Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why I Suck at Being a Mother and a Human Being

I’m just checking in to let everyone know how awful I am at this whole motherhood thing. I try, I really do. I try to be patient. I try to be careful. But, something in my brain is not clicking, and the events of these last twenty four hours read like the Britney Spears’ Guide to Parenting.

I actually have to go back a bit further to get us started. See, a couple months ago, I put Charlotte down for a nap on our bed. It’s a bad habit Chris and I have gotten into. She sleeps with us so many hours each night that she is just more comfortable there than in her crib. So, in moments of desperation, I would let her nap there just to make sure she got some sleep. On this particular day, she wasn’t quite asleep and she was fussing. I was trying to ignore her, hoping she’d fall back asleep. I was in the kitchen doing some dishes when the whiny crying turned to blood-curdling screaming in an instant. I ran into the bedroom to discover what I had feared, no knew, had happened as soon as I heard her screams. She had, of course, fallen off the bed. We have a California King bed, and she rolled all the way from the middle, to the edge, rolled over the pillow barrier, and onto the floor. She was fine, luckily. Just scared. But, needless to say, I still felt like the worst mother ever.

Everyone reassured me that not only was I not the worst mother ever, but that I was not alone. I was regaled with countless tales of babes toppling off couches and mattresses, and none were worse for the wear. When I told the story to my mother-in-law, after I vowed to never let this happen again, she nonchalantly assured me that it would not be the last time Charlotte would end up cascading off a bed: “You think you’ve learned, but you really haven’t”.

And right she was. Last night, I let the baby sleep on the couch when she started screaming each time I started carrying her half-comatose body down the hallway. It was like she knew I was going to take her back there and LEAVE her. So, she slept on the sofa where she could hear the hum of the television and the soft clicking of the keys on my laptop. I sat on the floor where I could see her. I reasoned that if she started to roll, I could catch her. But, instead I watched her fall to the floor while I scrambled to reach her. Again, she was fine, but the “what-ifs” involving coffee tables and broken limbs flooded my head.

So, I’m already a lousy mother, but WAIT! It gets worse. It really does. Don’t believe me? Try this on for size: I left Charlotte alone in the house. All alone. It was about 6:30 this morning. The hurricane-like winds were blowing the trash can against the house, causing a banging that was causing Charlotte to stir in her sleep. I know this, because she was in bed with me. So, I went outside to move it, and locked myself out of the house. So, to recap: Charlotte is in my bed, Chris is at a hotel for work, and I am OUTSIDE. As I’m taking stock of the situation I realize several things. First of all, I acknowledge that I am a disgrace of a mother. If there were mandatory IQ tests to determine whether or not one should be able to have children, well, let’s just say I’d be twenty pounds lighter and sleeping off a hangover, instead of standing outside my house, contemplating breaking a window. The next thing I realize is that Charlotte is on the bed, surely about to roll to her imminent doom. And finally, I remember that my brother-in-law lives a block away and has a key to my house.

Cut to me doing a combination of running and limping, clutching my chest as I make my way across the short distance. At this point I’m realizing I shouldn’t have been skipping the gym these past few weeks. Okay, years. Luckily, he was awake, as were my two youngest nieces, who, pajama clad and with massive bedheads, regarded me with confusion as I tearfully (and breathlessly) explained my situation. He calmly reassured me that she would be fine and drove me home. Before he had even pulled his key out of the door, I was down the hall and, with relief, observed her peacefully sleeping on my bed.

After telling Chris about the debacle over the phone, he heard Charlotte crying in the background. He said, “What’s wrong with her? Is she being taken away by Social Services?”


But seriously, I don’t know what sudden defect in my brain has caused me to let her fall off raised surfaces, or leave her alone in the house, or bump her head on the concrete slab in the parking lot of the hotel today when we came to join Chris. All I know is I will probably do something just as dumb or worse, fairly soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crazy on You

Once again, it's been too long since I updated. In the past ten days or so, I learned my grandfather was sick, drove the four-hour trip to see him three times in one week, cried, reminisced, got drunk on margaritas and belted karaoke with my beautiful, baby sister, said goodbye to my grandpa for the last time, and drove my sister to the airport shuttle before heading over to see my grandma in the nursing home, then driving an hour home. On top of all that, Chris has been working nonstop all week, so Charlotte and I have been on our own most of the week, missing him. Basically, what I'm saying is that I have good excuses as to why I haven't written. And to say that isn't exactly true. When I've been able to squeeze in a few moments to myself, I've sat down to write. And nothing comes out the way I want it to, so I delete it. It's silly. But, I feel guilty for not blogging because I made a commitment to myself to do it more regularly, and I put so much pressure on myself that I am frustrated by the drivel that comes out when I'm too busy/distracted/upset to properly clear my head of these thoughts. It's just a blog, Megan.

