Toddler Life, Chapter 24: Sleep Debt

I always used to laugh at my dad. He could fall asleep anywhere, at any time. Thirty minutes in his bed in the middle of the day, a quick snooze in his armchair during a commercial break, passing out during the last act of an action movie. And I thought it was just an age thing.

But it isn’t. It’s a parent thing.

And maybe it’s a male parent thing, because my wife hasn’t inherited this ability yet, but I certainly have.

For much of my life, I had a hard time falling asleep. Thirty minutes in bed before I could drop off was pretty normal. An hour wasn’t uncommon. I’d stay up all hours trying to get tired enough to fall asleep without lying there in the dark counting sheep or whatever… not that that ever worked.

Then I worked in logistics, which is a fancy way of saying I threw boxes around in a store outside of business hours. My shift started at 4 AM. I had to go to sleep at 7 PM. I was also in school at the time, taking classes to teach me how to teach, so I was exhausted all the time. Living your life out of step with the world around you — going to bed while others are just getting off work, waking up when some people have just laid down — it makes you feel a little bit like an alien. I look like these other humans, but I’m not like them. Their lives are normal, but I’m always tired, always thinking of sleep, always wondering if I can catch a quick nap. I learned to fall asleep in just a few minutes, and to make the most of a twenty minute nap like a two-hour siesta.

But then I finished school, got a “real” job, and life returned to normal again.

Until I had kids.

Now, I get up at a ridiculously early time, not so that I can get to work on time, but so that I can get in a quick workout before the kids wake up. Then I distract the oldest while I get myself together for work so that my wife can sneak a few more minutes of sleep. I go to work, come home (sometimes pretty late) and get to bed a lot earlier than most of my colleagues because I know what’s coming in the night.

Because with two kids, you never know what to expect. Or rather, you know exactly what to expect, you just don’t know when to expect it. Our youngest hasn’t started reliably sleeping through the night yet. Our oldest is in a phase where he gets “scared” of little noises or things he thinks he sees in his room. I say “scared” because he’s smart enough to know that if he pretends to be scared he can get my wife and I to come fawn over him without being mad at him, so I know he’s playing us at least part of the time.

So I never know when I’m going to get to sleep through the night. My wife pretty much knows she won’t be sleeping through the night, because the youngest is still breastfeeding, and won’t allow me to put her back to sleep most nights. We wake up to crying, wordlessly one of us will go and see to the screamer, and the kids zip off to dreamland immediately, while we the adults have to pick up the pieces of our shattered dreams. So I’ve developed, out of necessity, the ability, once again, to fall asleep in the blink of an eye.

This infuriates my wife, because she has always taken a while to fall asleep. When she wakes up with the baby, it costs her about an hour. Twenty minutes to deal with the baby, and thirty or better to fall asleep again. It only takes me the time it takes to feed the baby plus about two minutes. And that’s not just when I’m lying in my own bed. I can nap on the couch. I can nap at my parents’ house. I can nap in the backseat of the van while we’re driving across the state on a family vacation, like I’m a five-year-old.

But I can’t help it. My wife will rightly point out that I get more sleep than she does, but I am always living on a sleep deficit. I am burrowing deeper and deeper into debt every day against a collector I will probably never fully pay off. So I pay back tiny installments here and there. And I make the most of my lying-in-bed time.

Truth is, I think she’s jealous that she can’t fall asleep like I do. Then again, I’ve got a couple of years on her. Maybe she’ll grow into it.

Last night, my son woke up screaming about bugs in his room. I went in, calmed him down, and lay down in his car bed next to him. I couldn’t tell you what time that was, but it was definitely before midnight. Next thing I knew, it was after 2 AM and I was waking up next to a three-year-old with his arms flung out above his head like Superman frozen in mid-takeoff and his mouth yawning open, spilling drool on his pillow. I had a wicked crick in my back from sleeping half-on, half-off the frame of a bed built for a miniature person… yet I’d logged a solid two hours of sleep there. I extricated myself from the bed with the practiced stealth that only the parent of newborns knows, stole back into bed next to my wife, and was asleep again within moments of my head touching the pillow.

