Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

May 28, 2001

How to get a baby to sleep

Putting a baby to sleep is a very simple task, though for some reason, it befuddles new parents everywhere.

Adam and I have managed to get Lucy to sleep for as long as 20 minutes straight using this simple, nonpatented formula. It’s revolutionary, really. If I had the time, I’d write a book about it, just so I could knock that irritating Baby Whisperer and all of her gratuitous uses of the word cadswallop right off The New York Times best seller list.

But I don’t have enough time. Most of my waking minutes are spent putting Lucy to sleep using this method, which, as I have said, is not only very simple, it is also fool-proof.

Step 1: Make sure it’s time to get baby ready for bed. You may be disoriented, but you do not want to skip this step. Clocks are reliable tools for this, though in a pinch, you can rely on that round yellow thing in the sky. If the yellow thing is near where the sky and the earth make a line (can anyone remember what that’s called?), then it’s probably just about time to get baby ready for bed.

Once you have looked at the clock and confirmed that yes, it is 6:15 in the morning, then it’s time to begin. The baby has already been up for an hour, anyway, playing pat-a-cake on your husband’s cheeks. And if she doesn’t get her rest, where will she find the energy to repeat this glorious process tomorrow?

Step 2: Feed the baby breakfast. It is a fact universally acknowledged that babies cannot go to sleep at night without a good breakfast, preferably one smeared in their hair and tucked into their folds. Another essential part of a balanced breakfast is to spread chunky remnants of it all over the high chair. This gives you the opportunity to use that crème brulee blowtorch. Yes, you meant to create glorious desserts to serve at swank parties. But those dreams are dead to you now. As dead as the jade plant in the kitchen, the poor thing.

Step 3: Have a nice cup of decaffeinated coffee. There’s nothing quite like it to power you through the morning. While you are sitting on the floor drinking coffee, the baby can play beside you. No matter how many toys she has, your cup of hot coffee will be the most interesting thing in the room, followed by the irritable (and sleeping) cat.

Step 4: Wash the baby. You would no sooner put a crusty baby to bed than you would get in your own bed wearing the shoes you mowed the lawn in. That would mean you would then have laundry to do. Everyone knows that laundry breeds fine all by itself in the hamper, and it’s senseless for you to add to the party. It’s best to wash the baby in the bathtub. Showers are not recommended for this, as babies do not yet know how good a shower feels in the morning. Sadly, you do, and you rarely get to take one uninterrupted. But this is because you are rushing through Step 5. See below.

Step 5: Put baby down for her morning nap. You notice she is rubbing her eyes. Hopefully, you have finished with Step 4 (baby washing) before this happens, or you will find yourself wondering how to get oatmeal out of eyelashes. If I knew an easy way to do that, do you think I’d be home in my dirty little office, or do you think I’d be in St. Tropez, drinking tropical beverages in the cabana? Right. I’d be rich and carefree. All I can say is to wash the baby first.

Step 6: Apologize to the baby for trying to put her in a bed made out of nails. Yes, you can’t see the nails. But she can feel them, insinuating their pointy tips into the soft, perfect flesh of her back. She lets you know about the nails by screaming, rolling over, and bonking her head on the crib.

Step 7: After verifying that the nails on the crib mattress have left the building, put baby down for her morning nap again.

Step 8: Apologize again.

Step 9: Repeat until baby is worn out.

Step 10: Begin your shower.

Step 11: Just as you’ve soaped your hide, you hear the sound of baby bonking her head, then screaming. What to do? What to do? Hurry and finish shower. Wrap yourself in a towel. Pick up baby (while the towel unwraps itself, showing the world your pale rear end).

Step 12: Put on clothes with one hand, while entertaining the baby with another. Remember, a happy baby is a baby who goes to sleep easily.

Step 13: It’s lunchtime for baby. Repeat Steps 4 and 5.

Step 14: Make your own lunch with one hand, while holding baby in the other. Explain to her that you would like to give her a bite of your sandwich, but she only has three teeth. Be firm. You already turned the dog into an incorrigible beggar, and it would be even more embarrassing to do this to your child.

Step 15: It’s playtime again. Playtime is necessary because it tires a baby out, leaving her a prime candidate for nighttime sleeping. Options include: going for a walk; eating fur and breadcrumbs off the floor; and trying to trick her into thinking laundry is fun. I recommend the first and third. I am fairly certain the second can get you arrested, and I am officially not saying whether Lucy has ever done anything like this.

Step 16: Time for an afternoon nap. You read somewhere that 9-month-old babies take three hours worth of naps each day. This means yours is due to sleep for two hours and 40 minutes, because she only slept for 20 minutes in the morning.