One of my more annoying qualities is my huge guilt complex. If I'm relaxed, happy, or just having a good time, I can't shake the feeling that I am doing something wrong. Obviously, not being able to enjoy myself ever is a huge bummer for me, but it can also range from obnoxious to downright infuriating to the people in my life. Just ask my husband how he likes to constantly reassure me that I am not a bad mother or wife just because I left them to go to the movies with a friend. Or ask him how super fun it is when I overextend myself because I "felt bad" for too many people on the same day. But, I wager what he likes best is when I ask him if he's mad at me every time I'm drunk.

What was the point of all this? Oh, right. Guilt. So, I tend to feel guilty about being a stay-at-home mom whose husband is also home most of the day. I get help with the baby. I don't have to go grocery shopping alone. He makes me breakfast. And we get to go on little coffee and lunch dates at least once a week. So, I feel guilty for not having a full-time job like he does or for letting him help out as much as he does. I can't even enjoy a perfectly good situation, because our life doesn't fit into my perception of what is "normal".

Because the truth is, I may have my lazy days, but generally speaking, I do a lot around here. And I am on my own every evening, Charlotte's fussiest, and for one hellish month, most colicky, time. So no matter how idyllic my day has been, my evening is sure to be full of laundry, dinner, bath time, cleaning, etc. all squeezed in between Charlotte's whining, fussing, and separation anxiety nonsense. And the drawback to our arrangement is that while everyone else is returning to their family or welcoming their spouse home, I am just starting my day. And I get really lonely.

So, I shouldn't feel guilty. But I do.

And the pressure. Oh, the pressure I put on myself to prove my own worth. Thursday is a perfect example. Chris was working the day shift and thought he'd be home in the evening to spend time with us. I was really excited because he's been so busy at work, we've hardly been able to talk on the phone, and also because he misses Charlotte so much. I wanted to make it special. So, after spending three hours in the car to visit my grandma (and sneak some Chardonnay up to the roof of her nursing home), I returned home, went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner, cleaned the house, and started prepping the food. This was all very difficult thanks to Charlotte's insistence that I be in the same room as her, and preferably holding her at all times. I had to get creative in order to get anything done, by putting her in front of the mirror in the office so she could laugh at herself and talk to her reflection while I dusted, or by mashing some banana for her to play with in her high chair while I chopped onions and garlic in the kitchen. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. The kind of tired where your whole body aches, and I've pretty much felt that way since then. So, you can imagine how disappointed I was when Chris informed me he probably wouldn't be home for dinner after all. I KNOW, RIGHT?

I felt disappointment like I haven't known since I was a kid and my mom wouldn't stop and get me a soda at the gas station. You know that completely unfounded disappointment that is based more on hormones and fatigue than actual logic and reason? I cried the day I was denied that soda, and thirteen years later I cried because Chris was going to be late. Again.

I cried a lot this past week. Monday night I held Charlotte in my arms after five unsuccessful attempts at putting her to bed, and I cried out of frustration, disappointment, and mostly from a deep sense of melancholy brought on by remembering my grandparents and knowing the years of ice cream sundaes and Yahtzee were behind us forever.

Sitting here now, I'm amazed at how hard I've been on myself this week. Looking in the mirror, I see someone who is feeling the loss of her grandfather, someone who is exhausted and sore, someone whose eyes are dry and raw. Someone who yelled at herself all week like an angry football coach to keep going, push harder, do more. I need to be kinder to this person. And, I am making progress. Last night my friend, Sarah, took me to a Heart concert at the Greek. Before the show we stuffed ourselves full of pasta, wine, and tiramisu. We stood up and danced and sang along...Ooooh, Barracuda! And not once did I let myself feel guilty for being out, having a good time while Chris stayed at home with the baby. He was happy to be spending some overdue quality time with her, and I was taking some much-needed time to myself.

