Sunday, June 22, 2014

an inner monologue, or, of babies and sleep habits

Having a new baby to get to know is fun, challenging, overwhelming, wonderful... a cocktail of emotions.  Like most moms, I think, I find myself looking for connections and correlations, searching for what works and what doesn't, contrasting and comparing with what worked for my first baby, and sometimes, just throwing up my hands in an occasional moment of despair.

You know that great blog post over at HuffPo from Bunmi Laditan about five minutes in the head of a mother?  I totally resonated with that post, down to the details about having plastic storage bins full of laundry.  But here's something more frightening: I think I could fill pages and pages with an ongoing inner monologue about my children's sleep habits alone.  That's insane.  I need to get a life.  There are serious things in the world like human trafficking and politics and religion and world hunger and I'm spending this kind of mental energy thinking about my kids' sleeping and general contentment?  But perhaps other mamas can relate?

Or it could be that I'm the only person who second-guesses myself to this degree and lives in this kind of sleep-deprived brain fog.

* * *

Morning time!  I hear Nell on the monitor.  Time to go get her.  I'll just slip away from Ree, rolling off the bed ninja-style, and try to keep her asleep so I can spend a little time with Nell.  It worked!  She's still asleep.  No, she's awake.  Is she really awake, or just crying in her sleep? Does she want to sleep more?  I'll try tightening up that swaddle and see if she re-settles.  Yes, she will. No, she won't.  So much for that.  Okay, so she's up.  But yesterday when I got out of bed Ree slept on for another hour or more!  How did I make that happen?  Whatever I did, I should do it every day, because Nell needs some one-on-one time, too.  

I'll put Marie in the swing while I finish getting Nell her breakfast.  She hates the swing, so she'll cry, and I'll have to pick her right back up again.  Wait, she's not crying.  She's looking around.  She's so intelligent!  She looks particularly intelligent right now.  And she's staying calm for five whole minutes while I finish breakfast!  I should put her in the swing more often.  Why did I think she hated it?  Oh, she's screaming.  I was right; she hates it.  Why did I think I could put her in the swing?  Nell always hated the swing, too.  We should just give it away so it doesn't take up space.  But wait, she liked it a minute ago... or did I imagine that?

Ree only sleeps in the wrap, so why do I even bother trying to get her to sleep on her own at this age?  I enjoy all the snuggles, anyway, although of course it is hard to get things done around the house or take Nell outside when it's hot if I have a baby attached to me.  Okay, I'll try to get her to sleep and then transfer her.  No, transferring never works with Ree.  I'll just swaddle her and lay her down and see what happens.

It worked!  She fell asleep all by herself!  Hallelujah!  Nell never did this at this age, did she?  Maybe I never thought to try swaddling her.  I was such a bad mother.  I was a total fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mother.  Wait, that's not right, of course I tried swaddling... we swaddled her all the time!  I have pictures to prove it!  It just didn't help her sleep alone at that age yet.  Okay, not the world's worst mother, but not winning any awards, either.

I should read some parenting books.  Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants parenting is just so embarrassing at this point, with a second baby.  I need to get with the program and read all those parenting books I've been meaning to read!  Or read any book, really, because I haven't read books in who knows how long and I can barely hold an intelligent conversation with normal members of society at this point.  I should start a book club.  No, that's too ambitious.  I should just read one or two parenting books.  But I don't have time to read parenting books, because I'm busy trying to parent, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style.  I read a lot of parenting articles and studies online, because I can read them on my phone, with one hand, while nursing.  Does that count for something?

Ree is still asleep in her swaddle!  But sometimes she fights the swaddle... does she hate it?  Or does she love it?  And what about those parenting experts who say you shouldn't swaddle babies because it restricts their gross motor skills developing or something?  Okay, but the baby not sleeping restricts my life skills in general.  So, swaddling.  It's working right now.  I need to remember that of course this works, and do this every day every time she's tired, because it's working so perfectly.  Wait, but it didn't work yesterday, remember?  Maybe I did something differently?  Maybe I wrapped from left to right instead of right to left?  I think maybe she really loves that patchwork crocheted blanket from Martha.  That's ridiculous; babies can't prefer one blanket over another.  And that blanket doesn't work for swaddling, anyway, but I still think maybe she likes to have it draped over her.  I'll keep trying it in case it's the magic sleep solution.

Is it safe to swaddle a baby who ends up sleeping in bed with you almost every night, anyway?  I get nervous and undo her arms if she's snuggled against me.  I think all my mom-friends would hate me if I told them that my six-week-old has slept through the night twice already.  It's all thanks to co-sleeping.  Co-sleeping and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants parenting.  If I could lie in bed all day, this baby would sleep so perfectly all the time.  Do parenting books offer suggestions for staying in bed all day and teaching your two-year-old to take care of herself?

