Just Another Teenaged Mom

Some background:

Down the block from us lives a woman who is either constantly drunk or has some sort of mental illness or both. She walks up and down the block in the middle of the day. Often when I cross paths with her she has something to say, and usually it's something bizarre like a rambling joke about rocks and God. One time she told me I looked like an angel. Her name is Mary, which always makes me think of that Pearl Jam song.

More background:

I am 32 years old and am starting to notice that I, um, no longer look just like I did when I was 19.


Yesterday I was returning from the park, carrying M, when we crossed paths with Mary. She stopped and staggered a little and stared up at me. You know what it is now? she said, stabbing the air in my general direction with a soda cup. I slowed down and looked at her. It's children, she said, waving the cup toward my face, conductorlike, and then, gesturing toward M, taking care of children.

I just busted out laughing. Thanks, Mary. You made my day.


Lest you mistake that for a happy ending...

M woke up at 11:30 last night all out of sorts. One thing and another: Ibuprofen (though no real symptoms of pain other than awake and cranky); yogurt; nursing. She was awake until almost 3, then nursed again at 5 and slept/nursed until 7:30.

I mean it about not talking and thinking so much about sleep any more, though. Let this be the last word on the matter: It still sucks.


Through the Night

For the past several nights M has slept from the eight o'clock hour to the five o'clock hour without waking up (or waking up only to fuss herself back to sleep within a minute), and then nursed and gone back to sleep until seven or even eight.

I had stopped believing that this would ever happen. Over the past year or so, well-meaning people, noticing my exhaustion, have said things like, I hope M starts sleeping through the night soon, and I have thought, You might as well wish that she would fly off to the moon.

But we have reached that magical point. Tthe one that coworkers and random strangers began asking about when M was (no joke) less than two months old. The one that people finally stopped asking about around the time she turned one. Not, I think, because they noticed how I seemed to want to scrape my brain out with a grapefruit spoon and wipe it on the pants of whoever popped the sleep question, but because pretty much everyone (except for a few cherished friends who are also blessed with rotten sleepers) started to assume at that point that she must have been sleeping well by then.

And it is amazing, this new development. I can't say I have gotten a ton more sleep over the past few days than during the times when we were in a good co-sleeping and night nursing groove. I've been up late drinking wine (great side benefit of night weaning, by the way) and eating goat cheese with old friends in town for the weekend, and, before that, scrambling to finish a proposal for work, and, before that, knitting like a maniac on the thick grey scarf I'm making for my husband. But if I were to go to bed at a decent hour! Just think! I could sleep for, like eight hours in a row! Uninterrupted! It could happen.

These sleep changes, and my many, many posts here on the matter (for which, forgive me. Unless you are also trying to night wean your 16-month-old and get some rest, in which case, take heart and lay in a good supply of dark roast coffee and madeleines and let me know how it goes) have made me think a lot about the overshadowing role sleep has taken in my life and identity as a parent.

For which I blame forces larger than myself. See above comment about random stranger sleep inquiries starting super early in baby's life. See also, some blogger I can't remember who wrote about how sleep is the big flashpoint for our generation of parents the way potty training was a big enormous deal for our grandparents. Also, decisions about sleep are one of those litmus tests that it seems people use to determine What Type of Parent You Are: Where does she sleep? Oh, you're still nursing? Oh, you let him cry? Etc.

But of course I'm to blame, too. It's still my inclination, when meeting another parent, to ask about sleep, to compare nap lengths. How many baby sleep books do I own? Three! I'm starting to think about what I've missed during all this obsession. What else could I be talking about? What other parts of my identity as a parent have atrophied as I've clamored for the elusive goal of spending more than four hours at a stretch with my eyes shut? Now that I am no longer so desparate for a decent rest—and even, dammit, if things go south and we end up awake at all hours again for some reason—I'm going to find that out.


9 to 5

Actually, 9:30 to 5:30, but who's counting? The only sleep intervention of the night was a 30-second period of my holding my hand on M's back when she woke up crying after about an hour of sleep at 9:30. Could be lots worse.


Maybe it is just going to suck forever.

Night 9: Down at 8:30. Asleep until 1:30. Brief pat/soothe. Awake at 5:30. Briefly back asleep after some soothing. Then up at 6 wanting milk, milk milk milk milk and not buying the whole It's still night time line at all. So I nursed her and then she fell back asleep until I woke her up at 8.

