Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sleepwalking Through the Early Months

Bless her heart--fabulous Catherine Newman is writing about sleep training this week. I've gushed about Catherine's column before, and if you knew me back in the desperate newborn days of 2004, you would have thought that at times her words were the only thing keeping me sane--or at least laughing through my tears.

With baby #2 almost here, amidst my excitement, I've also been thinking a lot about the hardest (what an inadequate word!) parts of parenting an infant--the things I truly dread having to live through again. The whole issue of "sleep training"--or whatever you choose to call that whole process--is one of them. In our house, with our first baby, sleep was an incredibly fraught issue. It--or the lack of it--in large part defined the first seven months of Julia's life, and of my life as a new mother. By the time she was 4-6 months old, Julia basically didn't nap--at all--unless she was in my arms after a nursing session, and then only if I didn't move or speak, the phone didn't ring, no one knocked on the door, a plane didn't go by overhead (we lived near the airport, so...), and the toilet didn't flush elsewhere in the house. She always, despite my best efforts, fell asleep on the breast after nursing, and she never--and I mean NEVER--slept through the transfer from my arms to the crib. She never slept in the car or the stroller. I never got a break--those stories I'd hear of other mothers having a reliable two-hour stretch in the day to cook dinner, or do laundry, or shower or take a nap themselves, seemed like a different world to me--and I felt totally alone. I didn't have any friends with babies in my city, and I didn't know any stay-at-home moms nearby at all. The cumulative sleep deprivation of multiple nighttime nursings paired with no naps during the day left me overcome with exhaustion and desperation for months on end. I didn't know how I would survive it.

I knew in my gut that the popular "sleep training" books weren't right for Julia then, but I was still vulnerable to the judgments of those who felt that letting a newborn "cry it out" was the one, true way to sanity and happiness for the whole family. Until she was six or seven months old, our occasional attempts at the cry-it-out method were disastrous, and I knew that although the zealots would say that was only because we didn't let her cry long enough--we should have persevered for 2 hours, or 3, rather than 1 or 1-1/2--I knew in my mother's heart that Julia-- colicky, difficult-temperament, highly-sensitive survivor of a complicated and protracted delivery that she was--was not neurologically capable yet of the self-soothing it takes to learn to sleep. My only comforts during those days were some of the gentle, supportive writings of grandfatherly Dr. Sears--finally, someone describing babies just like Julia, who was like no other baby I'd ever known or read about!--and Catherine Newman's column, wherein a couple of times she mentioned her family's own sleep travails and unconventional solutions, and also said something to the effect of, "If our babies can learn to sleep, so will yours, and everything will work out okay no matter how you choose to put your children to sleep." No judgments, no lectures on the only "good" way to teach a baby to sleep. Just this: I know what it's like; we didn't follow the books either; and everyone's fine now.

In the end, Julia did learn to take naps. It ended up being something she sort of "grew into," just as I knew it had to be. As she got a little older and her brain became more developed, she seemed to "settle" a little bit, and gradually--and sort of suddenly--she napped. Granted, for another year (until she dropped the morning nap), her naps were rarely more than a half hour long, but it was something. As for nighttime? I hardly remember what we eventually did, but I know we didn't "train" her to fall asleep on her own at bedtime until she was about 6 or 7 months old, and we didn't night-wean her from her last nocturnal nursings until soon after that. By then, though harrowing, it wasn't as bad as I feared. I still believe it worked then because she was neurologically, developmentally ready.

It all sounds so mundane, and unemotional, to a non-parent---I know, I was one once. But looking back, it was absolute torture--all those months of sleep distress, the pacing back and forth listening to the screaming and wondering which was the right thing to do. The nights felt like they would never end; the non-napping afternoons felt like a weight trying to crush my eyelids closed. The books and the zealots made me feel like I'd done something wrong to have a baby like that, while at the very same time, deep inside I knew--I just knew--that it had nothing to do with me, that it was the baby I was given, with her hyper-sensitivity to noise and light and texture, with her jittery infant soul.

How is Julia now? She naps, almost every day. But for her, 90 minutes is about all you can expect; it's a good, solid nap. Two hours, or more, is an extreme rarity that prompts calls to Christopher at work, e-mails to my mom, out-loud marvelings the whole rest of the day: "Can you BELIEVE she slept for 2 hours?" For a very long time, almost a year and a half, she successfully put herself to sleep at bedtime with nary a peep and generally slept 12 hours straight, unless teething, sick, in a strange environment, etc. I think. Actually, now that I think about it, I dimly recall long spans of multiple nighttime check-ins, when she'd wake up crying because her blanket wasn't on anymore, or wasn't on right, or she was cold, or hot. She remains, as she was as an infant, a very light sleeper (just like her mama), known to awaken from the phone ringing or the toilet flushing or a truck going by outside. More recently, she's begun to protest most bedtimes, calling and fussing in her bed for up to an hour, necessitating myriad interventions, before giving in and falling asleep. Christopher and I have decided to indulge this for the time being, theorizing that she is more clingy these days as the new baby's arrival approaches, and we should both expect and be compassionate about that. All in all, the sleep issue is largely a non-issue for us, partly because Julia learned to sleep better, and partly because we accepted that this is how our child is--that she is and probably will always be a tough sleeper in some ways (who ever heard of a 1-year-old baby who doesn't nap during an entire 3-hour road trip scheduled precisely over naptime?). That sleep has to happen for her in just a certain way, and that it is a delicate phenomenon for her, in need of protection and patience. (I remember vividly the time before she was 1 year old when I realized that her cries at night were due to the feel of a hand-knit baby afghan against her bare legs. Once we switched blankets, she was fine.)

