Not bad, for a Monday

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Occasionally, I run into people I know as I’m strolling around with Reiden. I am always thrown a little off guard, when the person I’ve run into asks how things are going, and what I have been up to. “Oh, well, this,” I say, pointing at Rei, laughing. It’s always a little bit awkward. A baby is such a monumental change that it’s easy to be struck dumb when I’m forced to step back and describe how things “are”.

If I have plans to see friends, I’ll do a little thinking in advance. How are things going, really? What else am I doing? Because I *am* doing other things, like writing and traveling and reading and seeing people and cooking and trying to exercise. (And watching a whole lot of Community.)

But some days, there’s not much of anything. When a day is made up of nursing and a bit of play time and an overtired baby falling asleep on me for hours, the most exciting things are often rather mundane. I was in my bedroom for 90% of the day today. I don’t always get out much.

Then again, sometimes the thing that you’re still excited about, at 10:00 at night, is just too weird and/or trivial to tell anyone about. Even if, as a mother, you find it fascinating.

So yes. This morning, when I figured out that I could successfully use the NoseFrida snot sucker on Reiden 1. by myself, 2. without making her cry, 3. while making her smile, in fact?

Well.

I was triumphant. I whirled around the room and whooped. “I did it!” I shrieked, grinning at Rei. “And without Daddy!”

Monday, eat your heart out.

NYE, 2013 Style

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I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Eve. About New Year’s eves gone by, when I would claim not to care about making plans, that whatever I did was fine, hum and drum. “I’m not a big New Year’s person,” I’d say.

Except I did care. I cared that there was some kind of something, anything, as long as it was planned for. Something to look forward to. No tiresome nightclubs or overpriced dinners, but an attempt, at least, to celebrate.

The worst kind of plan was the backup, the thing you really didn’t want to do but there weren’t any other options. If you’d left it too late, say, or the majority of your friends were away. One year, when I was in college and living in Vancouver, I agreed to pay $40 for a ticket to a party (in the building that was once Graceland, and then became a ridiculous club that probably put on the Much Dance Mix ’98 CD and called it a night) in order to spend the evening with my friend and her boyfriend. A sad little threesome, we were: I hardly knew him and I was shy, a terrible conversationalist; she was eager to make sure we all had fun; he seemed bored and apathetic. Oh, the awkwardness of tagging along after a new couple. Just imagine us on the dance floor: her, being kind and attempting to dance with me and with him at the same time. I have a vivid memory of the three of us lined up in a row along the back wall near the washrooms, drunk people careening around in front of us as we just…stood there. Doing absolutely nothing. It wasn’t even the sort of situation you could try to rescue. I watched the time pass, waiting for midnight. Was it too soon to go to the washroom again? Should I buy another soda (just soda, because I’d spent all my money on the ticket)? Why did I wear this stupid dress? Why didn’t anyone want to talk to me? It didn’t occur to me that simply leaving was an option, and anyway I never would have gone through with it because, after they had sacrificed a romantic evening with me, it would have been rude.

So I stayed. At one point a girl tripped and cut her foot on some glass, and was bleeding everywhere, and I hurled myself at her, shrieking, “Are you okay??”, trying not to grin like a maniac. I was just so relieved that something had actually happened.

By contrast, I look upon the year that a bunch of us got stuck in the village at Mt. Tremblant (three miles from our condo, in -20 Celsius, bickering and then crying and then nearly walking home over a probably-but-not-definitely frozen river) with fondness.

This year, I’ll be spending the majority of the evening in a dark room, trying not to move. I am still too new-Mom paranoid to let Rei sleep without me in the room. Every night, at around 7:30 when she is done her bath, I go upstairs to nurse her and get her into bed and turn the lights off. And then I wait until it’s time to actually go to sleep, because if I go to sleep when she does I’ll wake up at 4 am and the cats will also wake up and cry until I feed them. We earned their 6 am wakeup call by pushing them just a tiny bit forward every morning for months and months, earned it, dammit. So I sit in the dark, and try not to make any noise or to buy (too many) things on Etsy. Then Pete comes to bed.

This year, we had no New Year’s plans. We didn’t even have an anti-plan, a, “Let’s just stay at home and cozy up and drink hot chocolate and go to bed at 7:30,” sort of plan. There was just nothing, because what can you possibly do on New Year’s that also doesn’t mess with your infant’s precious bedtime? (A babysitter is not an option. Yet.)

