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Tonight I was called in for Zeke’s second bedtime shift, after Randy had rocked him to sleep, put him in the crib, shushed him and left the room and Zeke decided he wasn’t yet ready to go to bed. This used to happen often. Now, thankfully, it is only occasional. Zeke typically goes to bed on the first try. He sleeps through the night about two-thirds of the time. That’s just the way it is.

It is easy to become frustrated when Zeke won’t go to sleep or when he wakes up during the night. He is as light a sleeper as his sister is a deep sleeper. I won’t lie and say we don’t often get exasperated, because we do.

But tonight when I went in to take my turn, I sang my lullabies in my scratchy voice and tried not to cough too much. And I snuggled Zeke in my arms. I stuffed his feet back into the sleep sack. I wrapped an extra blanket around him when he gestured to it lying in his crib. He drank a few more ounces of milk and he fell asleep. He was asleep long before I finished “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” traditionally my benediction lullaby, my way of praying for the people we love.

But I kept holding him tight and rocking and thinking of the people who can’t tuck in their babies anymore. My heart broke a couple weeks ago when my mom’s friend lost her 21-year-old son to a rare disease. She was the third of my mom’s good friends to lose a son in as many years. And my heart shattered all over again last week when 8-year-old Emily Barkes and her mom died in a fire in their home. Emily was in third grade at Zoe’s school. Zoe’s beloved teacher was Emily’s teacher last year. Emily’s 11-year-old sister Sarah and their dad survived. Sarah is still in the hospital recovering from injuries. I keep thinking of the fire and the aftermath and how Sarah and her Dad are even functioning. I keep thinking about how that could happen to us. And then you have to stop thinking because your brain just short circuits if you think that way for too long.

Tonight I was thinking about how Bill Barkes never imagined that night would be the last one he would spend with his wife, and that it would be the last time he could tuck his daughter into bed. I just couldn’t bring myself to put Zeke back in his crib. I kept thinking of the chorus of an old Pat McGee song “if I could hold you tonight, I might never let go” even though that’s about a girlfriend and not a son. I felt the weight of his muscular little toddler body in my lap and on my chest. One of his arms around me and one curled under himself. I leaned in and kissed his soft hair. I gave thanks for his breathing. I wished for him happiness, health, safety, and peace. I held him and rocked and promised myself I would always appreciate the opportunity to hold him, even when he’s going berserk and I’m very tired.

This is Emily Barkes. Emily BarkesI didn’t know her, but I know she is loved and she is missed.

If you would like to help Emily’s family deal with their medical expenses and rebuild, there is a fund set up here: http://www.gofundme.com/gsvlsc

02392332004This morning at 7:40 when I put the kids in the car to go to school and day care, Zeke spotted a potato chip in his carseat, leftover from my snack Saturday afternoon to stave off low blood sugar as I shuttled Zoe from soccer game to birthday party and home again. I had shared a couple chips with Zeke to assuage his frustration at being hauled in and out of the minivan too many times. So he promptly put the chip in his mouth.

“Mmmm. Old potato chip for breakfast!” I said.

“How delightful!” Zoe exclaimed.

Zeke’s carseat is also stiff and stained around the edges from the pumpkin cranberry apple squeezer that I foolishly gave him during this same day of driving. I uncapped it and handed it to him after we deposited Zoe at the birthday party. We arrived at the playground where I would chase him around during Zoe’s party and pulled into the parking lot. Something funny was on the radio so I sat there for a minute. Also Zeke was very quiet. I was relieved that he was quiet, so I chose to suspend my better judgment for a moment. When I came to my senses and got out of the car and opened his door I discovered him thoughtfully dabbing small blobs of pumpkin cranberry apple puree all over his legs. He had made quite an interesting design. Then he was wiping the blobs off onto his carseat. I reached for the baby wipes and he grabbed some and started desperately trying to wipe the rest of the stuff off his legs and hands and face. I helped. The empty pouch and the dirty wipes, now hardened into a mass, are still on the floor of the car. And I haven’t brought the carseat in to wash the seat cover yet because it is unbelievably complicated to disassemble and reassemble. You may think “how hard could it be?” but unless you have done this yourself with a new model Britax Marathon carseat, I dare you to figure it out any faster than we can, or to do it without swearing.