I think Ree might have a dairy sensitivity.  I'm pretty sure she does.  She just seemed uncomfortable all the time and so fussy and hard to settle for the first month, and I'm convinced that when I gave up nearly all dairy, it improved so much.  Well, maybe "convinced" is too strong a word.  Somewhat certain?  Slightly inclined to believe?  That's more like it.  There might be a correlation, at least.  I had ice cream the other night after virtually no dairy for two weeks, and the next day was so hard for Ree, I'm sure of it.  Well, maybe not sure.  Maybe there was no connection and I'm just imagining it.  Why can't I stop second-guessing myself?  I'm never certain about anything.  Still, it can't hurt to keep avoiding dairy, right?  Or maybe I should eliminate soy and eggs and citrus and caffeine and wheat, too, and subsist on... air?  Hey, that would help with this post-baby tummy I'm rocking, at least.

Every time I see those babies who sleep in their car seats everywhere I can barely wrap my mind around it.  Neither of my babies EVER slept in their car seats.  Well, I'm sure at some point Nell did, and she does now, but I don't remember what age that started.  Certainly when she was Ree's age she couldn't sleep in her car seat and she screamed every time she was in it.  Oh wait, but I have a picture of her sleeping in the car seat at one month old in a restaurant.  We used to go to restaurants?  We never do that anymore.  Okay, so at least one time she slept in her car seat and at least once we went to a restaurant.  But Ree never sleeps in her car seat.  Except the other night we were out to dinner with friends for a birthday celebration, and she did sleep in it!  The whole dinner!  I even overheard someone comment how jealous she was because her baby never slept in a car seat.  But MY baby never sleeps in her car seat... except that one time.  And I guess we did go out to dinner that one time, too.  

Usually we're eating dinner at home, of course, and either Nathan or I hold and bounce the baby, or I have her in the wrap, or I nurse her while I eat and try not to drop food on her.  When she's not nursing, she likes to be held like a football, along the length of my arm.  Or does she?  Was I imagining that this had worked just yesterday?  Now she only wants to be upright against my shoulder.  Yes, she loves this.  This is the sure-fire way to calm her down.  Upright, always upright.  If I just do this all the time, she'll be calm and happy and well-adjusted and probably go to Harvard someday.  Or Juilliard.  Okay, probably not Juilliard, because we've been too busy to play much music for her like we did for Nell at this age, so that's a pretty significant disadvantage right there.  Oops, she's crying again... try the football hold once more.  Yes, it's working!  She loves it.  Why did I think she liked being upright?  

I should really write down what works and what doesn't so I won't spend so much mental energy trying to figure it all out.  But maybe that's an exercise in futility, because babies change so quickly and I just need to go with the flow and do what works in the moment.  All while still looking for general patterns and recognizing her natural rhythms and schedule, of course, because that's what good mothers do.  But not "scheduling" her because she's still so little, and "scheduling" babies is practically a bad word in some parenting circles anyway.  I wish I had written down more of what Nell was like at each age, and what worked for her, and what her sleep habits were like.  No, why would I need that?  Marie is her own person, and what worked for Nell wouldn't necessarily work for Ree.  But still, there might have been things I could learn from.  I bet I did write things down on my blog.  I wish I had time to go back and see what I had written.  In any case, I'll write things down this time.  I'll be glad I did, in case we have more kids.

More kids?!  Why am I thinking about this now, with a six-week-old?  Isn't it a little soon to be thinking about having more?

Maybe she's hungry and needs to nurse.  No, I just nursed her.  Oh, wait, it's already been two hours.  That felt like two minutes.  I'll definitely try nursing.  She's fighting it.  She doesn't want to nurse.  Isn't that weird?  Nell always wanted to nurse.  I don't remember doing anything at all for the first year of Nell's life except sitting around nursing.  Oh gee, poor Marie doesn't get enough cuddling and nursing time like that.  The lot in life for a second born baby.  What if she is never well-adjusted because I didn't nurse her enough?  Well, she doesn't want to nurse right now.  She wants to suck on my pinky finger.  I keep meaning to ask Nathan if we should introduce a pacifier.  Would that make us bad parents or good parents or just normal parents?  Is there any difference between a pinky and a paci, anyway?

She's asleep.  She never sleeps like this, just held loosely in my arms, resting on my chest while the two-year-old naps upstairs.  Never!  Well, just this one time it seems to be working for her.  She looks so peaceful, and I love to hear her breathing.  Her little arm draped over my elbow, her left fist flung across my chest.  Her head where I can bend and kiss that dark, dark hair.  I could hold her like this forever.  Of course we should have more babies someday!

Nell is waking up from her nap.  I'll try to transfer Ree off my chest into a swaddle.  It won't work, of course, but I may as well try.  Hey, it worked!  Like, really and truly worked!  I'll go get Nell.  She woke up crabby.  Can you swaddle a two-year-old?  She is really cranky and doesn't want a hug or a snack or a book or anything at all except to whine in long, drawn-out, generic vowels.  

