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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On sleep

Our Bigs learned how to climb out of their cribs a little over a week ago and whoa. Life has changed. Over the past year Stephanie, our stellar babysitter, mentioned a few times being surprised that they hadn't already done it. They're such good climbers and more than once had swung a leg over the rail, testing things out. My guess is that having a partner in crime right there next to you takes some of the need to escape away--you already have company while you're laying in your cozy bed so why climb out?

The first time they did it I was out of the house--I already forget where I was because it happened over five minutes ago so its place in my memory banks has been long erased. My in-laws were visiting and my husband was home from work. When I returned Grandma told me the story of hearing Lily and Cyrus laughing and talking and goofing around. . .right up until they came out of the room crying, apparently freaked out by their new-found freedom and the falls that accompanied it.

The details of the last several days are already fuzzy--like I said, the memory--so I can't tell you if things were immediately different after that first escape. Did they start climbing out every time right away? Not sure. I think so because we soon changed their cribs to the toddler bed style-- leaving one long side of the crib open so they can climb in and out at will. After one night Lily asked us to change hers back. . .though she continued to climb out every nap time and bedtime.

I've been dreading the escape from cribs for a while, mostly because my son doesn't love to sleep. I love to sleep. Two of his sisters, Lily and Daphne, love to sleep. Cleo is in between--she cries when we put her down but falls asleep pretty quickly and then doesn't want to get up. Daphne asks to go to bed and snuggles in with relief once we lay her in her crib. Lily has been a solid sleeper since shortly after we brought her home from the hospital. Cyrus, like his dad, would prefer to stay up as late as possible. My husband didn't nap as a child and didn't have a bedtime. When he told me this when we were dating I was horrified--our children would be napping for sure! Not only because kids need sleep but because I already knew, before any kids had even arrived, that I would need that break in order to maintain some semblance of mental health. And boy was I right. . at least in terms of the mom's sanity piece.

People have expressed anything from surprise to admiration to shock when we mentioned the fact that our kids napped at the same time. How did we do that?

We don't give them a choice, I said. Because I would probably be dead if they didn't.

Over the past week and a half we had a few days where the big kids didn't nap at all. Other days when it took over an hour for them to fall asleep--and that took having a parent, usually my husband, laying down in the room with them. The days when two would be asleep and then, just before those two woke up, the other two would fall asleep were the worst. You couldn't go anywhere or do anything and you didn't get more than a few minutes to yourself. Boooooooo. Seriously, the napping in sync was a necessity for us. For me.

We sleep trained our son. Three times. Have I written about that already? I think so but I can't recall. It was awful. He sobbed and screamed--the longest he went was 45 minutes. I lay in bed in our room next door (in the old house), my heart cracking at the sound of his anger. Fear? Loneliness? Anguish? Despair? Who knew? He was a little baby and crying was his way of communicating. It was so hard to listen to and eventually, after 45 minutes, I went in to get him. He stopped immediately and was happy as can be. Damn, I thought. Now I'll have to start all over tomorrow and those brutal 45 minutes were for naught. We did it twice in the old house and then once again in the new house. The impetus for the final sleep training session was the night I went in to get him for the fourth time-and I almost slammed his little body onto his mattress in despair. I was so tired. Pregnant. Needing to get up to take care of these two nine-month-olds in a few more hours. . .and just could not go on like that anymore. The most helpful and life-saving parenting advice I've ever received has been the kind that says something like this;

You are allowed to take care of yourself. You can't be a good mother if you're draining yourself dry in the process. It is the right thing for your family if it's the right thing, the necessary thing, for you.

I don't read a lot of parenting books. I talk to my friends who are parents about things like sleep and eating and potty training, though I've done that less since getting out of the teeny tiny baby stage the first time. I like to mostly go with the flow, pay attention to their cues and figure things out on my/our own. Sleep was probably the first topic that I learned to keep quiet about, mostly because people had such strong opinions about it. One major strong opinion was anti-crying it out. And I didn't want to hear it. Because my heart already hurt about it. I already doubted whether it was the right thing and I didn't want to feel worse listening to parents who didn't let their kids cry.

