The Insane Taking Over The Asylum: Sick Days As A Parent

sicknessIt was only a matter of time until it happened. Sleeplessness mixed with the daily stresses of parenthood just wore you down. On top of that, your five-year old’s refined sense of humor always seems to lend itself to smearing bodily fluids on your shirt and/or coughing directly in your face. So, now you’re sick. If you can muster up enough breath between wheezing and coughing, you might ask yourself the contemplative question: “Now what?”

Now what, indeed! Truth be told, despite your quest to keep the kids on a healthy and TV-free diet, you succumb to many unthinkable evils during this time of strife and chaos. In other words, the insane start to run the asylum. After years and years of trying to limit and restrict, all of a sudden the world stands on end and no request is off-limits. Your powers halt and the strictness that once held your home together peel away as if they were skin from a banana. Root beer for breakfast? Sure. A seven-hour viewing of My Little Pony on the iPad? Why not! Wearing a swimsuit in the bathtub and splashing around until the floors are soaked? Just look the other way. Basically, you allow the kids to do whatever they want, whenever they want, because you are just too tired (and sick) to care.

The smell of burnt toast doesn’t register. How they got up to put bread in the toaster at all doesn’t even compute. Why they suddenly want toast would spark an inquisition on other days. Today, however, it just doesn’t matter. You figure that whatever happens, the smoke detectors will magically protect you. Hopefully the batteries in them still work. If you had energy, you would check. Or make the kids a meal yourself. But, whatever. For this time, this rare moment of parental upheaval (the immuno-version of a coup d’etat) as long as no one gets hurt, you figure it will all work itself out. Besides, nothing seems to matter in the haze of sneezy congestion and a bleary, mucous-ridden coma.

For today, this sick day, it’s almost as though you have morphed into several of Snow White’s dwarves (sleepy, sneezy, grumpy, dopey….and maybe Doc, since most of your awake time has been spent on WebMD). Only instead of making a magical princess find her way to happiness, you are doing very little but hobble through the cavernous existence of parenthood unscathed and (hopefully) unnoticed. You think, maybe if the kids just zone out and watch T.V. all day long, it will be as though this day never happened. Maybe we can all wipe it off the books and go back to normal once the bug has been battled!

Think again. A sick day like this one was had two years ago and my daughter never forgot. She held it up in her court of law from that day forward. It became a landmark case which has since given her the ability to argue “But, we had macaroni and cheese all week long that one time when you had the flu. So, I should be able to have it for this one meal, RIGHT NOW!” And she has a point. I would never admit this to her, but I am pretty impressed by her abilities to reason despite the heartache it causes me. Nevertheless, I have found that one, measly day of rolling back the rules just amounts to a cascading fallout of the laws that remain.

So, seriously, now what?? What is a sick parent to do when it’s just too much of a struggle to keep the kids in line AND fight a debilitating illness? Do what all sensible dictators have done for ages – realize that your time is numbered and someday soon your powers of control will officially cease. That’s right! You will be overthrown and it will be much sooner than you thought possible.

The good news is that it’s not as bad as it sounds. Sure, maybe when a three year old wants total autonomy, it could be a little tricky. But, when your six year old starts wanting “privacy” in the bathroom and you no longer have to wipe their rear after every poop, it can be the dawning of a new age. Even nicer still is the time when your child will repay you by making breakfast for you (even if it is only a bowl of cereal), helping you with household tasks they think are fun (raking the yard is cool for about a month – milk this for as long as you can!), or asking to run errands for you (I have yet to have a teenager to know if this one really works out as suggested). Regardless, once they realize that this is a big world and that they are not just insignificant pieces in it, the results can be dramatic.

I’m not advocating the idea that a two-year old should draw his own bath or make his own dinner, but on those off days when everything is up in the air, it’s helpful for him to at least occupy himself while you nap on the couch. After all, isn’t that why Jim Henson created Sesame Street?!

At the end of the day, everyone gets sick. Just do your best and remember that even the atrocities of Nazi Germany didn’t put an end to the entire world. Giving your kids one day, or even one week, with a diet of Frito-Lay products and Netflix on overdrive doesn’t make you a bad parent. It just makes you a sick one.

Powers are not endless. Parents are not immortal. Kids are not the enemy. Just do your best. Do whatever it takes to get well. And, know that in the meantime you are only strengthening their character, preparing them for the day that they will grow to become parents, with children of their own, who will someday knock them down a few pegs (in terms of health and sometimes in terms of sanity). After all, such lessons in humility are exactly what family is all about.

