Everyone says having kids is the most wonderful thing to happen to you. And that is definitely true. But so rarely do people explain that the extraordinary highs of parenthood are often met by extraordinary lows.
This month, River, your mother has had a few days (and nights) of lows. For one, I'm starting to really feel the social limitations of having a baby. Missed engagements because you were in no mood to leave the house, frantic dinners out where your father and I spent the entire time chasing after toys you've flung, being overlooked entirely by friends for some really fun events--these are things we've experienced just in the last week. It has made me feel like a social pariah at a time when I'm really ready to engage in the world as an adult.
Then we have the eternally ongoing problem of how to get you to sleep longer. Anytime we give you a unique sleeping situation to deal with you take to it beautifully for the first day, then it's all downhill from there. This month we moved you to your crib and the first two nights were a great success. You slept for huge chunks of time and went down very easily the couple times you woke. Then it became less easy. You started waking more often, and you stopped going back to sleep without effort.
At my most desperate I found myself in your room in the non-hours two nights ago--over and over I would nurse you to a relaxed state, then gently place you in your crib where you immediately fussed to be picked up again. There I was, reaching on tip toes over your crib, the rail pressing the breath out of my ribs as I patted and soothed you; cold, desperate, exhausted. When your father finally relieved me after an hour, I went upstairs and sobbed into my pillow. The frustration of trying and trying and trying to help you sleep--to no avail--was overwhelming. Why does it have to be so hard?
I think the secret to getting through all of this is simply surrendering to you. When I have agendas and expectations I am almost always disappointed by your (understandable) inability to live up to them. On the other hand, when I try to view the world through your eyes, frustration just melts away and I can enjoy my time with you. Even if that time is spent picking up toys you've thrown or rocking you at 2am.
One nice development this month has been the time we've been spending with other babies and mommies. We've always spent some amount of time doing yoga, library lap-sits, and play groups, but this month I've made it a priority to get out to one of these things at least every other day. And because you are so independently mobile now, these events are becoming less stressful and much more fun. Spending time with adults--even if the only thing I talk about is you--has been vital to my mental and physical health. Plus, watching you interact with other little ones is just priceless. You are so sweet and curious, reaching out to touch the other babies, smiling at their new or familiar faces.
I'm still searching for a mom I get along well enough with to spend some one-on-one time with. There are no other mothers in my social sphere, so finding a mommy friend is pretty important to me. Of course, I'm picky. Where are all the other hippy mommies? We are in Cambridge, for Pete's sake. Maybe I should find a drum circle to take us to.
Now, no monthly newsletter would be complete without an update of all the new developments you've had, but this month is a doozy!
Physically, you're just working and working. You've mastered the "commando crawl" and are getting faster every day. I'm amazed how often I put you down in one spot just to check in moments later and find you two feet away. The "lazy" days of pre-mobile baby are coming to a close.
At the same time that you've been working on crawling, you've learned how to pull yourself up to standing, to cruise from mommy to coffee table to couch, to step sideways, and to get into a sitting position from your belly. I've checked a couple parenting books and read that some of these skills don't usually come until 9 months or later. You're nuts! And very determined.
You recently got a third tooth in, and I'm sure the fourth isn't far behind (I imagine that's some of the trouble you're having sleeping). You seem to be enthralled with how they feel in your mouth as you're constantly tonguing your lips and gums. Raspberries are now your major form of communication--except for what I think of as your dolphin call. Yes, my son, you squeak. I often don't know whether you're happy, sad, or just trying to say hello to Flipper, but the octaves you reach are amazing.
I know lots of babies go through a screaming phase where they test out their voices (and parents' patience), so I'm content to listen to squeals and squeaks for now.
In general, River, you are happy, curious, and adventurous. You give me no end of smiles and giggles. You love kisses and tickles and songs.
Making the shift to motherhood has been a trying thing for me at times, but you should never doubt that the good far outweighs the difficult. We're working on all of this together--learning from each other and making our way through life the best we can.
I know you love me, and I hope you know how very much I love you.
