Dreamland Calls Me

The first time you decided not to fall asleep during our bedtime routine was, in a way, not the first time. For the first few months of your life, I struggled mightily to coax you into indulging in more than a cat nap. But I knew that those earliest months, you were learning the rhythms, you were hungry or cold or startled, and you were getting used to the world outside the cocoon of my body. But your father could, so it seemed to me, always entice you to slumber. You remained a catnapper during the days, but once you grew a little, you succumbed to my bedtime rituals—reading a story, playing with the book, and lying against me on the bed to listen to a song–as if I were a hypnotist. I would sing “The Water Is Wide,” “Kumbaya,” or “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and the tide of your breathing would become deep and steady by the time I sang about possible unrequited love. Then I’d pick you up and carry you to your crib.
Oh yes, and I did hear Samuel Jackson’s magical voice reading Adam Mansbach’s book, Go the Fuck to Sleep, after I read about the hyp which surrounded its release, and while I found the book to be humorous, I felt the fortune of, somehow, having escaped from the kid who decides not to go to sleep.
Until the day you decided.
I don’t remember the date of your first decision to stay awake, but it was shortly before your ten-month birthday and right around the time your daycare director began, with our blessing, your transition to the toddler room. You’re still half in the infant room and half in the toddler room. In the infant room, you nap and hang out with seven girls. In the toddler room, you visit Circle Time and playtime and occasionally hang out on a mat during naptime.
And now at home, ever since that day, you refuse to buy into my bedtime routine. I read you books, and you listen, you play with them happily, but when we lie down together, you no longer want to hear about love in all its musical forms. Instead you roll onto your stomach, pop your head up as if from a jack-in-the-box, then sit up and start singing to me, “Baba dada” and blowing raspberries as you crawl obliviously toward the edge of the bed before you wail that I’ve interrupted your exploration.
“He won’t go to sleep, and it’s bedtime,” I yell to your father over your chatter and protests.
“Oh he never settles right down. He kicks his feet and moves around a little bit. You just have to keep him lying down.” “What if he rolls over and sits up?”
“Well,” your dad pauses. “I don’t know. But if he’s not tired, let him play.”
Your father, unencumbered by parental research, indulges you in routinelessness. However, I’ve read the same advice in all the parenting books and on all the websites: stick to a good bedtime routine, keep it short and simple, make sure you slow down the activity, if you stick to a routine, you will send the signal that it’s time for bed. But you, Langston—or maybe the experts–are sending me the signal that you can break that routine, and I’ve therefore failed as a parent. Already.
So I pull out the last stop, the one thing your father can’t offer, the breast, and you settle down to suck, and then you either drift away or give a cry or two when the milk is gone before you heed the call of dreamland.
Maybe this is just the new routine. As you gain the mobility to widen your world, the nourishment from my body comforts you and reconnects us, preparing you for slumber.

Oh the places you’ll go!

When all else fails, quote Dr. Seuss.
This is going to be a too-brief post, but I have to say that going places is my theme this week. Langston is transitioning to the toddler room at his daycare, Yellow Brick Road Infant and Toddler Center in Highland Park. The people are really being very understanding with this transition. Sometimes he plays with the toddlers and sometimes with the babies. Sometimes, he naps with the babies, and twice this week, he napped on a mat with the toddlers. This way, he gets to meet everybody, plus his own needs. I love that! But after some initial misgivings (and parental sadness about a stage beginning to draw to a close), I realized that this transition to the toddler room couldn’t come at a more perfect time, because Langston now crawls with a destination in mind. (I just had to stop writing, because he fell on his bottom, which normally doesn’t phase him except when he’s tired, and this time he was tired, so I nursed him into what I hope is more than a cat nap). Anyway, Langston now has places to go: the dining room table, the recliner, the piano. I’ve tried to turn him around to head back toward the couch which is his safe zone, and he turns around again! The nerve! 🙂 So when he gets too close to something I don’t want him to interact with/knock on top of himself, I take him back to the couch, so he can crawl over again. It’s tiring, and this is only day 2! I can see why mothers who never get babysitters for their babies might want to once in a while for their toddlers! But this stage is exciting, too. I’m thrilled that Langston stands holding onto things and makes more sounds. I’m excited about when he really starts walking and talking, even though those milestones present their own challenges.
Going places applies to my life this week, too, because this is the first time total strangers have commented on my blog. (I’m pretty sure they’re not just really clever spammers). I feel the urge, not only to thank them, but to follow up with a post which is extra well-written/poetic, which I’m just too tired to create right now. So I’ve decided that it’s better to write matter-of-factly than not to write at all. Not writing at all can lead me very quickly and easily into writing paralysis, which is a state when my critic runs amuck in my brain and keeps me from putting words down at all.
And on that note, due to the confidence boost I got from this blog, I’m going to do something which has been scaring me for weeks now, which I should have done a couple weeks ago and didn’t. That’s all I can say publicly, and please don’t ask me privately what I’m talking about. Just wish me luck. 🙂

