying a child around– what I hated was being pregnant. I hated being the consideration at every event, the pregnant gal at the office, the one who needed to be offered water and brought ice cream under threat of death. I hated hoisting myself and looking cute “for a pregnant girl.” I hated the weird sounds and smells and cravings, and I really hated thinking that everyone who saw me couldn’t help think of my vagina– even though it was probably just for a second. (There’s just something weird about pregnancy and the thought of vaginas. You see a pregnant woman and there’s always that fleeting thought, the flash of VAGINA!, and then before you can wrap your mind around what the context is, the thought is gone. I walked the streets of New York imagining the hundreds of people I passed by silently screaming, “VAGINA!”)

What I REALLY hated, was being a “new mom.” Good Christ. Every woman, sister, mother, grandmother, nurse, nun, and librarian has some advice for you. Well intentioned though everyone was, I still wanted them dead. “Cherish every moment!” “Never wake a sleeping baby!” “Sleep them facing the rising moon.” “Rub your nipples counter clockwise to stimulate milk flow.” “Eat the heart of a gecko to grow his brain big!” “Sleep train them early!” “Potty train from birth.” Endless streams of advice from random people on the street. It’s like the Sixth Sense, except no one is dead and everyone is loud and won’t shut up. To make matters worse, if I never have a second, we are locked in this unspoken purgatory of indeterminable new momness. See a woman with three kids and you assume she knows what’s up. See a woman with one…

But enough of that. The simple version is that while it’s possible that maybe one day a second Beaulieu baby will grace this Earth, the popular opinion is that we are one and done. We baked our person and now we settle in and see how we did. And he’s how we’ve done so far.

Our child is bald. Not quite Mr. Clean bald, but definitely a Benjamin Button meets Andy Kauffman playing a bookie in Boogie Nights bald. Humidity reveals soft tendrils of baby mullet in the back, while the top makes a slow and pitiful creep towards establishing a hairline.

I only dropped him on the floor once. And there wasn’t so much as a threat of CSS intervention.

He has excelled at growing teeth (10 so far!), as well as chipping them. We don’t know when. We don’t know how. But we’re poised for one of the most awkward kindergarten photos ever. Bald, big, shit-eating grin, chipped front teeth.

He’s either a genius or a sociopath. Only time will tell.

He’s the kind of cute that makes you worried for his future. Like the kid in Jerry Maguire. As a mother, I don’t want to have to tell him he peaked at one and now America thinks he’s awkward, but I’d rather have the tough talk and avoid having him end up on Perez Hilton looking like Haley Joel Osment.

He seems confident in his gender, but firmly unsubstantiated in his sexuality. We remain unbiased and optimistic about his options. (Kids loves him a necklace, though. Like Liza.)

If there is a recall on the lacquer on his crib railing, he’s going to end up with cancer. Because he ate pretty much the whole thing.

He’s built exactly like every woman in the developed world wishes she was: tall and malnourished looking, but completely healthy.

The list of his achievements in the first twelve months is short, but included the usual sitting up, crawling, shitting his pants, going on an airplane, and standing up on surfaces high enough to give him brain damage, but not kill him. As for us, we’ve learned a thing or two about The Art of Parenting. Starting with the unabashed reality that there is zero art to parenting. Parenting, for us, has been 365 days strung together with well-intended meals, insanity inducing bouts of sitting on the floor “playing,” and waking up panicked at least 4 days a week that we fucked up and killed him.

A friend recently asked me what our “must haves” were for a baby registry. We had it all. We had the gidgets and gadgets and heaters and warmers and cuddlers and cradlers– all of it. And yet, we couldn’t come up with anything. You need a car seat, it’s the law. Otherwise, a boob and some diapers. That was pretty much it. We started out strong, firm, right, and noble. In the end, we decided that sterilizing was for bitches, fancy stuff breaks, and nice stuff gets shit on. We learned that what you really need is a blood vow with your spouse that you will constantly remember “this too shall pass” and that snapping isn’t always personal.

