I’m not a fan of making doomsday predictions to women who are expecting their first child. You know: “Ooooh boy, prepare to have your life turned upside down!” “Sleep now, because you’ll never sleep for the next decade!” “Say goodbye to your white couches!” and so on. Regardless of the truth of these statements, they’re not helpful. When I was pregnant for the first time, well meaning friends — many of them mothers — told me to get lots of sleep. In retrospect, these were clearly people who had either no idea or no memory of what it’s like to be pregnant: by the latter half of most pregnancies, no position is comfortable, breathing is difficult, the bathroom calls every 5 minutes, and when you finally do drift off, you have vivid nightmares about misplacing your newborn. Sleep is not really happening in any normal sense. So I spent the final trimester of my first pregnancy exhausted AND stressed that I wasn’t following everyone’s sleeping advice.
That said, there is one thing that I advise friends who are expecting for the first time, because I think it is helpful: Eat brunch as often as possible.
I vaguely remember brunch: sleeping in on a Saturday morning, then ambling down to whatever restaurant we chose for some delicious pancake-y or egg-y food, drinking multiple cups of coffee while leisurely perusing The New York Times and deciding whether to nap before or after we went jogging, which museum we should visit, what movie to see that night.
Nowadays, all of that would be impossible. Let’s start with the sleeping in: our kids have no concept that weekend sleep patterns should differ from the rest of the week, so they stubbornly refuse to sleep in on the weekends. To them, Saturday is just a day like any other, and they come barreling out of their room at 7 AM — if we’re lucky.
Then, there’s the timing of brunch; as a general rule, I believe the ideal time for brunch is about 10 AM. That’s a completely unrealistic time to be eating the first meal of the day if you have kids — including a baby — who are used to eating at 7 AM. By 10 AM, we’ve all eaten, dressed, washed up, and Georgia is waking up from her morning nap. In order to do brunch, we’d have to eat breakfast first, which kind of defeats the purpose.
And I won’t even bother explaining why we can’t possibly read The New York Times during meals these days.
I’d say our brunch days are on hold for at least another 5 years. And that’s why I tell expectant moms to eat brunch while the brunching’s good.
Now, I know all kids are different. I know that some preschoolers sleep until 9 AM, will patiently wait an hour before eating, and sit quietly at the table during meals. (I make myself feel better by assuming that these preschoolers aren’t as interesting as our kids). But brunch is only part of what I refer to as “The Myth of Weekends.”
One of the many refining features of parenthood — and life — is that it forces us to abandon our expectations. By the time we had kids, I’d built up a couple decades worth of expectations about weekends: that weekends were times of rest, restoration, and recreation…usually involving brunch. Every weekend post-kids, I brought those expectations with me: Maybe THIS will be the weekend when we all sleep late, when we all live in perfect harmony, when I will feel completely recharged by Sunday night. And every weekend my expectations exploded and I felt more exhausted by Sunday night than I did on Friday night.
I’ve already explained why sleeping late and brunch no longer happen on our weekends. Then there’s recreation: our family has a lot of fun on weekends, but it’s hardly restorative fun; it’s exhausting fun. All recreational activities involve wrangling three kids. So, for instance, if we decide to take a hike: someone has to lug around 19 pounds of baby, then Campbell wants to be carried, Fiona wants to charge ahead, Campbell wants to walk, Fiona needs to pee, Campbell is thirsty, Fiona wants to be carried, Fiona is hungry, Campbell wants to be carried again. (And that’s just at the trail head).
But the MAIN source of my mistaken weekend expectations stems from the simple fact that, in our family, there is one extra person who is around more on weekends: Erick. During the week, Erick vanishes from our house during the hours between breakfast and dinner, but for the most part he’s home all weekend long. Which is wonderful, and you’d think it would make at least the child-wrangling part of weekends easier.
But it doesn’t.
Again, PLEASE don’t get me wrong: Erick is a superstar husband and father. We all adore him, and are thrilled to have him home on the weekends. In fact, he usually takes all three girls on Saturday mornings so that I can spend a few hours wrestling the house back into submission. But I’ve had to accept that his presence doesn’t automatically transform weekends into restful and restorative times of family togetherness.
Here’s why: During the week, the girls and I have a flow, a rhythm that gets us through the days. We stick to a relaxed but predictable schedule, everybody knows her role and — for the most part — follows it, and the girls (usually) respect the fact that I’m the only parent available and cut me some slack. Then the weekend hits. Suddenly, there’s another exhausted person around who doesn’t necessarily know the routine, and who’s been moving to his own rhythm the rest of the week. The girls are all jazzed up because Daddy’s home, and I’m inclined to loosen the reins a little because there’s another adult to pick up the slack. In other words, we’re all out of whack with each other.
The bottom line is: if two adults are each expecting the weekend to be a time of rest, but they’re outnumbered by three kids, the math just doesn’t work out.
Anybody else have this experience?
After a few years’ worth of deflated weekend expectations, I solved the problem of “The Myth of Weekends” in the only grown-up way I could: I left my expectations at brunch, back about four-and-a-half years ago. Maybe I’ll pick them up again someday, maybe not. In the meantime, I’ve decided to redefine the conventional idea of “Weekend = Saturday + Sunday.” Instead, I try to take little weekends where I can find them throughout the week: early in the morning before the kids are awake, naptime, after the kids are in bed at night, solo trips to the grocery store or the dentist, date nights with Erick when grandparents are in town.
And, I tell you, these little weekends have brought me joy and gratefulness in a way that conventional weekends never did. These days, nothing beats being able to read an entire copy of People in the doctor’s waiting room.
Not even brunch.