It’s not nice to laugh at other people, I tell the boys. And I believe it. Mostly.

But our dear Rosí, the foreign exchange student who’s here this summer, just told me a story about what happened while we were camping last weekend.

She thought she found chocolate. She was so excited. Very little of our food appeals to her and she was thrilled to find something she recognized.

She tried the plump bean of chocolate. That was actually licorice.

And she now thinks that maybe she won’t eat ever again.

I tried not to laugh, but couldn’t help it. I think mistaking black licorice for chocolate might have been the cruelest thing that happened to her the whole trip.

And potentially the most hilarious.

She got me back, though.

By 6:00 a.m., my children are shrieking with laughter. Every day. There is no morning too early for poop jokes, namecalling, and silliness.

And by 6:07 they’re shrieking in murderous rages at each other. What begins in joy ends in tears. At warp speed and quite loudly.

So Rosí has nicknamed my youngest El Gallo.

The rooster.

Because he crows loudly. Early. And often.

Guess the joke’s on me.

Just in case, though, I’m putting licorice in every cupboard of the kitchen.

Because I’m mean. And running on a constant adrenaline-plus-lack-of-sleep high.

And mean.

Obstacle Course

I want to be writing a post right now, but a dark cloud has settled over both children and they are taking turns waking and crying. There was only a half an hour during which they were both quiet today. It involved one taking a really late nap and the other building heroes and monsters.

So I summon up patience reserves and ask softly what they need. I don’t want them to need right now. I want to write. I put off what I want all day to do what they need, and now I want to write a blog post.

I want to be writing a chapter right now, but the house is a mess and the lunches aren’t made. I did a darned fine job making three nice meals and two snacks today.

But there are no milestones. There is no “done.” Relentless. It’s not back-breaking or war-torn or subsistence-level. But it’s relentless.

Now I summon up the will to tidy, clean, and slather protein goop onto bread for lunches tomorrow. I don’t want to think about other people’s food right now. I want to write. I’ve been putting it off all day, mindful of what my two small creatures need, and now I want to write a chapter.

I want to be reading a book right now, but I’m unfocused and can’t give the words the time they deserve. I try twice and give up. I hear another crying child, see a pile of clothes for the laundry, and smell leftovers waiting to be tucked into the fridge.

Now I try to summon the maturity to give up for the night. I don’t want to call it a day. I want to write and read and create and marvel and think. I put all of those aside today, promising myself “later” while I enjoyed the play and resented the battles and joined in the lives of other people. I’ve been answering requests for 22 hours. And now I want to be me.

The day started at midnight when the littlest one woke crying for water. He chases away my REM cycles every hour or so after the night is enumerated in single digits. The older one woke before dawn and started whistling the joyful chorus of those without front teeth. They both pushed hard all day, trying to fill every moment with fun and beauty and learning. I tried to keep up. And be responsible and tidy and mindful and nice. I tried to feed them and teach them what they need to know to be decent humans. I did a fine job considering how little I sleep each night and how mad I get when Elvis Costello tauntingly reminds me that every day he writes the book. Every day. The book I’m neither writing nor reading.

So if I quit and go to bed, Elvis Costello wins. And I can’t have that.

Consider the post written and the lunches done. Next: draft a chapter. Then: read one sentence and fall asleep.

Win-win-win-win. Take that, Elvis.

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.]

The Bright Side

You know the upside of having kids shift their internal clocks for summer, going from 7pm-6am mostly asleep to 9pm-5am barely asleep? Absolutely nothing. Sucks rotten eggs.

You know what’s funny about being in the car while one kid screams, “Stop looking out my window! Look out your own window!”* while the second kid just stares across the car at nothing through his brother’s window? Again, nothing. No benefit at all.

*technically, he shrieks, “Peanuh! No look me weendoh! Own weenndoh!”

Wanna hear the silver lining, for me, of children who eat their own weight in watermelon every day? Once you push aside the exorbitant cost of organic watermelon, the sticky pink drips everywhere, the moonscape yard in which every available square inch of planting space is waiting for watermelon seeds to grow, and the pain in the neck of washing and sharpening a huge knife twice daily, the good part is…I don’t know, something about lycopene and prostates. No silver lining for me.

Hey, have I mentioned the great part about having friends who happily let my kid play with their kid, the results of which are 1) happy kids, 2) happy friend who can basically ignore children playing well together and spend a couple of hours doing whatever they want to around the house, and 3) a blissful return to a time when my toddler naps and I have time to write? Well, I just enumerated them, so consider the great parts mentioned.

So the score, if you’re playing along with our Fantasy Humanity League, is Summer 225, Me Infinity. (It’s new math, so let me give you the formula: annoyances are one point per day and time alone in the middle of the day is infinity points.)

