The Evening Apocalypse

An accurate image of my house around 5pm.
An accurate image of my house around 5pm.

The last hour in the day waiting for my husband to come home makes me feel like an exhausted prophet awaiting the Rapture. All I can do is decry downward fall of my home. Helpless to stop the destruction or the wailing. In this metaphor, my kids are both the antichrist and the godless masses.

Let me explain. Like most women in America, my work and home situation is complicated.  I work and write from home, but I don’t have set hours. Only deadlines. So, I often end up working at night, naptime, when I give up and put on “Horton the Elephant,” and in the two days a week I have childcare. The rest of my time is spent with my children. And I am outnumbered. There are two, mostly mobile, human beings who believe it is their mission in life to destroy my home and sanity and in the process, destroy themselves. I don’t know why I’m using the plural pronoun. It’s just the baby who believes that. My three-year-old just follows him around the house hang-wringing and wailing that “Bubby is making a big mess and ruining fings again!”

I do my best. We plan activities. Go to parks, the library and museums. We glue macaroni to things. But by 4pm, I’ve run out of ideas. I’m scraping the bottom of an empty barrel and I need to start dinner. Because my family somehow believes that it is their god-given right to have dinner right at 5:30 and no later. I tried explaining to the baby that people in Europe eat as late as 7pm, but he just screamed and started chewing on the table leg.

But, I’m loathe to turn on the TV. By which I mean, turn it on “again”, because let’s be honest, TV is my crutch in the morning, there are no TV atheists in foxholes. And I seem to unreasonably expect my kids to play with their manifold toys for an hour, while I thaw the chicken and lie on the floor and weep. I grew up without television and recall spending hours playing in the sticks and mud with my brothers and sisters until my mom rang the giant, Texas shaped, rebar bell, summoning us for dinner.  But my kids, surrounded by a wealth of toys and crafts, can only manage to play a game called, “Scream for the toy that the other one is holding.” The game ends when I come in and take that toy away. There are no winners.

I thought I had more time. The baby is only 15-monhts old, after all, I thought I had a few more years until I began screaming things like, “Stop touching each other!” But the baby loves to tackle his sister, who loves to wail that her “brudder” is touching her again. And I have to emerge from the kitchen, spatula in hand and say, “Then get up and walk away! You can walk! He can’t!”

Last week, as I exited the living room to prepare dinner, I didn’t hear the usual screams and wails that signaled the ritual evening apocalypse. I cooked, untrusting of the happy sounds I heard from the playroom. Finally, convinced they had kidnapped the neighbor’s cat and were enslaving it, I peeked in on them. For two seconds, I saw my daughter rolling a ball to the baby and him laughing and tossing it back. It was magic. Then, they saw me and the baby screamed. The three-year-old cried. I should have known, the end was nigh. Come home quickly, dear husband!

 

 

This article original appeared in my Gazette column, which is not online, because OLD MEDIA. RIGHT?

 

 

Please don’t fire me.

On Dogs and Rage and Parenting

the park

Yesterday, while I was taking the kids for a walk, a dog charged us and bit the stroller. I managed to wedge my way between the snarling and barking dog and my kids and just scream for help. Some lawn crew guys chased the dog off with rakes. The dog ran down the street after a high school girl walking home. And then bit an older woman, who screamed for me to call the police. I did.

I called 911, which I’m sure wasn’t the right number, but I got a new phone and haven’t reprogrammed animal control into my speed dial. Because yes, I have animal control on speed dial. I’ve been chased down by so many mean dogs in my history of running and walking through the neighborhood, that I don’t even hesitate to call.

While I talked to the dispatcher, I heard my baby was crying in the stroller. The 3-year-old seemed fine. But the baby was sobbing. The dog had been closest to him. And in my adrenaline-fueled rage, I was ready to attack the dog back, to call the police, to find the owners and tear them apart, but I had completely ignored the kids. My baby was crying. So, I got off the phone and I went to hug him.

When I first thought about writing about this, I wanted it to be a rage-fueled diatribe about people who let their dogs off leash. About people who don’t take their dog’s meanness seriously. I was once backed against a tree by a large mean dog and the owner shouted, “He won’t bite!”

