Overwhelmed (and a touch nauseous)

With a month to go until Bob was due, I was awash in feeling overwhelmed; and the worst part was that I knew I’d probably look back and laugh at my naïveté. But I tried to just take a deep breath and focus on what was in front of us. At that point, everything was in front of us. So, first we delved into making travel arrangements that essentially circumnavigated the globe and attempted to coordinate them with a future un-timed event, all the while trying not to throw us in to my husband’s greatest fear of bankruptcy from mere airfare costs. Oh, and then we added a dollop of bureaucratic fun and threw in the bit about trying to figure out how to coordinate a passport and subsequent ticket for Bob’s return to Kuwait. Oh yeah, and we couldn't forget trying to find a pediatrician from 6,500 miles away. (For the latter, I employed the girlfriend-network and got a list of recommended pediatricians from their girlfriends with kids, so we’re good to go; thanks girls! Now who wants to work on coordinating the due date?)

In between all that fun, we attempted to deal with health insurance providers whose employees knew nothing more than what their script told them. So when they said, “The insurance for your adopted child will be active upon receipt of the final adoption decree,” and we pointed out that the actual final adoption decree might take up to 18 months to receive (thanks to the iceberg-speed of our various state court systems), but we’d have paperwork giving us legal permanent custody in the interim, and they subsequently responded with, “The insurance for your adopted child will be active upon receipt of the final adoption decree,” we just took a deep breath and thanked them for their time. Then we madly started researching health care laws and sending out desperate pleas on adoption forums, acting on the assumption that adoptive parents don’t just forego health insurance and keep their fingers crossed.

From there we moved into the name-game; taking the ardent advice from many people, not to share our thoughts with anyone before seeing the baby. I had no doubt that someone, probably more than just my mother, would have had something to say about whatever name we decided on. But I figured it’s much harder to complain when you’re handed that sweet-smelling bundle of joy and told, “Say hello to your grandchild, Cleopatra Dorkus Hermoine Stellaluna (or Aslan Frodo Albus Khufu, in the case of a boy).”

Despite months of research, we were still swirling in the ever-changing world of infant car seats. After first doing the safety research, then adding in the ease-of-use research, and coupling all that with the will-it-work-with-the-stroller-we-bought research, I narrowed it down to three models. (I didn’t have room to even consider the cuteness-factor.) Then I added in the age range and weight comparisons combined with the seat’s weight (some them weigh almost thirty pounds, without the infant!) and suddenly wondered whether it would fit in our Jeep.

After doing some preliminary Googling, I became worried that any seat will fit in our Jeep. One forum’s responder said, “You have to move the Jeep’s seats completely forward, but it’s only for 18 months.” Gee, thanks. I’ll finally be able to perfect steering with my thighs. Whereas most people will take their car to Babies ‘R Us and maybe test out a few, we’re just going to have to buy one, use it, bring it home and if it doesn’t fit, get a new car.

In quieter moments, my mind relaxed, the panic subsided a bit, and I got to think of just holding Bob; mentally practicing my swaddling and shhh-ing techniques; feeling overcome with joy and terror at the same time; and then I thought of those peaceful moments where all would be quiet and there was nothing else in the world but us and I’d be humming a gentle lullaby. But then my mind does a quick search and comes to the realization that I don’t know any lullabies! It had been over 35 (cough!) years since I’d had a lullaby remotely near to me and even that I’m just supposing. Was there a lullaby-immersion class I could take online? Maybe I could memorize some CDs in the last month. I couldn’t be a mom who didn’t know a lullaby!

When I shared these thoughts with my husband he just stared at me, blinking. It was almost as if he was reconsidering something, and I had a feeling it wasn't Bob. But I had every faith that the insanity (and accompanying nausea) would pass. I mean, decisions would be made, paperwork would be filed, and Bob would arrive, regardless of my nursery rhyme ignorance, right? Right?!?

