Monday, January 6, 2014

Scene from the Night

Her distinct cry forces me awake, interrupting a dream. I spend a few moments in bed, adjusting to the change from dream-world to reality, and hoping - though I know it won't happen - that she'll cease crying on her own. Her wails increase in volume, often changing to an insistent "Mah-Mahn!" Barely a part of the waking world, I shuffle out of bed and up the stairs, holding onto the railing to compensate for my unreliable coordination during these late-night visits.

I am resentful and frustrated. I trudge up the stairs promising that something will change. If it's been less than three hours since our last wake-up, I am even more annoyed. I recite mantras in my head: she is too old for this, she doesn't really need me, nothing bad will happen if I just leave her to cry. But still those cries affect my whole body; my nervous system twitches with each wail and longs to relieve her of distress.

I open the door to her dark room, making calm, shushing sounds. She stops crying immediately. I walk to the crib and reach into the darkness; my eyes still adjusting, I can't yet see her. Sometimes, she is still lying down, and I have to feel around the crib to find her folded up body. Other times, she is sitting, arms reached up, waiting for the mother she know will embrace her. I lift her heavy (when did she get so heavy?), warm body from the crib, wrapping my hands around her bottom, secure in its fleece footed pajamas.

I squeeze her tight, hoping that this time - this one time - my hug will be all she needs. But after a quick hug, she points to the chair and begins to shuffle her body down into my arms. She wants to nurse, to rock, to do what we've been doing several times a night since the day she was born. I sigh, frustrated but resigned, and carry this warm, demanding lump over to our cozy green glider.

I open my pajamas and she finds my breast in the dark, operating on some innate sense. Once she attaches, her whole body relaxes, seemingly falling back asleep within seconds. My resentment and frustrations leave as well. She is so content, warm, snuggly, sweet. This is my baby, my last baby, and these quiet times are our own time together. I want to sleep, I want her to not need me, but for a few minutes, I'm at peace with this ritual. She stirs as my milk lets down, gulping down what she needs as my body hovers in a sleepy haze, barely awake, almost dreaming again. After only a minute or two, her gulps slow down, her sucking lessens, and she begins to doze. Some nights, I gently separate her mouth from me, other nights she pulls off on her own. Surprisingly, she thrusts her body into a full lay-out, switching from warm and soft to rigid in one large stretch.

I heave my sleepy self and her stretched out, rigid body out of the glider and shuffle over to the crib. I lay her body down and gaze a moment, now able to make out the soft curve of her cheek, the gentle rise and fall of her chest. I rub my hand over her fuzzy, round belly and walk out. Now more awake, I walk into the kitchen for water (I am always thirsty) and into the bathroom. I return to my bed, pleased that my time awake was so short, but frustrated again that I was awake at 1am, 4am, 6am. D. stirs a little, rolls over. I take a few minutes to get comfortable again, making promises that tomorrow I'll figure out how to stop this constant waking. But I fall asleep quickly, heavily. In the morning, we'll be busy, awake, loud. For now, though, the house is silent, and for a few hours, we all will rest.


This was the scene in our house every night from late April to January 3. Eight months of two to four (sometimes more) wake-ups each night. As Amelia grew from 8 months old to almost 17 months, I awoke with her each time to shuffle upstairs, full of both love and frustration, to nurse. She wouldn't tolerate any other visitors, anything other than nursing. Three days ago, I went through the painful but necessary steps of sleep training. We had tried before, but this time it worked. The first night of tears was terrible, but she understood the new routine by night two, and last night she slept, with few cries and no visits from me, from 7:30pm - 8:30am.

This is success. This means our family will sleep. We need to sleep. I may be able to spend a night away soon. We are moving on from a difficult two years. But I am mourning a bit. I knew I would. As painful as those nights (and mornings) were, they were my last nursing nights with my last baby.

Good night, sweet Baby Amelia. Sleep well.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reflecting on 2013

It's time once again for the year in review. I don't expect y'all to read this - it's an exercise for me, and about the only one I really do to honor the change in year.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you've never done before?
I think there were a few things, though nothing major. We lived for several weeks away from home this summer (staying with my mom on the Outer Banks of NC), and I think that was the longest time I'd gone without seeing my husband since we were married. I said "no" to a few potential new clients, which is significant in that I became better about prioritizing my time. I oversaw my first real home-improvement project. I cut off all my hair and bleached it platinum. All rather tame stuff. 2013 was about surviving, not really accomplishing.

