this week my window a/c beeped on and off all night long, and my two-year-old son woke up three times most nights. most mornings i would wake to joints aching like i'd climbed a mountain in my ... sleep? nonsleep.
is calgon still on the market? i'd like to take a vat and dump it into the river and float away.
for most of my adult life, the worst thing that happened to me was heartbreak. lots of it. so many times, firey, upward-bound me fell into a pile of flesh and tears. in hindsight i feel embarrassed, although only for the times when others witnessed it. that kind of pain should be expressed privately, i've learned. learning, for me, seems to be less a ha! and more ouch! after i became a mom, i learned that no breakup in the history of my life has mattered as much as the one i've had with sleep.
when you have a newborn, he will wake up every two hours, on the mark. the baby will want to eat. for me, that meant propping myself up on a layer of pillows carefully placed so i'd be upright enough but not too upright for fear of drowning my baby with a downpour of breast milk. i also had to arrange one arm such that it would rest on a pillow while cradling the baby's head, because i learned that an awkwardly dangling elbow turns into a muscle spasm after a few short minutes. this placement took some doing to get right every time. he would nurse for about ten or twenty minutes, and then i'd put him on the other side and reconfigure the elbow-pillow situation. then i had to hold him upright for 15 minutes because reflux befell my poor little suckling. in the throes of superexhaustion, staying awake for 15 extra minutes was the height of unfairness, but for those first few months it felt normal. it all felt like what was supposed to be happening.
after those first few months, i began to wonder when i'd get to sleep longer than an hour at a time.
"he'll start sleeping longer around three months old." liars.
then: "he'll definitely sleep through the night by six months." filthy liars.
my baby slept with me. this was not as cozy as i'd imagined. every night, rolling over invoked the same terror as parallel parking for my first driver's license: ease over, an inch at a time. slooooowly. oh no! did i get too close? ease in some more. not so fast! okay, you're in. whew. if i had a sniffle, i wanted to rip off my nose for endangering the precious silence. if my covers fell off, rather than chance movement, i lay in a frozen ball, expecting my goosebumps to eventually explode through my skin. my son would wake up two, three, four, five times a night. my eyelids were the alarm for his: when mine fell, his snapped open like the window blinds in my junior high homeroom.
i was beside myself with exhaustion misery. at this point, i was on straight decaf. my mostly dormant heart arrhythmia had erupted again. and of course i didn't want any stimulant in my baby's system. i read that caffeine only showed up in traces in breast milk, but i wasn't taking any chances. little captain red bull was energized enough. when he was around six months old, i decided to put him in his crib to see if that would help us both get some rest. i wasn't ready for too much distance, so i had my dad move the crib from the nursery to my room. after that, sometimes he'd only wake up once—and would stay up crying for three hours. the only cure was a straight shot of nipple to the mouth, but not even Earth Mamma herself could sustain that amount of nursing. some nights, i'd take him to the gliding chair in the living room, which was beside my parents' room. mom would come out in her bell-shaped, flowing cotton gown, squinty eyed, whispering, "what's wrong?" and i'd go into a half-whining, half-crying tirade about the night's events. she'd offer excuses: maybe he has gas. he's having a bad night. he's just a baby. he needs formula! each syllable was like an excitotoxin to my brain, working my overwrought neurons into a furied death spiral. i'm surprised my head didn't spin off my shoulders. she'd offer to take him. it would go one of two ways: i'd stubbornly refuse or i'd relent in defeat, wondering why i and only i couldn't make it all better for him. bickering would ensue over the bottle of sugar water she would inevitably give him, the go-to panacea of the older ladies in my family. they said this is what the doctors gave babies in the hospital back in their day. water mixed with crystalline satan. i didn't see how this could be good for my child. in hindsight, i should've foregone the fight and given those minutes to more sleep. a little satan never hurt anyone.
my son is now two and a half. we moved into our own place a month ago, about 45 minutes away from my hometown and my parents, my trusty helpers. sleep is still our nemesis. if he sleeps in his bed, he wakes up one, two, three times. if he sleeps in mine, he doesn't awake during the night, but falling asleep involves exploring the contents of my bedroom, running into the living room onetwothreefourfive times, asking for milk, "mamma, come turn my piwhoa," and, once i crawl into bed, lots of nonsensical sounds being uttered and appendages finding their way across my face. if i were to measure the pleasure of this process, i'd put it somewhere between a pap smear and disputing charges on my cell phone bill.