Waiting for Bob

To get through the three months between getting matched with a birth-mom and flying from Kuwait to Los Angeles for the birth, my husband and I approached things a bit differently. The one thing we did agree on immediately was a temporary name. Saying the-baby-this and the-baby-that got tiring fairly quickly. So one morning I said, “We should call the baby something until we meet him or her.” “Bob,” said my husband. And so it was. My husband’s approach to impending parenthood was to do a lot of soul searching and musing. (I knew these were all just procrastination aids, he employs them for a lot of things, but at the time, I let him think that I actually believed he was pondering the ways of fatherhood.) One morning as we were having breakfast in the kitchen, Louie the kitten was sitting on a chair across from my husband and had that distinct look in his eye of planning an imminent hop onto the table. In my best “mother” voice I said, “Louie, no” and then I heard the softest of whisperings coming from my husband, “Do it. Do it.” I’m sensing there will be some disciplinary struggles in our future.

Whereas I spent months reading parenting books and soliciting reams of advice from any and everyone who would offer it, my husband seemed to utilize the osmosis method for the parenting books by diligently keeping them stacked on his nightstand. It hadn’t work for me in 10th grade Chemistry, and I even slept gripping that sucker all night, but maybe there was hope for the periodic table of swaddling and diapers.

I’d spent hours, and I mean tens upon tens of hours, researching all manners of baby items; from car seats to bottles, cribs to playpens, diapers to mobiles. I read through the advice in “Baby Bargains,” I reviewed the tests and recommendations on Consumer Reports, and I scoured the reviews on Amazon, figuring if 1,400 people felt compelled to write a favorable review for some particular baby item, then I’d take that as a strong recommendation (especially those with horrendous spelling errors; I sensed there was passion behind the typos). Compiling all of the data from various sources, I finally made decisions on what Bob needed to get started.

My husband’s primary duties, in addition to procrastination, were to write all the checks (for various adoption things), put together the crib (which he did all on his own), and fret about impending disasters (bankruptcy, revolutions, college funds, etc.). However, whenever I attempted to discuss whether we should go with an infant car seat or a convertible car seat, or review the merits of this crib versus that crib, or even try to plan out Bob’s sleeping arrangements for the first month while we we’re in the U.S., my husband would get this glazed look and would stare at me as if I was speaking the binary language of moisture vaporators. Well, in truth, he’d be more inclined to engage me if I were extemporizing on the benefits of the R2-X100 versus the older binary load lifters, but my geek-speak only reaches so far.

Now, I considered myself a relatively intelligent person. I always enjoy the periodic research project, whether it’s planning a vacation to a far-away land, deciding on a new SLR camera, or researching the history of Karnak Temple in Egypt. I like a good dig. But during my pre-Bob research phase, I came upon an impasse. It was an impenetrable wall of information that despite hours and hours of digging and clawing my way through websites and links and forums and blogs, I could not gain headway. I felt embarrassed to admit it, but the most difficult decision in our parent-prep came in the way of cloth diapers. The last time I studied a subject with that intensity, I was preparing for my “Drugs of Abuse” final for my Masters. I was hopeful that Bob would grade me higher than Dr. Bernard did.

My diaper research went in spurts (no pun intended). I would spend a few days reading and even taking notes on the benefits of all-in-ones versus pocket diapers versus prefolds, fitteds and contours. So, for one brief moment I’d feel like I had a handle on things and would have finally decided on one method. Then a few days would pass and I'd find I’d forgotten why I had chosen what I did. So the research began again. I did rely heavily on a friend who had been cloth diapering for over a year and she was even kind enough to write up a whole dictionary of terms and benefits list. It was a bit overwhelming, but the one thing I was able to comprehend was to buy a few different ones and see which worked best with Bob. So that’s what I did. Which basically meant I was merely procrastinating making the cloth diapering decision. (Score one for my husband's decision-making tactics.)

When not dealing with diaper dilemmas or preparing for bankruptcy, we did have some time to fill. My husband utilized the time-honored method of RPGs (role-playing games), in which he periodically announced things like, “Hey, I just became a stone golem!” That’s wonderful dear. Conversely, I found a new minor obsession in sewing. Frankly, I was a sewing maniac. I made two baby blankets, one quilt, and half of a second quilt. I sewed rail guards for the crib, two covers for a Boppy pillow (without actually owning a Boppy pillow), and I made several attempts at sewing my own cloth diapers (however, see previous paragraph for status).

When not sewing baby-related goods, I found myself sewing housey things. I made up a stack of quilted coasters (since our stoneware ones apparently jetted off to storage along with my bath gels during the last move), I made removable chair covers for our dining chairs (as white fabric and spontaneously-poopy kitten definitely don’t mix), I made tablecloths and placemats, and I made a clothespin carrier for our outdoor clothesline. I guess there were worse ways I could have fulfilled my nesting needs. My husband did complain, though, when yet another package of fabric arrived in the mail, muttering something about us never receiving anything fun (meaning electronic).