We definitely learned how selfish we were. And how much we liked to sleep. We learned that we should have gone to more bars and restaurants when he was tiny and started saving for college before we met. We found at that “looking like a parent” isn’t really a choice so much as a natural progression from caring about how your look reflects you to knowing where the meaning in your life comes from. We learned that there is nothing in the whole world so sad as the sound of a tiny cough and nothing in the world so annoying as a child in a car after 45 minutes. We’ve learned to hate stuffed animals and loathe those who bring them to our home. We’ve learned that we don’t always agree with our friends’ parenting styles but it doesn’t mean we have to stop hanging out. We’ve learned that stress can make you say and do things that will both horrify and delight you. We’ve learned that no matter how much you want to wake them up to kiss them, you shouldn’t. Only idiots do that.

We learned some scary stuff, like how little we know about life. And how little our parents know. We’ve learned to worry about the future, but also realize that there’s nothing we can do about it.

We’ve learned the hard and sad ways that not every baby makes it to being a kid. We’ve learned that we are so fucking lucky that he has a sharp mind and a light heart. We’ve learned that baby toys take over and they hurt like a mother fucker when you step on them. We’ve learned to buy the good humidifier and the good white noise machine. We learned that babies can’t “blow” their noses, so you better be ready to suck snot.

We’ve learned good stuff, bad stuff, sad stuff, surprising stuff. We’ve learned that we have so much more to learn.

But most of all, more than anything, we’ve learned to never, ever bathe a child after dinner if they haven’t pooped that day. They will shit in the tub.

The Weight of Expectation. Or “The Worst Thing About Me.”

So here’s how the last few months have gone down: I took a full time job that was a COMPLETE FAIL, which started me into a tailspin of ohfuckwhatamidoingwithmylife, my child started day care and hates it so much he’s practicing his first sentence, “go to hell,” my sister-in-law smacked her head and nearly paralyzed herself, I’ve gotten into a complicated emotional kerfluffle with my father and his wife, I drunkenly told my older brother off, and my younger brother lost his best friend in a car accident. Now none of these things happened TO me. They were all things that either happened by the course of nature, the actions of others, or I played a direct hand in making a mess of them. I’m not crying victim. I am simply setting the stage for what has been a very involved and emotionally fraught period of self identification, searching, and smoking menthols on a park bench like a crazy person. 

My husband is sticking around because of the “for better or worse” clause, though he has made no secret of the fact that if I don’t get my shit together soon, he’s going to go find a nice Christian girl to settle down with. (He dated a Mormon once. I know he secretly fantasizes about those prudish, God-fearing types.) The baby pretends like he doesn’t know I’m a hot mess, but I can see it in his eyes. He knows that if I don’t get things figured out soon I will bring shame to our house and he will not be able to go to daycare without the burden of my failures. His meals, though mostly still up to snuff, have occasionally included portions of more pedestrian items and he has shown his dissatisfaction by lobbing them at my face or methodically dropping them onto the floor. 

I’m well medicated, so I can’t blame all of this on my psychiatrist, though I’d like to. It’s even baffled my mother, who feels like the first question one should always ask when feeling an emotion is, “am I on enough medication.” Yes. I am. This situation is not about meds or situational depression, it’s about something much worse. It’s about LIFE. 

I start most days with a list of consulting work that needs to be tended to and a checklist that includes things like “laundry” “kitchen” and “figure out what you want to do with your life.” For the most part, I treat them the same. I spend a few minutes sorting colors, a few minutes emptying the dishwasher, and a few minutes sitting on the couch wondering if I can come up with something exciting to do with my life. Something that makes me feel like I’m not just existing, working, and drinking rose and watching Bones on HuluPLUS. I don’t want a job. I want an all consuming, integrated personal and professional existence that makes me fell stimulated and involved and a little bit important. I don’t know why that’s so hard. 

