A Day of Rest

A problem, how I made it a bigger problem, and the eventual solution:

This week was exhausting. Devastatingly, heart-disease-causing, soul-wrenchingly exhausting.

Something is shaking Butter awake at night, at least once an hour, and making him scream as though his head were being severed from his body with a rusty grapefruit spoon. Ear infection? Teething? Intense training by the CIA to see how I react to Guantanamo-levels of sleep deprivation? I don’t know. He’s often asleep as he starts yelling but wide awake and responsive when I talk to or touch him. I ask if he hurts, he says no. Blood-curdling scream. Do you want a cuddle? No. Wall-shaking scream. Do you need to pee? No. Neighbor-ending scream. I pat his back or cuddle him or get him up for a drink of water. He screams then cries then grabs my hair and pulls it, then kicks me until I explain the mechanics of loving mamas and their limits, then eventually gets so tired he falls asleep. For about half an hour.

It was so bad one night (perhaps Thursday?), so terrible and painful and awful because I couldn’t understand and couldn’t stop him and couldn’t get more than 15 minutes of sleep in a row without being blasted with the air raid siren in his adorable throat that at 4 a.m. I took him out of the bed (he comes into our bed around 1 a.m. most nights, but by 10 p.m. this week), put him on the floor, held him by the hand as we walked to the hallway, then shut the door behind him and let him scream in the hall while I stumbled back to bed.

Nice? No. Terrible? Yes. Feel more than free to judge if you have slept fewer than three hours a night, in short bursts punctuated by emergency-caliber adrenaline rushes. For a week. More sleep than that and you may unleash your judgement for my many other failings but shut yer piehole about the late night choices I made.

[Also? Pushing a screaming toddler out of my room because I was going to kill him otherwise? Totally woke older child and made him grouchy the next day. Just FYI when you’re considering horrible and heartless ways to nighttime parent a small, confused, helpless creature. I let it go on for about 15 seconds, but that was too long for everyone.]

I also tried sleeping on the couch at 2 a.m. one morning, but Butterbean cried so piteously about my departure, for so long while Spouse tried in vain to cuddle him, that I couldn’t sleep and returned to the lion’s den.

I’m 87% dead. How do I know it’s not 100%? I can still make coffee. How do I know it’s more than 75%? I can’t be bothered to work on my book.

So what? you ask. Big deal. Raising kids is exhausting and hard and mysterious and punctuated by phases of awful. We all know that. Those who don’t will find out. The diaper ads reveal only the copious amounts of cute brought to a household by a baby, moments of which are absolutely true, but the montage of which is doubtless gleaned from hours of regular baby stuff, which is one part cute, one part gross, one part infuriating, and one part heartbreaking.

So you know genuinely soul-sucking nights are normal. Me, too. Why blog it?

Because I learned something about myself this week.

I’m a raging asshole when tired.

Now, those who know me understand that the baseline of my unsavory personality characteristics is pretty low. To be a raging asshole is actually my default. And so, since becoming a mother, is being tired. I have two naturally wakeful kids and have not slept through the night in more than seven years. When Peanut started sleeping through the night at age 3.25, I was in heaven, skipping gloriously through my days, and got pregnant that week. Butter has still not slept through the night.

So I’m running on empty and I’m not nice.

But this week pushed me over a precipitous edge to a dark place. I yelled at my kids for every single thing they did. Fighting? Let me yell at you for that. Not listening? How about I yell at you. Asking for a lollypop? I have this riot act I will herewith read you at the top of my angry voice.

I was a cartoon of grouchy, impatient nastiness by Thursday. I took out on these delicious young people all my dissatisfaction with the week’s lowest moments.

So today I took today off. I’m getting a cold, borne I’m sure, of a week in which I slept twelve hours total. We had a full day of family activities planned…all delightful and full of people we enjoy.

But I knew it was today or never. Other times that I have been really sick, Spouse is often out of town. Or has the sort of work obligations he absolutely can’t back out of. Today was full of optional, awesome, fun not-obligations. So I told Spouse last night to prepare for a day of solo parenting. I told the kids this morning I would not be getting out of bed.

I’m sick. More honestly I’m sick and tired.

And for the first time in my life, I refuse to push through. I finished a triathlon with a stress fracture. I finished a client deadline and wound up with carpal tunnel syndrome. I finished both my degrees in minimal time with highest honors.

But I’m not going to a birthday party today.

Spouse made me soup. It was perfect. Peanut read to me. He was perfect. Butter sat on me and rolled all over me and tickled me and threw the cat at me. He’s two. Everything and nothing they do is perfect except when they grab you in big, sloppy, off-balance hugs.