When we are not feeding him potato chips, and he is eating regular food at the table, Zeke likes to feed himself with utensils. He stabs his strawberries and cucumbers and macaroni with a fork, but not the child sized fork we have thoughtfully provided. Instead he leaves the table and goes to the play kitchen to procure a very tiny fork from one of Zoe’s tea sets and returns to the table with that. Or a tiny spoon or two tiny spoons or a tiny knife but we’ve told him you don’t eat with a knife. Sometimes when he’s done he will reach up and push the tiny utensils into the sink to be washed.

If you’re looking for someone to furnish the sound effect of blood curdling scream for your upcoming Halloween party, Zeke’s your man. So far this afternoon he has demonstrated this skill no fewer than four times, to show his displeasure at such injustices as me taking my keys from him in order to open the front door, me putting him in his car seat so we can take Zoe to martial arts, me trying to extract from his grip the dirty diaper that I’ve just removed from his tush, and I forget the other one. When Zeke was younger we taught Zoe to always try to trade something to Zeke if she wanted something he had, rather than grabbing an object from his hand. Somehow I have not learned that lesson myself, or else I just don’t carry around enough objects to be able to make exchanges for all the things Zeke is clutching that he’s not supposed to have.

While he’s still not technically speaking English, Zeke can still communicate and understand most of what we say and definitely makes jokes. When he’s drinking water from a sippy cup he will often pause after a long sip and say “aaaaahhhhhh!” like he’s in a Coke commercial. When you put on music he will dance by kind of doing squats and smiling. He will put things in the trash can when you ask, wipe his own nose with a tissue, and retrieve your shoes when it’s time to go outside. He loves to play in the tub and fill cups with water. He will climb up to the sink and turn on the water and fill up a cup and pour it out. Anywhere. He makes phone calls on any handy banana. He loves to point at school buses and playgrounds. At said playgrounds, and everywhere else, he climbs like he thinks he’s three.

So much chasing, so much slobber, so much snuggling, punctuated by the occasional head butt.

Happy 17 months!

We have retired the baby monitor. Rest assured, the baby is still working hard. He’s even been promoted to toddler, now able to walk as fast or faster than he could crawl, which was surprisingly speedily. Strangers on the playground would frequently remark, “wow, he’s fast!” as he careened around their kids going up stairs on his hands and knees. But the monitor is superfluous. It was only being used by Zeke himself as a toy, because it has buttons and beeps when you push them. He would pick up the monitors and press the buttons and carry them from room to room. If he cries when he’s asleep we can hear him anyway. He’s plenty loud. And if he cries for an extra minute because we are in the bathroom or washing dishes and can’t hear him immediately, he’ll live. We are just callous that way.

Last night after we came home from camp and day care and the grocery store, Zeke was a little edgy. He had started to melt down at the store, occasional threatening cries staved off by me carrying him and Zoe pushing the cart while I hissed at her to watch out every 30 seconds or so when she almost crashed into someone or something. In the checkout line the cashier, a man, thoughtfully handed Zeke the electronic PIN pad so he could push buttons. I don’t know how he knew that Zeke loves to push buttons, but that definitely bought us some time. We made it home, and I plied Zeke with a bottle of milk and Sesame Street so I could bring in the groceries. Sometime during all that he fell down the stairs, but was ok, and I held him for a while on the sofa, as I was dripping with sweat from all the trips in and out and hauling him around and it was a hot day, and he seemed fine. How many times can a toddler fall down the stairs before he actually gets hurt? I don’t want to find out.

