Monday, May 21, 2012

Solo parenting


We got a nice new-baby break from John's trips, but inevitably he was going to have to travel again eventually.  My first 24 hours without him were an adventure, to put it optimistically.

It started with driving him to the airport.  That added an extra layer of difficulty onto the whole thing, because we live just over an hour from the airport.  Marko had slept on the way to church, but did that stop him from sleeping on the way to the airport?  Not a bit of it.  That kid will sleep in the car given the slightest opportunity.  Michael slept too.  So it was a nice, peaceful drive to the airport.  When we got there, Marko was a little bit awake, so John said goodbye to him, so that it wouldn't be a shock for him to wake up and find no Daddy around.  That, however, started the screaming.

My plan had been to go by the park near the airport on the way home to nurse Michael and let Marko run around, but since Michael was asleep and it seemed that Marko was going to go back to sleep, I just kept driving.  They both slept the whole way home.  I was shaking myself and sipping cold water the whole time just to stay awake.  Something about sleeping babies just makes you want to join them.

But since I had promised we'd go to the park, I stopped at a park near our house, one we'd never gone to before.  It was really nice, tons of play equipment, and I imagined peacefully nursing Michael in the shade while Marko played on the jungle gym.  However, it was also crowded, so Marko hung back near me at first, while I sat on a bench in the hot sun, trying to change a very messy diaper with what seemed like too few hands, and not enough wipes.  Once I started nursing Michael, Marko did get into playing -- which meant I had to trail behind him with a baby latched on and my whole flabby belly showing ... because of course I had forgotten my nice receiving blanket.  I'm not terribly picky about covering up, but I don't like leaving my whole belly hanging out.  I had a baby four weeks ago -- I do not exactly have washboard abs.

After awhile, though, things looked up.  I caught sight of a group of girls, my age or a bit younger, wearing long skirts and carrying babies.  My guess was "church group," and I was right.  They sat down with some older women, some kids of various ages, and a guy with a guitar, and began singing praise and worship songs.  Have I mentioned Marko's guitar obsession?  Well, he immediately picked up a stick and started strumming it, while drifting closer and closer to the guy with the guitar.  I kind of meandered in that direction myself, because they looked like such nice people.  Eventually Marko butted right on in, and they introduced themselves and invited me to join them.  Probably they wanted me to join their church.  But in any event they were super nice.  One of the girls, who looked younger than me and had three kids already (!) ended up talking about cloth diapers with me.  One of the older women, on hearing Michael doesn't like to be put down, suggested a sling.  I definitely fit right in as I sat down and nursed my baby yet again.  When I left, one of the women helped me to the car ... which I definitely needed, because Marko didn't want to leave and I was already carrying Michael and the diaper bag.

The real disaster appeared when we got home.  Marko hadn't eaten the snack I'd packed for him, and so was starving.  (It was six p.m.)  I was starving and also thirsty and developing a migraine because I hadn't drunk enough water.  (I bring water whenever I go out, and either it isn't enough or I forget to drink it.)  But Michael was the hungriest of us all, despite having nursed about eight minutes before.  (But only on one side, when usually he likes to nurse on both sides, often twice on each side with burps in between.  It can be kind of a marathon.)  Also, both boys needed fresh diapers AND I had to go to the bathroom.  How to triage all those needs?!

An hour and much screaming (out of all three of us) later, I had managed to feed us some leftover soup and everyone was in dry pants.  I'd nursed Michael for pretty much the whole hour, but every time I tried to set him down even for a second, he started shrieking again.  The number one thing that kills my patience is this setup: I can't change Marko's diaper with one hand, so I set the baby down "just for a second."  Shrieking ensues, that terrible desperate newborn cry that says "I have no conception of any time outside of this moment, so I believe I will be abandoned and starving forever," and which no one with any soul can endure for more than a few minutes.  So I try to race through the diaper change, whereupon Marko decides to make the whole thing into a game, rolling off the couch, kicking his legs, opening the velcro while I struggle with his pants.  Or sometimes, after he's begged me to take his diaper off, I find it's dry.  So I know it means he needs to go potty ... only he refuses to sit on it.  So the entire diaper change is just me taking off a dry diaper and putting it back on.  While Marko wrestles with me.  I have some techniques that distract Marko from doing this, but when the shrieking is going on I regress into a brainless mother bear that only wants to GET BACK TO THAT BABY and PICK HIM UP NOW!  And then FEED HIM!

