You Are Not the Authority on Your Child’s Feelings

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A rare “cranky” photo. He fussed during our entire Easter photoshoot…because he had just sat through a long church service and was more than ready for a nap.

I’m celebrating Week of the Young Child 2018 a week early! (Yay, mom brain!) Yesterday I wrote about curbing our tendency to tell kids “no, don’t, stop.” Today I’m talking about listening to them. 

I write a lot about the importance of letting people tell their narratives as they see them. I believe this is crucial for understanding and making peace with those who are different from us. When we fail to hear what people are actually saying and meaning, when we hijack their narratives to push our own agenda, we are no longer truth seekers.

Children are no exception. In fact, I think it’s particularly imperative for parents to figure out what their children mean, instead of foisting false motives onto kids. Children are only just becoming self-aware and are much less capable of expressing that self-awareness. We are their last court of appeals; if we get it wrong, they have no one else to turn to.

One of my students injured herself on the playground — tripped while running, regular kid stuff. When her mom asked the girl for an explanation, she didn’t even let her daughter finish the requested explanation before lovingly and kindly butting in with her own version:

“I was running on the playground, and — ”

“No, you weren’t looking where you were going again, were you?”

The girl’s happy smile froze. She didn’t contradict or agree with this assessment. She didn’t know what to say in the face of a parent rewriting the story of how she simply tripped over a stair step. What’s worse, the parent insinuated that this was almost a character issue: you’re too spazzy, you never pay attention.

We hijack our children’s narratives all the time, especially when they’re expressing inconvenient emotions.

I find myself teasingly calling e.e. a crankybutt every time he inexplicably cried. This is dismissive of both his emotions and his communication. It’s not that he understands and is offended by the term “crankybutt”; it’s not that I fail to quickly and gently respond to his cries.

But it is the case that every time I genuinely view him as a crankybutt, I am not accurately identifying his real needs and emotions. Every time I label him without understanding, I train myself to view me as the authority on my child’s emotions and meaning, instead of him.

With that in mind, I try to be intentional in how I speak to and about e.e. When he starts fussing for no apparent reason, I say, “I wonder if you’re feeling tired” or “I wonder if you’d like to lie on your back now; let’s roll you over and see.” Simply adding I wonder reminds me to be observant rather than prematurely dogmatic.

If a nap or a spell on his back doesn’t do the trick, it doesn’t mean he is a cranky, demanding child who, oh my goodness, just needs to stop crying already. It means my assessment was wrong about what his crying meant, and I should try something else. 

When my husband comes home, I try to speak accurately of e.e. Was he really “cranky all day”? Was he really “clingy” or “needy” (both negative words)? Or was he simply in genuine need of more cuddles and attention because he’s an infant and requires Mommy to help regulate his emotions? Maybe he was slightly gassy and I didn’t know it, or feeling extra tired that day, or starting another growth spurt unbeknownst to me.

How we speak of our children to ourselves and to others matters so much, because perception is reality. If we start viewing our kids as whiny, cranky, and naughty, instead of tired, overstimulated, and curious, we will start treating them as whiners, crankybutts, and disobedient children — instead of just kids. We will overwrite and thus erase what our children are trying to tell us in their limited way. 

Even more insidiously and subtly, we’ll blame our kids for our own negative feelings instead of taking ownership of them ourselves. We are worn out at the end of the day, preoccupied with our own exhaustion and stress, so when our preschooler bursts into tears at pickup, we minimize her exhaustion and stress as a “tantrum” in order to cope. “Why are you being such a baby?” we’ll snap. “Stop crying right now.”

Guilty as charged. When e.e. wasn’t napping well and I was zonked from multiple night feedings, I felt frustration, sometimes even anger, at e.e. and his nonstop crying. “You are so frustrating!” I wanted to yell. “Just stop crying and go to sleep and we’ll both be happy!”

With the very last shred of self-control within me, I paused and reminded myself that e.e. was not frustrating; was frustrated; and there’s a big difference.

Correctly identifying and speaking the frustration out loud kept me from blowing my top: “I am feeling frustrated,” I would tell my uncomprehending infant. “You keep crying, I haven’t slept enough, and all of that is making me feel very frustrated with you.”

Reality was restored, the true narrative recovered, and both my feelings and e.e.’s feelings were understood and validated.

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Stop Telling Kids to Stop

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My students playing freely with baking soda and colored vinegar. I made only one rule (“Don’t eat anything”), and the only kid who broke never made that mistake again!

It’s the Week of the Young Child! (Actually, it’s the week before the Week of the Young Child, but my young child keeps waking up every forty-five minutes at night and I can’t read dates right, so we’re going to celebrate early.) Yesterday I wrote about playing with infants. Today I’m talking about playing in general, and how boring and restrictive we adults are about it. 

“Don’t walk in the mud!”

“Don’t go near that road.”

“Don’t touch it!”

“Don’t put it in your mouth!”

Caregivers talk almost exclusively in imperative commands. I’ve seen parents hover over their kids, controlling every blink, twitch, and word with some form of negative commentary:

“Hold the door open for her! God. Do not walk in that dirt — DO NOT WALK IN THAT DIRT. I don’t want that in my house. Get out of there right now. Go to the passenger side door, she’s backing out. Stop it, you two; get in. Now! Stop! Stop it! Why are you acting like this?!”

