Domestic Bliss

Domestic Bliss

I’m interested in what you might call the domestic.

This interest is both personal (I garden, I make jam, I like to decorate, I got a little obsessed with Marie Kondo a couple years ago) and intellectual (read this). At a terrific?conference on motherhood a year ago, I was fascinated by a discussion of how motherhood isn’t all about the domestic noise?or domestic bliss?we think it is, not necessarily about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training (I know, I know). No, said the three amazing mother-writers: it’s also about the way time and space and identity close up, spread out, open, and morph when one becomes a mother. Memory fails. Projects go unfinished. Sleep deprivation turns ordinary occurrences into the stuff of magical realism. In other words: motherhood is about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training?but very much also about how we relate to those mundane things and still keep our sense of self.

Is this a struggle? That’s an understatement.

Now, dads change too?of course they do?but mothers are frequently hit with a tsunami when their kids are born: a tsunami of love, sure, but also the invasion of?a new kind of physicality that isn’t, always, welcome. Your body becomes something other the minute you get pregnant, in service to another human in a way it’s never been before. And this changes women. I know new moms who left academia after their kids were born, who realized they were in the wrong field entirely, moms who hated being mothers, who deeply resented breastfeeding. On the other end of the spectrum are the moms who, before they had kids, swore they would be rigid and scheduled and ended up soft, pliable, co-sleeping and nursing til their kids were three, all in a haze of domestic bliss.

Who knew?

But in some ways, the largest change when one has kids is the way one relates to the space at home. It may be that before having kids you were out every night, and your preferred dinner was takeout. You may have sent your laundry down the street. You may have worked in the evenings. Or slept until nine every day. You may have scarcely been home.

Once kids are on the scene, though, the center shifts drastically.

To the kitchen. The kitchen is like the eye of the hurricane.

I spend so much of my life now on simple food prep, it’s astounding.?I’ve always been into cooking and eating well, and I’ve worked a bunch in the food industry, but food prep became something else entirely when I had kids. Sometimes, when I see myself pumping one breast with my left hand?while shoving a sandwich into a reusable sandwich bag with the other, while reminding B not to forget the lunchbox of leftovers in the fridge as I pause to lift?a bite of cereal into my mouth, I have to laugh just a little. Into a bottle goes the milk, into a lunch bag goes the sandwich, into the backpack goes the grownup lunch, there’s a mad flurry to leave the house?and then it starts all over at dinnertime.

And then there’s the laundry. Oh boy, the laundry.

How one baby can make the laundry multiply four-fold, I don’t get. Granted, we do cloth diapers?most of the time?and that is a labor of love. But even without the dipes, we’re folding and hanging and dryering and putting away all. Day. Long. Perhaps it’s the spit up. Perhaps it’s that the baby’s arrival coincided with L’s penchant for wearing a new pair of pajamas every damn night. Probably it’s about the drool on the sheets and the bibs and the spit-up cloths.

Is motherhood all about the diaper genie and sleep training? Is it possible to find happiness and domestic bliss? Read on to find out.

Oh, and the sleeping.

Sometimes, at night, I feel the energy of the four of us in our various corners of the house, like we’re breathing sleepy life into the space between the walls. It’s a funny sensation, one I didn’t have when L was a baby. This past year, at various times we’ve slept in many different?configurations:

  • Baby S and I in the bed together,?nursing all night long.?B on the couch.?L in the lower bunk is his room.
  • Me in the lower bunk, L in the upper,?baby in his crib, B in the bed.
  • B back on the couch. Baby all by himself in the bedroom, L and I in the lower bunk together.

For three nights? L and S in their room together and B and I in our room?together.?(Domestic bliss.)

Aaand, since that didn’t work out so well, now B, S, L, and I in our bedroom, L on the floor, while S works it out in the boys’ room.

It’s musical beds around here, people.

Of course it’s easy for all of this?noise?to seem like the end-all-be-all of parenting. But is there still?intellectual curiosity to be found, that sense of morphing, that sense that the mundane has become something magical?

Yes. Sometimes.

Two nights ago, out of nowhere, L, who’s been moody and teenagery of late, said to me out of nowhere, “You’re my family, mom,” and looked at me in this earnest, loving way.

“Do you want to hear a song about that?” I asked, and then I sang him this.


L crying, pressing his earnest little brown-eyed face, his big mop of blondish-brownish tangly hair into my belly.

