Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The emotional electric bull of my past 24 hours

Everyone will no doubt be familiar with the phrase, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but do you know the second half of this phrase: "When life gives you sleep deprivation..."?

No? Darn, I hoped there might be an answer...

My return to work is now less than three weeks away, and I think I must internally be starting to feel the stress and sadness that it will bring. There are lots of things that are really good about my going back to work, but I know it may take a lot of energy and effort to get used to a new routine, and I'm going to be as sad to leave Noah at nursery - at least for that first day - as I was when I left Blake back in January 2009. It will be strange to get back into that whole "corporate world" - the lingo, the politics (and required diplomacy), the clothing that ought not to be covered in baby food or puke...

The last time I met with my manager back in September, we discussed briefly the "conflicting priorities" that our company was feeling related to doing our best to keep our clients happy, attempt to increase revenue, and stay ahead of our competion. This morning at 5:00 I had a real sense of priority conflict, and it made me think a lot today about what it is that makes having a non-sleeping-through-the-night baby just so hard.

In the summer of 2007, when I first got pregnant with Blake, I wish someone had said this to me: "Why don't you just know this now, that you may not sleep well or properly for the next 5 years" (they would have had to have been slightly omniscient to know about Noah as well, but anyway), then I actually think my whole attitude to sleep or the lack of it would be very different. Not just, Oh, you're going to sleep badly when pregnant, and then when the baby comes, but also, And possibly for the rest of your life, when your child is under your roof and then when they're out in the wide world. I am actually pretty good at functioning - or at least getting by - on what might be considered by many to be "little" sleep. I certainly don't often get 8 hours a night, as recommended by those folks who also recommend eating 5 a day (does wine count?!), or getting your heart rate above a certain level several times a week (sprinting to make sure that Blake applies his brake - aka his foot on the sidewalk - when on his scooter as he approaches an intersection...I must do that at least 6 times a week!). If I remember I buy moisturiser with sunscreen, and I do floss regularly, but staying up late has always kind of been my Achilles Heel (in that staying up late does not actually equate to being good on not enough sleep, and that situation of illusion not matching up with reality equals a problem in my "I am Superhero" mind).

Since taking away Noah's pacifier, he has, as I've mentioned, had some really good nights. He has also had some pretty normal ones, too, and it's also that going backwards after doing really well that is really really difficult. One of the challenges now is, of course (duh!), how to get him back to sleep without his dummy, and perhaps problematically, in the middle of the night, or at least when it's dark, the only thing that really seems to do that effectively is a bottle. Now, this is an issue (or is it?); we've basically just replaced the pacifier with a bottle, and that's surely not the direction we want to be heading. After some pretty agonizing nights/pre-dawn hellish hours over the weekend, Matt and I agreed that making decisions in the middle of the night is not a good thing (hear hear!), and that we would agree a plan, and a backup plan, before we both went to bed. Two nights ago Noah woke up sometime around 5:00-something, and I basically didn't think I should feed him so I attempted to "hold him back to sleep". I put that in quotes because if you can use your imagination, there is nothing in what actually happened that would relate to that description; what in fact happened was that I tried to basically wrestle a screeching, arching, twisting, screaming, kicking, writhing twenty-pound child into lying contentedly in my loving, welcoming motherly arms. I just had a thought - should I give it a name and patent it in case someone decides that it would be a very popular and effective exercise class for building and toning arm strength? Now coming to a gym near you: BabyWrestle! Maybe that's my winning lottery ticket right there....
So, two nights ago, this finally worked. Noah would do all this extremely energetic and angry-sounding activity, to then sort of kind of fall into a sleep. At about the time of restored slumber, Matt had to get up for work, so it was kind of a pyrrhic victory [get me with my second greco-roman reference, my Latin teacher parents surely will be proud!]. I also maybe had another half an hour sleep. The plan, then for last night was that if Noah woke once, I would give him a bottle; if we woke again, and couldn't get him to go back to sleep in his cot within a matter of minutes, I would take him downstairs and try to get him back to sleep, and at least the volume wouldn't be as intense for Matt, and possibly Blake. Matt and I were both pretty knackered last night - which was exacerbated by the somewhat unusual situation of Noah not actually just going right to sleep after his evening bottle, such that we just had to leave him to cry himself to sleep - so went to bed around 10:00pm, and Noah woke after about 5 hours, around 12:45. I went and made a bottle, which he sucked down, and then he next woke at about 5:15. I tried feebly to shush him in his cot, but it was clear that wasn't going to work very well, so I brought him down to the couch where he began his acrobatics.