I’ve been that teacher who micromanages every bit of fun that kids have:

“Keep your hands to yourself, Casey; there’s no wrestling at school. No, we don’t stand on that bench, you might fall off and hurt yourself. No, you may not walk up the slide. Get out of the way so Rachel can — Rachel! Feet first down the slide! Put down the snow, Malia, no, ew, don’t eat it, that’s yucky. Friends, get off the ice! Nobody is allowed to play near the ice, remember?”

No, don’t, stop.

We say these things to our children over and over again, even if no real danger is present or harm is done.

It’s often born out of a fear of healthy risk, a disinclination to clean up messes, and, for me especially, a fear of what other people think. Will people think I’m a lax parent if I let my toddler try on a purse while shopping? Will people think I’m a lax teacher if I let kids talk in the bathroom? Is that lady judging my parenting because my son accidentally let a door slam in her face? Will parents think less of me if they see kids pushing each other in the Cozy Coupe car under my watch?

Instead of putting the children’s needs first — their needs to play and explore freely without constantly bumping into a barrier of no, stop, don’t — caregivers often put their own desires first — the desire to look competent and authoritative to others, the desire to not clean up another mess. But it’s emotionally exhausting and ineffective for caregivers to uphold detailed, endless rules that unnecessarily restrict kids. It just breeds power plays and frustration on both ends.

For everyone’s sanity, here are some suggestions to curb this micromanaging tendency:

Create yes spacesA “yes space” in RIE theory is an area with no hazards — a place where, theoretically, your child could explore unsupervised without risk to herself or other objects. It’s a place where caregivers could have no conceivable reason to say “no” to anything their child wants to pull out or play with.

Even if you don’t have a special room or gated area for a “yes space,” put on the onus on you to take away hazards instead of requiring a young child to stymie their curiosity. Put away items, lock cabinets, or move your child to safer area so that they hear “no, don’t touch!” less often. Why create an unnecessary power struggle when you can simply take away the temptation?

Get comfortable with risk. Kids learn through risk. They learn about themselves, their competencies and shortcomings, and the world around them, its hazards and helps. If we constantly police what kids can do under our supervision, they won’t be safe and smart when outside of our supervision.

As an example, I try to let kids walk down the steps of our school’s changing station on their own, even though it’s a bit tricky for younger, uncoordinated kids. I stand right there, ready to catch them if they fall, but I don’t hold their hand unless they request it. Sometimes they trip a bit and risk falling, but those near-falls teach them how to navigate stairs of all sorts on their own. Those children are less likely to do reckless things, since they’ve experienced the risk of nearly falling flat on their face. It’s the kids who get lifted down from the changing table or who always have an adult helping them down who do far more dangerous things (like nearly throwing themselves off the stairs expecting me to catch them!).

Be realistic about harm. Kids will fall, trip, and run into things no matter how many rules we enact or how many times we yell, “Don’t run! Watch where you’re going!” They will get hurt, and there will be scrapes, bruises, and bloody noses. That’s just the nature of childhood.

We have a soft gym at my preschool, and kids love to roll down this ramp on large balls. Some teachers are uncomfortable with this and want the kids to only slide on their bottoms. You know how many kids have injured themselves rolling down the ramp on balls? Zero. And how many kids have hurt themselves merely sliding down the ramp? Plenty.

Besides, kids often ignore adults’ pleas to stop if the risk is minuscule or the request is silly. When I was a kid, I lived on a quiet street in the suburbs. All the neighborhood kids congregated in and around this street to play hockey and ride bikes. We’d been doing this for years when one day, a police officer spotted us riding our bikes back and forth across the street, in and out of our driveways. “That is too dangerous,” he cautioned us. “You could get hit by a car. I don’t want to see any of you doing that again.”

From that day on, we obediently made sure no police officers were nearby before we started up our bike rides.

Even kids as tiny as toddlers will continue to take a risk if they don’t understand the real danger behind it, which is why it’s important to reserve our no, don’t, stop for clear dangers. Otherwise, our no, don’t put the dishwasher pod in your mouth will seem as over-reactionary as no, don’t eat the snow. (We all tasted snow as kids. And leaves. And grass. And our mom’s weird-tasting wood coasters.)

Unless the activity causes intentional injury (e.g., one student slinging balls into other kids’ faces) or a potential for a huge injury (e.g., playing by a busy road), just calm down.

Let children measure their own level of safety. It’s true, kids make dumb decisions. But it’s also true that in certain circumstances kids can evaluate and express when they feel hurt or in danger better than their caretakers. I’m losing count of how many times I’ve pulled two kids apart on the playground, expecting howls of pain, and found both the tackler and the tackled laughing hysterically.

“Ian,” I’ll chastise the offender. “We do not tackle our friends at school. You could have hurt Ryan really badly!”

And then as soon as I turn around, Ryan, that poor, helpless victim, tackles Ian back, still laughing uncontrollably.

