Rain Storm

It’s overcast and a bit cooler out today, so I took Edith for a longer walk down to the bigger park. Unlike our little park, this park is usually pretty hopping with kids, and today was no exception. There were maybe seven kids playing at the playground with their moms and/or nannies supervising, two with infants, and the landscapers were also out working, and there were joggers, and ladies walking dogs, and so forth. The last time I took Edith to this park, she wasn’t really aware of any of the activity around her, but this time she was fascinated by the other children and watched them for a long time, which was cool to see.

While she gaped at the big kids, I attempted to make eye contact with the moms/nannies, aiming “I’m approachable!” grins their way like a creeper, but they weren’t into it. I am not an initiator. My entire life, I have never approached anyone first; I wait for other people to come to me. I’m not really sure why. I’ve always been like this and have never made any serious effort to change it. People close to me say it’s because I’m standoffish, and I guess, but also I think I have this deep fear of bothering other people and I’d rather just stay by myself than run the risk of being a nuisance. The result of this is that all of my friends are approachers (except for friends I made through those friends).

There are exceptions. I have occasionally made friends through issuing persistent invitations to something minor, like a drink after an improv class, and then, when those were continuously rejected, by essentially inviting myself along to things that I had not actually been asked to until my presence was just sort of accepted as inevitable. But that was when I was extremely desperate for companionship and also only after the initial introductions had been made.

Anyway, I didn’t approach any of these mom/nannies, but I did consider it, and maybe I will next time. The nice thing about children is it gives you a natural opening. All I would have to say is “how old is she?” And then they would have to answer, and boom, we’d be having a conversation whether they wanted to or not.

After awhile it began to sprinkle, which was refreshing. This was Edith’s first time being in the rain, but she did not react to it, so I’m not sure she knew it was happening. Shortly after this, we started home, but we hadn’t gotten very far before the sky completely opened up. At first, I figured we’d keep going, but it was really coming down, so we turned back for the picnic shelter at the park. Edith by this point was quite wet up to the waist from rain blowing into her buggy, but again, she didn’t really seem aware of it. When we got to the picnic shelter, all the kids, moms/nannies, landscapers, and a random jogger were congregated under it, and so of course the second we joined them, Edith began to wail. I felt everyone there simultaneously decide they hated us, but fortunately I had brought a bottle.

By the time Edith was done with that, the rain had let up, and I still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to talk to anyone, so we headed home. This ate up most of the morning and also exhausted Edith who is currently asleep and letting me write this, so a successful outing all around.

Sleep Regression

I should have predicted this would happen — as soon as I crowed about my ability to manage the sleep situation around here, Edith stopped sleeping. Apparently this is a known phenomenon called a “sleep regression” wherein a baby looses its hard-won ability to sleep for long periods the second it starts to master a new skill because babies are nightmares (or I guess daymares. Wake…mares? What works here, god, I’m so tired).

I’ve overall been amazed at how predictably consistent human development is. The books accurately predict every single thing that Edith will do down to the minute. This is humbling — we humans are all the same, we are basically robots. They said that around this time, she will begin to learn how to roll, and then she will want to practice rolling all the time, and then she will revert to her newborn sleep schedule of ~3 hour shifts through the night.

Bang on! This is exactly what has happened!

Edith is rolling around like a tiny tumbleweed, and whereas I used to be able to basically bore her to sleep at night using blackout curtains and a noise machine, she does not need a light source to practice rolling, so she cannonballs around in her basinet all night, and, being awake, is not about to miss a meal.

The really unfortunate part about all this is that I have lost my ability to fall asleep immediately when I have the chance, so every time she gets up, I’m wide awake for another hour after I get her down again, just thinking about what I will do the next day, which I am then too tired to do because I spent all night awake thinking about it.

Last night, I tried to cheat the system by not feeding her when she woke up (which the books say you can try, and she doesn’t actually need to eat this frequently through the night anymore; she wasn’t doing it for about a month; stop looking at me like that, she’s not really hungry!), but instead just rocking her back to sleep in the dark. It seemed to work for a minute. I put her back in her basinet, and she began to suck on her fists. She sucked on them very loudly for 30 minutes while I stewed next to her, teeth gritted. Then, she seemed to realize she wasn’t getting served, and belted a scream unto the night the fury of which was only matched previously by one time I accidentally dropped her head back onto her play mat from a very short distance (she was fine! Stop looking at me like that!).