There is a lot written about mommy wars. I have two main thoughts about them. One, we women can often have a hard time building each other up rather than tearing each other down. And I do think that the wisest thing I've read about the infighting among mothers is that the more time and attention we spend fighting each other, the less time and attention we're paying to the parts of the system that are broken and breaking. Two, being a parent has me in super-judgment mode almost all of the time. Even before I can spare a second to judge anyone else I've already spent five hours judging myself.

Am I disciplining enough? For the right things? In the right way?
Am I feeding them healthy enough food? Have they had a variety of colors and textures this week?
Am I treating them fairly? Paying enough attention to each of them?
Are we doing the right thing in terms of school and childcare?
Do we let the cry or do we go in and soothe?
How embarrassed should I be that my daughters' hair is not brushed?

It is a role that you can't get right. At least not all right. We will make mistakes and we won't know what they are or what the consequences, if any, were until far off down the road. It is hard and fun and silly and crazy-making and full of judgement. Actual, true judgement where we are finding ourselves seated in the thrones from whence the values and rules get decided.  Which doesn't mean the rules will get followed, or even that the values will be taken in. But we are the deciders. . .for now. For some things.

Because I have four kids and I've had them so close together I can see that they are inherently different when it comes to sleep. Which doesn't stop me from wondering what else plays into it--their hospital stays, their birth order, the way we've changed and grown as parents. This adds another layer to the peer discussions about what works and what doesn't. What works for one kid, and one parent, won't always work for another. How tricky is that? It's like giving each other management coaching when we all do very related, similar jobs, in different offices with different employees and a different set of goals and measurements of success. Well! I say we just offer what we've seen and done and try to do it in a way that says " I see you are trying and worrying just like I am. I wish you luck, sister-warrior-boss lady."

My house is silent now. And as I've written many times before, the silence is perfection. It vibrates throughout the rooms. In some ways I live for these moments these days.

The final thing I will say, for now, about the climbing out of the cribs is that this change has been way bigger for the kids than I ever imagined. There is so much more crying and fighting bedtime now that they aren't contained. It reminds me how much they are growing and learning and taking in all the time, every minute. Their brains are growing, their bodies are growing and becoming more agile, their awareness of themselves and the world around them is changing every day. All of this without having all the words to describe what it feels like to suddenly not be sleeping in your crib anymore.

As we try to figure out how to respond, how to help them still get sleep so they have the energy to do all this growing and learning, I try to remember to say to them

You're safe.
We're here.
You can go to sleep and when you wake up, I'll still be here.

Monday, January 4, 2016


One of my first jobs was as a hostess at the Cliff House in San Francisco. I was eighteen. It was this job that taught me such valuable lessons as "Don't come to an interview with your hair wet." More importantly, I learned how to deal with people. Waitressing came later and taught me other ways of dealing with people--all service jobs probably teach you a lot about this. Hostessing though--you are in the direct line of fire with almost no power. Potential diners are pissed at you because they want a window seat or a booth like ten minutes ago. Servers get pissed because you over sat them or under sat them and they're in the weeds or aren't making as much money as they could be.

And then there is the couple that strolls in ten minutes before closing. They are relaxed and in love, happy to have found a restaurant that's still open. As they walk down the long hallway looking at you with smiling faces you are looking back, balancing the various forces to be reckoned with. The owners would be pissed if they knew you were telling people the kitchen was closed ten minutes before it actually was. So would the managers, for the most part. The would-be diners will be bummed and/or pissed, depending on their personalities, if you tell them they just missed your last seating. But the kitchen and the closing waiter will be real pissed if you seat someone at 9:50 pm. Real pissed.

I was a very good at this job. The fast pace, the problem-solving, the keeping calm as people are yelling at you, the handling of multiple personalities. I loved it, for the most part. Though it did make my feet hurt. We worked in pairs at the front desk during busy shifts and it was at the hostess podium that I met Amber.

We liked each other almost right away. If you're a woman or know women you may be surprised to hear this. It doesn't happen often.Usually there is a testing period or a level of skepticism or judgement that precedes any bond that might eventually arise. We were both young and pretty, dressed up and put on display to greet people. It could have been a competition from the start. But she was a great hostess and so was I--and that made us friends.

