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51444322Sometimes I fantasize
about a sofa that appears only to me
in the bathroom

So that when a certain three-and-a-half-year-old climbs into our bed before dawn, sweetly saying “I want to be with you, Mommy” and handing me his lion to snuggle with and asking to hold my hand but then proceeds to cough repeatedly into my face
and poke his finger into my throat
and tap me on the nose
and plant his foot in my crotch
and bounce his dog on my boob
and take up my entire pillow
and exile me to the outer limits of the bed, generously granting me
six whole inches in which to lie down

And when I tell him to stop he asks “Why?” and I say
“Because it hurts, because it’s annoying,
because that’s my body and I don’t like you touching me like that,”
and he just repeats his question, “WHY?”

I can say, “I have to go potty, I’ll be right back.”
and escape into the bathroom, where,
instead of falling back asleep while sitting on the toilet
which has been known to happen
I can curl up on the couch
which is more of a loveseat really
upholstered in a garish Christmas plaid
remaindered at the furniture store
(my imagination modest at 5am)
shielded from germs and bathroom detritus
by Hermione’s protego totalum spell
of course there’s a soft fleece blanket in a clashing plaid
to keep me warm

No one else can see the sofa or knows that the bathroom
doubles in size to accommodate it
not all the time—
only when it is too early to wake up
—at least in my opinion
and I require refuge

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 11.28.08 PMIn a darkened Tennessee motel room, just a mile from the Virginia border, my children are sleeping, each splayed across a double bed. At some point I will have to squeeze in beside one of them so I can sleep. It will most likely be Zeke, because he is smaller and therefore slightly easier to move, and he is less likely to leave bruises on my legs when he kicks me during the night. All those years of martial arts and soccer and running have endowed Zoe with very strong legs. Over the past nine nights of this trip, I have slept in a variety of beds in four different states with each of my children, occasionally my husband, and once–I think–alone. I am very much looking forward to being home in my own bed with space enough to sleep peacefully. Randy sometimes steals the covers but he never thrashes around or elbows me in the face.

On this trip I saw three cousins, two cousins-in-law, four second cousins, an uncle and two aunts. It had been so long since I’d seen some of these family members that they’d never met Zeke, or interacted with Zoe since she was an infant. I also got together with a high school friend, whose kids instantly befriended my kids. As we were leaving her house, Zoe asked, “can we exchange information?” I instructed her before she went to sleepaway camp this year to make sure her friends wrote down their names and contact information if she wanted to keep in touch with them, so she wouldn’t come home with scraps of paper saying “mom’s #” with a phone number and not know whose it was. Zoe drew one of her signature dragons for her 16-year-old cousin Elizabeth, with whom she was greatly enamored, as a thank you for Elizabeth giving her two stuffed animals from her childhood collection. Zeke came away with a large plastic version of a Swiss army knife, which he called his “tool,” and he spent hours asking everyone he could find if they had a problem, which he would then attempt to solve with his tool. He stuck the tool in his pocket and carried it everywhere. He dissolved in sobs when he was FaceTiming Daddy and couldn’t find his tool to show him. Zeke can’t seem to remember the name FaceTime. Earlier today he asked if we could TimeFace Daddy, and then as we pulled up to the hotel he asked if we could HotelFace Daddy. I said yes.

On this trip we hung out with five different dogs–Bella, Maisy, Lily, Dewey, and Lucy–in three different houses. Even though Zoe was reluctant to even walk into the house when Bella was standing at the door, after less than 24 hours with her, Zoe and Randy wanted to adopt her. On the way from South Carolina to Georgia, Randy was looking at dogs on an animal rescue website. Discussion quickly turned to how many pounds was too many and which dogs were better with kids or required a fenced yard. The jumpier, louder dogs at the next two houses perhaps curbed Zoe’s enthusiasm to adopt, yet by the end she was sad to leave the dogs who had seemingly terrified her moments before. Zeke was unfazed by all of it. He just couldn’t remember that some of the dogs were girls, saying, “Hi little fellow!” as he pet them.

