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.
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.
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.
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.
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!