So. We're in a bit of a sleep groove, and a newborn is coming within weeks. And all of this will start again--maybe not in exactly the same way, but it will start again. Like I said, when I consider it, I feel complete, soul-shaking dread. I know there will be nights of sweaty, heart-pounding pacing while the baby cries inconsolably---not just in the beginning, when all newborns scream all night long (don't they?), but later on, in response to the message, No, you can't nurse every hour for any more months in a row; no, you can't be nursed to sleep forever and ever, because I can only do it for so long, and I've done it long enough now. I hate those moments.

So in the end, wonderful Catherine Newman reminds me--and all of you fellow parents out there--once again, in her own inimitable way, that all those phases you suffer through with your babies, the ones you somehow become convinced at the time will never, ever end....well, that they do. They pass. The baby sleeps. You sleep again. You all feel a lot better about life in general.

Someone remind me to re-read her column in a few months?

Analogy

At about 3 a.m. last night, it occurred to me that I've hit that point in pregnancy when turning over in bed resembles undertaking those three-point turns you used to practice before your driver's test. You know: shift, lurch, pause...shift, lurch, pause. Poor Christopher!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Twenty-Two Pounds and Counting

I just found out this morning that, in honor of the huge downtown Crazy Daze fair/festival going on in our town today, the local Dairy Queen is selling half-price Blizzards until 11 o'clock tonight. Are you pointing out the fact that I just HAD a Blizzard two nights ago? And that, considering my ice cream intake during pregnancy #2, baby-to-be is approximately 2/3 sugar at this point? Keep your thoughts to yourself, thank you very much. I've been having that otherworldly pregnancy uber-hunger all day today--something I haven't felt in weeks but which totally blew me away the first time I experienced it when I was pregnant with Julia--so you'd pretty much have to fend me off with a stick if you wanted to keep me from DQ later on.

I've only got a month of pregnancy left--probably EVER--so I really have to take advantage of the license to eat a gigantic amount at all times and have the only result be a round belly that is actually CUTE and SUPPOSED TO BE THAT WAY, rather than just a sign that I need to diet.

Bring it on!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Little Baby, Big Baby

There's been altogether too much complaining on this blog lately, so I thought I'd better remember to write about a tender moment, to make sure everyone understands that I AM actually happy, and excited, to be pregnant and to be preparing to welcome the new member of our family into our midst in just a few weeks. Yesterday at playgroup I held the little seven-week-old baby sister of Julia's toddler buddy Lucy. I used to think that whole newborn-baby's-head-smell fixation people have was overrated. Not anymore. Oh my goodness, was this a sweet, addictive baby. She was like a warm, cuddly, light-as-a-feather and yet satisfyingly solid bundle of lip-smackingness. She curled right on my shoulder like a nine-pound kidney bean. I told her mama I wanted to keep her. She reminded me I get one of my own soon. You don't think you'll forget, but truly, you do, how it feels to hold a newborn. When your newborn is a 34-lb. two-year-old your arm muscles have no memory at all of that early weight.

On another note, Julia has somehow picked up the phrase, "That's a good plan!" (or, in her case, something like, "DAT'S a good PAN!"), and recently cracked us up by debuting it out of the blue. Today at Target I was taking a very long time, and she was being so good and patient and helpful. I finally let her get down out of the cart in the lingerie aisle and she started taking packages of undies off the racks and running around purposefully, saying, "Um, get....candy and milk and jammies and, um.....puppy, and soap, and....underwear! Yeah! Dat's a good pan!", clearly on her own little shopping mission. I had been getting things I need for the hospital, so she kept saying, "For HOPS-SITAL!" Now that's a cheerful hospital packing list, isn't it? Candy and a puppy?

Nine-Month Dry Spell

Thanks to a relaxing mercy-playdate yesterday morning at the home of a fellow pregnant mama and then doing absolutely nothing physical the rest of the day (unless you count lying on the floor with Julia playing a game we like to call "Resting with Mama"), I felt much better by last evening. In other words, those pesky Braxton-Hicks contractions calmed down enough for me to sleep 8 hours last night.

But people, I've got to say, this chronic dehydration is torture. I am so tired of being repulsed by the thought of drinking anything. I've probably said this about other pregnancy symptoms (exhaustion, for example?), but this, THIS has to be the worst pregnancy symptom I've had. For a short time there at the end of my 2nd trimester/beginning of the 3rd, it seemed to get better. But now, I routinely find myself having ingested only a glass or two of anything liquid by evening. I just can't bring myself to drink much of anything. Even the things that sound good for awhile tend to go bad for me pretty quickly; plus, it's not like I can drink 8 or 10 glasses of, say, lemonade or decaf iced lattes a day--I wouldn't have space or calories for actual food. You don't have to tell me that dehydration causes Braxton-Hicks contractions--not to mention just an overall tired, sick feeling. I'm well aware, and I STILL can't drink anything.

Makes me almost excited for that incredible unquenchable thirst you get from nursing, when you can't get enough giant glasses of ice water.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sweet Dreams

Julia pilfered my pregnancy pillow!

I can't believe it. Just the other day I dug it out of storage for my achy pregnant nighttime ligaments. It's small, designed to put between one's knees or under one's belly--not a body pillow--and covered in very soft pale blue flannel. Naturally Julia noticed it right away the next morning on my bed and yelled, "What's DAT?!" Then she ran over to it, grabbed it, and literally ran off down the hall with it toward her own bed, saying over her shoulder, "Julia have Mama's pillow!" She napped with it that day, happy as a clam. We forgot to get it out of her room before she went to bed that night, and when I went in to check on her before I went to bed, I didn't have the heart to take it away from her. She was so sweetly snuggled up with her head on it, snoozing like a contented puppy. She's in love with it! It's just her size. And, is this a coincidence?: the two nights she's gone to bed with it, she hasn't complained about bedtime at all or done her recent hour-long bedtime-protest routine.

Yes, you guessed it--I'm the pregnant one, but it's Julia's pillow now.

