Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ferberizing Finny

When Finny was sick for an endless seven days from his nasty reaction to the MMR shot, we spent a lot of time trying to make him comfortable enough to sleep. He woke up every couple hours hot and inconsolable, and as every responsible parent knows, this is not the time to make him cry it out. So we did everything from rocking to co-sleeping to pacing the halls to Thomas the Train watching to cheese-eating to Tylenoling to pajama changing to curling up on the hardwood floor beside his crib in order to help him get back to sleep. When he finally was back to his old laughy, Tupperware-re-organizing self again, we were so relieved to see our chipper little boy and looking forward to getting back to life as we knew it.

What we soon discovered was that although Finny was up for playing and eating again, he was not up for sleeping alone again. He still needed to be rocked to sleep and continued to wake up crying multiple times throughout the night. Initially, we complied. After all, this poor kid had just been through a lot, and if he needed a little comfort at night to get back to normal, well, we were there for him.

But after a few days of rocking and snuggling and tiptoeing out of his room only for him to hear the tiniest creak in the door, wake up, need rocking and snuggling and tiptoeing again, and after a few nights of sleeping with my glasses on and a pretty rockin’ crick in my left shoulder from our early morning co-sleeping position, I realized that I was being, well, manipulated, and it might be time to bring in the big guns. That’s when I decided to call on Richard Ferber, M.D.

It just so happened that that week on our new favorite show, Modern Family, Cam and Mitchell were Ferberizing their baby girl, Lily. The show humorized the conflict involved in the Ferber method of “crying it out.” Mitchell, on the one hand, was stoic and believed they were doing what was right by their daughter: making her suffer in the short run in order to give her the gift of self-soothing for the long run. The sensitive Cam, on the other hand, couldn’t resist picking up the poor, suffering Lily and soothing her himself. I saw myself relating a lot to Cam but admiring Mitchell. While I would do almost anything to keep Finny healthy and protect him from suffering, including but not limited to giving him a kidney, throwing myself in front of a train, or taking a bite of pureed baby sweet potatoes and pretending they’re delicious, I could not see how giving up my uninterrupted sleep for a perfectly healthy toddler was really going to benefit either of us.

So I did it. For four to five nights, I listened anxiously as he cried it out. The first night it took a seemingly endless thirty-five minutes. If he woke in the middle of the night, I went in to check that he hadn’t wet through his diaper or that the fever had not returned, but when I knew he was all right, I laid him down, told him gently to go back to sleep and I walked out and shut the door behind me. Sometimes it would take twenty to thirty minutes, but each day it got better, until Thursday of last week, he actually slept in until eight a.m.! So far this week, he is going to bed at eight and not waking up until close to seven. Yesterday, he even napped for an hour in the morning and four hours in the afternoon, a nap time so gloriously long, I was nearly twiddling my thumbs by the end of it.

When it comes down to it, most mothers I know are extremely self-sacrificing. It comes with the job, and there’s great joy that comes from that kind of sacrificial love. But sometimes, when it’s not quite right and your sleeping with your glasses on, and it’s not joy you’re feeling but resentment, it’s time to re-evaluate. Sometimes we need someone to give us permission to try the tough love. We need someone to tell us that if we let the baby cry himself to sleep, it doesn’t mean we love him less. In a way, it’s a very selfless thing to do. Because as tempting as it is to want our children to need us and never want to leave us, it is not our job to raise dependants. One of the greatest gifts of love we can give them is a skill set that allows them to get along in this world without us. So I guess I’ll start with one of my personal favorites: the glorious gift of uninterrupted sleep. He may think I’m punishing him now, but I’m pretty confident he’ll thank me for it when he lives with twelve other dudes in college. While they’re up all night drinking and partying because their mothers didn’t have the courage to Ferberize them, my little Finny will be sleeping soundly to the soothing sounds of his Beatles Lullaby CD. I can almost guarantee it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Musings on Aunthood

Last night, my nearly two-year-old niece, Jane Marie spent the night.

When Jane comes bounding up the walk to our front door, I wait by the window for the show to begin. When I open the door to let her in, she stumbles over the threshold with a “Whoa!” as if the step into my house just blew her mind. This is almost always followed immediately by, “Where’s Uncle David?” as she breezes past me and heads straight for the book box. Then she doesn’t bother to take off her coat before she makes herself right at home, legs tucked beneath her on our family room rug and reads every single book in the book box at lightening speed.

And when I say read, I mean read. No, she doesn’t know the principles of phonics and if you point to a word on the page, she generally can’t tell you what it says, but Jane knows books. Sometimes she need only hear a book once before she can sit down with it and tell you what it says on almost every page. Regular conversation is no different; she soaks it all up and you may have no idea she’s doing it until one day she spits it back at you and it sends you reeling. Like last night when she grabbed me by the hand and said, “Come here, sweetie pie!” I almost forgot I was talking to a toddler and started giving her my hotcake order, half expecting her to give me a wink and a coffee refill. Her comedic timing is impeccable.