I yelled back. “I don’t believe you! Get a damn leash!”

This is what I wanted to do. To rage against danger. To hunt down the things that had threatened my children and tear them to pieces. But all I can think about is that baby crying. How my first instinct should have been, not to run down the danger and seek vengeance, but to go to him. To hold him and reassure him.  My baby is a wild little warrior. Never afraid to scale a summit. But he also has a tender heart. He cries when his sister cries. He cries when I pretend cry. His heart is so big and open, that is what I should have been protecting instead of lashing out. What is rage anyway? I don’t know the situation of the people who owned the dog. I don’t know how the dog got out. Rage is just a blind swinging at what very well maybe windmills.

Seeking vengeance is what is natural for me. I often find myself fighting the urge to punish and correct and give myself over to the need to comfort and console. A few nights ago, after a particularly rough bedtime, I put the 3-year-old to bed without a story. A few minutes later, she was up again, whimpering at the top of the stairs. “What is it?” I snapped.

“I just need some lovins,” she said. “You forgot to give me lovins.”

I went to her. Scooped her up. Hugged her and apologized. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was wrong. I should have given you a kiss. I am so sorry, I was just feeling frustrated.”

“Me too,” she said. “That’s why I needed lovins.”

I had to do the same thing to the baby yesterday. I went to him and held him. I knelt by the stroller and reassured my kids. “We are okay. You are brave. Mommy is here to protect you.”

But it isn’t just with them, is it? I’m struck by how often I find myself cowering in a corner and instead of taking the time to grieve or find grace, I stomp off in search of vengeance. There is a person who has hurt my family dearly. I find myself often stalking him on social media. Finding new ways to get angry at him at his selfishness and narcissism, that will continue to wound those around me for years.

When we came home from our walk in the park, I realized, I needed to stop that. That I was making myself miserable, swinging with blind rage, out with my pitchfork, hunting down sinners, instead of where I needed to be, comforting the girl in me who was crying.

A friend once told me that after she told her family about her rape, her father went out to hunt down the man who did that to her. She told me that instead of reassuring her, it made her feel awful. Because there she was, wounded and aching, and she needed something better than rage.

Her words are like a beacon for me as I try to navigate these threatening places with myself and children. Yes, rage has a place. I now have mace on my key chain and attached to the stroller. I hope I don’t have to use it. But the mace isn’t the point. The point is that I need to give my children and myself something better than rage.

 

Tome Club: Don Quixote 2

This is part of the ongoing #TomeClub series, where I and a few of you suckers decided to read Don Quixote together. I am not going to title these in a clever manner. I am sorry to disappoint you.

We could talk about Sancho Panza and his wine skin or how my 3 year old keeps throwing stuffed animals at me when I try to read, but instead let’s talk about Marcela. She is a wealthy orphan, who takes to the forest to escape the unwanted attention of men. But even there, men follow her, and when she rebukes their advances, she’s made out to be the evil temptress. But what has she done but exist? A shepherd dies, presumably, from a broken heart after having his affection’s rejected by Marcela. At the funeral, the shepherds talk about what a giant bitch she is. But she shows up  and rebukes the men, telling them that she hasn’t invited their advances. All she is doing is existing and trying to lead a moral life. She had a great line where she asks if the object of love is obligated to love, just because it is the object?

Then, she walks away.

She never comes back. I know. I looked. She is a beautiful woman. One who, in these sorts of novels, would become the leading lady, the focus of men. But she doesn’t want that. She never consented to lead. So, she walks away and Cervantes let’s her.

Right now there is a debate about women on the internet. Women who receive criticism and death threats merely for existing as themselves online. This topic is salient to me because I have received criticism online. Not the amounts of some women like Emily Gould or Amanda Marcotte, but enough, to where I don’t read comments on essays that are published not on this site.  And I have received enough emails threatening to call CPS on me that I do worry about it. In an essay for Buzzfeed, Emily Gould writes about walking away from criticism isn’t enough. How we need to put up sustained resistance.  I loved what she had to say about sustaining resistance to the rhetoric that keeps us chained. And I thought of that essay when I read about Marcela. The woman who never consented to be your idol and your muse. The woman who resists. The woman who walks the hell away. I don’t see her walking away as a passive aggressive technique. It’s very aggressive. She Feems to be saying that this whole system is messed up and she can’t change it, so she wants nothing to do with it. She is resisting anything that will keep her chained.