Thanks, Sarah, for rescuing me last night. It means the world to me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ready or Not

In theory, the benefit to actively seeking out a pregnancy for so long as opposed to being surprised by one, is that you can try to prepare for all the ways in which your life is going to change. It’s not like you’re snorting coke in the bathroom of a club one day and scouring for info on the different colors and textures of baby poop the next. Well, hopefully not, anyway.

In the three years it took for us to get pregnant with Charlotte we did a lot of preparing. Shortly after we started “trying”, convinced as we were that we would immediately conceive, we began to prepare ourselves for life with a baby. We’d eye the couples loading cumbersome infant seats and diaper bags into their cars and giddily exchange “That could be us soon!” glances with one another. Over the next few years we would prepare ourselves for many other lifestyles. We tried to gear up for more years of infertility, wondering if we had what it took to make the long haul. We had a successful IVF and began again to get ready for life as parents. Then we had a miscarriage, ran out of fertility funds, and began to prepare for a life without children.

And so it was that just like most people on this planet, we were completely smacked-upside-the-head-shocked by the extra blue line on my pregnancy test. I was nursing a slight hangover from too many martinis at Cinespia the night before. I was annoyed that morning because I wanted nothing more than to sleep off the Bombay buzz, but I was lured out of bed every twenty minutes or so by my stupid bladder. It wasn’t until later that afternoon, while discussing a possible weekend in Laughlin with a friend that my morning pee marathon raised any kind of red flag. I remembered that early in pregnancy, hormones can be a catalyst for frequent urination. Then again, anyone who knows me, knows I have a bladder the size of a walnut, so I reasoned it was probably nothing out of the ordinary. But I had that feeling. You know the one. The one that nags you all day in a whiny, high-pitched voice until you finally throw up your hands and say, “Fine!”

So, I decided to take a test. We were having friends over that evening, and we had been at Chris’s work all day. I dropped Chris off so he could hastily tidy the house, and I ran to the store for beer and a pregnancy test. You can imagine the look on the cashier’s face.

What followed was a moment I never could have prepared for. I felt doubt. Doubt, which caused me to reread the instructions to my pregnancy test, as if three years of practice wasn’t enough. I felt, of course, extreme happiness, giddiness even. I felt fear. Fear that it wasn’t real, or that it wouldn’t last. And, perhaps most surprisingly, I felt a twinge of disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to drink the beer I had procured earlier in the evening.

The pregnancy was more or less what I expected: crippling exhaustion, mild nausea, too many pounds, and not enough alcohol. Oh, and a ripe batch of hormones that caused me to get a soccer mom haircut after years of growing my hair long. It was a mostly uneventful pregnancy; tedious, but smooth. Labor and delivery, too, were about what I expected. Water broke, went to hospital, had epidural, had baby. The whole thing took eight hours. But the second Charlotte entered this world, and every moment since, I began an amazing and difficult journey, and the experiences and feelings I’ve encountered along the way have all come as a complete surprise.

Intellectually, I knew there would be little sleep. But I couldn’t have fathomed the sheer delirium of those first few weeks or the general sluggishness I would still feel six months later after nights of sharing my bed with a restless bed hog of a baby. I knew there would be boredom, but I didn’t know I would spend hours and hours on my couch, breastfeeding and watching bad television. I knew I would feel emotional, but I didn’t anticipate the staggering highs and soul-crushing lows I would come to know or the frustration and anger I would feel at myself, my husband, even my poor, defenseless daughter.

You know what’s coming next. Because it’s what all mothers say after complaining about their children. And I say this because it’s true and because I would mean it even if I wasn’t obligated to say it…I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure, I’d make her sleep more, cry less. If it were up to me, she would be more cuddly instead of flying out of my arms to get to her dad, the dog, the floor full of toys. I would like more energy, more time, a cleaner house. And I guess while I’m at it, I’d take a gym fortified body and more money, as well.

This whole experience caught me totally off guard. And there are countless surprises in store for me, for us. There are fresh frustrations ahead, but there are also countless joyful moments. Moments that make me feel like I’m living in a cheesy movie, like the time I found myself singing and dancing around the house with my husband and daughter, or the time I realized I had taught Charlotte to clap. I’m ready for it all. Well, as ready as I can be, anyway.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream


Once again it has been much longer than I ever intended since I last wrote. If only this were the only element of my life being neglected! But, as I type, I can feel the dust from the computer desk accumulating on the palms of my hands and my kitchen floor is so filthy, I won’t walk on it in my bare feet. And I will walk ANYWHERE in my bare feet.