2. Did you keep the resolutions you made? Will you make more this year?
I rarely make concrete resolutions, but I'm sure I vowed to sleep more and prioritize myself a little more than just my kids. Sleep has become relative (only two wake-ups per night is now great!) and yes, I have checked into my own life more....but it's hard to measure such things. This year's resolutions are all on hold until we're sleeping (I can't improve my health or accomplish much of anything until I can sleep more than four hours in a row).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes. Seeing as I spend a lot of time with fellow mothers of young children, we have births in our little community of friends quite often. Also, one of D's closest friends welcomed his daughter in December, though she wasn't expected until later this month.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, we lost two grandparents this year. D's fraternal grandmother died in summer after a stroke. She was healthy until the end and passed rather quickly, with most of her family at her side. D went to the funeral while I was still at the beach with the girls, which was a weird thing to miss, though it would have been a real bear for us to travel to Indiana. The week before Thanksgiving, my dad's mom passed away after about 10 weeks in the hospital after having a brain tumor removed. She died the day they were going to move her into a long-term nursing home. I think she knew she didn't want to live that way. Her funeral in Virginia was a lovely celebration of her joy-filled life and a nice chance to connect with that side of the family, which we don't see often.

5. What countries did you visit?
Same answer from last year: "none. I was pleased just to leave the state a few times. D and I pledged long ago to vacation abroad at least every other year, but the kids have put that dream on hold for a while." That said, we're making plans to travel in 2015, maybe for a summer teaching gig and to visit D's brother's family, who just moved to Germany.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Full nights of sleep! (which was my same answer from last year)

7. What dates from 2013 will be etched in your memory and why?
As proof of my lack of sleep all year, absolutely no exact dates come to mind. Question 4 addresses two significant deaths whose months I recall. I also remember that I went to DC with Amelia for a work trip the first weekend in April, and promptly after that moved her from my bed into her crib. In early November, Amelia finally started walking on her own. And...that's about all I can recall right now.

8. What was your bravest achievement?
I realize this sounds kinda cheesy and self-aggrandizing, but I'm going to say choosing to keep nursing. I tried to quit several times, but I just felt that this daughter needed me and our time together. Even after I realized she didn't need the milk anymore, it was obvious that she still needed the comfort and closeness. It's been a hard decision and has affected my life and our family, but I think she needed it. I hope I made the right choice.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Ugh. Yet again, I haven't been a great friend. Some of my friends have had rough years, and I wasn't there for them like I wish I could have been. Even those who are doing alright, I wish I had made more time for calls, emails and visits. I also wasn't a very good spouse, too often choosing to allocate energy to only my kids, leaving little of myself for D. But I will forgive myself these failures as they were hopefully short-term reactions to the age of my children, and ones that will not continue in the future.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Thankfully no. Amelia had a long and difficult ear infection in spring, and D dealt with some bad skin issues (a result of his altered immune system) in summer and fall, but thankfully I was never horribly ill. I did suffer two rounds of vertigo that lasted a few days each time, and we never figured out why.

11. Where did most of your money go?
We had custom built-in cabinets installed in our laundry room and office/playroom, which was a rather splurgy purchase for us. Otherwise, it was the standard living expenses, with perhaps too much allocated to food. I shudder to think about what I've spent on chocolate this year.

12. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Sylvia can sing the chorus of "Wrecking Ball," which both horrifies and delights me. But I think "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers will stand out for the year.

13. Are you (a) happier or sadder, (b) richer or poorer, (c) fatter or thinner than you were last year?

A - Happier. Though I am often exhausted and overwhelmed by my kids, and very eager for this high-intensity time in our life to pass, I have found incredible joy in being a part of our now complete four-person family. This is IT. This is our family, our time, our silly girls, our moments of joy. I've also enjoyed my work/life balance, especially now that I've figured it out a little better.

B - Poorer. 2013 was our first full year of my not having a regular salary, and it proved difficult on the savings account. That said, this week we received an unexpected and very generous inheritance check, so 2014's answer has already changed.

C - Thinner, but that's a gimme, considering I spent 2012 pregnant or with a newborn. That said, even though my pant size is small, I'm not in great shape. I need to strengthen my core and increase my flexibility, as I'm feeling old, tired and sore way too often.

