A night

Fall in Flagstaff, Arizona

At night I am the mother I want to be.

Nighttime has always been for just us, Olive and I.

In the beginning, when she was small, Adam would offer to take over some of the night feedings and give her a bottle so I could sleep. But he had to get up and go to work the next day whereas I could nap, and really I never minded, anyway. She wasn’t usually upset when she woke. I’d nurse her in the dim light, then sit her on my stomach with her back against my propped up knees, and we’d look at each other. My daughter and I.

She would coo and babble, I’d make faces and talk to her. I don’t remember what I used to say – perhaps I’d tell her about our plans for the next day, or discuss the one that had just slipped away.

She was so wobbly, and small. Solid, but not really present in the way she is now.

It’s been ages since she needed me like that at night. Long enough that I miss it sometimes. Every so often now she will wake up asking for water, or she’ll have a bad dream. I’ll follow the sound of her small voice into her bedroom, peering through the dark to find the shape of her lost in the huge expanse of twin bed.

At night I am patient. I never say “Just a minute” or “In a moment please, Olive! Wait!“. At night she is softly edged and hot with sleep. I get her the water, or brush away the last shreds of the nightmare, and I lie down next to her, tracing circles on her back until she falls asleep.

At night I have had a few hours to myself. A few hours of silence and order. I’ve spilled some words onto the page. At night I am the mother I thought I would be.

I murmur comforting things and my voice doesn’t have the edge that it sometimes can during the daylight hours. Time seems to move slower, and we do too. I have time to look at her, really look, because’s she’s finally staying still long enough for me to take it all in. The changing shape of her face, her wild hair. How she is starting to lose her baby fat and stretch taller. Sometimes she falls right back into sleep with those deep wave-like breaths that seem to be coming from somewhere else entirely, but other times we just lay there and look at each other, my daughter and I.

These days, she looks back. And when I talk to her in the dim of night, she talks back, too. We plan our tomorrow together, debating between playground visits or library trips. Sometimes she tells me what she has been dreaming about. Sometimes a hot little hand will cup my cheek and she’ll say “Love you, mummy”

In the beginning, special as they were, these interrupted nights drained me of everything I had. There is no other exhaustion like that of a new mother. It takes you to the brink in every way imaginable, and the next day everything becomes exponentially harder without a bolster of sleep to fuel your efforts.

It’s so different now. I don’t spend hours awake while what seems like the whole world sleeps. I don’t have to pace the halls, arms aching. I don’t sit in the rocking chair for hours staring at the moonlight shifting on her cheeks.

Now, because they are so infrequent and so fleeting, these rare nights fuel me. It is so fulfilling to be needed in such a simple way. The answers are easy:  Water. Back rubs. I don’t have to think on my feet and anticipate tantrums, coerce and bribe and attempt to find reason where there is no reason to be had. At night I am, and always have been, the alpha and the omega. Life begins and ends within this warm sleepy circle, lit with the light from the hall.

These nights reassure me that the mother I thought I would be is still here, somewhere. Even if I can only find her at night.

A day.

13. The Fall of Acadia

Sometimes you have days. Shitty ones. And sometimes the days aren’t even whole days, they’re just mornings, which is even shittier because how have you managed to get yourself into this state before noon?!

Sometimes those mornings look like waking up too early after staying  up until 4am because you finally discovered what all the fuss about Downton Abbey was really about (oh my god. Seriously. Why did I wait so long? Why did I watch the first episode at midnight? Why does netflix just automatically play the next one so you’re sitting there barely conscious but thinking, “Well at this point it would take more effort to not watch it…”)

The Downton-night came on the heels of a fight with your lovely husband, who neglected to tell you about a work dinner he had to attend after working all day, but you both know that “work dinner” means “work dinner, and then drinks, and then a pub, and then a bar, and don’t wait up, ok?” After a long day of talking to a tiny creature all day- for what feels like every second of the day- you kind of wanted to be heard. You wanted someone to listen to you, and understand. To appreciate your wit and laugh at your stories, and not ask you to talk in a Minnie Mouse voice. It wasn’t the end of the world that last night was not that night, but it felt like it. At the time.

Overreaction, might be an appropriate term. If an understated one.

