Sunday, August 28, 2011

When They Sleep...

So I go up to check on the kids and shut their doors (they both now ask for it to be left open a "crack" at bedtime) and I also check that their "special lights" are off.  They each have this night light that doesn't plug in, rather, like the Staples "Easy Button" on their commercials, it's a large, push button light that they can just push down on to turn on and off.  It gives them control, makes them feel secure, it's portable... yada yada.  Anyway, they are battery operated, so I always make sure to turn them off if they are still on because both kids now are in the habit of asking for new batteries the minute the light is no longer blind-you-completely bright.

I start with William's room and it's off.  I could hear him on his monitor (we still use the baby monitors since they sleep upstairs and we sleep down) reading to himself for a good hour after we put him in bed.  But he managed to turn out his light and set aside his book before falling asleep.  Whew!  One down, one to go.

I step into Dizzy's room and all looks clear.  She's face down on her pillow, Mickey Mouse on one side, Minnie on the other, snoring with the book she was looking at set aside on the little bench next to her bed.  I'm trying not to wake her as I lift up Mickey, Minnie, her blanket and her comforter to make sure she hasn't just shoved the light under something.  I'm about to leave when I see an eerie light from under her bed skirt.  Crap, it's under the bed.  Now I'm hoping it's close to my side.  I peer under the bed skirt and there it is CLEAR ON THE OTHER SIDE, smooshed up against the wall and no other way to reach it except crawl under.  Dammit!  Still trying to be quiet, I lay down on my stomach and do my best soldier-crawling-carefully-under-barbed-wire crawl to get as much of me under this dang bed as possible.  Pieces of her pack & play are under there and I don't want to move them since the pieces involve metal poles that will invariably clang together when I want to be quiet.  I'm also imagining large spiders and other loathsome creepy crawlies under there (it's mostly dog hair though as Yukon still tries to SQUEEZE under there) and steeling myself not to scream should I find one.  I get my head and shoulders under and am reaching as faaaaaaar as I can with my short little arms.  My middle fingertip catches it and I'm doing a kind of "tapping" number with it in an effort to flip it toward me because I don't want to scooch under there any further since I'm sure I'll get stuck and wake the household with desperate calls for help.  I finally grab it and army crawl backward trying not to bang my head or other various body parts on the bed or surrounding furniture.  Fighting a sneeze I sit up and look at Elizabeth... still snoring, hasn't moved an inch.

As I'm leaving her room I'm thinking, "hmmm, it's kind of scary that they sleep so soundly now... what if something happened and they didn't wake up?"  Then I stifle a giggle and thank my lucky stars for their deep sleep.  For I suddenly realize that for much of the past 5 years, since we brought our first little bundle home, I have done many a CRAZY thing as I've checked on them, all in the effort to either not wake them, to put them back to sleep, or to avoid being seen when I did wake them because babies are rather light sleepers.

I remember being so DESPERATE for sleep with little baby William that I finally braved letting him sleep on his tummy (A HUGE NO-NO according to Pediatricians nowadays who want kids on their backs in an effort to curb crib death).  Only, I was so paranoid about crib death that my mother (who was visiting) and I slept on the world's loudest, crappiest air-mattress on the floor of his room so I could check to make sure he was breathing every 5 minutes.  This mattress was so bad that, when inflated to proper support levels, you couldn't move without "popping" the other person up into the air and off the mattress.  It also made a loud sound resembling flatulence whenever you moved.  And I kept moving all night so I could SLOWLY peer over his crib bumpers to see if he was still breathing and yet pray he wouldn't see me and begin screaming.  Needless to say, I never got the sleep this whole elaborate plan was supposed to give me.

I remember checking on William when he was old enough to roll over and sit up on his own and the floorboards creaking under my feet.  He began to shift in his crib and, not thinking clearly, I "hit the dirt" right there on his carpet as though someone had just yelled "grenade!"  Of course, now I was lying flat in his room, breathing heavily and trying to figure out how to stay low enough to exit so that his crib bumpers would block me from his view.  I ended up slithering out on my belly and then closing the door as quietly as possible (still lying down with my fingers hooked under the door until it was closed enough that I could stand and finish).

I remember walking into Elizabeth's room to check on her and dying from the fumes because she had pooped and with her rashes, I HAD to change her.  So there I am lifting her out of her crib as though she's a bomb I can't shake and placing her oh-so-slowly on the changing table.  Then I'm cursing the damned 18-Million button, head-to-toe snap pajamas I've got her in because I have to unsnap all of them in order not to have to wrestle any limbs out.  She manages to stay asleep through the unsnapping, unwrapping, wiping, re-wrapping AND re-snapping and I think I'm home free.  I carry her gently to the crib, lower her VERY slowly in and juuuuuuust as I'm laying her head down carefully her eyes snap open.  I think I spent another hour walking her around the room and making up words to a lullaby that went something like, "Go to sleep, Go to sleep, or your mommy will cry now.  Please sleep now, please sleep now or your mommy will go nuts." After an hour, I believe some swear words might have snuck their way into the lyrics, but in my sleep-deprived haze, I cannot be sure.

