Featured Writer: Kyra Miller
Pregnancy, Birth, Motherhood
Singer, writer, actress, and New York native Kyra Miller discusses balancing her parenthood expectations with pragmatism, how she has changed as a mother, and why wipes are the answer to everything.
The original title of this post was going to be "Why Do I Feel So Guilty All The Time," but then I realized that is boring. “Mommy blogs” all around the internet discuss this at length. So, now the title is "Why is Everything Sticky?"
One night, a few months ago, while I was reading my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter her bedtime stories, she started frantically rubbing her nose. “What’s the matter?” I asked her. She emitted a whine, and then, “I have something brown and crispy in my nose.” I have no idea how she knew it was brown, but I said, “That’s called a boogie,” because I don’t believe in being mysterious about language with children. I mean, she knows her vagina is called a vagina. She dug into her nostril with her tiny finger but couldn’t reach it and, since everyone knows what misery that is, I offered (against my better judgment) to get it out for her, which I did, with my pinky nail. Then, I wiped it on a wipe.
My friend “Anthony,” a classical pianist with an amazing real art collection who lives in a pristine apartment he owns with his partner, and who will no doubt be a great parent one day, asked me this very question once while we were rehearsing. He loves babies, he said, “but toddlers….I’m just mystified. Why is everything in my friends' houses so sticky?”
In many ways, I think being a classical musician is hard to square with being a parent. In classical music, being precise, concentrating deeply, and singing in tune are high values. There is nothing that rehearsal, vigilance, and repetition can’t fix. And, I confess that I, too—from my privileged perch as the parent of one infant—had wondered, “Why do other parents have sticky homes?” It was, I was certain, a vigilance problem. I was going to be a structured parent, one who enforced boundaries. Regular meals with no mac and cheese, ever. No sugar, for sure. No screen time. Only wooden toys. No children barging in on me in the bathroom. Mine would say, “please” and “thank you” and be respectful of me. My relationship with my husband would come first.
I guess you can tell where this is heading.
When I got pregnant with my first daughter, I told my husband (through hormone tears) that I would never join the Park Slope Food Coop and would never become a clog-wearing mom, that I would never capitulate to the sweats-and-a-high-pony motherhood costume. But, like with everything, there is the gradual widening gap between intentions and practicability. You may think you will, for example, continue to practice your art every day while your child serenely does crafts nearby. And then, you start to do a warm-up, and your child turns away from the episode of Elmo you swore you'd never let her watch, on the computer you swore you'd never let her touch, glares at you and says, "Mama. I am hearing Elmo now. Don’t sing. Stop. Stop." And, even though she cannot pronounce the letter “s” in “stop,” her imperiousness (inherited from me?) is such that I do. I stop. She stares at me some more. Picks the boogie out of her nose. Hands it to me. I say, “No, I don’t want your boogie,” and, without breaking eye contact, she drops it on the floor.
In the meantime, I have other single friends who say they aspire to my life: they want to get married and have children. They are lonely, tired of a rootless life, scared of dying alone, longing to give their love to other humans who will return it. I understand because I was single for a long time and remember those feelings. I offer to set up one such friend with an acquaintance from my former life; he says, "Mm, a Pilates instructor. I bet you could bounce a quarter off her ass."
My reaction is to judge him harshly and to start to lecture him that that is not the spirit with which one embarks on a relationship leading to lifelong love and happiness, except that I am caught by a memory, a memory not so terribly far behind me: my ass also used to be a quarter-bouncer. Exercise is another thing I stopped doing when I got too pregnant, so if my apartment is sticky, it is not because of sweat. Now, I lift my babies after their diaper changes and potty attempts more often than I ever lifted any kind of weight. As my ass has softened, my biceps have taken center stage, but they are about as sexy as Danskos. I haven't been sexy in a long time because of babies. Which is ironic, given what sexy gets you.
