I’ve been contemplating on a subject for October post for a few weeks now. There are plenty of things I want to talk about — motherhood is one topic that is impossible to exhaust. I want to write about judging and being judged, for example, and about the feeling of guilt that comes with becoming a parent, but I want to do more research before tackling these.
I’d like to write about the postpartum body image — I have dipped my toes into the subject in the previous post — but I need more time to process it. Some feelings seem to still be too raw to make them public.
Defeated by my own indecisiveness, I asked moms on my Instagram what they’d like to talk about. And one of the answers struck a chord with me. “What does balance look like for you? I am always curious how moms manage to take care of everything: the baby, the husband, the home and oneself?”
Here’s how I do it.
I’ve read a quote once that went something like this: we don’t get tired because we do too much, we get tired because we do too little of what we really love. This has been my mantra since Kroshka was born.
I love cooking and writing and try to include as much of cooking and writing into my life as possible. Finding time for cooking, of course, is rarely a problem as we need to eat three times a day one way or the other.
In the past few months I cooked through Diana Henry’s “How to Eat a Peach”, Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” and started “Classic German Baking” by Luisa Weiss. The latter is going to be my Christmas project, what with all the recipes for Lebkuchen, Vanillekipferl, and Stollen. If none of these words mean anything to you, you should explore the world of German baked goods, it’s pretty amazing.
I often cook while my son crawls around on the kitchen floor and plays with a whisk, a blender lid, parchment paper, and, occasionally, something or other from the trash bin.
When it comes to writing, I use nap times. Kroshka has two naps now, giving me a total of one and a half hours. Yulia before having a baby spent one and a half hours walking to the coffee shop, sipping a cappuccino, scrolling through social media and getting in the right mood to work. Yulia after having a baby uses a half-an-hour nap to write three hundred words.
Naps are sacred. I don’t do anything for anyone during naps: no cooking, no washing dishes, not even proof-reading my husband’s blog posts (we are a blogger family, y’all!). Naps are for me. I sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and laptop — for the lack of office table — and type away. Like now.
And when I put Kroshka to sleep for the night — party time! From eight in the evening I can do anything I like, including but not limited to washing those dishes I didn’t wash during the nap, putting the toys away, running back to the bedroom once or twice when Kroshka wakes up, staring blankly into the wall, you name it!
There’s usually more work on the blog at night as one and a half hours a day are decidedly not enough to keep things moving. When I am too tired to actively create something at night, I Netflix and chill. Only I Netflix in German because just chilling feels like a luxury I can’t afford.
I’ve been learning German for a total of eight months now: three Skype classes a week with a private teacher. On Sundays, when my husband can look after Kroshka, we learn grammar. On weekdays, we chat in German about anything and everything — from the current situation in Belarus to my latest cooking projects to book reviews — while I play with my son on the floor.
At night, I watch How I Met Your Mother or Gilmore Girls in German with subtitles. And by “watch” I mean “pause the video every ten to fifteen seconds to check unknown words of which there are about 65%”.
When I can’t digest any more deutsch, I go to bed and listen to an audiobook. And by “listen” I mean “rewind back every five to ten minutes because I keep falling asleep and can’t figure out what’s happening anymore”. A couple of times I woke up at critical moments in the plot and spoiled the story for myself.
I won’t write much about how I take care of Kroshka, you know the drill. Two naps, three meals, hours of playing toys and reading books, a stroll outside everyday, sometimes twice a day, a crazy amount of cleaning, wiping, and washing, even though a nice lady comes and cleans the apartment once a week.
I never leave unwashed dishes for the night. That’s one rule I don’t break. In my twenties I had a rule not to go to sleep with make up on, no matter how tired (or drunk, on occasion) I was. In my thirties, the rule is to not go to sleep until the kitchen is clean. Man, I am getting old.
Besides, on most days there’s not much make up to remove anyways. If the day is not too crazy, I might use mascara and an eyebrow pencil before going for a walk. I save the lipstick for when I come out of the house: I stop by a random car on the street and apply a light shade of pink or beige in front of a car window. I find it quite cinematic and always savour that brief moment.
This is me. This is how I get things done. But wait, I have something else for you.
This is how I don’t get anything done.
I don’t think we should use the word “balance” when it comes to new moms. What kind of balance are we talking about when I devote 90% of my time to another human being and try to squeeze my hobbies, self development, work, taking care of the house and cooking into the leftover 10%?
Things that used to be relaxing and mediative are now stressful. As much as I love cooking, doing it while an eleven-month-old is clinging to my leg is challenging, to say the least. I feel like a human pair of compasses: one leg firmly on the ground, the other trying to step as far out as possible to reach for the pan, the garlic, the olive oil.
All the while I am singing a song, reading poetry, or just saying some distracting nonsense in order to finish all the tasks that require both hands. Then I pick Kroshka up and keep going.
When I test recipes for the blog, the stress level goes off-scale. Not only do I have to cook and entertain a baby, but also write down measurements and take pictures. Kroshka has his own agenda during this process: pulling a cup from the table, knocking over a trash bin, licking my camera.