Just Like a Big Boy

As you practice crawling and walking, all in the spirit of play,
oblivious that I track your development through each interaction, I
often say, “Oh you sat up (as opposed to just sitting) just like a big
boy!” “You’re standing up just like a big boy!” Earlier, it was,
“You’re holding your head up just like a big boy!” “You’re sitting
(not sitting up yet) just like a big boy!” It’s an expression I have
used without a lot of forethought, which possibly means that I adopted
it from my mother. Now that I’m a mother myself, though still a new
one, I’ve often heard my mother’s expressions come out of my mouth
without effort.
So here’s the big question. When do you stop being “just like” a
big boy and actually become one?
Of course, the answer changes. While time can’t go fast enough
for you, it disappears all too quickly for your parents. And the
answer moves ever further into the future, as we cling to the little
you, hoping you won’t grow up just yet. When Sandi told me your
transition to the toddler room was beginning and I relayed the message
to your father, he said, “What? Did he do something wrong? Was he
too loud?” You happened to be screaming at the time. “No,” I said,
“I think there are other babies who are just as loud as he is.” The
big boy definition will change from your sleeping on a toddler mat to
your first independent steps to your first words to when you ride a
bike to when you walk to school alone to when your voice changes to
when you graduate from high school … It will also include the
negatives like your first tantrum or the day(s)? you cause trouble of
some kind. And of course, now “just like a big boy” means a little
boy instead of a baby, but later it will mean an adolescent, then a
young man. It’s all very exciting and strange, but I still cling to
this elusive baby, even as I am finding new ways to continue to mother
the ever-evolving you.

Lost and Found

Dearest Baby,
You’ve probably cried real tears for a while now, but today I
found them particularly heartbreaking. But just as you really cry,
you really laugh, too.
You laughed the first time I got a little bit lost with you. Tad
guides me, and I guide the stroller each day home from daycare, and we
must make quite a parade, walking up North 3rd Ave. and down
Montgomery Street. On Tuesday, we turned up the wrong sidewalk. I
can’t blame this on Tad really, because while he hesitated briefly at
that wrong walkway, he didn’t make a definite turn. I was just glad
to get home. A little alarm in my mind sounded that the sidewalk did
not incline as sharply as it should, but I told myself that it didn’t
incline that much after all. I vaguely noticed that the steps were
different, that the building was on the wrong side of the steps, and
even that someone was watching a British movie (or a movie with
British accents, at least), in our apartment, but then I told myself
that maybe I was really hearing the window of the apartment next door.
In any case, I told Tad to wait at the top of the steps, while I
hauled you in your stroller up the steps, the hardest part of the
trip. You began to crack up, and that’s when I knew, before I
inserted the key into a lock it didn’t fit, that I was at Building
112, the building next door. You laughed again as I hauled you in
your contraption back down the steps, then got you turned around so I
could push the stroller across the small space to Building 110, our
building. Then you laughed as I got you up the correct steps.
Somehow your laughter turned getting lost into a kind of game, even
though I’m sure you really laughed at being carried up and down the
steps like a king or maybe you just enjoyed the surprise element at
the end of your ride. But I’ve never felt comfortable about getting
myself lost and found, and I owe that to you.

