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Sleep Is for the Weak
The Best of the Mommybloggers Including Amalah, Finslippy, Fussy, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, Mom-101, and More
By Rita Arens
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2008 Rita Arens
All rights reserved.
Not Understanding the Rules
Whether or not we realize it, there are rules involved with being a parent. rules for how we'll discipline our kids, rules for how we'll behave in front of them, rules for how we'll interact with other adults, childless or childful. You think you understand them until that's your adorable offspring throwing a tantrum in a crowded restaurant, your child begging for candy in the checkout line, your best friend who's suddenly furious you canceled a dinner date with her because you haven't slept more than two hours a night in three weeks. It's only then that you realize: you never really understood the rules before.
WHEN TODDLERS RULE
Alice Bradley FINSLIPPY
Dear prospective parent,
Thank you for considering parenting me. As my current situation is somewhat wanting, I am, as you know, looking for a new arrangement. Below is a list of my demands.
1. For BREAKFAST, there will be only MILK from my SIPPY CUP while watching TELEVISION (see section II).
2. From BREAKFAST until what you probably call LUNCH, I will be provided with an unending supply of cookies. No arguments.
3. For LUNCH, I will eat YOGURT. Anything with FRUIT ON THE BOTTOM will make me pick out the fruit and throw it on the ground, or else throw it up on your carpet.
a. So no FRUIT ON THE BOTTOM.
4. From LUNCH until DINNER, I enjoy having something to lick. Why not a LOLLIPOP? Why not seven?
a. Between licks, I may place the LOLLIPOP upon your grandmother's Turkish rug. This will be OK by you.
5. For DINNER, I will have MACARONI AND CHEESE. Any attempts to offer me vegetables in addition to the macaroni and cheese will result in TEARS.
a. And don't you dare hide anything in the cheese sauce, because my God, how you will RUE THE DAY.
6. After dinner, you may provide me with ICE CREAM.
a. No frozen yogurt — I know the DIFFERENCE.
1. Will be on ALL THE TIME, unless I say differently. While watching TELEVISION, you are to sit by my side, quietly, hands folded in lap, whilst I enjoy my shows.
a. You may arise to fetch me a SNACK or a DRINK.
2. No DIAPER CHANGING or PLEAS TO ENGAGE IN PHYSICAL ACTIVITY will be tolerated during the watching of the TELEVISION.
3. Turning off of the TELEVISION will result in much SCREAMING.
1. There will be many.
a. They will always be strewn about the house so that I may simply reach down and pick up a toy, no matter where I am.
b. They will be loud, complicated, and contain many small bits. I enjoy the SHOOTING NOISES that go w-shooooop or zim zim zim.
c. Nothing that results in LEARNING, please.
1. Should be available should I be in the mood to use someone else's TOYS or ingest someone else's COOKIES.
a. They may not ever so much as look at my toys or cookie supply.
b. Ever, ever, ever.
1. Is when I say, where I say, and how I say. If I want to sleep UPSIDE DOWN with my legs locked around your neck, then that's how it will be.
a. And you will enjoy it.
1. Occasionally I enjoy being hugged and kissed. I stress OCCASIONALLY.
2. I will not be pelted with wet-mouthed assaults on an hourly basis. Should you feel the need to HUG or KISS, you must provide me with a written request, and then wait for me to offer you my pudgy cheeks.
3. Should I feel the need to be HUGGED and KISSED or SERENADED by my original "parents," I reserve the right to call them and have them come over, just for the HUGGING and the KISSING and maybe a SONG.
a. After that, it's vamoose, bozos, you had your chance.
THE THINGS THEY NEVER TOLD ME
Izzy Dean IZZYMOM
On numerous occasions in the past six years, I have pondered the curious nature of the clubs to which I now belong, which are the parenthood club and the motherhood club. I'm not even really sure that "club" is the right word. Maybe "secret society" is more befitting. I say that because until you join these clubs, there are things that you will not know and that nobody will ever dare tell you.
For example, when you ask someone how they are enjoying their new status as a parent or how they like having a new baby, they never ever tell you that it's ass-kickingly hard work and that you will never, ever own your life again, or that you will be dead tired for the first year, particularly if you're the mother. No, they tell you all the good stuff. It's wonderful. They're so fulfilled. They can't imagine their lives without their child. It's all good! And then they start working on you to join the club.
Now, I'm not saying that all those good things about parenthood aren't 100 percent true for me. They are. But honestly, it's kind of like false advertising to not share some of the downsides if someone is asking you about it. But they never do! And it's not just limited to the experience of having a new baby. Nooooooo! They hold out on all sorts of important things that would have helped me immensely.
An example? OK, how about hemorrhoids? I mean, sure, they briefly mention the H word in that book that everyone gets when she's pregnant for the first time. But nobody tells you the cold, hard truth about them, which is that once you have them, it's entirely possible they'll never go away.