For some reason, many kids find it funny to punch, tackle, push, wrestle, and throw balls at each other. Don’t you remember doing things as a kid that just sound horrific now as an adult? I rough housed with my dad, getting tossed on my head and finding it the funniest thing ever. I repeatedly crawled through this huge bushy plant with leaves that gave you millions of paper cuts. I wound up our tire swing and spun around until I was dizzy enough to puke — multiple times.

Every kid tolerates things differently, and we do children a disservice to decide what they can tolerate or not. I’ve determined that my job as a teacher is not to enforce my view of what’s tolerable or not, but to enforce what they view as tolerable or not.

We teach our kids to speak up for themselves: “I don’t like that,” I hear them say all the time to each other, from being called a “buckethead” or getting tackled to the ground. I uphold children’s “I don’t like that.”

If I see Ian going in to tackle Alexa, for instance, I’ll throw myself between the two because I know how much Alexa hates playing rough. If Ryan decides he’s had enough of the tackle game and Ian’s not letting up, I pull Ian off and say, “Ryan told you he doesn’t like that. You need to listen to friends’ words when they tell you they don’t like something.”

Just don’t be a stick in the mud, okay? Really, what’s the harm in your child walking through some damp dirt in the parking lot? Worst case scenario, he gets dirt on your car floor, which is already covered in Cheerio dust and road salt. What’s so bad about kids wrestling each other? Worst case scenario, someone gets hurt, and the game stops. What’s the worst that can happen if you let kids climb up the slide?

I’ll tell you. They can step on their dress, slip, and slam their chin into the landing, resulting in an ER trip and stitches. But did that stop me from climbing up the slide? You bet it didn’t.

And if busting my chin open didn’t stop me from doing something fun, you shouldn’t stop kids from being kids.

How to Play with an Infant

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Our stupidly simple play space: a blanket and Mommy’s mirror

Welcome to the Week of the Young Child 2018! To celebrate, I’m writing a week’s worth of blog posts on how to foster young children and our relationship with them. 

Being that mom, I worried about how to play with my infant son. Did I need to bring out special toys? How long should he have tummy time? Should I be with him at all times? Isn’t he supposed to be rolling over by now? Pinterest, help me before I ruin my child!!!

Of course, e.e. wasn’t remotely interested in any bright toy I waved in front of his face. He gravitated toward stuffing burp cloths in his mouth and staring at blank white walls.

In Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) philosophy, infants are competent little humans capable of expressing their needs and interests — as opposed to helpless blank slates requiring parents to do everything for them. Obviously, immobile, nonverbal infants require more help than mobile, verbal children, but it’s true that even the littlest of humans aren’t entirely helpless.

Once I began viewing e.e. as capable of thinking and communicating his own wants and needs, I took a step back and respected his ability to entertain himself as well.

I’ve since come to view my role as a parent as less of an entertainer, shaking rattles and singing songs, and more of an observer and a facilitator. I don’t make the fun; I make the space for it.

The light bulb moment happened when he was around two months old.

Every time he suckled for his pacifier, I stuck it in his mouth. Every time, he almost immediately spat it out — and began suckling for it again. Frustrated, I stopped giving him the nook.

“Look at him,” my husband said suddenly. “He’s playing with it.”

Sure enough, e.e. had invented a single-player game of fetch — spitting out the pacifier, then slowly reaching out his tongue to lick or nuzzle it back into his mouth. Then he spat it out again and repeated the whole process.

My two-month-old is making up games? Clearly, I didn’t even know my own child.

Ever since then, I’ve spent a good deal of time just sitting and observing e.e. — his interests, his competencies, his ways of doing things. From those observations, I’ve tweaked the activities we do together to strengthen his interests or pique new ones.

A little while ago, he discovered his hands were not only good for gnawing but also great for grabbing.

That’s when I reintroduced toys, after three months of no luck. But I didn’t play with him, per se. I didn’t jiggle the rattle or kiss his face with the bunny. (At least not very much. I’m only human — totally enamored and obsessed mom human, to be precise.) I just set them out and watched what he did with them.

In his own time, his gaze fell on the fuzzy gray bunny, and his mouth and fingers registered that stuffed animals felt a lot like his beloved burp cloths. He spent a good five minutes pawing and flailing at that bunny.

Then he lost interest.

Normally when a baby loses interest in something, I start shoving the object back in her face, cooing, bouncing, standing on my head to get her attention again. (Why do we do that? Do we feel like failures as caregivers when babies find the ceiling more interesting than our proferred activity? Do we just think that’s just the thing to do with babies? Asking for a friend.)

That’s annoying. That’s rude. That’s the exact thing I snap at my husband not to do. And if I don’t want anybody to stick a toy or a long explanation about hydroponic gardens in my face when I’m obviously writing this blog post, Erich, why does another human’s clear signal of disinterest deserve less respect just because that human is an infant?

So I curb my inexplicable tendencies to be the life of the party. I try to just watch instead, to see if I can facilitate another play opportunity or just let him be.

Babies know what they want.

No, really, they do — that, or my baby’s just the most prodigious infant that ever lived. (Which, like, duh.)

The other day, e.e. expressed an interest in sitting up. Whenever I propped him up on his Boppy pillow, he strained forward until I lifted him into a sitting position. This can’t be developmentally appropriate for his underdeveloped spine, I reasoned, and lowered him back down. But he stuck his neck forward, crunched his belly, and gave me that bewildered why-do-you-do-this-to-me-Mom? look.