And now I feel like a shepherd. I love her. I want more of her. But I respect that she wants to walk away.

I am finding that I am only able to read one or two nights a week.  And my Kindle app says I’m 20% through with the book. That puts me somewhere near page 200. Where are you?

Have you started? Do you love you some Sancho Panza?

That windmill scene was a bit anti-climatic. I mean it’s this scene that has been replayed and riffed in all of literature and that was it. Also, could the Sancho Panza dialogue be any better?

Burning books? Oh that reminds me, that whole discussion of if books are a bad influence was discussed recently, here. Do you think books can be a bad influence?

Sleeping Through The Night Is An Evil Lie

Stars in the sky

My brother and his wife have an 8-week-old infant, who is six adorable pounds of sheer sleep deprivation. She is little and demands milk on a 1-2 hour basis to fill her adorably pink cheeks and keep up her supply of knuckle pudge. Food is an understandable request from child, but the consequences are the dark circles under my brother’s eyes and the desperate look of longing when someone says the word “bed.” My husband and I went to visit them when my niece was only three weeks old. After passing around the baby and commenting on her perfect nose, my brother asked, “When do they sleep through the night?”

He looked so sad and forlorn. My sister-in-law sat next to him, her eyes were hopeful. “Umm, maybe when they are about 10 pounds is when some babies start sleeping 6-8 hours or more,” I lied. It was like holding up steak to a starving dog and then throwing it in the trash. I felt cruel. But I didn’t want to crush them with the heavy weight of the exhausting truth just yet.

You see, the truth is: No child sleeps through the night.

When my daughter was born, she demanded food every 1-2 hours. I remember sitting in her room in the middle of the night, nursing her, falling asleep, waking and nursing. Those were my nights. When she was three weeks old, I collapsed on my bed sobbing to my husband, “Why do I even bother trying to sleep? Why?” We started giving her a bottle not long after that. At eight weeks, we began sleep training and it worked. By nine weeks she was sleeping 10-12 hours at night, we had made it. This baby thing wasn’t going to be so hard after all. That’s when we learned. Sleeping through the night is like the fountain of youth, science says it’s possible, but always seems to be just beyond our reach.

You see, once a baby learns to sleep there are a myriad of factors that come and ruin everything. For example, rolling over. When babies learn to roll over they start rolling over in their sleep and then waking up and freaking out. Here is a list of things that prevent a baby from sleeping through the night: getting their legs stuck in the crib slats, eating too many blueberries, sitting up, standing, talking, colds, the weather, the neighbor’s dog, the flu, the alignment of the planets, a random virus that the doctor says isn’t a big deal but makes your baby scream from 2am to 5am and, as they get older, sheer cussedness.

A few nights ago, my three year old stayed awake from her bedtime at 8pm until almost midnight, because as she said, she had “no sleeps to get out.” Once she fell asleep, the baby woke up and talked in his crib from 1-2 in the morning. Just because he could. Do you see what I mean about sheer cussedness? So, sure. Read your baby sleep-training books, believe in the hope that those monsters sell you, but know this: it’s all a myth, an evil tale that other parents tell so that we will procreate and be just as miserable as them.

This is another Gazette column. I wrote it months ago. My fabulous niece is now six months old and still not sleeping. Good lord, I love that kid.

I Am Not Sad About Weaning

From when JQ was six months old.
From when JQ was six months old.

The baby quit nursing three months ago and I don’t feel sad.

