Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Simple Equation

My daughter’s new sleep schedule can be equated to a misaligned tire.  The car is motoring along and you're still getting to your destination but the drive is much harder and everything more difficult to navigate because one part of the car just isn't in sync .  My husband and I are more blurry eyed than usual, handling stresses of our own in the past month and now dealing with the fatigue and lack of "me" time with this new routine.

She seems to get tired later now.  A whole hour later.  I've tried to push the time back little by little like every book and pediatrician says.  We watch her show, read an extra book and still I'm met with incessant screaming when I put her to bed.  Between getting her calm and going through the routine again, my dream of sitting on the couch or popping in a Zumba tape at 9 p.m. is no more.

Morning wake up times of 6:30 a.m, followed by a cuddle and falling back to sleep in my bed for another hour have changed as well.  Now it’s a 5:45a.m. wake up followed by jumping around my bed with the request to "bounce."  Instruction to settle down and bribery with cereal have resulted in Cookie Crisp under my pillow and fingers up Daddy's nose to stifle snoring.  Covering her bedroom window with a blanket to block the sunrise and prevent all this hasn't worked either.

I look at everything that doesn't seem right with my child as a problem to solve. If she is hungry I feed her.  Wet, I change her.  Bored, I play with her.  Because solving a problem essentially means never having to deal with it again or at least knowing how to solve it quickly and efficiently the second time. 

As a professional you brand yourself as a problem solver.  You're to boast about it with colorful examples in interviews as a marketable quality.  Problem solvers always come out on top.  You solve a problem, it goes away.  You've done something right.  Membership was low so you created a marketing campaign that increased participants by 5%.  Problem solved.  Everyone is happy and you get a promotion. 

When you solve a problem and it comes back the same or in a different way, you try another approach.  The marketing campaign only yielded 2%, so you re-assess, decide to try another form of marketing and the new one increases participants by 10%.  Hooray! Problem solved, drinks are on you. 

When the problem comes back the third time in the same or in a different way and you are at a complete loss of tactic, you face the inevitable:  failure.  You question your ability to problem solve and frustration ensues. 

The method of problem solving seems so easy.  But like all equations sometimes you can’t see all of the variables.  The tooth that isn't yet pushing through the gum, the constipation in my daughter's stomach, the fear of some stuffed animal she dreamt about last night, or her growth spurt that is simply making her a little crazy and something she can't yet communicate.  All possible elements in the formula for disruptive sleep.

I'm reminded of all of those times in math class when the test problems seemed too difficult to solve.  I'd be sitting there, straining my eyes to see something I was missing.  I’d get anxious, mad and feel like giving up.  My hand sore from erasing wrong answers over and over again until the bell rang.

I did terribly in math my whole life spending lots of time in extra help tutoring.  My mother told me just to "get through it" and she and my father applauded when I came home with a 70 because I passed.  It was over.  But I was mad and felt stupid.  I couldn't understand why other people would be able to figure problems out and why I struggled. If every problem was caused by something, why could I not see the reason and be able to solve it?  What I failed to appreciate at that time was that despite falling below average, I still got 70% right.  The majority.

I can get my daughter to sleep without crying mostly every night.  I can snuggle with her in bed in the morning and have her wake up an hour later almost every morning.  But it’s this new problem, representing such a small percentage of my problem solving failure that keeps me diligently working.  Trying new methods, asking other parents for advice, and repeatedly getting more and more frustrated at the lack of results.  Forgetting that for most parents, a problem with a toddler just ends up a cold case.

My daughter runs to me with her broken crayon this morning.  The tip has fallen off and pieces are missing.  "Mommy fix it," she says.  I look at it and know there is nothing that can be done.  I tear off the paper to expose more crayon.  "There you go," I say and hand it back to her.  She looks a little confused but says, "Thank you Mommy," and runs away.  She spends the next few minutes trying to figure out how to comfortably make circles with this crayon in her book the same way she did before. Eleven sharpened colors remain in the box.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blogging for Sanity

Becoming a parent did so much more for me than just make me someone's mom. I'm happy to be a guest blogger this week at "The 52 Weeks".  Authors Pam and Karen have inspired many people with their initiative of trying something new every week and blogging about it.  They have allowed me to share my story about how creating this blog helped me strengthen my relationship with my daughter, my husband, and my lost love of writing.  As Mother's Day comes to a close and Father's Day lays ahead, I encourage all my readers to consider what parenthood has made you besides someone's parent.