By the time Randy got home from work Zeke was really cranky. I hadn’t had a chance to make any food for anyone because I had been chasing him. Randy picked him up and held him and they both dozed off. Randy for only a moment, but Zeke was out. This was 7 o’clock. At least an hour or an hour and a half before Zeke usually goes to bed. And he was wearing a dirty shirt and a diaper. And hadn’t had a bath. But he was asleep, so Randy laid him down in the crib and put a blanket over him. Perhaps 30 minutes later, Zeke woke up screaming. He screamed when I picked him up, screamed throughout the bath, screamed while getting his pajamas on, although he cooperated for all of these activities anyway. He’s very good at putting his arms through the sleeves of shirts, although he does not care for pants. The wailing abated momentarily when Zoe brought up the musical glowworm that used to be hers that we recently rediscovered and she said Zeke could have. She was kind and he was distracted for an instant, and then resumed screaming.

Randy attempted to feed him and get him back to sleep for about an hour, but he would have none of it.

So he stayed up until 11. At least he wasn’t screaming all that time. From 9 to 11 he played happily. He climbed on and off the sofas about 50 times. He wore hats. He carried around a small dinosaur and rearranged all the coasters. I asked him to put the dinosaur on the coaster and he did! I asked him to bring the dinosaur to Daddy and he did! He’s good at following instructions when he wants to. And we read many books. Front to back, back to front. Occasional pages here and there. He prefers books with photos of objects to illustrations. He flips through these books and points to items of interest and says “this?” and looks at us. It sounds more like “dis” and we say the name of the object. Sometimes it feels like we’re undergoing some kind of memory quiz or neurological exam. “LEMON! BOOTS! FROG! BOWL! BATHTUB! HOUSE! GRAPES! GRAPES AGAIN! FROG! APPLE! BOOTS!” We hope we will pass the test.

Last night in one of the books on one of the pages filled with grocery store-related items, there was a red bell pepper. Zeke pointed to it again and again. “PEPPER! PEPPER! PEPPER! PEPPER!” punctuated occasionally by “WALLET AND MONEY!” “POTATOES!” and then back to “PEPPER!” and every time I said pepper Zeke smiled, until he was finally laughing out loud at the pepper. We would close the book and he would open it again, find the page, and point to the pepper, “PEPPER!” Laughter. “PEPPER!” Laughter. Oh thank goodness for amusing vegetables.

Finally he started getting floppy and curling up and Randy got him another bottle of milk and I took him outside for the lullaby walk. Within a few minutes he was asleep. Over the past month his sleeping habits have improved significantly. About 85% of the time — clearly a scientific measurement — he will go to sleep without a fight around 8:30 and sleep through the night, until somewhere between 6am and 8am. The other 15% of the time there is some sort of sleeping calamity, either at bedtime or at 2 or 3 or 4am. But progress has definitely been made, for which, and for that red bell pepper, we are profoundly thankful.

imagesI realized recently that Zeke has a different mom than Zoe did. Certainly I gave birth to both of them. I remember both days clearly. But I have come to understand that I am a different person than I was seven years ago, and that it is impossible to be the same mother when you have two kids as you were with your first. And they are totally different human beings, so you can’t really parent them in the same way.

Does this seem totally obvious? Perhaps it is, but it just occurred to me the other day, and Zeke is almost 13 months old. I realized as he was lying on the rug in the kids room, crying and gently rolling back and forth, that I have a much higher threshold for crying than I did with Zoe. Not that I enjoy hearing Zeke cry, but it is usually clear to me that he’s not breaking or broken, especially when he’s lying on the floor crying and doesn’t want to be held, and that he just needs to get over himself. Zoe did not have tantrums, except for a couple months at bedtime when she was giving up her afternoon nap. Apparently we were extraordinarily lucky in that regard. Zeke has already started these microtantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. I just look at him in disbelief, like “you are not doing this. I refuse to acknowledge your behavior.”

I used to worry before Zeke was born that he wouldn’t get as much attention as Zoe did when she was little. If anything, he gets more. It’s hard to ignore a baby. And truthfully, impractical and unwise. It’s much easier to make the seven-year-old do her own thing, which thankfully she is quite capable of, but doesn’t always enjoy. And Zeke has two parents and a sister to chase him around. He is not hurting for attention.