With my daughter, nursing was hard. We couldn’t find a rhythm. My nipples bled through my shirt. Every time she latched it felt like glass rubbing on my skin. I was told the pain would go away. But it never really did. So, at three months, when she quit for the bottle, I didn’t push it. I eagerly embraced that breast pump and my freedom. It’s weird to call pumping freedom, because it’s the opposite. It’s being attached to a giant white machine that makes a sound that your tired brain thinks could be BOB HOOOOPPPEE BOB HOOOOPPPEE over and over. It means always having it with you. Along with cold packs, refrigerator access and clean bottles. It means hiding away for 20-30 minutes 5-10 times a day. But at least I wasn’t bleeding. When she was nine months old, I got the stomach flu and lost my ability to juggle motherhood, a job, a baby and a pumping schedule. Or maybe, I just realized that motherhood doesn’t have to be martyrdom. So, I bought formula and packed the pump away. I had few regrets.*

When JQ was born, I freaked out. I had to make nursing work. There was no way I could parent a two-year-old and keep track of a baby while pumping. It was either nursing or formula. In the hospital, when I felt that familiar pain of cutting glass on my nipples and I thought, Oh no, here we go again, I began crying. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to Dave. He just gave me a hug. What else can you do when your wife is bleeding from her nipples?

When JQ was a week old, I got mastitis. I didn’t know it was mastitis. I just knew I was in pain. The lactation consultant had seen me that day and declared me fine as I peppered her with questions about latching and cuts and pain. “You’ll toughen up,” she said. Later that day, my mom came to visit and found me feverish on the floor of the living room. Sobbing, I lifted up my shirt. “Go to the doctor,” she said.

I didn’t toughen up. I got antibiotics. A friend gave me a cream that helped my cuts heal and I muddled through. Then, I was there. Nursing wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t searing pain either. I wasn’t yelling swear words while the baby ate and making my daughter cry. So, progress. I’d made it.

But then he wouldn’t take a bottle.  It’s a cosmically cruel joke to have one kid who won’t breastfeed and another who won’t take the bottle. It felt like punishment for whatever parenting sins I had made before. Nothing worked. I would leave the house to go grocery shopping and 30 minutes later get a call from Dave asking me, very politely when I thought I would be home. I could hear the baby screaming in the background. I did a lot of crying myself. I had quit my jobs so I could be with my kids. The cruel calculations of income and childcare didn’t pan out in my favor. And here I was, now, drowning in the sea of everyone’s needs. The baby wouldn’t let go of me. The toddler wouldn’t stop licking my shins.

Even my few stolen moments were short, because the baby would cry and the boobs would come out. Every part of me, mentally and physically, had been colonized by others. My hair wasn’t washed. No time between morning feedings and the toddler waking. My hands were dry and cracking from endless diaper changes and butt wipes. My knees were red from kneeling by the potty and they ached from the endless hours I sat cross-legged feeding the baby. Even my eyelashes, unadorned, seemed to be a product of someone else’s design.

JQ finally took a bottle around nine months. I left for a trip to Boston to visit a dear friend and I discovered that even my sleeping patterns had been overtaken by my children. I woke at 3am, every morning, completely unbidden. After the trip, JQ began to drop feedings. It happened fast and I didn’t fight it. His needs had met the limits of my abilities.

By a year, he dropped his final night feedings. That was three months ago. I’ve been waiting to feel a sadness or a sense of loss. Instead, I just feel relief. I’m happy that it doesn’t have to always be me. I’m happy I can hire a babysitter and we can go out for disappointing chicken wings and good beer. I’m happy that Dave can do bedtime and I can clean the kitchen or drink a beer, or just lay on the floor in a middle of detritus of our day and breathe–Cheerios, dust bunnies, blocks, crowns, necklaces, trucks, half-chewed apples.

And here it is, in black and white: I don’t like always being needed. I don’t like this model of parenting that takes the whole load for everything about our children on our shoulders. I don’t like having the entirety of my children’s world limited by my abilities. I don’t like falling down the rabbit hole of the deep and abiding needs of my children. I can’t be everything to them all the time. It’s wrong of me to try to be.

I don’t know when “mom” became this all-encompassing, die-to-self, loss of selfhood. But it’s a lie.

So, nursing is over. I am so happy.

 

*Sorry, I know a lot of this is review if you read my site. But I always feel weird being self-referential, because people have better things to do then remember details about how my babies fed.

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