Et voila, we got invited to a party! That starts at 3:00! We can arrive early and leave early and still be home in time to celebrate the rest of the night in separate rooms, Pete on the couch with the cats, me and Reiden in the dark.

I’ll spend about five minutes feeling sorry for myself, and the rest of the time mooning over pictures of my baby, feeling grateful and amazed and sappy.

It won’t be the most festive of New Year’s eves. But, as with every other night, I will love it.

The Princess and the Soother

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(I wrote this weeks ago, intending for it to be a brief little story about yet another dumb thing I did to mess with Rei’s sleep. But the more I wrote, the longer it got and I couldn’t finish it without saying more, more, more. It became the Energizer Bunny of blog posts. Anyway here’s a story that could probably be a lot shorter. No one ever accused me of pith. … Except that one time, in sixth grade, when I tried to write a scary story and someone told me, “You get to the point too fast.” Maybe I took that to heart a tad too much.)

(Great, now this is even longer.)

Rei had a bit of a weird night last night. I’d decided, based on something I had read, to start giving her more frequent feeds in the evening in an attempt to help her sleep longer. She was pretty happy until bedtime — let Pete walk her around the house, smiled during her bath, only cried a little when she was getting into her pyjamas (and this baby cries a lot before bed, because she’s so hungry and feed me now and what are you doing this isn’t a boob, it’s pyjamas helllppp!).

For a baby who’s not even three months old, Rei’s normally a great sleeper. She doesn’t love her crib, and she always fusses a bit when I put her in it, but it usually only takes a few rounds of comforting and shushing, and maybe an extra feed, to get her to settle. Once she’s down, she often sleeps for 6-8 hours. But the other night she ate every hour, on the hour, from 7:00 to 11:00. And then in the morning, she woke up and ate at 5:00, 6:30 and 7:30. I worried that something was wrong.

So last night, based on ONE exception to her pattern, I figured she might be afraid of going to sleep, because she sleeps for so long that she gets extra hungry. So feed more, right? Right?

Pete handed her to me. She looked at me, her face blank. Not crying. Peaceful. “Oh good,” I said, “feeding her more at nighttime is working! She’ll eat a lot and feel better about going to bed! I’m so smart!”

I’d fed her at 5:00, and then an hour later. Now, I presented her with the boob, and stuck her on it. She started to suck.

And then she screamed.

There’s nothing quite like watching your baby howl, red-faced, clearly in agony because you are trying to FEED HER. The special thing you do together. That she loves. That she normally wants to do all the time.

She pulled back, still screaming. I picked her up and tried to comfort her. “There’s lots of milk, Rei,” I said. “You just have to get it out.”

And then I tried again.

It was bad.

It was like I was torturing her.

“Weird,” I said to her purple, howling face, still trying to smush the nipple in. “I think there’s lots of milk, but let me check.”

And I tried to express some milk.

And sprayed her in the face.

After giving up and walking her around the room singing to her, she started to calm down. Eventually it occurred to me that maybe she hadn’t been hungry at all. Maybe she had thought I wanted her to eat and I was basically force-feeding her and she would never again enjoy our special time and AHHHHH!

Or maybe she just wanted something to suck on? So I set her down in the crib, and she cried. I gave her a soother and she accepted it. I crawled on to our bed (she sleeps next to us, in her crib) and waited, fully expecting her to wake up when the soother fell out of her mouth. Instead, she fell asleep! On the first try! Which never happens.

And woke up again an hour later. Given that she hadn’t had much to eat earlier (despite me repeatedly shoving my nipple in her mouth), I wasn’t surprised, and I picked her up and fed her.

She took the boob (yay!) and minutes later, fell asleep nursing (yay!). I ignored the rule about always putting a baby in her crib “drowsy but awake” (for anyone who isn’t aware, this is the magic bullet of infant sleep: you’re never supposed to put a baby down after she’s asleep. She should always be a little bit awake so that she can learn how to fall asleep on her own. It’s about as easy as it sounds.), because waking her up at that point just seemed mean, what with the earlier trauma and all (and okay, I didn’t want to deal with another round of getting her back to sleep).