The Myth Of The Easy Baby

easy baby

First of all, let’s clear up a few things. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus of the Easter Bunny. Unicorns are myths. Dragons are legends. God, well, he’s debatable. But, without a doubt, of all man-made creatures, the one that is the most far-fetched is the beast they call the “easy baby.”

You know you’ve heard tales of him. He smiles before the six week mark. He coos with little provocation. He occupies himself without toys or props. He cries only for necessity. And (this is the part evil moms like to flaunt in the faces of their sleep-deprived colleagues), his nightly slumber extends to a placid ten hour stretch after only a few weeks of age. A few weeks! Meanwhile, your goblin spits up on every shirt, cries if you set him down for one second, grimaces if you look at him sideways…and, sleep, ha! Sleep. Well, let’s just say it’s become a foreign word in your house. So, does he really exist? Or is he just the cruel mirage our society embeds in our minds to make us feel inferior for having an all-too-common baby?

Uncertain about answering either of those questions, one thing can be said for sure – mothers from every walk of life, steeped in their various social and ethnic backgrounds, have all discussed him with the same, steady vigor. They proclaim his existence as though it were fact, moving quickly to convey his practices as though they were reciting Shakespearean love sonnets.

Typically, their stories always start out the same way – they once had a cousin who had a friend who got their hair cut by someone who had an “easy baby.” Rattling on, after an appalling amount of gratuitous details, they finally conclude these sagas with a sigh and desire that their own babies could be so grand. They are believers. And, even worse than cult members, they are hell bent on making you a believer, too!

Occasionally, though rarely, you may even encounter some moms who claim to have an “easy baby” of their own. When these fortuitous mothers speak of their infants, they typically use words like “he’s a dream” or “she’s such an angel.” They talk about how their lives are so flexible and enriched with the new baby around. How easy breastfeeding has been. How their little one is already doing baby push-ups and learning to pee in the toilet. And, can you believe it, he sleeps all night long without making a peep. He just loves his crib and doesn’t mind being in it. Indefinitely. And he’s only a month old.

Mouth agape, it’s at that point in the conversation when you almost cave in and start to feel bad about yourself and your spawn. After all, you’ve practically been house-bound since the baby came along. You are no longer able to use the phone because either when he sleeps you fear waking him or when he’s awake you can’t hear over the screaming. Yes, your family is enriched by your little one’s presence, but only on the most crude, Christmas-card-picture sort of level. And, let’s face facts about everything else – breastfeeding has been a bitch, baby’s motor skills are little more advanced than a grub-worm, and sleep…well, we can’t say emphatically enough how rare that action is.

Despite all of this, you try to remain civil while this mom discusses her amazing baby. In your mind, you picture punching her in the face, the only action that will efficiently put an end to her talking. But on the outside, you submit to her storytelling by giving her the “oohs” and “aahs” she craves. You tell her how wonderful her baby sounds, offering an almost robotic response: “What a great baby. I’m so happy for you.” But you’re not. You’re really crying on the inside because, like those other moms who have told the tales of “easy baby” with muffled sighs, you are also sighing, wishing you could trade your bundle of hell for that splash of joy.

However, suddenly, in the midst of this cruel verbal dungeon, something remarkable happens. You notice something. Nothing grand. Probably not even noticeable to most. Just the hint of a leaky breast hidden behind a cardigan. (Meaning: Her feeding cycle is not so established OR breastfeeding has been more of a drama than she admits.) A clump of dried spit-up wrestling with strands of thinning hair. (Meaning: Prince perfect can’t hold down his grub AND she has been stressing over it!) A harried and blotchy application of cover-up under which dark under-eye circles are emerging. (Meaning: The tales of extended sleep have been a flat-out lie.)

And then it hits you – even this seemingly perfect, put-together mommy with her noble and pristine infant is living under the disguise of a false veneer. Her baby, though sweet, is still just a baby. Not infallible. Not really even “easy.” Just simply a baby. And, as with all other babies, it is still a pooping, crying, slobbering, uncontrollable, sometimes sleepless, always helpless, endlessly loved though extremely tiring little person. So, the myth is over. The jig is up.

Gertrude Stein once said “a baby is a baby is a baby”…or something to that effect. And she was right. Babies are all just really difficult little people. Hell, even big people are difficult, but imagine how much more tricky your Starbucks order or phone call to a friend would be if you could only use shrill screams instead of words. It would suck. And, imagine how it would feel to have useless limbs flailing at your sides with an ambition to use them only to repeatedly and constantly fail at the task. It would suck even more. So, cutting them all a break, it would only make sense that they be cranky and fussy from time to time. On top of that, adding more pressure for their own perfection despite these challenges is just plain cruel. Cruel to baby. And cruel to mama!