When I whined to my coworker this morning about all the recent 6 a.m. wake ups, she pointed out that if M usually goes to bed at 7 or 8 and is mostly asleep until 6, that is a pretty decent night's sleep and may be all she needs.

On the other hand, the fact that today she slept another two hours after nursing tells me that at least sometimes she needs more than the 10 hours or whatever. And those damn sleep books sure say she should be getting more than 10 hours.

Either way, though, if it were 10 straight hours, minus this 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. business, I think we would all be happier.

Also, I think I am losing my ability to evaluate what is a better or worse night of sleep, and as I think about it I realize maybe it is actually a little bit insane to try. Is it better to wake up at 1 and 4, and 5:30, but only briefly, or be solidly asleep from 11 to 3:30 then mostly awake for an hour? Would you rather wake up at 5:30 every morning, or not fall asleep until 2? Would you rather lose a finger or a toe? Would you rather eat a can of peaches in heavy syrup every day for the rest of your life, or spend 3o days wearing a wet suit?



So, last night was bad. The usual wake-up around the time we go to bed. Then she slept untli 3:30. And then from 3:30 to 5 or so, she went back and forth between sleeping and fussing/crying at such a rate that I would just be starting to drift back asleep when she started squirming again and demanding more backrub. Ack. And then she was up at 6 wanting milk and we were out of bed by 6:30. Double ugh.

If this continues, I will lose my mind.

This seems like a good place to tell you that M is totally delightful during the day. She is learning about a zillion new words per day. My three favorites from this week: boogers (did I mention we've had a cold?); outfit (cute clothing Grandma sent); and caterpillar (as in Very Hungry. Pronounced cabbadidda.)

She is rarely cranky and often very funny. She giggles a lot and has an impressive attention span and thirst for repetition of her favorite books and songs (See caterpillar). She doesn't show evidence of being sleep-deprived—not that I can see, anyway.

However, a lot of the time I feel like I'd be a much better parent to her (more energy, creativity, attention, etc. etc.) if I could just get some more damn sleep.


Are you bored with this yet?

Night 7: Down at 8, up and fussy from 11 to 11:30, then asleep until at least 6, maybe 6:15, but then up for the day.

So that's like, six and a half hours of sleep in a row, which might be record-breaking. Somehow I feel no less exhausted, though.


Six Hours

Last night: Down at almost 9; fussing, etc. at 10:30; asleep on her own until 4:30; up at 6:15 demanding milk; finally back asleep at almost 7 and up for the day at 7:15.

Six hours of uninterrupted sleep is about as good as we've ever had it. Still, I feel pretty fogged in after so many 4 am's in a row.

Today was the music class again and there was much, much less Barney this time. Phew.

She's down for a nap now and my well-honed nap radar predicts it will be short. So I have my priorities in line: update blog, drink tea and read new Anna Quindlen book, and if she's still asleep then maybe make a grocery list.


Ever So Slightly Bitter

Night 5: Down at 8:15, wake ups at 12 and 4, a half hour to 45 minutes of intermittent back rubbing each time. Up at 7.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that once M didn’t want to nurse at night any more, she would magically start sleeping all the way through on her own. But it appears I was mistaken. How many more years until I get a solid night of sleep?


Amnesia, and a First

I don’t remember exactly what happened last night. She needed a little back rubbing once or twice before I even went to bed, and there was a lot of fussing that she recovered from on her own. I think she must have woken up about twice during the night, and I don’t think I rubbed her back / murmured to her for more than a couple of minutes each time.

What I do remember is that she was awake for the day by 6:20. A bit early for my taste.

Is this progress? I don’t know. I’m afraid we’ve hit a plateau, where back rubbing has replaced nursing and none of us will necessarily sleep any better than we were and the main change is that I’ll have to cut down on the ice cream because I’m not expending so many calories nursing.

We'll see. Maybe we'll do a few more days of this and then try to move her out of our bed.

This morning we went to the first day of the parent/child ed. class, which was unexpectedly good. No Elmo in sight, for one thing. Also, there were a few moms who seemed promisingly introverted.

M fell asleep in the car on the way home despite my loud singing and tickling and then, for the first time ever in her life, I was able to carry her from the car up to her sleeping spot and put her down. She was awake on the way up the stairs and asking for milk, and I thought I’d nurse her when we into the bedroom, but the second I put the blanket over her she dozed off again.

A kid who sleeps without milk! It’s like an alternate universe!


