No Means Yes

Happy New Year, everyone! I have been feeling pretty festive this year, despite the fact that Northern California may be the weirdest place in the world to spend Christmas and New Year’s. We went for a walk in sweatshirts on Christmas morning. This New England girl thought that strange, strange, strange. I do really love the vacation aspect of things, though. L off daycare, and my semester ended, has meant a week of fun outings with me not rushing him home to frantically grade papers while he naps. In fact, I have been doing as much napping as he has. And then drinking wine and eating too much chocolate in the evenings. Oof. Lovely.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how, as a parent, I have my strengths and my weaknesses. This is elementary, my dear Watson, but also probably a rationalization, like hey, no one does everything right, right? (Nervous titter) But really, I have this sense that it’s good to know what you’re good at and what you suck at. Witness: I am good at providing. I make abundant, healthy, tasty food for my kid, and I let him help me do it. Yesterday, together, we baked banana-almond muffins (he did the stirring and the illegal licking of batter) while I simultaneously roasted a brined organic chicken that we later ate with quinoa salad and collard greens; nevermind that he was in a mood and barely ate any of it. What else…I’m good at taking him to do fun things with other kids (this week: the dinosaurs, the art space, the playground, the library). I’m good at reading to him and singing to him. I am very good at soothing hurts and being fully present when he needs love and attention because someone has wronged him or he’s scared or he’s not feeling well. Yup, good at all those things.

And I suck at getting down on the floor and playing trucks with him. I expect him to play by himself a lot of the time, probably too much. And I can be really, really impatient. Because he is two, L wants to do everything that I say no to. To him, “L, please don’t do that” means “L, please feel free to keep doing that annoying thing over and over again until I yell at you.” And, I will just admit, I do sometimes yell. I try consequences, diversion, all the stuff you’re supposed to try, but I sometimes lose my temper and yell. So, for example, last night at dinner B and I repeatedly asked L to sit properly in his high chair (i.e., don’t crouch in a position likely to make you fall on your head). We asked upwards of five times before I roared, “L, sit properly in your chair, now!” The whole table went silent, and those knees were under the table again faster than you could say quinoa. For a second, I felt infinitely powerful.

This morning, L got really excited about flushing the toilet. So he flushed, and then he sat and fiddled with the flusher and flooded the toilet bowl with water again and again. So after a couple minutes of this I said, as patiently as I could, “Okay, L, that’s enough. Please stop doing that. L, please stop doing that. L, please stop doing that” until I roared, “L, what did I say? Please STOP DOING THAT!” And this little voice, bless him, said, “Don’t yell at me!” and started to cry. And what did I feel then? You know, I felt like a jerk, but I also felt incredibly grateful to have the kind of relationship with my kid where he can tell me when I’m being a jerk, and I can hear it. So I sat down with him and hugged him and said “I’m sorry for yelling. I shouldn’t have yelled, but I was frustrated because I need you to listen better.”

Did the lesson stick? Undoubtedly not. He will persist in doing everything I ask him not to, and I will yell again. But for some reason the whole interaction made me feel like even though I’m a big nasty ogre of a mom, maybe I’m doing something right, too.

What Wisdom is This

“The dream of being a writer and the crazy price one has to pay for excellence are impossible to demonstrate or, really, even to fathom.” –John Lahr, reviewing the play “Seminar,” now playing in New York, in the November 28 issue of The New Yorker.

My last blog post created a bit of a stir. A friend reposted it on her Facebook wall, and all of a sudden people I didn’t know were reading my blog and commenting on it. This may be silly, but that gave me a thrill. Lately–what with a new blog, and some childcare, and a motivation towards getting out there that has been dormant for some time–I have been feeling, for the first time since I had L, public. Like I am a writer with a writing life, not just a woman squirreled away working on stuff. I made this Website and blog in part because I want to create a sort of grassroots presence for myself on the Web; I have a memoir to publish, after all.

So, anyway, there was this reposting on S’s Facebook page, and then there was a bit of a stir on my own Facebook page. First my friend BK made the point that conservatives “suck hairy elephant nutsacks” (oh boy) and then my mom very brashly said she’d never let a kid cry it out, whence another friend admitted she had in fact let her kid cry it out and then another friend came in on the side of respectful parenting and I sort of tried to smooth everything over, secretly thinking, Uh oh. Conflict.

And I very nearly rethought the whole thing. Because I don’t do conflict that well. It scares me. It worries me that my conservative friends will be really offended by a silly quip or that there will be an all-out war on my Facebook page (no, the smallness of that concern is not lost on me). I am the sort of person who is both deeply opinionated and scared to death that people won’t like her, so I run around trying to make everyone get along.