I did not parent them. I loved them and enjoyed them and shooed them out of the room when I’d had enough and wanted a nap. But I did not parent them.

And I don’t plan to. Not at all today. Eat nothing but cookies if that’s what your father proposes. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your joy. Brush teeth or not. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your overall well-being. If When you fight you find solutions or let your father help you. I’m sick. I’m tired. There’s no benefit to any of us if I engage in that nonsense.

I will not tell you how or what to do. Because until I recharge my dangerously depleted batteries, nothing I say is of much use to you.

I learned this week that I have nothing to offer when I’m depleted. And this was a hard-won and stark reminder that I must refill the tanks or I must shut my mouth and let them run around like wild hooligans. Because there is nothing to be gained by hanging on by my fingernails and then bringing them down with me.

So. Who wants to eat ice cream in bed with their totally abdicating mother?

[Note: I vowed not to get out of bed, but the second they left the house I cleaned out my closet, reorganized the garage sale pile, cooked dinner, read a chapter of a nonfiction book, paid the bills, did the dishes, watered the plants, and organized the photo files so I can make this year’s photo albums online. All with a horrible headache and a sore throat. I’m really bad at this relaxing thing. But I’m proud that I at least said I would. Baby steps.]

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This week in Naptime

The big guy has had his last day of preschool. Two years of a loving, supportive, superb play-based outdoor/indoor extravaganza of exploration and choices. He has, in the past month: lost a tooth, learned to tie his shoes, and ridden a bike without training wheels. It’s killing me, but I guess he is ready for kindergarten. [sob] I’m worried about the unfortunate things kindergarten has become and the heart-wrenching ways it affects boys, but here we go.

The little guy is a flirty goofball of performance and projects. He’s only saying a few words, but he signs dozens of words and has fabulous grasp of social relations. He has a great sense of right and wrong and has no problem telling an older child to “knock it off,” to “give it back,” and to “step off or I will bite you.”

It’s killing me, but I think he’s ready for night weaning. [sob] We believe in nursing on demand, we believe in nighttime parenting, we believe in compassion. And I miss sleeping. I need to edit, I want to write, and I have to think. I haven’t slept more than three hours at a stretch since he was born. Between teething and ear infections he’s been up every two hours for a long damned time. Of course, night weaning doesn’t equal sleep. His older brother night weaned at 18 months (forcibly, as a last resort for my sanity by Spouse, who spent three months awake trying to lovingly convince Captain Stubborn that the milk goes away during sleep time). That willful, opinionated Peanut didn’t slept through the night until after he turned 3. Butterbean seems more willing to nightwean. The few times I’ve said no, he cries an angry cry for 30 seconds then lies down and falls asleep. [sob] I don’t like facing this milestone.

But, as with shoelaces and two-wheelers and kindergarten, we have to try. Because sleep and writing and editing and half days with only one kid might make things a lot easier around here.

Wish us luck, would you?

Freaking exhausted

“What are the odds,” people said. “Of course the second one will sleep.”

Oh, dear Aphrodite, I’m tired.

Peanut didn’t sleep well. As a newborn he work the typical every two hours. He extended his longest sleep to three, four, five, even six hours until he started teething. Some nights we was up, screaming in pain, several times an hour. I’d comfort him to sleep, and he’d wake three minutes later. When not teething he woke every three hours. For three years and two months.

Of course that won’t happen again.

When Peanut was a newborn, other moms commiserated. Then they dropped like flies as their children started sleeping longer.

“Yeah, it was hard, but six months is much better.” So I hung on until six months. Six teeth, no sleep.

“Once he turned a year he magically slept.” So I hung on until one year. Thirteen teeth, no sleep.

“Wean him at night and he’ll sleep.” I didn’t believe it, but at eighteen months was losing my mind and probably clinically depressed so I night weaned. Twenty teeth, solid food, no sleep.

His first pediatrician told me to read a couple of studies that offered stats and findings about how some kids are just not sleepers. And that all kids reach adult sleep patterns by age three or four. I made him promise there were no seven year olds in his practice who woke frequently. He promised. So I hung on past age two.

Peanut’s second pediatrician said her daughter was the same, and that after age two you can reason with a waker, and explain how other family members need sleep and they need to pull up the covers, close their eyes, and go back to sleep as long as it’s dark. I hung on past age three.

With no fanfare, warning, rhyme, or reason, he slept through the night at three years two months. For four months his nightmares woke him but he didn’t need help back to sleep. Now the nightmares leave him screaming in his sleep but he doesn’t usually wake.

