There are nights…

There are nights that sleep descends on me
like a blanket coming down
and I stay in sleep so easily,
disturbed by not a sound.

But then there are the nights
with incidents my earplugs cannot mute
potty breaks and whining,
bed territory disputes.

Driftin’, dreamin’, dozin’,
snoozin’, snorin’, nappin’
Sleep never seems so crucial
until it doesn’t happen.

Quiet Time? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

There are, in the world, parents who probably consider us lucky that Z continued napping until she was nearly three.

I try to remember this when I’m tearing out my hair and sobbing on the phone to my mom.

“Quiet Time” sounds something like this. (Please note: Curly brackets {  } denote the ESM’s thoughts, those things she says inside her head that she will never say aloud. Well, no louder than a grumble.)

Ever-Suffering Mother: Okay, Z, you’ve had something to drink, you’ve used the potty, you had stories and songs. Now it’s Quiet Play Time and I’ll set the timer for an hour. You get to play in your room now. Loveyoubye. {Maybe I should try setting the timer for an hour and a half? Would she know? No, but I would know, and I’ve inherited just enough of my mother’s Catholic guilt….}

Z: Okay, Mommy.

pause.

Z: Mommy, I want to take a nap. Turn on my noise machine. Please.

ESM: [rolls eyes when Z turns around] Yeah, sure. A nap. Okay, I’m turning your noise machine on.

Z: [climbs in bed] I need blankets.

ESM: [gives her the frickin’ blankets]

Z: I need my friends.

ESM: Okay, I’m getting you two friends. Which ones do you want?

Z: Talula and Ladybug Girl Baby.

ESM: [searching entire house for Talula and Ladybug Girl Baby] You know what? After this I’m not getting you anything else. It’s Quiet Play Time {dammit}.

Approximately three minutes and twenty-eight seconds go by.

Z: Mamamamadaddydaddy!

ESM: {yeah right.}

Z: Mamamamadaddydaddy! I need blankets!

ESM: I gave you blankets.

Z: [using distressed, I-mean-business-you-better-give-me-what-I-want-or-you-will-never-get-a-second’s-peace voice] I need blaaaaankets!

ESM: [using I’m-giving-in-this-one-time-and-if-you-ask-me-for-one-more-stupid-thing-I-will-explode voice] Fine! Here are your blankets. Now it’s QUIET TIME SO BE QUIET!!!

I’ve given up trying to write in the afternoons.

41 days until preschool starts.

Writing Prompt: Found Letter

Recently I started following the YA Muses blog, after I met Katy Longshore at a local get-together. The prompt is this: “At a used book sale, you purchase a leather-bound volume. At home, you thumb through the pages and an old letter tumbles out. What does it say? Write the letter.”

Here’s my response to the prompt.

*

I knew you would find this letter if I hid it here, among the books you call friends. You can’t look at a book without picking it up, thumbing through it, getting pulled into story.

You call these books “friends” and I imagine your surprise when one of them betrays you with this note.

Because the stories are the problem. A woman obsessed, you cannot stop. You paused briefly to give birth, but before your daughter was even weaned, already the pen, the paper, and the book were there, open before you while she slept at your breast.

No one needs to tell you these years are fleeting. You watch them scream past, measuring them in unsellable manuscripts, pausing to breathe and scream back only if something, or some little person, dares to disrupt your solitude, silence, sanctuary.

The guilt of the time you take for your failings is heavy indeed. No wonder you take photographs, evidence of what time you do spend with her, hoping that those frozen memories will be enough to convince her, when she’s older, that everything you did, you did for her. That it was always about her, never you.

Let me tell you a secret: the dedication at the beginning of your manuscript – published, unpublished – will never be a substitute for you.

Put down the pen, and play with your daughter.

The No-Nap Blues

The No-Nap Blues: I’m singin’ ’em.

Yesterday, I, the Ever-Suffering Mother, sat through an hour of listening to my child whine in the next room. “I don’t want to sleep. Let me up. Let me up!” (As if I were physically holding her down on the bed. However, if she’s going to continue believing herself stuck in bed, I’m not gonna enlighten her.)

Later in the afternoon, I spoke with one of the members of my Maternal Support Team (a.k.a. “Mom”).

Ever-Suffering Mother: Why didn’t she go to sleep? I think I don’t like her at all.

Maternal Support Team: (makes indistinct noises without committing the blasphemy of speaking against her granddaughter)

ESM: (wails) I just wish I knew what I did wrong!

MST: (finally kicking into supportive mode) You didn’t do a single thing wrong. Sometimes these things just happen.

ESM: No. Something went wrong. I did something different, and I will figure out what it was so it never happens again. (shakes fist at the other room where Z happily plays with her stuffed animal friends)

MST: Really, sometimes these things just happen, and you can’t control them–

ESM: Can so. I know I turned around three times in the kitchen before her naptime. That might have influenced it. Or her sound machine…maybe the volume got adjusted up or down after we brought it back from your house. Or I sang the second verse of her second lullaby in the wrong key. I will figure it out!

MST: (laughs)

By the time my Spousal Support Team (a.k.a. “Husband”) returned home from work, I was a total wreck. Still in my sweatpants, hair tied back in a nasty black scarf (the color of mourning), wondering if I’d ever have time to work on my manuscript again. Feeling a little sick from self-medicating with half a bag of Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips. (Oh wait, that’s every evening. Tears optional. Maybe change the color of the scarf.)