IMG_0045On this trip I tried to pack in as much family time and adventuring as possible and therefore did not plan for adequate napping for Zeke, which resulted in several meltdowns and a lot of huffing and puffing. I suppose this is to be expected from a three-year-old, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. Zoe was a good sport about almost everything and usually continued to do whatever she was supposed to be doing while I dealt with Zeke. Sometimes she helped. It is easy to forget that it is hard for three-year-olds to adapt. All things considered, Zeke probably adapted really well. We did a LOT in 10 days–the Georgia Aquarium, Legoland Discovery Center, the High Museum of Art (exclusively the Eric Carle exhibit, family gallery, the outdoor climbable sculptures, and the ArtLab, IMG_0093lest you think I tried to coax my kids through the Walker Evans exhibit or anything too sophisticated), Zoo Atlanta, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the climbable sculptures at the Abernathy Greenway. We shopped all too briefly at Little Shop of Stories and devoured ice cream at Butter & Cream (I recommend the OG Goodness).

We saw sea lions perform and beluga whales glide gracefully by and we touched sea anemones. We learned that sea lions have ears you can see and seals do not. We pedaled into the air and shot at bad guys on the rides at Legoland, and admired a Lego model of Atlanta’s famous buildings. We read Pancakes, Pancakes and learned about Eric Carle’s technique of sweeping paint onto paper on the floor with a broom and then cutting it up to create his vibrant illustrations and how growing up in Germany and walking through the woods with his father influenced his work. We built block towers and created collages and Zoe and Randy made a stop motion animated film. Zoe and Zeke fed romaine lettuce to a hungry giraffe with a long and powerful tongue. We saw orangutans and pandas and flamingos and giant tortoises so calm and contemplative that I thought at first they were IMG_0160statues. We rode the train and the carousel and an exceptionally kind zoo employee went out of his way for me. I had bought a souvenir cup at lunch and refilled it with water which I was sharing with the kids. While I was watching Zoe climb a very tall net structure, Zeke finished the water and went over to recycle the cup. I tried to stop him, shouting that I had bought the cup to keep, and he pushed it further into the recycling big and then hung his head, Charlie Brown style, which he does when he realizes he did something wrong but seems powerless to stop himself. The zoo employee, who was on duty at the climbing structure, but there was no one else there but Zoe, said he would be right back and he went to get me another cup. I thought that was amazingly kind of him. It wasn’t a big thing, but he really didn’t have to do it at all, and I never would have asked. We watched a clever and engaging puppet show called Old MacDonald’s Farm. I bet you think you already know the story, but there was really a lot more to it than you’d expect, and it was quite well done. Then we made our own chicken puppets, even the grown-ups. We visited quite a few gift shops and came away with too many souvenirs (the number diminished at each stop), except at the Children’s Museum where we bypassed the gift shop altogether because the kids’ behavior there was especially unpleasant.

I learned more about my Dad’s family–that they used to drive from the Bronx to Yonkers on Saturdays to visit Grandma Yeager and eat delicious Hungarian food, and take leftovers home. I learned that Grandpa Rosenblatt was some sort of peddler and that he traveled back and forth from Romania to the US but once to Argentina–speaking only Yiddish– for some time because he couldn’t get back in the US, and Grandma Rosenblatt worried that he was going to abandon the family so she sent Max (my grandfather) to America when he was a teenager to make sure his father would send for her and her daughter Sara. I learned that my dad and his brother and sister and their mom spent several summers at a bungalow colony in upstate New York, which they loved, and my Uncle Larry and his friend went fishing and unexpectedly caught an eel. And there’s more, for another post another time.

We enjoyed seeing my Uncle Larry appear suddenly as Bobo the Clown, which initially frightened Zeke but then delighted all of us with magic tricks and corny jokes and a couple skits. Zeke was still talking today about how funny it was when Bobo the Clown was trying to sleep and a bee was bothering him. Zeke cracked up both watching and remembering the scene.

We enjoyed eating authentic Southern junk food at the Varsity in Atlanta. I had two hot dogs with chili and slaw. I don’t think I’ve had hot dogs like that–or that good–since my Nana died because I used to have them at her house. Chili and slaw in Arlington are not the same. This morning we hit Waffle House. I was reminded of my desire to eat at Waffle House by the Waffle House-replica kitchen at the Children’s Museum, where Zeke served Aunt Susan a stack of six fried eggs. I decided we would stop and eat not long after we left Atlanta this morning, worried that we wouldn’t encounter another Waffle House. As it turns out, there was one about every other exit for hundreds of miles. Not to worry. I took my aunt’s advice and ordered hash browns covered and smothered.  Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 11.30.27 PMThe kids had chocolate chip waffles. Which means I ate my breakfast and half of Zeke’s waffle while he ate bacon and my biscuit.

