Thursday, May 31, 2012

A good day, a lesson learned

There are some lessons you can never be sure you understand until you have actually put them into practice.

Maybe that's true of all lessons.

I don't know.

What I do know, is that I just proved that I can A) put myself first, B) say no, and C) let something go.

I just edited my last newsletter for a club of which I am a member. It's actually The Last Newsletter.

That's right--I'm not even handing over the reigns, I'm just letting something go away completely.

There's a little, tiny part of me that feels remorseful.

The rest of me feels so liberated that I could jump in the air and click my heels together. But I won't. Because I'm old. Yes, it took me til I got old to learn this lesson.

Still, just in time.

Yeah, I've got almost 38 years of ridiculous self-sacrifice and martyrdom behind me, but I've got the rest of my life to make good decisions for myself. The best part is, I've got an entire lifetime (Ella's) that might not end up unbalanced because I (hopefully) will set a good example of making healthy choices, setting healthy boundaries, and having healthy priorities.

Yay!

Now, without spending approximately 10 hours each month on the club newsletter, I have more time to work on my own writing and photography and see where that takes me.

Yay!

I just re-read that and am a little taken aback. Ten hours is not even a whole work-day in my former life, but in this life, the good one, ten hours on one project is pieced together over time--a few minutes stolen before she wakes up, a few quick clicks here and there between tea party courses and nursery rhymes, a couple of hours late into the night when she's asleep and I should be, too.

Spending that time on the newsletter last year was a gift for me--I got to keep my skills up with a tiny bit of writing and editing, some photography and design. It was also my way of contributing to my new community, but I'll fill that need with a different role in the club next year.

It will be interesting to write and take pictures without the excuse/reason of the newsletter to do it.

It's one thing to be confident because you have a job or a title or a project; it's another to just be confident.

It's interesting, this feeling of being a person without a job. I mean, obviously, I haven't had a job in a lot of years. I haven't had a "real" job, a career job, since January 2006. There was the disability, the hostessing, the freelance writing and photography, that one month I edited a magazine for that crazy lady with a publication, the waitressing, the whatever-it-is I did for that crazy lady with the education company, the unemployment, grad school (a few weeks--until the miraculous and perfectly timed high risk pregnancy became a reality). And obviously, being a mom is a job. A full-time job.

But not having my identity wrapped up in some superficial degree of success marked by a grade, or a comment on a paper, or a trophy, or a scholarship, or the purchase of a photograph or painting, or a raise or a promotion--that's new. That's three decades of habit unlearned.

That's learning to be a person.

One of my best friends, who happens to be a pastoral counselor, told me years ago that we are "human beings, not human doings."

It's been more than six years since it became vitally important that I understand that lesson. I finally think I've got it.

I'm Ella's mom.

I know. It sounds like, perhaps, just possibly, my identity is wrapped up in a little, tiny, 24-7 job.

But being Ella's mom isn't being wrapped up in the human doing part of the experience. Yes, there's waking up when she does, changing her, feeding her, dressing her, playing with her, dancing with her, driving her places, teaching her letters and numbers and colors and words and sounds and listening and manners and names and places and routines and how to ride a tricycle, and bathing her, and reading to her, and soothing her, and comforting her, and quieting her, and holding my breath hoping that she'll sleep until it's time for her to wake up again.

Being Ella's mom is being the best self I can be. It's smiling and laughing and giggling even when it's too early in the morning. It's acting calm until I am calm, despite the circumstances. It's looking at everything like I've never noticed it before--like the moon isn't supposed to be there when the sky is light blue. ("Moon!")

Now that I don't have to edit the newsletter, I don't really have a job anymore. (I did say there's another role for me in the club, but that's not product oriented, so it doesn't seem like a job to me.)

I just get to be Ella's mom. Who happens to write and take photographs.

Maybe I'll get published somewhere besides my blog. Maybe I'll get hired to do some photography. Maybe someone will buy a painting.

But maybe not.

No matter what, I'll still be Ella's mom.

Plus, I'm in the incredibly fortunate, blessed, unbelievable, dream-like position of not having to earn an income. It doesn't seem real, but it is. I know I'm really lucky because of it, and I never believed this would be my life, even if I wanted it. I am not even sure I wanted it--as a feminist who has always been caught up in her accomplishments, being a woman who depends on her husband financially was never a goal of mine. Honestly, it was something I scoffed at. But now, living it, being Ella's mom. It's not a job. It's a calling. I am grateful to answer that call.