It’s almost bedtime now, and the nine-month-old is already stirring. Looks like another long night.

Happy, Happy, Happy

My wife pointed out to me that I’ve been using the blarg to do an awful lot of complaining lately. I argued that complaining has sort of been the bread and butter for the blarg since day one. She saw that, a little bit, but she made another observation which sort of rattled me.

“It’s just a lot of negativity for you.”

Which is true.

I’ve mentioned before that the blarg here is sort of like a pressure release valve on an overtaxed water heater, and I do probably more than my fair share of complaining about life’s injustices (rarely) and inconveniences (okay, all the freaking time) here. But it’s rare for me to exude that negative energy outside of this space. Generally I’m a pretty nice guy. I mean, I’m a jerk, but I’ll say my jerky things in a nice way and keep my cool about it.

Still, having had it brought to my attention, it’s hard to overlook the tone of negativity around here, especially in light of all my Grinchly posts about New Year’s and such. I guess I get frustrated when I see seething masses of people engaging in counterproductive (at best) idiotic (at worst) behavior. Maybe it’s because I’m fighting hard against some bad habits of my own. Whatever the reason, it’s there, and it needs some balance. Here, then, is a thing that brings me phenomenal joy.

My daughter is awesome.

This is a pretty cool development, because up until recently (and I’m going to make my wife mad with this, but it’s the truth) I hadn’t really bonded that much with her. This is partly, I believe, because the child was breastfed and I can’t really do anything for her in that department, but also due in no small part to the fact that she has her brother to compete with. Not that her brother is better than her, and not that they’re competing in any meaningful way. But he can run and jump and sing and have conversations and pee in the potty and chase the dog and ask for hugs and kisses and dance and he’s just freaking AWESOME. My daughter is a little miracle too, but … she’s an infant. Her best trick up til recently is to roll over, and, hey, not to diminish or anything, but I could teach my idiot dog to do that if I could be arsed.

To clarify, the sad fact is that all the little things that we (I should say I) thought to be so miraculous about our son when he was born are present again in our daughter. They’re just overshadowed for me by the new heights my son is already soaring to. Sort of like if aliens looked at our entire human history in reverse. They’d see all the crazy sharknado we have in the modern era only then to be presented with things like the stagecoach and the aqueducts and the advent of fire. “Sure, that stuff is nice, but did you see this Google Glass thing they have? It’s amazing!”*

*Nobody would ever say this, ever.

It’s not her fault she came second, but big brother totally stole her thunder on all the infant stuff. However, the last month or so has brought a couple of changes for the little dear.

One, we got to spend a lot of time together without mommy around over the break, so she had to learn to love me a little bit at least. Once she figured out that I actually could provide food to her (albeit not in the manner she prefers), she learned to tolerate and even enjoy me. Then, once she learned that she actually liked being tossed around and dipped and danced, she really started to like me. She still prefers my wife, let’s not play games; but she’s decided that I will do in a pinch, which is a step up from where our relationship once lived.

Two, all of a sudden she’s unstoppable. This change took place in the space of about a week, wherein she went from barely able to roll over to tirelessly screaming around the living room on all fours, babbling and leaving a slime-trail of drool in her tiny, adorable wake. What this means is that she can terrorize the animals, chase her brother, and play with toys in a whole new way.

Three — and this is the thing that really sets her apart — is that she has developed her own entire language of communication by means of blowing the raspberry. That little pink sliver of tongue creeps between her gummy lips and PBBBBLBLBLLBLT and her eyes go all wide and then she looks at you as if for approval before her mouth draws back in this adorable toothless grin and her face lights up and angels descend from the heavens and club you senseless with their enormous phallic trumpets because they, too, are overcome by how awesome she is. Somehow she can create entire worlds with this salivary expulsion: she can say everything from “omg daddy that was so funny make that face again” to “wtf is this toy get it away from me” to “hey that was delicious I’d like another bite of that vaguely flavored goop” to “HOLY CARP I’M SO EXCITED” to “HOLY CARP I’M SO SCARED” to “HOLY CARP I’M JUST A BABY AND I DON’T AT ALL KNOW HOW TO FEEL ABOUT THIS DINOSAUR MY BROTHER IS WAVING IN MY FACE”. Sort of like Eskimos have over fifty words for ice (though I recently heard that that old adage was total bunk), she has the inverse ability: over a hundred concepts expressed in a single non-word.