So we've been working on our sleep plan with River for almost two weeks now and I can say there is definite progress. Before last night that progress was counted in inches. I was beginning to think getting him to sleep through the whole night at this pace would take a year.
Then the most unexpected thing happened... HE DID IT! He slept through the night! Granted, we're going by pediatric standards for "sleeping through the night," which is sleeping for 4-6 hour chunks of time between waking, but that's miles better than what we've been living with for nearly six months.
Now, I'm not ready to call this done. It could have been an absolute fluke that will not be repeated anytime soon, but I'm still thanking the gods for that one beautiful night of rest.
How it happened:
Yesterday I came to the scary and sad conclusion that since River is now mastering crawling and can pull himself up to standing, he's really no longer safe in the co-sleeper we have next to our bed. I can just envision him standing up one night while I'm passed out from complete exhaustion and plunging over the edge onto our hardwood floor. I had always set six months as a reasonable time to move him from our room to his own for nighttime sleep, but as we actually approach that marker, I feel uneasy (my typical reaction to most of the little man's milestones).
Still, his safety needs to come first, so last night Thom and I took the plunge: we put River to sleep in his own room. The books give a number of slow-moving strategies to get a co-sleeping baby into his own crib (such as parents sleeping on a mattress in his room--or the hallway!--while the little one adjusts), but we decided to just go whole hog and see what would happen.
We put him down to sleep at 9pm, and I expected he would be in bed with us within the hour. Oh how wrong I was! He woke at 1am; I went down to nurse him and he was asleep five minutes later. He woke again at 5am, and I brought him back to our bed to sleep another hour until he was up for good.
To my readers without children, this probably doesn't sound that great, but I tell you it was like a beautiful, shiny Christmas present.
I don't know how tonight will go--perhaps we'll be back to the old routine again--but for the first time in months I have hope.
I took River to the Children's Hospital to participate in a study on social recognition today. The two research assistants were very nice and River flirted shamelessly.
First they put a "hat" with sensors all over it on his head and when he reacted to that okay, we sat together in a dark room in front of a monitor. For short bursts he was able to focus on the screen as they flashed images of faces across it. He fussed a bit and I was afraid we weren't going to finish, but in the end he took my finger to suck on and was a champ from there on out.
We got ten bucks and toy for River out of it, and really, it was just fun to be part of an experiment. I know my brother was doing something similar with adults a while ago, so I got a kick out of that. Plus, now I have these pictures:
We're getting desperate for sleep. You know how you do that thing where you wake up every 1-2 hours at night and only take a few short naps during the day? Well, I'm starting to think you're broken. Only we didn't get an extended warranty on you and I have no idea where the receipt is. The baby store has a very strict return policy, so that's it--you're stuck with us.
I like to think your father and I know you very well--an understanding built on intuition, experimentation, and many, many hours of observation. Based on that, we've pulled out every trick up our sleeves to try to help you sleep longer. However, all of our ideas have been exhausted with no better results.
Now it's time to go to our natural fallback: books.
The No-Cry Sleep Solution is our current advice tome, a book that seems to fit with the philosophy that we all deserve a good night sleep, and that getting it shouldn't involve "training" you with the cry-it-out method.
According to the book, you should be sleeping 10-11 hours a night and 3-4 hours during the day. With that in mind, our first assignment was to log your sleeping habits for one night. It was an average night as far as I could tell (though, don't quote me on that--I'm VERY VERY sleepy), and you slept for a total of 7 hours, waking 7 times, with your longest sleep stretch clocked in at 1.5 hours.
This is clearly not enough sleep.
We've read the first half of the book, pondered all the ideas, and have now come up with a sleep plan. After ten days we should see some improvement. After a month, you will hopefully be sleeping through the night.
And if not... well, I guess there's always the pawn shop.
Thom and I pride ourselves on being a unique couple. Our courtship didn't feature any annoying game-playing or manipulation, our wedding focused on the marriage we would be entering into, not the party we were throwing, and our current relationship isn't marred by struggles over how much football he watches or how much money I spend.