Not My Idea of "Taking It Easy"

Awake until 4 a.m. last night with a zillion Braxton-Hicks contractions and the baby doing some sort of marathon gymnastics event in my abdomen for hours on end. Up at 7:30 this morning to take care of Julia. In desperate need of a magical Mary Poppins to descend from above and take over for the day.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Wake-Up Call

You know how, in your second pregnancy, half the time, you're just barely paying attention? How with the first, you go to your prenatal appointments with a list--an actual written list!--of questions and concerns, you religiously avoid the smallest morsels of feta cheese and deli lunch meat, you dutifully get off your feet and reduce all physical activity if you feel tired or crampy? And then, second time around, you go to the doctor and when she asks what's been going on with your body since she saw you last, you stare blankly at her and say, "um....."? And you remember you're not supposed to have feta cheese AFTER you've eaten the whole Greek salad? And you're running after your child all day and you notice plenty of odd bodily sensations, but in the blink of an eye you've forgotten about them already because you're trying to make sure your first baby doesn't fall off the jungle gym? And suddenly you're in your ninth month of pregnancy and you realize that you're still doing just as much housework, exercise, and other physical activity (see previous sentence regarding jungle gym) as before you were pregnant, and maybe that's not quite what you're supposed to be doing right now, especially in July when it's 90-some degrees outside?

Um, yeah---turns out it's possible to be a little too blase about one's second pregnancy.

I had my 34-week OB appointment today and actually remembered to tell my doctor about the tons of Braxton-Hicks contractions and cervical twinges I've been having recently. She looked a little alarmed when, in answer to her queries for more information, I told her I really didn't know how many I've been having, or how frequent they've been--just that I've been having a lot of them. Fears about childcare for Julia in the event of preterm labor aside, I haven't really been paying all that much attention. Here's where my doctor gently but VERY firmly suggested that, if our goal is to actually AVOID PRETERM LABOR, I actually LIE DOWN AND REST if I notice any Braxton-Hicks contractions. You know: drink some water, count the number of contractions in the next hour, and, um, take it a little more easy. In other words, all the things I did when I was pregnant the first time, but which haven't occurred to me this time around.

OK then. Good point.

Can't Put Anything Past Her

The other day I was reading Julia one of her Sesame Street library books, and because I sort of thought it was a little advanced for her--lots of text, big words, not a toddler board book--I automatically simplified one of the lines as I read it out loud: "Zoe climbed into her carseat." Imagine my surprise when Julia looked up at me sharply and shouted, "No, Mama, 'CLAMBERED'!" What could I say? "Oh, yes, honey, you're right: 'Zoe clambered into her carseat.'"

Good grief. She's barely two! She's already got whole books memorized--library books, too, not books she's been hearing since she was six months old--AND she's correcting me when I change the lines? Isn't that supposed to happen, like, later??

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Scenes from Small-Town Rice County

In my whole life until now, the smallest town I've lived in (aside from during my babyhood, when I was too young to remember) was a community of about 100,000, where I spent the bulk of my childhood. From college until 7 months ago, I lived in large urban areas. Thus, I am still getting used to the wonders of truly small-town life. (The drawbacks too, of course--but with 1 small child in hand already and another baby coming imminently, the pluses seem to outweigh the minuses for us at our current stage of life, when low crime, slow traffic, safe streets, short commutes, good schools, and a true sense of kindhearted community take top priority over trendy restaurants, arthouse movie theatres, and nationally-known galleries and museums.)

Anyway, the last few days have included a couple of great examples of small-town living. On Thursday, we ventured to the town square to have supper at the annual outdoor Northfield food festival. While Christopher, Julia, and I munched our sandwiches and coleslaw, a woman came over to chat and take our picture for the town website. And this is the second time we've ended up on the town website after attending community events! This seemed very funny to me--like everyone knows everyone here, or something. (Adding to that sense, we ran into 3 families we knew while there, something that happens pretty much anytime we go anywhere in town, whether it be the grocery store or the coffeeshop.)

Today, we reveled in the rural life at the Rice County Fair, where we met some friends and took the babies to the children's petting zoo (yes, we used lots of hand sanitizer afterward). I've never been to a fair this small, but it was perfect. It cost a grand total of $5 (to park the car), nothing was overwhelming or too loud or hideously dirty, in 90 minutes the girls got to see all the animals, visit a butterfly house, and eat their bag lunches, and everyone went home for nap happy but not overwrought. And there were no scary gap-toothed carnies.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Mutual Admiration Society

The other night at dinner while contentedly munching away on homemade pizza and peas, Julia gazed over at me and said, "Mama is nice girl."

You too, Sweet Pea.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Say a Little Prayer

I’m starting to get a little scared. Not of the things I was scared of when I was nearing the end of pregnancy with Julia. What were those things, anyway? Having my water break at the office, or in some other embarrassing situation (I was doing a lot of public speaking back then). Having labor begin and not knowing it until too late (ha! ha ha ha ha!). Not being able to handle the pain of childbirth (even though I planned on, and ultimately received, an epidural). Having labor go so fast I wouldn’t be able to GET an epidural even though I wanted one (HA HA HA HA HA HA!).

No, this time, with all my ongoing pelvic discomfort and Braxton-Hicks contractions, I am scared of going into labor early, before the C-section date, and without anyone here to take care of Julia. I am terrified this baby isn’t going to hold out until the end. Every day I suspect my body of starting some precocious little plan, and I don’t know what to make of any of it. That heavy feeling in my pelvis, different from how I felt at 9 months pregnant with Julia: unpleasant pregnancy side effect, or the baby launching her journey prematurely? Those twinges and tightenings: harmless “practice” contractions, or the start of the real thing? The anxiety is killing me, and only because I’ve already got a child—a very vulnerable, young, timid child—who depends on me, on us, being here for her every hour of the day. If it were just Christopher and me, I wouldn’t care. (Well, come to think of it, if it were just Christopher and me, I wouldn’t have the wisdom and experience to not care. But at least I’d only have my own emotional health to consider, rather than living with the terrible maternal love-pain where you care more about your child than you do about your own self.)