Our Eyes

I was born prematurely, and my eyes never developed. I say “and” rather than “so,” because I’m not sure if that was a consequence of the premature birth or of something else. I think that by the 80s, they had perfected the amount of oxygen delivered in incubators, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, because my eyes never developed, I have prostheses inside my eyes, shells which fit over the eyeballs and lend them shape, depth and color. My natural eyes are whiteish, red when they get irritated, but the prostheses make them blue, like those of my birth family. The prostheses are expensive and needed to be remade often when I was little. I haven’t had a new set since I was fifteen, though I’ve gone in for cleaning and polishing a few times since then. I’m sure someday soon the doctor, who has been in practice as long as I have been around, will try to sell me on a new set, and I will cringe, because they are a couple thousand dollars I just don’t have.
The most vivid memory of getting new “eyepieces,” as my mom called them and as I familiarly call them, occurred when I was nine. First, I went to a regular ophthalmologist who had to write a letter on my behalf to get the eyepieces. I don’t know why, as I didn’t at the time. It may have been a doctor’s note for school, or it may have gone to the insurance company or to the doctor who would make them for me. I’m not quite sure. I remember sentences about my having gotten the shells when I was two and “she is now nine years old.” Then after I got my new body parts, my brother, Chet, realized that, since these parts were made for me, I could theoretically get any color I wanted. “You could get purple eyes!” he said with real longing and envy in his voice. “You could get snake eyes!”
Years later, I remember riding in a car operated by disability paratransit services in New Jersey, and the driver said, “You have beautiful eyes. They look just like Jesus’s eyes.” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, although I am sure some form of prosthelitizing occurred, but I do remember the thought that it served him right that he was unknowingly comparing Jesus’s eyes to pieces of plastic since he was subscribing to the blond, blue-eyed Christ.
For you, blue eyes were transient. They have shifted to brown, just as your sounds have shifted to make way for your concentration on grasping objects, and Goodnight Moon changed from merely the first book I read to you to the first book you held in your hands along with my hands. But for you, brown will be the permanent eye color. I struggle to find pieces of myself in you sometimes, but I think they linger in the shapes of things, while James is in your coloring. Your eyes and forehead and head are shaped like mine, for instance. But your face is very James to me and to most people, except maybe my sister. Your face, hair and eye color and expressions are those of your father. Your skin color is a blend of both of us. Your hair is straight like mine now, but I think that will change as well. I find myself most, perhaps unfortunately, in your temperament, at least your way of getting scared sometimes that I won’t feed you or your sadness about transitions: leaving my breast, being placed on the changing table. But I also find myself in the way you are starting to listen to short books already, your need to hear them again and again and again.
It occurred to me in the shower just now that next time I get new eyepieces, if I can ever afford them, I could change my eyes so they are brown like yours and your father’s. Although I kept my birth name, my eyes could eschew those of my birth family and adopt the look of my new chosen family. But I’m not sure that that is ethical somehow. And I wonder whether there will ever be a time, if only a few moments, when you’ll want your eyes to be blind like ours.

