Monday, July 27, 2009

Confessions of a Late Night Mom

I think it's time I came clean. After six years of marriage I really need to fess up. I have been living a secret life, and the burden of carrying it alone is just too much to bear. It's a secret that unfolds under the cover of night, when (almost) no one else in the house is awake. It's not something I'm proud of, but I need to get this off my chest because I'm pretty sure I've got a problem. Yes, it's high time I confess that while my loving husband and son snore the night away, I prop myself up and slip into the waiting arms... of the Huxtable family. That's right, my name is Mona and I'm addicted to watching late night reruns of The Cosby Show.

It all began innocently enough. Having learned my lesson after baby #1, as soon as #2 came home I kicked my husband out of our bedroom. Despite his willingness to "help out" with middle of the night feedings, he clearly lacks the necessary equipment, and also lacks the ability to function on less than 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Plus, I have to admit- it just plain makes me mad to watch him sleep while I'm forced to stay awake! So out he went to the guest room, and out came the remote control.

At first my channel surfing was predictable and safe. CNN, Food Network... I knew my dependable daytime friends would be there for me at any hour. But one night, one particularly hungry night for my little girl, I ventured out of my comfort zone, checked the channel guide and found... bliss. Cliff! Claire! Rudy! Vanessa! The whole gang- where had you been hiding? Like a reunion with a cherished friend, we were right back where we left off those many years ago without missing a beat. And I was hooked.

Maybe it's just a distraction from the harried days and endless nights that come with being a mom of two kids two and under. After all, the Cosbys had FIVE kids and still managed to make us laugh through 28 minutes and two commercial breaks. But I think there might be more to my late night love affair. You see, growing up in my house Thursday night, aka Cosby Night, was sacred. As any first-generation immigrant child can tell you, not all American humor translates as "funny" for Old World parents. But my dad- a brilliant doctor, a soft-spoken but authoritative Egyptian, a man of both science and religion was magnetically drawn to the Cos. Nothing, and no one could make him laugh like Cliff Huxtable, and every week my whole family sat down to tune in together. I don't remember many of the episodes, but I do remember my dad. The permanent grin spreading across his normally serious face. The way he'd remove his glasses to wipe tears of laughter from his soulful brown eyes.

My children are so blessed to have all four grandparents alive, but age and disease have taken a major toll on my dad. It breaks my heart to watch him struggle to pick up his grandson, or climb the three steps leading into our home. Even his laugh (which does come often thanks to my little boy's antics) lacks the strength it had back in the Cosby days. I guess in a way those episodes are my way of rewinding time, pressing pause on reality. I wish my kids could go back to that place with me- to see their grandfather, their beloved "Gido" as he once was. So at 2:30am when the house is dark and quiet, I nurse my sweet baby girl and slip into my secret world, courtesy of The Cosby Show. It's a place where it will always be Thursday night, and we will always be laughing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Closet Monster

"There's a monster in my closet!" My poor parents probably heard that come out of my childhood mouth a million times, most often between the hours of 10pm and 6am. That's when shifty shadows and creepy noises seemed to radiate from that most frightful corner of the room, the hours when that flimsy door seemed to offer little protection between me and the creature that surely lurked within. Fortunately, my son shows no signs of having inherited my closet-o-phobia; it's actually one of his favorite places to hide (particularly when it's time to get dressed, take a bath, go downstairs, or do basically anything aside from play). But unfortunately, I'm yet to outgrow my own fears. In fact, at age 36 I've discovered a whole new monster in my closet, a terrifying beast that taunts me not just at night, but round the clock. It's a monster called "Identity Crisis."

It's not hard to spot my monster. A quick peek inside my closet and you'll find an entire rack of dry clean only tailored suits, dozens of crisp blazers, 16 pairs of brightly colored running shorts and one lonely, ill-fitting, slightly frumpy pair of blue jeans. Sure, there are a few knit shirts, some half-hearted attempts at khaki, but overall the mood does not exactly scream "Casual Friday," much less "stay at home mom." And neither do I.