As accurate as the books are about what babies will put you through, their advice on how to mitigate the more exasperating effects of this behavior are worthless, as if they had never so much as seen a human baby. For one thing, all the books say that from very early, you should work on putting a newborn down “drowsy but awake” so they learn how to go to sleep independently and don’t need to fall asleep on you. If you’ve spent even so much as a second around a newborn, you know how completely moronic this advice is. You might as well expect your newborn to stand up independently at bedtime, execute a darling little Von Trapp routine, curtsey, and whisk herself off to bed. All that happens if you attempt to put a baby down “drowsy but awake” is that the baby entertains herself just long enough for you to fall asleep and start dreaming, and then screams until you wake up and pick her up again. You can both do this infinitely throughout the night if you’d like to!

Edith blessedly (and I’m really knocking on wood here) is pretty good about transferring from my arms to her basinet. When she was littler, I had to put her down like I was reenacting a scene from The Hurt Locker, but now if she wakes up when I set her down, she typically just gives me a withering look like I’m a server who spilled her wine on the table and then goes back to sleep.

Or she did. Until this sleep regression. I put her down five times in a row at the beginning of last night’s marathon of torment, and every time, she popped back awake, curled up like a pillbug, and started ricocheting back and forth. She has this little shout she does when she’s ready to be awake and I’m trying to put her to sleep. It’s a single proclamation and it sounds a lot like “Hey!” “Hey, I’m awake here!” “Hey, play with me!” “Hey, it’s morning I bet!” “Hey, bitch, entertain me!”

I love it so much, even though I should hate it. Which, it occurs to me, could be the official slogan of motherhood.

Bottle

Today, Edith suddenly figured out how to remove and reinsert her bottle. She can’t quite manage it on her own yet, but she learned how to pull the bottle away from her mouth, and then how to nudge it back toward her mouth while making guppy faces toward it to indicate where she wanted it to go.

I was thrilled at her brilliance! “You’re so smart, Edith!” I crowed! I was pretty sure this was early, developmentally speaking. She also figured out how to roll from her back to her tummy today. She was killing it, knocking down milestones left and right!

Then, Edith removed and reinserted her bottle approximately 500 more times, all requiring my help and both of my hands.

My delight in this new achievement swiftly waned. I would actually be fine with a stupid child.

On Sleep

I’ve always needed more than the average amount of sleep. I get tired very easily and usually, if I miss an hour or two of sleep, I feel like other people do when they pull an all-nighter. When I get moderately tired, I feel it more than most people — I feel deeply nauseous and poundingly groggy as if I have a severe hangover. This has always been frustrating to me and has felt unfair — especially when I was younger, I simply could not keep up with everyone else. I particularly remember when I went to Italy on a study abroad program the summer after my freshman year. We had classes every morning at eight, but of course all stayed out partying all night every night. The other students kept this routine for the full five weeks and did not seem to be at all bothered. I tried to do the same, but I could not manage it. I had to bow out hours before the others at night, and even so, I was so exhausted in class that I couldn’t keep from falling asleep in my chair and listing sideways with my head pointed down toward the floor. The professor — who could not stand me because of this behavior — would habitually wake me up right before I fell out of my chair.

I was at one point diagnosed with a sleep disorder called UARS, but I don’t really think that’s my issue, and I’ve never been retested. The CPAP machine made no difference.

Because of this, I was pretty worried about having a baby. I was afraid I would lose my mind, or fall asleep so deeply that the baby couldn’t wake me, or just be too tired to care for her properly. None of that happened, although in the first month after her birth, I don’t think I could have gotten through it if my Mom hadn’t been here to look after her to let me take five hour naps sometimes. After that, though, I got used to Edith’s very regular cycle of three hour phases through the night and I felt almost functional on that schedule, and now she usually sleeps for a five hour stretch, a three hour stretch, and then sometimes another hour or so, plus feeding and getting her back to sleep takes around 40 minutes now (whereas it used to take more like 90), and I sleep for probably around seven hours per night. I feel remarkably alert for someone who normally needs stimulants to power through on less than nine hours.

Of course, I’m not working right now, and so I don’t have to do anything cognitively complex during the day. When I think about doing my job while feeling like I feel right now, I want to curl up into a ball and cry. Surely Edith will be sleeping better at six months when I go back? How do other women do it? Most American women have to go back to work in under a month. I can’t fathom it.