Progress, Apology, Thanks

M has a sniffle, and I was worried that would jeopardize this whole project. But last night went the same as and maybe a little better than the night before. More wake ups (9pm, midnight, and I think a bunch of stirrings in the wee hours), but less time to get her back to sleep, and a bunch of times she fussed and started to cry and then got herself back to sleep. Hurrah!

Several posts by other bloggers yesterday made me think about what I'd written (and not written) that day, and why, and now I want to write a little about why it seemed ok to post nothing but the mundane details of our family's sleep life on the anniversary—the big, round five-year anniversary—of such an awful day. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to hold the ordinary post and, in the absence of anything to say in observance of the day, have a bloggy moment of silence here.

But before I read, yesterday, a few really moving reflections on the anniversary, I felt very, very far from that day five years ago. Geographically, chronologically, and emotionally far. And I'd gotten so used to "the tragedy of 9/11" being used as a rhetorical tool in the service of wrong-headed foreign policy and sensationalistic, ratings-seeking TV programming that I'd started tuning out most talk about it and had pretty much disconnected the part of me that hears words about terrorism and tragedy from the part that, five years ago, spent weeks and weeks in a state of raw anxiety and sadness over what happened.

What other writers—people who live much closer to the physical landmarks of this tragedy than I—wrote yesterday made me remember that before it was a trope, before it had a name, before it was fodder for bumperstickers and justification for an unjust war, September 11, 2001 was a clear fall day that turned into a nightmare that stripped what had seemed to be a solid, certain world down to its naked fragility.

Thank you, Moxie and Brooklyn Girl and those who wrote comments on your blogs yesterday. Here in the middle of the country, September 11, 2006 was a cloudy day. But I felt the sharpness of that blue New York sky with you.

And as I kept going yesterday, as we all do, with the ordinary tasks of my day and night—as I woke up again and again to soothe my daughter back to sleep—I could see more clearly that lying next to a crying toddler, her loud mad voice in my ear and her snot soaking my pajama top, is not just drudge work, is not just a chore; it is an exquisite privilege. To be here for this, to be alive for this. We are so lucky to have this life.



Yesterday was kind of a blur. M was cranky, clingy, and nurse-y. Not surprising: bad night of sleep the night before, plus inexplicable short naps for the past week (this happens for no reason sometimes). Plus, I think she was testing out the We can nurse all you want when the sun comes up promise. Really, Mama? All I want? Even now? Even when you’re trying to finally eat breakfast?

Anyway, last night she woke up at 1 but went back to sleep after 15 minutes of off-and-on back rubbing. Then the same thing about 4:30. And then she slept until almost 7.

The back rubbing calms her down but we try to keep it minimal because I am worried about switching to a back rubbing addiction. Better than a nursing addiction, because anyone can rub backs, not just Mama, but still not ideal.

The daytime clinginess worries me, but it seems less intense than the last time we tried this. She was 11 months old then and I think the change was too drastic at that point. During that experiment, the transitions to babysitter time on the days I worked were awful. Today she greeted the babysitter with her usual happy demand of Shoes. Shoes. Park! So, phew.

Last time, as I remember, night 3 was the worst. I hope that’s different this time, too.


Went ok, ended weirdly.

She went to sleep about 8, which is on the late end of normal. Woke up shortly before 11. Almost fell back to sleep about 15 minutes later, then woke up again and got all worked up, yelling for Daddy (who for a bunch of reasons slept downstairs last night) and, more querulously, for book and bubbles. Finally fell back asleep about 12:30.

Didn't wake up again until 6:20, which I figured was close enough to a reasonable wake up time. I nursed her. Then she threw up all over the sheets. She seems fine now, though.


Night Weaning

We're doing it. Starting tonight.

M is 16 months old and still nurses down for naps (except the two naps per week she's with a babysitter), nurses to sleep at night, and nurses back to sleep after at least two, and often three or four, wake-ups at night. I'm ready to be done with the midnight nursing, and I really believe (remind me of this tomorrow when I'm slogging through on too little sleep after a night of screaming baby) that, though she'll need to get over her inital pissed off reaction to the change, she's ready for it too.

For the past few days I've been talking to her about how the milk needs to go night night when mama does. And I've been trying to shorten her night time nursing sessions for the past week or so. But I think from here we just need to go cold turkey. Wish us luck.