The reason for all this neglect and abandon is simple: no sleep. Oh, I know. You’ve heard it all before. We people with kids think we have the market cornered when it comes to sleep deprivation. The truth is, many of you out there (and by you, I mean all 7 of my readers) might not be getting any sleep either. And it might have absolutely nothing to do with a restless, clingy baby. Maybe you are worried about an assignment or presentation, or maybe you share a street with one of those annoying yappy dogs that won’t shut up all night. And if that’s the case, I’m not going to try to make you feel bad for me. At least I have something cute to look at when I’m up at 3 A.M.

Then again, not getting enough sleep sucks, no matter how chubby and lavender-scented the reason. My bleary eyes ache, I'm forgetful, and have gained about five pounds due to the sugar fixes I need to get me through my day. The funny thing is, we thought we had it made for a couple months there. When Charlotte was about two-months-old, she started sleeping through the night. I’m talking down at nine, up at seven. It was glorious. And we knew how good we had it. We appreciated it and silently congratulated ourselves when we heard tales of our friends’ sleepless babes. Ah, those were the days!

This lasted for a couple months. She even slept all night in her playpen while we were on vacation in San Francisco. It was when we returned from our trip that the trouble began. We figured since she was outgrowing the bassinet, and she’d already adapted so well to sleeping in a new place, that this would be the perfect time to move her to the crib. So, we nervously and tearfully (okay, the latter was just me) put her in her room, switched on the monitor, closed the door, and hoped for the best.

Predictably, she woke a few times. It was new. She also always seemed to have this psychic ability to sense when I was in the room with her, and she always slept better when I was, so this came as no surprise. But, since then? Since then, not a night has gone by that she hasn’t ended up in our bed. I realize that we make the choice to submit to her whims, it’s just that rocking her back to sleep every twenty minutes was starting to make us just a teensy bit INSANE. Though, also maddening is the fact that we have to deal with her pounding her fists on the bed when she gets restless, spitting her binky out and demanding it be put back, and rotating until her feet are right around one of our heads. Oh, and she likes to scratch her nails against the mattress and sometimes babble her baby nonsense at a perfectly obscene hour of the morning. And who can forget the super fun game wherein she turns to her side to slap Chris in the face a couple times, before flipping back over to give me a few good whacks? And so it is that one or both of us can usually be found pinning her arms to the bed with one arm and holding the binky with the other. But at least we don’t have to get out of bed!

And every time I mention this problem to anyone, the answer is always the same: “You’re going to have to let her cry it out”. And then I’m bombarded with stories of sleepless, scream-filled nights, sometimes one, sometimes two or three, sometimes more than a week. But then? After the screaming? Invariably, after all the screaming the kid was sleeping through the night. I recently watched a Momversation video on this very matter. I never realized it was such a heated topic. I just figured you either had the fortitude to listen to your kid cry for an unspecified amount of time, or you didn’t. But apparently, there are people out there who think you are torturing your baby by not rushing to scoop her up at the first sign of a whimper. And there are also people out there who feel that you are spoiling your child by running to their aid.

I honestly don’t have strong feelings on the matter. I agree with Heather Armstrong of (she’s in the video) who says that parents should just do what’s best for their family. Every time someone told me of their “cry it out” success story, I would mention it to Chris, and every time, he shot the suggestion down with a , “But, she’s just a baaaaby”. I was pretty sure I didn’t have the stomach for it, anyway, but I was getting desperate. But, when I really started to think about the realities of letting her cry, I realized it wasn’t something I was willing to do.

If Charlotte cried for ten minutes, then fell asleep or merely whined before knocking back out, I could see this working. But she cries so hard she has to catch her breath. She turns bright red. She makes the most blood-curdling and heart-wrenching sounds, and I just don’t think I can let her do that for any significant period of time. But mostly, Chris and I agree that we just aren’t ready to send her that message. The message being that we won’t be there to rescue her when she needs us. Even if it’s true that she doesn’t actually “need” us and is just being a brat. Eventually, she will have to learn that. And say what you will about us. Call us wimps or overindulgent parents. I just know that even though it’s annoying as hell, I need to be there when she cries. Even if it means not sleeping or having a social life for now.

I’m sure to many people this means we are creating a clingy, co-dependant monster, who will be in our bed till she’s in kindergarten. And they might be right.

Oh, God. They might be right…