I feel like I’ve used the above Jon Snow image a lot this winter, but aside from the fact that I just need a little GoT in my life from time to time (and the new season doesn’t start until next freaking year!), it really captures that terror/misery/exhaustion that winter brings for a mom of babies.
Here’s the thing. I used to LOVE winter. Winter and me were pals. I may have even considered it my favorite season. I love snow and ice. I love Christmas. I love sweaters and hot drinks and boots. I even didn’t really mind the cold. Back in my running days, I LOVED a cold winter run. It was all good.
But then I had kids. Specifically two children. In two years. Last winter wasn’t so bad. I think it was because it was a warmer than average winter, and I remember a lot of outdoor time even in January and February. Ryland was 8 months old when last winter started and didn’t seem like such a delicate little flower who couldn’t be exposed to cold air or germs.
But this winter, the timing could not have been worse. Bobby was born on November 17, pretty much right at the end of fall. Which means that he would be a newborn/infant for the ENTIRE winter. And he certainly is not a delicate flower (I mean look at this chunk monster).
Like I was saying, no delicate little snowflake here. He is a big boy. Nevertheless he is still a very young baby without adequate temperature regulation or a fully functioning immune system. And you know what you really need in winter, to like go outside, in public? TEMPERATURE REGULATION AND A FULLY FUNCTIONING IMMUNE SYSTEM.
So unless it’s nice out, we’ve more or less been homebound. And it hasn’t been easy. It’s only February 9, and if I think too much about the fact that there are still almost 2 months of winter left, I might just cry into my third cup of coffee of the morning (winter may or may not have given me a severe caffeine habit). Winter is hard for all moms of littles, but being a stay at home mom makes it even more brutal. Because there is no escape. I am stuck with these little monsters, all day, every day. Which has its own set of challenges no matter the time of year, but in winter you can start to veer dangerously close to Jack Nicholson in the Shining territory.
As an adult, I am perfectly comfortable going for walks in frigid temperatures or going to the mall during flu season. But every time I’ve wanted to do things like that this winter I remember oh yeah, I have small offspring to consider when making my plans. And I can’t just leave them anytime I please with George as their babysitter (trust me, I’ve considered this option).
Perhaps you don’t have small children. Or maybe you do but work full time. Perhaps you’re thinking that the idea of hibernating inside with your babies all winter sounds like a delightful 24/7 cuddle fest. What is she complaining about, you may be thinking as you chip ice off your windshield. That sounds FANTASTIC. And sure, there are some lovely, cuddly moments in there. Some days it’s pretty great to have an excuse to stay in pajamas all day. But the charm of all day pajamas started to wear off sometime in early January. Here are some reasons why:
1. The darkness.
Oh, the darkness. I never would have imagined that I would spend so many waking hours each day before the sun rises. I worked night shifts for three years, so I’m familiar with that whole vampire existence, but when you’re not getting paid, it’s slightly different. Bobby wakes anywhere from 4:30-5:30 most mornings. Which is fine, because he usually only wakes up once during the night before that and I know it could be a lot worse. But still, when you’re up at 4:30, and the sun doesn’t really rise until closer to 7:30, it can start to wear on you, especially when the sun then sets by like 5. There’s a reason I don’t live in Alaska. I like sunlight. I need sunlight, and there are days with kids when you spend way too much time staring out your windows, willing the sun to rise.
2. You feel guilty if you take your kids out, and you feel guilty if you don’t.
Mom guilt is real. We all know that. But in winter, it’s pretty constant. I feel really bad for Ryland that she has to spend so many days stuck inside our house. I mean she’s 22 months old and a very short attention span, but still, she has her limits. There is a reason she has started to pilfer things out of every drawer of our kitchen for her personal entertainment. She has played with her toys to their maximum fun potential. And then she has turned to the rest of our house, and even that is getting a little stale. I can just see it in her eyes, like mom, really? Another viewing of Sing? This is what you’ve got on the agenda? But the flip side is that if I do get motivated and attempt an outing, I then spend the majority of that outing also feeling guilty. Is it too cold to be out? Are her hands warm enough? Is Bobby silently freezing to death? Are his lips blue or am I imagining it?! Is that kid over there sick? DO THEY HAVE THE FLU? Did that other kid just sneeze in Ryland’s direction!? Are they going to get sick now and it’s all my fault because I left the house? How selfish am I that I couldn’t just stay indoors all day for the 37th day in a row? So then the next day we do stay inside, and I then switch to guilt mode over that. Am I not stimulating my toddler enough? Is she going to be stunted in her development because she spends all her time in her house? Is she going to be socially weird and awkward because she is never around other kids her own age? Is she going to be that weird kid in school who picks her nose and eats it because of this homebound winter?? And on and on aboard the crazy mom train express.