Enjoy this week's post at http://the52weeks.com/

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parenthood is Gross

I'm standing in the kitchen with my screaming daughter on my hip.  I'm offering everything she can possibly want to which she responds "No!" and continues to scream.  My pajama bottoms are sagging with her weight.  My right arm feels like its breaking and there isn't a clean sippy cup for me to get her what she initially didn't want, but now does: juice.  She rubs her tear stained face into my shoulder leaving a giant trail of snot from my arm to collar bone.  My husband happily bounces into the kitchen with her juice.  "Here you go-OH MY GOD!!"  He throws the cup onto the counter, dry heaves a few times and bolts out of our apartment into the hallway.  Yes, the man was crippled by the sight of a booger.

Being a parent comes with a fair amount of disgusting things and a build up of tolerance one must go through like a hazing process.  I'd like to say I've had a pretty good threshold thus far.  Poop diapers are nothing to me and due to her bad stomach, are often welcomed in my home.  I've even found remnants of one small poop floating in the water during bath time.  I stared at it trying not to think of the bacteria creeping towards my daughter and retrieved it quickly with toilet paper before she thought it was raisin.  There was another cringe worthy incident when right before bath time she pooped on the rug.  Another quick scoop up and we continued on with our day.

Then there was the stomach flu.  Even after every ten minutes of her throwing up in bowls, on Mickey, down my shirt, in her hair, in my hair, and in towels, I didn't start to lose it until the 8th hour at which point I was starting to get the virus myself.  Throughout the clean up I put Vick's under my and my husband's noses to make it through the stench.  But even after having three straight days of someone vomiting in my house I was still able to hold it together and not freak out or run away.   

I certainly don't blame my husband for a small mushy green thing putting him over the edge.  If I ever turn around at my daughter's request of "Hey Mom look at me!" and find her eyelids flipped up, I may just pass out.  I just think my inability to deal with all repulsive things before I had my daughter made me more capable of handling this new version of Fear Factor. 

Though it wasn't poop or projectile vomit that used to make me almost lose my lunch, its certainly no stranger to other people's list of fears.  Cockroaches and mice. My old apartment had the occasional, yet seemingly frequent cockroach that would surprise me when I reached for a fork.  After the initial jolt to my heart I'd forget my food and start dumping out and rewashing all of my flatware.  Then I'd spend the next few hours trying to shake the feeling of things crawling on me. 

Throughout the months of capturing and killing 18 mice, I would scream, cry, and runaway when finding droppings on the counter.  Once slightly composed I'd pick them up with a giant wad of papertowel and douse the area in bleach.  Many times I camped out atop my kitchen table when one scurried under my feet.  And when I saw one lying in the middle of the living room floor, not quite sure if it was dead or not, I trapped it under a Tupperware topped with about seven textbooks and called my husband screaming to him to come home.

I was beside myself.  Unable to get over my fear and managing the anxiety that came whenever I faced it.  I became determined to rid my life of all that skeeved me.  I baited mouse traps with Agave nectar and peanut butter, setting a few dozen around the perimeter of each room, sprinkled powder on the floor so I could track the paw prints and locate the  entry point.  The cockroaches were harder but no match for my determination.  I left traps everywhere and bought Raid caulking gel to plug up cracks.  I pushed steel wool that had Raid sprayed on it, into every hole and crevice under my bathroom sink with chopsticks. 

My husband rolled his eyes, informed me I was being insane and threw the "I'm going to leave if you don't stop being crazy, they are just mice and bugs" threat around a number of times.  I couldn't understand how it didn't bother him that we were surrounded by disgusting things.  He told me it was out of our control and I'd just have to get over it.

Despite my efforts, we were plagued with cockroaches and mice until the day we moved. By our last days there  I had come to terms with the fact that we lived in a crowded apartment building, next to a Japanese restaurant and above a subway.  It came with the territory.  But it was still downright disgusting and made my skin crawl.

So while I stood there in my kitchen with my screaming daughter, a sticky booger on my skin and a sick husband out in the hallway, I couldn't help but laugh.  I put my daughter down, fetched her the juice and cleaned myself up.