14. How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas was chaotic this year. We had four visitors over nine days: first my mom came, then my brother, then my mom left, then a close friend came, then she left, then my dad came, then my brother left, then my dad left. All except the friend slept at our house. We hosted a nice dinner here on Christmas Eve, which was lovely, then had a joyful Christmas morning with my mom and brother. It was Sylvia's first time to really "get" Christmas, and she was adorably over the moon all morning. Though I loved seeing each guest and having so much family here for Christmas, it was so nice to have our house back and enjoy quiet time once they'd left.

15. Did you fall in love this year?
Though I said that last year I fell in love with Amelia, I think 2013 is the real year that happened. For the first six-to-eight months of her life, she was a lump I placed in the Ergo all day and snuggled next to at night. It took her a while to start to have a distinct personality and to be able to really make me smile. She became so much more fun around her first birthday in August, and then really lit up once she started walking. She is now a full person whom I absolutely adore. I can't wait to fall in love with her all over again as she continues to grow and change.

16. What was your favorite TV program in 2012?
D and I finally got into Netflix shows, and House of Cards was probably my favorite.

17. What was the best book you read in 2012?
Gone Girl and Where'd You Go, Bernadette were awesome page-turners (for different reasons), and the Divergent series sucked me in.

18. What did you want and get? What did you want and not get?
I wanted to get to know and connect with my youngest daughter, and I did. I wanted to find freelance work that was interesting and paid adequately, and allowed me to stay at about 10 hours/week, and surprisingly I was able to make this happen.
I wanted to sleep through the night by August (Amelia's one-year birthday) and be done nursing by December at the latest, and I did not get either of those things.

19. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Wow, I don't really remember. I turned 34 in February, and I'm sure that we did our standard special dinner at home cooked by D, but I don't remember it clearly (I was still in the haze of waking every 45 minutes to nurse a needy baby). I do know that there was no party, no cake, and no late night - and that was all just fine by me. Oh - the weekend before my birthday, three of my best friends from college all came to visit. We had planned a special weekend at a nearby resort town, but I was just too overwhelmed at the idea of taking the baby, so they just crashed here. Amelia was really sick and I was exhausted, but they cheered me up immensely and made me feel very loved during a rather low time. So that was awesome.

20. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
I haven't purchased a lot of clothes over the past few years because I knew I'd be having babies and nursing. So now that I'm done with babies, I've started shopping again. My mantra this year was to not buy anything boring, so I've changed up the colors I usually buy and made a few impulse purchases. But I've also tried to be realistic: most of my days are spent with small children and other mothers, and I no longer have to show up at an office (like, ever). Thus, I need clothes and shoes that are comfortable, washable, and practical on a playground. So I've been trying to balance casual and interesting, mom-clothes without the frump. Some days are way more successful than others.

21. What kept you sane?
My husband is amazing. He truly showed this stripes this year, taking the backseat to our needy children with very minimal complaint, and stepping up to help keep me sane when I so desperately needed it. My in-laws were also a huge help, especially my MIL. I also have grown to really appreciate and care for my friends in MOMS Club. Having ladies who are in the trenches with me, and a few who will have my kid over for playdates or give her a ride to gymnastics, has been a real blessing.

22. What political issue stirred you the most?
Health care and gun control - but I'll admit I kinda checked out from current events this year.

23. Who did you miss?
My group of high school friends held a reunion (we usually meet up every-other year) in April that I skipped because I didn't feel like I could swing it with the baby. I hated to miss out on what is normally such a glorious weekend. Also, I realize this sounds strange, but I missed my husband. We didn't get a lot of QT this year.

24. Who was the best new person you met?
See Question 15.

25. Tell a valuable life lesson you learned this year.
"Man plans, God laughs." This was the phrase my dad kept repeating as he and his siblings tried to figure how to proceed after his mother's brain tumor and stroke. He said it so much I had it made into a cross-stitch and framed for his Christmas gift. I would say the same idea applies to my year: you can't plan everything; you have to constantly adapt and just accept the change. I never expected my second kid to be so much more demanding than my first one was at that age. I learned more every day about how to spend the day with two children, balancing their needs and mine, and pulling off basics like going to the grocery store or picking up one kid during the other's naptime. I had to let go of a lot of the visions I had for how my life would be. And I have ended up happier than I expected.

26. What song lyric from 2013 sums up your year?
I'm going to take Gill's cue and delete this one. At 25, I would have loved the challenge; now, it's just too much trouble to figure out. But I did learn that Sylvia hears and memorizes songs on the radio quite quickly, which has had surprising and amusing results.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2014 for all of us!