And Finny, well, he’s smitten. Right now, Jane’s the closest thing Finny has to a sibling and he follows her every lead. “Gonna getchew!” she giggles as she bounces away from him and he follows, giggling his head off with no chance of every catching her. But sometimes she lets herself get caught and they embrace wholeheartedly with an awkward, somewhat painful looking hug that comes close to smothering or strangling Finny and sends them both teetering toward the floor. Finny wants everything Jane touches, but like a typical older sibling and a typical two-year-old, Jane’s not quite sure what to make of his undying devotion and often pulls coveted toys or books back with a commanding, “No, no Finny!” or my personal favorite, “No, Finny! Share it!”

Even if she is somewhat territorial at times, there’s no doubt Jane’s got Finny’s back. If ever Finny is upset, she turns to him with a compassionate, “What’s the matter, Finny?” In fact, this morning, when Finny woke up screaming his head off at 5:30 a.m. it was almost as if Finny had a second mother sleeping down the hall in a Pack n’ Play. Before I even had a chance to get out of bed, Jane was at attention calling down the hall, “Finny cryin’! Jill, Finny cryin’. Oh, Finny.” I’m sure if Jane had not been constricted by the walls of her Pack n’ Play, I would’ve found her in Finny’s room rocking him back to sleep herself.

Since Finny could not be consoled back to sleep, David took him downstairs, and I worked on seeing if I could get Jane back to sleep for another hour or so. I crept into Jane’s room where she was still muttering, “Finny. Finny. Cryin’.”

“Janie,” I whispered in my best it’s-the-middle-of-the-night voice, “It’s not time to get up yet. It’s time to sleep. Do you think you can go back to sleep?”

Her response, a decisive, “No way.”

So I brought her in bed with me thinking maybe it would be a treat to come into bed with Aunt Jill and we could snuggle and cuddle together and fall back asleep just like Finny and I sometimes do.

But this was not on Jane’s agenda.

“Whoa!” she said as we walked into my room. “What’s that?” she asked pointing to everything in sight. “Aunt Jill’s room! Whoa!”

As I laid her down next to me in bed, I whispered, “Okay, Janie, time to go back to sleep, so let’s just lay here and not talk. We’ll just think thoughts.” This was clearly the wrong approach because Jane thinks out loud in a stream of consciousness rarely punctuated by periods, commas, or transitions.

“Window! Pillows! Fan! Lamp!” she continued, beginning her own little game of I Spy.

“Okay, Janie, let’s be quiet now. Shhh….”

“Salad! Make me a salad!” It’s 5:45 a.m. Not the salad hour. In addition, I’m quite certain Jane’s never had salad in her life. “Baby sister. In tummy. Baby sister. I’m awake!” she exclaimed.

But tired, if not somewhat foolish Aunt Jill tried again, “Shhhh, Janie. Time to sleep.”

And then there was quiet for a moment or two. With only the sound of paci-sucking beside me, I thought, okay, maybe she will go back to sleep.

And then, “Jane’s back!” she said as she bolted up. “Finny and David. Let’s go play with Finny and David.” And I threw up my white flag and surrendered. After all, how could I go back to sleep when there was so much fun to be had?

Last night, Laurie and Mike went to a movie for entertainment, and I’m glad they got a chance to have a date to themselves. But truth be told, I think we got the better end of the deal. Jane Marie’s a one-woman show all packaged up in a petite little mop of blonde curls, and I’m privileged to be her aunt and have a front row seat to see each and every surprising, hilarious, and brilliant scene unfold.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fever All Through the Night

It was midnight when I heard the cry of a returned fever again. Last night was the third night in a row I was up with Finny in the middle of the night dealing with this terrible reaction he was having to his MMR shot. When I went in, he was just beside himself, restless, tired, and achy. I tried everything. I rocked him. He wanted nothing to do with it. I took him downstairs and offered him water. He pushed it out of my hand. I sat down on the couch and turned on Thomas. He looked at me like, “Seriously? We already watched thirty-five of these episodes today.”

I brought him back upstairs and paced the hall with him, back and forth, back and forth, at least twenty times. Then, I dug deep into a bag of old reliable tricks. Tricks I haven’t used since he was an infant. I sat in the rocking chair and laid him vertically across my knees cradling his head in my hands, rocking him back and forth on my knees. His eyes shut almost instantly. But his head was so heavy. Literally. He was too heavy; I couldn’t sustain it, so I tried to gingerly move him to his crib. He fussed and whined, so I lay down on the hardwood floor beside his crib and stuck my hand between the rails. He fussed and whined and I prayed with tears rolling down my cheeks, “Please God, heal this baby.” Three nights of this, I couldn’t take it anymore. Earlier in the day, he had turned blue. Enough was enough already. He was fully crying now. I picked him up and brought him into our bedroom. I hated to wake up David, but thought maybe he would sleep between us. He just cried harder. I took him back into his room and put him on the changing table to put him in cooler pajamas at David’s suggestion. He cried and cried and I lost it. I burst into tears. And do you know what Finny did then?