Anyway, I have never understood people who say things like, “if I have to pick between sleep or x, I’m going to do x.” To me, these are like people who say, “I forgot to eat today.” It just does not compute with my experience of having a human body. So I have been shocked to find that having an infant has turned me into one of those people.

These days I typically have to pick between going for a run and taking a nap, and I often choose running, because it energizes me more than the bit of extra sleep would (which just makes me feel groggy). In particular, sunshine and getting out of the house for a bit makes me feel refreshed and happier than a nap would do.

At night, when Edith is sleeping I sometimes stay up for an extra two hours reading an especially interesting book even though I really need that time to sleep, because I don’t have uninterrupted time during the day and I just really want to, and weirdly, I don’t feel that much more tired the next day than I do when I go right to sleep when she does.

I suppose having a baby rewires you physically in some ways. At any rate, I’m relieved to find that not only am I capable of getting by on an infant mom sleep schedule, but I’m even comfortable enough with it to do other things besides sleep when I have the option. In my wildest dreams, I would not have thought that would be the case.

Of course, all this will likely go out the window when I go back to work. But then, I guess that’s what Adderall is for.

Annoying My Baby

Edith, who is typically a pretty active baby, is going through a phase where she mostly just wants to sit around and chill and chew on stuff, which is basically my whole life, but rather than enjoy the relative calm, I have decided to of course (a) PANIC and (b) annoy the living fuck out of her. I mean, in part, it is one million degrees outside, and in part, she is only just now becoming aware of her feet, which probably uses up a lot of energy, and here is her mother constantly tugging on parts of her body and being like, “Don’t you want to PLAY?!?!?! OH GOD PLEASE PLAY WITH SOMETHING!” and “You never talk to me anymore!!! PLEASE! SPEAK, my baby!” and “Am I FAILING you?!!?! HAVE I ALREADY FAILED?????”

She just got over being constipated and having me obsess about her butt all the time, and now this.

It must be hell having parents.

Cicadas

It’s cicada season for the 17-year cicadas, and I suppose for the usual yearly variety as well. On my run today, I saw various cicadas in every stage, from live shiny green to dead brown discarded husk. Cicadas always make me think of my grandfather, because when I was very small and my grandparents lived in Mississippi, my grandfather used to set me at picking cicada husks off their many trees. I worked very hard at it. One visit in particular, I seem to recall filling several brown paper grocery sacks to the brim with them, but that seems like an exaggeration of memory. When I asked him what we’d do with them, he said, “well, nothing,” and it was only then that I realized the task was an invented preoccupation to keep me busy and out from under foot. Which embarrassed me.

As an only child, I was always desperate to be accepted by adults. Usually, I was only around other adults, so I viewed them as my peer group even though they very much were not, and I would basically do anything they asked to feel included in whatever they were doing. Another time, my grandfather set me at sorting through a big bucket of spare change and wrapping the various denominations in paper wrappers. This was likely somewhat more useful than harvesting cicada shells, but the overall purpose was the same — keeping me busy. Not in a dismissive way. He wanted to give me something to do so that I wouldn’t be bored, and he always had a task or an activity for me when I visited my grandparents’ house. I also seem to recall him trying to teach me chess once, but I was far too stupid to learn.

Unlike gathering cicada shells (which I was very excited about) I remember being dismayed by the coin rolling task. I did not want to sit in a dark office by myself and stack coins, but I was anxious to please and also didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and so set about it with a will.

One problem with being an only child is that there is no backup. Adults can’t corral multiple children — even two will form a tiny army and rebel. Multiple children run households. Their presence cannot be ignored; their needs are paramount, and the days of their adults revolve around them. But an only child is an obsequious, easily controlled creature. She will sit silently for hours without complaint while the adults are talking, pretending to laugh at jokes she does not comprehend.

I always thought I would not have a solo child. I don’t even think it’s healthy to have solo pets, and several years after her death, I still feel guilty that I never provided my rabbit with a companion. But I waited a long time to have Edith and I’m pretty old now, reproductively speaking. I just finished up Klara and the Sun today, which envisions a future dystopia where children learn entirely through Zoom sessions at home, and so they are provided with AI companions to ward off loneliness. Even if remote learning became the norm, though, there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood. I don’t think Edith will be isolated.

Baby Talk

I’ve never been able to determine whether I’m a creative person or not. Sometimes I think I am, but for me, creativity is something that happens every few years with great effort and in small doses. It’s more like squeezing a lemon than knocking the cap off a fire hydrant.