The books say he isn’t supposed to be sitting up until four months, but e.e. knew what he wanted, and he knew how to guilt Mommy into making it happen.

Okay. Fine. (But I still want you rolling over, e.e. Prodigious babies roll over.)

Now that I’m looking for e.e.’s cues, his playtime objectives are quite obvious. When he wants to grin or talk, he grins or talks. When he wants to interact with me, he looks in my eyes. When he doesn’t, he looks away. When he gets tired of tummy time, he starts fussing. When he wants to be on his tummy, he rocks his body until I take a hint.

Sometimes he’s smiley and social. Sometimes he’s introspective. Sometimes he wants to stare at blank walls. Sometimes he just wants to gaze into my eyes while making duck lips. And sometimes he wants to lay prone on the ground and complain about life. (Like mother, like son.)

Through observation, I’ve seen e.e. for who he is, what he wants, and what he can do — even as an infant.

*

Okay, weird mom, but really, how do I play with an infant? Here are e.e.’s and my top five suggestions for easy, fun play:

  1. Baby yoga
  2. Songs with motions (“The Wheels on the Bus,” “Hickory Dickory Dock,” “Bananas Unite,” etc.)
  3. Blowing raspberries at each other
  4. Mimicking each other’s vowel sounds and facial expressions
  5. And, of course, chewing on burp cloths

All the Ways to Ruin a Nap Routine

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Sleep is a big deal and a big struggle.

Nothing sends me spiraling into grumpiness and depression like a lack of sleep. When I learned of my pregnancy, my first thought was to figure out how to gently sleep train my child as soon as possible. I knew I couldn’t handle sleep deprivation for very long.

Sleep is also a huge priority in my parenting. Not only does sleep make for a happier baby, but it also is crucial for development and learning. Lots of children today are sleep deprived, and I don’t want my kid to be one of them.

e.e. is a good sleeper, so his first couple of months were the stuff of parental dreams. He slept five or six consecutive hours a night, and took naps like a champ. We practiced good sleep habits, like putting him down drowsy but awake, following the Eat, Play, Sleep routine to prevent overtiredness, and rarely nursing him to sleep.

And people said this parenting thing was hard.

From birth, e.e. slept on his tummy. At his two month checkup, our pediatrician did her duty and scared me into trying to get e.e. to sleep on his back. Since he already was a good sleeper, she said, it shouldn’t be difficult to transition him onto his back.

She stands by her advice to this day, and she also takes full blame for ruining my child’s sleep.

I don’t know if a sleep regression coincided with our attempts to put him on his back or if our attempts to put him on his back triggered a sleep regression, but everything went haywire after that. He stopped sleeping through the night, instead waking every hour or two to nurse. Getting him to nap was the most agonizing, futile thing I’ve ever done.

We switched him onto his tummy to control the damage, but to no avail.

Once upon a glorious time, we just needed to swaddle him, insert a pacifier, bounce him a bit on the exercise ball, and he was out. Now he screamed at the swaddle, screamed at the pacifier, and screamed at the bouncing (unless we bounced for a minimum of ten minutes to calm him down, and then another thirty to get him to sleep).

Naptime became a battle, and nobody won. e.e. was tired and cranky all the time. was tired and cranky all the time. At its worst, it took me two hours of repeatedly trying the old methods to get e.e. to bed, and in the end, we still cried ourselves to sleep.

This was not working for us.

At our pediatrician’s suggestion, we decided to let e.e. figure out how to sleep on his own.

I came home from the appointment, put him in his bassinet, and listened to him scream. I desperately tried to drown myself in infant sleep research so as to quell the anxiety searing through my bloodstream.

Every five minutes, I went in to pat his back and assure him that mommy was here and loved him. His screams made me feel like the worst mom in the world: If you were really here and loving me, I wouldn’t be crying at the top of my lungs!

I was crying, he was crying, and finally, after twenty minutes, I scooped him up and nursed him to sleep.

As he slumbered peacefully in my arms, I bolstered my resolve with a good, hard look at my baby’s needs. e.e. needed to sleep more than he needed to not cry. Besides, even if my goal was to reduce his tears, then the status quo wasn’t working: he cried just as hard when I bounced, crooned, and patted him as when I let him cry himself to sleep.

He was giving me more than enough hints that he wanted me to trust his competency — kicking out of the swaddle, arching away from the pacifier, wailing on the exercise ball, even turning away from the breast. He was his own person, with his own timetable for doing things that didn’t fit my predetermined plans. If I insisted on listening to my fear and anxiety about him crying, we’d get even more sleep deprived.

I did some research to curb my fears about the dangers of cortisol spikes and abandonment, and touched base with a couple of moms with lovely children completely unaffected by their early days of crying it out.

Knowing I wouldn’t brain damage my child helped a ton. We tried again with giving him an opportunity to self-soothe himself to sleep. Here’s our routine:

After about an hour of being awake, he gets snapped into his Zen sack. (Contrary to the five star reviews, it’s done nothing to improve his sleep, but it’s cute, soft, and perfect for transitioning out of the swaddle.)