Ugh, parenting is hard.  I should really read some parenting books.  Wasn't I just thinking that I should?  Why don't I?  I totally have time during all those times my kids are sleeping so angelically.  Was I just thinking we should have more babies?  But then they grow into crabby two-year-olds.  Wait, Nell just smiled at me.  And earlier today she was taking my cheeks in her hands and holding my face to give me kisses, remember that?  Okay, that more than makes up for the crabbiness.  Definitely have more babies someday.

Ree is awake already.  That successful transfer to the swaddle was short-lived.  I'll put her in the wrap.  That's the only thing that ever works, anyway.  Or maybe she wants to nurse.  Or be bounced.  No, she wants to be held upright.  And whatever I do, I must not sit down or even attempt to stop walking.

She's fussy this afternoon.  Fussier than usual, definitely.  Maybe not definitely.  Possibly fussier than usual, then.  But I haven't eaten dairy!  Maybe dairy was never even an issue in the first place.  Maybe I should eat some ice cream once the two-year-old is in bed tonight.  No, better not chance it.  Unless I can find some dairy-free, soy-free ice cream.   No, I shouldn't have ice cream.  But I should definitely spend my evening playing classical music for the baby so she's not disadvantaged for life.  While reading parenting books.  And doing whatever it takes in these specific moments to keep the baby quiet, contented, and getting her beauty sleep.

* * *

Contrary to the way this post may make things appear, I actually manage to go about much of my day calmly and happily caring for my two children.  We take things moment-by-moment.  We manage to go with the flow.  And my two-year-old is a pretty great sleeper.  But for goodness sake, babies are complex creatures with an array of emotions and needs to be met, and they're always growing and changing and what seems to be working once may not be what they want in the very next moment.

It's almost like they're real live human beings or something.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Father's Day Letter to My Kids

Ellen and Marie,

Do you know how much your Daddy loves you?  I love getting to observe his extravagant love for you.

Sometimes I'm pretty sure he loves you two more than he loves me.  He has a way of swooping right past me when he gets home from work, all smiles and kisses for you first, Nell, then a little oohing over baby Ree, and then "Hi, babe," to me as a bit of an afterthought.  Oh hey, don't mind me, I'm just here to keep the kids alive for your enjoyment.

{family photo from last year on Father's Day}

Nell, when you were a baby, I remember how your Dad would gaze at you, then say quietly to me, "She's so lovely."  Baby acne or awkward hair phases -- he barely noticed these things.  To him you were perfect from Day 1.  In fact, when you were first born, he held you and said to me, "She smells so good.  How can she smell so good already?"  {It's true, you did smell good!}

That first night in the hospital with you, Nell, when you woke and cried it was your Dad that leapt from the hospital chair and brought you to me to nurse.  When you were finished, he'd lay you carefully back in the basinet, and I remember seeing his tall frame bent low over you, his hands cradling your head and his forearms along the length of you.  He stayed like that for a long time, until you slept soundly again.

That was just the beginning of what would become your Dad taking great pride in learning the ins and outs of your little personality.  Later on he figured out that you liked having your feet held together, and that it could calm you down when you were upset.  And that you liked Beethoven better than Mozart when it came time for me to take a shower each evening, which was when you and your Dad would listen to music together.  He even decided that he was better, more thorough, quicker, and more gentle at diaper changes than I could ever be, and I'd overhear him telling you, "Your Mom isn't as good at this as Daddy is, of course!"

By the time you were one, you copied the way Daddy pretended to conduct whenever listening to music, waving your arms in the air with great excitement.  You're two years old now, and sometimes when I'm making dinner you and Dad stand just around the corner from me, in the music room, and play the piano or the organ.  You're particularly fond of standing high on the piano bench, your back against your Dad's chest, pulling out the organ stops while he plays.

When Daddy gets home from work each day, he's usually pretty worn out, and distracted by the ongoing stresses of his work.  That doesn't stop him from flipping you upside down and making you squeal with glee, though, or covering you with kisses. While engaging in these antics, he frequently reminds you that he is "the fun parent" -- a title I'm pretty sure you agree with.

Whenever we hear a little noise from somewhere in the house, you look at me and whisper, with so much excitement in your voice, "Ohh!  Daddy!", certain that perhaps he's at home and that creak was evidence of his presence.  I always feel bad to break it to you that it's not him!

We "co-slept" with you, which means you usually slept in our bed until you were about one and a half.  Well, your Daddy will probably deny it, but he was pretty fond of those nighttime snuggles.  And he was, and continues to be, a champ about comforting you in the night when you need it.

{Even when he goes to you and you scream "NO! MOMMY!" at him like you did last night.  Toddlers!  So ungrateful.}

Ree, your relationship with your Daddy is only about five weeks along, but oh, he loves you very much.