Arrival

Saturday, December 11, 2010
Arrival, Part 1
Today is your official due date, but you have been in the world for eleven days. You are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever met, and when I feel the bones of your spine like a row of wedding beads or the delicate protrusions of your shoulder blades beneath the slight ripples of your skin or your downy hair or your delicate piano hands which open and close like muscle shells, I am in awe that we made you, that I nourished you, that you are here with us.
On Sunday and Monday, I noticed a lot of bladder activity. I felt like I had to go to the bathroom constantly, rather than just more than usual. Then on Tuesday around 2 AM, I felt contractions about every half hour or so, and I wondered if they would subside. On Monday evening, I had texted Suzanne about the bladder thing. We did the pad test, but it didn’t seem to be water breaking, so we concluded it was probably nothing. “But something is different,” I texted. I texted Stacia, “I’m having really weird early labor, or maybe it’s false labor.” I was so used to the idea of false labor. My sister had been sent home because of it, and I just had no idea what labor would be like for me, and maybe I also thought it wouldn’t—couldn’t—really happen to me. At 4 AM, when your father’s alarm went off for work, I told him I was having weird pain, and I wasn’t sure what it was, but he should call Suzanne. Then I called her and told her maybe she should come over. I told her the contractions felt like cramps, and she asked how long they were. “Well,” I said, “I can’t really tell, because I can’t tell when they are beginning or ending.” Then I thought, “Wait, did I just say that? Doesn’t that mean this is it, the real thing?”
Shortly after that, contractions took off. Or rather I perceived that they had actually taken off a while ago without my realizing, so suddenly I felt their waves, breaking but not really receeding. I told James to urge Suzanne to hurry. Then I went to the bathroom and threw up. Luckily I had only had some water, so not very much came up.
Sometime like an eternity later, Suzanne got there, and after a little while, I somehow got some clothes on, and we went to the hospital. I hoped I would be admitted and given a drug for the pain; instead, the nurse who checked me said, “She’s fully dilated,” and then everything happened fast. Admitting tried to ask me a few questions, and I tried to answer them—at least I answered them in my mind—but I was pretty sure whatever I was thinking was not actually saying. The doctor arrived, and people inserted a couple of different kinds of heart monitors. That’s when I noticed that the baby’s heart rate was down. “The baby’s heart rate is down,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” someone said. “It goes down a little during delivery.”
Then the doctor asked if I was listening and said the heart rate was actually down, and the baby was not getting enough oxygen. He told me that I needed to push the baby out in the next fifteen minutes, or he would need to do a C section. He gave me an anesthetic, broke my water and told me he would use a vacuum to pull while I pushed. He told me to tell him the beginning of each contraction, and suddenly I realized that the contractions did have a beginning and an end and I could pick them up. Everything else began to blur, and all I could say was “Ok” when a contraction started and then groan through the length of a push. People, even James, kept telling me I was doing great and that they could see the head. Whenever James told me I was doing well, I thought, “You can’t see this baby. I’m sure he’s stuck in there, and I’m getting nowhere, and everyone is lying to both of us.” Then on one of the pushes, I felt the vacuum connect with the baby, then felt the head pop free. I have no idea whether I contributed, but feeling the head come out was my first tangible sign that we were getting somewhere. It gave me the strength to get the rest of the baby out, to usher you into the world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Arrival, Part 2
You share a birthday with Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Tayari Jones, as well as with Winston Churchill and some other historical figures I can no longer remember.
Your name is Langston James Simmons. You were born on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 8:17 AM. You weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces when you were born and were 20.75 inches long.
As I think I have written, I have a prejudice against male gynecologists, which was fanned by my mother’s experiences. However, I need to say my attending doctor was a male and was wonderful. I had not actually seen him as a patient before, but he had answered my question about my feet swelling up when I called the “on call” service at night. At the time, I had thought of him as rather brusque. But he was great during the delivery. During the birth itself, he was extremely efficient, verging on impatient but only because of the necessity of getting the baby out, but after the birth, he was methodical but reassuring. He talked to me as he stitched me up, explaining exactly what he was doing, and kept urging me to tell him if I felt any pain so he could apply more anesthetic. I told him that I had come in expecting to get drugs, not a baby just yet, and he said that based on the position of the baby and the urgency of getting him out, it was really a good thing I didn’t. Having gotten the sense that he had just walked onto his shift to deliver my baby, I told him he should get a cup of coffee, and he said, “No, I need a drink!” Eventually, although not right away, they gave me the baby to hold, and after that, I didn’t notice what the doctor was doing. I lay there, blitzed out, holding the baby and listening to Christmas carols on the hospital speakers. Normally I’m very annoyed about the way places everywhere play carols so early in the year. I feel like it marginalizes anyone of another religion and also trivializes the songs by using them for a whole month or two. But I was loopy on whatever mild post-birth drug the doctor put me on, so the songs felt soothingly familiar, almost as if my parents were at the labor with me. It’s worth pointing out this antedote to prejudice as I learn to love that which I sometimes fear, your maleness. That being said, I loved you from the moment you were placed in my arms while I was still being stitched, and I have never wished you to be a daughter. People told me how much they missed feeling their babies inside them once they were born, but for me, having you outside as a reality, not a speculation of movements and rhythms, completed you. You are no longer the “what if.”
Throughout my stay at the hospital, nurses asked me or members of my family if I had support taking care of the baby. Suzanne thought I should be doing everything on my own to impress them, but my mom said, “Just tell them what they want to hear, that you have lots of help. And you do.” So I tried to do both. I don’t think most of them were actually that interested in how I’d adapt things, just that I had help. The exceptions were Evelyn, the labor and delivery nurse about whom I wrote earlier who unfortunately didn’t attend my birth but who came to see me the day after the birth, and a couple of the NICU nurses, Eliza and Lisa, who asked a ton of questions. Lisa, the weekend nurse, seemed really impressed. She ended the conversation we had by saying, “What a nice baby and a great family!”
We were both released from the hospital on December 2. On December 3, you were readmitted, because your bilirubin level had gone up;, you had jaundice. The most likely reason was that the vacuum used during delivery caused a swelling on your head, and though the swelling went down, your bilirubin count kept going up. It was an intense day. We traveled from the hospital lab for your blood test to the pediatrician’s office back to the hospital’s pediatric unit and finally to the neonatal intensive care unit, the latter, because you weren’t hydrated, and the pediatric people couldn’t insert an IV. (The NICU nurse, Eliza, got it on the first try).
It sounds terrible that you were placed in the NICU, even more terrible that you were assigned an isolated room, because you had been outside, but the truth was that it was probably better you were there. The nurses were wonderful, both with your care and the explanations for us, and the isolated room meant a little more room for visitors than other parts of the NICU. My postpartum crash coincided with the hospital insanity. I cried when I worried about needing to find a bathroom on the pediatric unit, worrying about asking the nurses for help when you, not I, were the patient. I cried when you were relocated to the NICU as the nurse began (again) to put an IV into your arm. I couldn’t stay for any of your IV attempts actually. Your father stayed with you and described to me later the futile attempts of the pediatric people followed by the success of the NICU nurse. (“85% of getting the IV in is looking for the vein first,” she commented wryly to your father). Mom knows all about the NICU from my birth, and later I joked that she must have said to me as a baby, “I sure hope your kid gives you the same hell you gave me.”
Once I recovered from the hormone crash, and even though I missed you, I enjoyed sleeping in my own bed. Your father and I visited you several times a day with pumped breast milk, sometimes together and sometimes separately with friends and family members. You were in the hospital until that Monday, and then you were released. The phototherapy and extra hydration helped the bilirubin level to drop, and you are doing well now. Your days are spent eating and sleeping and pooping. Despite your brief respite on the bottle, you are nursing well and have a powerful suck. You live in the moment, and I’m learning to live there too.