It just seems so unlikely to me that everything will go according to plan, with Christopher and me heading to the hospital in the early dawn of August 25th, my mom safely at our house caring for Julia in her expert way, no desperate middle-of-the-night calls to various friends in an attempt to find a sitter, no heartache over the idea of how scared Julia would be to awaken to find an unfamiliar adult answering her calls rather than Mama or Daddy. [Some background information: we're still new enough in town to not have super-close friends here to count on for emergency babysitting, and the one college-age sitter we have forged a relationship with is traveling in Latin America for the summer.] Maybe the easy execution of the plan seems unlikely because of how NOT according to plan everything went with Julia’s birth—when we weren’t even worried about any of the things that actually ended up happening. (In hindsight: I probably should have paid attention to the part of the childbirth class devoted to back labor.)

(It probably doesn't help that I just finished reading a library book about midwifery, which was fascinating but which showcased several clinical anecdotes involving second labors that whizzed by in, like, 45 minutes start to finish. Nothing like a few dramatic case studies of babies coming at breakneck speed to get a pregnant mama a little worked up about being alone and unprepared.)

I guess I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the system, whatever system it is that is running the show here. Can you blame me?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Surviving

The other day Snarky Squab posted about her own personal "survival kit" for the first three months of parenting a newborn (also known as "the fourth trimester"). This got me thinking back two summers ago to the things I myself could not have lived without when Julia was 0-3 months old, some of which I listed in a comment to Squab's post. Don't get me wrong: Julia's newborn months were EXTREMELY HARROWING, and these things didn't necessarily make my life easy (is any new mom's life easy? I dare say no.). More like, if it weren't for these things, well....I shudder to think.

Here they are, in no particular order:

--My Boppy nursing pillow
--Our white noise machine
--My mom
--The doula/lactation specialist who through words alone restored my confidence that nursing would work out, despite 4 weeks of milk pore infections and 4 months of plugged ducts
--Dooce
--Catherine Newman's transcendant--and hilarious--"Bringing Up Ben and Birdy" column at babycenter.com, especially the columns from the time surrounding Birdy's birth and newborn-hood
--Lansinoh cream
--Visits from all the good friends who understood I couldn't go out anywhere, and who brought lunch and treats straight to my doorstep
--My fabulous nurse practitioner who gave me the gentlest postpartum check-up in the history of OB medicine and was moved to tears of sympathy when she learned the full details of my delivery and injuries. She also told me to have a beer every afternoon and to wean guilt-free if my infections wouldn't cease. I didn't, but it helped to hear her say it.
--A vibrating baby bouncey-seat
--An insane amount of chocolate
--An insane amount of daytime TV during all those nursing sessions (How I miss it!)
--The Medela Pump In-Style double electric breast pump
--Receiving blankets by the boatload (good for swaddlers, changing pad covers, burp cloths, stroller padding, etc. etc. etc.)
--Bergan's SuperValu grocery store in our old neighborhood: close enough to get to and back before needing to nurse again, small and friendly enough that they bagged AND carried out for me
--I wish I could list, like Squab did, a sense of humor, but I don't think I had one then. Instead, I'll finish with: an iron will

Baby Einstein

Julia loves watching the garbage and recycling trucks pick up our trash. A couple of times in the past I have offhandedly mentioned to her that they come on Monday. This morning as Christopher was getting ready to leave for work, he commented, "Boy, it's only Wednesday. It feels like it should be Friday!" Julia looked solemnly at us and said, clear as day, as if a four-year-old were saying it, "Garbage truck comes on MONDAY." Then she said, "'Cycling truck comes on Monday TOO."

Yowza. I think she's going to be smarter than the two of us nerds combined.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

You'd Find it Fascinating Too, if You Were in My Shoes

Just got back from an impromptu playdate with two other mom friends--one also pregnant with her second, like me, and the other having just given birth to her second 6 weeks ago. We spent 90 minutes together, and as the toddlers played, I think we spent at LEAST half an hour discussing the merits and flaws of various types of double strollers: front-to-back or side-by-side? travel system to accomodate the infant carseat, or just go with a cheaper non-system version? are you really going to actually be brave enough to go out of the house on any sort of stroller-needing errand with both babies at the same time, anyway?

Then we spent the rest of the time talking about the Baby Bjorn (worth the money once you have to juggle two babies at the same time? or fancy rip-off even though we all have one?) and the art of nursing a newborn standing up, outside, at the playground, while simultaneously running after a two-year-old on the jungle gym, and how different that is from nursing your first baby, when you sit in one specific chair, in one position, with the same twelve pillows in their precise places every single time, and if the phone rings or someone comes to the door, you are unable to respond because you can't both move and keep the baby latched on at the same time.

Yes, this is what your life turns into when you cross the great divide between having one baby and having two. These are the things you talk about. And it's FASCINATING. (I'm not being facetious.)

I just spilled black cherry smoothie down the front of my white maternity t-shirt. Time to go.

Make Way for Pregnancy

I've said it once, I'll say it again: How is it possible for one's belly to be SO much larger in one's second pregnancy than in one's first? I've gained the exact same amount of weight so far as I had at the same point in my pregnancy with Julia--which is to say, the low end of the medically recommended range--and yet my hard round belly is easily a month bigger than last time around. I know, I know; according to my OB, it's due to the uterus being pre-stretched out this time--it was just waiting to pop right out from the get-go, unlike the first time when it actually had some existing muscle tone to hold it undercover.