OK. It's time for some Ella stories.

This morning, Ella slept until 8:40, and I didn't have to wake her up earlier so that we could go to a class of some sort.

That's probably enough for a mom to consider a day ideal.

Don't even hope for more!

Then, while she nestled against me and I wrapped my arm around her little body and she drank her milk while we watched political analysis on MSNBC, she turned her face up to me and said, "Hair!" She reached for my hair, which was in its standard morning messy bun. I was not sure what motivated her sudden interest in my hair, but I smiled and said, "Yes, hair." At least she wasn't pulling it. Then she looked back at the TV and looked at me, and I realized both of the men on the screen were completely bald.

Ella's first recognition of a bald man.

She's always learning.

This evening, after her Montessori mommy-and-me preschool class, I took her to a hole-in-the-wall sandwich restaurant one of our friends told us about. There was a table for two and a high chair available (there are only three tables in the place and a few picnic benches on the sidewalk in the strip mall), so we ate in the restaurant. She was an awesome dinner date. I got her two chicken and cheese tacos from the kids menu, and she didn't want to just pick the filling out. She wanted to Eat a Taco. Naturally, her tiny hands weren't capable of holding the entire taco while taking a sideways bite and not letting all of the filling fall out. So, I cut the taco into mini tacos, and she was very proud of herself for Eating Tacos.

She tried some tofu from my sandwich. So far, she is not a fan. We don't mind when she spits stuff out though--in these situations--because she is enthusiastic about tasting the new food and obviously tries to enjoy it (you can see her beginning the chewing process and letting the flavors play around in her mouth before she looks at you with a little bit of shock, grimaces, and opens her mouth to let the food fall off her tongue). She doesn't freak out and start crying, and she still trusts us to give her new things that she might enjoy, even though sometimes it doesn't work out.

She still had food on her plate when I finished my dinner, so I offered her the opportunity to sit on my lap while she ate the rest of her tacos. She, of course, jumped at the chance to sit on the bench (not my lap), but ate only a bite before she wanted to stand up and walk around. I told her she had to "sit on her tushy or in the high chair" if she wanted to eat more.

She turned to me, patted her tummy with both hands and said, "Full!"

As I cleaned up and packed our bag (seriously? I have to pack a bag and all we did was grab dinner?), I said, "Ella, you're a good dinner date."

She kept repeating "dinner date, dinner date" until we got home.

Then, because it was a perfect dinner date, we blew bubbles in the backyard until bath time.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

We should never have let her turn two.


On May 15, 2012, at 8:18 p.m., my baby girl officially turned two years old. Of course, we let her open her presents in the morning and celebrated with her all day long, but I held onto "one" for as long as I could manage.

Now, three days later, I am worried that the best years of my life are over.

She's two.

Ella has been eying other kids' tricycles for a long time now, so we decided it was time for her to have her own.

I gave her a Kangaroo that goes with Eric Carle's book Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? I am so glad I caught her with her, "Read this one to me, Mommy!" face.

Auntie Mikaela sent her Good Night Hawaiian Moon. Which, apparently, she can read on her ride.

She visited the Haunted Mansion with us. The screaming in the elevator wasn't her favorite thing (she cried and tried to crawl into my arms even though I was already carrying her), but she enjoyed Justin and I pointing things out to her: "Look! A picture of a lady! Look! A doggie! They're dancing! They're running! Isn't that silly? Kitties!" Afterward, she said, "Fun!" She didn't even mind having a ghost sit on her lap on the way out.

We rode through Pinocchio's adventure--"All done!" It's scarier than Pirates of the Caribean, which isn't so bad if you don't count the two drops (during one of which I may have accidentally screamed in her ear) and the cannonball fight. (Though I sold her on the cannonballs by saying, "Look, Ella! They're throwing orange balls at each other! Look! There's one! Oooo! Where do you think that one's going to land? Oh! Over there! Did you see it?") At least the Pirates don't get swallowed by a whale.

Justin and Ella stretched while we waited for the train at the New Orleans Square stop.
We rested in California Adventure before running around in the Adventurers playground area.
See this sweet girl? Standing so, well, sweetly in front of a pot of hunny that Winnie the Pooh must have left behind? Yeah. I love her.

