the things I’m not doing

legos on the floorAll around me I see evidence of the things I’m not doing.

The dog has been barking at the back door for 20 minutes and I’m not letting her in because her paws are muddy and I can’t wipe them off because I’m holding the baby.

The kids’ noses are runny and I let them run. I step on the same pieces of the same half-assembled toys as I pace the length of the living room with that rhythmic bounce only motherhood teaches you (the one you find yourself doing in the checkout line at the grocery store, even when you’re alone with no baby to soothe).

I’m not putting away dishes. I’m not returning emails. I’m not listening to the preschooler asking me to guess which hand holds a wadded up Kleenex. I’m letting the house crumble into multicolored plastic chaos because I’m holding or rocking or nursing or wearing or changing the baby.

And it’s maddening after a while. It’s just a little bit like torture to see and smell and hear the thunder of life moving forward with all its messes and small parts and dings and beeps and barks and whiny pleas and not be able to do anything about any of it.

I know. This is the part where you say, “Go easy on yourself, crazy lady. You just had a baby. The dishes can wait. You just need to lower your expectations of yourself a little.”

And now this is the part where I tell you very clearly: my expectations are already really low. I have no intention of making wholesome homemade dinners for the foreseeable future. I have no delusions that the house will be, or should be, spotless during this nutty time. I get that it’s okay if my kids leave the house with snot on their cheeks and that I get a free pass to rock the McDonald’s drive-through (and the Starbucks drive-through) as often as I want for the next couple of months.

So I don’t think I’m being excessively hard on myself. And still, even with these right-sized expectations and a heaping dose of self-love, the things I’m not doing threaten to undo me.

mess on the floor

The laundry I’m not folding. The sleep I’m not getting. The pictures I’m not taking and the blog posts I’m not writing and the ever-loving tiny pieces of construction paper I’m not picking up off the floor. The patience I don’t have with the people I love more than anything in the world.

Because these aren’t things I feel I ought to be doing, held over me by some external ideal that I’m not living up to. These are things I want to be doing, things that make me feel basically functional and human.

I know (again). This is the part where you tell me that this is what I signed up for. That nobody said it was supposed to be easy. That this, too, shall pass.

And this is the part, again, where I tell you: I know. I know that logically. No one ever went clinically insane over forty-two gazillion construction paper hearts. Or a barking dog. Or an overgrown inbox. I also know that this is an extraordinarily first-world lament – a cherry on top of the upper tier of the first world lament – a righteous whine-fest the likes of which would annoy me if I weren’t the one doing the whining. I know.

But that doesn’t make it any easier when I am thirsty but not drinking, hungry but not eating, tired but not sleeping.

Five weeks in, the things I’m not doing sometimes roar louder than the things I am doing. And I don’t like it. Because at some point in the future – soon or forever? – this will be the thing I’m not doing:

holding baby

And this will be the bath I’m not giving:

baby in bath

And she will be the one I’m not holding and rocking and nursing and soothing and responding to and choosing over the mess:

five week old baby

And all the things I’m not doing today will become easy and mindless and boring, and these three will be the ones whose absence makes my heart ache for construction paper confetti and a carpet of legos:

kids on the floor with dog



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7 Responses to the things I’m not doing

  1. Renata February 26, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Yes, the fact that we KNOW it will all pass does not make it easy….But maybe getting a cleaner for a day? Or asking a family member/best friend for help?
    Still I would love to feel all that one more time :)

  2. Kelli February 26, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    Seriously spot on! I too unravel at the seams at the slightest fear I am not holding up my end around the house, at work or with my family/friends. I have gotten better by “allowing” myself a get out of jail free card every once in a while (especially if it is to play with my little guy), however the guilt and obsession is still there when I’m done. I just have to literally remind myself daily that these days where he WANTS to play with ME and needs ME will pass all too quickly.

    I can only imagine how that is magnified with 3 running/being carried around. Great post and good luck with the juggling act!

  3. erica @ expatria, baby February 26, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    Oh, Sarah! I remember that feeling so well: the overwhelm envoked by the desire to preform the most basic of life’s tasks such as feeding myself, let alone making the bed or sweeping up cat hair. And I only had one child and very few outside responsibilities. Three?? Hats of to you.
    One thing that stuck me in this post is your chiding yourself for making a mountain out of a “first world problem.” But actually this IS a first world problem in the sense that in most other, non-western cultures, women are not expected to do ALL OF THE THINGS by themselves while also caring for a new baby. The typical set-up is for aunties, big kids, cousins, friends to take some of the load. Babies are passed around. If mum is tired, baby might get handed over to grandma. People are around to help with food prep, or maybe it’s take-out for dinner (read: street food). So, in a way, Western women have this crazy paradigm wherein we have to do everything, with no support. So. Yeah. Don’t worry about that aspect. It is a first world problem, because actually, there’s much better support for new moms in other parts of the world.

  4. Sasha February 27, 2013 at 7:09 am #


  5. Liz February 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    My third child just turned 5 months and we are at the point where we typically get the day to day things done. On those days where we don’t I oscillate between letting go and honestly enjoying the moment and sheer frustration. I agree with so much of what you said. I really do want to be doing those things, laundry/food/picking up, for my family. It’s my way of taking care of them, loving them. I also find even the littlest tasks leave me with a sense of accomplishment. Sure raising kids is an accomplishment, but it’s not as tangible as turning a huge pile of dirty laundry into neat stacks tucked into drawers, a freshly cleaned bathroom or nice roast chicken. The chance to complete an “above and beyond” project is extremely satisfying…and rare.

    Almost half a year has flown by since the baby was born and I have no idea where it has gone. Sure, I can sit down and collect the memories and pictures- I was there after all. But it scares me to think how little time I might still be able to influence my 5 year old before peers hold more power, and how is he 5 already?! These chaotic days where my babies are still babies is right where I want to be! Yet the feeling of being trapped and incapable of meeting your own basic needs in a mad dash to meet everyone else’s can still be quite challenging. I always find a healthy dose of empathy or perspective to be helpful. That and a few stolen moments, okay cookies, here and there.

    Oh, and while you can’t do everything yet, you might be able to take two minutes(if you can find them) to crank up some music, eat a couple stale crackers, chug some water and go dance around the living room with the kids. So while I don’t know you, from one mom to another, you are definitely not alone. I wish you oodles of patience:)

    • Sarah March 11, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Thank you, Liz! I loved reading this comment! :)

  6. Chloe March 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Ha- love the perspective you threw in there- and of course it brought me to tears! xo C

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