Some of the greatest works of children’s literature have been written by bored parents who spun tales to amuse their children and challenge themselves. Watership Down. The Pooh books. The Harry Potter series. And so on.

I won’t be one of those parents. I would love to be endlessly creative and inventive with Edith, but the second I sit down to play with her, my mind goes completely blank. I can’t think of any games or stories. If I try to think of a song to sing to her, all I can remember is a single commercial jingle from the ’80s, like I have never in my life heard music before. I can’t even think up small talk to have with her. I talk to her like we’re standing in the corner at a party neither of us wants to be at. I am truly the dullest dullard to ever wave a toy around.

My dialogue with her all day long is just:

“Edith! Who’s Edith? Are you Edith? Who’s my baby? Are you my baby? You’re my baby!”

“Baby baby baby baby.”

“Look! What’s that? Is that a panda? What’s that panda doing?”

“What are you doing, Edith? Are you looking at the panda? What’s going on? Tell me about it! Oh, yes, tell me all about it! What? What are you saying?”

“Oh boy! A panda! What do you think? What do you think, Edith? What’s going on?”

“Who’s my little bean? Who’s my booger? Are you my pooh bear? Are you my peanut?”

“Look at this panda. Wow.”

“Wooowoo buh. Buh! BUH! A panda.”

“Ok, you keep doing…that. Ok. And Mommy’s just going to look at the news here for a little second. Let’s see what Biden’s doing, what do you think? Probably not one fucking thing…”

[several minutes pass]

“What, what, don’t cry!! Oh, don’t cry! Mommy’s here, mommy’s paying attention. Who’s a bun? What’s a panda? When is baby! You run, you slide, you hit the bump, and take a diiiiiiiiive. A boo boo boo!”

I worry all the time for her development.

Alone Again. Sort Of.

After four months, my mother has had the gall to return to her own life temporarily, and has left me alone with my own child for two weeks.

How could she?!?! I’m not prepared for this, obviously! Who approved any of this?

After over a year of more extreme isolation than even I am accustomed to (I am an especially isolated person even in normal times, but even I typically take trips to see other people every few months or so), it’s been comforting to have company for so long.

I like being alone — I don’t really get lonely like other people do. I sort of live in my own world. But toward the end of quarantine, it was starting to be enough already. And then at some point, it occurred to me that I was about to give birth and then I would probably never be alone ever again (the economy being what it is).

That was hard to wrap my mind around, but over the past few months, I haven’t pined for solitude much. Maybe a bit at odd moments. And now that Mom has left, I feel a bit melancholy. I normally do when a houseguest leaves, but I didn’t think I would this time because I have Edith. But I’m finding that she doesn’t really feel like a separate person to me. She feels more like an extension of myself, like there’s just more of me now, and it’s even more troublesome to take care of my basic needs than it was before. That’s surely healthy for both of us, right?

Probably it will be different when she’s talking and mobile and can exercise her own will.

Meanwhile, we played for awhile, and then Edith watched from her swing, appalled, as I attempted to gasp through a 25 minute HIIT video. She was pretty patient (if obviously humiliated for me) until I propped her up in her donut in the bathroom and got in the shower at which point, she was like, “BITCH THIS CAN’T WAIT TILL I’M ASLEEP?” Which was fair enough. She played some more, and then she fell asleep for several hours and I watched TV and finished the novel I was reading. It was too hot today for our walk.

When she woke up, I managed to give her a bath in the sink by myself, which I was proud of, because it’s unwieldy, and she only pooped in the tub a tiny bit. And now she’s propped in my lap while I type this over her shoulders, and for some reason, she is tolerating this. Soon we’ll go to bed.

So, all in all, a successful first half of a day? Only 13.5 more to go, not that I’m counting, because I’m perfectly capable of parenting my own baby. Perfectly capable!

Tough Crowd

The baby smiles at me a lot and talks to me periodically, but she will not laugh at me. I thought she didn’t laugh at all, until I mentioned this one day and my mother said, “oh, she laughs all the time!” Then, the other day, I heard her absolutely losing her shit at something the nanny was doing. I ran in, and she wasn’t just laughing, she was waving her arms and legs back and forth in hysterics.

Today, I was determined to make her laugh. I spent the whole day pulling faces at her and dancing around maniacally, and she stared at me soberly, brow knitted. She looked confused, maybe slightly concerned, but I could elicit nothing even approaching amusement.