I love how Zeke made himself completely at home with all of my family members, most of whom he’d either never met or hadn’t seen in years. And if you’re three and you haven’t seen someone in years, you might as well never have met them. He just jumped right in with no hesitation. Zoe is more circumspect, but still enjoyed bonding with the family, especially getting silly with my uncle and glimpsing the glamorous lives of her older cousins–ages 12, 14, and 16. As soon as we left each of our family’s houses, she declared that she missed them already.

I almost forgot how we started the trip with the Insane Inflatable 5K in Virginia Beach. Zoe and I signed up for this fresh off her excitement about the Girls on the Run 5K she ran with my sister in May. We watched videos of the Insane Inflatable 5K and it looked fun. And it SBW3158was, mostly. It was also very hot that day and traversing those inflatables was way harder than we anticipated. But we did it, and we were proud of ourselves. And I got a migraine later that day but that’s to be expected. We also enjoyed the Children’s Museum of Virginia that afternoon. I think I am done with Children’s Museums for a while.

I did not accomplish much of anything else this week. I thought I’d be able to squeeze in some work because this week was a completely inconvenient time for me to take off, in terms of my work schedule, but this week was when we could make the trip. So, sorry clients. I’ll be back on task next week. I was so exhausted I fell asleep two nights this week putting Zeke to bed, and stayed asleep for the night. I apologized to my uncle for being antisocial but he said he understood. I am thankful to everyone we visited for their flexibility. They were all remarkably solicitous and accommodating.

The last leg of our journey is tomorrow. Roughly six more hours to go, not counting stops to eat and pee, of which there are always plenty. We had a terrific adventure, but we are all ready to be home. And now it’s time to claim my sliver of bed, next to Zeke and Kitty Kat and Uh Oh Dog. Good night.

The louder the rain hits the window, the closer I hold you

As much for my comfort as yours,

feeling vulnerable as if the window and wall that separate us from the water

might dissolve at any moment and we would drown

Your sleep is punctuated by coughs and

I would think you had a fever

if I weren’t intimately familiar with your solid little furnace of a body

from so many minutes and hours and nights of rocking with you and

sleeping with you in the office bed or in our bed,

sometimes peacefully but mostly not,

as you are drawn to climb on top of me and wrap your limbs securely around me

like you’ve summited a mountain and must embrace the ground in gratitude.

When your shoulder leans into my windpipe

I try to rescue myself

without waking you up

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

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.

owletMy parents love to talk about how they used to let my sister and me stay up to watch Johnny Carson from a very young age. Not that we were actually watching The Tonight Show, but that we were just amusing ourselves playing on the floor or reading until we passed out in the family room and our dad carried us to bed.

Apparently they did this not because they wanted to expose us to inappropriate media while we were still in preschool, but because we refused to go to sleep in our cribs, and later in our beds, and it was easier to let us stay up than endure the wailing. And according to their memories, once they let us come downstairs and hang out, we just did our own thing, content to play without demanding anything of them.

Decades later, my husband and my brother-in-law both frequently face the thankless task of trying to pry me and my sister off of our respective couches where we have fallen asleep, not even necessarily in front of the television, which neither of us has much time to watch anymore, but just in the family room, because going upstairs to bed seems overwhelming. Or maybe we just want to stay downstairs where the action is, even if that action is just our husbands transfixed by their respective laptops, doing schoolwork or work work or occasionally reading tech or sports blogs.

You can see I have never been good at going to bed. I have always been a night owl, since I was a mere owlet. Morning is not my thing, but I’ve always been amazingly productive between 9pm and 1am.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that my kids are not good at going to bed either. Randy too, is a night owl, and we have never been very good at convincing each other to reform, despite many attempts. Especially when you have to get up early and your kids will probably wake you up during the night, you should really go to bed at a reasonable hour. But…

Nighttime is when all the fun stuff happens! And when your kids are hard to get to bed, you feel like doing a victory dance when they are finally asleep, even if it’s 10 or 11pm. And The Daily Show is on! Or everything you’ve ever DVRd since your kids were born! And there are books to be read and Facebook to be checked and who knows what else. And in my husband’s case in recent months, endless homework to be done!

Whether it’s a genetic predisposition toward partying after dark, or insidious bad habits, or general inertia because staying awake is easier to do than going to sleep when you’re already so good at being awake, I think our kids are just not good at going to bed because we’re not good at going to bed. Unfortunately (for them, I suppose), we have not subscribed to my parents’ approach, primarily because we revel in our precious few hours of grown-up time, and also because our children have so far not demonstrated an ability to stay up late entertaining themselves. We need a break. Evidently my parents never needed a break. We moved out eventually.