I don't really mind; I've always really loved how I look when pregnant. But I still marvel, every day, at how the maternity tank tops I wore to the very end two years ago now leave a nice swath of exposed belly in their wake (5 weeks to go!). From the front or back, you can't really tell how pregnant I am, but from the side, I look like I might topple over frontward at any moment. I can only imagine how I must have looked to the drivers downtown yesterday as I traversed the crosswalk from the library to the Bittersweet Cafe, carrying 34-lb. Julia on my left hip (she's a little unpredictable in the holding-hands-while-crossing-the-street department right now) and our library books and my shoulder bag in my other arm. No wonder everyone braked so obediently.

Julia's Blue Period?

One of Julia's favorite activities is coloring--or, more accurately, instructing whatever adult is with her to "draw something for Julia!" and then coloring it in (i.e., scribbling over it) with her crayons. Yesterday I overheard Julia tell her daddy to draw the following things (and I quote):

Julia's toe
a sad Julia
a swimming guy
a naked guy
a sad alligator
a beaver
a swimming beaver
lightning
a tiny baby
a sad tiny baby

Don't ask me what this obsession with sad things/people/animals means. She LOVES drawing "tears" (long blue lines coming from the general vicinity of said object's eyes), but where this all came from, I have no idea. We routinely draw sad flowers, sad trees, sad faces, sad girls, etc. etc. etc. Yikes! It sounds a little grim, doesn't it?! I promise, we really are a fairly happy bunch over here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

First Ice Cream Cone

Julia enjoyed her first ice cream cone the other day. When it was gone, she cried. A girl after her mama's heart.

Mama So Tired

The story remains the same: I am just so, so tired. Most days I feel like I’m barely slogging through. One of the mantras of the past few months in our house has been, “Mama so tired.” Except Julia pronounces it phonetically, like “tie-red.” Let me tell you, it’s more than a little heartbreaking to hear your two-year old say gravely, “Mama tie-red” every other hour in response to hearing your heavy sighs or determined deep breathing. Sometimes, if she needs something and Christopher is home too, she’ll say, “Daddy do it. Mama too tie-red.” It kills me—and not in a ha-ha, that’s so funny it just KILLS me! kind of way.

The worst part of this incredible exhaustion is the knowledge that it’s not likely to go away for, like, another year. I mean, I’m tired to the bone NOW. But then the baby will come, and, since I’ll be nursing, I’ll be sleeping even LESS than I am now, with no possibility of catching up with naps, either. It won’t be until the baby is done nursing during the night that I’ll have any hope at all of even a remotely significant chunk of sleep at any one time.

YAWN.

Two-Year-Old Courage

Julia is terrified of new people; when we encounter a neighbor or other adult in town who tries to say hello to her, she generally freezes and actually turns her head as far away from the person as possible, as if hoping to make the person disappear simply by refusing to look at him or her. When we gently prompt her, "Can you say hi back, honey?" she either says nothing or, poignantly, whispers, "Not today." Her fear is more than a little heartbreaking.

But the other day, we met our new next-door neighbor, a sweet elderly woman who asked Julia her name. Not expecting her to comply, I offhandedly said, "Honey, can you say, 'My name is Julia'?" You should have seen her. She paused a minute, steeled herself next to me, took a deep breath, and said haltingly but obediently, "My...name....is Joo-ya!" She hardly looked up as she did it; it was all she could do to speak the words out loud.

It sounds like nothing, but I was so proud of her. That was BRAVE.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Can We Keep Her?

I'm gonna saint up my beloved friend Veronica a little bit more here. She came on Tuesday to visit until Saturday, and we're having a grand time. We haven't seen her in more than a year, but she used to live up here, before moving far, far away THE MONTH AFTER Julia was born, can you believe the nerve? How was I supposed to survive my first year as a mom without V. to come by with Godiva chocolates and fancy soaps to coo over the baby and pamper me? Well, I survived, but it was a lot more grim than it would have been had V. still been around.

Anyway, let me tell you, even without the avalanche of decadent dessert treats we're enjoying around here, life is pretty sweet with a houseguest like V. So far she has emptied my dishwasher (more than once); hand-washed the other stuff; helped me change the wet sheets on Julia's bed; taken out the trash; pitted about ten million pounds of fresh Bing cherries so they'll be ready for Julia to snack on; read all 12 Sesame Street board books to Julia multiple times in a row without complaint; listened to Julia say, "Auntie V draw something for Julia!" for an hour straight while they colored, each time happily complying with this bossy "request"; carried everything possible for me at all times anytime we went anywhere; treated me to dinner, dessert, dinner, dessert, dinner, and dessert; and best of all, made every little mundane thing we do seem fun and hilarious. Plus she loves my daughter to pieces, and the feeling is highly mutual. I think Julia thinks Auntie V is some kind of exotic queen who visits, brings gifts, plays with babies a lot, and helps Mama cook and clean all day long. Seriously--doesn't that sound like a dream come true?

Go Read This, it's Short

I love love love this op-ed piece from the Literary Mama archives, about nursing in public.

EXACTLY.

We Love Auntie V.!

I have to interrupt our busy, happy visit from Veronica (known to Julia as "Auntie V") to brag just a little bit. This morning Julia, who is only 25 months old, spouted her longest sentence ever. She said, "What is Auntie V having for her breakfast?" I just stared at her. I still can't believe we have actual CONVERSATIONS together these days. It's hilarious--and super fun.

Well, we're off to run errands soon. P.S. Veronica is fattening me up even more than I already am in my 33 weeks pregnant state. Last night we went out for girls' night up in the Cities and ate our favorite luscious Thai food on Grand Avenue and then, naturally, dessert at Cafe Latte. This after ice cream cones on Tuesday night. Oh, and I've heard rumors of Muddy Paws cheesecake tonight.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Just Trying to Make Sense of it All

I'm piling on the posts here lately, but in about an hour one of my favorite friends in the whole world arrives for a visit for the rest of the week, so blogging will be unlikely for a few days. So I thought I'd get it all in early. Plus there's no end of material around this joint:

Remember the whole "this word sounds like that other word" preoccupation of Julia's I mentioned the other day? It continues. Lately, she has informed her daddy that "polo" (as in her polo shirt) sounds like "polar bear" and that "gazebo" sounds like "Bobo" (one of her daddy's many nicknames for her). Today at lunch this turned into a rather existential conversation about names--specifically, about mamas and their names.

