Friday, June 11, 2010

mixed feelings

Our daughter is turning two on Tuesday, and I'm a mixed bag of emotions for it. On the one hand, I'm wrought into this intense emotional state where images of her right after birth flash by me; that precious little thing that was whisked away from me right away because of some complications during birth (as I suspected, she turned out to be just fine and I'm very bitter and sad about the way the pediatrician who was on call dealt with the situation, but that's a story of its own post and book). Or just a year ago, when she turned one, a plump little girl with a couple of teeth; hugging her I look so fresh and tanned. Now my color is ashen, hair dead, whereas she's this teethy girl, with molars even, tall, even more willful than before, still gleeful, so happy, everyone comments on her big smiles. She loves to run, climb, explore, talk and smile to people, play, play, play. And she's just looking so precious.

(My daughter Lilly and I last year in Greece)
(Lilly and her papa, Leighotn, this summer at the Walker)

While I adore her though, I find my days with her getting so long. Tedious. Boring. We fill our time with play-doh, drawing, reading, changing "baby's" clothes. Changing her cloths. Going outside. Or rather, first she wants to go outside. But does not want clothes on. The after much struggle gets clothes on. Goes outside. Plays in the sandbox. Goes sliding on the neighbor's slide. Runs around all our neibhbors' houses, climbing steps and flowerbeds.

If I'm lucky I get some weeding done in between in our garden.

Then there are playdates, read & play at the library, music & movement classes at the YMCA.

Mornings are the easiest. We have stuff going on then. But by naptime, the going gets rough. She does not want to miss the party. And as days get longer and brighter, she struggles to find sleep at night more and more so too. And I struggle to stay sane. She's so giddy and happy to be up and about. And I'm resenting the situation, wanting her to sleep.

At the same time, I'm so dead tired, I don't know what I'd do if she were to sleep, except pretend I'm all zen about it (which I'm not, I"m afraid). So why am I so obsessed with her sleeping then. Probably because I'm a bad mama and it sucks, right? In this way i flagellate myself for not being as endeared by her as, say, the cashier at the grocery store. I know, she gets her only in small portions, I get her all the time. With some time off, when my husband's with her so I get some time to myself and to write. My husband and I have kind of set it up so each of us gets half the day each to write. It doesn't quite work out like that, because I still nurse every two hours and when I have the afternoon to work, I also take time to put her down for a nap, which can be a one to two hour ordeal (leaving me useless for work during the remaining couple of hours).

In some ways, it was easiest that first year, when I was always with her. I was a mush brain then, but I had will, force to push through, every day. The two of us (my daughter and I) would just make it to five o'clock. We'd go to baby swim class Monday, playdate Tuesday, mama & baby gym Wednesday, etc. Then I'd have dinner to prepare to have on the table by the time my husband was back. And then he could relieve me some, and there was a new energy in the house. After that there was bedtime and if I was lucky, some time for me to sit on the couch next to my husband.

Then last summer, as she turned one, we all went to a small village in the Greek islands, for simple peaceful living. It was a struggle for me at first. To give up my control with our daughter. Then the couple of hours I got to myself here and there began to rejuvenate me. I started letting go more; I recovered some. I became more in love with life as a whole, and with my husband too.

As we came back to the US last fall, I was still flying on that built up reserve for a while as my husband and I set out for split days of writing and "shared" child care. By January, I felt depleted. Still nursing every hour during night, I was driving through red stop signs and couldn't think clearly during my work time, especially if it was in the afternoon. I started nighttime weaning then, encouraged by a friend who told me about another friend of hers who'd weaned while bedsharing (like we do) and thus still providing comfort that way. It worked, but it has been an on and off process till now; whenever there's a trip somewhere else or illness in the house, we're back to frequent nighttime nursing for comfort. And then after that, it's on again, the weaning process, telling her the boobs get so tired, they need to sleep, but then they'll be so happy to see her again in the morning.

So I'm tired. So tired of being my daughter's mom. I crave a break from it all. Or even just an adult date. My husband and I have had just three dinner dates so far, over two years in time, the first last fall when his mom came out to visit, then this past spring break when we visited her, and then again this spring for my birthday, when our daughter was with a good friend of mine that I child swap with (since this past spring) on Tuesdays and Thursdays so we each can go to yoga (none of us have been in six weeks though, because first illness hit our home, then hers).

So now I've made sure we have things to keep us busy every day this summer. But of course, it's all in the mornings since afternoons are so unpredictable (when, if, will the nap happen? and for how long will it happen if it does happen?). So I still find myself entering summer dreading it somehow while I found myself indulging in it more last summer (true then too, I remember that the long evenings with her got tedious; but we were in Greece, everyone let their kids be up, it was social and interactive every night). Even if we're now we're liberated from the Midwest's winter hibernation, the going can get tough.


