Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mommy and Me

I can't believe how long it's been since I've written but everyone said that would happen. Somehow my energy extends only as far as the quotidian tasks of the domestic front, and often not even that far. In my former life, an 18-hour trip necessitate a hot bath, a long night in the warm nest of our down comforter, followed by a big meal accompanied by coffee and newspapers. This time, we didn't even get the nest part, as our new member of the household has no interest in circadian rhythms and prefers to clap her hands and cheer for "Dancing With the Stars" at 4 a.m. and then keel over in a pile of rubber letters and numbers in the middle of the afternoon. That is, when she deigns to sleep. She begins to emerge as a pint-size super-human, streamlined for action, requiring only the briefest of catnaps to rise to her full magazine-shredding glory.

I have repeatedly been asked what it feels like to be a mother. Well, I'll let you know. At this point, I'm purely in survival mode. I feel like a cruelly underpaid babysitter of someone's incredibly adorable and hilarious child--when are they coming home again? :) My concerns in life have been winnowed down to a precious few: when and where to snatch a few moments of sleep, how to eat my breakfast without her seeing and hence making sounds like a Tyrannasaurus Rex until she gets some of it, how to get crumbs out of the carpet, and where to put my books so they may retain their handy shape.

When my parents visited last weekend, my father crowed "Well, you've become a suburban housewife!" My instinctive horror at this label was followed by the glum realization that I don't even have that going for me: There is no housewifery going on here. The house is caked with food and strewn with toys and books. Dirty baby clothes stack up in the washing machine but I haven't bothered to turn it on. I wander in circles thinking "What did I use to trim my nails with again?" and "Didn't we have a bunch of dental floss somewhere?" My domestic efforts have been limited to warming up the delicious and generous contributions of our dear friends, for which our gratitude runneth over. I remember reading a memoir when I was in my mid-'20s about a single mom who used to sit on the floor and cry while her baby slept, and I remember figuring she must be a little touched in the head. Now I'm convinced that the reason new parents don't explain how hard the first weeks of parenting are is because they are too tired to form a sentence.

We find ourselves unable to leave the house before 3:00 or 4:00 each day, grasping for the last shreds of daylight to make a run to Target or something equally scintillating. Somehow the rest of the time gets filled up with feeding, cleaning up after meals, bathing, changing, dressing, playing and suddenly falling asleep. If we could just shake this jet lag, it might be a bit easier on all of us. Whenever I think of David going back to work and leaving me alone to perform this intricate dance I am seized with terror. How will I do it on my own? And of course I think constantly: what could be more elemental, more primal, than this time? It's not like we're taking Jarrah to dance classes or piano lessons or soccer games or spelling bees. No, all we're doing is trying to keep her alive and not too stinky. That's pretty basic. If we can achieve that, and not be too stinky ourselves, it's like we're heroes. There's something sort of depressing about that. Maybe I just need more time to adjust.

The past couple of nights, she has slept for 4-5 hours at a stretch for the first time. I want to cry with gratitude and yet, perversely, the past two days I've felt more exhausted than ever. It's like my body has been reminded of what it feels like to sleep and it wants more. If we could just get to her to "go down" the first time, when we know she is tired and we know she is comfortable, then we could all get more sleep. But she is still waking about every half-hour for the first 3-4 hours, and then she screams as though she has opened her eyes to find herself duct-taped to her crib. We're seeing our pediatrician this week and hopefully she'll have some advice about what is going on here.

When she's awake, she's delightful. She sings and dances and has long conversations, partly with us and partly with herself. She stacks and bangs and shakes and rips. She explores, crawls, stands and falls. She points at us and announces "Da!" She reads her books and eats them. She's got plenty on her plate and no time to waste.

6 comments:

Kim said...

Again, I am struck by your accurate and articulate depictions of parenthood! Rest assured, you eventually figure out how to get out of the house before 2pm (though it took me a few months) and you also figure out how to get a shower in too. Of course, your definition of "clean" might change a little... :)

Jarrah looks like she is doing so well. And she is even cuter now--is that possible?! Glad you are home and enjoying your daughter.

-Kim

Aaryn said...

Has anyone EVER looked so adorable in a cardboard box???

To the rest I say this:
Normal, normal, normal, normal, normal.

You have to let go of the "Pre February 6th Mind-Set", if you will, and give in to the chaos. As soon as you can do this, you'll be less of a salmon and more of a sheep.

Hang in there.
It will get better.
aaryn

Anonymous said...

Your friends are SO right, Sam! You speak with the voice of
all new moms...And it's all NORMAL.
Forget your old schedule, you won't see that again for many years.
Know what I see & hear? Your daughter is doing TERRIFIC! You are doing great parenting.
As for the nightime getting to sleep blues, could be she's still somewhat disoriented when she wakes like that, & needs to know you're still there. But I bet the pediatrition says to let her cry. Hard to do. Good luck!
Keep up the writing when you can, it's great to know what's happening; and this will make a wonderful book one day.
Best, Gail

cazzer65 said...

Sam,

Hang in there, a schedule will emerge, believe it or not, and you will figure out how to keep you both clean!!

Welcome to parenthood,a vocation filled with hours of stultifying boredom, and moments of soaring joy that make it all worth it.

Tons of love to you and your lovely family! Your blog is amazing, touching, and just plain amusing (you have a legion of new fans, as I've felt free to show this to a couple of friends!)

Caroline

Amy said...

Sam and David,
I just wanted to thank you for the delightful visit, wonderfully tasty lunch, and of course the thrilling opportunity to meet Jarrah...finally! I had such a nice time just taking it all in. And as for your adjustment period, I think you are all doing amazingly well. I agree with Aaryn that you have to give in to the chaos. And I also concur..it will all get a little better, a little easier with each day that passes.
Hugs to you all!!!
:)
Amy

Anonymous said...

Jarrah looks so healthy and happy...you're doing a great job even though it feels like it is killing you! Yes...those 'PJ' days (Pre-Jarrah) are a pleasant memory. Now your 'PJ' days are trying to get out of your PJ's by noon!

The first month is just out of control chaos with everyone functioning in survival mode...as Jarrah gets over her culture shock and jet lag things will normalize to a controlled chaos. It's slow but it will happen!

Lynette