Can I Get an ‘Amen’?

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My child sleeps. I’m not sure you fully understand the joy in this, but my child sleeps. On his own. In his own bed. For long periods of time. For the second day in a row. I want to weep with joy. Instead, I have time only to hang the cloth diapers in the sun, cut some roses I’ve been eyeing since last week and begin half a blog post. I will—

He cries—I tend to him. He is learning how to transition between sleep cycles and I am learning him.

What was I saying? Oh, who knows.

It seems as though whenever anyone in the trenches comments on the impossible-ness of the whole parenting endeavor, they are met with the retort, “But it’s all worth it.”

Of course it’s all worth it, otherwise I would have put the child out with the latest Amazon boxes in the recycling. Or offer him on the black market: I know there is a large demand for a blue-eyed baby in the 95th percentile for length.

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Of course it’s worth it. The problem is, parenting (motherhood, particularly, I imagine) is like having every terrible 6th period you’ve ever had, all at the same time, coupled with the worst parents you’ve ever had breathing down your neck while the school is on fire. And the worst part is—you give a damn. You are so heavily invested in this creature, more so than any thing or person you’ve invested in before. (Your husband, who you are certainly invested in, already came to you complete. You are not teaching him how to latch on to your boob (already a perfectionist at that!) or how to sleep or to laugh or speak.) This whole parenting thing would be so much easier if I didn’t give a shit.

But I do. I give a huge shit.

Which sometimes ends up on LL’s feet, his back and my hands.

So here’s a small clip of a day in the life—one with tears on both our parts—not to make you feel sorry; not to solicit suggestions; not to imply my shit stinks more than yours—

The boy cries; I tend to him

But to remind all the rest of us in the trenches that we are not alone. That shit be hard. That it is okay to cry with the babe and throw the towel in for the day and pour yourself a huge glass of wine, yes, even if you are breastfeeding.

It is a long night—LL has gas and flails his legs in his swaddle. His eyes are still shut, so he’s still asleep; I don’t dare wake him. Can I sleep through his kicking? N is sleeping downstairs because he has a long drive tomorrow—I’d like him to make it there and back in one piece, because I’d like to continue to have a partner in parenting. So he sleeps alone tonight.

We’re up at 6 and no one can go back to sleep. I’ve allowed myself the “cheat” of nursing LL to sleep in the morning. I contend that cheating twice a day will improve my sanity and up my oxytocin—cuddling with the babe is beyond sweet. We fall asleep together…for 35 minutes. I am beyond tired. I am already cranky.

We’re up. I change diapers, watch him kick the gymni, beam when he coos. He yawns. Time for a nap. I feel the dread well inside my stomach. I hate this part. This is the impossible part.

We turn on the sound machine. We swaddle as I sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” (I keep meaning to find out—is there more than one verse to this song?). LL’s not yet learned that these are his sleep cues. He’s not yet learned to sleep. I pick him up, sing Twinkle one more time through, patting his back the while. A slow, steady rhythm.

He wails.

I shush.

He wails.

I pat.

Shush, pat. Shush, pat.

He squirms in his swaddle, in my arms, head over my shoulder.

He screams so loud it pierces my ears.

He will sleep. I am determined.

He’s tired, I know he is. His eyes are red. The pediatrician told me that LL needs 16-19 hours of sleep per day—we are lucky if he gets 10. “It’s bad for his brain, isn’t it, this lack of sleep?” I’d asked. The doctor had nodded softly, without trying to alarm me. Me, the teacher who passes out a sleep/brain article to parents at Back to School Night. Me, who is a royal bitch without at least seven hours of sleep. Me, the one who can’t get her child to sleep.

The screaming dulls to a wail. I place him in the hammock. Attempt to put the pacifier in his mouth. Violent squirming. Thrashing of his head side-to-side. Again, the screaming.

I pick him up.

Shush, pat. Shush, pat.

He wails.

