Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sleep is vastly underrated: March 20, 2005

If you don't sleep well, then you know how much sleep matters. I sleep like a dead person, and I need a lot of sleep to function. Anything under six hours a night, and I am incoherent and hallucinating. When they were babies, I could not make my sons understand this. They did not care at all. 

I cannot wait until they are teenagers and I can exact my revenge....

Please don’t honk at the napping mom
    Hi! This is the first column I’ve written since I had a baby in January! I never sleep! I’m really tired! If I use a lot of exclamation points maybe it will help wake me up! Let’s see!

    No! It’s not working! Not at all!

    I forgot a whole lot of stuff between May 2000, when I had my son Jack, and January 2005, when little Ben came squalling into the world.

    I forgot the big things. (Newborn babies are appallingly small and helpless, and 20 percent of any kind of overnight hospital stay takes at least two years to pay off.)     

    I forgot the little things. (For some reason, my babies take spells where they’ll only stop crying when I stick my little finger into their mouths, rendering me immobile for hours on end. Also, "newborn" clothes are too big for the average newborn.)     

    But what I mostly forgot was the crippling, awesome power of sleep deprivation. There is just nothing like it for turning an otherwise relatively sane adult into the walking, babbling dead.

    You know how every other driver on the road but you is an idiot? How they are always doing things that range from careless (no turn signal as they cross three lanes) to stupid (no turn signal as they cross three lanes in the Ridge Cut)?     

    There is a good chance a lot of those idiots are the mothers of very small babies. Stay far away from our cars. We are dangerous. And if you honk you might wake us up.

    I recently folded some laundry and then stood in front of the open refrigerator with a pile of clothes in my left hand, groggily contemplating where I was going to find room to put this stuff.

    If the refrigerator hadn’t been crammed with groceries my mom treated us to as a baby present, my husband would still be wondering where his shirts got to as they chilled away in the veggie drawer. (We never open that thing.)     

    I’ve read a whole pile of books about helping babies establish predictable patterns of eating and sleeping. I’ve tried several approaches, from Baby Wise to Harvey Karp. I think the problem is that baby Ben hasn’t read these books, so Ben doesn’t know he is supposed to be comforted by swaddling, or that feeding him every three hours with a nap in between is supposed to help him sleep through the night.

    As soon as Ben can read, I feel sure this will all be straightened out.

    The goofy thing about little babies and sleep deprivation is that newborns sleep 18 to 20 hours a day. You’d think I’d be sleeping plenty. But little babies sleep in little spurts. An hour here, two hours there. And the sleeping always occurs when I need to be picking up big brother from school or making dinner, so I’m in no position to catch a nap.

    Also, Ben loves 3 a.m. That’s his favorite hour, and he never, ever misses it. His next favorite hour is 4 a.m., followed by 5 a.m. He catches most of those, too.

    I have seen every 3 a.m. for two months. I kind of hate 3 a.m.

    I told my husband recently that I need to have a tiny T-shirt made for the baby that reads ‘This is temporary.’ It would help remind me that Ben’s big brother Jack crawls into bed every night at 7:30 and sleeps 11 or 12 hours. Those days are not far off, if I can just survive the next few months.

    Meanwhile, if you see me dozing in my idling station wagon at a green light, please just go around me.



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Whose dumb idea was this, anyway? Feb. 6, 2005

Our older son was an only child for nearly five years. That's a mighty long time to have all the adults to yourself.

Change is hard.

Who’d want to be Co-center of the Universe?
    Our 4-year-old son climbed into bed with my husband and me one morning a few months ago and sat looking morosely at us.

    "What’s up?" I asked, still mostly asleep.

    "Mommy," he sighed heavily. "I don’t really want to be a big brother."

    Oh dear. Oh no.

    "I think you’ll be a really good big brother, though," I said. "I think the baby is really going to love you a lot."

    Jack sighed again and shoved his little feet under the blankets between us, put his head on a corner of my pillow. He didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t have to. I’m on notice: This is not going to be easy.

    Jack will be a few months from turning 5 when his little brother or sister arrives. That’s a long time to be the Center of the Universe, only to have the title jerked away and replaced with something as lame as Co-center of the Universe. I can’t blame him for feeling a little betrayed.

    My response to all this is probably based on my own experience as the oldest child. I was not quite 3 when they brought my brother home, and I was not happy.

    In the photo album I have from my childhood, the front pages are filled with pictures of cherubic little me smiling and soaking up the undivided attention of my parents. About a third of the way in, though, is the first picture of me with my brother.

    He is lying on the couch, a lump of a baby boy with a shock of carrot-orange hair. I am standing next to him. I am no longer cherubic and smiling. I am grim and glowering. In fact, in every picture after that I am glowering at my brother. Except for the one where my father ordered me in a tone I knew better than to disobey to put my arm around my brother and smile. What I’m doing in that picture qualifies as smiling, I guess. My teeth are showing, anyway.

    So I felt a little guilty when our firstborn moped into our room that morning and announced he didn’t want to be a big brother. Some part of me was thinking, Yeah, kid, I know what you mean. It’s a real drag.

    My husband is coming at this from a completely different point of view. He was the third in a family of four boys. They’re the Four Fabulous Flying Fortunes. They grew up friends and stayed that way. I guess with that many siblings, you get along or get pounded.

    "I can’t imagine my life without my brothers," Jim said one day as we discussed our baby-on-the-way and its reluctant big brother.

    I rolled my eyes, big-sister style. "Of course you can’t imagine your life without your brothers," I said. "Most of them were already there when you arrived. You never had a life without your brothers."

    Sheesh. Little brothers just don’t get it.