Julia is obsessed with--though paralyzingly shy around--the 3-year-old Japanese girl who lives in the townhouse next door. At lunch she looked out the window, didn't see anyone, and asked me, "Where is Meg?" I told her Meg was probably inside having lunch with her mama and daddy. Julia said, "Meg's mama named...?" and I reminded her, "Yuki." "Sounds yike Yucas! (Lucas)" Julia exclaimed with glee. (Lucas is a toddler buddy of hers.) I said, "Yes, Meg's mama's name, Yuki, sounds like 'Lucas'. Isn't that interesting?"

Julia suddenly looked thoughtful and turned to stare at me. She said, "What's dat mama's name?" Not understanding her, I asked, "You mean, what's Meg's mama's name?" But that wasn't it. Julia pointed at me and said, "What's YOUR mama's name?" It was clear she was asking what MY name is. I laughed and told her, "My name is Shannon, but you call me Mama, because I'm your mama!" But then, you see, things got even more confusing in her little head, because Christopher has a friend named Shannon, who raced in the 4th of July bike races in downtown Northfield, which Christopher took Julia to watch. So in response to my answer, Julia said emphatically, "No, BIKER!"

You could tell she just couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that, not only does Mama have another name, but it is the SAME NAME as a bicyclist friend of Daddy's! You could practically see her shaking her head in confusion.

Back to that polo shirt I mentioned above....Yesterday she was wearing it--an adorable puff-sleeved lime-green little pique polo with a blue flower embroidered on the breast--with a khaki skort. We were outside blowing bubbles and making chalk drawings when Julia suddenly patted her clothes and said proudly, "Julia wearing work clothes!" This struck me as hilarious, but upon thinking about the fact that Christopher wears khakis and a polo to work most every day, I thought, huh, makes sense. I said to her, "You are?! Where do you work?" Julia said matter-of-factly, "New York." (Christopher went on a work trip to NYC a few weeks back.) I laughed and told her that was an awfully long commute, I'd miss her a lot.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mommy Wars: Battle in My Own Backyard

[Warning: This is a long one!]

Wow, these so-called “mommy wars,” they’re pretty real, aren’t they? Until just recently, as a reader of the motherhood literature, I took significant interest in these notorious battle-lines, but mainly in a rather distant and removed sort of way. I naively thought the term didn’t really apply to my own experience. I truly hadn’t had (that I can recall) any conflictual experiences with other parents regarding the whole stay-at-home vs. working mom issue.

My husband and I currently maintain a one-income, one-stay-at-home-parent household, a choice that is working very well for us (if you ignore the fact, as we prefer to do, that we are barely squeaking by financially). As parents of a two-year-old and with a newborn on the way, we are deeply contented with our household arrangement at this point in our lives. I have chosen to stay home with my babies when they are very young, despite having earned a Ph.D. in my field and having enjoyed a successful career before becoming a mother---but also, with the assumption that I will be resuming my working-woman status when it feels right (or financially necessary) to us.

Christopher and I have friends of all stripes: childless career-driven couples, childless but baby-desiring couples, single working moms, single childless friends, dual-career families, single-career families, families in which the parents have cobbled together any number of work/childcare arrangements that combine full-time, part-time, and freelance or home-based work. Some of our working friends use nannies, some use family-based daycares, some use commercial daycare centers. We’ve never experienced negative interactions with any of our friends about any of our respective child vs. work choices. We have been blessed with unflagging support for our personal decision to have me stay home full-time with Julia; in kind, we truly respect each of our friends’ own choices as the right thing for their own situations, and believe they know that we do.

I also believe my friends know that, although I have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom right now and am emphatic in the knowledge that this is the right thing for our family, I am still a liberal feminist who firmly believes all women should have the right to make work and childcare choices that feel most right to them, without judgment or criticism from others. So, previously, whenever I read a new article or book about the “mommy wars,” it was with more of an air of curious interest than of recognition.

And then, things took a turn for the crazy—and the ugly.

Just recently, Christopher and I felt compelled to actually sever a friendship over, I guess, these mommy wars. It was such an unexpected and bizarre experience that it got me thinking hard about what it truly means when fellow parents cannot tolerate each others’ life choices---and about why in the world any of us should really care about each others’ individual choices that may differ from our own.

Someone Christopher had considered a long-time good friend—albeit one with whom a few red-flag rough patches had cropped up occasionally over the years, in hindsight a telling detail--and his spouse unexpectedly began sending us bizarre and hostile e-mails. (Note: this is someone I feel safe in assuming is not reading this blog.)

Bottom line: this former friend accused us of being aggressively judgmental about their choice to work full-time and put their child in daycare, citing as evidence the fact that in the Christmas cards we’ve sent out since Julia was born, we have expressed personal relief and happiness that I have been able to be home with her, as we desire. (Note that we have never said, nor felt privately, that there is anything wrong with their choice to utilize daycare if that is what works best for their family.) He fumed over the fact that in some writing we have done lately, we have described being very happy with our lives, which he interpreted as a boast that the at-home-motherhood lifestyle is more glorious than any other, even in pieces of writing that had nothing to do with parenting choices.

There was more—a LOT more. It was all very mean-spirited, and we ultimately decided we needed to eliminate this relationship from our lives.

This whole experience was so foreign to me that I really didn’t know what to make of it. And yet, I was also able to maintain an objective, almost clinically removed perspective on the whole thing (maybe that’s the psychologist in me). It was obvious to me that true friends don’t begrudge loved ones any happiness---that the only explanation for being furious with someone for saying, “I’m so happy with the choices I’ve made in my life” is if you have made different choices and are, in contrast, NOT happy. If you are, actually, insecure or ambivalent about those differing choices, deep down.

