Tears

Well, it finally happened. Today when I left Jimmy at school (i.e., daycare; I just feel better about leaving him there for nine hours a day when I call it “school”), he cried for me.

When we walked in he was all smiles for his teacher — as usual — and he acknowledged the other little babies with a glance each, as if he were taking roll. As usual, he began chewing on everything he could get his hands on as soon as I placed him in the play area. He continued to amuse himself as I meandered through the room, putting his bottles in the fridge, his diapers in the bin, his binky and sunscreen in his cubby. When I kissed him goodbye, he gave me a big bashful smile, all par for the course.

Today, however — and perhaps for the first time — he followed me with his eyes as I walked away, breaking his typical concentration on the piles of brightly colored toys that surround him. I could hear him wail as the door closed behind me. It was devastating.

During the two or three seconds I remained in the hallway, I changed my mind a thousand times about what to do. Go back in was my first and most pressing thought, and it bounced repeatedly off of He’ll be fine (the eventual winner). I glanced through the window to see him screaming and tears burned in my eyes.

I walked away. It was the most difficult thing I have done so far as a parent — leaving him to the comfort of strangers — and it has been haunting me all day. I know he is fine. I know his teacher picked him up immediately and rocked him into peace. I know this. I know this but it doesn’t help.

Hours later, I still feel like I should have gone back in. You read these books and articles about babies manipulating their parents, and how you mustn’t give in lest they control you. But why not? If Jimmy has found a way to communicate his needs to me, why should I refuse to listen? Am I then teaching him that his needs are invalid, or that his communication methods are inappropriate? He is six months old.

Some might say that by giving in I am paving the way to an incorrigible two-year-old who will throw himself on the ground at Target, screaming and flailing for a candy bar. But in my mind, that’s truly inappropriate behavior. Crying for the comfort of your mama — that’s just a primitive attempt to fulfill a basic human need, no different than crying when hungry or tired.

Sleepless

We’ve been experiencing sleeping issues, which — by the looks of a quick Google search — appears to be one of the most angst inducing conditions in early parenthood. It’s not the getting up at 2 a.m. that bothers me. My eagerness to make Jimmy feel loved makes every one of our interactions oddly cheerful, no matter the hour. It’s the 3 p.m. slump that is getting to me. Heavy eyelids, a general sense of confusion at work, misguided ideas about dinner (don’t maraschino cherries count as a vegetable?).

Getting Jimmy to sleep is easy enough. Laying him in his crib is touch and go. Keeping him there for the duration of the night has become impossible. He wakes around 2, sometimes again around 5, and seems to want nothing more than to be held. He falls asleep almost instantly in my (and only my) arms, but maneuvering him back into his crib has become a painstaking process. If you could be cradled by a warm, familiar body while you slept, wouldn’t you prefer it to the cold solitude of an empty bed — a bed that, due to current safety practices, is devoid of any blankets or even stuffed animal  friends?

We tried letting Jimmy cry it out. He is persistent. He goes berserk. It seems clear that he does not have any self-calming skills. This is my fault, probably, as I’ve given him only small opportunities to learn them. He flips, he flails, he turns himself purple. We’ve learned that he can sustain this for at least an hour. An hour is too long.

At this point, I don’t know how to backtrack, and I’m torn as to whether I even need to. He’s a baby, and aren’t we just here as mothers to meet our baby’s needs, especially in the first year? I truly don’t believe you can really spoil a baby. A toddler maybe. But a baby? Can a baby’s habits really be classified as “bad”? I don’t believe so.

So I will continue to zombie through my days as long as it takes Jimmy to go through this new phase. I don’t feel it’s my right as a new mother to a decent night’s sleep, every night. Maybe once in a while, but not every night, or even every other night. This is exactly what I signed up for when I decided to have a child.

Purpose

I am trying to sort out the driving purpose of this blog. Most pressingly, I’d like to keep a record of watching Jimmy grow. I can already feel my memories of his first months fading. When did he first smile? First laugh? First grip my face and pull his little mouth to it, gumming my cheek wildly, in what I like to believe is his attempt at a kiss? And how did it feel to witness such everyday miracles?

But there must be a higher purpose to choosing this medium, a public blog. I am no expert. I don’t have any innovative advice to offer, nor do I hold a perspective or voice vastly different than all the other moms out there blogging their hearts out about their kids.

I am working through this in my mind and so my posts may show some experimentation in the coming weeks. Why would anyone care what I have to say? Who is reading, and what are they seeking when they stop for a moment to peruse my blog? Am I delivering? How does what I write here contribute to the common portrait of the 21st century American mother?

Minivan Trouble

The minivan is in the shop today for three issues: (1) free first oil change; (2) grinding sound when opening/closing sliding door; and (3) bad noises and drag when careening down the highway over 75 mph. (Not that I do that.)