We went to Claim Jumper on our way home largely because I wanted her to have a kid's style birthday dessert. They put a candle in her kid's sundae. And isn't that set up awesome? You get to build-your-own sundae! (Or, if you're Mommy, eat most of the hot fudge with little tiny bites of vanilla ice cream.)


She had a bath even though it was way past her bedtime, because after sunscreen and Disneyland and build-your-own sundaes, you just have to get clean. And Mommy needed a picture of her big, beautiful, tired eyes.


All of this I can write calmly now because she has been asleep for about three hours. 

I didn't manage to get a photo of today's milestone: the first several-minutes-long tantrum. In a store all the way from the back area, through the checkout, and into the car. (I don't think the clerk believed me when I said, "She's never done this before," while I paid as fast as I could. The young man didn't even respond. I wish we had been at our local grocery store, where the clerks always try to make friends with her.) I'm going to spare her the details, but know that it is true. 

Ella is two.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Did they really just ask, "Are You Mom Enough?"?

I wish I could say that I don't care about TIME Magazine's "Are You Mom Enough?" cover for their May 11, 2012 edition.

 

I don't want to care about the photograph. I don't want to care about the headline. I don't want to care about the latest shot in the various battles of the mommy-wars.

But I do care.

To be honest, the cover and the furor it has caused makes me so emotional that I don't know if I can even write about it.

Sad. Angry. Defensive. Wounded. Frustrated. Furious. Disappointed. Attacked. Heartbroken. Inferior. Insecure. Put upon. Judged. Annoyed. Embarrassed. Exhausted.

I don't want to feel any of those things. I'm embarrassed to be reacting at all to what is none of my business. (What other people think of me is none of my business, I've been told.) I know that the article isn't even about me. The analysis on various blogs and news agency articles are not about me. Even the comments by friends of friends' Facebook posts linking to that analysis is not about me.

But I am worn out.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to make a woman feel like the village idiot.

And that work, that begins before said child is even conceived.

I was listening to a charming and insightful journalist with a British accent on NPR discussing the first anniversary of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the peppering that poor woman is enduring over the question of when they will have children. He said something along the lines of, "It must be so embarrassing for a woman to constantly be asked about when she'll get pregnant."

I mean really. Might as well go Rush Limbaugh on people and ask to watch their sex tapes.


Are you trying to conceive? (TTC to those in the fertility-shorthand know.) How long has it been? What methods are you using? Are you taking your temperature? Using an ovulation kit? Getting him tested? Counting the days? Seeing a specialist? Have fun trying! Wink wink.

Then, once a woman discovers she is pregnant, she can torture herself with the books and the websites feeding her a steady diet of contradictory advice. When she finally does decide to go public, there's even more. In person. What are you eating? You can eat that? Are you sure? I never drank that when I was pregnant. Or that. Or that. I heard it can cause birth defects/miscarriage/heartburn. And look at me! I'm great and so is my perfect little angel!

Don't forget the debate over how that child is going to emerge from the mother's body. Dare she want an epidural? Will she still be a good mother if her child isn't born in a tub in her home while candles flicker and gentle music plays? Or. You know. If it isn't a silent birth?

I've actually heard this conversation, at a friend's baby shower, no less, with the soon-to-be-father explaining the Bradley Method, and their birthing center options, and their birth plan. "Of course, the worst thing that can happen is you have a C-section." God bless his friend's quick response, "Well, that's not the worst thing that could happen."

Here I thought the main goal was to have a healthy, living baby and a healthy, living mama.

I was eight or so months pregnant at that point, and already I was doing it wrong.




Even before Ella was born, even before she was past her first trimester in utero, I was asking doctors if I could breastfeed. The question flowed naturally with the "can I stay on all these medications while I'm pregnant?" inquiry.

The OB said she didn't know. That I'd have to ask my pediatrician. The perinatologist (high risk specialist) said he thought so, but that I should ask my pediatrician.

Just so you know: You don't actually have a pediatrician until you have a pediatric patient, and a child has to be born for that to happen.

Also, as soon as that child is born, you're supposed to breastfeed.

Like, at that very moment.

While we (of course) had interviewed and selected our pediatrician, she wouldn't start treating us as patients until she had a pediatric patient.