This will be the second day of this. And I know it will be all day. I can’t do this.

And my tears fall then too. I know he needs sleep. I know he can’t fall asleep while worked up. I know I can’t take much more of this. It’s eight a.m. and we’re both already in tears. How will we make it until N gets home at seven p.m.? How will my child’s brain develop if he can’t sleep? I will feel responsible if he is placed in remedial math. Worse, if he is diagnosed with ADHD or autistism. I am an ignorant, guilt-ridden first-time mother, and the weight of my child’s future rests on whether or not I can get him to sleep.

He wails. Squirms.

Please help, I silently pray to my Nana. Help me keep my shit together. My tears fall on the swaddled wailer; I’m praying while shushing. Please help me get him to sleep. Just this once. I’m like an addict begging for a hit. Tears roll down both our cheeks. I know I will spend the second day in a dark room shushing, patting and crying.

I take a deep breath and think about my sister, who over the Cascade Mountains, is likely giving meds to her one-year old. Sometimes a three-minute dose takes her close to an hour, the poor boy wailing too, and my sister, I imagine, close to or in tears also.

I think of my friend across town, afraid to leave the house because her one-month old screams with the pitch of an alto-opera singer whenever they are in public.

I think of another friend, one with elementary-school kids who graced us with food and hand-knit beanies and company, who had to have two follow-up surgeries post-birth. How she never really talks about it.

Because no one really talks about the hard stuff. Because it’s apparently illegal to be anything other than Pollyanna-ish or discuss anything other than your perfect child and your stellar, innate parenting skills.

Yes, we will all survive. Yes, we’ll likely forget all the pain and tears in a few days or months. And yes, it is all worth it.

But is it so terrible to talk about how hard it is? About how even the strong among us cry in dark rooms? About how we have never cared so much and felt so incompetent? So responsible?? And incapable?

Of course we can do it. My nephew will get his meds, LL will fall asleep, my friend will leave her house and we will all heal and get through the day.

Not without effort. Not without a conscious decision to love and to teach. To embrace the really, really difficult shit that is parenthood and knowingly take on the task of putting the child down for the sixth time that day. A task which takes 30 minutes and garners only 30 minutes of sleep, followed by another 30 minutes of attempting to get him back down to sleep.

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We’re over that hump***, thank god—at least until the next one—but still, it felt so impossible in those moments. And I needed someone to place their hand on my shoulder and not quip: But it’s all worth it!

I needed that hand to mouth: Amen, Sista. Let it out. You cry so LL doesn’t have to. It will be impossible, but you will do it. We are right here with you and when that little bugger is finally asleep, we will crack cold beers and sigh together in relief.

This, I contend, is not because misery loves company, but because the Sisterhood of Truth–a loud ‘AMEN, Sista!’ coupled with that knowing look–that is what pulls me from the darkened room; that is what compels me in there for the ninth time that day; this is what allows me to tend to my child with an ounce of grace and sanity, knowing that yes, you have been here too.

***HA! A sure-fire way to ruin your streak is to brag about it. That “victory” lasted all of two days. That will teach me to claim success!

 

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(in)Dependence

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When I was 8 or so, my mom would dash from Thousand Oaks to Woodland Hills, swoop us up from school and cart us back to Thousand Oaks for our horseback riding lessons. There wasn’t enough time to get it all done, so my sister and I stripped down our plaid skirts and pulled on our tan britches in the back of the Suburban. We wrote out a check from my mom’s checkbook and just before we flew past the Club House at Foxfield, Mom would sign her money away.

When we were not quite old enough, my mom would make the same trek to Foxfield at 7 a.m. Saturday mornings; Jessica and I would spend the entire day cavorting around that magical place. My mom had a day to herself and my sister and I traipsed around the barn like small, fledgling human beings. We knew how to use the pay phone, how to obtain lunch and when it was time to tack up our horses. We were young, but capable.