I spent a lot of time musing about this. At first, of course, I felt angry, victimized, and disbelieving. And then I recalled a passage in Andrea Buchanan’s wonderful book, Mother Shock, where she writes about overcoming the hurtful impact of others’ criticisms of her parenting choices. She describes obtaining comfort in such hurtful situations by reminding herself of the unstated subtext beneath the insulting verbal daggers---that when others criticized her parenting, what they were really saying was this: that the thought that a different way of doing things may also be okay was too threatening to consider, because it would mean that perhaps they had done something wrong, or that they had at least had choices they could have utilized differently, for greater happiness for themselves or their children, but had not.

And when I re-read the passage, it was exactly right. She writes that she realized that a fellow mother’s snide parenting criticism carried a subtext that said, “…’if you do things differently…and everything still turns out fine, then that means I have made a mistake, I have made the wrong choices year after year after year, and I can never go back and love my babies differently.’”

And that’s when I was able to truly let the whole ugly episode go, because I was able to see it, even more than I already had, as a reflection of great sadness underneath the venom.

It’s awful to think of anyone feeling that conflicted about his or her parenting; it made me feel overcome with relief that I DON’T feel that way about my own personal childcare/parenting choice---that I, at least, really am unconflicted and at peace with my decision to temporarily quit work to be home with my babies.

BUT…

What has happened in our culture such that, today, when a stay-at-home mother says, “I’m so happy with my childcare choice,” we hear instead, “YOUR [different] choice is wrong and indefensible”? What does it mean when parents cannot abide by other parents’ happiness, UNLESS those fellow parents have chosen the exact same childcare vs. work options that they themselves have? Are we so insecure in our parenting decisions these days that the idea of someone else feeling content about a decision that strays from our own feels intolerably threatening?

And if so, why?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Mop" Rhymes with "Stop": Coincidence?

So what does it say about our housekeeping habits that, when reading a new Sesame Street book about words that rhyme, upon encountering a picture of Bert mopping the floor, Julia pointed at the mop and said quizzically, "What's DAT?" After I told her, "It's a mop, honey. It's for cleaning the floor", she asked about five more times in a row, as if she'd never heard the word in her life. Which, maybe, she hasn't.

(Disclaimer: she does know the Swiffer quite well.)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sweetheart Moments

The other day I made tabbouli for supper. Julia had never had it before, so when I set it in front of her, she said, "What's dat?" "Tabbouli, honey," I told her. "Can you say tabbouli?" She demurred for a moment, then tried it: "toppa-boo-ee." She said her version of the word a few more times. Then she said, "Toppa-boo-ee! Sounds like 'topple'!" (Note: Her daddy plays a game with her that consists of throwing themselves onto a pile of couch cushions, which they have named Topple.)

Today at the library, in the children's playroom, Julia was playing with a fabulous animal-themed wooden abacus. She said, "What's Julia playing with?" and I said, "That's an abacus, honey." I repeated the word very slowly a few times. Then Julia said, "Ab-a-kiss. Sounds like 'kissing'!"

At the coffee shop this morning for breakfast, I asked Julia if I could have a kiss. She said yes, but "on Mama's arm." She leaned over and very sweetly pressed her lips to my forearm. The she said, "On Mama's tummy", and she bent down from her highchair to plant a careful, delicate kiss on my round pregnant belly. She also called herself a "wheat-heart", which, you know, she definitely is.

Simple Math

Thirty-two weeks pregnant + continued aversion to liquids and resulting chronic dehydration + summer cold with terrible cough and sore throat for which I can't take any medicine that actually works + constant heartburn from the third trimester + sick toddler to take care of + insomnia from above-mentioned cough and heartburn + that awful can't-breathe feeling you get when the baby starts to press on your diaphragm = ONE CRANKY PREGNANT MAMA WITH A VERY NEGATIVE ATTITUDE AND A MESSY HOUSE AND A TO-DO LIST THAT NEVER GETS DONE.

Good thing my fabulous, wonderful, much-missed friend Veronica is coming on Tuesday all the way from San Antonio to visit for FOUR DAYS. It's impossible to feel bad around this woman. We are going to have fun, fun, fun---even if I can't breathe or sleep.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Prenatal Pep Talk

We spent the 4th of July at a lovely afternoon barbecue with some new friends, other young families with toddlers Julia's age and, until just recently, all of us moms due with our second babies soon. I say "until recently," because one of the women had her baby a month ago, the first of us to enter secondtime motherhood. It was wonderful to see this brand-new kitten, 4 weeks old to the day, looking impossibly adorable and tiny with gigantic blue eyes and miniscule pink feet the size of strawberries. But it was her mom the rest of us pregnant mamas circled around compulsively, grilling for information while the other guests raided the food table. She was on the other side now, in the world of parenting a newborn as well as an older baby, and we were hungry for the truth: How's the all-night nursing going? Are you getting any sleep, EVER? Is Lucy heartbroken with jealousy and sibling rivalry? Is anything easier this time around?

I'm telling you, people, this friend looked admirably pulled-together---showered, dressed, enviably slim only a month after the birth---but, it was clear, she was also very, very tired and overwhelmed. The circles under her eyes rivaled any I sported after Julia's birth (and those were truly scary). She spoke of calling her husband home from work after lunch the other day, because the baby, the toddler and she herself were all crying uncontrollably and she just couldn't cope alone for one more second. She spoke of the desperation of nursing all night and then NOT being able to nap with the baby the next day, because her firstborn was there, needing care.

With your first pregnancy, you don't panic too much beforehand about what the new-parenting stuff is going to be like. You don't know enough to panic, and it's a good thing, too. You panic about the labor; you have no idea that the labor is the least of it.