Step 17: After verifying repeatedly that the crib mattress does not, in fact, have scorpions scuttling about all over it, put the baby down for her afternoon nap. As you walk away from the nursery, think about all the things you can accomplish in this grand two hours and 40 minutes that you have coming. Is there laundry to wash? Great! You will get it done. Dishes in the sink? Now’s your chance to wash them. Were you hoping to finish that book proposal your agent has been hounding you for? Do it!

Step 18: Hear the baby wake up, just as you hit the bottom of the stairs.

Step 19: It’s playtime again. Although you may feel as though you cannot lift your head off the carpet, the truth is that you are really discovering how educational it is for your child to use your body as a jungle gym. Admire her strength and dexterity as she crawls over you, drooling and laughing.

Step 20: Dinner time. Yours, hers, your husband’s? The cat’s and dog’s? It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s hungry. Brown pellets all around, unless your husband is cooking, in which case dinner will be very tasty.

Step 21: Bedtime is finally here. That moment you’ve been working toward all day, so you need to prop your eyelids open so that you can enjoy it. Once your eyelids are open, simply hand the baby over to her Daddy. He will take her upstairs, change her diaper, put on her jammies, and then perform what he calls “the ritual.”

Some 30 minutes later, he will walk down the stairs, triumphant. The house will be quiet. You might even hear the rose bushes scratching against the walls, stirred gently to life by a cool evening breeze. All is well in the world. The baby is sleeping. You and your husband can have a nice talk about how you spent your day. That’s because it’ll be at least two hours before baby wakes up again.

And you can start all over.

(Note: The books say babies are capable of sleeping through the night starting at 3 months. “Capable of” does not mean the same thing as “willing to.” If your baby is younger than 1 and already sleeps through the night, feel lucky. If not, then continue to follow these simple steps for a few more months. You’ll get there. At least that’s what people have told me.)

May 21, 2001

Celebrating our leather anniversary

Before Adam and I had Lucy, we did everything together. We worked together, commuted together, ate together and ignored the dust bunnies mating under the sofa together.

It was ridiculous. Out of 24 hours a day, we were at each other’s side for at least 20. I am crazy about my husband, so I really loved it. But I can see how that much together time breeds a little insanity.

That said, there were certain activities we never shared. Adam never pumiced my heels or tweezed my eyebrows. I never offered to spray his feet with fungicide, no matter how many opportunities arose. Also, Adam put his pants on; I put my pants on — never each other’s. Not on purpose, anyway.

Until I got pregnant, this was a foundation for a happy marriage.

And then, toward the fat and bitter end, Adam had to start tying my shoes. I couldn’t see my feet, let alone bend and commune with them.

Because my one pair of slip-ons was starting to stink with the summer heat, I decided it was necessary to cross over the last remaining boundary of independence. It’s not as if I was violating our prenuptial agreement and asking him to do something really out of line, like cleaning the toilet.

Somehow, though, our marriage survived. And, as they say, turnabout is fair play.

Just last week, Adam had to ask me to help him put on his belt. The reason? Lucy. He was holding her, and she is now so big and mighty, it takes two hands to keep her from launching herself onto the ground. Whatever the reason, though, I was happy to return the favor. I’ll take dignity wherever I can find it. You have to, when you go out in public with Cheerios stuck to your rear end.

Later that night, Adam came home and said, “I learned something about myself today.”

Curious, I asked for detail. Adam is far more likely to talk about comic books than personal growth, and I was having a hard time keeping Wolverine and Dr. Xavier straight.

It was the belt, he said. He’d threaded it through his loops the same direction all his life. And I had done it the opposite way, giving him a trouble every time he had to unbuckle it.

A more insecure person than I am might wonder what her husband was doing unbuckling his belt all day long. Was it all the free soda at work? Or was it something else? Someone else? I don’t need to wonder these things, not when Adam has easy access to all that Fresca.

Instead, what I started thinking about is the habits that we have — things we don’t even notice until something changes. Then, all of the sudden, we can’t do the things the way we’ve always done them, no matter how comfortable it is.

Before Adam and I had Lucy, we were so comfortable. We worked just a few steps from each other, so we could legitimately visit several times a day. Our hour-long commute was fun, because we had each other to talk to. Our condo was pretty messy, but it didn’t matter because we were never there. Also, we had a maid come every other week to prevent serious funk build-up — this was our first anniversary gift to each other.

Adam and I never fought. Ever. I can’t even remember disagreeing about anything, except about the fact that olives taste good. Adam is a baby on that count, and chicken cacciatore is not as good without olives, no matter what he says.