Even as a child, I didn't really "do" casual. I guess you can blame it on my mom, an Egyptian immigrant and university professor with one elegant shoe firmly planted in the Old World. She believed strongly that little girls should look the part and provided a full wardrobe of frilly dresses, skirts in appropriate lengths, matching hair bows and barrettes. I don't think she's ever owned anything denim and certainly did not provide any for her little girl. Today I no longer wear pigtails or knee socks, but I have to admit my mother's approach to getting dressed is one I haven't completely thrown in the wash.

I also inherited her Type A personality, and started working full-time before graduating from Northwestern at age 20. My first "real" job was at Chicago's O'Hare Airport working as a customer service representative for Air France, and I'll never forget the feeling of leaving my college sweatshirt behind, and slipping into a pair of high heeled shoes, a straight black skirt and a freshly pressed white shirt. Strange as it may sound, I had found my comfort zone. The professional world was where I belonged, both in dress and in mind. And it's where I've happily spent the better part of the past two decades... until now.

With my baby girl just four weeks old it's not surprising those suits don't fit right now, but that's not what really worries me. Assuming I do eventually step away from the ice cream carton, I'm relatively certain my waistline will one day make a reappearance (Ben, Jerry and I have a really good thing going, and I'm not quite ready to call things off). But will they ever fit my life again? Will my life ever fit them? After my first child was born there was no question- I knew I would return to work and I did just that, 12 weeks later. But now with two it's a much harder decision. Between the cost of daycare, the struggle of getting two kids out of the house, the double guilt of leaving them all day, and the decidedly un-family-friendly career I chose, I can feel my former life slipping farther and farther away. As I sit here with unwashed hair and a t-shirt that apparently double as a burp cloth I find it hard to even remember the stylish news reporter with TV-ready makeup who once occupied this space. Is she gone forever, or just on hiatus? It's not a question I can answer right now, and until I can I think it's time to try and push the monster onto a back shelf and do some shopping. Identity Crisis is bad enough- I don't need to add Fashion Disaster to my closet as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hero to Zero

Everyone talks about how pregnant women have these massive mood swings, but I'm finding the rollercoaster to be much more intense (not to mention terrifying!) on the other side of labor and delivery. I'm not talking about your basic postpartum hormone craziness- that's bad enough- but on top of that there are the every day worries, fears, triumphs and occasional successes that have you feeling like a hero one minute and a zero (or below) the next.
Last week was a perfect example. My 3-week-old baby girl has only been sleeping about an hour at a time overnight, leaving me feeling like a grumpy, groggy, one-woman dairy farm. In other words, a zero. Aside from her ravenous appetite (earning her the nickname Little Miss Eats-a-Lot), if she's not swaddled tighter than a mummy, Houdini Baby will wriggle her tiny arms out, start flailing like a crazy person, and wake herself up. Now I'm not always the world's greatest swaddler, but a few nights ago all the stars aligned and she delivered not one but TWO blissful slumber blocks of two and a half hours each. While I probably slept just two of those, I still woke up feeling like I could conquer the world, or at least make it out of bed without passing out. "I am good, really good!" I thought proudly, ignoring the fact that I played very little role in the whole sleep production. Hero!
Still patting myself on the back, I got 2-year-old Noah up, dressed, and downstairs in record time. Where's my cape? Clearly I am a Super Hero! I sat my heroic self down on the couch to nurse The Hungry One yet again, with Noah content to sit by the fireplace, watch a little bit of Elmo, and drink his sippy cup of milk. Yes, I truly am getting the hang of this parenting two kids thing, I thought. That was right before Noah grabbed the fireplace screen which sent it crashing down on top of his little head. Screams all around! Noah is now lying on the floor under the screen, Cecilia is shrieking loudly due to Breakfast Interruptus, and if I had time to listen I would have surely heard my own cries were the loudest of all. Thankfully, Noah received only a big scare- no injuries whatsoever. But I am now officially the Worst Mom in the World. A Zero. Could someone please do the honor of branding the scarlet "Z" on my chest? All day I replayed the scene in my head. The crash! The cries! How could I not have secured that screen to the wall? What if it had landed just 1 inch higher and those scalloped edges had skewered my sweet baby boy's eyes? This is Babyproofing 101, and clearly I had FAILED. What other dangers lurked in this House of Horrors? Hands still shaking, I drove Noah to his daycare, convinced I was unable to provide for his safety myself.
We managed to survive the rest of the day unscathed (physically, anyway) and over the course of a few days the scene began to fade from my memory. Right around that time, Noah came home with a tiny cut on his foot. Since boys will be boys, he had taken a little fall on the playground which produced a tiny boo-boo.. and a huge need to show it off. As I got him into his jammies after bath time he wouldn't stop crying over that microscopic cut (despite the obligatory gigantic bandaid that had been applied). I looked over at his dump truck pajamas and had a rare stroke of genius. "Noah- look at these jammies! If you put these on, the trucks will drive your boo-boo away while you sleep!" His wide-eyed expression and eagerness to jump into those PJs was all I needed to reclaim the title: welcome back, Hero.
So back and forth it goes all day long, every day. Not just an uphill battle, but an up and down hike through the many emotions and pitfalls on the parent trail. I'm starting to realize the labels we give ourself are just unnecessary baggage. I need to stay confident in the fact I'm doing the best I can, and drop the things that don't make the journey any easier, or any better. No cape, no super hero, and no scarlet letter here. Just one tired mom hoping to tuck everyone, including herself, safely into bed each and every night.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Falling in Love Again