Many years later, as I subbed kindergarten for the first–and last–time, I realized that my mother had done her job too well. I abhorred the neediness of those little tots: how they grabbed my hand with their snotty one, how they necessitated assistance  in the bathroom for a myriad reasons (wipe, flush, pull up, wash), how they could not understand multi-step instructions, those bastards.

And ever since, I have constructed an entire life composed of non-needy, non-dependent friends, colleagues and partners. Dependence drives me nuts.

Somehow, however, I created, housed and now am 98% responsible for the world’s most dependent living creature. This sweet-faced monkey is latched to my side, waist or nipple 23 out of every 24 hours. He will only sleep if spooning me. He despises the baby hammock N and I had visions of him snoozing away in.

So cute. So dependent!

So cute. So dependent!

It took me two weeks to realize if I wanted any sleep at all, I was going to have to let my baby be a barnacle.

And if I wanted any sanity at all, I was going to have to convince myself that this dependence–this trait that I deplored–was a symbiotic, temporary, adorable characteristic that melted my heart like butter on a burner. Somehow I needed to embrace neediness and clinginess and complete and utter reliance.

I tell you this because 1. I didn’t realize that this was the aspect of Motherhood that would challenge me, and 2. because I somehow DID  convince myself of the very symbiosis I needed to ingrain. Nobody really talks about how at 34, when you’ve been footloose and fancy free, when you’ve had your passport stamped at dozen ports of calls and eaten happy hour nachos at the pub on a whim and took the long arm of the trail this time because you felt like it–no one tells you that having a baby on your hip while you eat every.single.meal and having him tucked between your thighs and breasts as you both lay on your side every.single.night.–no one tells you this might be overwhelming to your independent self. That you might freak the fuck out for a while.  That you might hyperventilate. Feel a bit nauseous. That you might resent the love-making and baby growing and even the little monkey himself for a while.

I told my best friend that I was going to have to make a conscious choice: that I was going to have to embrace this symbiotic, temporary, adorable characteristic of my spawn or I would have to locate my passport and flee the country.

Now, a handful of weeks later, I eat all my meals one-handed, standing, bouncing the babe as I dribble coffee or soba noodle on his head. I dread the day when N demands that LL sleeps in his own bed or crib or hammock because his gassy fits and nursing coos are too loud. I am certain that one day the little munchkin will treat me with the reservation and distance that I witness between my high schoolers and their parents, and I will long for this time when his fat fingers clutched at my neckline and his body squirmed on my lap–blog post be damned.

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Without knowing quite how, I drank the juice and am relishing (most) of LL’s dependence. Sure, i would love to enjoy a full, hot cup of coffee and a trip to the bathroom without my child attached to me in one of my four baby carriers, but for now, I’ve found joy in the obscenely dependent nature of my newborn.  I know that like my mom, I too, will foster (perhaps too much) independence, and that my baby boy may one day be so capable, so autonomous that he straps on a pack with a one way ticket to somewhere in his hands and no plans to return, no intentions of calling his mother.

That day will come. These days are here. I chant one of my running mantras in my head: This is where you are. This is what it is. We are in dependence.

And it is sweet and simple and full of a thousand small coos and smiles and feet that cling to my lips when I kiss them.

But I want you to know that this mindset did (does) not come easily, not naturally. That I had (have–almost daily still, it seems!) to work to get to this place, as some of us have to and will. You know who I’m talking to out there–you are not alone. We will relish our barnacles together and later, when they’re driving on I-5 and asking to stay out past curfew, we’ll sip our long-awaited margaritas and reminisce about the time they used to sleep with our nipple resting on their cheeks.

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Dispatch from the Other Side

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…and here we are, the three of us, emerging with spring out of our shell and out of our personal war story.

They say to nap while the babe naps, but sleep eludes me, and capturing moments in text seems the only logical thing to do.

I should start by saying this: I called my friend who is due with her first baby in a week and a half, and I said to her: “Carrie, I am so excited for you!”