I lifted her up off my nursing pillow and carried her over to the crib. She was all floppy, which meant the chances of her waking up when I set her down (which happens almost all the time, and often involves fussing and squawking and general protesting over having to sleep on her back, which is why she refuses to go near her crib for naps, which is a whole other post) were basically nil.

Unless, of course, a third party was to intervene.

I do this all the time: I accidentally rap the crib with my knuckles, I wake up wondering why I woke up and poke her to check her breathing (and then her temperature, because why stop there?), I panic about the heat and have to get out of bed to turn it down and rustle our inexplicably loud duvet, I sneeze, I do some bonehead thing that wakes her up.

I laid her down, pleased with myself. She ate! She doesn’t hate me! We’re all going to have such a great sleep! Except…

Where is the soother?

The room, at this point, was pretty dark. I squinted into her crib and felt around, expecting to find it near her head. I patted around her face, jabbing at her cheeks. I began to worry that she was, in fact, lying on it.

Getting a baby to sleep is sort of like getting yourself to sleep when you’ve had one of those nights where everything is keeping you up. You get so close each time, and then your nose itches. Or a certain someone starts to snore. Or the cat meows. It’s not easy. And you do not want to mess with it. (Poor Peter, the countless number of times already I’ve flung an arm out at him to tell him to stop him moving because he’s rocking the bed and her crib is right next to the bed and why is our duvet so freaking loud?)

So now I had a dilemma: pick Reiden up and undoubtedly wake her, or let her sleep on her soother. Which was probably right under her head. Stuck in her ear, or something.

I felt her ears. No soother. I took a deep breath, put my hand under her and rolled her to one side.

Nothing. I rolled her to the other side.

She whimpered.

If it wasn’t by her face, or underneath her, where could it be? Could it somehow be in the middle of her back, the part that didn’t roll?

I texted Pete. “I put her in the crib and now I CAN’T FIND HER SOOTHER.”

Then: “DID I SET HER DOWN ON THE SOOTHER?”

He replied, “Well, it can’t hurt her.”

“But it could! What if it does? Oh dear. I’m going to look on the ground? Maybe it fell out?”

“How could it?”

It was, in fact, on the floor, which I discovered while crawling around with the light from my iPhone.

I got back into bed, the cheap Ikea duvet crackling like a camp fire, and texted Peter the good news. I had retrieved the soother, and, impossibly, Reiden had managed to sleep through the whole thing.

I think the sleep gods took pity on us that night. The poor baby, her blissful sleep routinely sabotaged by her own bumbling mother.

The Shoulds

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Lately I’ve been having these days. Days that make me Google stuff like, “How do other moms do it?”

I remember when that terrible movie with Sarah Jessica Parker came out, the one about the mom who has a career and looks all put together and in stilettos and maybe she’s single too, I’m not sure. I won’t admit to knowing the name of the movie any more than I’ll admit to trying to watch it one day when I was pregnant. To my credit, I couldn’t get past five minutes before I got queasy (it wasn’t because of the pregnancy).

I remember when I first saw the trailer. The whole thing seemed so hackneyed and first world problem-y and I didn’t care that She Does It, much less wanting to know how.

But now, now.

I go to people’s houses and marvel at the fact that they have time to decorate for Christmas. That their nurseries are organized, that things are in shelves and boxes, that they’ve put pictures on the wall. I wonder how a friend flew across the country with a five-month-old, without any help, while extremely sleep deprived and getting over a cold. My favourite mommy blogger, who used to seem a little like me, always getting herself into these funny situations just trying to get out the door, now uses cloth diapers and bakes her own bread and her three, yep three kids’ clothes? They all match.

And more and more, I feel inferior.

My house is mostly clean (because we err, pay someone to do that), but overflowing with baby blankets and toys and winter stroller accessories and laundry laundry laundry. There’s always a package or two lying around that we had delivered and forgot to open. The once-organized nursery has become a junk room that doesn’t get used. I haven’t finished our thank-you cards, especially the ones for the amazing doctors and nurses who took care of me during pregnancy. The majority of our meals are cooked at home, but often something store-bought figures into the mix. And maybe it isn’t the majority? Are we always eating takeout? What will we do when Rei starts solids?? (Can you feed a baby pad thai?)

I still haven’t done anything about getting into some kind of activity, Mommy group, something.