Regardless of our differing parenting-prep ways, I had a strong feeling most of the real learning would start once Bob was in our arms. But until that time came, I figured there was no harm in perfecting my overlock stitch and letting my husband strive for Grand Poobah stone golem. Bob's going to be so proud!

Looking Back: Pre-Parenthood

It was a year ago this month that my husband and I found out our adoption dreams were coming true; we'd been matched with a birth mother! With one phone call, we went from hopeful-wanna-be-parents, to pre-parents (and the switch was dizzying). It was all so overwhelming. Despite the two-and-a-half years we’d been trying to become parents (not consistently, but with periodic bursts of frenzy), it all really happened with lightening speed. We got the email from the adoption facilitator on a Friday, asking that we apply by Saturday if we were interested in a certain child. The following Wednesday, as we were having dinner, the facilitator called and left us a message. Because of the configuration of our house, we couldn't hear the phone if we were downstairs (we finally fixed that).

We had been discussing vacation plans during dinner; we wanted to go to Oman for a few days, and we were saying that it would be best to do this in January since we'd applied on a child expected in February. As I came upstairs, my husband was standing at the top there holding the phone. “I guess you better start planning that trip to Oman,” he said with a big grin. I think my mouth fell open and my heart dropped, I knew we’d gotten the baby! I just started crying, even before hearing the message. But hearing the message just further increased the torrent and the shaking. Our dreams were coming true!

We immediately called the facilitator back to formally accept and she walked us through some of the coming logistics. Then she asked if we wanted to try to speak with the birth mother and we said yes, so she was able to conference us all together. It wasn’t a long conversation, but we thanked her (I’d stopped sobbing by this point) and talked a bit about Kuwait and Maryland and other places we'd lived.

My husband and I then spent the next few hours calling all the new aunts and uncles and grandparents-to-be (proper titles are still being discussed). Emotions were high, we were excited, over-the-moon, and terrified all at once.

It was after two a.m. when we finally turned the lights out. As we lay in the dark, both caught up in our own thoughts, I heard my husband mutter, “I wonder if the baby will come with a 2.0 USB hub or a 3.0”. He simply must read those parenting books!

The Two P’s of Marriage

There’s nothing that can get my husband’s eyes rolling with greater velocity than when I mention I’m thinking about our Christmas plans and it’s June. Of course, I typically get the same reaction when I mention it again on December 10th, but by that point I’m equally exasperated as well. This begs the question; can a “planner” and “procrastinator” make a marriage work? It’s often said that, if you’re honest, you knew about all of your spouse’s quirks before you married them. Typically, you either found them endearing or you ignored them. But I’m not sure I knew the lengths to which my husband could actively procrastinate, if that’s even possible within the laws of physics. During our dating years, he planned dates and we planned outings together. No issues there. He planned when and where we got engaged. No issues, again. We both planned the wedding (though I definitely took the reins). But since then, my need for pre-thinking and pre-planning has repeatedly butted heads against his need for postponing and procrastinating.

Typically, when I bring up a topic that he doesn’t want to “deal” with at the time, he says, “Let’s think about it.”

So I ask, “Okay, what should we think about?”

“I need to think about things,” he says.

“Like what things?” I ask. “Astrophysics? World hunger? How many terabytes could a woodchuck chuck?”

I know that all of this alleged thinking and mulling and musing is merely code for delay, delay, delay. (My husband-translation skills are vastly improving.) Recently I shared a draft of this article with him and he felt that I was portraying him as being one-dimensional. “The thing is,” he said, speaking for procrastinators everywhere, as I furiously typed, making sure to capture the wisdom verbatim, “if we’re thinking, we often can’t be disturbed. We can’t interrupt the process. I can’t think about the baby’s bath water while I’m planning our retirement. We’re working on other problems.” He says all this with a straight face, and manages to hold it for a few seconds, before we both burst into laughter.