Ours was a delicious love affair that began two years ago today. I'll be the first to admit, this wasn't exactly a case of love at first sight. When the doctor put you in my arms I didn't know quite what to think. There you were: 7 pounds 10 ounces of wriggling, shrieking, wrinkly need. And there I was: many more pounds of exhaustion, hormones, and confusion. But we bundled you up, wrapping our first-time parent worries and fears in a soft blue blanket, took you home, and slowly but surely our love affair began to blossom.
For months, you and I were inseparable. You needed nourishment; I could provide. You needed comfort; I did my best to offer it. And one day, about six weeks into this grand adventure, you smiled at me. "He LIKES me!" I remember thinking with amazement. Until that moment I actually believed you might feel like you were stuck with me, I swear I saw you gaze longingly at the other strollers and car seats and wonder why you couldn't have gone home with someone who actually knew what they were doing. But with that first true smile you seemed to be reassuring me- "We're going to be OK, you and I. We were made for each other."
Our love continued to grow with every day, every milestone. My heart swelled when I heard your sweet little giggle for the first time, and even those middle of the night feedings didn't seem quite so brutal when you gazed up at me with those big blue eyes. I cried for 45 straight miles my first day back at work, and raced home to be with you every night. I mock-complained about your "clinginess" but secretly relished the way only I could calm you down, the way you cried out for "Mama" when you needed comfort, the damp spot your freshly washed head left on my shoulder as I rocked you to sleep. Private smiles shared across the dinner table, the jokes only the two of us would ever understand.
But a few months back things began to change. We were both getting bigger- you all around, and me in the belly. Both of our moods took a turn for the worse as you became prone to temper tantrums and I barely had the energy to get through the day. I could see the struggle for independence raging in your 3-foot-high body, spilling over into an almost constant chorus of "NOs!". I could feel some of the joy slipping away as the most simple tasks became a battle of wills. Then to complicate matters even further, along came your baby sister and with her, a massive shift in your universe. You turned away from me, and I was forced to turn even further to tend to her constant needs. She cried, you cried, and I cried.
Then one night Cecilia blissfully slept through the early evening and you and I found our way back to each other. We joked through dinner, tentative giggles at first, then the all out gut-busting laughter only you can bring out. As we cuddled after your bath you nestled your head in that familiar place, looked up at me, and took my breath away as you said "Mama came back!" And just like that, we did.
So happy birthday, sweet angel. I can't promise you our relationship will always be perfect- in fact I promise you it won't. But you have my word we'll always find our way back together, and you will always be my baby boy. Because ours is a love affair destined to last forever.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