Then when I was feeding him, Marko wanted to "take care of Michael," by which he seemed to mean "squeeze his head and try to make it turn."  I was already having trouble getting the baby to settle down and eat, so I was very annoyed.  When I stopped him from doing that, Marko leaned over and play-bit me.  It didn't even hurt, but I snapped and sent myself to my room.  That is to say, I got up, baby in arm, and yelled, "I can't take you biting me!  Goodbye!" and walked away, shutting the door behind me.  This is the worst possible punishment for Marko -- I am quite sure he'd much rather be slapped.  But it wasn't for him, it was for me.  I needed a moment to get the baby eating and get myself calmed down.  When I opened the door again, Marko flung himself at me crying, and I told him, "I'm not mad, I just need to feed the baby," and he cheered up pretty quickly.  It's so hard to deal with those "Mama's losing it" moments, and I feel that running away isn't the best solution, but whatever the best solution is, I can't come up with it while I feel like my head's about to explode.  Anyway, I figure Marko will at least learn one lesson from this -- that I respect myself enough to take what I need to keep from going crazy, and not to let him ride roughshod over me with no limits.  If the worst he grows up to do when he's angry is leave the room for five minutes, I think that's pretty good.

Anyway, around seven -- Marko's usual bedtime -- we all went outside.  Marko wasn't in the least tired, and no wonder -- he'd gotten almost two hours of total naptime, maybe even more because he slept on the way to church, too.  He has this new lawnmower he wanted to play with, and I figured I could finish the front yard with the real mower.  (It's unpowered and quite safe around kids, don't worry.  I knew if I had a power mower that was dangerous, I'd never have a chance to mow.)  And it would be perfect, because Michael could have some time in the Moby wrap, which I was sure was what he needed.

Only it wasn't.  He screamed at the very idea and kept trying to struggle out of it.  I have a memory of standing in the middle of the front yard, yelling "I need a new baby, this one's defective!"  Not exactly a proud moment.  Turned out that what he needed was one more nursing.  Then I put him in the wrap and he fell asleep in two minutes.  We finished the mowing, and I also did the dishes.  My migraine got serious.  Around eight-thirty it started to get dark and I decided to get on with bedtime.

Marko has a new bedtime routine which he does with Daddy, which involves sitting on his lap while they watch videos on YouTube of barbershop quartets.  (At least that's the current fad.  This guy is really good.)  Then when he starts to get sleepy and snuggly, he carries him into the bedroom and rocks him to sleep.  Sadly, this routine is very arms-intensive.  I've tried to get him back onto falling asleep in his bed, but without much success.  So I just had to stick to it the best I could with my clingy, clingy newborn in tow -- who, by now, was awake and STARVING again.  I brought my laptop over in front of the couch (which required hooking it up to the extension cord) and put the bouncy chair next to it.  I nursed Michael while Marko watched some Roadrunner.  (Yes, he has been watching a lot of TV lately.  I don't like it, but whatcha gonna do?)  Then I set down Michael (who screamed like a banshee) while I got Marko into his pj's.  Then I nursed Michael with my arm around Marko while we watched barbershop quartets.  He still wasn't too sleepy, and often got up from the couch to mess around until I coaxed him back.

Once he started to get a tiny bit sleepy, I could see I was waking him -- and often Michael too, who was dozing off -- whenever I reached around him to click on a new video, so I set it to a looooong playlist and sat back.  Eventually he got kind of yawny.  A little after that, I FINALLY was able to set Michael down and have him stay asleep.  So I took Marko into the bedroom and rocked him to sleep.  It was 10:10 when I left the bedroom.  We'd been "doing bedtime" for an hour and forty minutes.  A personal record, I think.

Amazingly Michael stayed asleep through my whole bedtime routine -- even including feeding the dog and cat, which I think I'm going to start doing before Marko's bedtime because they're kind of noisy.  I laid down in bed with the baby and we both passed out.  I know he nursed a few times at night, but that was no biggie ... I never even note the time anymore, and I know for sure I've nursed him without remembering it sometimes.

And then, at 5:45 a.m., there was Marko again.  Screaming.  Tired.  Desperately needing more sleep.  I brought him into bed with Michael and me in the hopes that he might drift back off, but he didn't.  With a great deal of struggle, I eventually got him to take an early nap and let him sleep himself out.  I had some quality time with Michael and called my mom.  Later in the day, Michael actually let me put him down for a few hours, so I got some quality time with Marko and cleaned the house.  (Time with Michael means physical care for him, and intellectual activities for me.  Time with Marko means intellectual attention for him, and physical activities for me.  Either one feels like such a vacation because there's something for me included in there!  And I feel like a good mother because I can fulfill all their needs without making them wait.)  So it wasn't all bad, despite the rough start.

Where am I going with this?  I guess I'm just trying to keep it real.  Having two kids DOES mean that I have less for each of them sometimes.  It DOES mean sometimes that they both scream in chorus while I yell ridiculous things like "I wish I was dead because at least there would be nobody TOUCHING me!"  But it isn't, thank goodness, usually like that.

Also, can I just say I love my husband?  He's handled bedtime for Marko most nights, and on the other nights he's held Michael so I can put Marko to bed.  I can see now that this has made all the difference in my sanity.

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