Thursday, October 13, 2005

Nighttime Parenting

Nighttime Parenting
Stacey Greenberg

I was exhausted and up way past my bedtime. Midnight—what was I thinking? I buried myself in the covers that had been kicked to the bottom of the family bed. My one-year-old and my three-year-old were occupying the entire top half—each had his arms and legs outstretched as if he had fallen asleep while making a snow angel. I desperately hoped I might go unnoticed for a few hours before one of them woke up and I had to start my nighttime parenting shift.

Jiro must have smelled me because less than fifteen minutes passed before he was rooting around, his lips puckering up for my milk. I moved to the top of the bed and started nursing him. Usually a few minutes of nursing is all he needs, but he seemed restless. (I had thought he was so cute at dinner—stabbing beans with my fork and carefully placing them in his mouth one by one. Beans!)

By1:30am, I was still awake, very much wanting to scream. My nipples were aching and I desperately wanted to sleep, but since I was contorted in a half-twist maneuver that allows me to nurse from both breasts without moving, 90% of my body weight was resting on my battered left butt cheek. The throbbing, a result of months of this maneuver, kept me from dozing off.

I should have known better than to stay up late in the first place. By the time I finally got out of the office, picked Jiro up at daycare, got Satchel from Montessori, cooked some pesto, cleaned the kitchen, played Legos and airplane, got them both clean and in their jammies, read books, and nursed and rubbed them to sleep, it was almost ten. I needed some time to myself. I needed to work on my zine. I needed to watch “Kept” on VH1.

As I nursed Jiro, I took deep breaths and tried to think of how far I had come. I was on week six of my husband’s eight-week archaeological dig in the tick-infested Mark Twain National Forest. I don’t know which of us had the harder job, but we each seemed to envy the other’s position. I dreamed of having a bed all to myself in a hotel room somewhere far away and he lamented missing Satchel’s swimming lessons and Jiro’s new tricks.

I listened to Satchel coughing in his sleep, wondering how long it would be before he was awake too. Having one baby awake in the middle of the night is annoying; having two is debilitating. Thankfully, Jiro released my nipple and I rolled over. I should have waited because my small movement was enough to rouse him again, and he started kicking his meaty little legs up and down—his prelude to a scream. I’m going to kick and scream too.

More nursing. More throbbing. More deep breaths.

Last summer my husband had a sixteen week dig, and I had a newborn and a two-year-old. That’s when I really earned my stripes. Things are a little easier now—I have a routine in place and a cleaning woman who comes every other week—but not getting enough sleep throws me off course. Last summer I was on maternity leave and could nap during the day if I needed to. Now I have to use precious vacation time if I need to stay home and catch up on my sleep. Besides how many times can you tell your sixty-five year old boss that you are sleep-deprived or that you had the worst night ever before she just thinks you are a complete slacker? At least the boys get to nap at school.

Despite the pain in my ass, I started to doze off. However, my slumber was quickly interrupted by a loud thud. I heard Satchel crying from the floor. I went around to pick him up and to try and soothe him. Of course, Jiro woke up the minute I moved and started crying. Crying in stereo. I’m the one who should be crying!

I got everyone back in bed and reluctantly nursed Jiro some more. I refused to look at the clock and I tried not to think about the day ahead. Usually I look forward to Fridays and my husband’s weekend visits, but he called at dinner to say he was coming down with something—maybe Strep, maybe Lyme’s disease. He had Strep in December (during my only vacation of the year) and was a wreck. For a week he walked around with his hand on his head, presumably to hold in his brains, and his throat looked like a musty cave lined with maggots feasting on raw, regurgitated meat. I was already feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want to take care of three people! I want someone to take care of me.

After a moment or two of silence, Satchel started whimpering. Dammit! I screamed inside my head. “I need to sleep!” I screamed outside my head. Insulted, Jiro started whimpering too. I jumped out of bed, banged my fists on the duvet, then stomped my feet up and down (picture Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance”) while half-yelling, half-grunting at the top of my lungs. I’m a maniac and it shows.

My tantrum was over before it started, and I felt both better and worse. Needless to say, I scared the crap out of the boys. There was a brief moment of silence as they watched me in horror, but now the speakers were threatening to blow.