Those who perpetrate the myth of the “easy baby” are perpetrating one of the worst crimes against humanity. Lying about reality doesn’t make you a good friend or a happy person. It makes you an asshole. And it makes everyone else miserable. So, to them I say: cut the crap! Mothers of real babies, stand united against these people and do what Nancy Reagan asked us all to do – just say NO! This may not always work. There will always be people who delight in prevarication. But, even when all else fails, just remember one thing: NO BABY IS AN EASY BABY.

When “Friends” Don’t “Like” Your Facebook Posts

facebook dislike

Facebook. It’s an interesting microcosm that teeters somewhere between the worlds of high school drama and creepy voyeurism. With very little work, people are able to link to the lives of friends and family that they haven’t seen in years. Decades, even. Peering into their daily minutiae remotely. Tuning in and out within seconds. It’s the abridged version of friendship, removing all of the unwanted parts of human socialization such as making eye contact and hearing people talk. It’s great.

However, there are underlying problems which emerge from this seemingly innocuous website – the innumerable grudges you hold against people who don’t like the things you post. More specifically, pictures you post. Of your kids. Doing cute things. Because, goddamnit, you know your kids are the best and you want the entire world to know it too!

Sure, it would be kind to allow for the benefit of the doubt. Said person is, after all, your friend (or, at least, someone possessing a quality that makes you hate them a little less than an enemy). So, you try to be understanding. You think, maybe they didn’t see your pictures. Maybe they got lost in the enormous feed from their 536 other “friends.” Maybe they were having a “screen-free” Wednesday. Maybe they were busy. Maybe they found a real life to lead. Maybe you’re not the center of their universe.

Alas, you would be wrong on several of those assumptions, namely because you know their type. You have cyber-stalked them via the modern stage just enough to know that they are not that strong-willed or interesting. No, they’ve been on the site. They just didn’t like your shit.

Everyone has at least a couple of people like this in their realm. The person who lives and breathes Facebook. They login every day from work. From the post office. From the grocery store checkout. In the middle of their kid’s soccer game. In the middle of traffic. In the middle of workouts. They are addicts!

Their posts are random, scattered across a day in an indecipherable pattern. Sometimes at noon. Sometimes at 5:30 p.m. Sometimes at 3:00 in the morning. They don’t want to miss a beat and they are always “in the know.” They are the Gladys Kravitz of their day (kids born before the “Bewitched” era or Nick-At-Nite might need to look up this reference).

Occasionally they post their thoughts on some reality show finale, or share an article they read on the Yahoo front page, but mostly they just “like” a bunch of stuff. They give out that cyber thumbs-up like it’s going out of style. To anyone and everyone. Almost as if they were cyber-whores seeking the twisted approval of others. They give props to just about any bit of trite and mundane news to come across their screen. “Joey ate tacos for lunch at that new Mexican restaurant yesterday.” Like. “Sports team X really needs to step up their game if they want to make playoffs!!” Like. “Here are some pictures of a bird I found on the internet.” Like.

Yet, in the short span of a year, when you have been selective and thoughtful in your posts, sharing only the best 10 pictures of your kids, you get nada. Zip. Nothing. So, what gives?! It’s always hard to pinpoint their reasoning. No one knows what goes on in someone’s head; but, you’re up for the challenge and you start to analyze them anyway.

Maybe you didn’t “like” their kids’ pictures enough. But why would you? Their kid is hideous and annoying. And he ripped up your favorite scarf and puked on your new wood floors. Besides, you still hit that beloved button on some of the things they post. Even the lame things. Such as that picture of them at the baby shower you weren’t invited to attend. Or a piece of cheesecake they “made.” No, there must be more to it than that.

Maybe they hate you because you look better in Capri pants than they do. Maybe they are jealous because their new baby looks more like Jabba the Hutt than any infant reasonably should (and yours, of course, doesn’t). Or even, possibly, they just don’t like your politics. Or your religion. Or your lack of politics. Or lack of religion. They find you detestable but, because they live under the delusion that they are “good people,” they give you the ultimate favor and act like you’re their friend. You know, because life isn’t already overflowing with pretentious assholes and posers. Plus they think you’ll never figure it out. Their hatred of you is invisible, so they have come to believe. From their standpoint, that deafening silence that radiates from their invisible cyber-disdain doesn’t even register as any sort of social faux pas. They assume you are too busy to notice. Well, think again, Frenemy!

You’re onto them! You know they don’t like you. And you have Facebook to thank for that. In addition to this new-found truth, another thing becomes glaringly obvious – you think they are a dick (even more than you did before). And despite any pleasantries and fake smiles you wear for them in public, you secretly, silently loathe their very existence just as much as they loathe yours.