I may as well be honest and tell you that the other day he asked me, "When is she going to start being fun like Nell is?"  Well, by the time you're old enough to read this, you'll know your Dad well enough to know that he's a little bit crazy and a little bit blunt and has a quirky sense of humor.

But lest you feel like you're getting the short end of the stick here - in both stories and photos - I have the best, best, best picture of your Dad holding you.  In fact, it's so wonderful that he refuses to let me share it.  It's one of those pictures of a moment so special that it'll just be for us to enjoy.  Someday I'll frame it for your bedroom, I think.

Your Daddy always considered himself the expert swaddler when Nell was a newborn, and sure enough, from the day we brought you home he could calm you down with a far better swaddle than I can do.  He is much better at getting you into your car seat without waking you, too.

In the past day or two, you've just begun to figure out how to smile.  Your Dad makes fun of me for the lengths I'll go to to try to elicit one of these dopey smiles, but don't be fooled - he does the same silly things when no one is looking.

He also frequently makes adoring proclamations about you, such as, "She's so intelligent!  And she's so mature for her age!"  Ah, parental bias knows no bounds.

Last night he held you like a little football for an hour while I washed some dishes and then practiced my violin.  You were so content in his arms!  You already seem to like sitting in his lap while he plays the piano, too.

Girls, I am so glad that you have a good father.  His patience begins where mine seems to end, and while he can be firm when it's called for, he is always in possession of great gentleness and understanding, too.

With so many years ahead of us, I know your individual relationships with your Dad will grow and change in many ways.  Whatever the toddler years may bring, whatever elementary school holds, whatever the teenage years throw our way, may you always know that you are loved by your Dad, so very much.  You always have been, and you always will be.

{P.S. We celebrated Father's Day a day early this year because your Dad works so, so hard to take care of our family that he was working all day today, from 6 am to 7 pm.}

{P.P.S. Your mother loves you, too.}

Thursday, June 12, 2014

water fun

The weather has finally, finally warmed up, and yesterday I realized it was time to hook up the hose and start watering the plants.

I had a ready and willing helper!

{Actually, I had two helpers, but one of them was sleeping on the job.}

I think we have a good way to pass the late afternoons this summer!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

the second, third, and fourth weeks

Time is flying by with this new little lady in our family.

The second week was hard.  My Mom had returned home, and I was on my own with two.  Outnumbered.  But not defeated!

The first and second weeks were the hardest for Nell in terms of the adjustment, but we managed.

Now that Ree is a month old, I feel as though we've definitely settled into a new normal.  Nell is back to her {usually} happy self, I am getting to know Ree and figuring out how to help her be content and comfortable, and Nathan's work schedule has lightened a bit and he's actually home sometimes!

Like her big sister used to, this girl prefers to be held all the time, and she makes her preference known by eliciting a pterodactyl-like scream any time she is placed down.  She is an equal-opportunity hater of all surfaces that are not Mom, be it a swing, a bed, a Boppy pillow, or anything else.  Occasionally we get five minutes of swing time here or there, but usually in the amount of time it takes me to go to the bathroom, this baby can rev herself up into full-on gasping, choking screams that would nearly break your heart to hear.

So, the past month has involved a lot of Moby-wearing and Ergo-wearing.  Curiously, she sleeps great in either of those but doesn't sleep very soundly just resting in my arms, even if it's evening time and she's just nursed and all is quiet.  She hasn't quite been the sound sleeper I recall Nell being as a newborn, who would sleep anytime, anywhere as long as she was being held.

Recently we've gotten Ree to sleep on her own in our bed a couple of times during the day, though -- hurray!  And even though I know it's necessary and is a true gift to this Mama of two, predictably, I miss her when she's not attached to me.

* * *

A few highlights in the life of Marie:

~ lost her cord stump just shy of two weeks old, revealing a very finely-formed belly button ~

~ has been a pretty good sleeper at night from the beginning, sleeping for 2-4 hours at a time ~

~ confuses and befuddles me by staying awake for up to 2 hrs at a time during the day... aren't newborns supposed to sleep all the time? ~

~ frequently elicits comments from friends and strangers alike about how very alert she is ~

~ is already pretty good at holding her head up ~

~ started exploring sounds besides crying; now emits a very sweet little coo ~

~ weighed in at 10 lbs, 10 oz at her one month appointment ~

* * *

Some pictures from the past few weeks:

First time getting dressed up for church... not altogether in favor of the experience, it would seem.

Post-church service snuggles with Mama:

 Piano time with Daddy!

One and a half weeks old:

Two weeks old:

A funny one -- I love her crazy hair after baths!

Three weeks old:

Sleeping smiles:

Four weeks old!  It's hard work, being a baby.  An exhausting business, to be sure.