Working hard with someone feels good. We were quick and in sync, passing each other on the way back from seating. Never leading a couple to a two-top only to discover that it had already been sat and having to veer at the last minute to a worse table and try to play it off like it was the plan all along. Being able to rely on someone to make your shift easier is no small thing. Not having to explain things or try hard to communicate is so much sweeter than the alternatives. Being young and not having had many jobs I didn't even recognize just how special our collaboration was. I just knew I liked her. Our friendship even survived the realization that we were both after, or being pursued by, the same guy. Ah, restaurant love affairs in your 20s. Good times.

Amber and I have known each other for fourteen years. I was with her when she got her tattoo. I was in her wedding. I was standing in front of her a week after her son was born as she looked up at me with a look of terror and awe on her face and said "They let anybody do this!" That was one of my first signs of how hard it was to be a parent because I didn't know anyone more prepared to have a kid than Amber--early childhood education, nanny, lover of children.

Our lives have greatly changed since we first met at age 24. She has four kids, I have four kids. We live in different towns, almost two hours away from one another. We don't see each other often. We manage to call each other up just in the nick of time when we really need someone to listen and understand and cheer lead.

It's her birthday today. Thirty-nine years old. Years ago we'd be celebrating at a table for fourteen eating hundreds of dollars worth of sushi and drinking lots and lots of booze. Today? I'm not sure what she'll be doing but I'm sure it won't be that.

I love her and appreciate her so very much. She has made my life better in many ways. We are friends for life.

Happy birthday Am.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

January 3, 2016

Like a vampire, or a drug addict, I feed off my children. Leaving them behind tugs at my heart or some deeper part of my anatomy and makes it hard to keep going. And then I'm lost, practically turning in circles as I try to figure out what to do with this free childless time.

In September I spent eleven nights in the hospital. . .and everyone survived. Much more than survived. My children looked so happy every time they came to see me. Part of it was gladness to see me but beyond that they looked peaceful and well-loved and full. One night alone I stood naked at my hospital window overlooking Buchanan Street, seeing the reflection of my body against the city lights shining dully in the glass. I was familiar, when I gazed upon myself. I have been looking at this face, this body, in mirrors or bathtubs or windows all my life. I will be me, alone in myself, for every day for the rest of my life no matter what I do. Sometimes that feels lonely. Sometimes it feels like coming home.

Lately I've felt desperate to get away from my kids. Counting down until bedtime, which is no longer easy now that the two-year-olds know how to climb out of their cribs. My husband and I look at each other, dead-eyed and going through the motions, waiting waiting waiting to get a break. And then I miss them. It's a fucked up dance, this parenting song.

We are trying something new. Each of us gets a day of the weekend--he is Saturday, I am Sunday. This is our day to do whatever we want. Today is my first day like this. I woke up and went to yoga, stretching my tight muscles to the sky, enjoying the invitation of focus into individual movement. It was hard and blissful. A reminder that yoga makes me so much better. The breathing. The community. The quiet. The practice of coming back to myself again and again. The class ended, I walked outside, and I felt. . .lost again. Didn't know what to do with myself, where to go. An almost panic set in, wanting to make the most of the free time. . .and feeling drawn back to my children, to my family. I came back home and took a sweet-smelling bubble bath before they returned from the park. Seeing their faces beaming at me filled me up. Five minutes later I was ready to leave again.

Yesterday, on my husband's day, I took the kids out of the house to spend the day in San Francisco so that he could work on projects at home. Puttering is his therapy, his coming home to himself. My city greeted me like the friend and cozy turtleneck sweater that it is. Driving familiar streets with my kids noticing the people and trucks and lights and dogs of urban life made me feel good. I dropped my eldest off with my mom for some one-on-one Nana time and took the other three to a park on top of a hill where we met an old, beloved friend of mine from high school, his beautiful fiancee and their son. The three of us wove together like a braid, handing off children and viewpoints. Eating croissants and peeling tangerines. At one point she asked me if I'd been writing much.

No, I said. And it's not that I can't find the time. It's that I hate everything I have to say.

That's how it is with making things, she said.

It was a benediction.