Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Strangers Say the Darndest Things!

So there I was, minding my own business, pushing my way through the Target parking lot. My cart was heavy, packed with 14.5 pounds of baby and at least a dozen bags. Halloween treats, diapers, picture frames- your basic assortment of Target goodness. The rain was just beginning to fall, the baby was just beginning to fuss, so my car was a welcome sight. Welcome that is, until I noticed a small, angry woman standing next to my car, peering into my back window (which I should mention is tinted), waving her cell phone wildly through the air.

"Umm.... can I help you?" I asked cautiously, noting the steam pouring from her ears. I silently searched my brain for what could be the cause. Did I accidentally bang the baby carrier into her car when we got out? Did the dirty diaper I changed on the seat somehow fall out when I opened the door?

"You left the kid inside!!!!" she blurted out, pointing frantically at my backseat.

That's when my heart stopped, my blood ran cold, my hair stood on end, and every other cliche combining body parts and sheer terror. Fortunately, at the same moment my baby let out one of her loudest gurgles to yank me out of my temporary paralysis and back to reality, reminding me she was not in fact trapped in my car, but secure in my shopping cart.

But then my heart stopped again. Where was my other child? Could I have actually left my 2-year-old strapped in his car seat while I wandered the houseware aisles, oblivious to his cries as I strolled the store sipping my decaf skinny chai tea latte?

The answer is no. Noah was perfectly safe and happy right where I had dropped him off: at his daycare, probably coated in a thin layer of paint, or ketchup, or both. But I think every parent has had that momentary feeling of panic when reality blurs around the edges. It's a condition brought on by exhaustion, confusion, and in this case, an irate stranger standing next to my car, screaming something about calling the police.

So what the (*&^ was she talking about?

With still shaking hands I assured her there was no child inside, and kindly asked her to step away as I unlocked the doors. With as much calm dignity as I could muster given the level of adrenaline pumping through my veins, I reached into the backseat and showed the woman the "child" she was so concerned about being "trapped" inside was in fact a large, fuzzy teddy bear. Yes, this woman was, by her own accounts "this close" to bringing in some of Brighton's finest to investigate a shocking case of Stuffed Animal Neglect.

You see, my son will not leave the house without an entourage. Every morning we pile into the car with at least two toy trains, the occasional light-up rubber duck, a musical caterpillar and on this particular day, a large brown teddy bear. I am certainly guilty of encouraging his pack rat tendencies, because it's easier than fighting with him. You pick your battles, right? So while you can charge me with harboring a small zoo in my backseat and driving while disorganized, I'm fairly confident that's the extent of my criminal activity.

My accuser left without an apology, without even so much as a "Gee, what a funny misunderstanding!" over which we could have (maybe) shared a laugh. In fact if anything, she seemed disappointed to see there wasn't a child trapped in the backseat. She didn't get to be a hero after all. She didn't get to be right.

Over the past two plus years I've come to appreciate that having children opens the door to all sorts of unsolicited advice and comments, which for the most part, I welcome. I actually get a kick out of hearing the older, grandfatherly man at the grocery store who tells me my baby will catch pneumonia if I don't put socks on her little feet on a 65 degree day. I love it when the waitress plays peek-a-boo with my toddler and asks him the name of his toy train. Just this morning, the man at the UPS store reminded me I should read to my little boy every night to encourage his brain to grow. I don't need to tell him I've been doing that for the past 2 years- I can just appreciate his interest and willingness to share. Maybe he's speaking from experience, maybe it's the voice of regret. Either way, I'd like to believe there's something about the presence of a child that makes us all want to share what we know, in the hopes that their world might be a little bit better. So is a little common sense too much to ask for?

As we've heard so many times, as it is written on the mug from which I sip my morning tea: It really does take a village to raise a child. We all want that village: a caring, supportive, nurturing community. A village where friends, families, and yes even strangers look out for one another out of true concern and compassion. Now that's my kind of village. It's the village idiot I can do without.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Color Confusion

Lovely Lavender or Lace Cap? Seafoam Spray or Mint Hint? These are the choices before me, and given my current level of inner turmoil, you'd think I was negotiating an international treaty, not picking what color to paint my 4-month-old baby's room.