It's always been one of my son's favorite games: Peekaboo! Like most parents, we started playing when he was just days old, living for the day he would laugh as we popped out from behind our hands. Even now at nearly 2 years old, that old standby hasn't lost its thrill. Start up a game of Peekaboo and Noah still giggles with delight and calls out "I see you, Mama!" And he's not kidding about that. It's been said that mothers have eyes in the back of their heads, and while I'm sure that's true, I believe children have an even more powerful tool at their disposal: Kadar. That's kiddie radar.
Kadar refers to the incredible ability of a child to sense the exact moment at which his/her parent has begun to relax/sleep/eat/do anything other than devote full attention to him/her, and since my 2-week-old daughter clearly has it, I'm convinced it develops in the womb. Just this morning, her kadar was working overtime. It was 5:30am and we had been up for over an hour nursing, burping, changing and the like. Finally, after what felt like endless rocking, swaying, pleading and praying, those big, almond-shaped eyes began to droop shut. Swaddled tightly in her blanket I laid her down (for roughly the 38th time) in her bassinet. And this time..... silence! Doing my best Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible impersonation, I slid into bed without a sound, carefully removed my eyeglasses (heaven forbid even the sound of that tiny hinge wake her up!), shimmied into the covers and at last, at long LAST let my own weary eyes fall shut. It was of course at that very instant that Cecilia's kadar began sending out "CODE RED" messages to her brain, which resulted in immediate kicking, grunting, unswaddling and general "not sleeping" behaviors. So much for flying under the radar, or kadar!
An almost identical scenario played out just a few hours later, but this time I was a victim of the dreaded double kadar attack. First up: Cecilia. It was 8am and a carbon copy of the above, with the addition of a few extra bags under my eyes. This time I decided not to try and outsmart the kadar (never a good idea) and NOT even attempt to go back to sleep. Perhaps it's because I lived alone for so long before getting married, but I absolutely thrive on "alone time" in the mornings. I desperately need 15 minutes to myself to drink a cup of steaming hot tea, gather my thoughts (assuming I'm actually having any aside from "Man am I tired!") and a peanut butter slathered English muffin, and just be with myself (and occasionally Matt Lauer). Even in my current sleep deprived state I'll gladly sacrifice a few minutes of snoozing for my morning time; it's by far the most restful option out there. So "Take that, kadar!" I thought to myself as I crept down the stairs alone, savoring the impending taste of tea and solitude. Noah wasn't due up for nearly an hour, and Ceci would surely sleep another 15 minutes. Teacup in hand, PB and J in the other, I made my way to the couch which seemed to rise up and greet my weary bones. Enveloped in its comfort I took one bite, washed it down with a few piping hot sips and almost exhaled. Of course, that's the exact moment I heard a shrill, "MAMA!!!!! Bunny went BOOOOOOOM!!!!!" from up above. It was the plight of that little stuffed rabbit played out at top volume that must have registered on Cecilia's kadar screen, because she soon joined the chorus of cries. Drat, foiled again.

Kadar presents itself in many ways, including the uncanny ability of a baby to emit an explosive poop just as you prepare to leave the house (this feature seems especially sensitive to cold weather and increases exponentially with the number of layers of clothing that must be removed), or the way a toddler in church waits until the exact moment the entire congregation is bowed in silent prayer to throw his tantrum. Maybe it's just pure coincidence, or maybe it's nature's way of letting us know who the boss really is (not that there was ever any doubt). All I know is that the eyes in the front of my head could really use a break, so I'll have to work harder to outsmart the kadar. And maybe I won't be quite as eager to teach Cecilia how to play "Peekaboo."