But this morning starts well enough, aside from the self-induced fatigue – but you have no one but yourself to blame for that. You go and cuddle a deliciously newborn baby and suddenly your baby doesn’t seem so baby anymore. The gap between this life – the toddler one – and the hazy, warm, milky newborn days seems to yawn so wide it’s almost unrecognizable. You sit there with your arm gently aching under the sweet 7 pound weight and you think, Do I miss this? Do I even remember this?

Then it’s time to leave and the toddler starts screaming just as you walk out the door, and you grab her and run like some kind of crazed lunatic who has made the terrible decision to shoplift a small child – and you hope her shrieks won’t have woken the little one. Next on the list is grocery shopping so you swing by your house to get grocery bags and as you come in you realize that don’t hear your dog’s telltale woofing. On a hunch you walk into your bedroom and catch him mid-sneak as he tries to slither off your bed. With it’s freshly washed sheets. White sheets. Well, they were white, anyway.

Fuck that dog, you think. And for a moment you honestly loathe him because at this precise moment dog ownership just feels like backyards full of shit and floors coated in dog hair (HOW IS THERE SO MUCH? HOW IS HE NOT BALD?) and white sheets that are now stained with drool and muck and god knows what else. Again.

When you are done scolding the dog and feeling like a terrible person for hating your dog, you get the bags and go to the car, where the toddler has now removed her shoes and socks again and then on the way to the grocery store she wants music- but not the radio, she wants you to sing “Itsy Bitsy Fider” over and over and over again (where did she even hear that song?)

When you are done, and you say no more after the fifteenth round, she loses her mind, like, LOSES it. And you think to yourself, No. No, I am not bringing this shit show to the grocery store where I will spend eleven aisles placating and negotiating and pleading with her to please keep her shoes on, PLEASE while the childless and aged judge with cold eyes. No.

So you decide you will go grocery shopping tonight, because thank god that these modern soulless food warehouse are open until 11pm. And how pathetic that the thought of grocery shopping alone at 11pm sounds so blissful right then. But now the Downton-induced exhaustion is setting in and you decide that a coffee shop drive through is needed. The drive-throughs that you always scorn (Don’t we even have time to go in and get our own coffees anymore?) and insist on spelling out the proper way (don’t we even have time to spell properly anymore?) You order a ridiculously overpriced London Fog made with peppermint tea (the best, the BEST) but as you take a sip at the first light you realize it is not, in fact, peppermint tea. They made a mistake.

But you can’t get angry about it, you know? It’s too ridiculous. You refuse to complete that thought or fit neatly into this stereotype. Because right now your whole life is a cliche. The tantruming toddler and the children’s music and the white stay-at-home-mom crying because the drive-through got her tea wrong.

*****

On days like this what you want to do is go home and find something, anything to occupy your toddler while you crawl under your covers with your wrong tea and finish every single last one of that fantastic TV show you are finally watching two years after everyone else has. But you shouldn’t do that, because it will only make you feel more like shit.

Here’s what you do. You sit down and compose an utterly nonsensical and rambling (yet cathartic, so very cathartic) blog post entirely in the third person (because then it seems less whiny? less ridiculous? more likely that someone will say “Me too”?)

Read over it once to correct the most egregious of your typos, and realize how small it sounds, how petty.

Hit publish anyway, and then go get your shit together.

Wash your sheets. Again. Scour your house from top to bottom. Get every last sock and towel washed and dried. Clean out the fridge (finally). Make meal plans for your late-night shopping trip. Maybe ignore your toddler a little bit,  just a little, so you can throw off this mood with the sheer force of your getting-shit-done-ness.

Do all of this while ignoring your menstrual cramps. Ignore the horrid feeling of the word “menstrual”. Swallow your pills. Make lists. Vacuum dog hair. Take out the compost. Apologize to your husband.

Buck the cliche. try to feel different.

Try to feel better.

Conversations with Adam

Me: I was thinking of handing out raisins for Halloween this year.

Adam: Madeleine.

Me: I KNOW. I know.

Adam: Madeleine. No. We can not be the raisin people.

Me: I KNOW but what’s the alternative? A million plastic-wrapped chocolate bars? Here kids, have some GMO-Diabeetus-Landfill- treats!

Adam: It’s our first Halloween in this house. We are not going to be the raisin people.

Me: Ok, Pencils? Oranges? What are our other options?