At the same time, I definitely let him do things I would never have let Zoe do. I don’t know if this is because I am 40 and tired, more distracted–and sometimes trying hard to pay attention to Zoe, especially when she’s playing soccer, practicing martial arts, or doing homework–or more relaxed. Or if it’s because he’s a boy or because he has an insane amount of energy and doesn’t seem to mind diving headfirst off furniture. You would think this last one would make me pay more attention and that would be something we would not let him do, but he is fast and determined and very rubbery, it seems. During Zoe’s soccer practice last week Zeke was furiously climbing up a hill, into the trees. He was fine. There were many parents and other siblings there who I’m sure saw him. Would I have let Zoe out of my site climbing through nature for even one second when she was one? Unlikely. I am hoping this means I am just more chill and not actually negligent.

So my attitude and my attention span have changed, but I also recognize that Zeke’s adventurousness and mischievousness demand a different parent than Zoe did. I don’t know if this is because he’s a second child or a boy or just the happenstance of his personality, which is already joyfully and exasperatingly abundant. But I know what worked with Zoe won’t necessarily work with him. He is going to make me develop some new skills, which is not a bad thing, but I’m sure won’t be easy. Being the mom of a seven-year-old requires different skills than parenting a four-year-old for sure, so clearly I am a work in progress already. Even at this moment I can feel my tolerance for dirt increasing dramatically.

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I am sitting in the parking garage — 5b North — I’ve made a note of it for later — while my kids sleep in the back seat of the minivan. My daughter is moaning slightly. Outside the garage the rain is coming down in torrents. My husband is sleeping in the hotel room after spending the early part of the day in the emergency room after spending the night throwing up. Luckily my daughter only threw up once. Did I mention we’re on Spring break? Woo-hoo!

Luckily our friends who met us here in Philadelphia for a few days were still here today so I had another adult around to help out at the children’s museum. Zoe insisted that we go even though she was tired and weak. She was definitely off her game but rallied every now and then, exhibiting an encouraging burst of energy and an occasional smile. We spent a while in the craft room at the museum, a suitably low-key place to be. One table was book making. Zoe’s book was a one-page brief, which said blah blah blah blah and some other similar blahs to describe how she felt.

As I inch closer and closer to 40, which is waiting expectantly for me this weekend, I realize this is just how it is. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and — well you’ve heard that song before. Those are, indeed, the facts of life.

I used to think I needed to be happy. That you either had a good time or a bad time or were a happy person or an unhappy one. Since becoming a parent I realize it is more realistic to have a happy moment followed by an unhappy one and if you’re lucky followed by several happy ones before something else goes awry.

Did I mention on the first day of this trip we were rear-ended on the highway in what became a six-car pileup just North of the Millard Tydings Memorial Bridge over the Susquehana River and had to wait on the shoulder for the state troopers to arrive while comforting children in the car? Thankfully, no one was hurt and our car is mostly okay. Thankfully it wasn’t in a blizzard or a rainstorm or a heat wave. Thankfully our children did not scream throughout the hour we waited.

Pause.

As I was writing earlier, Zoe woke up and said she was going to be sick so I quickly unlocked the door and opened hers and she thoughtfully puked all over the ground. She is typically both neat and accurate when vomiting, which is a good skill to have. I pulled out the roll of paper towels that I cleverly stowed in the car just for this vacation and brought her some. Just at that moment, Randy texted to find out where we were and say that he’d woken up, so I requested his presence in the garage. He carried Zeke in and Zoe rode in Zeke’s stroller. I was amazed that she fit, but she did.

I won’t go into details about the rest of the evening except that to say it involved calls to my parents and the pediatrician and some amount of weeping from various family members, and wet washcloths, and a trip for Zeke (nestled in Ergo and clad in raincoat) and me (clad in raincoat wearing Ergo) to the CVS to procure supplies for everyone. I asked the woman at the front desk for directions to CVS and she explained that it was three blocks away and I actually asked her to write down directions because I knew I would not remember them and it was raining and I just couldn’t deal.