    I really hope Jack is a better older sibling than I was. My little brother was annoying, but I was just plain mean to him right up until he got bigger than me. I remember the moment clearly. I was 17, he was 14, and I walked by the couch and swatted him on the head. He launched himself at me, and I remember thinking Wow, he’s a lot bigger than I remember. When did that happen?

    I got away before he could do any real damage and abandoned my habit of swatting him. He is now over 6 feet tall and about 200 pounds of little brother. We get along these days — mostly because he lives several states away, and we don’t talk much.

    Also because, despite temperamental differences that effectively doomed any hope of close friendship, he’s my brother. When our mother’s cancer was diagnosed, he’s who I wanted to talk to. He said all the wrong things, of course, but it didn’t really matter. I just needed to talk to my brother.

    I probably can’t make my 4-year-old understand any of this.

    A few days after the moping-in-our-bed incident, Jack came to me and said he thought maybe he’d like to have a sister. I was elated. I thought he was warming up to the idea of the baby.

    "Well, you might get a little sister — or maybe it will be a little brother. I bet it will be fun either way," I said.

    Jack looked at me. He has this way of looking at me that makes it clear he thinks I’m a little bit dense.

    "Mommy," he said evenly, "I want a big sister, not a little sister."

    Oh dear. Oh no.

    "Take it from me, Jack," I said. "You don’t want a big sister. Big sisters are a pain." 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Really, it's quite preposterous: Dec. 26, 2004

From the moment he arrived in this world, my older son has surprised and confounded me. He's smarter than I am, and he's been intense and sensitive since birth. I am not exaggerating. He was an incredibly puzzling baby and a slightly scary toddler. He told me, patiently, at the age of 20 months, the difference between a pentagon and a hexagon.

Watching him come slowly to grips with what it means to be a kid was a lot of fun, largely because I never expected him to have to learn how to do it.

Child warms up to the idea of Santa Claus
    Last year, my quirky little son was apprehensive (and kind of skeptical) about Santa Claus. He didn’t believe for one second that Santa would fit down the chimney, and he didn’t want a stranger in his house at night anyway.

    "Can Santa just leave the presents on the porch?" he asked anxiously.

    "Do we have to open presents outside in the cold?" I replied.     

    "No," he said, leveling his blue eyes at me as if I were just a tad dense. "You and Daddy will bring the presents inside."

    Last Christmas, Jack was 3. The whole point of having a 3-year-old, as far as I was concerned, was getting to relive my childhood with the added bonus of access to credit cards and no one having the authority to tell me to stop eating cookies.

    But Jack was not having it. He assured me he would certainly NOT be sitting in the lap of someone he had never met, and there would be NO wide-eyed acceptance of what he saw as the preposterous and vaguely threatening notion of a huge guy jumping down the chimney into our house while we’re all asleep.

    He did like the idea of presents, but he said all he wanted was a truck.

    "You have a lot of trucks," I said. "Can you think of anything else you might like? How about a scooter? Or a robot? Some puzzles? Or how about $1,000 in fresh, new $20 bills?"     

    He considered my offers, shook his head. "I think I just need another truck."

    Also, he got tired of cookies really fast. He ate a couple and then announced he’d had enough. What self-respecting adult can sit on the couch pounding down sprinkled sugar cookies shaped like festive stuff while the 3-year-old abstains? (Well, I did it, but I’m not just eaten up with self-respect or anything.)     

    Last year, in my quest to interest Jack in something besides trucks, my son and I stopped at the neighborhood toy store one weekend. Santa was in a room at the back of the store posing for photos with kids.

    "Let’s go see Santa," I suggested.


    "You don’t have to sit on his lap or anything. You can just say hi to him. He’s really nice. You can tell him you want a truck."

    Jack sighed. "OK."

    I held my son as he peered warily into the room where Santa was parked on a low chair in front of a digital camera on a tripod.

    "Hi, Santa," Jack said quietly. "Can you please leave the presents on the porch?"

    But then Christmas morning came, complete with a bike and a train table and hilarious little wind-up toys that spun in furious circles on the dining room floor. Jack’s feelings about Santa took an abrupt turn. Santa was suddenly looking like a pretty good guy.

    This year, my son headed into the holiday season with a vivid memory of last Christmas. He started asking me over the summer how long it would be until Christmas. He wanted to know what Santa was going to bring him for Christmas. He wanted to get a Christmas tree in September.

    "Do you still want Santa to leave the presents on the porch?" I asked.

    "No," he said. "Santa can come in."

    The real breakthrough came when we were at the mall one recent cold weekend, riding the escalators for a cheap thrill. Jack spotted Santa on the ground floor and decided he wanted to go look at him.

    "Just look," he said.

    "OK," I said.

    So we looked. We watched Santa as he entertained a parade of kids, some of them grinning, others shrieking in terror as their parents forced them into the big guy’s lap.

    "Do I have to sit on his lap?" Jack asked.

    "Nope," I said. "Not if you don’t want to."

    We watched some more.

    "I want to talk to Santa," Jack finally said. "But you have to hold my hand."

    We stood in line, and when our turn came, we approached Santa slowly.

    "This is Jack," I told the big man. "He’s a little shy, and he just wants to talk to you for a minute."

    Jack was absolutely dumbstruck. Before I knew what he was doing, Santa lifted my son gently onto his lap and cajoled a few words out of him. The elf with the camera pushed a button. Jack managed to ask for a red train for Christmas and then climbed down.

    "Wow," I told him as we waited for our photo. "That was amazing. You were so brave."

    Jack nodded solemnly. "I am brave."

    The photo is not typical Santa’s-lap fare. It shows my shy little son nervously twisting his fingers, ducking his head, almost smiling, as Santa leans in close to hear his few whispered words. It’s not the stuff Christmas cards are made of, but it’s a perfect memento of what turned out to be a very big day for my little boy.

    Now, if I could just get him to help me eat all these Christmas cookies.