Really, though, what do stay-at-homies DO when their child stops taking naps? Do they have a second child to distract the first? Do they run away from home? What I’d like to do is institute a three-hour Solitude and Quiet Time. And, yeah, maybe run away for a couple of days.

Parenting Soundtracks

Anita Renfroe had the right idea when she created “Momisms” and sang it to the tune of the William Tell Overture. The problem is her song condenses everything, so we can’t use it in place of real parenting. Which got me thinking: I could totally use a Parenting Soundtrack (patent pending) to get me through the days where it’s just me and Z. I’d be free to read another book, or think about the plot of my current manuscript. She’d be free to ignore me (which she often does anyway). We’d be happy as clams.

See how happy we are?

Here we have a demonstration of the Parenting Soundtrack “Fine Dining.” Other available soundtracks include:

  • Pleasant Potty Training: “Pee and poop go in the potty!”
  • The Great Outdoors: “Run as fast as you can! Burn off that energy before naptime!”
  • Beautiful Bedtime Routines: “You may choose two stories and two songs.”
  • Responsible Clean-up: featuring that all-time favorite “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere!”
  • Fantastic Freeplay: “Be gentle! It’s good to share.”
  • For Parents of Two or More: “I give up. The bigger one gets her way.”

As soon as she wakes up, I’m going to get started on recording. My studio? Wherever it is I find myself needing to remind my daughter of the rules. So I guess that’s the kitchen, dining room, bathroom, family room, the backyard, the car, the grocery store…

How Teaching High School Prepared Me for Parenthood…

…and how it didn’t.

Now that Z has hit the magical age of TWO, my life has moved from the Fast Lane to the Super Fast Lane…with nightly visits to the Family Bed (Of Pain) [more on the Family Bed (Of Pain) in a future post]. Yet occasionally in the Super Fast Lane, we take a naptime break from mach speeds and I am able to reflect.

Recent reflection: Parenting a toddler is a lot like managing a classroom. No, I am not saying ninth graders are just like toddlers. Okay, maybe a little. But since all of my ninth graders have graduated or are now seniors, this list shouldn’t compromise any egos.

1. Routines! Kids of all ages thrive on routines. My ninth graders had a Daily Starter, something other teachers call “bell work”…it’s a short activity to keep students occupied while you take role, take a breath, and buckle up your seatbelt for the hour ahead. Z’s daily starter is a snack prepared by Daddy while Mommy lies in bed and growls at the cruel cruel world. (No, I am not a morning person.)

People like to know what’s coming next. Leave surprises for birthday parties, and keep your kids clued in by doing daily things in the same order every time. I cannot stress how important this has been for bedtime. Cannot. Stress. How important. For bedtime. The simpler the better, and we’re working on that.

2. Transitions. This is something I never quite “got” as a teacher. I guess some people like more warning than, “Hey! Put those papers away, it’s time to move on! Move it move it move it!” As a mom, though, it makes more sense. “Z, you have two more minutes of swimming time, and then we’re going inside to do something really fun, like wash the dishes!” And my daughter, bless her, cheers wildly because she LOVES doing the dishes. By the time I pause to wonder where she got this particular freaky genetic aberration, I’m sure it will have faded away.

3. Short Breaks. Those five-minute passing period breaks we got? Old students of mine, count yourselves lucky. Maybe it’s fine when you’re young to have an entourage every time you step into the bathroom. Me, I like the door firmly closed between myself and any other persons, yet most days Z and her “friends” walk right in. Sometimes she makes comments, which I will not share here.

4. Rewards and Praise. Every single person appreciates rewards and praise. Praise is inexpensive, but don’t give it away for free, or it will seem cheap. Stickers got me a long way on the Great Potty Training Experiment of 2010, but after awhile they lost their luster. And their stick.

5. Workload. I could write pages about how underpaid public school teachers are. They work so hard, earn so little…We all know this. Why isn’t it changing?

6. Kids can tell when you don’t know what the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks you’re doing. Now, the younger they are, the easier it is for you to pretend. But if they’re older, and they sense doubt, weakness? They go for the kill. I think substitute teachers have one of the worst jobs on the planet. I’m shuddering as I type this.

7. Inexplicable Temporary Deafness.

Teacher: Okay, class, your paper is due on Friday. When’s the paper due?
Class: Friday!
Teacher: Say it again.
Class: Friday!
Friday comes. Sixteen kids “forgot” the paper was due Friday.

Compare to:

Ever-Suffering Mother: Z. Z? Z! Stop playing with that. Bring it to mama. Do it now. What did I just say?
Z: Stop playing with that.
ESM: Yet what are you doing?
Z: Playing.
ESM: Yes, with that. Now stop.
Z: [does not stop playing with that.]

8. You are an example. Ah, how I hate this one. Wouldn’t it be grand if I could just let loose with a string of swear words every time some…poo-poo brain cuts me off on the road? But the truth is, as soon as I signed that teaching contract, and as soon as that baby was born – boom. I am now a person that another little person watches. All the time. And in the classroom it might be worse. Watched by many. If I had the good fortune of their attention.

There are differences between teaching and parenting as well. As a high school teacher, I got to go home at the end of the day. Maybe not always as early as I would have liked. Maybe I never felt like I was leaving my work behind me (often I was indeed carrying it along in the form of essays to grade).

Looking back from where I’m standing now (which is next to the potty while my child sits and sits and sits and sits), the most important difference was that my high schoolers did not ask me to wipe their bottoms. They went through Very Important Do-Not-Ever-Lose-These Handouts as if they were toilet paper, though.