Thanks be to God that at the tender hour of 9pm, the rest of my family is sleeping peacefully. Please let them all stay that way until morning.

All this is to say that perhaps one of the most significant things I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years is that we will survive and that it is imperative to suck the juice out of those beautiful moments scattered among the messy ones. Tonight: in the midst of her painful headache, Zoe asked to call to my mom, which immediately calmed her down and soothed her. Then she watched some Reading Rainbow videos. Thank goodness for the sanguine virtual presence of LeVar Burton. And she asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” to her, which also seemed to help. And Randy was willing to switch beds with her and take the sofabed because she said she was uncomfortable.

And: Zeke totally chill and taking it all in on our rainy mission. Zeke happily putting his toys in one of the hotel room cabinets and taking them out again. Zeke smiling and laughing and blowing raspberries. Zeke not puking. And Zeke finally submitting to sleep after I was very close to being out of jiggles.

Childless people have observed to me in the past that, from the outside, being a parent seems daunting or difficult or perhaps even impossible. “I could never do what you do!” they say. Or, for those actually planning to have kids, “Wow, that seems hard.”

Well, sure. It’s hard. But what’s easy that’s worth doing? Okay, maybe a few things. But what big things in life are easy that are worth doing? I have known since I was seven when I became a big sister that I wanted to be a mom. It took me longer than I expected to make that a reality, mostly because it took me a while to find the right guy to be my kids’ dad. But it all came together and there’s nothing in the universe like it. These little beings who need you so much, and you’re everything to them. Sometimes that can be overwhelming and exhausting, but also so satisfying and joyful. You sacrifice a lot, but you receive more in return. Being this person on whom your children can utterly rely, whose trust you have earned, who love you and need you and want you so relentlessly that you sometimes feel suffocated but usually feel so privileged. I am profoundly thankful for my little family. Even when they have made a mess all over me and all around me.

This trip was supposed to be a Spring break adventure–we never go away for Spring break. We always work and Zoe usually goes to camp. And this trip was supposed to be a little birthday present for me, since I am about to have a big birthday. Since Zoe was born and her birthday is two weeks before mine, Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.36.19 PMwe have not done much to celebrate mine. Last year I was hugely and uncomfortably pregnant with Zeke and it happened to thunderstorm on my birthday so we got pizza delivered. And all that is ok. But sometimes I feel like I should get a little treat. (I did buy myself roller skates recently, which is as close to a little red sports car kind of purchase as I would come) And I’m sure I will. But in the meantime we will drive home in the morning. I promised Zoe we could return to Philadelphia another time, maybe for a long weekend, to do all the things we had planned to do but didn’t.

In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful silence of my sleeping family and hope that no one throws up on me (or anyone else) in the middle of the night. I love these guys.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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djembeHere are 10 1/2 fun facts about Zeke, who is 10 1/2 months old.

1. He thinks it is hilarious when you take off his socks or pants. He laughs out loud.

1.5 He also loves to take off his socks by himself in the car, but somehow it’s not as funny when he does it. I guess it’s like how you can’t really tickle yourself.

2. He is now tall enough to reach the top of tables, end tables, night stands, and desks while standing up. Watch out, everything!

3. He loves to kiss. He kisses by pressing his open mouth against some part of your head, very purposefully, and with much slobber.

4. He just graduated from his infant car seat and the stroller that the infant seat snaps into, and is now using a big boy convertible car seat in the car and sitting facing forward in a stroller where he can easily snack. This is better for my back since the combined weight of him and the infant carseat was painful, but it also limits our sleep inducing options because we can no longer drive him somewhere and bring him into the house still asleep. But he was growing out of the baby seat anyway, so we didn’t have much choice. The height limit was 32″ and he’s about 31″ and growing by the second.

5. He loves to eat. So far he has refused very few foods, and I think those are baby food blends that include lentils or onions or things that are too chunky. But most veggies and fruits he loves, and he’s eaten pureed beans and chickpeas and meats. He has eaten things that I’ve never even eaten, such as kamut and amaranth. He’s also begin eating people food, including cucumber, cheese, and of course the baby staple of cheerios.

