Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Sure There's a Bright Side in There Somewhere

Genevieve's screaming through naptime again today. She did it on Sunday, too, but at least that was a weekend, when I had reinforcements around (read: Christopher) and could basically hand her off and say, "Get her out of my sight and hearing" as soon as we'd given up and lifted her out of her bed.

It is hard to describe just how difficult it is to be home alone with a baby who is screaming nonstop for long periods of time. Words don't do a great job of explaining how torturous it really is, how desperate and miserable it can make a person. Particularly when the screaming baby prevents the preschooler from taking a nap, either. Particularly when both girls were actually so tired during the morning that they were yawning on our WAY to a playdate, so of course I expected good, solid naps from both.

When Julia was a newborn, she cried nonstop--unless nursing--all night long for her first four weeks of life. Until three, four, five a.m. Every single night. I used to get stomachaches at about four or five p.m., dreading the night to come. I remember once being in the bath at suppertime, in tears, crying, "It's almost ee--ee--evening!" That was terrible. And then when she'd stopped the night crying, she refused to sleep at all during the day, for months on end, and by the time she was four and five and six months old, my days were largely a solitary misery of constant infant-care, and I thought I'd never make it. That was incredibly difficult too.

When Genevieve was a newborn, she had gastric reflux and colic and, until she was about two months old and started medication and I discovered that if I refrained from ingesting chocolate, dairy, and caffeine, her colic would go away, she cried--SCREAMED, actually--three to four evenings a week for anywhere from two to four hours on end. That was terribly hard, too, although the second time around you can stand the crying a tiny bit better.

Now it's an interminable, bitterly cold winter, and we've run out of things to do, and some days I don't have a vehicle available to me to get out of the house with the girls, and Genevieve is so often a raging mass of runny-nosed, bawling fury, and she's embarked on this pattern of screaming through her naps---at the very time I need her to nap the most, because I need the break from all her fussing and crying and whining and pulling at me. And it doesn't really sound THAT bad--even to me: the baby crying through her naptime instead of sleeping. But it really is. It's terrible. It's terribly stressful. It's infuriating. It's exhausting. And I realize, is it any wonder I don't sleep well at night, that I've gained a few pounds, that I've got all these random aches and pains that are interfering with my workout schedule, that I can't focus enough to get serious about training for a 10K OR working on a book proposal, that I'm on caffeine-and-sugar overload just trying to cope and get through each day? That at the end of the day I don't feel unburdened, or relaxed, or refreshed for the next day to come, but instead I just feel a profound lack of pleasure in my daily, my weekly life; I just think, Well, tomorrow there's more of the same?

I've said it before: no matter how much a person values and generally enjoys being a full-time stay-at-home mom, no matter how good she may be at it most of the time, no matter how glad and thankful and relieved she is to be her children's daily caregiver, because it's really what she feels, deep down, is right for the whole family---well, a person gets burned out when her job involves no vacations, ever; no co-workers during the workday; no routine adult conversation and interaction; no change in environment between "work place" and "home"; no help (during the workday, I mean) with the tasks at hand. Can you imagine any "regular" job like that?

The only solutions I can think of for this problem are a.) to have (grand)parents nearby who are willing to help out occasionally, and b.) to hire a regular sitter for a couple of hours a week so as not to lose one's mind completely before the children reach kindergarten. However, a.) we have no nearby family, and b.) as a dear, in-town friend said the other day, "It would cost me $100 a month to hire a sitter to watch my two kids for two hours a week; there is no way I can afford that kind of expense when we're living on one salary!" Exactly. Someone once suggested to me something about organizing a regularly-scheduled babysitting trade-off system, where fellow moms would take turns watching each other's kids so we could each get time alone; but, the reality is that all my close friends have multiple small children of their own, and no one--myself included--is willing to take on four or more children under four years old for an afternoon, even with the promise of an eventual turn being the one who gets to drop the kids off and go. I mean, can you imagine? I can hardly handle my own two.

Is there no solution, then? Do we all just suffer through these early SAHM years when the babies go through their patience-testing stages and everyone needs you to do everything for them and there's so much crying and fussing and teething and nursing and diaper-changing and "help me with this!" and "watch me!" and "MAMAAAAA!!!!!"? And no one naps? And Mama slowly goes insane?

Encouragement, tips, solidarity, ideas, and winning lottery tickets welcome.


Rob Hardy said...

Oh boy, do I remember all of that! Will was the ultimate bad boy. He ran away from home as a toddler, remember. He was expelled from Sunday school (I had to carry him home, kicking and screaming, from church). But when both boys had started school, I actually went through a period of clinical depression, I was at such loose ends. There's no winning, is there? Except that both boys are generally such excellent teenagers.

squab said...

Oh, honey. I don't know why you say "that doesn't sound so terrible." Any parent out there would agree that it sounds like absolute hell, BECAUSE IT IS. I wish I had a solution to offer, but the only thing that comes to mind is drugs for you, which is my personal solution to the stress, but ain't for everyone. Have you considered taking Vivi to a sleep clinic? She might have an actual sleep disorder that you could get help with. I know there's a nationally known sleep clinic in the Cities, but there might be something closer to you, too. I hope it gets better soon.

Heidi said...