We loved her, and if someone is going to tell me now that her logic on that matter was self-serving or just plain wrong, well, there's really nothing we can do about it now, is there?

I started having contractions on Thursday, went to the hospital in the middle of the night on Friday, and gave birth to Ella on Saturday night.

Or should I say I had her cut out of me by doctors while I just lay there, doing nothing? Did I really give birth?
I had to lie with my arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross while I waited for Ella to be born.
My favorite picture of Ella is one of the very first ones that Justin ever took of her, while I still couldn't even see her because of the blue sterile drape hanging between us. She has her arms outstretched and her legs curled up the way babies do, and the doctor is holding her up, and she is still attached to me. You can see her body and just enough of her face to know that she is squalling. I'm not posting it here.

Justin held Ella's hand before I did. I'm fine with that. Look how happy his eyes are.

They let me see her and then they cleaned her up while the doctors sewed me up. I could hear her crying and feel the tug of the needle and thread as my body got put back together. I tried not to cry for joy and relief that I had a healthy, living baby girl, because I worried that the sobs I felt welling up might disturb the stitching process. She was laid swaddled on my chest and I was staring in disbelief until a nurse said, "You can kiss her." And so I did.

Our first family photo.
I can kiss her.
I was sent to recovery. She was sent to wherever it is they send babies while their mommies get whatever it is done to them that has to be done. Justin went with her and then came back to me, and I missed them both so much, and then we missed her together. But we'd also been in labor and delivery for almost 24 hours, so what did we know?




I remember trying to breastfeed. It wasn't going that well. I was a little surprised, despite all my reading, because you wouldn't think learning to eat would be so difficult for a baby (they really don't know anything?!?!) and a mama (I really can't figure out how to do this?!?!) I had very sweet and patient postpartum nurses who helped us learn. The whole time, I kept asking about the medicines (partly because it's a bit of a hassle to get a hospital to sort out how to get and when to give so many different pills--even though we did fill out the forms way in advance). The nurses kept asking doctors. The answers varied. We just kept trying. And, well, sucking.

It really wasn't going very well. 

Except for that one time when it did, and Justin and I cheered ever so slightly, and I started to cry quiet, happy tears.

On Monday, I finally saw our real pediatrician, not the one on-call from her group.

She said there was no way I should breastfeed my baby while taking all those medications and that she also didn't think I should stop taking my medications so that I could breastfeed my baby.

I cried.

I really, really cried.

There's nothing I wanted more than to breastfeed my healthy, living baby girl. How could I not? I was made to feed my child.

Put aside all the reading I'd done about the nutritional value and immune system boosting merits of breast milk--there's just something primal about a mother's need to nourish her child.

Directly.

Plus, we had no money and I was really counting on breastfeeding. Seriously. One of my first thoughts upon the bad news was, "But... oh my God. We can't afford formula! What are we going to do?"

Already I was a failure. (Again, you know, since I already A) was of an advanced maternal age, B) drank alcohol and caffeine while pregnant before knowing I was pregnant, C) had a tuna fish sandwich just days after the positive pregnancy test, D) ate french fries, cheeseburgers, milkshakes and ice cream to keep from throwing up and/or starving during my pregnancy, E) took a Lamaze instead of a Bradley class because of Justin's schedule, F) got an epidural (which I had always known I would do, ever since I was a "kid" and found out what they were), G) had Pitocin, H) "let them do" a C-section.)

When people ask me about whether Ella was breastfed, I quickly reply, "No. I couldn't because of all the medicine I take."

I think I might even sound a little cavalier. Matter of fact. Like someone asked me if I wanted fries with that, and I just said, "No, thank you."

I don't think I give the impression that it was a big deal.

Now you know.

It was.




I remember once I was in the park with a bunch of other mothers of babies Ella's age, and we were talking about how our baby's feeding habits had changed. I said, "I know. Ella used to just eat straight through, but now she keeps taking breaks and playing with the nipple."

Literally every single woman paused in motion, looked at me, and then quickly looked away.

I didn't know why they reacted that way, but a few minutes later in the conversation I realized that they must have been thinking I was talking about my nipples. Scandalous!

No, she's bottle fed.

There were advantages to bottle feeding--during those first couple of weeks when Justin was available to help before going back to his ER residency, we were both getting up with her because we wanted to be together while she fed. After just a few nights, we realized someone needed to sleep, so we split the night. I'm a morning person, so I got to sleep for the first five hours of the night while he watched TV or did whatever and fed her when she was ready. After 1 (or was it 2?) a.m., it was my turn to get up with her and let him sleep.