How’s your summer score looking? Not that you keep score, of course. But if you did.

Another to-do list

To Do. (NB: This week. Seriously, hurry up already.)

1. Reconfigure novel. Move scenes to where they should go. Trim or add to make perfect.

2. Teach toddler to sleep better. Teething is no excuse for waking eight or nine times a night. He’s clearly doing this on purpose.

3. Polish journal article #3; Submit journal article #3.

4. Make pasta from scratch. Freeze.

5. Submit novel.

6. Practice Alexander Technique while awake at 11pm. 1am. And 2am. And 4am. And 5am. You don’t have to fix yourself, though.

7. Speak with sleepless toddler about his bad attitude.

8. Start college fund for kids. See if 529s accept dryer lint as deposit.

9. Write journal article #4. While writing, judge self for not doing this sooner.

10. Update LinkedIn profile and start self promotion blitz.

11. Get lots of contract editing work.

12. Learn to quilt. And cross-stitch.

13. Start etsy for sarcastic handmade stuff.

14. Complete lots of contract editing work.

15. Choose languages to learn for PhD program.

16. Practice bass. (NB: not the fish. Try sleeping, maybe, after perfecting bass. No…as I said, not the fish. Get some caffeine, maybe, while practicing bass. Seriously, what is it with you? Not. the. fish. Why would I list “practice a fish” on a list of things to do? Come on.)

17. Speak with self about bad attitude.

18. Learn two languages. as jump start on PhD requirements.

19. Design and print photo albums for grandparents’ holiday presents.

20. Arrange for sitter next month for Date Morning. Date Night means paying sitter to ignore sleeping kids, which Spouse and I do really well.

21. Write second novel.

22. Sell baby stuff on craigslist.

23. Make microloans.

24. Get part time job with great benefits.

25. Apply for PhD program.

26. Get grad school loan. Sell soul or children to ensure retirement out of debt.

27. Quit job with a year of 401k savings. That should be enough for retirement.

28. Complete PhD program.

29. Write third novel.

30. Floss more often.
Using Alexander Technique.
While composing music.
And doing gluteal exercises.

Everyone wants out

Peanut told me this week that he wants a new mom.

He ain’t the only one shopping for my replacement.

I’m done.
I’m just done.

I finally found a sitter, after two years of a Spouse who worked such long hours he only saw our eldest on weekends and two more years of an intense kid who was awake 14 hours a day and most of the night, and another year with two children, the sum of which ate away all my reserves. And put me deep into patience debt. And fun ideas debt. And giving a shite debt. So I found a sitter from a trusted source and scheduled her twice a week for two hours.

Four hours of solo time. Of daylight hours where I could choose my own destiny. Or at least have a cup of tea and close my eyes while walking. (I love doing that.) Or, heaven forbid, writing.

And this answer-to-my-prayers babysitter has canceled six times now. Out of eight appointments. Sick some of those times, needed at work (a preschool) others, planning a trip another, and “tired and unable to be attentive” once. Five cancellations were an hour before she was due here.

So clearly I’m not going to ask her back.

And without outside help I’m back to 86 hours a week of being tasked with guarding and teaching and protecting and not stabbing small children. And another 14 hours a week while they sleep of cleaning and preparing and cooking. And another couple of hours every night, when the toddler wakes 2-6 times for comfort and milk and the older one wakes for bathroom or nightmares or some bullshit invention that tests my theories of nighttime parenting.

I’m too tired to calculate it, but that seems as though at least 114 hours of my week is child-centric. (For those keeping track, that leaves less than 8 hours a day, so I can do all children all the time and sleep, or rob my sleep to have some reading, writing, exercise, thinking, talking, adult time moments.) I love these kids 168 hours a week. But 68% of every minute of my year seems like a lot of unblinking moments. With healthy, loving, awesome kids. And two hours to myself most weekends. Whine whine whine. Except, come on.

With a sitter who calls in too tired to pay attention to my kids for two bleeping hours.

So when the five year old offers to throw me out on my ear, I’m eager for the chance.

P: I get a good allowance, you know. I can buy a new mom.
M: Hmmm. What are you looking for in a new mom? What qualities will make a new mom worth your money?
P: Well, mostly what I’m looking for is no rules.
M: Oh. Yeah, that would be nice.
P: I want one who says yes to hitting.
M: Well, let’s see. That knocks out M’s mom and E’s mom and R’s mom and your aunt and your grandmas. Who else do you have in mind?
P: I don’t really need to buy a new mom. I just need to pay you to have no rules.
M: No deal. You still have to hold hands in the street and wear a seatbelt and use sunscreen if I’m your mom.
P: Okay, but I want to pay you so I can hit.
M: What do you want to hit?
P: I’ll give you $100 if I can knock down this house.
M: There’s a problem with that plan. If you knock down this house I have to pay the landlord a lot more than $100. So it’s not worth it to me. Sorry.
P: Well, I’ll keep looking.
M: You do that.