3. The Groundhog Day-ness of it all
At this point, I sort of feel like I have lived the exact same winter day approximately 276 times. Which may be a slight exaggeration, but my goodness. There is so little to distinguish one day from the other right now. Ryland is in “school” on Mondays, but between Christmas break, all of the Monday holidays in January (which was pretty much every week of that month), and her random colds, she has pretty much not gone all winter. So there is no routine, no schedule. It’s just day after day after day of waking up, checking the forecast, seeing that it’s not getting above 40 degrees all day, watching the news and seeing all of the dire reports of children flu deaths and then resigning ourselves to being at home all day long. You kind of lose your bearings in what feels like a never ending parade of diapers, snacks, more diapers, Sing viewings, more snacks, nursing sessions, Sesame Street and Peppa Pig marathons, more diapers, more Sing, and then some more snacks. I cannot tell you how excited I get if there is some kind of appointment on our schedule, no matter what it is, just because it breaks up the week. I was counting down the days for Bobby’s 2 month well visit for crying out loud. I have a hair appointment next week and it is literally the most exciting thing in my life right now. I could be having a root canal and I think I might welcome it just because it breaks up the monotony a little. When it gets warmer and the germies fade away a little, I will sign Ryland up for lots of fun classes and groups and what not, but right now any large gathering of children is just not a great idea (and I know I probably sound super paranoid, normally I am not even a remote germaphobe and think it’s good for my kids to get minor colds to strengthen their immune systems, but this flu season is really brutal, it’s scary if you have kids period, but if you have an unvaccinated 2 month old, it’s particularly terrifying).
But yeah, there’s not a lot right now to distinguish one day from the next. It is sort of one pantless (on Ryland’s part, not mine) blur.
4. The loneliness.
I love my kids. I love being around my kids. But until you’re a parent you have no idea how it’s possible to literally never be alone during a day (like even when you are peeing, or in the shower) and simultaneously be really, really lonely. I don’t care who you are, your kids are not a stand in for an adult human, especially when they haven’t even learned to speak in coherent phrases yet. And when R is working, and I’m stuck inside day after day after day with Ryland and Bobby, I’m not ashamed to admit that I really miss being around other full grown humans. I try to break it up with playdates, but a lot of my mama friends work, and this time of year even if I do manage to schedule a play date half the time either my kids or the other mom’s kids inevitably get sick and it falls through. It’s particularly hard because R leaves so early and gets home so late, so I don’t even have that dependable evening time to have a conversation that is more than me just screaming “No” over and over again at Ryland while she tries to burn down our house. Sure, I can talk to her, and I do, but again, she is 22 months old. This is not a stand in for adult conversation. There are only so many time we can discuss her nose or belly button before the conversation gets stale. In the warmer months, it’s so easy to get out and be around people and meet up with friends at parks or playgrounds. But in the winter, you can feel kind of stranded on an island where the only other inhabitants are incomprehensible pygmies who poop their pants.
5. The complete and total destruction of your home and all of your earthly possessions.
You know what happens when you stay inside your home all day with a toddler? Chaos. CHAOS is what happens. It is like living with a drunk and highly motivated raccoon. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing is safe. I will leave a room for like 5 minutes and come back and it looks like a bomb went off. Books ripped off shelves. Clothes thrown out of hampers. Nothing can stay in its place. It’s like toddlers are deranged interior decorators, constantly rearranging every single item they can see. For some reason, Ryland has a thing with moving all of our hampers around the house, constantly. She also loves to take all of the pots out of the drawer in the kitchen and pile them onto our bed. Separately, she takes the pot lids and arranges them in a mysterious pattern on the living room rug. I find my toiletries and makeup in the laundry room and then find my laundry in the bathroom. She moves framed pictures from room to room, takes all of the coasters off every surface, unplugs lamps, finds every single piece of loose change I’ve accumulated since 1993. And that’s not even mentioning her toys, which of course get carried to every random inch of the house you could imagine. Some days I try to keep up with it, and spend pretty much all day following her around putting things back in their places. Other days I just sit back and let it happen, because trying to stop a toddler is like trying to stop a hurricane. Ain’t gonna happen.