The apartment door squeaked open and I heard my husband's footsteps near.  "Is it gone?"  He asked, still choking on his words at the very thought.  "Yes, its gone."  I said, still laughing.  He came in, eyes watery and looking a little green.  He started to laugh nervously and I opened my arms for a hug.  His embrace wasn't as tight as usual.  I knew I wouldn't get a good snuggle until I took a shower.  I figured it just comes with the territory.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Story time

My daughter's bedtime ritual has been just that for the past year.  A ritual. A routine.  My husband changes her diaper as I set up for story time.  Mickey and her milk are assembled on the nightstand. Two books are piled on the ottoman in preferred reading order.  The others we sometimes put into the rotation stay on the nightstand. I put the mobile music on, prop up the pillow to my left and wait on the glider.  After a myriad of kisses and nose noses from Daddy, he shows her how to shut off the big light, and lowers her into my lap.  

As any article, pediatrician, or know-it-all parent tends not to share, routines, said to be the foundation of parenting success, change over time.  Usually the change is initiated by the child who, for no good reason, decides to shake things up.  My daughter is no stranger to keeping me on my toes and has recently hijacked our story time tradition.  In the past few weeks we've graduated from two to four books, twenty minutes of story time to forty, and  now entertain a few more guests including: Ladybug; Pluto; Hedwig the Owl; and both Elmo slippers. 

Though a typical night is no longer typical I sense a routine developing.  To appease requests of "Again!" there are now a few more minutes of kisses and nose noses from Daddy.  After all of our new friends are also kissed and nosed, my daughter settles in.  She and I are both buried under Ladybug, Mickey, and Hedwig as I begin reading Goodnight Moon.

"Mommy!"  She looks up at me with excitement.
"I got Mickey and Ladybug too."  She holds the last syllable and sounds like she is bragging.
"I know you have Mickey and Ladybug too, are you ready for stories?"
"Okay, here we go.  In the great green room-"
"Pluto!" I grab Pluto from the nightstand.
"Okay there isn't much room.  How about I hold Pluto over-"
"Pluto!!!"  Pluto squeezes between Mickey and Ladybug.  Hedwig hangs on by the tip of her wing.  My hands stretch to turn the page with this widened berth.
"Okay, all our friends are here, let's read.  In the great green room-"
"Daisy Pixie!!"
"After Goodnight Moon, we'll read Daisy Pixie.  Don't you want to read this book?  Look, the cow is jumping over the moon-"
"Pixie!!"  Goodnight Moon gets put on the footrest and Daisy Pixie is retrieved from the nightstand.  Ladybug falls and rolls to the door with the shuffle.
"Ladybug went to sleep, we'll get her later.  Oh look its Daisy Pixie!"
"I got you!  I got you Ladybug!"  She urgently hops off my lap with Pluto and Mickey. I sneak Hedwig onto the nightstand.
"Okay go get Ladybug and come right back."  Ladybug is retrieved.  My arms open wide to grab everyone and pull them back onto my lap.
"Okay let's read Daisy Pixie now."   The book has a patch of glitter on the cover warranting a few minutes of finger rubbing.  This prevents me from opening it.
"Why don't we show Ladybug how you do your letters?" 
She turns Ladybug to see the page, causing Pluto to fall behind the chair.  She goes through her letters and I make it through the seven page book without her noticing another friend is missing.
"Night night book." I carefully place it back on the nightstand as she waves goodbye.
"Let's finish Goodnight Moon." While she sings patty cake to Mickey I put the rest of the books on the nightstand as we are now pressed for time.
"Okay, here we go.  In the great green room there was-"
"Milk!"  I get the sippy cup off the nightstand and instead of drinking, she cuddles it.
"In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon-"
"I got me Pluto, me Mickey, me Ladybug and me milk too!"  She holds that last syllable.
"Yes I know, are you going to drink your milk?"
"Me milk!"  More hugs are given to milk.  Still no drinking.
"Let's read our book.  In the great green room-"  She pushes the pages to find the little house while balancing milk under her chin to free her hand.
"Chimney and roof!"  She points to the new parts of the house we learned last night.
"Yes, now let's count the windows."
"One, two, three, four, six!"
"No, let's try again."
"One, two, three, six, seven!"
"No, let's do it together."
"One, two, three, four, FIVE, six!" In unison.
"Very good, now you count by yourself."
"One, two, six, seven, eight!"
"Fantastic, can I read from the beginning now?"
"Okay."  She leans back.  Mickey and milk roll under the ottoman.
"Uh-oh me Mickey and milk!"  She tries to squirm off my lap again.
"I've got Mickey and milk."  I start to bend over.  Everyone else is cradled under my ribs.
"I got you!!  I got you Mickey and milk!!"
"No I've got Mickey and milk, there you go."  She cuddles them both again.  I pick up Goodnight Moon for attempt number five.
"Can we finish the book now?"
"Snuggles!"  She turns into my chest, knocking the book out of my hand, and creates a barrier between her and I with Mickey, Ladybug and milk .  For the next few minutes she tries to get comfortable while I dodge plush ears and antennae.  The sippy cup leaks onto my shirt.
"Okay let's be quiet and do snuggles then." 
"Dot!  Hi Dot!"  She sits up and points to the beauty mark on my chest.
"Yes, that's Mommy's dot.  Dot's going to sleep now."
"Shhhh, Dot sleeping."  She whispers with one finger against her lips.
"Okay let's get close and do snuggles." 
"You want to read Moon?  Well can we sit like a big girl and finish the book?"  I try to move her back to her sitting position.
"Snuggles!"  I concede, position Mickey, Ladybug, and milk on her side and tell the story from memory as she bangs her forehead against my chest. 