Nor do they tell you that if your husband is at your side during delivery he might actually see you get your hemorrhoids. Yeah, I know, it's really funny when it's not you! But see, that's what happened to me. And then a nurse counted them for me. "You have one, two, three, four little hemis!" My God, she made them sound so darn cute. But seventeen months later? They're not so cute, and I've pretty much given up all hope of those adorable little guys ever vacating my utterly humiliated butt.
See, they make you think they're gone, and then one day you're very innocently doing your business without any excessive pushing (because I'm now well trained in how not to poop), and you feel that familiar prickly sensation and you know they never really left.
As if the "hemis" weren't bad enough, there's the whole incontinence issue. Seriously, I have never, ever been told or even gotten the impression that pushing out a baby is going to very possibly make you leak pee for the rest of your life whenever you sneeze, cough, get up off the floor too quickly, or jump on a trampoline. Nobody tells you that!
I honestly thought that all those Serenity and Poise pad commercials were for senior citizens, and I'd be all, "Why do they have these attractive young women in the commercials? That's so stupid!" Seriously, I thought that shit was for old people.
Well, let me tell you, long after being discharged from the hospital, months later in fact, I was still buying Poise pads by the damn case, and I frequently considered how my fellow club members never uttered a word about this. Now, to be fair, maybe they had normal labors (mine was thirty-six hours) and pushed for less time (I pushed for almost three hours) and delivered smaller babies (I gave birth to a toddler) and didn't experience the hemis and incontinence. But still, someone out there knew about this and didn't tell me!
But honestly, I think the worst half-truth of all, a veritable lie of omission, is the notion perpetuated by nearly everyone that you will have a baby, get a touch of the "baby blues," get over it, and be blissfully happy forever thereafter. That's the biggest load of shit ever, and frankly, it gives me chills to think of how brutal real post-partum depression actually is.
I suffered from it with my first child, and all I can say is "Baby blues, my ass." There is nothing in the world that could have prepared me for what lay ahead as I went about the business of getting ready for my baby to be born. I was blissfully ignorant of PPD and all the other things that nobody tells you about.
Christ on a crutch, why didn't anyone tell me a baby could scream for more than six hours solid without so much as a thirty-second intermission?
I would call our pediatrician, and he would say, "Babies cry. They all have a fussy time in the evening." And I would growl into the phone, "But it's freaking two in the afternoon!"
My mother-in-law would tell all her church circle friends about the screaming, and of course they all had the miracle solution that was going to keep me from walking in front of a bus and cure the colic.
Let's see, there was the "football hold" that made me feel like the screaming baby would just roll right off my arm on to the floor and scream even more when she cracked her head open. Pass.
And the colic "gripe water" that we drove forty-five minutes to go buy. It smelled like pickle juice! I hate pickles! No wonder the baby gagged when I tried to give her even the teensiest bit of it. Pass.
Oh, and I can't forget the time my husband and I were strolling with the screaming baby, hoping the motion would lull her to sleep. It didn't. She howled and screeched the entire time, and it was so damned loud, such an unholy racket, that this kindly old lady came out of her house and approached us to "see if the baby was OK."
No. She's mortally wounded, but we thought we'd take a quick cruise around the block before taking her to the ER.
But seriously, I think if the nice old lady had offered to take the baby for an hour or two, I would have handed her over immediately.
Because of PPD-related insomnia, I spent my nights rocking the baby and sobbing, wondering why on earth I had thought this whole thing was a good idea. I really felt duped, like I was the butt of some cosmic joke where everyone in the known universe agreed to not tell me that real babies are never like the ones in Gerber commercials and the moms are never as happy as they are on TV. Ha ha. Not funny.
I was convinced that the baby cried so much because of me. That I was a bad mother, that I was ill-prepared, that something I was doing or not doing was the cause of all our problems. It didn't help that the pediatrician said my daughter cried because she sensed my nervousness — to which I would reply that I wouldn't be so nervous if she didn't cry so much.
Either way, I just hated life so much. I did not, however, hate the baby. I loved her. I knew I loved her. But I have to confess that it was so frightening and devastating to not be able to "feel" it. I knew it was there, and I was always reaching inside myself to try to grasp it. But the depression just numbed my spirit so much, I couldn't.
And I also feared I would shake her because of the colicky crying. On more than one occasion, I would walk across the house with my arms outstretched in front of me, taut and unbending so I couldn't move them, and carry her to her crib. I knew she would be safe in there while I tried to compose myself and quell the volcano of emotions I knew were on the verge of erupting if I didn't get a grip.
It wasn't just anger, though. It was hopelessness, evidenced by the day my husband came home to find me crying in an inconsolable heap on the floor. Another day I went to a childhood resource center and begged them to help me as I sobbed uncontrollably in their doorway.
Perhaps now you can understand why I feel it's unconscionable to downplay the "baby blues." And colic. My God, anyone who says colic is just an upset tummy should be publicly flogged. That was one of the worst experiences of my life, and I'll be damned if it was because of an "upset tummy."
But take heart — my story of maternal ignorance and woe does get better.