This is not a problem that stems from some need to have my sleeping angel enveloped in a perfectly accessorized nursery ripped from the pages of Pottery Barn Kids (she's our 2nd child, after all). Martha Stewart, I am not. No, the longer this goes on and the more I stare at these silly swatches, the more I realize my indecision over colors is completely color-blind. It's less about what shade or purple or green will go with her sheets or quilt, and much more about what will cover up my confusion and guilt.

We've been sharing sleeping quarters for quite some time now, me and my tiny roommate. For 39 weeks and 3 days she was close enough to use my internal organs as a punching bag, and for the past 17 weeks we haven't been that much farther apart. She lies next to me in her little bassinet, within a fatigued arm's reach at all times. In the middle of the night I can easily comfort her when she wakes, and I'm equally comforted by the sight of her tiny chest moving up and down, the sweet little noises she makes with every third or fourth exhale, the smell of her freshly washed hair. But my baby is rapidly outgrowing her little nocturnal starter home. I know she needs more room to stretch her arms, kick her legs, and roll around. I just can't seem to bring myself to evict her.

We're not shipping her off to boarding school, my very level-headed husband tries to explain. She'll only be moving about 30 feet down the hall. Still, It just seems so far. Far too great a distance for any electronic monitor to bridge.

Up until recently, our sleeping arrangement has made sense. For the first few months she spent nearly as much time eating as sleeping during the overnight hours, and I certainly didn't want to add a commute to our already exhausting schedule. But in a blissful turn of events, she's recently begun sleeping through the night. So it's not like she really needs me on the overnight shift anymore. And therein lies the problem: she's already beginning to not need me.

It's much like the scene in When Harry Met Sally (not THAT scene!) when Sally has a near breakdown about her age.

Sally: And I'm going to be FORTY!
Harry: When?
Sally: Someday.
Harry: In eight years!
Sally: But it's there, it's just sitting there.

It's just sitting there: my baby's burgeoning independence, a bittersweet, sometimes painful reality, and I can't help but press fast forward on the mental movie racing through my head. If I move her into her own room then that means one day she's going to move out of the house and move far away and leave me FOREVER! It's there, it's just sitting there, in different shades of purple and green paint swatches from Home Depot.

I know there are many out there who advocate for cosleeping, touting the joys of the family bed. I have heard how certain cultures view the landscape of the bedroom with the parents as a mountain range, protecting the sleeping baby who lies between them. But I've always been more of a beach person myself. Much as I love my little sleepyhead, I also know I need my space, I need my fluffy down comforter and pillows, I need to be able to watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta from the comfort of my bed. Selfish, perhaps. But I spend most of my days covered in all things child. I wake up with the theme song from Thomas and Friends running through my head. My formal dining room is now used for Play-Doh picnics. The line between "burp cloth" and "my shirt" has blurred beyond distinction. For the sake of my own health and well-being, I'd like a few minutes to feel like a grown-up at night.

So why not just move her? I don't recall having this trouble with her older brother. At 3-months he was happily snoozing in his own crib, in his own room. Maybe it's because she's a little girl, and seems so delicate, so in need of protection. Maybe I'm so tired, so bone tired I don't want to take a chance her newfound sleep routine will be thrown off by a change of venue. Or maybe it's that this time I don't know if there will be another child, and this may be my last chance to lie next to a sleeping angel.