I used to marvel, sometimes, at how easy marriage was. Mom was crazy to have told me otherwise all these years, I thought.

Having Lucy has changed everything. Forget about the messed-up belt loop. Having a baby has been like having shoes on our hands. Everything is that much harder to do. And I finally am starting to understand why, for most people, marriage requires more effort than deciding whether to have pizza or lasagna for dinner.

Adam and I have gone out on two dates without Lucy since she was born nearly nine months ago. During our first date, we looked at each other over our plates of chicken and fish and blinked.

Here is how the date went:

“Wonder how Lucy is doing?” “Probably fine.” “But maybe she’s not.” “OK, let’s go home.”

On our second date, we did a little bit better. “Lucy wouldn’t like these chairs.” “No.” “The salad is too spicy for her.” “Think she’s sleeping?” “Let’s go find out.”

Last Saturday night, Lucy was in bed by 8 p.m., and we had a rare opportunity to have a conversation, maybe share a glass of wine or watch a romantic movie. Instead, we watched the video of Lucy’s first six months. “She was so tiny.” “Yes. Tiny.” “And her legs.” “Yes, tiny.”

And it’s not just that all of our conversations revolve around Lucy. At my last checkup, my doctor asked about birth control. “I’m using the barrier method,” I said. “Lucy sleeps between us.”

It’s pathetic. Yesterday was our third anniversary. It’s the “leather anniversary,” I learned while pondering gift ideas.

This is just cruel. Leather is the stuff that sexy pants and whips are made of. When you have a new baby, though, leather is one of those things that go on the “see you in 10 years list.” It’s right out. You’re too fat for the pants, too tired for the whip, and too scared of grape juice for the furniture, jacket or car upholstery.

The third year of marriage, at least for people with small children, should be celebrated with that chewy rubber that binkies are made out of. This is something people like us have some use for.

That said, we did get fairly close to a wild-and-crazy leather experience during our anniversary dinner. We parked in front of a sex hall in Seattle’s Pike Place Market district. It wasn’t the Lusty Lady, the famous sleaze establishment with very clever and naughty puns. (“We’d like to spank the Academy” appeared at Oscar time. Hah!)

Rather, the place we parked was quite a bit more downscale, with window displays that would have left Lucy hungry.

These days, though, I’ll take it. True romance isn’t about leather, sweat, or even the hilarity of suggestive puns.

It’s something you know you’ve got when you can look at your baby chasing down a Cheerio on the carpet, and she looks so much like her Dad, you can’t help but think about him, even when he’s running a business meeting like the ones you no longer attend.

True romance is having someone to help you through the 1:30 a.m. tearfests. It’s having someone let you sleep in while he plays with the baby. It’s having a friendship that stays strong and exciting, even when everything changes around it.

If someone had told me three years ago what my life would be like today, I might have run away rather than face the mess and chaos. But this is why we can’t see the future, because most of us aren’t wise enough to know how much joy comes with the struggle.

It’s during the best of times and the worst of times that I find myself with one thought, eclipsing all the rest: I am so glad I have someone to share this with, and so glad that person is Adam.

May 14, 2001

The myth of mother knows best

Whoever said, “Mother knows best” is a big, fat liar. Either that, or he was selling a crazy product door-to-door, like a solar-powered vacuum cleaner.

If people actually believed that mothers know best, there is no way there would be so many parenting books out there. I searched on Barnes and Noble, and found 34,821 of them — many written by men, and therefore people who are not mothers.

Beyond this weighty piece of evidence, however, I have the clincher: If people really believed mothers know best, they would stop giving those of us who currently hold the job title their random bits of unwanted advice.

For example: Quite frequently when I take Lucy outside and she’s not wearing a hat — and even if she’s dressed in two layers of polar fleece and tucked into my coat — old ladies will stop me and chide, “That baby is cold.”

What these ladies are not seeing is the speed with which “that baby” is able to yank off her expensive, hand-knit caps. I’ve actually had to double back a good 12 blocks to pick them up off the sidewalk where she casts them like so much useless litter.

Nonetheless, old ladies have stopped to inform me that Lucy is cold at least once a month since August, when she was born during a heat wave.

It has gotten so that I have changed my definition of what makes a woman old. Formerly, all she had to have is what I call “cloud hair” — that frothy, permed mass that says to the world, “I’ve given up on fashion, hair accessories and even the comb. I’m sensible; I’m going to steal your parking spot at the grocery store, and onlookers will applaud me for my spunk.”