  1. OMG, we have all been there, Anne! I empathize with you so much. It is totally normal for the days to feel long and exhausting. They feel that way when you have weaned the child and she sleeps on a schedule of nap at 1 p.m. and bedtime in her own crib at 7 so you can get some sanity in your life, let alone if you're still nursing, night nursing, bedsharing, etc.! (I'm not saying any of those things are wrong, I'm just saying they inarguably make parenting much more physically tiring. I am very pro-nursing as you know, and nursed both my girls until they self-weaned at 16 months and 19 months respectively.) If you have any interest at all in reading about how to get her on a consistent nap schedule in a reasonable way, let me know and I'll lend you my "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" book by Marc Weissbluth. Saved our life! (It is a bit dense and hard to get through, but he does have chapters and summaries specific to particular ages, situations, parental wishes, etc. It's not all about just letting her cry.)

    Good luck! It WILL change, and get easier. Really!

  2. Have you considered trying to let go of the daytime nap at all? It might make the afternoon longer, but at least the frustration when she won't sleep won't be there. And then maybe going to bed at night might be easier, if she is more tired? That's what we eventually had to do with our son, and it made a huge difference.
    Good luck, sleep issues are difficult.

  3. Thank you both for your comments! I really appreciate your thoughts and comments.

    Shan: the being-in-the-same-boat-kind-of-thing is somewhat reassuring! Also, I do have a copy of that book. But the "no cry" strategies haven't worked for us and we can't bring ourselves to pursue the "some cry" or "let cry" routes.

    and Lise: we have tried to let go of the daytime nap, but she'll either 1) crash around 4 or 5 and then wake up around 9 or 10 and not want to go back to sleep. or 2) if we're able to keep her up till later, she'll still wake up in the middle of the night and be up for a while. or 3) she'll be able to stay up till bedtime and sleep through the night but will seem either really tired and out of it, or be exceedingly cranky and whiny. But maybe dropping the nap sooner rather than later will be the solution for us.

  4. I agree with Shan that once Lilly is sleeping through the nights and weaned, your Greek island luminosity and physical strength should rebound a lot. That said, I honestly think vampire myths might have been started by the mothers of toddlers. The little dears just suck the life energy right out of you. And even with a kid who sleeps through the night and long since gave up breastfeeding, I still collapse exhausted into bed most nights.

    I really liked Po Bronson's Nurtureshock and I think that's where I read recently that since parents are having kids much later (used to be in the teens, then the twenties, now a lot of us are in our 30s or even 40s), we're bringing different things to parenthood. Older parents have a harder time chasing toddlers to keep them from running out into the street. And we've got full, rich lives and often stable relationships and rewarding careers. This makes us less willing to drop everything and just play with clay than we might have been at the age of 23. On the other hand, or so the author pointed out, once the kids get a little older and less physical chasing is required, older parents have a lot to give. In terms of stability and wisdom and balance and so on. The author thought that older parents might have an easier time after the kids were a bit older. I think he's onto something.

    One thing that will help you as Lilly goes from 2 to 3 is that she will really wake up to playing WITH other kids instead of side-by-side with them. This will take some of the onus off you. She will also learn (slowly!) to be more self-entertaining as the full scope of her imagination comes online. This will also take some of the burden off you as she will get lost more fully in her own creative play. Keep encouraging her to play on her own and pushing her limits as much as you're both comfortable with. It starts with 2 minutes of self-entertaining play and you can see how it really blooms as they get a little older. Soon enough she'll be telling you to leave her alone and quit bugging her, "you're not playing it right, Mama!"

    And definitely try to fix the sleep thing so that you feel good about it. Just keep trying stuff. Something will turn out to be the right answer for you. Maybe a set nap time and a relaxing hour before it? Maybe even a warm bath? For us it helped to have a rule that he had to spend one hour in the bed whether or not he fell asleep. Then he saw that he wasn't missing out on any fun, he might as well go to sleep because it made the hour pass faster. That's Sleep Rule number one for him. No getting out of bed until his one-hour nap is over. He still sometimes aborts the nap and then we put him to bed an hour early that night. But mostly his naps are in a good place with a very routine 30 minute wind-down and go to sleep routine beforehand.

    One thing I also did was stop nursing him to sleep. I nursed him all the time, but never in the 1/2 hour before sleep. That way he had to learn to go to sleep without the milk. Separating the two things really helped him learn to fall asleep.

    The main thing is that you have to look after yourself. You are a person, too. And if you crumble to dust from exhaustion and boredom, Lilly loses out on the full wonder and force of nature that *should* be her mother. Don't put her first. It's like how on the plane they say put on your own oxygen mask first and then help your child get hers on. Because if you pass out, there will be no one to put the kid's on. Look out for the health and happiness of the mother first. The child's well-being will follow naturally.

    And don't be hard on yourself. This is a ridiculously difficult job.



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