“Of course the second one will sleep. What are you, cursed?”

Butter woke every two hours as a newborn. Then extended his longest sleep to three, four, five, six, seven hours. And then he got ear infections. He went to every hour waking. Then two hours, now three hours. After I promised to worship the goddesses of nighttime he went six hours. For a week.

And now we’re back to every three hours.

Some kids are not made to sleep well until their sleep cycles mature. They’re not waking out of habit or to manipulate or because their parents aren’t doing the “right” things. If you think that, in the words of William Goldman, “feel free to flee.” My cousins woke every three hours for three years. My nieces wake about that (they’re almost two). Peanut woke that often. My friend’s daughter woke that often. My pediatrician’s daughter woke that often. My friends’ son is still waking that often.

But I don’t want to wake that often.

I don’t really want to talk logistics. Both boys go to sleep easily, wide awake, in their own beds. This is not a nurse-to-sleep issue or a rocking issue, though if it were, I’ve read the book to address it. About half the time I can get Butter back to sleep with a pat on the back, so it’s not a nurse to sleep issue (though if it were, I’ve read the book to address it). If it was any of those, and you felt the need to judge, you may back away from the computer, bend over, and kiss my ass . I have no time for people who sleep judging my desperation. And if the words “cry it out” are dancing around in your brain, keep ’em to yourself.

My friends fall into two categories: people whose children wake often at night, and everyone else. The difference, I’m convinced, is not childfree vs. parent. It’s families of any stripe who sleep vs. those who don’t.

I don’t begrudge people who sleep and whose children sleep. Mazel tov, I say, and many more great nights to you. But I also want to cry with self pity and sleep deprivation.

I’d really just like to rest.

Really, really want to rest.

Good morning

Reasons for which my son has screamed for me at between 3:00-4:00 a.m. this week:

The edges of his pillow don’t touch the bed. Even though the laws of physics state that his pillow edges have never touched the bed, this reality is a desperate tragedy. Right now.

The baby’s breathing woke him up. Not the crying at midnight or the screaming at 2:30 a.m. It’s that damned breathing that gets him every time. Or, really, one time out of the 600 (or so) minutes he sleeps.

The stars went out. The stars from the turtle go out after 30 minutes of glowing. But somehow, seven hours into the night, this is a 9-1-1-eligible emergency.

He forgot to finish dinner. Asked at the end of dinner and again before bed whether he had eaten enough, he answered in the affirmative. But 3:27 a.m. brings everything into a new clarity, and now dinner is not as done as he previously thought.

He forgot his favorite hat at school. No, he didn’t. But he needed to scream for me to check.

On a related note: creative and energetic four-and-a-half year old free to a good home. Definition of good changes at 3:00 a.m.

Jinx!

At the risk of having everything go downhill again, I have to say it is GLORIOUS to finally have a kid who sleeps through the night most of the time. He started having regular 10 hour nights at 27 months, but it was only 3 or 4 nights a week. Now, a year later, after having a taste but never getting into a rhythm, at 3.3, it’s 5 or 6 nights a week. He still talks and yells a lot in his sleep, but it doesn’t seem to wake him anymore. So I go back to sleep quickly. And I have to say, I’m much nicer, happier, and less stressed. My temper is more controlled and I have a lot more patience…this must be why other parents like their kids. And like parenting. And actually consider having another (let’s not go that far…)

That’s all. I’m coming out firmly in favor of sleep. I really like it. And I’m all universe-thankingly happy that there’s more of it in our house.

And the parenting award goes to…

Kid, in a 60 degree house, is intoning, over and over, “I’m hot. I’m hot.”

I just hollered “Stop saying that; I don’t care.” Roll out the red carpet, I know I’ve been nominated.

Come on. He’s wearing shortie jammies, he’s on top of the covers. He’s fine.

And he’s been up no fewer than three times (next time gets the door shut completely, so he won’t be up again) to tell me that his friends don’t all fit in the bed. The whole day was about how they, they being Clementine the rabbit, Oliver the dog, Pizza the zebra, Uncle Bear the bear, Madeline the monkey, and Biff the Billy Goat, don’t fit in the dining room chairs and in the small table’s benches, and in the small orifice where I crammed them all by about 5pm.

Now he’s intoning, “Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?”

Man, that kid knows on which side his bread is buttered.