Zoe drags out bedtime interminably. There are always so many decisions to be made about what stories or chapters to read, who will read them, and for how long. Zeke just cries until his request for a change of venue is granted. Truthfully, though, bedtime is often sweet and fun. Reading with Zoe can be delightful, and sometimes at bedtime she tells us important things. And after a day of chasing after an exuberant little monkey boy, feeling him melt into slumber brings utter relief. Then creeping down the stairs to claim a place on the couch, where the only noise is the hum of the dryer and the whirr of the dishwasher, we say a little prayer of thanks. And now we can stay up late doing whatever we want.

Maybe someday they will end up down here watching Stephen Colbert host the late show, or reading, while we doze off on the couch. Maybe they will have to nudge us, saying, “hey guys it’s time for bed!” But until then, we will enjoy our grown-up time, making our own grown-up decisions and mistakes, all by ourselves.

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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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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.

We need a new vocabulary to talk about babies.

It makes me crazy that people talk about babies being good or bad, and it’s not as if people are making character judgments, but that’s just what we say, and it makes no sense. It’s just luck.

When I brought Zeke to Zoe’s school recently for a reading celebration, a teacher said, “he’s so well-behaved!” as if I had trained him or he had chosen to be especially quiet and cute during the activity. Totally luck.

I think one of the reasons the limited language irritates me is that I am paranoid about the implied appraisal I fear in everyone’s probably innocuous conversation. One of the first questions people ask when they see Zeke is “is he sleeping well?”

The answer is no. He does not sleep well. He sleeps very lightly and, although he slept through the night for a glorious three weeks this summer, he has not done so since. I cannot get him to nap, although others can, unless I drive him to the airport. He wakes himself up a lot. And therefore wakes us up a lot. But this is just a fact. It has nothing to do with Zeke’s intellect or spirit or soul or character in any way. From what I understand, many babies do not sleep well. It’s a well-known characteristic of babies. They are often awake.

Of course it is paradoxical that I want to take pride in things that are going well with Zeke’s development, all of which are equally unrelated to merit. For example, he loves to eat and he has eaten all kinds of food (all pureed of course, except for those little puffs which he grabs and desperately tries to put in his mouth but they just adhere to his palm with slobber and I have to pry them off and place them on his lips). Since I’ve discovered these awesome little pouches of baby food, he’s eaten spinach and pumpkin and lentils and blueberries and quinoa and eggplant in addition to the usual babyfood suspects. He devours ALL OF IT with relish. (No, we don’t serve him relish). And I am thankful for his appetite and that so far he hasn’t been allergic to anything.

He exercises his abs with vigor. He really wants to sit up. He can sit up supported pretty well and unsupported for about a second. He’s really working on it. He can also scoot and rotate pretty well. I remember Zoe doing this too. It’s kind of amazing to not be able to crawl but somehow move yourself from one location to another in the crib or on the floor.

Zeke is talkative. He babbles in a way that sometimes sounds startlingly like words. He loves it when you imitate what he says, and he enjoys his sister repeating words such as splash and spleen over and over in different tones of voice. We are determined to sign with him, and so far we’ve mostly done milk. But I think he recognizes it. When I sign milk he divebombs my shirt. We’re working on the signs for more and all done. If nothing else, he smiles at the sign for all done. We’re also working on high fiving. Why this is an important first trick for babies, I’m not sure, but it’s fun to tackle.

Zeke is big. At his six-month checkup yesterday the nurse exclaimed, “he’s as big as some two-year-olds!” Whoa. I’m not sure about that, but he’s a substantive fellow. And a wiggly one. It is increasingly difficult to change his diaper because he wants to revolve while you’re doing it. He likes to tap, pat, whack, and smack things. Especially wood and hard surfaces. Also people. He also likes to chew on everything. I bought a teething bling necklace to keep his mouth entertained and protect my jewelry, and Zeke loves it.

Zeke adores his sister, and she him. His face lights up when hers comes into view. Thank goodness she is kind to him and entertains him sometimes and wants to hold him. She’s still not quite coordinated enough to hold him without us holding our breaths, but we’re all working on that.

At one of his post-op appointments, he smiled at the nurse who was taking his vitals and took hold of her finger in an unusually gentle and inquisitive way. She was charmed and told me how special he was. Of course, we think so, but it’s always flattering to hear someone else say so too. That’s a word I appreciate.

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