besides this blog, facebook has been an outlet for venting my adventures in sleep disruption and early motherhood. i started a whole series of posts, in fact, which i would title "momisms." most people found them hilarious, but one friend has repeatedly expressed that they made him cringe, the implication being something like this: i was clearly on my way to flipping my lid and would soon be seen in public with runny mascara and bare feet, sitting on the bridge and picking imaginary bugs out of my ratty hair. however, since i know him well, which means i know he's mostly incapable of expressing sympathy, the translation is really like this: "man, i know. it's hard being a single parent." he knows this because he is also a single parent.
along this journey, i've had a looming question: why did i never hear about the early years of motherhood? i know lots of parents who became parents long before me, and they didn't talk about the hurdles. not in phone calls or over lunches or in posts on facebook. i assume there are various reasons: they have partners, not computers or friends, for lodging complaints. they aren't writers. their children slept from the time they were three months old. <— the reality of this phenomenon is still up there with unicorns. more likely is my belief that their brain did a nice cleanup job post-toddlerhood and left them with only shiny, happy memories of baby buddha bellies rising and falling in perfect slumber. i also have a theory about why people who get married and/or become parents earlier in life don't appear to be overwhelmed by parenthood: they don't have time to cultivate the sense of self common to the longtime single. we singles have taken sleep and personal space for granted. we've had no one to care for other than ourselves and possibly a pet. in contrast, the twentysomething parent has been accommodating other people's needs for a long time. i've vascillated between accepting this theory and thinking i'm simply not a natural-born mother. these days, i'm leaning toward the former.
the truth is, despite my despair over the hurdles of motherhood—waking up looking like a crackhead from lack of sleep or my mom using the ice machine—aka mountain rockslide soundmaker— when i'm putting the baby to sleep or bewilderment at diapering a squirming toddler, which is not unlike roping a calf—i know i've done a good job at being a mom to an infant and then a baby and now a toddler. i've not only survived, i've been thoughtful and didactic and wildly affectionate. once you have a child, people are prone to ask if you'd like another child. for the longest time, my answer was nooooo. no. no thanks. shockingly, that attitude has softened. now i get it. now i know that urge the world speaks of, that biological-clock thing. it's generally meant for women who've yet to become mothers. however, to me it makes more sense post-first child, because then you know. you know that while you'll be delirious and evil from lack of sleep and your nipples will fly at half-mast for the rest of your life and the phrase "hot meal" could only mean a stolen one, those things are vaporized by every sweet infant breath and crazed toddler giggle. they just are.
mind you, this is not acquiescence. i'm not saying to myself or anyone "man, now i know why all those people said those things." things like "it's all worth it" and "you'll miss these days." i heard it over and over that first year and beyond. my reception of those phrases went like this: first, smoke rolled out my ears. then, i wanted to graciously accept the well-meaning advice but my logic wouldn't allow it. so i would refute in whatever way or, in rare instances, i convinced myself to say nothing. maybe i should've released an open letter that would go like this: dear friends, i know you're trying to help, but it's not helping. it's making me feel as if i'm not supposed to express any woes about motherhood, and that's total crap. it's making me feel that bemoaning lack of sleep and adoring my baby are mutually exclusive—except i know this isn't true. check this out: i'm in no danger of being incapable of missing the days when my baby was young. that would go against human nature, and, despite my otherworldly amour for cupcakes and men with full lips, i am merely human. so it's basically this: stop telling me things that are self-evident, because my brain doesn't filter it well, and my brain has enough work to do.
as i'm told, eventually my son will sleep better. as i'm told, the same is not guaranteed for me as a parent, ever. i assume there's a happy medium somewhere in there, maybe during the grade school years when he's too young to be anywhere at night but in his bed in my house. actually, if i want, i can take the middle school and high school years as mine for sleep, keeping him in the safe confines of his bedroom. he'll hate me for it, but he'll get over it. i hated my parents for not letting me go to the late movies in junior high, and i got over that. plus, when he whines about what all the other kids are doing, i'll be so rested and peaceful, and i'll just smile lovingly, kiss his forehead, and tell him spit in one hand and wish in the other, my darling.
my boy stayed with my parents last night. i missed him and at the same time loved every minute of uninterrupted sleep. see how that works?
nothing that makes sense is worth having.