There—I said it!! Can you believe it? I can’t quite.

I have ventured over to the Members Only club of parenthood, one that rouses emotion that had been hiding in toenails, perhaps, or the farthest molars. One that compels you to get up yet again to feed the hungry monkey and to nibble on toes that curl every time you kiss them. It is sickingly joyful.

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In the few moments we’ve had to debrief, to relive, to reminisce about the first–let’s call it challenging, shall we?–week, N asked me if I would do it again. I unflappingly said Yes. Which is odd, considering what I endured and my slow road to healing. Considering I have never liked babies.

But my baby, well, that is a different story.

I’m in the middle of typing up the story that was the eventful arrival of Luka Lee, and perhaps one day I’ll share that madness here. But before I forget all the hands that held us up that first week, I must give a WAT WAT to our Village.

It is true what they say, about a village and a child, and I must blink several times and shake my head fiercely when I think about the amazing village that has surrounded us in the short amount of time we’ve lived here.

There is the FarMor (father’s mother) who has washed and folded more of my panties than I’d care to count, and held LL so N and I could get some real shut-eye.

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There are the heaps of friends who have cooked, baked, delivered full meals.

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There are the long-distance Grandma and Grandpa who have relished in the latest addition to the Kitchens clan and made me feel like this is their first grandchild rather than their fifth! (This, despite two trips to the hospital for them!!)

A been-there-done-that sister who texts daily baby advice and sends needed baby goods via priority mail.

There are the school folk and friends delivering first Easter baskets and heaps of Goodwill.

Long-distance friends who have listened to our birth story and its aftershocks and assured me, No, it’s not supposed to be quite that challenging.

I am certain that N, LL nor I would have survived that first week without this Village. To Mom, Dad, Jess, Brita, Lara, Amanda, Kerri, Anna, Carrie and Craig, Julie, Phoebe and Jonathon, and to those who I am forgetting due to lack of sleep. All of you saw us through. We are indebted and hope to return the favor.

For all my ambivalence and un-excitedness leading up to Luka’s birth, I am thrilled to be here. To cuddle up at night with this little guy. I am eager to point out to him his first eagle, to take him on his first hike up Little Mountain, to watch him gaze at his first snowfall up Highway 20.

One of my favorite quotes is from Into the Wild, where Alexander Supertramp writes: Happiness is only real when shared.

What a glorious thing, then, that I have two kindred boys with whom to share my joy.

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These are the Things

I know I don’t want or need to have All of the Things.

But I’m smitten, and broke. (Maternity leave sans baby is a beautiful, but frugal endeavor.)

Don’t buy the last ones of these for fear of my wrath!

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Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree–Jessica Durrant

  • Claims to be a baby blanket, but hey! sometimes I act like a child. Doesn’t look like a baby blanket, right?
  • We try, try, try to not use plastic at our house. I’m rooting for these instead of the usual kitchen towel we drape over salad, etc. in the fridge.
  • I have a new laundry plan that N is only partly on board with. I think this would help.
  • My new, hormone induced hair is loving the beach look. I am not loving the sample beach look spray I got from Folica, but think this au natural replacement might do the trick.
  • I was looking for a picture of a cherry blossom I took on my phone to lead this post–my finger appeared in every shot. Then I found this and decided it would be perfect in our guest room. Who knew I even needed it until just this moment? I’m tempted to render one of my own, but come on: $25 to support an artist? No contest! My mama raised me right.
  • And, because this is my dreamlist-if-I-win-the-lottery-and-never-have-to-think-about-money-again, here is the light fixture I’ve been drooling over for our bedroom for over a year. When I get back to work in the fall I am going to have to stomach the $300 and buy the damn thing. I can’t help it that the scallops and brass speak to me.

How about you? What would you lay some Franklins down for if money was no issue? Post a link and we’ll swoon together. It will be like group therapy for shoppers anonymous.