Her Bad Mother

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Putting Things To Rest

It is widely agreed, among our friends and family, that WonderBaby looks a lot like me. There's a lot of Her Bad Father in her (her height, her cheeky smile, something about the curve of her brow), but at first glance the resemblance is most obviously to me, her mother: she has (as they say) my eyes, my ears; her colouring is mine, as is her big round head. (She also has my freakishly long spider-monkey toes, but most people never see those.)

Certainly, if you were to look at baby pictures of me, and baby pictures of WonderBaby, you'd see a striking resemblance:

Which is the be-wigged child of the seventies? And which the WonderBaby?

Of course, when Her Bad Father and I talk about what characteristics WonderBaby owes to us, we're more likely to discuss the quirks of her character than we are the colour of her hair or the curve of her cheek or the prehensile reach of her toes. We're more likely to discuss whether her giggle is mine, or her frown his; her love of books from me, her physical strength from him. We argue, lightly, about whether her stubbornness is due to me, or due to him, and we wonder aloud about how it came to be that two such (ordinarily) reserved people spawned such a spirited, gregarious child.

There is, of course, much that can be said about the question of nature versus nurture in the development of children; it would take multiple posts, I think, for me to sort through the questions and ideas that I have about the variety of influences that bear upon WonderBaby's development. The question that I have right now, however, is pretty specific: is it possible that children - babies - inherit from their parents, or from one or the other parent, their inclinations with regard to sleep? To food? To those things that we ordinarily regard as habits?

Sleep habits, eating habits - these are certainly shaped by a variety of influences, too numerous to list here. And I have no doubt that these 'habits' can be formed or reformed, to some extent, through all manner of intervention. But is it possible that these are also, to some degree, bred in the bone? That the extent to which they can be reformed is limited, to some degree, by nature - by an inherited nature? Or, simply, by a nature that asserts itself regardless of source?

I guess that this is just another way of asking: when it comes to certain issues - say, one's 14 month old baby being pretty set in her ways with regard to certain tendencies in the arena of, say, sleep (like, say, being resistant to having any during daylight hours) - is there a point at which you need to say, okay, fine, she's just like that, and roll with it?

And add, perhaps, by way of explanation: just like her mother?

I've never been what is usually called a 'good sleeper.' My mother tells me that she was nearly driven insane by my refusal, in infancy and beyond, to take naps. (She resorted, on the advice of her doctor, to sedatives. For me. Aah, the seventies! Dope the babies!) I've been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. And, I cannot make myself sleep during daylight hours, unless I am so physically bagged that I have no choice in the matter (after, for example, weeks of restless insomniac nights filled with endless Law and Order re-runs.) I'm a bad sleeper. Always have been.

Then again, does one ever really sleep easily near a rack of guns?

So when I fret and tear my hair about WonderBaby's sleep habits, am I, really, fretting uselessly, about something that is bred in the bone? Something that cannot be changed, or only changed with tremendously difficulty? We have, after all, tried everything: we've Sears-ed and BabyWhispered and Weissbluthed and Ferberized until we were blue in the face. And still, nothing changes: the best case scenario (which is, I admit, a pretty good case) is that WonderBaby sleeps 12 to 13 hours at night and then only cat-naps during the day; the worst case (the one that has prevailed over the last couple of weeks) is that she wakes during the night and still forgoes the daytime naps. Which is, I needn't tell you again, a little bit frustrating.

This isn't yet another plea for help. On the contrary: I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea that this is just the way it is. Not as a matter of surrender, but as a matter of being realistic, and being respectful of WonderBaby's nature. Perhaps not every baby can be a quote-unquote good sleeper (another post in itself - what is a "good" sleeper, anyway, and why is that the gold standard?); perhaps not every baby can be 'made' to cleave to the ideal standard of sleep. Perhaps I should be grateful that, under ordinary circumstances, WonderBaby sleeps so well at night. If she is getting, end of the day, the sleep that she needs, who am I to say how she gets that sleep?

Of course, I am the parent. She is the baby. It is my responsibility to make sure that her needs are met; it is my responsibility to make sure that her diet is healthy, that she is kept safe, that she sleeps. But is it my responsibility to make sure that she does those things according to a certain model? To insist upon that? Is it even right to insist upon 'models'?

I'm just looking for permission, I guess, to let certain issues go. To relax my grip on certain ideals, certain standards. To stop bemoaning the absence of the conventional nap in our household, for my own - our own - peace of mind, and, perhaps, so that I will be more accepting of the absence of the conventional anything in the future. Although it is, perhaps, not permission, so much as affirmation, that I'm seeking: that it's okay to relax. Go with the flow, so far as is reasonable.