The social gloves are off. Facebook has opened your eyes to the true, inner nature of people with whom you associate. And, once you have seen the light, there is no turning back. There isn’t a grand show of affection, a sincere act of kindness, or a humble moment of humanity that can turn back the tide of their absence in your profile. Things will forever be different. Even if only in your mind.

Besides, what’s the good of humanity without judgment, resentment and hatred for petty reasons? It was the foundation for great things such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisitions, the Maury Povich Show and Yelp. It’s the one aspect of mankind that will never find itself removed from the evolutionary conveyor belt of life. It’s here for keeps. And Facebook is but one mere tool aiming to prolong its inevitable existence.

So, what happens now? Where do we go from here? There is really only one decent option – keep posting those pictures of your children. Do it with wild abandon. Stage the most adorable, cheek-pinchingly cute pictures of your munchkins and their angelic/photogenic faces. Add witty captions. Make it a weekly habit. Fill up your feed. Do it until people start unfriending you or removing your posts from their feed (not like you’ll notice, right?!). Do it like it’s going out of style. And, just when you can’t keep up with this demanding schedule any longer, remove the silent friend and/or friends from your Facebook register. Forever. And play dumb if they ever mention it to you.

Of course, with that said, this plan goes out the window if these insipid specimens of humanity finally give you a thumbs up. Hate them or not, getting cyber approval – ANY cyber approval – still feels pretty darn good! And, believe me, that is a human trait much more shameful than hatred.

A Sleepless Night Like Many Others (Ode to the Zombie Mommy)

insomniaWords. They are usually the stuff that fills my brain at 3 a.m., when the oblivion of sleep seems just a tad out of reach. Swirling around in a tumultuous flurry, words often swoop into my head like a buzzard aiming for its carrion. Only half the time, they miss the completion of a full thought and are merely nothing more that – words. Not productive thoughts. Just rattling. Noise. Distraction.

Such occurrences were rare and amusing once upon a time ago. Back in a time when nightly sleep was as constant as a Swiss watch, I remember the nonchalance that I used to possess about these bouts. I figured that a single bad night, and its chatter, was just a one-off. The next night would be better. The next night would be back to normal.

Fast forward ten years. There is a snoring husband down the hall. The sounds of a five-year old sleep-talking to her toys fills the next room. And me, well, I’m just laying in the bed near my infant son’s crib, hoping and praying for sleep. Attacking my insomnia from every position. Trying every trick. Hoping that something will work.

It doesn’t. My house is dark. Everyone in it is asleep. Except for me. And the worst part is the realization that this isn’t a one-off night. This is every night. This is my constant, because there is no normal. Not yet. Not for a while, anyway.

Can I blame someone for this? No. My husband has offered to sleep in the baby’s room and do the nightly feedings. He is sweet and means well, though it’s really an empty gesture due to the fact that our baby is exclusively breast-fed. Sure, I could pump milk into a bottle. And sure my baby would eat from said bottle. But, my boobs would never get the memo about this change in schedule. Nope, they would still wake me up at an inconceivable hour, hard, knotty, and causing unspeakable pain. Apparently my mind and body are in cahoots, conspiring against my need for sleep.

So, it’s just easier to stay put. Suck it up. Be a mom. And, I do. Each night, I lay quietly in my son’s bed while he sleeps soundly in his crib. For him, nighttime is great. His evening begins at 7:00 after a relaxing bath, baby massage and feeding. He is lucky. This kind of pampering would cost hundreds of dollars at a spa, but because he gets it every day, and because he has no sense of money, this luxury goes unnoticed. I, on the other hand, can hardly remember what a massage even feels like. I’m lucky to get out of the house for a fifteen-minute hair cut. Needless to say I would kill for such pampering. Or, if not kill, then possibly maim or scar.

After this heavenly bedtime ritual is complete, my boy goes down quietly and sleeps like a champion. A baby champion. A mere infant, his stretches of sleep are great. Some nights it’s six hours. Some nights it’s eight. Regardless, the days of his bi-hourly waking are gone. For now. Knock wood. However, I’m still not sleeping. WTF?!

My night begins around 9:00, when I leave my husband to watch The Daily Show by himself. Lucky. I would stick around for the show. I want to stay up, but I know I shouldn’t risk it. As surely as I stay up “late,” that will be the night my son cuts an early tooth or catches the sniffles from his sister. Then, instead of the four hours I hope to get, I will descend backwards into the hell of getting only one. No, it’s not worth it.