Eeyore by necessity

Sleep deprivation makes you cranky, fat, and dangerous.

It also makes you gloomy.

Take a look at this finding, reported in a New York Magazine feature that is, as far as I can tell, the same as the third chapter in Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman:

“Perhaps most fascinating, the emotional context of a memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine.” (p. 3 in the NYM article linked and p. 35 in the book)

Great. Fat, grumpy, and incapable of retaining joy.

I can’t wait to hang out with me, ‘cuz that’s a winning combination.

(On a related note, how do I not have a category titled “Holy Guacamole, I Need Sleep!”? My first didn’t sleep through the night until he was over Three. The second is not exactly on the fast track to quiet nights, with or without ear infections, teething, and gobs of physical exertion. So I filed this under everything except Yoga. I’m too tired for yoga.)

(Also? Go read Nurture Shock. There are chapters on praise, sleep, race, lying, gifted programs, siblings, teenagers, self-control, social skills, and language; all compelling, well written, clear, thoroughly researched and revelatory.) I’ll leave the superlatives to the cover matter, but suffice it to say I will finish it before I finish The Pale King. That’s huge, given how little reading time I have and how much I want to read DFW’s final novel. Go get it. Library, local bookstore, friend…I don’t care. Read. This. Book.)

This is your brain…

This is your brain on sleep deprivation.

Things I have done, no joke, this month:

>> Put toothpaste on the preschooler’s toothbrush, and, while talking with him, shoved the brush into the baby’s mouth and started brushing.

>> Started putting away the clean dishes that Spouse had washed; noticed some oil on one. Washed it. Then without noticing rewashed all the other clean dishes from the full dish drainer and put them away wet.

>> Freaked out at dinner the other night—a desperately needed Ladies’ Night Out—because I had left my elastic hairbands on my wrist. Not because it’s unseemly and sorority-ish to wear ponytail elastic on my wrist. Not because my hair was unkempt and in need of ponytailing. The real problem? I’ve had short hair for about a month. I have absolutely no idea how the bands got on my wrist.

>> Filled a pot at the sink in preparation to cook something, brought it to the stove, then left the room and was surprised at dinnertime that we had to have sandwiches again.

At least I didn’t turn the stove on. Oh, wait…

>>Turned the stove on to roast some cauliflower. Once the preheat was done, opened it to find all the muffins I had baked the day before. They were a tad overdone.

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.

A plea for sleep

Dear goddess of babies who wake every two hours:
Thank you for passing my child off to the next goddess. I appreciate your care in those first weeks. I don’t miss you. I’m sure you understand.

Dear goddess of babies who wake every three hours:
We’ve spent a lot of time and effort with my children, oh goddess. My first child was in your care for three-plus years before you handed him over to the goddess of children who sleep all night. So I’m thinking you need a break. You’ve had responsibility for my second child for nigh on five months, and I’d like to ask that you relinquish him to the goddess next door. I know he visited with the goddess of babies who wake every five hours a few times last month, and you can see he did fine there. Your extra care and nurturing should be for newer babies who need the extra milk. Bring him next door, please.

Dear goddess of babies who wake every four hours:
Please don’t be home when your neighbor, Three Hours, comes knocking.

Dear goddess of babies who wake every five hours:
I’m calling on you, oh goddess because your wonderful, growth-inspiring nurturing is just what my son needs. Keep your eye out for Three Hours and greet her if Four Hours isn’t home. Please accept the care of my dear baby. Please watch over him and let him sleep, uninterrupted, for five hours twice a night. Help him grow and develop in whatever ways are right for him.

Unless you’re caring for too many wonderful babies. Then pass him on to the goddess of children who sleep all night. I won’t tell Three Hours, who seems to have taken a shine to my whole family. He’ll be fine with All Night and I’ll be over the moon. False idols, nothing, I’ll create a whole shrine to you.

It’s official…

The single reason my son is a terror and I am a writhing mess:  lack of sleep.

I suspected it, but thought there might be greys and nuances and spectra. Nope. He slept through the night last night, and I got a full eight hours uninterrupted by cat or child or snores (you know who you are) or trains. And I was a peach today. So was my kid. We had a grand old time. He told me this was his best day ever. He’s three. He should know.

Don’t know how to decree an official mandate on sleep, but I right now hold aloft my sword and declare this family will commence giving me nights like that every night for-freaking-ever more.

Else rue the day.

As they have been for years.

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.)