I remember it all from the first time around. After a multi-day labor, I was 100% physically depleted BEFORE bringing Julia home, and that's when the truly hard stuff began. Julia was an unusually difficult infant, with colic and an inability to self-soothe and a yen for nursing for an hour at a time, then starting up again 45 minutes after she ended. I know what how hard it can be with one; I can only imagine how hard it is with two.

Already, though, after talking to this new mom of two, I can feel myself bracing for my own next go-around. Driving home from the party, I felt, rather than panic, a familiar steely resolve beginning to stir. A little voice saying, "No matter how hard this is, I can do it."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Once and Again

Here I am, almost 32 weeks pregnant, solidly set sail well into my third trimester. Amazing, really: where have the past 32 weeks gone, exactly? This sure isn’t like when I was pregnant with Julia, when thoughts about and analysis of the pregnancy consumed every waking moment (or at least that’s how it seemed). If you asked me, back then, how far along I was, I could tell you practically down to the hour, faster than you could say the phrase, “due date calculator.” Nowadays, it takes me a minute, and the other day I actually had to check my calendar to be sure.

So many things about the second pregnancy are (emotionally) easier, less fraught than the first. Worries about learning how to breastfeed? My nipples could do it on their own! Wondering how many onesies and newborn side-snap t-shirts to buy? They’re already here, in a box somewhere, just waiting to be filled with little caterpillar arms and legs, and who knows, or cares, how many there are? There are enough. Baby shower? What baby shower? No one gives one for your second: one less thing to think about.

You’d think everything would be like that, then, wouldn’t you? Well, no. I was recently reading the pregnancy book my new doctor’s office gave me at my first visit—you know, to at least have cracked the cover before the baby is delivered. (That’s another difference: during my first pregnancy, I religiously read What to Expect and the pregnancy journal which told me down to the day which parts of the baby were developing when; this time, the only thing you’ll find me reading on a regular basis is my e-mail and the errant Pottery Barn catalog.)

I meant to familiarize myself with the chapter on Cesarean sections, since, you know, I’m going to be having one. But then I found myself wandering into the labor and delivery chapter, where each stage of labor is outlined in, on the one hand, what seems like excruciating detail when you haven’t yet given birth, and on the other hand, what seems like only the vaguest of terms once you’ve actually been through it yourself.

The first time I read about labor, when I was preparing to bring Julia into the world, such descriptions (and, later, in childbirth class, the dramatic videos) invariably caused an immediate emotional reaction on my part: my heart would race, I'd get teary with wonder and fear. Perhaps terror is a better word.

Let me tell you, I did not expect to have that reaction again this time, seasoned childbearer that I am. I mean, after Julia’s birth, pretty much anything should seem like a cakewalk. But there I was the other week, reading about the transition stage, when women often tremble uncontrollably and feel most chaotic and helpless, and then about end-stage labor, when the cervix stretches larger than a grapefruit (a grapefruit, people! a VERY LARGE grapefruit!) to allow the baby’s head to pass through…and, as if I were racing backward in time, I found myself freaking out again at the thought of this terrifying miracle that unfolds all the time, every day. All I could think was, there is only one way out of this, and that is the birth. It’s going to happen, as it did before, and I am merely riding a wave.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Introduction to Mama in Wonderland

When I first really heard about (or paid attention to) blogs, a couple of years ago, and when my husband decided to start one of his own, I told him I thought blogs were narcissistic. Now that I am blogging myself and am addicted to daily readings of quite a number of blogs (mostly of the “mommy-blogging” variety), naturally he likes to throw this quote back in my face and make fun of me for jumping onboard the blogging bandwagon (doesn’t everyone and their brother have a blog these days?). What he didn’t understand is that I meant it objectively, not as a criticism. I still think blogs are narcissistic; I mean, it seems egocentric to assume that what you have to say is fascinating enough for others to seek out and read, just because. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing (or a good thing), in my mind. It just is.

So here I go, narcissistically thinking I have something to say that others might care about. Who knows? Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. I hope, at least, that our friends and families might find this blog a fun way to hear the latest updates on what Julia is doing these days (and the new baby too, in the near future). In any case, since I was hogging up Christopher’s blog all the time with my own posts, it was clearly time to take the plunge and join the blogger revolution on my own. (Welcome, any readers of Xferen who have made your way over here!)

This blog is conceived as an outlet for me to write about my thoughts and experiences related to motherhood, parenting, and pregnancy. I know, I know---it seems like every time you turn around on the Internet you find another “mommy-blog” (a term, by the way, about which I am conflicted: condescending and cutesy, or descriptive and harmless?). But hey: I’m a writer at heart, always have been, and blogging gets me writing when nothing else has. It gets me writing about the overload of musings I’ve had in my head since my daughter was born 2 years ago and I was a quivering mass of postpartum pain and exhaustion, with a lot to say but no time or energy with which to do so. Maybe even more importantly, it motivates me to record the fleeting moments of Julia’s baby/toddlerhood that I would otherwise probably forget.

Life is about to get a whole lot busier, so come along for the ride and wish me luck as I get ready to become a mama of two instead of one.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Why "Wonderland"?

You may be wondering what’s up with this blog’s title. I chose the name “Mama in Wonderland” because, to me, it has three meanings. First, a little tongue-in-cheek, because daily life as a stay-at-home mom is certainly no wonderland, as filled as it often is with diapers, spilled sippy cups, too much laundry, and too little sleep. Second, on the other hand, in many ways I DO feel that my life as a mother is wonderful and full of blessings; I am often overcome with wonder at how parenthood has changed my life for the better. And last, as I embark on the final weeks of my second pregnancy and contemplate becoming the mother of a newborn and a toddler at the same time, I feel a bit like Alice on the verge of tumbling down the rabbit hole---excited, but also nervous and necessarily unprepared for what this new adventure will be like.