Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tag Team 101

When Grinch and I decided to do this goofy tag team parenting schedule, we were surprised by the number of people who told us it couldn't be done. People who had never worked an overnight schedule. People who weren't dependent on two incomes. People who didn't even have children. They all told us we were looking at certain failure. A co-worker said we'd be lucky to last six months. Others gave us less than a week.

Nearly four years later, we're more than glad to tell them they were wrong, wrong, wrong.

It CAN be done. It's not always fun and it's not always pretty. Get a look at me after a painfully short nap and you'll understand just how un-pretty it can be. But it CAN be done.

Here's what you need to make it work:

-Team work. You both have to commit to this plan and be in it for the right reasons. If one of you isn't sure why you're doing this or isn't enthusiastic about the tag team concept, you're not going to weather the ups and downs very well. And there will be a LOT of ups and downs: the normal ones associated with having a child and the new ones that are unique to the tag team.

-The Right Partner. You have to be able to trust each other implicitly. Grinch and I had been together nearly 20 years before we took on the tag team schedule. We knew each others strengths and weaknesses. We also knew we could depend on each other to do the right thing, be the adult, be dependable and put our child first. If you're with a man-child, princess, stoner or general knucklehead, this is not going to work out for you. You might also want to reconsider having a child with this person, but that's a whole 'nother subject.

-Supportive employers. They may surprised by your choice and doubt your ability to make it work, but if your employer is willing to work with you on your schedule, that's a big part of making the whole machine click. Give them plenty of advance notice that you want to do this. Don't spring this on them as you're walking out the door for maternity leave.

-Experience. If your tag-team schedule requires one of the partners to work odd hours and you've never worked odd hours before, it's going to be 500 times harder than you ever imagined. I've worked late night and overnight schedules on and off for nearly 20 years. I've managed it well, but I've seen other people who just can't do it. You don't want to find out that you're not suited to the overnight shift when you've structured your family's life around it.

-Help. Grinch and I were committed to doing the tag team 100% on our own, no help whatsoever. It worked great for us at first, but it was pretty exhausting. I recommend having some kind of help at least one day a week, just to ease your load a little. That help can be a sitter, a meal delivery service, yard service, or a friend or relative who comes over just to hold or play with the baby while you do laundry or chop vegetables. After Dos came along, our tag team hours changed and we had to hire a sitter three days a week. It's drastically increased the amount of time we're able to spend together as a family and gives us a little more wiggle room in the schedule. It was hard for me to accept help at first, but it really has improved things for us.

-Dedication. If you're going to do this - do it. Don't try it for a week and give up. Plan on doing it for six months at least. After six months, sit down with your partner and talk about how the tag team is working for you. Make some adjustments if you need to and try it for another three months. If it's still not working, think about what else you can do to fix things and come up with a Plan B. Try three more months. After baby's first birthday, take a good look at how things are going. If it's working, then have another slice of cake and toast your tag team. If it's not working, have another slice of cake, toast your hard work and dedication and move on to Plan B.

When someone hears about our schedule, they usually say, "Wow, how do you do it?" "It's hard," I say, "but it's worth it." And that's the truth. It is VERY hard. News flash: life is hard. But you keep going and you keep learning and doing the best you can for yourself and the people you love. Things get easier and new challenges come along. If you do it right, you have some great teammates beside you, cheering for you every step of the way.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Le Freak, Boutique

Just before Dos was born, a co-worker gave me a gift certificate to a fancy-schmancy baby store near my office. Correction: not "store." Boutique. La-dee-dah.

On the day I planned to use the gift certificate, Bug got a stomach virus and when she wasn't spewing all over the place, she was sleeping deeply on my chest and very pregnant belly. Not exactly perfect conditions for shopping at a boutique. By the time she was better, I was in the hospital, birthin' Dos and didn't exactly have time for boutiques.

The gift certificate has been sitting in my purse for over a year now. I finally got a chance to go to the store last week and, oh my, yes it is a boutique indeed. White walls, white floors, white shelves, and expensive white towels, sheets and blankets. You can tell that people go there BEFORE they have a baby because no conscientious parent would haul a barfing, pooping baby or grabby, sticky-handed, crumb-faced toddler into a store like this. Sorry, boutique.

The boutique had such beautiful things. I think I touched every blanket they had and they were all as soft as a baby's skin. I shook the rattles and squeezed the stuffed animals. I may have even nuzzled an organic cotton bunny. All heavenly. I fell in love with a palm-sized, wooden rattle/music box that played "Alle Meine Entchen" so sweetly I almost cried. I tinkered with every toy car and train, thumbed the pages of nearly every book.

I jealously eyed the staged nurseries. Everything matched so carefully and precisely that it looked like page in a design magazine. Hearty cribs with delicate linens. Porcelain night lights and decorative plates, hand-painted with lambs and bunnies. I thought back to Dos and Bug's room, with the 20-year-old hand-me-down crib and Ikea bed covered in mismatched sheets, no door on the closet and books haphazardly stacked on the shelves. Am I a bad Mommy because I didn't paint the room pink when Bug was born? Are my girls suffering because I haven't spelled out their names in pastel wooden letters over their beds? Would Dos sleep better if she had a $75 scent diffuser by her crib? I had to pull myself away before I felt the need to tear up my Mommy card.

Then I rounded the corner to the strollers. Not just any strollers. The Lexuses and Mercedes of the stroller world. The strollers were sleek and gleaming. They had cup holders perfectly sizes for venti soy lattes and BPA-free bottles. These strollers were ergonomically designed and built the the same material used in car and airplane production. They had ports for ipods. One had speakers. I think I drooled a little as I reached for the price tag on one of the strollers.

Have I mentioned before, or has it made itself apparent that I am budget-minded....some might say "cheap"? Yes, well, I *do* gasp and go gog-eyed when I see a $1999 price tag on a stroller. Unless it pushes itself and teaches my child three languages there is no stroller on earth worth $1999.

I backed away from the strollers and started looking at the price tags on other things. A matching set of 600 count crib linens? $210. A cashmere romper? $98. That dear little music box? $54. I knew that I would never be back in this place again. I wanted to make the most of my gift certificate and go home to hand-me-down kids' clothes and second-hand stroller. Back to the homemade bedtime mix CD on our creaky old boombox. Back to my giggly girls who didn't seem to care if they weren't wearing designer clothes or any clothes at all for that matter. Better access to tickly ribs and armpits.

I left the store with a small bag of fun odds and ends, all of which are going in the girls' Easter Baskets. I think they'll like them as much as the very non-boutiquey candy I bought for them at Target.

The girls' room doesn't have a theme other than "comfortable." I didn't put a whole lot of thought or money into a design concept. I don't worry if their toys are organic or free-trade as long as they're smart and safely built. Their room doesn't smell like lavender and fresh-baked cookies. I'm not a boutique kinda mama, I guess. That's ok. I think my girls love me anyway.