I'm motoring along, saying good night to the bowl of mush and the old lady whispering hush, when I completely blank on the next stance.  My rhyming skills are weak and I can't make something up, filling the dead air with "ums and ahs".  She winces with my lack of fluidity.

Her head is arched back resting her chin on Mickey.  She smiles.  Her eyes roll a few times and I wish she would just stop fighting sleep and actually snuggle.  The sippy cup is loose and I put it on the nightstand in a quick and stealthy motion.

"Mommy.  Owls on the branch."  She looks above the door to the ceramic owls on the floral branch my mother and I  made.
"Yes, we say goodnight to the owls on the branch before we go into the crib.  Now let's do snuggles."
I try to push her head down.  She rests there for a second before squirming.  My body is tense and overheated from trying to keep us all on the glider.

I end the story and we say goodnight to the book which is still on the floor.  The music of her mobile turns off, indicating 20 minutes have elapsed.  I restart it via remote and hum along.  I used to do this when she was younger and desperate to get her to sleep and keep myself awake.  In the past few weeks she has started to hum with me.

She stops moving and her eyes close.  We are still humming.  I rock her, afraid to wrap my arms around and give her a hug because I know she is comfortable.  Instead I keep them under her bottom, ready to support her and the rest of the gang when we get up and move to the crib.
"Okay, time to say night night to everyone." I reach down to get Pluto and feel the strain in my knees and back as we all then rise off the chair

We turn around the room and say goodnight to Mr. Owl on the wall, the puppets in the corner, butterflies above the changing table, and of course, owls on the branch.  I say hello to the rest of her friends in the crib and tell them she, Mickey, Ladybug, and Pluto, will be coming down for snuggles.  I recap the day, talking about how much fun we had with Daddy, how we went for a walk, down the slide at the park, and how tomorrow we're going to have even more fun and need a good night's sleep and some sweet dreams.

She lifts her head, eyes closed, ready for the next part which is "Mommy Kisses".  I kiss her nose and cheeks. Kisses to Ladybug, Mickey, and Pluto follow.  I lower everyone down into the crib and tell her we're going to lay down with all of our friends.  She squirms again to get comfortable and I see Mickey's leg sticking out from under her belly as I wish everyone good night and creep out the door.

I plop down on the couch next to my husband.  Exhausted from what used to be the most calming part of my day.  I'm frustrated and disappointed.  I find comfort in the predictability of our nighttime routine and my husband loves the way she can identify letters and pictures from story time.  But lately she seems bored and restless. I wanted to teach her something new tonight and to hold her longer. And my back could have done without all the jerky movement.

My husband pats my leg and says, "Good job." I give him a confused look. "I don't know what you do but you're the only one that can get her down without a peep."
I know he's right.  She sleeps much better now and has grown to only want to read by herself or with me.  Despite my frustration I know there will be plenty of nights ahead, when our stories graduate from Little Golden Books to The Harry Potter series and squirming becomes snuggles under the covers.

I look around at the sea of toys in my living room. Three foot Elmo sits in the corner, slumped over with the weight of his head.  Though he is her favorite, over-sized dance partner I get up and drag his eight pound body closer to the couch.  Away from her bedroom door and the potential of her grabbing his arm before tomorrow's routine.  His big eyes stare at me but I feel no remorse. There are some lovable, furry monsters that Mommy just can't allow at story time.