6. He is still nursing. My goal is to make it to his first birthday. Sometimes he nurses while doing downward dog. Also he’s getting a new tooth, and it’s sharp.

7. He just learned how to put the blocks with holes in them back onto the pegs, after previously only demonstrating an ability to hold the pegboard upside down or pluck the blocks off individually.

8. He loves to wave. He waves hello to family members, to other babies, to the people on tv, to the people singing on the stereo, and to things.

9. He loves to tap and pound. We have two actual drums, one of which is Zoe’s and one, a djembe, that I gave to Randy a few years ago. Zeke plays them. He also plays the high chair tray, tables, and any other surface. He can also tap his feet rhythmically while nursing.

10. He loves doors and hinges. He could open and close a door for hours. So far he has squished his fingers in a door once, but that hasn’t dampened his affection for the doors.

You always hear about how the best thing for babies and kids is consistency. I would rather focus on the virtue of flexibility. As a parent and as the owner of a small business, no two days of my life are ever alike. There’s no consistency from day to day. There are many things I’d like to do every day but don’t, or plan to do but can’t. I don’t do routine that well. Maybe there are babies and children out there who are consistent, but mine aren’t. And their parents aren’t.

We do feed them consistently, although not on a fixed schedule. We keep them clean. We consistently go into their rooms during the night when they cry. We give them countless hugs and kisses every day.

And we are consistently late.

I am almost 40 so it seems unlikely that my consistent inability to do anything at the same time day after day will change. So I just need to stop consistently feeling guilty about it.

Sometimes you end up nursing your baby in the driver’s seat of your minivan in the parking lot of McDonald’s because his persistent screaming from the back seat was about to make you plunge your car into a snow bank. No varieties or volume of music would assuage him, nor your own voice, which is admittedly becoming less soothing. You’re on your way home. It’s been a long day filled with things that did not go well. Why is he screaming? It’s anyone’s guess. He is probably teething. Although he has seemed like he has been teething for the past six months or so. He is probably hungry, because it’s dinner time. You’re hungry. You plied him with cheerios and yogurt melts earlier, and you attempted to give him milk. But as is his habit lately, he will not breastfeed when there are people or things nearby that might be remotely stimulating. He drinks a few sips and–although you know he is hungry and you know plenty of milk is available–he wrests away and tries to throw himself onto the floor so he can crawl toward something compelling, like a glass object. He may be crying because his sister is not in the back seat with him as she usually is, since she has just been dropped off for a sleepover. She is a reliable source of companionship, entertainment, and cheer, and she is missing. He may be tired–as you are–and crying is his favorite way of expressing that. He may be frustrated that he has removed one of his socks but not the other. There is no telling. But you realize you cannot make it home while enduring the screaming any longer, so you pull into the parking lot, as far away from other cars as possible, and try to nurse. At first he refuses, clinging to his tears and then distracted by the novelty of the steering wheel, the gear shift, the buttons that control the music and temperature. Eventually, thankfully, basic desire for nourishment overcomes innate curiosity and he turns to you for milk. And he drinks.

After a while you step gingerly out of the car and oh so carefully try to put him back in his carseat, talking softly to him to try to erase any lingering memory of his previous activity there. He is quiet. You strap him in. You get back in the driver’s seat and start to pull back onto the road. He starts to cry again. Your heartbeat accelerates and your hands clench the steering wheel. You start to sing “Old MacDonald” (no relation to the restaurant–different spelling) and run through your mental catalogue of 15 or so animals. He is quiet again. You are so tired you start getting the animal noises wrong. You switch to “The Wheels on the Bus” and exhaust the list of bus features and riders. He is still quiet. You stop singing and feel profound gratitude for the silence.

On good days, parenting is made up of many ecstatic moments interrupted by a few exasperating ones. On bad days, the reverse. Some days as a parent I can rejoice in the trivial triumphs, like getting Zeke’s nails clipped so he won’t claw himself or us in fits of excitement or fatigue. Other days I look around at the colossal mess and the long list of undone items and struggle to see what I’ve accomplished, other than keeping everyone fed and alive. Which is something, but sometimes seems like a low bar.