We both got the bonding experience of feeding her, and I got to rest a bit more than a solely breastfeeding mom might rest.

There were disadvantages. Formula is really expensive. It also doesn't travel as discretely as, say, a breast. So, I had to always remember to bring bottles, and formula, and water, and bibs, even if I was just running a quick errand. If Ella got hungry, I couldn't feed on demand without packing the right equipment and supplies. I had envisioned being one of those moms who just did the "natural" thing and fed her baby whenever necessary, without making a big production out of it. Yes, I wanted to be a milk machine.

The biggest disadvantage, though, continues to be a problem. It's having the wound of breastfeeding failure picked open when I'm least expecting it.

The cult of breastfeeding is more of a mainstream, fundamentalist, evangelical church.

Those of us who aren't members will never achieve nirvana.

I know most of the women who wax poetic about breastfeeding do not mean any harm. I know they are not all self-righteous and judgmental.

But when a magazine cover shouts, "Are you mom enough?" and in the flurry of response I hear a pissing contest of "I breastfed for these many months/years." Or "I love the bonding and wouldn't give it up despite inconclusive or even negative studies" about the true value of breastfeeding. (See this article in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin, "The Case Against Breastfeeding," for a detailed assessment of the various medical journal articles on the matter and the history and evolution of the breastfeeding movement.) Or "formula is so much less than breast milk in terms of nutrition and immunity and so many other things" (see again actual scientific data that says otherwise).


It's hard not to feel vulnerable. 


Of course, I want to be "mom enough." 


Of course, I wanted to breastfeed for at least six months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In case you're wondering, weaning Ella tore at my heart, too, even though it was "just" from the bottle. I didn't want to give up that cuddling time, those minutes and hours of looking into her eyes and just being close, the special bond of feeding my baby girl that way. And, in case your wondering, my milk did come in when she was born, and I did have to bind myself tightly, and it did physically and emotionally hurt to let it dry up.

Of course, I think that last comment is actually self-righteous and judgmental. 

These last few days since that TIME cover came out on Thursday have been a little hard for me. I want to just look away and remove myself from the conversation, but I was a journalist and I am a mom. It's not in my nature not to read or write about the issues of the day. That said, some of the reading is making me want to throw my computer across the room.

I breathe. 
 
The problem is, I want so much to be a part of the breastfeeding club. I know that I have a legitimate reason for bottle feeding instead, but I don't like that I need an excuse. 


Obviously, it's not that I mind disclosing information. Ever the teacher, I believe that if I share my experience, it might be useful for someone else. That's why I'm telling these stories. Maybe another bottle-feeder will relate and feel less lonely. 


Maybe some of my breastfeeding friends will realize the sensitivity of the topic and be more considerate of the manner in which they talk about breastfeeding. 


Maybe I will learn that I am mom enough.


Maybe we all just need a little perspective.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Waiting Game

An hour and a half is a long time for a grown up to spend at a doctor's office.

Now imagine that same hour and a half in the company of an almost two-year-old kid in a stroller.

Sounds fun, right?

Ella never ceases to amaze me. I can say that with a positive spin, now that she has been asleep for over three hours.

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I haven't been able to wear my contacts for six days--ever since I put a new one in and it felt uncomfortable, but I wore it anyway because I was in a rush to drive Ella somewhere. When I finally got home, I took them out and put my glasses on, and I haven't been able to put them back in since.

Today, I finally went to the doctor.

I woke Ella up from her nap so that we would get there on time. You read that right--I woke up the kid who just last week started sleeping without a pacifier and still cries for the first part of her nap.

I told her we were going to the doctor, which she actually seemed kind of excited about. We are training her to like doctors. It helps that her daddy is a doctor, so when I talk about him being at work "helping make other kids feel all better" and "fixing people's boo-boos" she associates doctors with Daddddddyyy. When we go to the doctor, I always say, "We're going to see our friend Dr. Whoever. She's fun!"

When we got there, I explained that we were waiting our turn.

I was armed with three board books, two smoothie pouches, raisins, a magnetic sketch pad, and her Fisher-Price doctor bag. In the waiting room there were magazines, and music and TV playing simultaneously (though it pains me to be in the same room as FOX News, the images on the screen held her visual attention for a few minutes, and I think the songs held her aural attention).