So here I sit with my swatches, unable to pin down the exact shade of my love for this amazing little girl. What color says "Joy With a Touch of Sadness?" Why does this paint come in every hue except "Growing Pains Green?" One day soon, I'll find the perfect color, and the perfect time to end this very special lease. But not tonight. Let's sleep on it, my little angel, and we'll see how things look in the morning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whoever said "There's no use crying over spilled milk" probably didn't own a breast pump, and definitely didn't knock it and its hard-earned contents onto the living room carpet while attempting to sidestep an errant toy train at 6am. There may not be any "use" for my tears, as they will certainly not replace a single drop of that milk, but it's my dairy party, I'll cry if I want to, and you'd better believe I want to.

I'm now on my second little nursling baby, my second go around with the adventure that is breastfeeding, pumping, and all things milky white. This time I'm a little bit older and a teeny bit wiser, and I'm not afraid to make a true confession: I don't love it.

It sure feels good to get that off my chest, because trust me when say I am currently carrying more than enough in that region. Enough to require a custom-made bra, because apparently 30DD is too big of a secret for even Victoria (or anyone outside of the greater LA area) to keep in stock.

Of course, I love the benefits of nursing. I want my kids to have every advantage in life, from the physical to the emotional and intellectual. Losing basically all the baby weight in 3 months time isn't too shabby, either. And let's face it, breastfeeding sure is cheap. For all those reasons and more, I nursed my son right up until his first birthday. (Can I get a round of applause from the American Academy of Pediatrics?)

While home on maternity leave this was not a major challenge. Nourishing that sweet child was really my only responsibility, and I did find it somewhat relaxing to sit, tune out the world, and gaze at my sweet baby boy. Or watch all the episodes of Top Chef that had accumulated on my DVR.

Once back at work, the nursing life was not nearly so idyllic. Contrary to what the manufacturers of the breast pump had led me to believe, making milk and making a living do not seamlessly mesh. I dragged that unattractive accessory to press conferences, crime scenes, courthouses and the Capitol. I even tried this ridiculous hands-free pumping get-up. But the more difficult pumping became, the more determined I became to do it. It was the only way I knew how to atone for what often felt like a sin: being a working mom. It was my way of saying yes, dear child I've been away from you all day, but look what I've brought you: an unpasteurized piece of my heart! 32 ounces of freshly squeezed Guilt Juice.

Family pressures didn't make matters any easier. My parents, being both Old World immigrants and medical professionals would no sooner give an infant food out of a can than they would rat poison. "Nurse, nurse, nurse!" they seemed to scream. Then there's my mother-in-law, a product of the formula era. "We'll just come back when he's taking bottles," she announced shortly after my son was born and I took him upstairs for a feeding.

Let's not forget the "joy" of nursing in public. Don't get me wrong, I am all for a woman's right to feed her baby whenever and wherever necessary. And to those women who will effortlessly whip open their shirts in the middle of the mall, a family function or a miniature golf course, I say hats (or perhaps blouses) off. I salute you, but I will never be you. I'll be the first to admit- I'm shy. If I'm going to be feeding someone off any body part, be it my breast, my belly button or my big toe, I'd like to do it in private, but that's just me.

Nursing Baby #2 comes with its own set of challenges, namely what to do with a very active Child #1 while a very hungry Baby #2 demands to be fed, and fed, and fed. We tried reading stories until my voice was hoarse, we played with toy trains until the Boppy pillow and the baby's head became an extension of the railroad tracks. Now we've come to settle on watching recorded episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine so Mom can have an approximation of a peaceful moment. I wonder if this is the origin of the phrase "boob tube?"

I see women who look so content nursing their babies and it makes me wonder, am I doing something wrong, or are they still in some sort of hormonal fog? Because for me, it's more than a little uncomfortable (and no, it's not a latch issue) and more than a little draining. I don't feel like some tranquil Madonna with a child suckling gently at my breast. It may be natural, but it certainly isn't easy. I don't want to stop yet, I don't plan to stop yet, but I do need to stop thinking I'm a horrible mother if at some point I do. In the big picture, my kids will have my milk for a short time, but they'll have my heart forever and I know that's more than enough.

Mona Shand is a TV and radio news reporter and the author of the blog And Baby Makes Pee.