Deluded by this sensible haircut, these old ladies — some of them no more than 35 — have decided they know a cold baby when they see one.

And the cold baby, they have decided, is that baby. Meaning the one strapped to your sweaty chest.

Why do they say “that baby” and not the gentler “this baby” or the more accurate “your baby”?

That, I do not know. Maybe it’s the chemicals in the perm talking.

But there is something communicated by the very word choice, because it is repeated by all the shameless, sleep-glutted people who also say such things as, “That baby should be sleeping through the night by now.”

New parents never say this to one another. If you are lucky enough to have a child who has figured out how to sleep like the proverbial baby, instead of like a burning weasel, you may admit your good fortune. But you lower your eyes and summon an air of humility when you do it, so that the gods do not revoke their blessing.

I know. Lucy used to be able to sleep for six hours. Now, we’re lucky if she gets two before she stirs, bonks her head while trying to stand in her crib, then starts wailing loud enough to summon help from galaxies far, far away.

For some reason, though, everyone who has gone a good 30 years without the effects of tattered sleep seems to feel perfectly comfortable saying, “That baby should be sleeping through the night right now.”

“That baby,” I’ve decided, is a secret code for “you’re a dope.”

It appears in all sorts of sentences that apply to the way Adam and I are raising Lucy. For example, “How long are you going to nurse ‘that baby’”? Or, “I would have thought ‘that baby’ was a boy, the way you have it dressed.”

I know, I know. Stupid questions like these don’t even deserve answers. But I can’t resist trying to provide them. It’s my nature, to talk about things.

And, it’s not as though I’m interrupting my 10-year-old’s language arts class for a little nipple time. Lucy’s only 8 months old, and most recent recommendations suggest nursing a child to her first birthday, if possible.

Yes, that may contradict what some of these people heard during the Van Buren administration. The nicest thing I can say to people who think otherwise is “Hey. I’m glad your memory is still working.”

As for the feeling that Lucy looks like a boy, well, the truth is that I like red and blue more than I like pink, and I’ll also be able to use the clothes again, if I someday have a child of the scabbier sex.

I wonder if we mothers bring this on ourselves by buying books and magazines and watching TV shows featuring experts. I know I’ve bought into a ton of that stuff, and spent a lot of time flipping through magazines to try and figure out how to get Lucy back on the sleep train, among other things. And if that’s the case, the irony of it is cruel. We’re only trying to do what’s best, and we have to suffer through the drive-by parentings of other people, some of whom don’t even know the names of our children.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to spend a few days ignoring the books, the magazines and the guilty bystanders suggesting other ways of raising Lucy than the ones that come naturally. The human species had endured an awful long time before parenting books were ever printed. If Lucy and I had been thrust together as a parent-child unit in another era — like the Upper Paleolithic — we wouldn’t have had advice manuals, anyway. Just rocks, fur, grubs and the occasional saber tooth tiger on a stick. As it is, we’re eating better than that and having a pretty great time.

So, for the next few days, if I feel like letting Lucy sleep in bed next to me, I will. And if she falls asleep better while nursing, so be it. If she goes on another clothing strike like the one she had yesterday, then I’ll just let her scoot around in her diaper, hooting and screaming with glee for the better part of an hour. So what if “that baby” ends up being spoiled, as one old lady recently told me was the case?

At least I won’t have to watch Lucy cry.

So it’s resolved. This mother knows best, and is officially going to ignore all the advice from strangers and experts ‘round the world. I’m going to ignore it for at least three days.

Because that’s how long it’s going to take the bookstore to deliver me my copy of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Deep down, I want that baby to get a good night’s sleep again. We sure could use it.

May 07, 2001

Moving target: Lucy's on the loose

Babies giveth, and they taketh away.

In the past two weeks, Lucy has delighted me by learning several new tricks. She can crawl on her hands and knees (although she prefers the GI Jane creep, undoubtedly because it matches her short, fuzzy hair better). She can sit herself up, and can even lurch forward and balance on her knees. Also, she can pull herself up in her crib. And finally, she is a master of the yoga position called “the downward dog.” Her skill here puts Adam to shame.

That’s the good news. This is what Lucy has given me. What she has taken away, however, is the last bit of freedom I didn’t know I had.

Here’s what I mean by that.

It used to be that I could leave Lucy alone for a few moments. Once upon a time, I could pee without making a federal case out of it. Before Lucy was fully mobile, and before she truly comprehended I was her gravy train with the biscuit wheels, I could leave her for a few moments in her “gym” — an activity mat with two arches full of happy, dangling toys. Lucy would play here for long spans of time, and it really didn’t matter to her whether I was right there or not.