By the time I am finished, the kitchen is a crazy mess of food, dishes, and toys. There’s no space on the counter, so I end up pulling a tray of vegetables out of the oven and placing it on top of a laundry hamper for the lack of other options. The bowl for compost is on the heater. The blender — on the windowsill.
I used to cook like the best of chefs: always keeping my work station pristine. Peel and clean. Whisk and clean. Knead and clean. Now piles of vegetable peel are towering along dirty dishes in the sink. The counter is covered in crumbs and flour. I wipe my hands on my pants because the towel — that I swear I hung on the oven handle — is nowhere to be found.
Once a week a lady comes over to clean the house. The night before I have the luxury to leave the sink full and be sure that in the morning the dishes will magically disappear.
She washes the windows, wipes dust from the top of the cupboards, and vacuums the balcony — all of the things I wouldn’t think of doing in a million years. Then she leaves, and in about three hours the apartment looks like she’s never come. The only proof of her existence is a few missing banknotes in my wallet.
What else is on that metaphoric scale I need to keep in balance? Taking care of myself? Let’s see. The last time I worked out was when I was three months pregnant — over a year ago. After delivery I asked my friend who’s a fitness trainer to send me a personalized work out program which she did and which I never opened. I did however buy weights and resistance bands that are collecting dust in the corner of my living room.
I try to do nails at least once a month. It baffles me how from something that used to be the ultimate treat to myself manicure and pedicure moved into the category of chores. I’d much rather sit down and write in peace for an hour, but I have a terrible habit of biting my nails if they are not covered by polish.
I wash my hair reluctantly and choose to put on a head scarf or a beret more often than I am proud to admit. There were also a few times since Kroshka was born when I didn’t take a shower for at least three days.
In this beautiful state — unwashed hair pulled in a bun, no make up, stretched pants — I call my German teacher on Skype three times a week. We chat in German while I simultaneously entertain Kroshka. When he gets too bored and cranky I breastfeed him. My teacher has seen a lot more of me than a regular teacher is supposed to see of a student.
We often finish the class ten-fifteen minutes earlier because neither the toys, nor milk can distract my son any longer. I used to receive homework after every class, but by this point both my teacher and I gave up on it.
My free time is when Kroshka naps. I put him to sleep, make a little victory dance, get comfy on the couch with my laptop and immediately get overwhelmed. What is the absolute best, most productive way to spend one hour? Do I study German? Write a new blog post? Shop online? Read a book?
I usually choose to write and just when I get into flow — you know when you type away like there’s no tomorrow and the words come fast as if by magic — I hear the familiar stirring in the bedroom and have to emerge from my blissful state and into reality.
I wrote this post for ten days, a paragraph at a time. And at this point I can’t even understand if it’s any good and whether I like it, because I am sick and tired of writing it. If there was a flow at some point, it was interrupted so many times that my muse has left the building and shut the door behind herself: “Oh well, I tried”.
I was supposed to publish this post in October, yet it’s November the 8th. Every morning this week I woke up thinking “I am going to stay up at night and finish it!” Every night I was so exhausted I watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and not even in German.
Both stories are true. Which one I’ll tell you depends on many things: how much sleep I had, what mood I am in, whether Kroshka is teething.
On the outside, it’s more likely to look like the story #1. Especially, on social media. It’s way too easy to post the spatchcocked chicken with pangrattato I made last week and not share my lunch today that consisted of a cup of coffee and a bar of chocolate.
On the inside, more often than not it feels like the story #2: never satisfied with how much I have accomplished. Adamant that other moms do much more and way better.
I follow one popular mama on social media whose daughter is the same age as Kroshka. She stays home full time, has a successful (300k kind of successful) Instagram account, studies medicine at a London university, learns Portuguese, cooks all meals, and goes for walks with her baby twice a day.
I am truly in awe of her, but… how on Earth? How come I am over here missing deadlines, forgetting to brush Kroshka’s teeth at night, and hiding my unwashed hair under a beret?
Then I get a message from a friend on Instagram: “How are you able to do so much work on the blog with a baby!!! You are amazing!” Wait, what? Me? Amazing? Ummm… thanks?
I received this message about half a year ago and forgot all about it by now. So it was all the more shocking, once I dug it up, to see that my immediate reaction was to say “I don’t! I don’t do much!”.
We are in a vicious circle demeaning our achievements and constantly trying to catch up with other moms who look more successful and accomplished. In turn, someone else is looking at us, wondering how we are able to get it all done.
What if we really tried and appreciated the work we do on a daily basis? Because even if I don’t count the blog, the German classes, and the baking, just looking after Kroshka is more work — both physically and emotionally — than I have ever done in my life.
Somewhere down the line, I will look back at this crazy year and will finally be able to truly admire my current self, my stamina, my will power. Just like I look back at twenty-year-old Yulia now and admire her passion for exploring and her courage for moving half way across the world. In the moment, though, I have to make a conscious effort to believe that I am as amazing as other moms think I am.