This isn't, then, so much about whether so-called sleep 'habits' might be hereditary, or inscribed by nature, as it is about whether it's okay for me to chill out, for me to shrug my shoulders, just a little, and say, maybe, that's just how it is... to focus on the question of whether I can, she can, we can live with how things are, and go from there...

Because I have a feeling that that will be so much more restful...


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wherever You Go, There You Are

As I mentioned in my last post, we're having trouble sleeping around here. But I have to say: it's not so much the lack of sleep that is weighing heavily upon me (although that lack is a weight uncomfortably borne), as it is the realization, for the gazillionth time, that I have no idea what I'm doing, as a mother.

This really is the most difficult thing about being a parent, I think: no matter how far you come, how much you learn, you're never fully prepared for what comes next. You can't predict, you can't foresee, you don't know what is around the corner. Sure, your baby sleeps fine now, but will she sleep tomorrow? Next week? Your routine works today, it's worked for months and months, you got past that swaddling issue (sooo last year), your baby goes down nicely in her crib and sleeps through the night and you're so pleased, you've figured it all out, you can sit back and take a deep breath and relax. And even though you know that parenting, that life with a child, is an ever-changing landscape - or, rather, a sea upon which your boat cruises pleasantly until the next change of current, the next phase of the moon, the next perfect storm - even though you know this, you are always surprised when the change comes. You expect it, you know to expect it - so why is it always such a surprise?

WonderBaby is, as I think I might have mentioned before, an active baby. A spirited baby. She gave up voluntarily napping in her crib at about nine months of age, just before she started walking on her own. That surprised me, because she had, for at least five months, napped so well. And I was so dependent upon those naps, upon what I believed to be the accomplishment, all mine, of making the naps happen, because she was so active when awake, because there was no rest when she was awake. So when it all stopped - when she decided, contrary to my wishes, that the lovely, lengthy crib naps should stop - I was thrown. Overboard, without a life preserver.

But I adapted; we changed course. I periodically test the crib-nap waters (because they were so calm, so blissful), but WonderBaby resists that navigation, so we make do in the choppier waters of stroller-naps. Not so bad, I tell myself: at least she sleeps through the night. At night, the sails go down easily. Night-time is usually entirely predictable, excepting the infrequent storms of teething or night-terrors. That is, it was entirely predictable until the chicken-pox hit during our visit to BC, followed by storms of jet-lag and cutting molars and god knows what else.

WonderBaby has only slept through the night twice since Christmas. And she still doesn't go down for a nap during the day without a bitter fight (and then, still, only in the stroller or car-seat.) We're getting pretty tired around here. But as I said above, it's really not so much the tired that's getting to me as it is the discomfort that attends not knowing what to do now, and the frustration that attends facing, unprepared, unpredicted winds and tides. I thought that I had the sleep portion of this voyage all mapped out. It appears that I didn't. And now I feel, well, just fucked.

But I've been here before, more than a few times. And since I've been keeping a log of the voyage, I'm able to go back and see how I coped. Way back in April, when we hit a perfect sleep storm (transitioning WonderBaby into the crib while weaning her from the swaddle, holy hell), I took solace in Socrates...

The ancient Greeks had a word (I said) to describe the condition of being at a loss: aporia, άπορία, from a poros, which means, roughly, to be without a passage or a way. It is to be without direction, without resources, to have no way out. It is ordinarily used in a philosophic context: the Socratic stance is the aporetic stance, the assertion and demonstration that one does not meaningfully know what one thinks one knows; that one is, in fact, at a loss with regards to the thing that she thinks she knows, and so in the condition of aporia. From this, it is hoped, one will be filled with the desire to pursue knowledge of that thing (and, if one is truly philosophic, the desire to pursue knowledge more generally and fully.) Aporia, then, from a Socratic perspective, from the perspective of the philosopher, is a good thing...

This Bad Mother, however, doesn’t have the time or the inclination to savour the philosophical condition of aporia. This Bad Mother has no interest in elenchically interrogating the nature or character of sleep as it pertains to babies. This Bad Mother would very much like to smack hard any character – even if that character is a voice in her own head, which admittedly makes smacking difficult, if not impossible – that tells her that real understanding comes with knowing that she does not know. Because this Bad Mother needs more sleep and she needed it yesterday.

Which is to say: I've spent a great deal of time looking for that elusive knowledge, the Secret Code of Babycare, that wisdom that will light the way out of the cave and out into the sun-drenched world of predictable schedules and consistent and abundant sleep. I've been looking for a Way Out.

