I originally wrote this post on Day #4 of my quest to write a novel in the first 100 days of Lil Mil’s life. Little did I know that this would be the first of many, many, many off days. Days that threw me for a loop not once, but a dozen times in half as many hours. As time marched on, I got better at dealing with them, of absorbing them and working around their off-ness. I learned how to manage my off-days.
But somewhere along the line, I abandoned my day-off.
A year later, sitting at my desk in a high rise office building, facing a stack of contracts that need to be reviewed and redrafted, I’m struck by a deep longing for both off-days and days off. Lately, I’ve had neither.
I’m having an off day.
At last, you say. We were wondering when you’d get here.
Welcome to Life With A Newborn. Land of off days and good intentions.
This particular off day started with Lil Mil’s first rough night. Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for this night to come – the inevitable moment when my formerly pleasant and calm child turns into a shrieking and screaming fusspot. So when Lil Mil started moaning at 11:45 p.m. last night, I held my breath and waited for a scream. But it never came. In fact, she never even cried.
She just… moaned. All night long. The pitiful moan of an unhappy little person who can’t articulate the source of her discomfort. Was she hungry? No. Did she need a new diaper? No. Did she simply want to be held? No. She just wanted to moan. And her mama wanted to cry.
Her mama didn’t cry, however, because her mama believed that come morning, the moans would cease. A rough night is par for the course, her mama thought as she stared at her daughter’s furrowed, oh-so-moany brow. I was expecting this.
The hours passed and the moans did not cease, which meant that “morning” came at an hour that most would consider the middle of the night. Still, I believed that if I behaved as though a new day had begun, my daughter would realize that her moaning had run its course. That this new day was a smiley day. A happy day.
No such luck.
And so, our rough night turned into a rough morning as I held and swayed and shushed my moany girl. Those early morning hours I’ve gotten used to spending at my laptop passed without notice. My coffee got cold before I drank it. And suddenly, it was 7:00 a.m. and I hadn’t written a word. Or slept a wink.
I had, however, finally managed to soothe one exhausted, moaned-out little girl. As the sun rose, she fell into a deep and blissful sleep. And her mama, determined not to let the day get away from her, reheated her coffee and settled down in front of her laptop.
And stared at the screen. Blankly.
I took a breath. Rubbed my eyes. Checked my email. Read a blog post I liked. And stared some more.
Food! I thought to myself a few moments later. That’s what I need. That’ll perk me up.
So I went to the kitchen and poured cereal into a bowl. Or, rather, I intended to pour cereal into a bowl. Instead, I poured cereal onto the floor. Don’t ask me how it happened. I didn’t have Lil Mil in my arms, I wasn’t on the phone. I had my eyes on the bowl. But somehow, I missed it entirely.
I didn’t react. I was too tired to react. I just looked at the pile of GoLean Crunch at my feet and debated whether to scoop it back into my bowl. In the end, I just left it there. Eat first, sweep later.
I poured a fresh bowl and went to the fridge for milk. Uncapped it, tilted it toward my bowl… and spilled it on the counter.
This is an off day, I thought to myself, staring at the white puddle. I’m having an off day.
With that, my expectations for Day Four plummeted. Plummeted, then disappeared. I didn’t want to write anymore. I wanted to curl up on the couch and work my way through the contents of my 4% remaining DVR. I didn’t want to be creative or productive or any other -ive adjective. I wanted to take the day off.
And then I heard a tiny little moan, coming from a tiny little girl who had decided that she didn’t want to sleep anymore. A tiny little girl with a giant appetite who was hungry for her breakfast.
So much for taking the day off.
While Lil Mil ate, I thought. I thought about my no-writing-on-Sundays rule, my attempt to keep a weekly Sabbath. I pondered its purpose. I wondered how God would feel about a more flexible approach to Sabbath-keeping – a rolling day of rest that changed week-to-week. It struck me that it would be a lot more productive if I could just take off days off, instead of giving up my perfectly good Sundays.
But what would happen if I had a string of off days? An off week? Could I simply proclaim it a Sabbath week and shelve my laptop for the duration? Would I return to my keyboard seven days later rested and inspired and brimming with new ideas? Or would I find that I’d adapted to the time off… that I’d grown accustomed to my new unwriterly routine. Or, even worse, that my passion for my craft had waned.
I sat and I wondered.
And then I felt something wet on my leg.
More spilled milk. Scratch that – sprayed milk. Lil Mil had fallen asleep. The fire hose that once was a normal human nipple was now spraying its contents all over my child’s face.
I wish I could say that this milk spray triggered an epiphany – that as I hurried to wipe up the milk before it hit our microsuede couch, I had an ah-ha moment about myself or parenting or my journey as a writer/mom.
But I didn’t. My hands were too full. My mind too focused on the best way to get my drippy, milky daughter from my arms to her bassinet without waking her (or dumping a puddle of milk onto the couch).
The epiphany didn’t come til later, when I sat down to write this post. As I began to map out what I wanted to say about my off day, I went back through the hours I’d spent since waking, trying to account for each one. I knew I would confess my lack of productivity (I didn’t work on my book at all), and thus felt compelled to describe how I spent my time. What was I doing that kept me from writing?
I ran through today’s highlight reel: one fussy, moany baby; two painfully engorged breasts; three blowout, seep-out-the-leg-hole-and-onto-a-perfectly-good-pair-of-pants diapers. A broken breast pump. Cranberry stains on my favorite white t-shirt. A giant bruise where I ran into the bedpost.
And that’s when the epiphany came. I hadn’t had a day off. I’d had an off day, but I hadn’t had a day off. Instead, I’d had a day full of challenges, most of them entirely new. Lil Mil didn’t care that her mom spilled cereal and milk on the floor. She didn’t care that her mom was tired and cranky and not in the mood for a busy day. Consequently, her mom didn’t have time to think about the spilled milk. Didn’t have the luxury of being a couch slug. And so, my off day became a day of lessons. I learned a strategy for dealing with Milk Ejection Reflex (aka Forceful Let-Down, aka Spraying Your Child In the Face). I developed a method for minimizing diaper leakage. I discovered that hymns are like crack to my daughter, and that the chorus of Amazing Grace works like magic during a meltdown. I found out that there are no days off in Life with a Newborn, and that off days are sometimes the most productive.
Sixteen hours after rising, I am calling it a day. I have spent the day neither writing nor resting. I could have written. Even with all my day’s demands, I could have written. In recounting the hours, I noticed slivers of time, quiet moments that I could have spent writing. I missed those moments because I had already labeled this day an off day and decided that it would be wasted.
I know now that off days are sometimes the most productive. That the challenges of an off day can improve your craft. I have no doubt that I became a better mother today — a more seasoned mother with a bigger arsenal of mom-skills – not inspite of my off day but because of it. Had I declared today a day off and handed Lil Mil over to Husband or Gran, this wouldn’t be true.
And so, I’ll keep my Sabbath on Sundays, and I’ll pray that my Sundays aren’t off days. I long for a day of rest. I know I need it. But after today, I don’t want to take my off days off. I want to spend my off days learning and improving and growing. I want to become a person who thrives on the offness of an off day – a person who feels enlivened by its challenges. Empowered by its demands.
Because that person, she deserves a day off. Not a week off, or a month off. A day off. A particular day. Each week. A day she can look forward to. A day to reflect on lessons learned, to marvel over unanticipated accomplishments, to enjoy the product of her labor.
Which is why, I think, God gave her one.