On Beauty

I’m aware of how many treatises, poems and other written documents share this title, so I’ll make this quick.
Suzanne and I toured your possible daycare (if I can’t find freelance work by the time I need to go back to work) and the hospital where you’ll be born. Both visits were reassuring. Tad did embarrass me at the daycare by getting too eager to see a baby in a glider; he put his front paws up on the edge. I could understand why he was curious, but I hope I made it clear—at least for the moment—that he could not invade someone else’s kid’s space that way. You are another story. I expect you’ll be sniffed and licked many times over.
I left Tad at home for the hospital visit, which also went well. The nurse to whom my coworker introduced me was kind and had a lot of personality, which I think will be helpful during labor. She only said two things which I found mildly troubling, but I was so happy she was eager to help me to care for my baby and not to take him away that I forgave her. She told me that the first day, I should be allowed to room in with the baby but only if a sighted person was there. She went on to say that I would need to learn how to care for him, so I think she really meant an experienced person, but to equate sight with experience is annoying. Still I don’t know any blind experienced parents in this town, so a sighted one will work. And she also said the only thing she felt bad about my not seeing was that I wouldn’t know how cute you are, but she would be sure to tell me. To hear that from an outsider was jarring. I myself have fallen prey to that statement when I told James that it was a good thing he was blind and not sighted when we met, because he might not like me. I meant that I’m not particularly beautiful. Then again, who am I to make slurs on visual beauty, even with myself? It’s true that James might not have liked me, but it could have been for many other reasons, having as much to do with his baggage as a sighted person as anything else. My point is that that comment is pointless, because we didn’t meet then—we met later, and that made the difference. But I’ll know you’re beautiful without seeing you. I will appreciate any detail sighted people can give me about you, but I know you already. I’ll know you better than any of their eyes will know you. And you are beautiful.