I haven't found it. But stay with me.

So we’ve had a few rough nights - very rough nights - recently. The whole sleep thing suddenly, although not entirely unexpectedly, went tits up: WonderBaby outgrew, literally overnight, both her bassinet and her swaddle. And Her Bad Parents,
despite all of the fretting and hand-wringing about whither the swaddle, did not have a plan in place for adapting to these new circumstances. What used to work, and all that we thought we understood about baby sleep, has been revealed as nonsensical, useless crap. Welcome to Mommy Aporia...

(Here I go on to bitch and moan and pontificate about the horrors of the swaddle-bust and the discomforts of bed-sharing and the nightmare that is 'crying-it-out' with a baby that can cry LOUD and HARD for HOURS. I'll spare you; you can review the details in the original post, if you like.)

...It hasn’t been easy, and I expect that the next few days will continue to be challenging. But there is progress. And where there is progress, there is hope.

Again, this is all entirely experimental. We know that we will continue to face challenges, that some of the above strategies may be misguided, that they will fail. We’re totally winging it, going with what works, with what is practicable, with what feels right. It's all that we can do. But by doing so, by following our guts and acting on our well-considered instincts, I feel that we’re gaining something, that we are no longer entirely at a loss. And maybe, just maybe - lack of sleep aside - coming to love this whole messed-up, mapless journey. We're in this together, the three of us: this is family. Blind, fumbling, loving family. I don't know why, but somehow the 'blind' and the 'fumbling' seem to have everything to do with the 'loving' and the 'family.'

So I still have no idea what the fuck we are doing, but I’ve come to understand (however reluctantly) that I cannot simply think my way through the challenges that new motherhood throws at me. Motherhood – parenthood – is, I think, all aporia. And it is not the aporia that can be met by philosophy. This aporia is a condition that can only be met by the gut, and the heart. It's the no-way-out that you come to love because you love - with whatever difficulty - the struggle that defines what's within.

It's taking some time, and some work, but I'm coming to understand it. I think...

I have to take these words to heart, now. Recite them to myself as I lay me down to sleep, as I wish good sleep for WonderBaby, as we navigate together the days and nights of our family life. I have to remind myself that the one thing that I always have, always know, is love. Because love's the only map, the only guidebook, the only means of navigation that I have, on this voyage.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

And then came the awkward silence...

So I asked - nay, demanded - that you all come out of the virtual woodwork and introduce yourselves, insisting that this whole virtual salon/discussion-circle/cocktail-party blog thing will be oh so much more fun if I know who you are, if we're all just a little bit more acquainted, and you all (most of you - yes, I see you black-clad, anti-social lurkers over there in the corner smoking your cigarettes and trying to be invisible) gamely stepped forward and submitted to the cute-but-sort-of-annoying little party game that was National Delurking Week, and then what?


I, your hostess in the HBM-corner of this big blog-party, have nothing to say. And now we're all just standing around uncomfortably, the big hey-how-are-ya! grins plastered awkwardly on our faces and I'm supposed to say something, post something, anything, to keep this conversation going but whaddya know? I got nothin.'

OK, maaaybe I've got a Gratuitous WonderBabyPhoto 'round here somewhere...

To be more precise, I've got nothing that I can summon the energy to offer. Tell a story? Share an anecdote? Make an impassioned/reflective/pedantic argument about life, the universe and everything? Sorry. Can't. I've got plenty that I could talk about, but we've been following a strict no-sleep regimen around here (the better to keep up with the short-burst baby races and the long-distance speed-toddling and the free-style table climbing and all the other events that fill our napless days) and I'm really only capable of sotto voce cursing and muttering and, for variety, threatening my husband. Motherhood - or what seems to me to be extreme motherhood - is, at the moment, turning me into a cranky, sloppy, sleep-deprived bitch.

And nobody likes a bitch. At least, not up close.

So I'll spare you. I'm going to excuse myself from the party for a night or two to (try to) catch up on my sleep. While I'm gone, discuss amongst yourselves one or two or all of the following:

1) Tried and true methods for getting turbo-charged babies/toddlers to a) nap, b) sleep through the night, or c) both;
2) Tried and true methods for getting Mommy back to sleep after baby has woken at 1am and demanded, successfully, to be moved into the parental bed and is kicking Mommy in the head with restless baby feet and/or is thumping Mommy on the head with grotty stuffed frog and/or is yelling Hi! Cat! Hi! Cat! at Daddy's hairy feet;
3) Warm milk/hot bath, liquor or sleeping pills?
4) Britney Spears: comedy or tragedy?