While I am a working mom, my work only happens during the hours that Zeke is in day care and Zoe is in school, or sometimes at night if necessary. Although night office hours are much fewer and further between since Zeke was born since his sleep patterns are utterly unpredictable. But I am on my own with the kids most afternoons, and with Zeke on Fridays, and typically on snow days, so I did identify with this post by The Ugly Volvo. Parenting a baby can be so spectacularly joyful and so thoroughly frustrating from moment to moment.

At this moment, thankfully, Zeke is asleep. It was a hard-fought nap. He has a cold, so he was only willing to nurse briefly because breastfeeding makes it hard for him to breathe when he’s congested. I knew he was tired and still hungry but he screamed and battled fiercely when I tried to keep feeding him. Eventually I liberated him from his napping cocoon and took him downstairs to play while I pumped four ounces. Luckily I was able to entice him to stay in the play area instead of crawling off to find uncovered electrical outlets while I was tethered to the breast pump. Then we returned upstairs and he sat up and gave himself the bottle while I sneakily eased him half into the cocoon. As soon as he finished drinking and discarded the bottled I zipped him all the way up, singing “The Wheels on the Bus” at the top of my lungs to distract him from his capture. Then I rocked him and toned it down until he zonked out.

At nine months, he seems gigantic. He’s wearing 18-month clothes and stretches out way beyond your arms when you’re holding him. And he’s so tough and sturdy. He hardly seems like a baby because he appears indestructible (don’t test this, please). He just steamrolls over toys of any shape or size to get what he wants. He crawls so much faster than you expect and then you really don’t have time to look away or do anything you thought you’d have time to do between when you put him down and when he’s at the top of the stairs, or in the kitchen. He’s made a game of taking a toy and throwing it on front of him and crawling to get it and can repeat this over and over circuiting around the first floor of our house. At long last, he has two teeth–one fully in and the other emerging–and loves to use them to crunch. In fact he’s so excited to feed himself that more often than not he wants cheerios and the other little crunchy things instead of the baby food. I think the baby food is getting boring. But we haven’t quite gotten to the point where he can eat what we’re eating. Probably what has to happen is us putting in the extra effort to make some table food that’s appropriate for him, but we haven’t quite managed to do that yet. And I’m also not sure that anything I can make will be as nutritious as these little pouches of spinach, apple, and rutabaga, or plum, berry, and quinoa.

Zeke recently discovered clapping, and today I saw him pick up two blocks and clap them together and enjoyed his reaction when he created his first hand-held percussion instrument (aside from one of his favorite hobbies of smacking and tapping all wooden surfaces). Much like his sister and his parents, he loves music. Yesterday we went to the open house at Zoe’s former preschool, which will hopefully be Zeke’s preschool next fall. One of the first people we ran into was the music teacher there. One of my favorite times when I used to co-op in Zoe’s class was going to music class and seeing the kids either enthusiastically sing and dance and stomp around, or just observe mutely. I am reading the book Quiet right now and gaining a better understanding of how personality develops and what it means when kids are introverted or extroverted or low-reactive or high-reactive or sensitive and the various combinations of all of those factors. And I know participating in preschool music class isn’t really everyone’s thing, but I think all of the kids are still taking it in on some level, and how it comes back out remains to be seen. Zoe was not always a jubilant singer, but that didn’t inhibit the development of her fascination with and intense enjoyment of music. Today in church, she was sitting with me in the front row, right behind the grand piano, percussionists, and bassist, with a great view of the choir. On the first Sunday of the month, kids start out in the sanctuary and participate in the first part of the service, then listen to a story for all ages, and then go to their religious education classes. But after the first couple songs, Zoe said emphatically, “I want to stay for the music. I don’t want to go to class.” So she stayed, and she seemed as entranced and moved by the music as I was, singing to herself quietly, but clearly part of the moment.