Carol is my therapist and she’s pretty much the only good thing going for my mental health these days. I have no idea how fucked up Carol’s own children are, but in my imaginings they are the most well adjusted, happy people in the world. They have to be. Carol spits nuggets of pure gold and has the kind of perspective that makes me feel disproportionately well adjusted and reasonable when I leave her office. I sit down a hot mess and leave a real human being— with perspective. 

This week, I plopped myself down on the couch and told Carol to prepare for tears and not to comment on whether I smelled like cigarettes because I didn’t want to talk about it. She laughed and told me she wouldn’t hold her breath for tears, but was thrilled that she’d just bought a new box of Kleenex. (She nudged it at me, as much so I’d know it was there as to show me the really unattractive pattern adorning the box.) I proceeded to outline my case for the midlife crisis I was convinced I was going through and bemoan every detail of my existence. 

(Sidenote: it’s very important to me that Carol know both sides of the things that I tell her so that she can try to provide me with more objective feedback in how I’ve mishandled (aka fucked up) a situation. This often results in elaborate recreations of situations, including live readings of text and email threads, Facebook interactions, and phone conversations. It could be mistaken as a one-man show.) 

After I’d finished explaining why I didn’t have to will to go on, Carol sad something completely unexpected. 

“Sounds like life to me.” 

In the back of my mind, I already knew, really knew, what she was saying. I’d said it to myself. But hearing Carol say it so simply made me a little… deflated. If this is life, what does that mean for me? I told her I couldn’t imagine an existence with so many unknowns, so many unanswered questions, so many things I couldn’t control or understand. 

“You need to better understand your expectations, where they come from, and why they matter. Then you need to learn to let them go.” 

I’m going to give you a few moments to reread that, take it in, and then we will continue. 





Though I’ve never really been able to understand how to actualize the feedback, it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. How does a person lower their expectations? Isn’t an expectation a natural and immutable thing? Isn’t that why it’s called an expectation? I countered with a similar argument to Carol. 

“You’re angry and frustrated with other people because they haven’t met your expectations of them. Regardless of whether they’ve met their own expectations of themselves.” 

So I thought about it. (Re: obsessed about it.) And I’m pretty sure that somewhere in that logic flow is the key to enlightenment. (Someone find me a fucking Bohdi tree STAT.) High or low, I enter into every situation with an expectation not only of the outcome, but of the people involved, their roles, their places, and their actions. When those expectations aren’t met, it crushes me. And then I need answers. I become obsessed with getting those answers. Why did you do it this way? Why didn’t you think to do it that way?

Not only do I judge others by these expectations, I define them. Friends I’ve known for years will never be able to reinvent themselves in my mind because of my expectations of their reactions, feelings, and opinions. Christmas will forever be an emotional shit show because of my expectations. I expect everyone to play the role in the manner I have outlined in my own mind. And if they aren’t going to, they better be prepared to exceed my expectations. Otherwise… 

Theoretically, it’s a goldmine. If I were able to understand these expectations and adjust them, I’d probably be better liked, less stressed, more productive, more accommodating, thinner, happier, have thicker hair, better nails. God knows what. But in reality it’s something else entirely. It’s a terrible character flaw. I mean, seriously, who wants to be friends with that chick? Oh, right. NO ONE. 

So what’s the moral lesson here? Absolutely nothing. There’s atonement to be had in recognizing that some failures were a failure of expectation, not a failure of competency. But there’s no atonement in realizing that you’ve hurt people because you judged and found them wanting based on a system of measurement they didn’t even know existed. There’s also no easy way to begin lowering your expectations of yourself. There’s not a simple method for saying, “it’s okay to not achieve that because you set unrealistic expectations for yourself.” Because unrealistic or not, they were expectations. And they are there. Looming. 

And every morning when you wake up you have to sit on the couch during the time allotted for “figuring out what to do with your life” and try to figure out what your expectations should be when all you ever knew before was that they needed to be high.