This is Dr. Ella Anderson checking Baby's ears.
She alternately blurted "turn!" and "doctor!" while other patients got called back. I explained that she could sit on "the big chairs" until it was "mommy's turn" and then she would have to go back into the stroller, so that we could see the doctor. She added, "Mommy turn!" to the mix.

Later, she also had "the choice" to go back to the stroller if she couldn't "sit on her tushy" instead of standing on the chair. It helped when we were able to move seats so that she could see the whole room without turning around. We started taking each others vitals and checking our ears with her doctor equipment. Every single patient in the waiting room--the ones who got there before us and the ones who got there after us--went back before they finally called my name.

From her stroller, Ella watched with fascination as the "doctor"/tech took my vitals.

Then I had to explain that we had to wait (again!) for the "doctor"/nurse practitioner to "come take care of mommy's boo-boo on her eye."

"Eye!"

I had hoped to keep her in the stroller for the remainder of the visit, but even I couldn't sit still any longer. Plus there was a mirror on the back of the door, so she had to check her smile and make sure she was carrying her doctor's bag just so.

I gave up and let her sit on the carpeted floor (gross!) just to keep her from touching other stuff and/or getting whacked when the nurse practitioner finally did come back to look at my eye.

Wouldn't you know it, today some other guy in town scratched his eye, too, so the one black light they have in the doctor's office was already being used by another doctor for another patient.

By the time she came back, I had given Ella a smoothie pouch, all of her raisins, and accepted the return of a not-so-delightful chewed pretzel. We had checked our vitals, given shots, drawn blood, put on band-aids, read all of her books, drawn circles and sky and ocean and flowers, tried on her sunglasses and hat, sung songs, counted to ten, and I was bouncing her on my knees as if she were riding a horse. A very bouncy horse.

The upside is: she was giggling and aside from what is becoming par for the course frustration of a (not quite!) two-year-old who wants to do everything herself ("self! self!") but is, well, small and relatively uncoordinated, she didn't cry at all. The downside is: my back hurts and did I already mention I thought I was going to lose my mind?

Fortunately, the doctor had the foresight to show Ella the blacklight on her arm and sleeve before she numbed my eye and coated it in yellow dye. Then, she turned off the room lights and shone the black light on my face. I'm thinking her body might have been blocking Ella's view because there was still no crying. (Even in pitch dark!)


We walked home to pick up another prescription before going to the pharmacy.

I wanted to drive there, but Ella flipped out because she loves to ride in her stroller (seriously? after being in that thing for almost two hours?). In a momentary lapse of judgement I folded, and we walked.

It would be good for Mommy to take a walk, right?

The customer in front of us at the pharmacy counter was negotiating with the pharmacist for long enough that Ella developed a relationship with the line that grew behind us. Almost 6 p.m. and I'm in CVS with my kid who knows it's dinnertime.

More snacks!

When we finally got into our house Ella literally ran back and forth and back and forth in the living room. She was a puppy.

She'd eaten so many snacks I wasn't sure she'd want dinner, but she did. She just didn't want to sit in her highchair. Not even for strawberries. And she was eyes-dancing-dimple-showing excited for strawberries.

I lured her into the kitchen and away from the toys and "basketball" (she kept saying it over and over, because we had talked about watching the Lakers game when we got home and Daddy loves basketball) by playing music. She danced while I washed the strawberries.


There was nothing I could do to get her into the highchair, and I wasn't really willing to try very hard. Her reaction to our trying afternoon was to run, play and dance. Mine would have been to collapse on the couch with chocolate and a porter or two. And maybe some chips. We ended up dancing (who can say no to a toddler's dance request?), and she sat on my lap while we shared cheese, a sandwich, and strawberries.

Just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Pushing Through It

I often don't write about things while I'm going through them. Sometimes it's because I don't want to jinx it. Sometimes it's because I don't want to make it real--as though putting it all in words would make it more true. Sometimes it's because there just isn't enough time while going through it to also write about it. Sometimes it's all of those things.

On Sunday, just after Justin left for work and before Ella and I were going to leave for church, Ella reached into her crib and picked up her pacifier. I stood in the doorway of her room, watching her.