Is it easy to be hard on yourself as a parent, or as a nursing mom, or as a nursing, working mom. Sometimes things do not go the way you expected them to go, or the way you think they must magically go for everyone else. But sometimes they work out fine. And sometimes your baby beams at you for minutes at a time without breaking eye contact, showing you the best way he knows how exactly how much he loves you. And sometimes your first-grader holds your hand and sings with you in church, or snuggles up to read, or gives you a kiss when she knows you’re feeling beaten down, and she even says “I love you,” because she can, and she does. And a nap would be nice, but you know you’ll make it through one way or another.

 

The truth is that I don’t really mind it, and I actually kind of love it. Except for the occasional morning that I wake up with little feet kicking my face, I find contentment and joy in snuggling and nursing through the night with my baby in the guest bed in our office.

Certainly, I miss my husband and sharing a bed with him. And absolutely part of my longs for the return of the eight-hour night of uninterrupted sleep I have enjoyed many nights in the past before my son was born (or really before I was hugely pregnant with him and had to get up frequently to pee).

There was a time, when he was about three or four months old, when Zeke did sleep through the night, or would get up once a night to nurse. That was pretty awesome. Then in October he had surgery, and has subsequently refused to sleep in his crib for more than 30 minutes at a time. As a result, we’ve let him sleep in his car seat, since that was the only place he would sleep for many weeks, and with us. And more often, just with me. It’s easier to fit a baby (who any parent will know actually takes up most of the bed despite his relatively small size) and a grown-up in a double bed than a baby and two grown-ups in a queen size bed. So what happens these days is we put Zeke to bed in his car seat, wedged between pillows, on the floor of the office. The sound of the ocean plays on the iPad. He will sleep there from about 7:30 until 9 or 10 when he needs a snuggle or a pacifier reinsertion or a quick snack. Then he will usually go back to sleep. Then around midnight, he will wake up and demand our attention until he is fed. I have tried on a few occasions to feed him and put him back in the seat. But then I go to bed and invariably he will wake up at 1 or 2 and demand whatever he is demanding and I am too sleepy to thoughtfully discern what it is, so I just take him to bed. Because of this, it’s much more restful just to go to sleep with him when he gets up at midnight. So what happens pretty much every night is that Randy and I are doing whatever we’re doing and we hear him cry, and we will race upstairs so I can brush my teeth and set my alarm and take my vitamins while Randy distracts Zeke, until I’m ready to set up camp in the office. I will feed Zeke until he falls back asleep and I will fall asleep, and we will sleep peacefully together until he wakes up looking for more. The beautiful advantage to this arrangement is that when he wakes up hungry it takes me 30 seconds of being awake to take care of him instead of 30 minutes if I were in my bed and stumbling in the dark to assuage him.

And also he’s very snuggly. When I put him to bed for the evening, or give him naps during the day, he usually starts nursing like a small, fierce, wild animal. He wriggles and writhes. He pulls his hair and scratches his head and pokes himself in the ear. I have no idea why, but he always does. If I try to insert my hand in the midst of his clawing, he bats it away. He does this while he eats, long enough that I begin to think he is not going to ever calm down, until suddenly, in a moment of transcendence, he is calm. He settles down, except for an occasional gentle flail, and finishes his meal in peace. And it’s beautiful. That transition from frenetic energy to contented tranquility is so satisfying.

I know there are many ardent opinions about babies and sleep. Every time I post on Facebook about this topic, parents express their sympathies and their advice. I am not asking for advice here, or approval. I am not–and would never–suggest what works for me is right for anyone else. I am simply expressing that I am thankful that we have an extra bed, my husband waits patiently for my return to our bed, and that our son loves to snuggle with me and eat. I know that he will not be this little for very much longer, and the I will not be nursing him forever, and there will be a time where it is not practical or pleasant anymore. I know we will raise an independent little boy who will one day enjoy his crib and his bed on his own. But right now, at this moment, I know this is a good thing for Zeke and me. I feel so lucky that I can feed him well and show him in this way how much he is loved. And I am sleeping a lot better than I used to.

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