In short, she’s finally turning into a larval human, and that’s pretty freaking awesome, and it’s worth getting excited about even amidst all my cynicism toward all this New Year’s Resolution crap that got me so in a twist over the last week or so.

So there is happiness in my life. Now that balance has been restored to the force, I can perhaps return to more interesting programming. Perhaps my new (albeit late) preoccupation with Serial? My wife’s and my obsession with our new Jawbone thingamajigs?

The possibilities are endless. It’s my New Year’s Resolution to explore them all.

*Clubs self with a teething ring*

Toddler Life, Chapter 76: Infants Are At War With Our Sleep Schedules

I believe I’ve written before about the sixth sense the babies have about the plans adults have made in the house. In short, if you are a parent of a kid under… mine are only 2, so I’m going to extrapolate a little bit here… 7, that kid will inevitably find a way to unearth your plan, smear it with his slobbery little fingers, then shatter it into tiny little pieces, then eat the pieces and poop them out all over the oriental rug in the living room. The priceless one you inherited from your grandmother. The one valued at over ten thousand dollars, because somehow a rug can be worth more than a car.

They know. They have brains the size of baseballs, but they can smell a plan forming, and the smell is abhorrent to them. They don’t have sophisticated language skills yet, or the ability to set a booby trap or actively create a mess for you to clean up at the expense of whatever thing you were thinking of doing, but what they do have is the knack for becoming unignorably needy and unbearably obnoxious.

Case in point:

Morning runs have been getting dodgy of late. My wife is exhausted from the wee hours wake-ups with sprout #2 (justifiably so) and has asked me to help out with some mid-night changings and feedings. (Mid-night is hyphenated, because oh, if only they happened at midnight. No, were they at midnight, they would fall in between REM cycles and allow for a nice long stretch of sleep unbroken before sprout #1 wakes at half-past waaaaay too early. These happen at 10:45 — roughly an hour after we head to bed — and 3 AM — just a few hours before we’re going to wake up.)

There’s a corollary here which neatly encapsulates the Catch-22 that takes place in my house every night (and here, were current events different, I’d quote Bill Cosby’s Himself routine about how “the same thing happens every night”, but the world is an ugly place and I can not currently quote Bill Cosby without feeling a little bit skeevy). Sprout #2 begins crying at oh, whatever time she damn well feels like it. My wife sleeps much more lightly than I do, so she wakes up immediately (I can sleep merrily for at least ten minutes of infant fussing). So she’s awake anyway, but I’ve promised to help out, so wife starts poking me in the ribs to wake me up. I get up. Go downstairs to warm up a bottle. Bring it back upstairs and begin to change baby’s diaper. By the time I get the bottle in her mouth, about twenty minutes have passed since she started crying. It’s a funny trick of the universe that twenty minutes is about the amount of time it would take for my wife to hear the crying, get up, change the diaper, stick a boob in the kid’s mouth, and be back in bed. But I dutifully feed the kid. Sometimes she accepts the bottle, sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, it’s about 40 minutes from the time she originally started crying before I can have the little bundle of joy laid back in her bed; 40 minutes which my wife cannot sleep through because of first the crying and then the slurping and then the singing and fussing and finally the walking around as I soothe baby back (hopefully) to sleep.

If that was too much to follow: it takes my wife 15-20 minutes to settle the crying baby back down with roughly a 95% success rate, and it takes me about 45 minutes to settle the baby with more or less a 30% success rate, because even though the girl can take a bottle, what she really wants is a boob, and to a lesser extent, her mother. But I am trying to help, so I soldier on anyway.

Right, back to the point. Baby wakes up at 4 AM this morning. I have the brilliant idea that I’ll put the baby down, and, since I’ll be awake anyway, I’ll suit up and go for a run, then come back and go to sleep if time allows, and if not, well, the run will have woken me up.