You see, four months into my hellish experience known as early motherhood, another pediatrician suggested we try my daughter on some Zantac for acid reflux. Wonder of wonders, it worked. Within a couple weeks, she was a different child. The screaming was reduced to a normal level, and I was finally able to stop Googling "incessant crying" and "baby screams like a feral cat" in search of clues for what was wrong with her.
Not long after that, she started to sleep through the night, and very slowly my depression started to lift until one day I woke up and realized I felt hopeful again. The future might actually be good. Most importantly, I felt the love, the love I knew was there all along.
These days, when I discuss being a parent with someone who is expecting or trying to get pregnant, I'm always brutally honest about the harder aspects of having a child. The great irony of it all is that nobody really wants to hear it. And in my heart of hearts, I can't blame them at all. Ignorance really is bliss.
VACATIONING WITH CHILDLESS PEOPLE
Rita Arens SURRENDER, DOROTHY
This afternoon I will pack up the little angel, my suitcase, my beloved's suitcase, the little angel's suitcase, the little angel's inflatable bed, pillows for everyone, Tad the Singing Frog, Sluggerrr, books, coloring books, stickers, toys, an inflatable swimming pool, sixty-four bottles of water, and various other accoutrements to pick up my beloved and join six friends, two of them single and childless, for a weekend at a lake.
It's supposed to be sixty-two degrees and raining on Saturday. A good time to review the rules for vacationing with childless people.
I will remove all the batteries from the toys that make noise.
I will bring a protective sheet for the table, and washable crayons.
I will bring a portable DVD player so the main television is not taken over by Thomas, Nemo, or any other celebrity-voiced, animated character.
I will put all used diapers in a trash can outside. I will resist the urge to change the little angel's poopy diaper in front of other people, especially if they are eating.
I will not discuss my child's bodily functions.
I will have at least one conversation per day during which my attention is not diverted the entire time.
I will not inquire into their childbearing or marital plans.
I will not read Parenting magazine.
I will not lament the cost of babysitters or daycare.
I will not sing "The Wheels on the Bus" during drinking games.
I will not insist they talk to my daughter on the phone on the way there.
I will not leave her in their care while I go skinny dipping (unless they volunteer).
I was well aware of the rules for parents before I became a parent, just as I was judgmental of those horrible parents yelling at their children in the grocery store and letting them eat ice cream for breakfast. The nerve of those people, I thought. I will never become them.
But as I became a parent, I forgot the rules. I changed my newborn's poopy diaper on my best friend's brand-new granite kitchen counter. I ask people if they want to talk to my daughter on the phone all the time. While pregnant, I bitched incessantly about being pregnant. I now have to constantly remind myself that not everyone wants to hear every blessed detail about my life as a parent.
However, I will, of course, expect the childless people to follow their rules.
Childless People Rules:
They will not expect my two-year-old to be well behaved at all times.
They will not expect her to chew with her mouth closed or eat healthy foods.
They will not expect her to remain a happy girl after her bedtime or stay up partying until midnight at the dinner location of their choice.
They will not expect my full attention when the little angel is near sharp corners, open water, or animals bearing pointy teeth or claws.
They will not tell stories of how bad other parents are when I do the same things in their presence.
They will respect my child's need for naps and excuse us from activities that take place during those naps.
They will not encourage me to drug my child so that she will go to sleep.
They will place breakable objects, pointy things, beer cans, and medicine on high shelves or counter tops and not right on the damn floor.
They will keep in mind that I was once one of them and have not completely lost my mind along with my privacy, money, and flat stomach.
NOTES FOR AMELIORATION
Tracey Gaughran-Pereg. SWEETNEY
Yesterday I told my daughter I loved her and waited for the expected "I love you, Mommy," to be voiced in return. When this wasn't forthcoming (perhaps she didn't hear me?), I went so far as to ask her directly, like an idiot, "Do you love Mommy?"
She looked at me — her face completely expressionless — and said flatly, "No."
Thus began several minutes of good-natured but increasingly pathetic and desperate cajoling on my part. Oh, of course you love Mommy! Mommy loves you, so you love Mommy, right? And still she shook her head slowly, squeaking no at each slightly rephrased query.
Now of course I know she didn't mean it. Of course I know that at two-and-a-half years of age she doesn't even fully comprehend the significance, power, or even the full meaning of love, or of her repeated denials. But regardless, for all my feigning of maturity and knowing better, that shit hurts. To have your child — the default center of your emotional universe, for whom you labor and worry and do all kinds of unpleasant, frustrating, and generally bullshit things for the sake of — emphatically deny you of what, at bottom, makes all the hard and exhausting work of parenting rewarding and worthwhile, well, it's kind of a hard pill to swallow. At some point in all of this back and forth with my daughter something in me just sort of broke. I got up, went into the bathroom, shut the door, and cried as quietly as I could.
Excerpted from Sleep Is for the Weak by Rita Arens. Copyright © 2008 Rita Arens. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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