Sadly, only issue #1 was resolved. They had to order a new hinge for the door, and they couldn’t replicate the scary experience of #3 because it is raining cats and dogs. So I have to bring it back in when they get the part and the weather is more amiable to an 80 mph drive.

At least I can pick up the minivan tonight, which is great because I keep turning the windshield wipers on and off trying to shift gears in my husband’s Jeep Commander. And, I don’t owe the dealership a dime.

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Jimmy has entered a new phase of maternal attachment that is bringing up mixed feelings. On the one hand, go me. I’ve cemented myself as the guiding star of this little boy’s world. On the other hand, well — yeah, at this point I’m pretty much still reveling in my new star status.

I’m not at all annoyed by the fact that once I walk into a room and acknowledge him, he will cry if I don’t pick him up right away. I’m not annoyed that he now cries sometimes just because he wants, well, me. Honestly, it’s pretty awesome.

I’m not trying to raise a mama’s boy, to be sure. But I have to admit I am not motivated to break this budding attachment any time soon.

Sticker Shock

Continuing yesterday’s thoughts on the suburban ideal, today I have been almost obsessively pondering those stick figure family windshield decals.

Specifically: I want them. Yes, I want to fill up the back windshield of the minivan with cartoonish versions of my family.

Five years ago, this would have seemed completely inane to me. But now, I am happy. I am proud of my family and frankly it would make me smile — since we can’t be together all the time — to see a representation, however corny, of our entire clan each time I get in and out of the minivan.

For those of you who would say you don’t care to learn about my family or that those decals somehow offend your sensibilities, remember that when I’m driving behind you I am subjected to your anti-foreign car messages, overplayed puns like “Visualize Whirled Peas,” and the fact that you find Calvin peeing on just about anything hilarious. I don’t generally care about your messages either. The pleasure of the bumper sticker resides with the one driving the car.

And sometimes, things are trendy because they are good. In the case of the decals, they promote family pride, togetherness, the consistency of the family unit. Whether the decals ring true or false depends on your own family dynamic.

But the decals bring up the issue of the fine line between pride and privacy. On a purely practical level, they are probably tremendously unsafe. Your car becomes a billboard advertising your family make-up — including your kids’ hobbies if you pay an extra dollar or so per person — that basically leads the way to your home address. Who knows what kind of creepshow is lurking behind you on the freeway, or trolling through your neighborhood as your car sits in the driveway?

This will probably be the reason I don’t trick out the minivan with decals, and leads me to think about the information I share about our family online. The public forum of the Internet opens us up to an infinitely greater range of weirdos than the ones we might happen to cross paths with driving back and forth to guitar lessons. But somehow we feel safer veiled behind the computer screen than we do out in the real world. The family decals are like a live — albeit incredibly watered-down — version of the basic information we post on our blogs and on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, discussion boards and social networking sites.

Our guard is down these days. Our virtual privacy fences are disintigrating. This has allowed a broadened sense of community and sharing, and a platform to nurture friendships, even as it may open us up to the ill intentions of strangers. Those of us who choose to participate online and in the real world face an everyday juggling act between joining the conversation and protecting our privacy. It is a balance that will take a generation to refine.

Mommy Blogging

So it’s been a while. The short of it: I bought a minivan (Chrysler Town and Country) and I totally love it. I went back to work. I switched Jimmy to a better daycare. I miss him all day, every day. 

As part of my job (at least I rationalize it that way), I spend a lot of time on the Internet. The “mommy blogger” phenomenon is not losing any steam. I’m seeing a trend, however, in said mommy bloggers talking about what bad mothers they are. And, while much of it falls on the valorous side of publicly admitting our flaws for the purpose of building a communal portrait of a real and true mother — a portrait we desperately need — some of it has an unsettling undercurrent. In a growing proportion, there is a too-cool-for-school edge to it, as if it is almost a point of pride to be a bad (or the baddest) mother. 

I, for one, am not a bad mother. I aim for a certain stereotypical suburban standard and I am not ashamed to admit it. I am not cool. I bought teething jewelry. I feel guilty for washing Jimmy’s bottles in the dishwasher on busy days, instead of scrubbing them by hand with organic dish soap. I change diapers every hour. I don’t microwave baby food. I have a chemical desire to spend every free minute giving Jimmy what he needs to grow up smart and strong. I want to do everything right. And I try to. Hard.

I hope that mommy blogging does not devolve into a coolness competition. I for one, am planting my flag on the other side — the unapologetically uncool, minivan driving, baby photo showing, proud mama side. Because that is honest and truly who I have become. I will admit my faults, but I will not celebrate them.