But the baby knows, and she won’t take the bottle from me. I’m determined to pull my weight and let my wife get her last two hours of beauty sleep before she goes to work (she’s making bank while I’m home for the break), so I keep at it. Baby fights me for twenty minutes, drinking about two swallows of milk and drooling half the bottle down her onesie, which then needs changing. Changing the onesie makes her cold, which wakes her up even more. Then she poops, so I have to change her diaper, which makes her even colder.

Now it’s 4:30 AM, and the baby is wide awake. Sometimes she can fake me out and appear to be awake but actually be very very tired, so I lay her in the crib and decide to give her a few minutes to see if she falls asleep while I suit up for my run.

She doesn’t. She begins squalling louder than before. I trudge back in and try the bottle again, but she demonstrates surprising forearm strength and nearly swats it out of my hand. There’s nothing for it: she’s awake, but I’m going to insulate my wife from having to get out of bed, so I take her downstairs and watch her flerp around on the floor for a while. (“Flerping” is that uncoordinated rolling, scooting, flopping and stumbling that only a baby who’s surprisingly mobile but not yet able to crawl can accomplish.) This she does for fully an hour without showing any sign of getting tired.

So I can’t run, because the baby is awake and will cry like I’ve stolen every cookie from her entire life if I lay her in the crib. And I can’t go back to sleep, because if I close my eyes for an instant while the baby is flerping in the floor, she’s likely to pull the Christmas tree over, or gag herself on the tail of a cat, or somehow set fire to the drapes. This infant — brain the size of a baseball, remember — has not only pooped on my plan for a productive early morning, but destroyed my fallback plan of going back to sleep, and has made me feel like an idiot besides for now being stuck on the couch watching her flerp at 5 AM.

5:45 AM comes, and I hear my wife stirring upstairs. I take the baby up and relate the events of the morning, and share my opinion that the baby is probably still hungry since she hasn’t actually eaten in nine hours. My wife takes the baby into the nursery and within two shakes of a cricket’s whisker, the baby is asleep, drunk on breastmilk straight from the tap.

I go for my run anyway at this point, because I’m stubborn like that, and spend the rest of the day in a mind-fog that can only come from … well, from a sleep-deprived night with an infant who is, apparently, smarter than all of us. Or at least smarter than me.

The only rational course is to plan to wake up in the night to feed her. That way, when she foils my “plan”, she will play right into my trap of letting my wife and I sleep through the night.

This will work.

Please, let this work.

Toddler Life, Chapter 34: Plague Vectors

In the real world, when another human being contaminates your stuff, one of three things happens:

  1. You burn the thing.
  2. You burn the other human.

Okay, it’s only two things, because in the real world, if somebody else spits, sneezes, coughs, barfs, pees, poops, or otherwise gets their fluids on your stuff then that stuff is as good as quarantined and that somebody else deserves to have their throat slit and their precious blood evacuated as they hang upside down in the walk-in freezer in your murder basement. …You don’t have a murder basement? …Yeah, me neither.

When you have a toddler, or even an infant, that rule goes out the window. And not just because if you bleed out your infant, the infant’s mother gets mad. But because something inside you, some fundamental self-preservational instinct, gets rewired. And when I say rewired, I mean ripped out of the wall and left dangling there, waiting to burn the house down.

Here are a couple of real scenarios which have actually happened within the four walls of my house in the past few months:

  • The toddler has explosive diarrhea. Like, launder-the-bedsheets and scrub-the-carpets time. I clean up the mess, shower down the boy, and then possibly forget to wash my hands before having food some time later.
  • The infant, suffering from a snuffly nose which is probably a watered-down version of what the wife and I had a week prior, gets hold of my fingers and sucks on them for a while. I pluck my fingers from the infant’s mouth and immediately use them to shovel a handful of popcorn or something into my own mouth.
  • The toddler likes to drink out of big-people cups and bottles. I have a swanky water bottle that he loves to get hold of and sip out of. Did I mention that he’s got the same snuffly nose that the infant had in the previous instance? He drinks from my bottle, visibly backwashes because that’s what toddlers do, and I forget and drink from the bottle five minutes later.
  • I’m multitasking, trying to shovel in a few bites of dinner while carrying and soothing the infant. (Your time does not belong to you when you have an infant, doubly so when you also have a toddler. You therefore do the things crucial to your existence only when you are also doing things of middling importance to the kids’ … I can’t even say happiness … I’ll say, baseline for not throwing a screaming hissy fit.) I’ve got a steaming forkful of home-cooked, perfectly seasoned spaghetti six inches from my mouth. She coughs directly onto my fork. I feel droplets of goo splatter on the backs of my fingers grasping the fork. I look at my wife, who is trying unsuccessfully to stifle spasms of body-rocking laughter. I eat the spaghetti anyway.
  • I’m carrying the toddler around, because even though he’s perfectly capable of walking and in fact running as if the devil himself were at his heels, he still likes to be carried, especially when I’m tired from a long day at work and would really rather just sit down now. So I’m carrying him and talking to my wife about my day, and without warning, he reels back and sneezes. A deep, phlegm-thick, lung-clearing sneeze. A sneeze that deserves to be captured on high-speed slow-motion camera. Right into my mouth. The plague-mist dampens the back of my throat. I clear my throat and finish telling my wife about the student who’s obstinately determined to fail my class.

The disturbing thing about the previous vignettes (and rest assured, they are not examples in isolation, but merely the most recent iterations of a horrorshow of infection and disgust in memory) is not the fact that they happened. No, the moment you become a parent, you realize that there are so many bodily fluids that are now a part of your day-to-day existence that it’s silly getting upset about their presence. The disturbing thing is that, in each of the above examples, I encountered the vehicles of infection, I allowed them into my body, and did so without blinking an eye, or in fact even considering blinking an eye.

I don’t have an explanation for this. To reiterate, if any of the above were to happen in the real world, the response would start at fisticuffs and top out at nuclear annihilation. But when it’s your kid’s snot, spit, and other varied germ transmission vectors, somehow that instinct to protect yourself just shuts down. Looks the other way. Retreats into itself and sobs quietly in the corner like a 40-year-old regressing into memories of an abusive uncle.

Which is probably a good thing, because otherwise no poor soul on this planet would survive their first month.

When you become a parent, you will be poisoned by your child at every opportunity. This is the way of things. So let it be done.


Quantum Entangled Toddlers

There’s a positive feedback loop with staggering implications building in our house.

The kids sense each other.  They pretend to ignore each other, but they’re keenly aware of each other.  Like two quantum-entangled photons carving a helix around one another as they rocket through the cosmos, each sprout picking up the psychic vibrations that the other gives off.

In a lot of ways it’s cool.  Big brother will watch little sister, mimicking her faces and giving her little coos and pokes and kisses.  It’s adorable, really.  He’ll even, properly motivated, allow her to sit in his lap on the couch and snuggle with her like a mother wolf coiling around her cub.  And she, of course, is entranced and enchanted with the idea of another human in the house who’s within a foot of her size.  She watches him with the steely eyes of a hawk tracking a mouse through tall grass from hundreds of feet up, flailing her marshmallow arms and kicking her lizard-skin feet like she’s riding a tiny invisible bike.  It’s enough entertainment to watch for hours, if only it would last that long.

Phase 1 -- distract the adults by looking adorable and harmless.
Phase 1 — distract the adults by looking adorable and harmless.

But it doesn’t.  Not even close.

No, they can feed off one another’s positive energy only so far until one of them will shed an electron, causing the happiness in the system to shift out of phase and become unstable.  From instability it’s only a matter of time — and not much time, at that — until the entire system collapses and one of them starts crying.  Usually, it’s the infant.  Her clementine-sized brain just isn’t capable of holding on to an emotion for longer than a few minutes, and when she doesn’t know what to feel, that’s when the tears come.

Now, big brother can deal with her crying.  He can deal with her screaming.  It doesn’t upset him in any appreciable way.  What he has a problem with is not being the loudest thing in the room.  She’s bawling in terror and apprehension because she suddenly realizes that she doesn’t actually have her mother in her line of vision, and he’s howling gleefully in answer because he’s two and a half and making noise with his mouth is one of his favorite things.