Nowadays, I have to plead my case with her when nature calls.

“Lucy,” I say, “Mommy will be back in 30 seconds. Every once in awhile, she really needs to do one of those things you do, only she doesn’t have the luxury of wearing a diaper. Believe me, for this half-minute separation, you’re going to be fine.”

And then I pack her into an object or toy with a five-point safety harness, while she bends her face into a huge frown and turns into a tear factory. The crying is horrible. Not only does Lucy look absolutely pitiful, the running water makes me feel like I have a hog on my bladder.

What’s more, Lucy is starting to figure out that these plastic things we call “play yards” and “activity centers” are actually rainbow-colored jails. Whenever I try to put her into either, so I can pick up the living room or eat a sandwich, she looks me up and down. The message is clear: Why should I be in this thing, when there’s a) a cat over there who wants to have his tail pulled; b) a remote control I’d like to whap my head with; or c) a magazine that looks positively scrumptious?

Once upon a time, I thought a more independent Lucy would mean a more independent me. Sweet merciful crap, I was an idiot. And I am sure this is just the first of many times I will say that.

What I am learning is, the more Lucy grows, and the more amazing and independent she becomes, the more she needs me.

It’s not the same kind of need she used to have, where she needed pretty much constant holding and feeding. Rather, she needs me to keep her from cracking her head like an egg.

The newly independent Lucy is a menace. She’s a danger magnet. If there is a threatening object to be eaten, touched, petted or head-butted, Lucy crawls for it with all her might. The more dangerous an object is, the faster she crawls. Baby toys never inspire her to action. As I write this, she is at my feet wrapping her neck with the cord of a spare computer keyboard, smiling blissfully.

Baby-proofing is a crock. It doesn’t matter if a room has been baby-proofed. That phrase is a myth designed to sell outlet plugs and hearth bumpers. Lucy can turn anything into a dangerous object. The only Lucy-proofed room would be an empty one with padded walls. And then, she would still try to eat the padding.

If there were a protective foam suit for infants, I would buy it for Lucy. Only, I’m sure it would be a waste of money because this newly independent baby has also decided she hates wearing clothes and diapers.

Getting her dressed and changed has gone from Lucy’s favorite part of the day to a wrestling match. Every morning, our rumble goes like this: I put Lucy down on her changing pad (which has been taken off the changing table for safety’s sake), and she pops back up. I unfold her legs to put the diaper on her; she rolls over and starts making a crawl for the doorway. Up and down, back and forth we go, until both of us are sweaty, crying and agitated.

Lately, I’ve taken to giving her a big, rubber boot to play with, just to distract her long enough so that her naughty bits are covered. Even then, she’s wet on me three times in as many days, because I’m just not fast enough with the diaper.

I’m sure this is why people no longer dress infants in the Colonial-era safety garb known as the pudding — a donut of fabric tied around the waist. Sure, a pudding probably made for a nice, soft landing. If babies in the old days were anything like Lucy, they refused to wear them, and instead, focused their energy on chewing the pudding to ribbons just small enough to pose a choking hazard.

As Lucy is developing the ability to move around, she’s also getting much better control with her hands. I have proof of this in the form of scratches on my arms, chest and face. It used to be that Lucy would only slash at me with her nails when she was eating. Now, she has the dexterity to pick off the scabs. It’s making me realize that both of us would be better off wearing foam suits.

The really crazy thing is, I would have thought that all this extra moving around would make Lucy really tired. The bright side would be that she’d sleep through the night all the time. But a curious side effect is that all her new skills keep her up at night, because she’s practicing them. This, at least, is what I read in one of those infant-development books.

I’m not sure I believe it. Lucy says nothing about “practicing” when we try to put her down to sleep at night. Adam has devised a whole, elaborate ritual per the advice of those very same books, that involves putting on jammies, reading a book, kissing every one of her stuffed animals and saying night-night to various household objects, including my wardrobe. And then, the second she’s in the crib, she shrieks like her mattress is made out of nails.

She also rolls over, stands up and explains loudly —with feeling — that she’d like to be anywhere but the crib.

And, though I try to be firm, every once in awhile, I take her out, and let her fall asleep in my arms. She gets warm and heavy, and I get weepy just looking at her pink cheeks and soft eyelashes.

Independence is a good thing. It’s a sign that Lucy is fast turning into a toddler, and I am so proud of all the things she’s learning to do. But I confess that I’m secretly glad that in spite of all her accomplishments, she still needs me, all the time.

The truth is, I need her just as much.