I snuggle him close and remind him that we’re putting him to sleep differently for his nap (yes, I’m a weirdo who explains things to her newborn). “It’s difficult to fall asleep alone,” I empathize, “but I’m confident you can do it. If you feel you can’t, I’ll come check on you in five minutes. I’m always here for you.”

The white noise and fans go on, the lights go off, and we slow dance to the bassinet as I sing a short lullaby to this tune:

Now go to sleep.
Go to sleep, sleep, sleep.
Go to sleep, little one.
Close your eyes and dream tender dreams,
For you are guarded, protected by my love.

Then I give him a kiss (okay, lots of kisses), place him on his tummy, and wish him a happy nap.

That’s it. What once took hours now takes a few minutes.

He’s caught on quickly! It’s only been a couple of days, but for the most part, he cries or fusses only a few minutes before I sneak back in to see him conked out for a good, long nap. Before I lay him down, he starts sucking on his own fist to calm himself, something he never did before when I was frantically sticking pacifiers in his mouth.

This is such a huge relief for both of us to go from long, drawn out battles to a short, effective routine that allows him to sleep longer and, ironically, cry less.

Some Days in the Life of a Newborn Mom

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I think it’s important to show what the day to day really looks like. Especially with motherhood. It’s way easier than moms tell you — and just as terrible.

Sunday |

I was up a couple times that night, wordlessly sticking e.e. on the boob and dozing off like the present, involved mother I am. In the half-awake state that I was, I sketched out everything that needed to happen that morning: shower, a bowl of honey nut cheerios, maybe peanut butter toast. (No, no peanut butter toast. We had French toast and breakfast pizza in the fridge for lunch that day, so I didn’t need to eat a heavy breakfast).

This was the second week we were trying our new Sunday morning routine: I went to choir practice alone, then Erich and e.e. met me at church for the actual service.

e.e. stirred, squinting his eyes and grunting piggily. After eating his fill, e.e. screamed. Like, colicky baby scream. Inconsolable. Inexplicable.

A diaper change didn’t help. Feeding had obviously not helped. The only thing that helped was crazily dancing around the room, but that required two hands and a whole body, and I still needed to eat honey nut cheerios.

I got him quieted enough to pour dry cereal into a bowl, and then he screamed again, and I had a Very Important Decision to make: do I pour the milk into the cereal and risk leaving an increasingly soggy bowl of uneaten honey nut cheerios on the counter? Or do I not, and starve?

I poured that milk and ate every bite of those honey nut cheerios, while bouncing e.e. in the Baby Bjorn after every spoonful to prevent tears.

Mom. Win.

Handing him off to a sleepy Erich still curled up in bed, I gave explicit permission for him to stay home and tend to the inconsolable, inexplicable crying thing that was nothing like our angel child. There’s no point in dragging an unhappy baby to church if you’re just going to stand in the foyer and miss everything.

Upon my return home, I was happy to find that e.e. had gone to sleep. I was not happy to find that Erich had eaten both pieces of the French toast and breakfast pizza. “How selfish!” I hangrily yelled. “What kind of person eats both pieces?”

He offered to make it up by preparing me sausage (“I hate sausage!”) or what about an egg and English muffin (“no!”) or he could — (“it’s FINE, I’ll make myself a sandwich!”). I bitterly ruminated on how justice could not be properly dealt in a family environment, since eating both pieces of French toast and breakfast pizza is not a jailable offense.

I ended up lunching on popcorn and Craisins because I was too lazy to make myself a sandwich.

It was the warmest day of the year, and I spent it napping on the couch while e.e. smiled at the ceiling fan. We were going to go on a walk in the park, but we were too tired. By that time I had forgiven my selfish husband and snuggled up next to him to watch Saturday Night Live.

e.e. screamed periodically through the day, and I Googled and Googled things until I came to the conclusion that he was teething (chewing, check; drooling, check; inexplicable, inconsolable wailing, check). I tried looking at his gums, but his tongue got in the way, or he was screaming. I tried getting him to gnaw on a cold washcloth to ease gum pain, but he knitted his eyebrows together and squalled.

And we were supposed to go out to dinner that night with my in laws.

“You go, I’ll stay home,” I said, holding a wailing baby while Erich threw on dress clothes. “I don’t think it’s fair to bring him out in public when he’s not feeling well. And I hate nursing in public.”

“He’ll be fine,” said Erich.

e.e. cried and cried in the car, and then fell asleep for hours like normal.

e.e. went to bed nicely, and I went to bed too late.

Monday |

e.e. slept until 5 AM, a joyous occurrence that used to be regular until he discovered that I would feed him at any and all hours of the night. Even though I got six solid hours of uninterrupted sleep (well, not counting the times I naturally woke up and poked him to make sure he was still breathing), I woke up on the terrible, horrible, no good, very wrong side of the bed.

“You could’ve woken up on my side of the bed,” Erich later placated me. “I woke up with a sore back.”

So I tried to sleep and put e.e. back to sleep at the same time, which never works, and involves unnecessary nursing, repeatedly sticking the pacifier back in his mouth, and patting his back until he wakes me up a half hour later and I realized we must have both dozed off. I was having a really strange but interesting dream, and he woke me up right before the exciting conclusion, which would have probably been lame, after all.