“I’m so lucky you’re my family, Mom,” he cried, and then I found myself crying too, telling him, “I’m so lucky. How did I get so lucky to have a kid like you?” The two of us there (in the kitchen! Where else?), embracing, loving one another, grateful. Wow.

And then we went and read Harry Potter with B while the baby slept.

Magic? Domestic bliss? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

p.s. L is my touchstone.?And read “My Favorite Mommy Blogger, Karl Ove Knausg?rd,” on The Cut.






The Mysterious Work of Raising Children

The Mysterious Work of Raising Children

A good friend from college and her partner just had a baby, and last Tuesday, I gathered together a bunch of hand-me-downs and goodies and packed them all into a box to send to Boston. That wasn’t the only thing I managed to get done that morning: I sealed up a birthday package for my mom, addressed a few birth announcements, cleaned the kitchen, checked my email, swept. Then I went in and woke up the baby, who’d been sleeping peacefully in his crib, by himself, white noise blaring, for two hours. After a feed and a brief period in which we managed to get out the door to the post office, get me a flu shot, and say hello to my acupuncturist, he took his second two-hour nap of the day. Oh, and there was a third. By 5 p.m. my house was the tidiest it’s been in weeks, dinner was made, emails were caught up on, an episode of Project Runway Juniors had been watched, and a part of me felt completely at loose ends, like: what on earth am I going to do with myself if this kid sleeps six hours every day? The thing is, he’d napped like that over the weekend, too, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was setting a sleep pattern that would change my life for the better. Dare I say “revisit that neglected novel?”

You know how this story ends: on Wednesday, the baby’s naps totaled a cumulative 3 hours: two 40-minute jobbies in his crib from which he woke cranky and sweaty, plus some afternoon chaos that involved me nursing him into oblivion while lying in a semi-prone position so that we both could sleep, the kind of sleep that, before I had a small baby, I would never have considered “quality” (I mean, it’s okay having someone gnawing on your nipple for 90 minutes while you get a crick in your neck and torque your low back, but it’s not as awesome as some sleep I’ve had in my day). By five p.m. the house was still in shambles, I’d had at least one good cry, and dinner was going to have to wait until Papa Bear got home. Then we had a rough sleep night, too. The day after, same routine, from morning until night.

When L was a baby, my anxiety about his sleep took up about 90% of my brain space. At about six months I invented something called The Sleep Lab, which is to say, I undertook an exhaustive study of his sleep patterns, writing down his every night wake-up on the back of an envelope or a notebook and trying, in the daylight, to make sense of the notes. But because he was waking up every ninety minutes on a good night, and I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, my data just showed that I was completely and utterly?not slated to ever sleep again.

The Sleep Lab

Note from the sleep lab. “Rig” stands for “that crappy rigamarole where he won’t accept the pacifier and won’t calm down, so I’m losing my mind.”

This time around, I’m playing things a little smarter. I’m getting B more involved in the night times, and I’m not giving in and giving the baby my boob every time he cries. Baby S is already on a better trajectory at 3.5 months than L was at nine, and that gives me a lot of hope. But nonetheless, life feels like?a game of Jenga: every time I balance one piece, another?goes out of whack. And I’m not just talking nighttime sleep. It’s the whole picture. It’s waking the baby early to nurse so the?pick-up of the seven-year-old isn’t tainted by high-pitched shrieking. It’s the constant question of?whether dinner is take-out or fried eggs on toast or a balanced, healthy meal. It’s making sure L doesn’t feel left out when so much of my time to goes to Baby S. It’s signing L up for summer camp before I even know my summer work schedule. It’s planning for a short-term nanny share while looking for a long-term daycare situation. It’s finding time to call my senators about the Affordable Care Act. It’s the aged car and the ant problem, the writing career mostly on hold until I can predict. One. Thing. About. Any. Given. Day.

I’ve never been great with spontaneity, but I’m doing my best to hold onto what’s solid?both kids seem predictably to be in bed by eight!?and roll with what’s not (the night waking, the naps). And I’m grabbing these little moments every day to blog, to read, to journal, and most of all, to sit with this time?that, I have a feeling, will feel like a simple Jenga game?one I’ll dearly?miss playing?ten years from now.


Hey! I’ll be presenting at the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year. If anyone’s planning to attend, drop me a line or look me up. It would be great to see you.

Thank you, egarc2 (via Google Advanced Image Search) for the great Jenga picture.