Before you ask, mom and dad are sitting exhausted on the couch, because we, too, can endure the noise to a point.  There’s a threshold of upset noise from the kids below which it simply isn’t energy-effective to respond.  We can’t be hauling ourselves up to see to the sprouts’ every need every two or three minutes, we’d be crazy people.  (Just look at our parents — we are each the oldest of 4.  How they ever managed having four children in the house at one time and not getting carted off to the asylum is a feat which astounds me more every day I pass with our two bundles of joy.)

The noise builds.  If left unchecked, the binary star system will collapse entirely; the infant’s screams becoming more plaintive and actually reaching out to rattle the flesh of our adult eardrums, the toddler, feeding on her unrest, beginning to scream in earnest, upset perhaps because he hasn’t been stopped yet or because he’s afraid that if he stops making noise the Silence will descend forever.  Seriously, I think the boy is terrified of quiet.  If he’s not shouting or babbling or singing as he stomps, runs and crashes around the house, he’s smashing toys/cups/tiny-things-he-should-never-have-gotten-ahold-of into other toys/other cups/tabletops/daddy’s head.  They get louder and louder, the binary stars spiraling faster and more violently around one another until we scoop them up and take them into opposite rooms, thus saving the universe from obliteration and our inner ears from violent decompression.

And they wake each other up.

Sprout #1’s bedtime routine is so finicky, he launched into a bloodcurdling tirade the other night when I tried to bring the wrong blanket into the room.  I wasn’t even going to cover him with it.  It was for ME, and he would not abide its presence in the room.  After his four bedtime stories and four bedtime songs, we leave and he goes into the five stages of grief, coming to rest about eleven minutes later, usually, passed out like a raggedy drunk clutching a Winnie the Pooh plush figurine in his tiny hand instead of a 40.  Meanwhile, Sprout #2 goes to sleep across the hall.  Her routine is simpler if no less demanding — she merely has to suck at the fountain called Mommy for anywhere from seventeen to forty-seven minutes before she goes into a milk coma.

The next ten minutes are critical.  The walls in our house were, let’s say, not designed with kids in mind.  There is no aural insulation.  Every sound carries and the floors upstairs creak like the rusty hinge on the barn in an old horror movie.  Step wrong exiting Sprout #2’s room and Sprout #1 will hear it and start his five stages all over again, adding another stage — blind, frantic screaming — at the beginning of the chain.  This screaming fit will wake Sprout #2 and then the whole cycle must begin again.  Alternatively, if, say, Daddy, after putting his pajamas on upon leaving Sprout #1’s room, finds that he’s for example left his phone upstairs and goes to retrieve it, Sprout #1 is about 80% likely to hear Daddy creeping past his room for up to an hour after bedtime and here come the five stages again, except now it’s more like seven stages and they all sound like I’ve told him Santa Claus is not real and popsicles are actually made of vegetables.

Then, there’s the early morning.  Sprout #2 wakes up anytime from 5AM to 6AM needing more Mommy Fountain, and apparently Sprout #1 sleeps like a secret agent being pursued by the intelligentsia of five different countries, because he wakes up and flies into action at the drop of a hat: banging on the door, howling to be let out, babbling in terror of the scary bugs.  Of course after more than a few hours of sleep there is no consoling him back into dreamland, so 5AM is just when he gets up these days, which means 5AM is just when I get up these days, because there is no sleep for anybody while Mom is with the infant and the toddler is screaming to wake the dead.

Is it any wonder that my wife and I have never felt more exhausted in our lives?  She’s a stay-at-home mom these days, and I work at the school then come home, and we get a scant hour to ourselves after the kids sack out to look at each other and wearily lament the loss of the days when we could, I don’t know, function like actual human beings in a world where said human beings are not held hostage to the whims of tiny despots.

But we love our kids.  Really, we do.  They are miraculous and wondrous and inspiring and incredible and they bring to our lives joy beyond words.