I remind myself of a bunch of things. I tell myself I’ve made choices that compromise my time and physical ability to do anything other than play with, feed or hold my baby (and carefully now; she’s particular about sleeping positions and the sound of the keyboard wakes her up). I tell myself it won’t last forever. I tell myself that other moms don’t sit with their babies when they go to bed at 7:00 in the evening, that most people put their babies to bed and get a little time for themselves. That when Rei is a little older, not that long from now, I’ll be okay relying on the baby monitor and I won’t feel the need to be beside her every single second.

I tell myself there are things like babysitters and husbands and friends who can also help. That one glorious day, she will be able to nap in her crib. Or somewhere that isn’t me. And I’ll be able to write using a real computer, instead of my phone. I tell myself that I’ve chosen to keep holding her all day because it seems to really, really help her nighttime sleep. That it won’t last forever.

But really, it’s not about the logistics. It’s about the comparing.

I never used to care what people thought of me. I was that girl in high school who chopped all her hair off to avoid looking too pretty, to seem more genuine (I know; this in itself was an act of caring). I’m still that person who tries to look a little different, that mother who dresses her baby a bit androgynously, who wants people to ask, “Boy or girl?” I deliberately choose items of clothing that don’t match. I want to be different; to demonstrate visibly that I don’t hold myself or my child to the same ideals that other people do.

But no matter how much this is true, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard myself saying “I should” recently. “I should look into cloth diapers.” “I should put those pictures up that have been sitting on the ground since we moved in almost four years ago.” “I should be doing yoga.” “I should finally get those hand wash-only clothes washed or else Throw. Them. Away.”

(And the biggest and baddest: I should be writing more. I should submit those short stories that are all ready, waiting to go. Oh, and pitch that novel I spent three years on, that I think has a fighting chance. Good lord, I’m comparing myself with…myself.)

And then I start worrying about the comparing, and wondering what to do about it. And wondering why it’s always about what I should be doing, and not what I want to do.

A therapist, whom I saw for a while in preparation for becoming a mother, encouraged me to try and think about success differently. “Maybe in a day, what you achieve is feeding your baby,” she said. “And eating three meals yourself, and answering say two emails. And that’s a good day.”

This bit of wisdom really helped, especially in the first month when we were just trying to survive. Sometimes I even wrote down what we did each day and showed Pete, and it actually was pretty impressive. It’s just harder now, when I feel like there’s an expectation for things to have settled out, for me to have come up for air.

And that’s when I start being hard on myself again.

So, I’m working on it. On appreciating all the time I spend with Rei, especially the time holding her, that I know will pass all too quickly. On getting dressed in the morning and wearing a bit of makeup, on what writing I am able to do, on the daily walks and outings I manage to fit in.

And on turning the volume down on the shoulds, and up on the wants.

Crossing the Great FOMO Divide

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Some days everything goes to crap and all day, all day I try to get out for that walk, that 15-minute walk to the grocery store that I crave, savor, must have every day. Except the timing isn’t working and here comes another meltdown and I hold my overtired, wailing baby and sing and bounce until she finally falls asleep and watch the light disappear and with it, my hope for a walk.

Some days I realize it’s 2 pm and I’m still wearing pajamas and not in a cozy, stay-at-home way but in a way that makes me feel small and alone.

Some days there isn’t time to eat, it just doesn’t work because I cannot master the art of preparing and eating food while my baby cries.

Some days, most days I hold her all day long because she will not nap on her back.

Some days I realize the plans I made with such confidence are logistically impossible. I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t factor in enough time to get out of the house. Or: I thought this fussy phase would be over by now. Or: I thought maybe I could get her to nap through to her bedtime.

I don’t get to see people I really want to see. I don’t get to dress up and go out and try to feel normal for a little while. I pout. I am not very good at adapting to change when it means missing out on something I was looking forward to.

But the greatest surprise of this week is that I’m not afraid of it anymore. I’m okay with missing out. This week I helped Reiden through a tough time instead of meeting up with an old friend. I let her sleep instead of getting her up too early and rushing her out the door to make a breakfast appointment. I got her to bed while my friends ate and drank at one of my favourite restaurants without me. I imagined them there, all the laughing and chatter and noise and teasing and reminiscing.

I missed all those things, for sure. But it felt a little better, this week. More like normal. More like being a mom and putting her first is kind of, really, wonderfully okay.