It was 11 AM before I gathered up e.e. and went to the bathroom. Someone had used the toilet without flushing. This is a regular occurrence now, and I couldn’t tell you who is the culprit because neither of us remembers what we do at the odd hours of the night when e.e. cries. Our lunchtime conversations involve us recounting what weird things we remember the other person ding the night previous:

“Where did you go last night?” I would ask.

“What do you mean, I was in bed the whole time.”

“No, you weren’t, you said, ‘It’s too loud!’ and left the room and never came back.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, I distinctly remember you saying that.”

“No.”

“Yes, because I remember wondering what on earth you were talking about because e.e. wasn’t even crying that loud.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. You left the room and never came back.”

Anyway, I sat there on the toilet for a while watching e.e. smile at the ceiling, and sketching out what I needed to do that day: put on deodorant, brush teeth, find clothes, tie my messy hair into a messy bun that is never messy enough to look effortless, and eat honey nut cheerios.

I didn’t feel like doing any of that. I tried to guilt myself (“Erich doesn’t get to sleep in and spend a whole fifteen minutes deciding not to brush his teeth, you’re wasting your privilege”), I even tried to mom guilt myself (“what kind of mom are you if you can’t even brush your teeth at 11 AM?”), but I ended up exiting the bathroom without doing any basic hygiene. (I did flush the toilet.)

We sat on the couch, e.e. on his Boppy pillow smiling at the ceiling fan, I next to him feeling like I really didn’t want to be a mom today, and ohmygoodness, our house is a total wreck.

And it really was. Is. Always. I got behind on everything when e.e. went through a sleep regression that required me to hold him the entire time he napped, and that precipitated the rest of the house going to pot. Tissues, clothes, dirty dishes everywhere.

I didn’t feel like cleaning the house either. When was Erich coming home? I wanted Erich. I needed to tell him that I couldn’t do this anymore without his help and, also, for all that is good in the world, would he please throw away his tissues instead of scattering them around the house?

I was depressed. I hated everything, especially housecleaning. I just sat there, hating the mess, and then e.e. pooped.

Ugh, the nursery was even more disastrous. Laundry from three weeks ago was nicely folded on the floor. I had managed to fold half of the laundry from two weeks ago and to dump last week’s laundry in the middle of the floor thinking I would have enough time to fold it before e.e. woke up from his nap. (Hilarious, I know.) Duplicate baby stuff sat in the corner from the baby shower five months ago. A pile of return addresses for thank you notes (right, great, still need to write those) sat next to that. And Erich’s art and horticultural projects exploded from a large sheet of drywall teetering on a fancy chess table that we can’t figure out where else to put.

I changed e.e.’s diaper, sat him on the floor, and watched him smile at that room’s ceiling fan. Something gave the tiny, underfed, rarely seen housekeeper within me a gentle nudge, and I began stuffing the extra baby stuff in the big Christmas gift bag and throwing away trash and recycling old cards and sticking the return address labels somewhere else besides the middle of the floor. And then I folded the rest of the laundry and actually put some of it away. (I didn’t put away the kitchen hand towel. That was just too much.)

In all my cleaning zeal, I neglected to notice that e.e. had stopped babbling and smiling.

No. Oh, no. I had missed The Sleep Window, and now he would fight slumber.

Fight he did. I darkened the room, turned on the “BAMBOO WATER FOUNTAIN | Relax and Get Your Zen On | White Noise | Tinnitus Relief” ten hour long YouTube video, poorly swaddled him, and danced around the room. He dozed off, sucking on his pacifier. I put him down. He awoke screaming.

No problem. I am a calm, patient mother. (And I heard Erich coming in for lunch, so I had backup.)

I danced around the room again. He dozed off. I put him down. He awoke screaming.

PROBLEM, and I am not a calm, patient mother. I am a tired, tired, tired mother who just wants to sleep for any amount of uninterrupted time and not wonder if my baby is going die of SIDS.

I set him down, greeted my husband with, “I can’t do this anymore,” and threw a blanket over my head, sobbing.

“Are you okay?”

No.”

A few minutes later the crying stopped under Erich’s expert care. It was too hot to mope under the blanket, so I crawled out, made myself a sandwich, and spent Erich’s entire lunch break explaining how much I hated housecleaning.

I went to work, and then I did my WERQ class and felt tired and hot and, yeah, tired.

e.e. took a nap really late and was wide awake at a 11 PM. I laid him down in bed and thought I could get out of putting him to sleep if I fell asleep first. I awoke a half hour later to find e.e. had missed The Window again because his parents had dozed off.

I ended up putting him to bed. Or maybe I didn’t, because I remember Erich waking me up when he crawled back in bed having successfully gotten our child to sleep.

But like I said, we don’t really remember anything that happens at night.

Tuesday |

e.e. slept until 5 AM, but I still felt tired. Happy and energized, but still tired.

I gave him a bath. He peed on the wall and spat up while I was sudsing his tummy, so, that was effective. He was entirely back to his old, happy, smiling-at-the-ceiling self.

There were no more honey nut cheerios, so I didn’t eat breakfast.