Over the weekend, deciding how to deal with this problem, I got to thinking about the desire to be a more public sort of writer, since it seems in this day that that is what is required of writers. Have a Website, the books admonish. Have a blog. No space for Emily Dickinsons here, I’m afraid. And then I had to admit to myself that with or without tools like Facebook and WordPress, I’ve kind of set myself up for conflict. My memoir is about the year I spent traveling with B, my now husband. I joke that it’s a “tell-all expos√©” of our relationship but the joke is thin; it is. I can’t say what possessed me to write this book other than to say that I started out writing travel essays and quickly realized I had a very different story to tell. So I let it just pour out, and there you have it: how we met, the first time we had sex, the fights we had, the marriage proposal, all on paper. And I want desperately to have it published and widely read. Am I crazy? (Incidentally, what scares me most is my mom and dad reading about us eating hallucinogenic cactus in Peru.)

When you write something like that, you open yourself wide up. For conflict. For judgment. I have been in writing workshops where people said the character of Susie was snobbish, that she needed more gravitas; another found B totally unsympathetic. Another read Susie as an utter basket case by page 50; did I really want that, I was asked? Well, no–and yet, if you’re writing a memoir, you’re bound to tell the truth. And yes, Susie was a total basket case by page 50. After some of those moments of criticism I came home and had a really long, hard cry, and then I went back at it.

If I do get this book published, I know there will be a stir, however minor. And some people will love it, and some will say, what wisdom is this? Why should we care? I guess that’s all a part of the deal.

I just realized how long I have been wanting to get this off my chest.

Cry, Baby Cry

So my friend C sent me this article on the dangers of “Crying it Out,” which says, among many other things: “letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term.” You leave your kid alone to cry in hopes they’ll become more independent; in fact, studies show, this practice makes them more dependent, and more than that, prone to anxiety, separation anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. I’m not a scientist, but I am a parent who decided against letting L “cry it out,” and the “science” (more on that later) in this article seems to make sense to me. Anyway, right at the end of this article, the author slips in some propaganda about co-sleeping, and I thought to myself, aha. I knew it was coming. Because these are the hot-button parenting issues of our day: crying it out and co-sleeping (which, if you’re a parent to a young child, you already know; and if not, I’ve already lost you, sorry).¬†

Back in the day, when L was, say, between 6 and 12 months, keeping me up at all hours with his penchant for not sleeping, I started in despair to read some books. I even took a sleep class, which summarized a lot of the common sleep research of the day. And I started to notice that there were two camps described in these books: 1) Sleep with your kid. Soothe his every need. Or 2) Leave your kid to cry and assume he will learn an important lesson about the cold hard world.

But what, I thought to myself, if I don’t like either method?

So B and I, who had slept with L for about three months, which was lovely and great and not something we missed thereafter (okay, maybe I did a little, but B, no) pioneered a very high-tech method of sleep training that involved setting a pretty strict routine for L, which, I’ll admit, sometimes meant waking him up from naps or in the morning. And the other piece was very gently trying to push him in the direction of sleeping longer. I called this methodology, when I was in the midst of trying it out, “The Sleep Lab.” I would write these cryptic notes in the middle of the night in my sleep journal. One read “12:38 nursed 1:01 rig”. “rig” stood for “rigamarole,” as in, “the same old bullshit”–L wanting to be held, not wanting to nurse, me not understanding what he needed, L falling back asleep for an hour if I was lucky. I took these notes for endless nights until, one desperate week, I hit a trifecta of factors that worked: 1) I decided not to nurse at night anymore. When L cried, B went in and soothed him. 2) We stuck about nineteen pacifiers in L’s crib. 3) We dressed him warmly, but in comfy enough clothes that he could turn himself onto his belly and stick his butt up in the air if he wanted to. Et voila, circa 9 months, L slept through the night for ten days in a row and basically, after that, forever as we know it. In a crib, down the hall. My kid is a great sleeper.

And yet, there were the books, telling me I had to sleep with my kid or let him cry. And with that went all kinds of other expectations or stereotypes: that co-sleeping moms breastfed until their kids were 3; that cry-it-outers sent their kids to daycare from 8-7 every day. Now that our kids are two, these differences have evened out some, but I still find myself asking other moms, “Do you co-sleep?” and I get asked at least three times a week, “How long did you nurse?”