At the end of the day, her grandmother got back from running errands and came over to say hi, and the baby immediately broke into a delighted peal of laughter.

Nobody thinks their mother is funny, I guess.

Mom Guilt

I thought that I would be immune to mom guilt, because I typically am not subject to the pressures that come from wanting to be socially accepted or approved of, since I am genuinely comfortable being entirely isolated from other people (this is not really a good thing). However, I have been surprised to find that I am not immune.

By “mom guilt” I specifically mean guilt over something that I do not truly believe is harming my child, but still feel guilty about due to social stigma. This is to be distinguished from worry over things that I do suspect might be harming my child, which I shall term “mom anxiety.” I have a shitload of mom anxiety; I’m constantly worried that I’m not doing enough for Edith, or that I’m doing things wrong or making mistakes that will harm her, or even just short-changing her in some way. But this is surely inevitable if you actually care about your child? As a parent, you assume 100% control over the body, environment, health, happiness, and life of a tiny, helpless, extremely fragile infant. If you don’t worry constantly that you’re messing that up, you’re a sociopath.

Mom guilt is different. Mom guilt is feeling guilty for not adhering to the social expectations for mothers even if you don’t feel those standards actually affect the health and happiness of your child. I did not expect I would give a shit about these pressures, and I mostly don’t, but I do find that I constantly feel guilty and bad for doing my own thing instead of playing with Edith while the nanny is here.

Strictly speaking, I do not technically need a nanny while I’m on parental leave. I hired one to come a few days a week in preparation for something that didn’t end up happening, but she really is wonderful, so I’m glad that I hired her anyhow. Edith adores her and has an excellent time playing with her. I do not worry that spending time with the nanny instead of me is harming Edith. For one thing, research pretty clearly indicates that it’s good for children to bond with multiple adults and to have lots of people who care about them in their lives. For another, I am dealing a lot better than I thought I would with the lack of sleep that comes with having a baby, but still, I am largely braindead and frequently on autopilot, and even on the best days, I am not fresh and creative and engaging as a playmate, and the nanny is. I’m pretty sure Edith has more fun with her than she does me, and while I’m occasionally jealous of this, I do not worry it’s a bad thing — I want Edith to be having as much fun as possible. I want her to have fun with lots of people. I want her to be having fun all the time!

So, I don’t have mom anxiety about the nanny, but I do have mom guilt. I do not feel guilty if I use the time to exercise, or to shower, or to nap, or to do necessary chores and errands. And I would not feel guilty if I used the time to do something that would advance my career or earn money (I don’t), or to cook (I don’t cook). That is to say, it seems acceptable to take advantage of help in order to look after my physical or financial needs.

But I can see after all my physical needs and still have time left over, and what I mostly want to use that extra time for is to read, think, write, etc. That is, I want to use the time to look after my intellectual needs. And I feel great guilt about this, because as a new mom, I am not supposed to have any intellectual needs. I am only supposed to be interested in my baby. But I have not had a lobotomy and I need to use my mind now just as much as I needed to use it before I had Edith — more actually, because I have so much more to think about now.

I didn’t realize I was feeling this way until one day, I noticed that I was pretending to be napping when I was actually reading. Why was I pretending, I wondered? And I found that I felt guilty about reading while someone else played with my child. And then I thought that if I had a husband, he would 100% slip off to watch sports or something while the nanny was here, and people might think that was exasperating or even shitty of him, but no one would actually expect any different, because we do not expect men to be endlessly absorbed by the mostly stultifying work of caring for an infant, but we do expect for that work to be inherently interesting (or at least satisfying) to women.

Women admit to each other pretty readily that there is little more tedious than caring for an infant, but still, I feel like it’s not acceptable to outsource any of that. And I can already hear the women reading this saying, “but taking care of your own needs will make you a better mother to her!” and ok, that is true when it comes to my physical needs (which is maybe why I think it’s acceptable to take advantage of help to meet them), but honestly, spending time on my intellectual needs doesn’t actually make me a better mother; I’m the same with Edith either way. It’s just for me. And that’s the key of the mommy martyr pressure — once you have a child, you are not supposed to care about yourself at all anymore.

And the thing is, I don’t! Hell, I barely cared about myself before I had a child. But I still get bored, and I find boredom is a more difficult thing for me to tolerate than exhaustion, and I’ve surprised myself by feeling ashamed of this.