Dire consequences and desperate measures

A discussion last weekend at the playground with a creative, lovely, and wicked smart lady yielded the following observation: we’re all desperate to protect and justify our choices. After reading Peggy Orenstein’s Flux and The Atlantic Monthly’s article “The Case Against Breast-feeding,” the glaring truth to me is not that one side of each debate is right or that each side despises the other’s choices, but that we each have a lot at stake in making sure our decisions were at least good, if not the best.

Breast or bottle, nighttime parenting or cry-it-out, stay at home or work and daycare—we all have the same secret fears that the choice we are making is costing us more than it should. Hanna Rosin’s “The Case Against Breastfeeding” really isn’t a case against breastfeeding. It’s a case against the all-or-nothing mentality that has parents segregating into those who chose wisely and those who are ruining their children. And the root of our belief in our own choices and our disdain for any different points of view is the hope that we’re doing what’s best for our families. And if we’ve chosen incorrectly, we risk not only breaking our children, but also having lost all the effort we poured into our choice. Rosin is not arguing that women should not breastfeed. After nursing three children, she’s simply wondering why she felt that was the only choice, why the pedants on each side of the debate swear the others have lost their minds (or feminism or chance at a healthy child). Why the black-and-white thinking? Because we’ve all gone through a lot (a lot a lot a lot) of trouble to do what we’re doing, so it had better be right.

I postponed (at least0 or gave up (at worst) two outstanding careers, one potential career, and a path toward a PhD to stay at home with my son because I thought, given my endless research that confirmed nothing except that I’d eventually have to make a choice, that staying home was most likely to give him what he needed to grow into a delightfully useful member of society. If I’m wrong, and I should have focused more of my daylight hours on myself and my career, then maybe I’ve wasted these years and he will blame his miseries and failures on me. Or, even worse, I will be an empty shell of a person, having subjugated my only self for a person who becomes a serial killer and about whom the history books will only write that I ruined his life and sense of what the world should be and that he stabbed his neighbors.

Conversely, the women I know who work outside the home, who decided that they needed to create a family in which each person’s work is vital, in which attentive, loving care can come from a paid helper as long as it’s consistent and supportive (they hope) made their decision to give their children what they needed to grow into a delightfully useful members of society. If they are wrong, and they should have focused more of their daylight hours on their children, then maybe they’ve missed the most important years, and their children will blame their miseries and failures on parents who worked their children into the margins of their lives. Or, even worse, these parents will be bitter, unfulfilled shells of people, having chosen empty pursuits and subjugated their children’s needs, resulting in a generation who become a serial killers and about whom the history books will only write that their mothers ruined their lives and sense of what the world should be. And that they stabbed their neighbors.

Wait a minute, that’s exactly the same outcome as the other moms! We’re all screwed!

Or we’ll all just fine.

But nobody is going around saying, “I hope I made the right decision so that my children don’t stab their neighbors.” (At least in my neighborhood. But I lead a sheltered life. Maybe your neighbors say it. Maybe about your kids. Wait, which choices did you make? Quick, tell me, so I can judge you.) Instead, we secretly hope that we made the right decision, missing a large chunk of our children’s or our adult selves, counting each mistake, tallying each proud and loving moment, and hoping it’s all enough.

Ah crap, I didn’t nurse long enough. My child will be obese, stupid, and chronically ill.
Ah, crap, I nursed at the exclusion of my own sanity. My every waking moment has been for someone who really didn’t get that much from it.

Ah, crap, I let my child cry it out and now she’ll have insomnia and a sense of abandonment as an adult.
Ah, crap, I lost years of sleep attending to my child at night and now they’ll get to college and cry for me in the dorm every night.

And so on, ad nauseum.

Because if we made the wrong decision, we’ve screwed not only ourselves, but our children, as well.

So we disdain the people who make decisions different than our own, and align ourselves with likeminded people because we need to know that others feel our pain and share our justifications; because, deep down, we suspect it might be okay no matter what we do. And all things being equal, we might like a do-over. Or a medal. Or both.

I *need* 5920 hours of sleep…that’s a medical fact (sort of)

Most scientists agree you can’t make up for lost sleep. But at least one sleep center claims it takes two hours of sleep to replace one lost hour of sleep. (Bear with me. This isn’t the journal Nature. This is my pathetic little writing, ambivalence, parenting, anti-corporate blog and I feel like a little pseudo-science today. It’s not like the Internet isn’t full of made up crap already.)

So in the 27 months that Peanut woke frequently every night, I figure I got about 4200 hours of sleep. (Not counting that one, blissful night where he had a fever and slept for ten hours straight. Ah, bring on the 103 degrees.) Had I slept normally, I would have gotten at least 7100 hours of sleep. (At least is right. I used to need 9 hours a night, so that 7100 is probably 8000, but I digress from my highly technical calculations…) Plus the past five months, in which I have gotten 190 hours instead of the requisite 250. That leaves me with a deficit of at least 2960 hours. Using the Quanta Dynamics Sleep Research I found on a half-assed Google search, that means I need 5920 hours of sleep to catch up.