"Ella, you know the pacifier is just for sleeping. One day, when you're ready, you can 'put the paci in the trashy,' like the big kids do. But for now, put it back in the crib, please."

She put it in her mouth and gave it a few good sucks--you could see her cheeks and lips working. She was also trying to smile, and her eyes were grinning. She gave me her I-know-I'm-being-naughty look.

"Ella, put the paci in the crib, please."

She took it out of her mouth and started walking.

"Ella, you can't bring it with you!"

Down the hall she went. "Ella..." came my warning voice. There was no way she was taking a pacifier to church!

When she passed the front door and her shoes, I started to panic. Somehow, I kept my voice even. "Ella, if you put the paci in the trashy you can't get it back. You know that. If you throw something away, it's gone forever. Ella..." I followed her into the kitchen.

Ella loves to throw things away. She is my helper. She never digs in the trash to get anything back, though sometimes she does look into the trashcan to see whatever it is languishing there. Sometimes, when she throws something away, she puts her arm in as far as it can go, to make sure it's really going "bye-bye." She gets bothered if the lid is not on properly and fixes it, saying "uh-oh!" until it's right. Ella knows trash.

She stopped by the tall white can and looked at me. I kept talking, my heart racing. "Ella, if you throw the pacifier away, it's gone forever. You can't get it back. You won't have it to sleep with. Are you sure you want to do this? Because you really can't get it back. It will be gone forever. It will go bye-bye forever."

Still looking courageous and already victorious, she started running back to her room.

Crisis averted.

Deep breath.

Half way there, in front of the TV, she stopped and turned around, giving me another smile.

She went back into the kitchen. Again, I was fast talking about the consequences.

"Trashy!"

"Ella are you sure? Because you can't get it back. It will be gone forever."

She pushed open the swinging lid with one hand and held her right hand over the garbage.

"Really. It will be gone forever. You won't have it anymore."

She dropped it in and stared. "Trashy!"

I felt like I was going to throw up. "OK. You put the paci in the trashy. It's really gone." I looked in, too. I'd been thinking I could secretly retrieve it, just in case. In case of what? I didn't know. But I could get it back!

It was lying next to the egg shells and coffee grounds from breakfast.

See the purple pacifier face down in the garbage?
 It was really gone.

I tried not to make a big deal of it, just telling her what a big girl she was and that she "put the paci in the trashy," just like in the book we'd been reading for two months. "Pacifiers Are Not Forever."



My heart was lurching. Justin would be starting work in three minutes. I called him. It was an emergency. I could call him. He should know. "Ella threw her pacifier away."

"Oh my God. Really?"

"Yeah. She picked it up and threw it away. I tried to talk her out of it, but she did it."

"Can you get it back?" his voice was panicked.

"Nope. It's gone forever. There are raw eggs in there."

"Oh my God."

"I know."

He had to get back to work. We went to church.

I knew what I was going to be praying about.

On the drive over she said, "Paci, paci, paci," once. I told her, "Yep. You put the paci in the trashy. You're such a big girl!" And broke into song. A little skinamarinky dinky dink and it seemed to be out of her mind.

She was an angel in church. She sat quietly and colored. She stood with the congregation as appropriate most of the time. She's old enough now to be able to see over the pew in front of her, so she can watch the musicians.

From the pew behind us, one of the older ladies who wear hats on Sundays said, "You have a darling daughter."

On the way home we talked about having lunch and taking a nap. I considered going to a restaurant for lunch--anything to put off going to sleep without her pacifier. As we talked about her nap, she said, "Paci. Trashy."

I confirmed the new reality. "Yep. You put the paci in the trashy."

My consolation was that I could blame her. It wasn't my fault that she didn't have a paci. She threw it away. She wanted to do it. She did it. I didn't do it. I just let her do it. It was her choice.

I realized quickly that if she had wanted to run in the street, I wouldn't have let her do it.

When it was time to lie down, she began asking for her paci. I wondered if she would remember that she had both a pink and a purple paci, and that she only threw the purple one away. Still, I told her, "Nope. You put the paci in the trashy, remember? It's all gone. It went bye-bye."

Boy, was she mad.