Many times we've delighted together over the knowledge that we don't suffer the typical "muggle" marital problems and we work hard to keep it that way; if there is a battle we typically fight it isn't a war of the sexes, but us against the world.
So it came as a blow to me this morning when I realized that we aren't completely immune to petty marital spats. It started with what I thought was an innocent enough question: "Would you like to put away your laundry?"
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure I could hear the judgment and condescension in that question, but I tamped that knowledge down. The question was asked in an even tone, but it was like the even landscape hiding a landmine beneath.
Thom's response was unexpected: "I don't know if you've noticed, but recently you've been doing that thing where you ask a question that isn't really a question."
I was stunned. How dare he call me on my little manipulation? How dare he point out that I'm engaging in "typical" wifely behavior? How dare he be right?!
Of course it wasn't really a question. I didn't care if he wanted to put his clothes away, just like I don't care if he "wants" to empty the garbage or "wants" to put away the dishes. I just want him to do it.
Posing these chores as a question makes the request feel softer, somehow less like nagging--which I hate. Of course, it's not softer, and Thom can see right through it--as he brought to my attention this morning.
I talked to Crystal about it after Thom left for work. She agreed that she's been guilty of the same thing and even pointed out another trick us wives use to get our men to do something: the "we" game. You know, as in, "We should really call the insurance company" or "We need to do something about the ant problem." We don't me we. We mean you. And usually, we mean now.
When I envisioned our marriage, this was exactly the kind of behavior I didn't want to engage in, the kind I thought I was above. Of course I didn't think Thom would be the kind of husband who never put the laundry away unless asked, who routinely leaves a pile of coffee grounds on the floor next to the garbage, or who never thinks to throw away stale vegetables and leftovers from the fridge. In short, I am a woman and he is a man, and there are some destinies you just cannot escape.
So what's the solution? There are certain things men are programed to not care about. I don't want to treat my husband like a child, but I'd really like him to act like an adult. A female adult. You could argue that if it means so much to me, why don't I just put away the laundry? clean up the dishes? take the garbage out?
I have two responses to that. One, I usually do. Two, I'm a wife, not a maid.
I could try to ignore all of these little messes, move through life assuming someone else will take care of it. And after enough time, someone probably will. But I would probably have had a mental breakdown by that point, and that would do none of us any good.
In the end, I think men (including my very unique, amazingly special husband) like the comfort of having someone take care of them, having someone tell them what to do. I try to lessen the blows with little verbal tricks, but I should just respect my husband enough to ask him to do something straight out. We'd both be on even ground--with no landmines hiding in wait--and isn't that the marriage I've always wanted?
River is eating solid foods three times a day now. Once I realized he needed the extra calories (his attacking of the boobs every ten minutes was the hint I finally took), and this eating thing changed from a fun little experiment to the real deal I felt a surprising and intense pang of sadness. My baby has taken a major step away from complete dependence on me (snip! snip! on the umbilical cord), and boy was I not ready for that.
He seems to be on an express train out of babyhood and all I can do is try to keep him on the tracks.
Though it means leaving something behind, it is fun to watch him experience all the new sensations of tasting food. The subtle sweetness of peas and carrots have been a real favorite, while the slight sourness of pears turn his face into an exquisite pucker.
He's a natural born eater--no messy high chair struggles or airplane games needed--and it's no wonder considering the appetite his parents both have. He gulps oatmeal and jars of veggies down with great intensity--often complaining because the spoon's trip from bowl to mouth is too slow.
Now that River will sit happily in a high chair for some time, the family can have actual meals together, no longer needing to trade him from one lap to the other. He'll sit playing with a toy or munching on squashed banana for five or ten minutes while I get to feel like an adult and use both hands to eat.
All of the advantages of River's new skills come at an emotional price, but I figure that's just part of parenthood. We constantly have to say goodbye to the baby we know and help usher in the person he's becoming.
I'm a work from home mom with endless sources of inspiration (including my husband and two kids).
The Wyrd Sisters chronicles my life, kids, and random thoughts. LittleSage is my design blog. Hope you'll check them both out.