So to all the people asking when we’ll have another baby, the answer is, “As soon as someone arranges for me to sleep for 5920 hours straight.”

(Or, “when you have my conscience and maternal instincts removed so I could, hypothetically, let a child cry.” I don’t think that surgery is wise, as it goes against everything a feeling person knows, though just such a surgery was undoubtedly approved by the FDA under the previous administration. With postsurgical injections of materna-botox to insure your nurturing muscles are paralyzed so you can continue your life as though your children aren’t there.)

Wee hours

Yesterday was a really tough day for Peanut, and though he’s been sleeping much better…wait, I need to address that:

Attention sleepless moms: don’t let the books and the advice fool you. Some kids just don’t sleep until they’re two or three. No matter what you do. They’re just too mentally or physically active to stay asleep. And abandoning them at night just sends mixed messages but doesn’t “fix” them. [Please don’t email me to tell me how to get my kid to sleep. And please don’t email to tell me cry-it-out isn’t cruel. It is. And I do know how tired you are and I do know why you felt you had to try. I’m not judging your desperation, I’m just not going to use your method. I’ve read every book and talked to everyone who has an opinion, story, or child. Most books don’t address our situation. And my child goes to bed easily, happily, lovingly. He falls asleep by himself because he always has and prefers it that way, but he can’t stay asleep more than 3 hours at a time. Not his fault. Not habit (and don’t you think that if habit was a successful way to wake up that alarms would be obsolete? Not sleeping is not your child’s fault. I know you don’t want to hear that you may not sleep for a while. But you might now. At one point I asked my pediatrician to swear on his life that he didn’t have any eight-year-old patients who didn’t sleep through the night. He promised. I was desperate, desperate, painfully desperate for 18 months, then hysterical for 6 months, then resigned for six months. And at 2 1/2, there it was. A full night. And another. And another.

In other cultures, parents don’t expect kids to sleep until two or three. What’s hard here is that they’re “supposed to” and, therefore, either they or we are failures if nights are regularly, if not frequently, interrupted. I mean, I know Americans have some good reasons to think they’re awesome, but do you really think you’re so awesome you give birth to superhumans who sleep better than the rest of the planet? Come on.

My resignation to my fate doesn’t mean I haven’t almost lost my mind to sleep deprivation. But I know lots of really good parents with really good kids who didn’t all sleep through the night until three years had passed. And I’m surrounded by parents who made it through and parents who are struggling to get there, and we’re in it together. Except at 3 a.m. Because nothing is lonelier than caring for a wailing child at 3 a.m. Don’t care who you are, it’s tough to feel that alone.)

Back to the story.

Though he’s been sleeping better lately, yesterday was really hard for him, so nighttime was hard. The day was filled with sharing (his current nightmare of choice) and playdates and hitting (he’s getting it back now and doesn’t like it) and infrequent snacks (the child is more calorie-dependent than even his mother, and that’s saying a lot) and a timeout; so he was just guaranteed a difficult night. He tossed and turned, he yelled in his sleep (mostly, “No share! No share no hit!”), he woke every few hours. He needed help a few times, including one justifiable need for the potty. It was dark, I was half asleep but carried him silently to the bathroom, helped him, and redressed him. He went right back to sleep. Three hours later he called me through the monitor:

“Mommy! Underpants! Mommy, underpants! Mommy. Underpaaaaaants.”

I’m irritated, thinking we’re having a “I need to choose another pair” moment as we do in daytime. In the light of day that nonsense is fine with me. Control what goes in your own pants. Fine. At night? No way.

So I go to him and he says “P*nis stuck.”(“I’m sure it is,” I think, “since you never leave it alone. Probably caught it in the waistband, didn’t you?”) I lift the waistband and let gravity work its magic.

“There you go, Mommy fixed it.”

“Mommy no fix it. P*nis stuck.”

“Okay, stand up. I’ll try again.” I reach to help him up and get a handful of cheek. Nude.

I had put both his legs into one leg hole during his late night peebreak. He’d slept three hours hanging out the side of his unders.

Nice work, ma.

I fixed my error and asked, “Is that better?”

“Yeah.” Lies down, sleeps.

When do they learn to walk down the hall to take care of that themselves? Probably before he regularly sleeps through the night, right?