I tried all the methods I could think of to comfort her. I gave her five minutes to calm herself down, which she usually does quite quickly. I went in and gave her hugs and then put her down and rubbed her back. I sang a lullaby. I rocked her in the glider, cradling her as if she were a baby. I read her books. I got her baby and her dolly and her favorite stuffed animal Elmer the elephant, to see if she wanted to sleep with them. I tried skin-to-skin. I couldn't figure out how I could lay in her crib with her, so we lay on the floor together, looking each other in the eye. I let her roam about the room.

She was so desperate. Her crying was jagged. She'd slow to a whine. She'd become frantic. She'd be quiet, and I'd think there was hope. Then she'd start over. Only once, while we were skin-to-skin, did she rest her head on my shoulder. I prayed that she would fall asleep like that, but ten seconds later she was up again. Mournful.

I felt terrible, but I couldn't give her the other pacifier. There was no going back. We had planned on taking it away in a couple of days anyway, when Justin would be off, and we could suffer together and it wouldn't matter so much that we couldn't sleep. It was happening, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. She was growing up.

I was desperate, too. I did all of those methods of soothing her because I could. Because for now, I can still be the one to give her what she needs. Because one day she's not going to want to lie in my arms anymore. She's not going to be simultaneously furious and clingy. She's going to be so much more her own person than she already is. I'm just going to be there. Not there, like I am now.

After an hour of "rest" I decided we could leave her room. If she wasn't going to nap anymore, she was at least going to rest and have quiet time. (One day it would be quiet, right?)

By 4 p.m. she was saying, "tired" and lying on a blanket in the living room. The part of me that thought she might finally be tired enough to sleep without the pacifier was overruled by the part of me that wanted her to sleep at night. We slogged through three more hours awake.

During that time, I rediscovered George. George is the Gund monkey that my brother and his wife gave Ella on her first Christmas. He is delightfully soft, really more of a blanket with a head than a stuffed animal. We included George in the rest of our activities that day. (George can put together a puzzle and push a truck and get kisses from Mommy, just so you know.)

When it came time to sleep, we talked about the paci again. Justin was home for the bedtime routine, so we all (with George, of course) read Good Night Moon and said prayers together. At her crib, I told Ella what big girl she was, and told her George was really tired.

"Can you show George how you sleep like a big girl? George wants to sleep with you."

She nodded.

I lowered her into the crib. "Get comfy, and I'll put the blanket on you," I said.

"Blankie!"

"Yes, blankie. Good night, George. Good night, Ella. I love you!"

I tiptoed down the hall.

Justin and I looked at each other in anticipation and terror and then went about our evening. We didn't talk about it at all, both afraid we'd jinx it.

She never made a peep.

In the morning, she woke up at 6:30, crying "paci, paci, paci," so I ran to her.

We reviewed the facts (paci, trashy) and started our day an hour and a half earlier than usual--nothing I can complain about.

Ella and George on her first morning without a pacifier.
Nap time was torture again, and bedtime wasn't as easy as the first night. She cried hard, but Justin went in and comforted her. We call him the baby whisperer because he can always calm her back to sleep, whereas, if I go in there she wants to get out of the crib. With him, she just lets him rub her back and quietens down.

It was easier when she didn't talk, because now she cries "mommy, mommy, mommy." We knew it was a job for the baby whisperer, though, so I lay on the couch in the fetal position, hugging a pillow and crying while I listened to their voices on the baby monitor.

And then she was asleep.

We drank wine and contemplated our situation. I had him call our friends to cancel our Friday night dinner plans. Though she is usually a champ in restaurants, even if it is past her bedtime (which it rarely is), she would be a wreck this week. There was no way we could have my mom babysit--she couldn't handle the crying. (She had already told me that I shouldn't have done it and that when I was a baby they boiled my pacifier for me lots of times, so I actually could have "rescued it." Because Ella is so small.) We couldn't leave her, anyway; we wanted her to feel safe and secure, even without her pacifier. She had to know that we would always be there for her. She had to see that it was true--we had to be there.

So today, on the sixth night without a pacifier, those friends are coming to our house for dinner. She'll be fine. She loves Oakley--even asks for her when we're not together. "Uncle" Brandon isn't so bad, either. (She's only just now losing her fear of his deep, booming voice. He says she's not the only kid who feels that way.)

Ella and Oakley at the Ren Faire this year.
Justin's going back to work on Sunday, so we'll see how she does then. For now, naps are definitely tough (she went two days without taking one at all), and falling asleep at night is iffy.

I don't want to jinx it.