6. The tantrums/arguments.
You know what a toddler does when she gets bored and restless and can’t go outside and mommy has run out of shiny things to distract her and cannot bring herself to watch Moana for the 398th time? She throws tantrums. Epic, flailing, red faced tantrums. For us, about 90% of our “fights” are over snacks. You guys. I am so done with this whole toddler snack fixation. It is never ending, morning until night. Because we have an open floor plan, the kitchen is always just right there, and inevitably Ryland will get bored of what she’s doing, take my hand, lead me into the kitchen and not so politely demand a “nack.” If it is not “nack” time I say no. Ryland gets a confused look on her face, like she must not have heard me right. Nack, she says again, only louder this time. She leads me directly to the pantry or fridge. No, I say again, firmer this time. She takes me hand and puts it on the pantry doorknob or fridge door and gives me a look of pity, because clearly mama is a little slow. “Nack,” she repeats. “No,” I repeat. Cue her throwing her entire tiny body on the floor like I have just decapitated her lovey. I have clearly ruined her life. I am the meanest mom who ever lived, because I will not supply her with an endless stream of “nacks,” mostly because I do not want to have a morbidly obese 2 year old.
It is a constant, constant battle, and some days I just want to install one of those automatic food dispensers and fill it with goldfish, only so I won’t have to deal with it anymore.
7. The bundling.
If we do get motivated enough to go outside, I am soon reminded how much of a process it is to get two babies ready to go outdoors in winter. There is inevitably a diaper change (or two) involved, then the removing of pajamas, the putting on of real clothes (which means chasing down and tackling a naked Ryland is streaking her way through the house like she’s a college freshman who has had a few too many tequilas). At this point I’m already sweating, but we’re not even to the shoes and socks yet. I’ll finally get these on Ryland, turn around to put Bobby in a warm layer, and then by the time I turn around Ryland has taken both her shoes and socks off and is halfway out of her pants. Cue more wrestling, more sweating. Finally it’s time for the coat and hat and mittens for her and Bobby, and at this point we’re all red faced and on the verge of tears and frankly exhausted enough that we no longer even want to go for a walk. It’s a lot. I really miss when Ryland could just go outside naked.
So yeah, this all must sound like a whole lot of complaining and belly aching, and quite frankly, it is. I know my winter confinement is not a real problem in the grand scheme of life. I know there are worse things. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t cried once or twice when looking at weather.com. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have fantasies about springtime, when we can go to the park again and the Children’s Museum and actually venture back out into the world once more.
To be fair, there are some good things about winter. I love my kids. Of course I love spending time with them. I wouldn’t choose another kind of life, no matter how tempting it is to run off to Hawaii to fulfill my long dormant dream of being a hula dancer.
And before you send me hate mail I also realize that I’m lucky in so many ways to be able to be at home with them and not have to work. But I also don’t think it makes me a bad mother to admit that this winter has been really cold and really long and really hard. Any mom who stays home with her kids knows that it’s not all sunshine and smiles and loving moments. Sure, those things happen, but there’s also a lot of messes and tears and boredom and times when you have to step into the garage and yell at your water heater so that you don’t scare your toddler.
There are a lot of days when even 4 cups of coffee don’t do it, a lot of evenings when you really need that glass of wine in a way that is probably not 100% well-adjusted. It can really be a struggle with teeny little ones in those long, dark days of winter, where the days are at their shortest but feel so very long.
But the good news is that spring will be here, eventually. Life will pick back up with all of its distractions and activities. And until then we’ll get through it with some help from each other and our moms and giant mugs of coffee and some really big glasses of wine.