Adam: I don’t care. But I’m putting my foot down. We are not raisin people, dammit!

Onwards

If you follow me on any sort of social media channel, you will have no doubt noticed (and perhaps eye-rolled) my continuing saga of “I think Olive is giving up her naps what is happening she’s only two make it stop I need the nap I NEED it!”

The debate, is over. I can’t deny it anymore, I think it’s time for acceptance.

Here are the facts: I can get her to nap, but it doesn’t happen until around 6.5 hours after she wakes up, instead of 5 hours after like it did in the good old days. It then takes 30-45 minutes of book reading and cuddling and general urgings to please for the love of god sleep child! Then, then she will sleep for around 2 hours and that’s great, except then she’s good to go for another 6.5 hours. But because her nap time is being pushed back, everything else follows suit and her bedtime was being pushed back about 2 hours every day. Plus I was losing the 45 minutes of getting her to nap. So, the time gained by napping was being negated anyway, you know what I mean?

(Parents: nodding. Non-parents: Bewildered expressions and shrugging.)

So for a while now we have been experimenting with no nap. And, it’s not terrible. She doesn’t seem to miss it, bedtime is a million times easier (she falls asleep mid-book, rather than after many, many, many minutes of back rubs and songs and lying with her in the dark.) She sleeps 13 hours at night now instead of 12, and when we have days where we are out and about, I admit, it is nice to just carry on, rather than experience the panic of looking at your watch and realizing “Oh shit! We need to get home so she can nap.”

I am trying to encourage quiet time in her room instead, because that’s the hard part of this whole equation. Without that 1-2 hour block of silence in the middle of the day, I am literally talking, and being talked to, for twelve hours straight. Questions. Instructions. Explanations. Voices for her stuffed animals Ralph, and Grey-y, her He-Man action figure, and her puppet, Seal. It’s non-stop. And lovely, of course. Ha! Fantastic! She’s so verbal and it’s great. Really. Charming, actually.

And also? Insane-making? Because it doesn’t stop? Ever? EVER.

Recently we’ve been talking about emotions. I’ve been trying to name them for her as I experience them so she can recognize them, and perhaps begin to do the same and express her emotions verbally like a human being instead of just angrily flinging objects at me like a tiny primate.

What this means is that I now have a tiny person peering in my face all day asking “Mummy happy?” at the slightest hint of a smile, and “Mummy sad?” when I take my medication, and recently in the produce market when I told her sternly that she was to keep her shoes ON, she asked, and then repeated about eleventy-nine times “Mummy frustrated? Mummy frustrated? Mummy FRUSTRATED?” on and on and on no matter how many times I answered, until everyone in the store was forced to look over at us and bear witness to the barefoot toddler and FRUSTRATED mummy.

The timing is interesting because not only was I under the assumption that kids napped until three or four (am I insane? Is this real, or just something I made up?) this is also my first month writing for Earth911, and I am still getting used to juggling this new workload. Nap time was my chunk of time in the middle of the day to sit, work on new posts, follow-up on emails, and just generally get things sorted out during regular business hours. I still have that time, but it’s at 9pm now, after Olive is asleep and I’m done cleaning up from our day. So it just requires a bit more planning and organization from me, and also some time snuck in fifteen minute increments here and there throughout the day.

I would like to point out, however, that I have no one but myself to blame for this recent turn of events. This is karma, pure and simple.

In Olive’s six-month update, I – idiot that I am- wrote this:

So basically naps=horrible and I might be the only mom ever to be counting down the days until she only has 2. Or 1. or NONE! Then we can hang out all day without this hell.

Ha! Hahaha! Hang out all day! 

HahahahahahHAHAHAHAHa. Oh my god, I was insane. That is a first-time mother, right there.

In all honestly, I’m OK.  I am relieved that bedtimes are so much simpler, I think it might be really cool to be able to take her out for full day excursions now – I mean without diapers or naps we are just two free and easy ladies ready to take on the town! All day museum visits, hours-long art gallery excursions….look out world, here we come!

(But also:  Dear Olive, if you ever decide that this whole staying-awake-for-twelve-hours-at-a-time thing is for chumps you just let me know and I can totally arrange a return to naps. No problem. No problem at all.
Love, Happy Mummy)