It's not just SAHMs that go thru all those feelings, though you maybe feel them more extremely because you deal with them ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. Gabe is at that exceedingly demanding, testin-the-limits, bossy stage too where I can't do *anything* while he's home, even if I'm right in the same room with him. And the listening skills he did have--all gone off into some abyss somewhere. So I'm at the point where I pretty much live for my work days when I can send him to daycare. But, on the other hand, I think daycare--this particular one is a great, in-home setting--is really good for him. He has several friends of various ages to play with. He behaves better for Deb than for us (usually--she's been having the no-listening frustration lately too). And I think it's good for him to be away from home... but I do feel guilty that I hardly have patience for even the couple of days I have him with me at home each week. BUT he's at a really hard stage, and pretty much everything you describe feeling, I could have written myself.

In short, parenting is really really hard. It's amazing that anyone, having done it once, does it ever again. (I think *we* just forgot because we waited so long in between. What's *your* excuse??!!)

CKH said...

When I was waiting for Anya, I read a book called "Trees Make the Best Mobiles." Can't remember most of the specifics now, apart from the emphasis on taking the child out to the woods rather than rattling key chains in front of her face in an effort to constantly stimulate her senses (not so easy to do in these temps, but still, I know you'd agree with the value of the outdoor exploration part), but I do remember this, as I took it very much to heart: Give yourself breaks every day. Child-proof a room and then lay down on a batch of pillows and sleep while your child or children play around you. Don't assume you always have to take change of your child's play, and instead let her discover her own imagination games with minimal supervision from you. This benefits you because you get to step back and let your mind go blank, and it benefits your child who learns how to figure things out for herself.
None of this, of course, is an automatic solution to your daily stresses, but it helped me when I realized that even though Anya is finished napping, I'm not. Even now, when I'm exhausted, I'll sleep while she plays all around me. It helped me to realize that I didn't have to be her constant playmate, she would do fine without me when I wanted to take a bath, or cook dinner, or take 15 minutes for myself. Now that she's four, these things have been built into our schedule and she knows that after my mini-break, I'll be back on the scene more patient and energized than I was before.
I guess where I'm going with this is that you must give yourself permission to take little breaks throughout the week without having to solve every problem, without having to fill up the time with activity, and without having to keep your frustration in without any kind of release. You're right, it's not a professional job. No income, no office, no form-fitting skirts. But you can treat it like a job in that you really can take time away from the office a little bit at a time, and just as in real life, the employees will thrive when the boss is away.

Mom said...

Excellent advice from "CKH". I wish Icould say we'd move down next week to help, but...we probably wouldn't be that much help anyway, given all our own little infirmities. I know it's no help when you are so stressed every single day, but the day is coming when things change. Just don't have another baby!!

Jordan said...

I loved what CKH had to say as well - give yourself a break. Especially if there are no naps, have an enforced quiet time - even for Gigi - set a timer for more and more time gradually when you sit and read a magazine or close your eyes for a while and they play/read/draw quietly. This has always been hellish at first at our house but once the kids got used to it they knew it was the expectation. So I've had to shift their expectations of me but also my own expectations of myself. Let the housekeeping go a bit, make easier dinners for a while (peanut butter and jelly for dinner! french toast friday night!) and generally look for ways to pull back. I know that for me it's all-or-nothing most of the time - either running around at top speed, or totally crapped out on the couch doing nothing. I'm realizing how bad this is for me lately and am really working on finding more middle ground. I've got a post on that topic percolating, myself. It's not easy but could make a big difference.

Elrena said...

I just discovered your blog, because I have a book coming out with the same name as one of your posts! (Mama, PhD). And it looks like we virtually hang out in a lot of the same places -- Literary Mama, Brain, Child, Mamazine, etc.! So anyway, I'm Elrena, nice to "meet" you.

And I spent just about the entire day today listening to my 16-month-old scream, until, when my husband came home, I walked right out of the house without even putting my coat on. It's bad, it's so bad. The only difference is that my son is screaming for fun, because it totally unnerves my three-year-old daughter who then cries hysterically (today at one point she was crying so hard I thought she was going to throw up) and he thinks that's funny. So he screams and she cries and she cries and he screams and on and on it goes.

Sigh. I wish I had some brilliant solution for you! We've gotten some mileage out of Play-Doh today, and also out of a phone with two handsets so the kids can both "talk" to grandparents at the same time...and what CKH said. That. :)

I hope things get better for you very, very soon!!

Shan said...

Elrena! When I clicked through to your blog just now, I discovered I've seen it before, months ago. I think I found you one day through Literary Mama. It's a small Internet world! Thank you for your comment, and for reading. I'm sorry you already got the book title "Mama, Ph.D." (in the middle of the night a few weeks ago I had the brilliant idea of writing a book with that title), but I will look forward to reading your book! :)

donna said...

CKH is right about adult quiet time. It has saved me many a time and is so important for my sanity. Nothing wrong with turning off the baby monitor to give yourself a much needed break.

And something to make yourself feel better - you could be dealing with ADULT tantrums and whining instead of kid ones. And that sucks. And yes, I speak from experience - like today's experience. Yup, today I would much rather have been with my whiny kids than my whiny co-workers.