Instead of watching TV anymore, I sum every show up to their main idea. John Stewart’s funny. Vikings killed a bunch of folks. Someone will win American Idol but no one will buy their album. Done. TV watching complete. I pretend I’m not missing out, but sometimes I would like to sit and watch a full plot evolve. However, there’s no time for that. It’s either sleep or TV, and sleep is always the priority.

So, around 9:00 it’s my turn. My boobs are flaccid, my bladder is empty, my teeth are brushed. I’m ready. Carefully, like a ninja, I walk into my son’s room and, despite the door that just lightly grazes the carpet upon opening, I am able to enter quietly enough not to wake him. Tiptoeing, I charge for the bed and make it under the covers with relative ease. With my Tempur-pedic pillow under my head, I get into a good position and close my eyes.

The first stretch is easy. I fall to sleep in mere minutes. If the universe weren’t against me, I would remain in this almost comatose stupor of grand, deep sleep until the next decade. But, that’s not how the fates want my story to go. No. Those effing fates! They think it’s funny for my son to cry, out of nowhere and for no reason, at midnight. Not a real cry. One of those horrible phantom baby cries that erupt and disappear almost as quickly as a bad analogy. One WAAA and he’s back to sleep. I, however, am up for the count.

Midnight. I start to calculate in my head 9 to 10, 10 to 11, 11 to 12. SHIT! That’s only three hours of straight sleep. But, I need at least four to function. Come on! I thought this was going to be the night I finally got a five hour stretch! Ha! You brazen bitch, you really thought you were getting into a groove, didn’t you?!

So, I lay there. Thinking. Words pop into my head. Random words. I close my eyes and try to allow the ticking clock to drown out the words, but they don’t. Instead, I am met with a barrage of tasks I have yet to accomplish, PTA meetings I have yet to attend (yeah, right!), errands I have yet to run and failures I have yet to admit. And the words just don’t stop.

I look at the clock. It’s 12:45. If I fall asleep right now, I think, I can still get another hour or so before his usual 2 a.m. wakeup time. Okay. Sleep. I will myself into slumber. It doesn’t happen. 1:18. 1:32. 1:59. Finally, there is a dawn and I drift off for a moment. Literally. A moment. What the heck happened? I look at the clock. It’s 2:21 and my son is asleep, so why the hockey-sticks did I wake up? I feel my nightgown and it is soaked. My right breast is a swollen mountain of tissue peaking under the covers. It has doubled in size and sprung a leak. Oh, the joys of motherhood are truly endless! I run to the living room, quietly and still ninja-like, hoping to quickly pump the excess milk, relieve some of the pain, and head to bed for a little more sleep.

By 2:43 it’s back to bed. By 3:13 he is up. Little fucker! I guess that was a good stretch of sleep – for HIM – but I take a moment to mourn my hopes and dreams. Yes, he feeds, lays still in my arms, and retires to his crib for more rest and relaxation. And I, at 3:49, still have yet to get in a real stride. I squeeze my eyes shut. Nothing works. I try hard to sleep. Then I try even harder not to try hard to sleep. I try to be natural, to let things happen. Nothing happens. 3:52. Come on! 3:58. Do I have to pee? 4:07. Fine, let’s just pee and get it out of the way, already.

By 4:11, I’m furious. I want sleep worse than a junkie wants their next hit. I want it more than the British Empire wanted China. I want it even more than Justin Bieber wants to have talent. In fact, at this point, I don’t only want sleep. I need it. Because at this point I am turning into a monster. A zombie.

4:13. I cry into my blanket for a while. It doesn’t help, but it kills some time. 4:29. I settle down. Then it dawns on me that maybe I should stop watching the clock. 4:34. I contemplate what a good point it was, the whole not watching the clock thing. Of course, I don’t have the discipline to follow through. 4:37. More words enter my head. Suddenly I feel them swirling, tumbling, twisting into abstraction. Wait, I know this feeling. It’s the feeling of falling asleep. I know that it’s coming. I don’t want to spook it. So, I try again, really hard, not to try so hard. I don’t want to scare the feeling. I relax into it. I ignore the clock. I ignore my chores and other realities. Forget my boobs. Forget my bladder. Forget my failures. I let go. I truly give in.

The next thing I know, it’s 6:01. All I have to show is another goddamned hour plus of sleep, but I’ll take it. I get up and get my daughter ready for school. My life is on a loop. This is every day or my stinking, sleep-deprived existence. And just like every other day, the one thought that gets me through it is the idea that maybe tonight will be better. Maybe, just maybe, I will get five good hours. Or at very least, maybe my mind will give me some peace and quiet.

Yeah. And maybe someday there will be peace in the Middle East.