Now all of this is, of course, a metaphor for something greater. I’m not sure what, exactly, but as I read this article today on crying it out, I found my old exasperation for that stupid sleep debate rising up. Why do parents have to be so polarized? Does this have something to do with the way Americans are so polarized right now? (Co-sleepers are hippy-dippy Democrats, cry-it-outers are heartless Republicans? Ha–) Because, friends, the more I meet parents, the more I realize that no one is so rigid in their parenting in one camp or another. We are all in the middle somewhere. C, for example, co-sleeps and has a wonderful (but sometimes trying) close relationship with her little one. But she stopped nursing him ages ago, and she is extremely grounded in her reasoning for everything. My friend S, on the other hand, still nurses her 2+ kid, but when I asked her if they slept in the same bed she rolled her eyes like, “Nooooo thank you!” When I read Dr. Sears I find myself thinking, “who are these parents who can accomplish perfect attachment parenting, anyway? And how does this work for even a second for working moms?” When I read the other sleep peeps, you know, Dr. Ferber etc., I find myself wondering why this propaganda exists that says there’s no other way than to let a kid cry.

As C says, “I continue to believe that it is pretty close to impossible to apply solid science to this area.”

And you know what? She’s right. Every kid is different, every family is different, and I am so glad that L is two and most of this is behind me. Because the truth is, I don’t care anymore. Everyone can parent how they want to, sans judgment from me. As another friend with two little kids said the other day, “I am simultaneously trying to enjoy it and get through it.” Amen, sister.

Phew

Over the weekend I had the unwitting realization that the way I had set up my website, the only page I could add to, blog-style, was my home page. But I wanted a static home page, and an Uploads & Inserts page that had motion. I emailed the trusty folks at WordPress for some advice, and after dithering around in my dashboard for a bit, voila. I seem to have lost my last post, though, and all of your kind comments, but I guess this is the price one pays for a working blog. Please do comment again, if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, naptime. L is at an age where, well–let’s just say it–he is making me crazy. He has taken to using this whiny voice and asking for everything like this: “I want milllllllk. I want waaaaaater.” (Friends are impressed with how verbal he is for two. Indeed.) And he’s so grumpy lately! Worst of all, he is being a real pain about his nap.

I should preface this by saying: L is at a home-based daycare three mornings a week, with lovely kids and nice people. He is a gregarious and very social kid, and when he started at the daycare back in September he surprised all of us by having a very, very hard time. There were floods of tears every morning, for one thing. Then I would show back up to get him and he would be gasping from having been crying all morning yet insisting, “I had a great time!” (Bwaaaahhhhh!) Now, in December, we all seem to have adjusted a bit. I do not worry as much if there are a few tears when I leave him, B is now equipped to drop him off some mornings, and when I pick up L at noon he is happy and doesn’t want to leave. Best of all, he is usually pretty tired, exhibiting the toddler-style exhaustion signs: he is cranky, demanding, sometimes ear-splittingly yawning. But once every two weeks or so–or, lately, more often, which terrifies me–L does not take his nap. Some days I see it coming. Last Friday, for example, he was so happy and high on life after we got home, I knew he wouldn’t sleep. He was just too wired and full.

But today. Today, L was showing all the signs. He was yawning, cranky, etc. We had a big snack, I changed him into warm koselig clothes, I read him some stories, I tucked him in. Was my mistake going in when I heard him talking? Undoubtedly. For the last hour he has been demanding to be done napping, crying, yelling for me, etc. But the kicker is this: he is exhausted. He is trying to rationalize why I should let him out of his crib as his face is morphing into a wet yawning cave. He is crying over ridiculous things. In short, all he needs to solve all his problems is this very nap he is refusing to take.

I guess it’s a contest of wills at this stage. Can my resolve to keep him in there outlast his desire to get up? I hope.

I wish I weren’t so anxiously attached to L’s nap, but I am. I work while he naps, for one thing. I teach online writing classes, and most of my work is done while L snoozes. After I finish, I love to get a break, though I seem to spend more time writing or working on writing stuff, or paying bills, or–you know. So when L doesn’t nap it sets up an exhaustion in me comparable to his when he doesn’t nap, as though I’m channeling his energy, even if I had no intention of sleeping myself. (Which maybe I did, today. So sue me.) Anyway, as I was saying, I do wish, in a way, that I could have some Zen Buddhist way of dealing with an erratic napper. Instead I feel this throat-deep panic that he will, tomorrow, decide never to nap again, and life as I know it will end. Call me dramatic.

Today the mailman stood in the yard next door and hurled two packages at my neighbor’s door. The second package knocked over a vase of pine fronds that was resting next to the door (very festive). When she said something to the mailman, he responded sarcastically, “Oh, you want me to come up to your door and very gently place your packages there? On bended knee?”

“Yes,” she said. “That would be nice.”