Calm down, breathe, stop thinking about the time.

I had to pull myself together—my kids weren't purposely trying to make me a zombie.

I’m sure they’d rather be asleep too. “I’m sorry,” I said in my most reassuring voice. A weekend of playing nurse, waitress, and cruise director won’t be the end of the world. “Shhh. Everything is okay…Shhh…How about some cough medicine?”

To avoid more crying, I picked Jiro up and carried him to the linen closet to search for the medicine tote. I grabbed it with one hand and flung it on the bed before I could lose momentum and drop it. I gave Satchel the recommended two droppers full, and then gave one to Jiro for good measure.

We crawled back in bed, but Satchel had already started up again. "My pee pee hurts!" he screeched.

I should have seen this one coming. Somehow he got three of the world's itchiest mosquito bites (chiggers?) on his testicles while playing outside. His testicles! I really did feel for the little guy. “You want some pink medicine for your pee pee?” I asked.

"Yes," he said between screeches and scratches.

I picked an increasingly cranky Jiro up again and went on a hunt for the Calamine lotion. I instinctively maneuvered around the toys scattered on the floor, and just missed bumping into an errant tricycle thanks to the light coming from the microwave clock. Two-thirty am! I remember when that meant last call. I was tempted to reach for a beer in the very back of the fridge, but saw the sought after pink bottle sitting on the kitchen counter.

"Ok sweetie, pull your pants down," I instructed as I came back in and reached for the light.

"Don't turn on the light!" he whined.

Putting Calamine on a three-year-old's testicles in the dark while holding a pissed off one-year-old is not easy.

"You're spilling!" he cried.

Deal with it kid. "It's okay, that will make it feel extra better."

"No it won't!"

Back to the reassuring voice. “Do you need to go potty?” I’ve got to get ahead of the game.

"Yes," he said, sniffling. "But don't turn on the light!"
Normally I wouldn’t trust Mr. Three to pee in the dark, but I was tired and I knew Selma was coming to clean in the morning. Another reason I have to get up early.

I got everyone back in bed. More nursing. More throbbing. More deep breaths.

I needed to put everything in perspective. Worrying about a good night’s sleep is actually a luxury. I’m sure mothers in Iraq have much weightier concerns. For that matter, mothers on the other side of town have much weightier concerns—some of my clients have four, five, six or more kids they are raising on their own with just a SSI check. Get over it.

I heard a whisper, "Mommy...MOMMY...rub my back..."

Why didn't I Ferberize these children? Why am I still breastfeeding? What is wrong with me?

Satchel went back to sleep with minimal rubbing, but Jiro was still awake despite having access to the all night titty bar. I was ready to tear off my nipples and throw them across the room. When do I get to say “goodnight” and have the boys scamper off to their bedrooms, not to be seen again until morning?

Jiro, aware that he had center stage again, crawled on top of me and happily bounced up and down on my bladder. As mad as I was, I couldn’t help laughing. With his newly shaved head (don’t ask) and his big grin, he looked like a giant infant. How about some Orajel?

I took him to the back bedroom where he and I sleep when my husband is in town. Sometimes just a change of scenery will calm him down. I tried my best to rub the magic salve on his gums. He did not like this. I tried snuggling him, but he didn't like that either. Our bed is strategically placed in the corner, so I pretty much had him trapped. Ok scream then. I'm going to sleep.

I rolled over and he screamed his lungs out for about two minutes. Then he grabbed his blankie and thrust his body toward mine and got very still. I readjusted a bit to give my ass a break and then he sat up, alert, like he was just humoring me. I pressed the indiglo button on my watch: 3:45am. Oh my god.

I wanted to cry. So I did. Right along with Jiro. Five minutes later we both fell asleep. Moments later Satchel came running in the room with his blankie. "Mommy..."

"Get in," I whispered.

Now the three of use were snuggled up together in the double bed, while the king-sized bed sat empty in the other room. I was pinned down with one boy in the crook of each arm. Screw it, we’ll just sleep in.

And we did.

All the way to 7:00am when my husband called six times on two different phones to let me know he was on his way home.

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