Which is fine, because I don’t normally eat breakfast, and I was fueled by the motivation I felt to brush my teeth this morning. It helped that we had Baby & Me Storytime at the library.

Baby & Me Storytime is the best idea ever, except that it happens right when e.e. wants his morning nap. I once sang all the songs and said all the rhymes and listened to the whole story while he snored away in my arms.

It was definitely naptime when we got ready to go, and he cried all the way to the library.

But he was gurgling and bright-eyed during storytime, oddly enough, and no baby tried to poke his eye out. Win!

e.e. fell asleep in the carseat, and I let him snooze while I didn’t do enough cleaning. I passed out on the couch reading blogs.

I woke up realizing I needed to drink my coffee before work because I was zonked, but e.e. woke up too, and we nursed and snuggled. I texted my mom some deep and emotional thoughts about motherhood, and cried a bit, and pondered how it was possible to love someone as much as I loved my beloved little baby.

His Gigi’s knock on the door jolted me out of my sappy reverie. I took too long kissing e.e. goodbye and barely got to work on time, per usual.

I ran on the elliptical for half on hour afterwards and felt so proud at how sweaty and athletic I felt.

Tuesday is Bro Game Night, that hallowed evening whereupon my husband gets to spend all night playing League of Legends with his friends while I watch e.e.

I sent copious amounts of Snapchats to my sister of e.e. chewing his hand and tooting, then wondered if I spent too much time on my phone around my baby. If I didn’t start stopping now, would I really be that present, unplugged mother I aspired to suddenly become once he was capable of forming lifelong memories?

Guiltily, I turned my phone over and gave him undivided attention. I loved tickling his toes and making him grin, but all the while kind of wished it wasn’t Bro Game Night because I wanted to read blogs without guilt.

I missed The Window again. He would not be consoled by crazy dancing or pacifiers or my poor swaddling job, so I nursed him to sleep like I said I wouldn’t do anymore. I felt bad for being a tired, unprincipled mother. And I read blogs with guilt while I did so.

I had to go back to his bassinet three times to reinsert his nookie and pat him until he finally fell asleep.

I stayed up way too late again.

“Don’t worry,” Erich said. “He’s going to sleep through the night.”

(Technically) Wednesday |

Thirty minutes past midnight, e.e. stirred. I poked Erich with my toe. He poked me back. I poked him. He poked back.

“This is somehow your fault,” I joked, rolling over to pluck e.e. from his bassinet next to our bed.

And I did it again at 3 AM.

And 5 AM.

And a few hours after that. He started off jolly, grinning and chortling at me as if I was the funniest mom in the world. Such gaiety convinced me I could take a shower. I plopped him next to the shower and took my precious time. He loves listening to running water. I heard only happy coos, and had plenty of time to complete my morning toilette.

But I must have missed The Window. By a lot. Because — no joke, no exaggeration — I spent the entire day trying to get him to nap.

The entire day.

For a while he wouldn’t even fall asleep in my arms. And then when he did fall asleep in my arms, if I stopped doing the exact bouncing motion he liked, he woke up squalling.

I watched a lot of Netflix. And wanted to cry, and sleep, but was too tired and occupied to do either.

This was definitely a breaking point. Definitely rock bottom.

I desperately needed to talk to someone and get their sworn, experienced assurance that life couldn’t, wouldn’t go on like this. I didn’t want pity from a kind soul who’d never spent all day trying to get their baby to sleep. I wanted clinical fact: this will not last forever.

Because if it was going to last forever, I needed to trade day jobs with my husband pronto.

I puddled into work. There were plenty of women to talk to, but no time for me to break down and beg for their assurances.

“Dear Miss Bailey,” one of the girls pretended to type to me on her bristle block computer. “How was your day?”

“It was terrible,” I pretended to type back, in a joking way, not in the desperate, rock bottom way I actually felt.

“Why?” she pretended to type back.

I hesitated, because what three-year-old is interested in the real woes of her teacher, but then I figured that honesty might be refreshing or something. “Because my baby was crying and crying,” I typed back, “…and then he tooted.”

The children, a bit stunned, stared at me, a grown woman initiating something dangerously similar to potty talk. Then they burst into raucous laughter.

“Dear Miss Bailey, how was your day?” the girl kept typing to me.

“Oh, it was horrible.”

“Why was your day horrible?”

“Because my baby kept crying and crying — ”

“AND THEN HE TOOTED!” the rest of the class hollered.

The moral of the story is, when faced with a lack of adult sympathy, potty humor with preschoolers will do. It will do very nicely indeed.

When I came home, I found Erich and e.e. conked out on the bed. I pumped some milk for tomorrow, went to and from choir practice, and heard e.e. squalling even before I put in the key. I opened the door to find Erich holding in one hand a bottle and in the other a disgruntled e.e., swaddled like a burrito with eyes desperately knit together.

“My bambino!” I cried, shocking myself with how much love and energy I had for the same child who had screamed all day. We snuggled. He giggled as I crunched my carrot dinner. And I went to bed at 9:30.

Mom. Win.