The fact is that I know he believes this on one level, and there is validity to it; but the likelihood of him actually thinking about our retirement, or world peace, or the best of the Caribbean islands to whisk me away to, at the moment I want to have “a talk” is highly unlikely. It’s more probable that he’s thinking of how to get past the evil werewolves in Dragon’s Age on the X-box, or whether he could put the kitten in roller-skates. Then, in addition, when I try to push the “talk”, we first have to address whether his coffee-quota has been met for the day and see if there’s any possible need for a sandwich in his immediate future before continuing. Delay, delay, delay.

Compounding all this planning versus procrastinating issue is our lifestyle. We live overseas for two to three years at a time. So, planning is not only necessary for this lifestyle, it’s vital. You have to plan what to bring with you for your years away. You have to plan what goes in which shipment. You have to plan what to put in suitcases and what to mail ahead. If not, you might end up with all your best swimwear and your baby pictures, when you’re headed for Norway, or your years in Jeddah might find you trying to swap your arctic parkas and Dungeons & Dragons accessories for sunhats and spf-clothing (not that I’m speaking from any experience here).

Maybe I take it to another level, but I even try to think ahead and make sure we have a stash of items that can be helpful in any setting, such as generic birthday cards and wrapping paper (otherwise too many nephews’ birthday presents could have been wrapped in the Cairo Times or Kuwait City Daily); I make sure that we have an ample supply of the cat’s medication with us; and if I have a favorite lotion, I bring a few tubs. We have a few sets of nice matching sheets and towels. And I like to make sure we have a well-stocked “costume” box for various dress-up parties we may attend (though if I have Elmer’s Glue and cotton balls, my husband’s set for a costume anytime anywhere – somehow a variation of a Father Time/Gandalf/Leprechaun always seems to fit the bill).

Yes, I’m a tad type-A. But my husband is so far from a type-B that he’s closer to a type-Z. I will admit that his relaxed attitude in regards to planning can be refreshing at times. We’ve had some wonderful spontaneous vacations to Venice and London (of course, I was the one who arranged the flights and hotel, but otherwise we winged it). And I’m all for having a non-structured vacation. But there are other times when “winging” might not be the best method.

A year ago, we were planning (see the word) on adopting a child. I thought re-financing our condo was a flurry of paperwork, but what was required for this made re-fi look like a single snowflake. We had almost completed the paperwork portion, and had the personal interviews coming up. But in addition, there was the planning (see again) needed for the baby’s actual arrival. Now, we didn’t need to have a full-fledged nursery up and running, but we did need baby things at some point in the future. So, I had started the research and list-making phase of parenting.

I had spent a few days researching the safest and most recommended car seats, playpens, and cribs. I identified the safest bottles, formula, and strollers. Plus, I dove in to some of the towering volumes of “how to raise a baby” books that are out there. So, when I told my dear husband that I had finished the overall list of basic needs, and then subdivided it into what will be immediate needs, versus eventual needs, his eyes began to roll with alarming speed.

Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that he’s completely planning-impaired. His handicap is purely willful. He had no problem spending weeks upon weeks, researching and comparing prices and systems for a new laptop. He read reviews, queried friends and we made several trips to the store to “just look” at them. And then finally, with great determination, he bought one (it’s big and has a pretty red stripe on it, and goes well with our other three laptops – I believe we now have a quorum).

So, would we be able to “wing it” once the baby arrived? Sure, many people do. A friend who is equally as type-A as I am, had her daughter a month early, so she had never gotten around to reading the “how to raise an infant” books she’d been meaning to, but her two-year-old is beyond perfect and seemed to survive her mother’s lack of study-time. However, the issue was that I wanted to be minimally prepared, rather than trying to figure out how to rock a crying baby in my arms while trying to Google with one hand “help crying baby”. Having a stack of burp cloths on hand would be easier than grabbing my grandmother’s dishtowels, though I realize at the time you snatch whatever’s closest. And knowing a variety of positions for burping a baby, and practicing them on the cat, helped give me a sense that maybe we could do this.

Will our children suffer irreparable harm from either too much planning or too much procrastination? Probably not. And in the end, I realized that no amount of reading, research, or planning could truly prepare us for becoming parents. But it helped quell some of my anxiety, and as long as I didn’t share too much of my planning plans, it won’t increase my husband’s. So in the end, I guess a planner and a procrastinator can make it work, we just may need a few more eye exams than the non-P&P couple for all our mutual eye-rolling. Now, let’s see if the new laptop also works as a changing table – where’d the cat go?