And the clogs have snuck in, too. Ten years ago, one winter after teaching so much Pilates I thought I'd scream because my ass was so tight, I splurged on a pair of fur-lined clog boots to keep my feet both warm and trendy. Today the boots are faded and puffy, there is nothing stylish about them, I wear them like bedroom slippers, and they are what I slipped my feet into the other day to head to an orientation at (yes) the Park Slope Food Coop because food and diapers (and wipes) are cheaper there, and, frankly, as our budget has ballooned and the size of my daily community has shrunk, I could use a discount on groceries, preferably one that involves other people being in the same room. And none of them will judge me for my sticky banana-stained stretchy top, for the gray roots poking through my bad haircut, or for my 10-year-old clog boots. Many, if not all, of them will be wearing clogs, too. I have no more aspirations to be exceptional.
Truly, I don't think about this most of the time. Most of the time, I float through my day on a cloud of endorphins. My toddler daughter has the softest cheek in the world, and I kiss it as often as she'll let me. She recently started sleeping in a real bed. Previously perfectly capable of putting herself to sleep, she now wants me to hold her until she's completely passed out. If I try to leave before that, she opens one eye and says, “No, you sleeeeep with meeeeee!” or “Mama hoooold you.” I am a person dedicated to my daughters’ self-sufficiency, but only a monster would walk away from that on a regular basis. She'll learn eventually, and so will I, I'm sure. I love to hold her to sleep, I love her red hair and her warm hands and sweet skin and her hugs. “Back scratch,” she commands, not able to pronounce the “s” in “scratch.” My husband waits up for me in our bed until I emerge, sleepy and blissful.
I also have a soft, sweet infant daughter with gums for teeth, and the longest lashes, and the deepest smile, and the warmest, most tender skin (except for that of my toddler). She smells like heaven and nursing her is one of the great pleasures of my life. I do it often. I am so tired when I do it at 11 pm, 2 am and 5 am, but I fall asleep with her in a pillow pile on the day-bed, covered in blankets, skin soaked in breast milk and commingled sweat, and it is delicious.
Why is everything sticky?
Everything involves fluids (mostly body fluids) and spills. Babies and toddlers have slowly-developing fine motor control. They are at varying stages of capability with a spoon (or, as one of them pronounces it, a “poon”). They put everything we own into their mouths, they put their hands into their mouths and then their hands on everything we own. A partial list of substances I must control, besides hands, is this:
Drool (different from saliva)
Rejected food that has been thrown on the floor.
Rejected food that has been spat out
Drops of antibiotics the other parent didn't wipe up.
Toothpaste the other parent didn't wipe up.
Bubbles. (Bubbles leave soap scum on the floor. Just so you know.)
Residue from stickers
Residue from play-doh
Ink from “washable” markers
Breast milk droplets from my breast pump that I didn't see
Escaped drops of breast milk that shot out of me while I was brushing my teeth and landed on the sink counter, without my realizing, until the other parent pointed it out: "What's this sticky stuff?"
Residue from wipes
Yes, the answer to all of this is wipes, purchased in bulk. Paper towels won't do, and a Lysol spray won't do because often it's the child that needs wiping. And, I am constantly wiping everything because I am still sort of convinced (like Anthony, my musician friend) that there are no problems that can't be solved with awareness and diligence and persistence. I will not be one of those parents with a vigilance problem. I will not surrender quietly to a life of sticky desperation. I will stand there, feet planted, a wipe in one hand and a baby in the other, holding disaster at bay like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.
I’m vigilant, and my home is not as sticky as it might be otherwise, but I have turned into a harridan with a downturned mouth. Many mommy blogs will tell you this part, that motherhood is full of picayune details that can suck the joy right out of the whole experience. You have to stay attuned to the good parts, the sweet parts, the funny parts, or get lost in the fact that it’s sticky.
As of this writing, I’ve decided to stop trying so hard. Just stop.
So, this morning while I was in the bathroom, when my toddler came toddling in, face covered in breakfast, and said, “I want to see your poop,” I didn’t say “no” or shoo her away. I stood up and let her peer into the toilet. “That’s a lot of poop,” she said, respect in her eyes. “Yup,” I said. “Don’t touch it. Want to flush?”
And she did. They grow up so fast.