Okay, but when I say “I went to bed at 9:30,” what I really mean is I was in my room telling Erich there was no possible way I was going to attempt to put e.e. to sleep again. Not today. And, I bribed, if he put e.e. to sleep, I would research how to massage sore backs.

e.e. wasn’t interested in going to sleep, so we listened to him gurgle to himself while I expertly applied baby oil and pressure to Erich’s aching muscles. I had to stop once or twice or three or ten times to reinsert e.e.’s pacifier, and then I had to permanently stop because e.e.’s gurgles had turned into wails.

I tried rocking him to sleep, but we all know how that ended — with me sitting on the couch, sobbing about how I was so, so tired.

I went to bed too late that night.

Thursday |

Thursday started out better. He slept until 4 AM, I fed him, he smelled poopy, Erich changed him, I got a glass of water. When I came back in, I found e.e. kicking in nothing but a rainbow diaper. He was so fat and soft and cute, even at 4 AM.

“What are you doing in just your diaper?” I cooed.

He grinned hugely.

For his first nap of the day, I got him to sleep on the second try, and then, even more amazingly, I myself managed to get in a full REM cycle of uninterrupted sleep.

A good thing, too, because he cried for no reason, refusing even the nookie and the boob. I, newly energized, simply popped him in the Baby Bjorn and danced him around the kitchen to an original song (with rap interlude) entitled, “I Don’t Know What’s the Matter with You.”

I managed to make and eat a poached egg, so, I’d say it was a success.

I watched him give a great effort at rolling over. Good form and technique, needed a bit more force.

But the real success for both of us came when I noticed him quieting down a bit. A sleep cue! This time, I would not miss The Window!

I bundled him up, played the BAMBOO WATER FOUNTAIN video, and bounced him on the exercise ball. This was working. Instead of screaming, he blinked his eyes, slower and slower. No tears. No fighting.

I even put him down drowsy and awake, and patted his back until his eyes shut completely.

MOM. WIN.

I happy danced out into the living room.

“I’m so awesome!” I crowed to my husband, who had walked in for lunch and was more interested in finding gardening supplies than talking to me at the moment. “Erich! Aren’t you impressed?”

“Yeah, you’re amazing!” he smiled as he rummaged through the closet.

“You don’t even know what I did.”

He flashed me a sheepish grin.

e.e. started crying.

“Never mind,” I groaned. “Your turn.”

My Shameful Blogging Absence, Explained

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This is my little bambino, Emmerich Erich. We met at 4:39 Christmas morning, and it’s hard for me to remember life before him. It’s a life that involves little hands-free downtime where I’m not napping or trying to catch up on chores. My main accomplishment recently is watching too much How to Get Away with Murder during those week-long stretches when e.e. just wants snuggles and milk.

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Not that he’s particularly clingy. e.e. is an exceptional child. Yes, yes, every mother thinks her child’s routine developmental markers are indications of his unprecedented talent, but it’s not just I saying it. Everyone at church, everyone at the pediatrician’s office, everyone sings e.e.’s praises: “I can’t believe he never fusses during church!” “He settled down so quickly after his shots!” “I’ve never seen such a good baby!”

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Even though he started out as a 7 lbs., 1 oz. peanut, all those feedings added up to an impressive weight gain (mostly around his tummy, thunder thighs, and triple chin). From the beginning, he lifted his head up with almost perfect control and has accidentally rolled over three times already. He slept through night since day two, but has recently decided it’s more fun to snack through the night. Normally I don’t mind, and when I do mind, I stumble over to his bassinet to find him kicking and grinning, and all my grumpiness dissipates.

He’s so close to laughing out loud, but right now he just smiles with his whole face. He’s got a sweet dimple on his right cheek (and a couple on his fat knees) that just kills me from happiness every time he flashes a grin. We love talking with him. Agoo and random screeches are his first words. He’ll coo stories with a great range of dramatic emotions, usually about the ceiling fan or the blank walls.

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He’s already reading, of course. When Daddy reads Jamberry, e.e. stares at the pictures. He has less patience for Mommy’s read alouds, so we do other things — splash in the bath, stroll around the neighborhood whenever it’s a degree above freezing, lie on the floor and kick, kick, kick.

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We joined a Baby & Me storytime at our local library for an excuse to get out of the house since it’s stubbornly still winter. e.e. is the youngest by several months. The other babies love pulling his hair and poking his eyes. He’s used to it, though, because his cousin Ella adores him. Whenever we visit, she cries, “Baby! Baby!” the entire time, then goes through her routine of emptying his diaper bag. Uncle Erich caught her smooching e.e. on the lips — an accident involving her attempt to give his cheek some sugar and e.e. interpreting it as food. They’ve already exchanged germs through e.e.’s pacifier, so, no big deal.

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He’s two months old now. Two months. I already had that first ugly mom cry when I packed away his newborn clothes. I am just obsessed with him, especially now that his personality is bursting out of him. During the first month, I, sleep-deprived and confined to breastfeeding, bitterly observed to Erich that e.e. “didn’t love me, he just needed me.” But that has changed. He looks into my eyes, talks to me, searches me out, and responds to me differently than to others. He is completely a little person.

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And that’s why I haven’t been writing. I’m too busy playing with him when he’s awake, and too busy staring at him while he sleeps, and I’m afraid that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.