I definitely don't - and Matt corroborates this - remember Blake ever being just as LOUD as Noah is, but I guess we never really even let Blake do much crying in the way that we have let Noah do. I am quite fearful of the projected decibel levels of Noah's Terrible Two's though. He also has been through the wars in a way I don't remember with Blake; he seems to try to stand up a lot more in his cot and slip and bang his face or head on the cot slats. It's really awful to witness (and hear through the wall between our bed and his cot), and today he was sporting a little bruise on his forehead. [I am not sure how I feel about using smiley faces in my writing, but if I were to use them, I would put a sad face in now].

But back to conflicting priorities, which is I think the crux of the issue. As I was sitting on the couch, I was saying out loud, very softly, "Shhhh, Noah, shhhhhh, it's sleepy time...shhhhh, it's ok, Mommy's here, shhhh, hey, hey, calm down...shhhh" but inside my head, I was basically thinking, "This is so f**ing unfair, I am person too, and I have rights and one of those rights is sleep, and why oh why can you just not calm down and please just go back to sleep so that all will be right with the world." Immediately my next thought - internal again - was "You selfish woman, he's just a baby and he's clearly not happy and how can you think of yourself first when you've got to be stronger than that and it's your duty and obligation to make him stop crying and what if he's teething and you're not comforting him?!" And so on...
Finally after about half an hour I decided I had had enough and went and made a bottle. After he had it though, he refused to be put down in his cot. I screamed silently - but so emphatically that it basically hurt around my mouth and I thought later to myself that I probably looked like Edvard Munch's The Scream and laughed about what would happen if my face got frozen in that position. It was the ponderings and the laughter of a very tired woman...

Conveniently, by this point it was now after 6:00 and Blake had been woken up and had trotted into our bedroom to climb into our bed with Matt. As Matt was going to be waking up soon, I basically just took Noah into Blake's bed with me, where Noah promptly fell asleep.
At some point in my dream I heard Blake saying something about a "nice surprise" and "Mommy? Where are you?" and after he'd said it a few times in my dream, I realised he was saying it in reality, and that he was very confused about where I was, and uncertain of why I would be in the darkness of his bedroom in his bed as opposed to my own bed where I normally am in the morning. His phrase of the week is "Close your eyes, I've got a nice surprise" which means he has successfully done a wee in the potty and is coming to show me the potty's removable plastic insert and its contents. And no, that's not lemonade in there...I'm just waiting for him to drop it on the carpet! It was 6:47, so Noah and I had probably been asleep for another 30 minutes or so, but when I tried to move him into his cot, he just woke up, and that was it for the day.
I can't exactly quantify how irritable I was in the morning, but it was pretty bad. Although I normally ascribe to the theory that children are God's gift sent down to make the world a better place (or some other similarly nice thought), I decided today that in fact they are small minions sent out by private mental health institutions to increase self-admissions (and subsequently, revenue) by overtired mothers. I happened to be in Victoria Station, and to prove just how weak I was feeling, I succumbed to the temptation of a chocolate glazed Krispy Kreme donut. I knew I was really tired then, but man, was it tasty!

Where was I going with this? Ah yes, conflicting priorities, I've kind of covered (me being a tired person and feeling like that's not fair), and another one which I only briefly mentioned: expectation-setting. If you've been a new parent in modern times, you will have probably consulted one if not dozens of books, websites, friends, family members, medical professionals, Big Issue salesmen (ok, not done that), about how to get a child to sleep through the night. And here again is where I think if I could just be a little less of a result-driven perfectionist, life would be better. Rather than, why the h&ll is he still not sleeping through the night when he should be?, I could think, Wow, he slept for a 5-hour stretch and then another 4 hours - that's good! But no, that's not the way I see it at the moment. Shame on me...

There was an article yesterday which made me smile, about a recent NetMums study that talked about mothers telling "white lies" about things like how much tv their kids watch, what they eat, etc, all to put on a good show to the other mothers. You can read it here if you're interested. Although I actually don't think I fit in line with what they report (I'll be pretty honest to any mothers I talk to that Blake has spent a lot of the last 9 months watching "too much" tv, and well, I don't really think it's a secret by looking at me that I'm a far from perfect person and mother!), I loved this which I read in another article that was linked to the NetMums study one: "When I was feeling overwhelmed by life (kids, work, whatever), I'd plaster a smile on my face and tell the world I was "fine". (I've since learned that, in counsellor-speak, "F.I.N.E." means fed-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional)." Brilliant.
Tonight we go to bed unsure of what the night will bring. It will probably bring a wake-up or two, but I'm going to try to be a haven of peace, calm, and hippy relaxation techniques. What I will actually feel at 3:29 or 5:48 am may not quite match up with that.

But if you see me around and wonder why I'm grinning when I say I'm "fine", you'll know what I mean. Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up not only on the right side of the bed, but it will be my own bed to boot. And whatever you do, beware not of Greeks bearing gifts, but of toddlers bearing lemonade. It might not be the nice surprise you're looking for!

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