Finny laughed.

He laughed his ass off. The harder I cried, the harder he laughed. He could barely keep his paci in his mouth he was laughing so hard.

David came in to comfort me and then he saw it too. Soon the three of us were laughing together in Finny’s room at two in the morning. We’ll do anything for a laugh around here, but Finny’s tactics seem a little extreme.

But, prayer answered, I thought. How sick can he really be if he is still able to see the hilarity in my pain?

Shortly after that I was able to rock him back to sleep in my arms standing in the middle of his room. Today was better. We took good naps and the fever was down. He got the promised rash that the doctor indicated he would get, but he toddled about today and even attempted to play a little bit. I hope it just continues to get better from here; my pain might be laughable, but his pain is another story. It’s tragic and heartbreaking and I want it to go away.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snow Day

Finny woke up early crying his head off. Sometimes the sight of me walking into his room is enough to calm him down, but not this morning. This morning he didn’t want to get out of his crib, but he didn’t want to stay in it. He didn’t want me to hold him, but he didn’t want me to put him down. He wanted milk, but he didn’t want to drink it. He wanted a public option, but he didn’t want to be taxed for it. He seemed to be just generally unsatisfied with the state of life in general.

After some time in the high chair contemplating his banana, he finally calmed down a bit when I shoveled some cheesy scrambled eggs onto his tray. Some cheesy eggs and a little Bert and Ernie arguing away in the background cooled his jets and it seemed like he might consider giving this day a shot after all.

After doing his daily jog around the first floor of the house a few times, carefully inspecting dining room drapes, giving the oven a quick rat-a-tat-tat, and checking just a few thousand more times if by chance today we’d decided to leave the bathroom door open so that he could let loose on the toilet paper roll, we strolled upstairs for a morning nap.

At 10:30 a.m. when the morning nap drew to a close, it was time for me to figure out exactly how a thirty-year-old and a fifteen-month-old were going to amuse themselves for a day in the house. As a high school teacher, I had to plan out five fifty-minute blocks on a daily basis, always remaining cognizant of a teenager’s short attention span. A fifteen-month-old, as luck would have it, has an even shorter attention span, so I was looking at planning out a day of thirty-second activities for the two of us.

First, I bundled us both up for a romp in the snow on his new sled. I don’t know who was more amused: him, at the thrill of the sled sliding across the snowy yard, or me, at the sight of a tiny, puffy, blue baby bundled to the hilt with nothing exposed to the air but a set of six teeth and an ever-present goatee of drool. This lasted an astounding fifteen minutes.

Finny likes a leisurely lunch so this ate up at least an hour as he gingerly gummed his grilled cheese and chomped here and there on his pear slice, but when lunch was over, I was still looking at a good hour and a half of…what?

I turned to the basement for some inspiration. Already sick of the new toys from Christmas, we sought out some old toys we’d forgotten about. We played with the singing hammer and nails set, we made voices for the stuffed animals, we tossed the beach ball around, we crawled into the tent, we crawled out of the tent, we laid in the tent side by side and smiled at each other, we climbed up the stairs and down the stairs, we opened forbidden cabinets, and we pressed the buttons on the forbidden remote.

Then, I spotted a blanket and began brainstorming. The blanket was first a magic carpet that I laid him down on and dragged around the room shouting something ridiculous like, “Oooo, magic carpet! Take a ride on the magic carpet!” He quickly crawled off. Then the blanket became a parachute, floating up and down creating a marvelous static effect on his hair. And finally it became wings, and I became a giant blanket bird of prey chasing a squealing Finny around the room with a menacing, “Pa-kaw! Pa-kaw!”

Then, I looked at the clock—NAP TIME!

I managed to get in a cup of tea and a chapter of my book before once again I heard the cry of a baby who cannot quite figure out how to stay comfortable.

When I went up to get him, Finny was feverish. I was trying everything to calm him down: Tylenol, wet wash cloth, juice, water, books, Thomas the Tank Engine, but even his beloved Goldfish crackers were plucked from the cup and left uneaten on his lap.

And then, Grandma walked in.

Only intending to bop in and bop out, she sat down on the couch and he crawled into her lap and made it known that she wasn’t bopping anywhere unless he was bopping with her.

I suppose I should feel a little jealous when Finny crawls into her lap and rests his head on her shoulder and seems at times to be more content in her lap than in mine, but actually, it makes me smile.