A little over a year ago, I remember falling asleep in William's bed with him at 8:30 (go figure, I'm a tired mommy) and then trying to extricate myself from the bed when I woke again after midnight.  He was lying on my hair, his arm was across my belly and I was underneath his comforter and another blanket.  So I lift his arm carefully, holding it like a bug I'd rather touch as little of as possible, and set it gently down.  Then I have to wrestle my hair out from underneath his head and try not to scream as I have to leave a few hairs behind.  I very slowly lift the blankets off of me, and begin trying to sit up and not make the bed creak.  This takes such an effort, that I'm finding myself in weird, half-sit up positions and getting the kind of abdominal workout I've been wanting for months.  I've managed to get my body off the bed (leaving my arm pressing down on the mattress so it doesn't pop up and "groan" at me) and SLOWLY lift my arm off.  Just as I take a step toward the door, I knock over a pile of  books and he shoots up and says, "mom... can't you lie down with me for just a little longer".  Hmmmm.  Then... a stroke of genius.  Counting on his being so tired that he won't remember the conversation in the morning, I say "sure, just let me go to the bathroom first.  I'll be right back."  I sneak out and never return.  He doesn't remember a thing in the morning.

The worst, though, and Mike can attest to this... is putting a child down in their crib while they are still experiencing what doctors call the "startle" reflex.  This is a very important reflex for all young babies and the bane of all new parents' existence.  The startle reflex causes a baby, when put down on their backs, to FLING their arms out wide and kick their legs out.  As you might imagine, putting a baby down in their crib during this period SUCKS.  Even if you have a drop-side crib (as we did), you still have to do some awkward leaning over the rail (or at least when you're my height you do) while setting the baby down.  I can't tell you how many nights Mike and I spent rocking, singing, feeding, etc. both William and Elizabeth to sleep, cradling them in our arms, lowering them SOOOOOO slowly into their cribs that the muscles in our backs were burning, getting about 90% of their bodies laid softly down on their mattress, only to be stuck holding their heads and trying to remove our hands without the "startle" reflex kicking in.  Invariably it would take multiple attempts, much swearing, a couple of "tag outs" to the other partner, and a lot of sweat before the baby was successfully put down on their mattress without their arms SLAPPING out to the side and the whole process starting over.

So as I sit here, in a quiet house, able to check on my children without waking them and write this blog... I will be thankful for the deeper sleep age brings.  I can put behind me the days of sleeping only 4-5 hours (and that in 1/2 hour to hour long increments), trying not to creak floorboards, trying to stay hidden from sight, making up stupid lullabies, slithering on floors and under beds, crawling, creeping, tip-toeing, and breath-holding and be thankful that, short of knocking over objects or sneezing loudly, it's likely that I can check on my kids without waking them.

And they are so sweet when they are sleeping... because then they don't talk! :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Be Patient... it's a learning experience

When you are an exhausted, exasperated, punch-drunk, teetering-on-the-brink-of-insanity parent (ie. all parents), well-meaning and often childless folks will say to you with that condescending smile, "be patient, it's a learning experience".  They are talking about your child learning.  Well, they are right and wrong folks and here's why - it IS a learning experience. FOR YOU.  Not for the child.  FOR YOU.  I am truly beginning to believe that my kids know EXACTLY what they are doing, and they keep doing it until I catch on.  And sometimes, my learning curve is a tad longer than I wish it was.

Case in Point: Dizzy (Elizabeth) vs. Mommy on "skills" timing.  I now know that William was an easy child.  How do I know this?  Because now I have Dizzy who stands in stark contrast to her brother.  He drank from a cup at 13 months, ate perfectly with utensils at 16 months, potty trained in 4 days at 2 1/2, only started protesting the idea of naps after he turned 4 (but still takes them now) and, in general, listened when I told him to come to me to either talk to him, dress him, etc.  Elizabeth apparently wrote the book on how to be THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of her brother.  She is the child who makes me feel like not just a novice at parenting, but actually a red-faced, yelling, drooling, seriously-considering-padded-walls, IDIOT at parenting.  Each day I think, "I suck at this, I really do."  As I still change diapers, still have to employ some pseudo-wrestling take down and hold just to dress her, ply her with food and strap her into her booster just to do her hair, still chop her food into ridiculously small pieces just so she won't attempt to shove an entire half sandwich into her mouth (not kidding, wish I was), still deal with temper-tantrum induced vomit... I can't help but think, "I suck at this."

My therapist keeps warning me that my type-A, perfectionist, control-freak approach to life is REALLY going to have to take a back seat now that I'm a parent and I believe Elizabeth is God's way of backing her up on this.  She may have an incredible vocabulary, mastered her alphabet at 18 months and show an amazing memory and imagination for a girl her age... but as far as the skills that would make mommy's life a bit easier... yeah f#@! those.  She's doing it her way.  Seriously. 