Lowbrow Snob

This morning was the first session of the toddler music & fun class that I signed us up for at the neighborhood rec center. There were a dozen kids there and their moms (plus a nanny and a couple of grandmas), and the teacher was the kind of person I can barely believe exists: she sang and did silly dances and puppet games, etc. for the better part of 45 minutes, while the kids and grownups in attendance did some combination of singing along, clapping, staring at her in awe, wandering aimlessly about the room, or chatting quietly with one another.

Then, at the end of class, she turned on a CD player and played two Elmo songs and two Barney songs, and got out a giant bag full of stuffed animals, some of them regular old cows and bears and sharks, but a good 40% of them Elmos, Barneys, and Cookie Monsters.

There are probably a number of politic0-social or intellectuo-philosophical or anticonsumero-educational arguments to be made against these little characters, but here I just want to take the opportunity to state that I find Elmo and Barney DEEPLY IRRITATING.*

I know it is not really possible to keep these creatures' existence a secret from the Monkey until she is old enough to, say, move out and get her own apartment, but until now she had been innocent of them, and I wish they did not have to rear their squeaky furry little heads in the music class that I thought would be a fun, cheap, and somewhat peaceful diversion for us on Friday mornings.

I am starved enough for human company during the weekdays that we will still go to the music class. But maybe I'll bring earplugs to wear during the Barney part, and I will be looking around to see who else is wearing them and inviting them over for a play date.

Please note that we also went to a Music Together class last spring, and I found it WAY too earnest, with the little pitch pipe to start every song and the small, smug tips about Your Child's Musical Development. Apparently I'm a picky consumer when it comes to toddler enrichment activities. Who knew?

It's kind of a chilly day here. We're having four friends over for dinner and I'm making carrot ginger soup, grilling some good sausages, making some kind of nice green salad, and heating up some good sourdough bread til it's nice and crispy. Elmo and Barney will not be invited.

*I don't have anything bad to say about Cookie Monster, though. Maybe it's because his voice is several octaves lower.


Parenting Tip

Although Julia's wheatberry salad is wonderful, don't feed it to your toddler for dinner, no matter how much she loves it.

Unless you want her to wake up at 5 a.m. with the biggest, stinkiest poop ever and then not be able to go to sleep again for all the farting.


And take her shoe shopping, too.

My husband got back on Wednesday from 10 days away for work, and Labor Day weekend was a long, long weekend together. Though for most of it we were still wading through the period of annoying the crap out of each other that always happens when we are apart and then together again (does this happen to you, too?) , there was also—thanks to said return of said husband and a visit from two friends who are great guests and love to help with the cooking and dishes—an unusual amount of time available to sit on the couch and read magazines. Like, I read three New Yorker articles!

One of the articles was about Elizabeth Spelke, an infant development researcher at Harvard who does all kinds of super interesting experiments to determine what kinds of mental capacities very young babies have.

The article was mainly about how people are drawing pretty far-reaching conclusions from her work: things about inborn gender differences in scientific skill (she maintains there are none) and innate tendencies to classify others by race (her research hints humans might have a biological propensity toward this, though she's vocal about the need to overcome rather than reify it).

But then in the middle of this article about all the high-sounding conclusions and heavy implications of her research, there is this paragraph, which feels like a calm, strong heart at the center of it all:
Spelke mistrusts products that are marketed as brain boosters for babies, but, in an e-mail, she said that she thinks it's "a good idea, whenever possible, for parents to expose their babies to people, places, and events that they themselves love and want their children to enjoy with them later on. There's little explicit memory for events or places that are experienced in infancy, but I do think (and some research supports this) that there is implicit emotional memory for them." Spelke may never test this notion in her laboratory, but she is satisfied with the data generated by her family. She went on, "My hunch is that my own children love the things I love—travel, movies, blundering along in new languages—in part because they have been exposed to these things with me, literally since birth."
I like her advice—in part, of course, because I agree with it. But somehow it is especially nice to read it, in these simple words, from someone who has clearly had plenty of opportunities to be bogged down by her abundance of knowledge about the inner workings of little minds. That she can stand in the middle of a lab that (I imagine) whirs with little infant brain testing contraptions and crawls with babies and is lined with books full of Important Things to be Said About Children, and say this simple thing...well, it just makes my job seem a little easier and a lot more joyful.

And it reminds me that we have got to get M out on a camping trip or two before the snow flies. What are the things that you love to do, that you are doing (or wish you were doing) with your kids?