Because I know that lap; it was mine before it was his. It’s a pretty good place to settle in and stay awhile. And if you play your cards right, the lady attached to it will do just about anything to make you comfortable and happy, including but not limited to driving to Walgreens at 3 a.m. to buy you Solarcaine for your sunburned legs.

Yeah, Grandma’s got some good tricks in the bags she brings over. She’s got bongo drums and Indian headdresses, popsicles, and a Blackberry. I’m glad Finny delights so much in her visits, even if it means I get pushed to the side for a bit. The woman’s got moves. Besides, I’m comforted by the fact that there’s something I’ve got that she doesn’t. That giant, blanket, bird of prey who glides easily across the basement exclaiming, “Pa-kaw!”—that’s all mine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Making Room for Number Two

Last night, David and I rung in the new year by watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Well, correction, I rung in the new year by watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with a sleeping David by my side. We did a Champagne toast at 8:30 p.m. because we new it was likely that we would not be around for the ceremonial ball drop—midnight seems like a foreign concept these days, one more likely to be associated with molars or breastfeeding than Champagne and high heels. So we did what we’re likely to do for many New Year’s Eves to come—we watched a movie on the couch.

Although it did push the limits in terms of time—I often feel that the editors are asleep if they let a movie last three hours—it was an appropriate, thought-provoking movie to watch after toasting to life and the things we’d like to see happen, change or improve in 2010. As Benjamin ages backwards and Daisy, his love, ages forwards they are forced to deal with only a short period where they are actually together at the same age. The predominant motifs throughout the movie are the idea that nothing lasts and the idea that we are meant to lose the people we love because how else would we really know how much they mean to us. As I watched Benjamin become an eight-year-old, a five-year-old, a toddler, and an infant, I couldn’t help but think of my own little Finny who is aging forward at an increasingly rapid speed. I often find myself taking mental snapshots, trying to hold onto the image of his beaming face with the six goofy teeth, of his stumbling, drunken man walk, or the sight of his little butt in the air when he sleeps. A photograph or a video doesn’t seem like enough; I want to store it directly in my brain. After watching this movie, I rifled through some of those mental snapshots, and I had one of those rare moments of contemplative quiet in my kitchen, just torn up over the bittersweet nature of life and age.

David and I toasted to a hope for a new baby in 2010. This should come as no surprise to many friends and relatives who have recently started flooding us with questions about number two. After the movie I started to really consider how wonderful it would be to have a new baby again. Up until recently a new baby was only conjuring images of sleepless nights and nursing bras, but last night, I remembered the magical part, the hopeful part, the awe, the innocence, the beautiful fragility of the wrinkly fingers. My sister-in-law just gave birth to their first baby this week, and in an email about baby boy ‘Van’ my brother-in-law said, “It’s been an amazing few days.” I had forgotten about the “amazing” part. Somehow I had gotten so caught up on the “inconvenience” part that I had forgotten about the magic and wonder and holiness of it all. Suddenly, not unlike the Grinch, I felt that my heart expanded right there in the kitchen as if saying I’m ready to include another in here.

But as quickly as it expanded, it recoiled again.

Share? My heart, my time, my energy, my lap? Finny and I are a pretty tight unit right now. We’re buds. He still calls me Daddy, but I know the translation. He and I have had some pretty special moments, and now, I want to screw things up by throwing another one in the mix? I’ve heard dog people say that once they had a child, the dog got ignored—what about the first child? What happens to him?

Just this week, my sister, who is expecting her second little girl in May, heard my twenty-one month old niece Jane lamenting in her crib, “Getting older…baby sister…getting older…baby sister.”

I think little Janie nailed what I’m feeling right now. The idea of a new baby is amazing, magical, exciting, but the idea that that means the first is getting older, growing up, staying out past curfew, leaving the nest, getting married—that part breaks my heart.

After dragging a sleeping David off the couch and up to bed, I asked him between teethbrushing, “How does your mom resist calling you all the time? Cradling you in her arms whenever she sees you?”

“Well, I’m an old, ugly dude now,” he said, “I’m not the little baby I once was.”

But Benjamin Button was born old and ugly and his Momma still loved him even when he was an old man. I have no doubt that when Finny is old and hairy like his Daddy, I’ll still want to wrap my arms tight around him. He’ll still be my world. The trouble is—I’ll no longer be his. Eventually, he won’t pull at my pant leg anymore or lay his head on my shoulder and say “Ahhh” or honk my nose with his tiny finger and thumb. Eventually he won’t want to be wherever I am, doing whatever I’m doing.

But I guess there’s not much I can do about this but sigh and continue to take those mental snapshots and well, perhaps make room for another. Maybe my crazy grandmother who birthed seventeen children wasn’t so crazy after all. Looking at her now with Momma’s eyes, my guess is she just couldn’t bear the thought of not having anyone around to honk her nose at a moment’s notice.