For example, I have been freaking out for, oh probably the better part of a year, about the fact that Elizabeth flips her spoon over when she eats, thus dumping all the food out of the spoon before it hits her mouth.  This is normal when a child first begins using a spoon.  Noooot so normal at 2 1/2 years.  At first I was patient.  Then I started to get annoyed.  Then I got worried that I lacked the skills to teach her properly.  Then I worried that she's slow/underdeveloped/challenged (insert insane worried parent word here) and needed some kind of help.  Then I started to freak and search for loop-handled spoons to teach proper grip (stop laughing... you will freak out about stupid shit as a parent... it's a given).  Then I started to help her hold her spoon.  Then I started yelling and having to leave the table.  Then I began complimenting her when she did it right, only to have her purposely begin flipping it again. Then I went batshit crazy.  Then I gave up.  Just plain gave up.  I said, "screw it, she'll eat like that for the rest of her life and never date."  (Stop laughing, I'm serious.  I dated a guy briefly who did it and I can't tell you how it grated on my nerves to watch a 21 year old eat like a toddler.  I couldn't take it).

So the other day, we're eating oatmeal (Elizabeth's properly thickened in the hopes that some of it will make it to her mouth) when I see that she's not flipping her spoon.  I froze.  I almost said something, but then feared her tendency to do stuff JUST to spite me. I must have watched her eat the whole bowl before I breathed again.  Holy crap!  She's doing it!  She's not flipping her spoon.  And then the words of my therapist came floating back to me, "she'll do it when she's ready."  Jesus, I hate it when she's right.  All my fussing, worrying, cajoling, bribing, yelling, etc. was not helping her learn.  She already learned... she was just waiting for me to catch up.

A light bulb went on at that moment.  I'm going to have to let go of the potty thing.  Really and truly let it go.  She knows what she's doing (and what she's not doing right now).  The more I freak, the more she'll resist.  I need to fight that ridiculous, perfectionist, competitive, worried-parent in me who thinks all girls should be potty-trained by 2 1/2 and move on.  I'm going to have to let go of the combing hair, small-bites, dressing her quickly, expecting her to be ANYTHING like her brother, and ANY of my old tricks working on her.  It's a learning experience... and I'm learning slowly.

Speaking of learning slowly... here's another important lesson, this one learned thanks to my lovely son.  The aforementioned son who is so EASY compared to his sister.  The lesson: with each proud moment, comes an equally exasperating one.  You may think me unnecessarily negative, unless you are a parent, and then you know what I'm talking about.

Agh!  "Thanks, William," I mutter and he, totally baffled just says, "what mom?  I was reading."

Another example, mature social skills.  In an earlier blog, I lamented William having trouble at school and my fear that he, like me, would have trouble socially and be bullied and thus hate school.  Well, it turned out that with some guidance from myself and his teacher and with just some good, old-fashioned "time", William did just fine at making friends and handling himself socially.  By the time the parent-teacher conferences came, William's teacher assured me that academically as well as socially, William was more than ready for Kindergarten.  She felt he was well-spoken, had great coping skills, great cooperating skills and that the only frustration she saw for him socially was that he might be frustrated with children his own age as most would be lagging behind him verbally and socially.  Boy did I feel proud.  Then came the down side of social maturity... watching a 5 year old flirt and have crushes on MUCH older girls.  You think I'm kidding?  When Mike and I returned from our day at the Comic-Con to our hotel suite where my folks had spent the day with the kids, my step-dad informed me that William managed to flirt his way into a free smoothie from the pool girl (who must have been 18 or so).  Then the other day as he and Mike are enjoying an ice cream outside of Ben & Jerry's, Mike notices William suddenly entranced with a reflection in the window.  When he asked William, "what are you looking at?"  William kind of muttered and then said, "oh... that car, I've never seen a car like that."  Mike, noticing there was nothing remarkable about the late 90's Toyota except the teenager sitting in it asked, "it doesn't have anything to do with the cute girl behind the wheel of that car does it?" William merely responded with a laugh.  Seriously, who is this child?

Finally, math.  So, having conquered reading, I've started working on math with William.  He's often been doing some simple arithmetic at the table, using his fingers, M&M's, whatever he can find.  So I asked him if he wanted to start learning some math and he replied, "Yeah!" with his usual enthusiasm.  So I set out finding some good pre-K books on basic addition and math skills.  We started on the book a few weeks ago and at first he was enjoying it, but then he realized that a lot of it was memorization (this happened with reading at first too) and told me he was bored.  So, I figure, no worries... why push it?  I'm learning right?  If I push, they'll resist.  So I start packing up the crayons, pencils, etc. and begin to close the book when apparently he catches a glimpse of something and goes, "wait! wait! Mom!!  What was that page?"  He starts flipping madly through the book and stops on a page.  So I look over his shoulder and it's all about counting money.  "Money."  I laugh.  "So math was boring until you realized we could count money?!"  He looks perplexed by my laughing and says, "what?  I'm earning money for chores now... wouldn't it be nice if I could count it?"  I see a future in sales, or stock trading, or maybe gambling (?) for him.  Uh huh.  I see.  Just like his sister... he'll learn what he wants to learn, when he wants to learn it, and for his reasons.  Not mine.  He's just waiting for me to catch up...