Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Thank the gods for blogs" or "Compromise in the Sleep War"

OK, the sleeping on the couch thing did not work. A few months ago I had a cold and slept on the couch. To our surprise, he only woke up once or twice per night, which was a dream come true (no pun intended). But he was having none of that this time.

So at 1am this morning, when I should have been catching up on desperately needed sleep, I turned to the one source I hadn't tapped yet - blogs. All day I had been emailing my attachment parenting support group, researching on the internet and reading through the baby books for any nugget of advice that might help.

The Dr. Sears/Attachment Parenting camp was not much help, unfortunately. Their pat answers - "This too shall pass" and "It's better for you to suffer than the baby" were just not cutting it. I really do believe in the principles behind this approach and Robbie and I are testaments to its success (I slept in a crib from day one and yet find it nearly impossible to fall asleep by myself at 25 years old, while Robbie co-slept until he was a toddler and he has no problems with independent sleep). On the other hand, while the Cry It Out method may be traumatizing, wasn't it just as traumatizing for everyone to be ornery, frustrated and sleep-deprived?

Update: The attachment group did end up giving me a very practical solution: children's tylenol.

I was seriously considering going cold turkey with the crib and the Cry It Out, but I knew in my gut that that wasn't the answer either. Even if exhaustion could push me to that point, Emerson is just not one of those babies that will cry himself to sleep. There have been nights when he will cry because he's gotten overly tired and - even with us right next to him, doing everything we can to comfort him - his cries will just escalate and go on for hours. When we finally find just the right combination to get him to sleep (i.e. swaying side-to-side while bouncing AND patting...or Robbie singing some ridiculous made-up song about the adventures of "Albino Man" sung to the tune of They Might Be Giants "Particle Man") he still whimpers and chokes in his sleep for another good 30-45 minutes.

Anyway, with my options looking slim, I decided to consult the world's best parenting blog (possibly best blog period): Sweet Juniper! I found a series of essays on sleep that made me laugh so hard and were so dead on that I wanted to drive to Detroit, wake these people up from their hard-won sleeping bliss and give them a giant hug. Embedded within one of these essays was a link to another blog called Ask Moxie that gave the most realistic look at children's sleep I have ever read. The basic point of it is that all kids have different personalities, including the way they sleep, so no one solution is going to be perfect for everyone. Every time an expert writes a book, the parents of kids whose personalities fit with that style rave about it as if it were God's gift to parenting. But for all those raving parents, there are an equal number of parents who didn't find success and are made to feel like failures by the s0-called experts, so they silently slink away. Moxie's best advice of all: when people ask how your baby is sleeping - just lie.

Up until a couple of months ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of even reading a blog, much less consulting one on how to raise my child. But last night I found my parenting soul mates and, as if he sensed the change in the atmosphere, Emerson slept the first four hours straight through and then (although still waking up frequently to eat) slept in until 10 am this morning!

I want to kiss Dutch and Wood. I want to kiss Moxie.

I want to sleep.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Quick Co-Sleeping Update

I am banished from my own bed tonight - forced to sleep on the couch so we can break Emerson of this latest habit of waking up every hour all night long to eat! Apparently he thinks I am a 24-hour buffet these days. The idea is that if he can't see/smell me, he won't go looking for something.

Hopefully this will work or he will be facing the crib (or as Jody lovingly calls it "the baby cage") very soon! Wish us luck...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Shallow Thoughts

Well, the inevitable has happened. Two inevitable things actually. The first happened a week or so ago as we were walking around Top of the Park (an outdoor concert series in Ann Arbor) with Emerson in the sling. As “Baby Daddy” mentioned in the previous post, for the most part the sight of Emerson tucked into the sling like a snowy pea in a pod elicits non-stop smiles and coos from passersby. This particular night it was growing dark and the spotlights had just been turned on, so Emerson was staring at them with wide, intense eyes. The light was also at just the right angle to bring out the red glow, which of course attracted even more attention. I started to hold my breath as I plodded behind Robbie and Emerson, watching people’s expressions.

I often find myself holding my breath when his eyes glow in public or when we introduce him to someone who doesn’t know about his condition. In the back of my mind, I imagine the person thinking to themselves, “What’s with this baby?” In one-on-one situations, I can feel the tension as they try to form a question that will politely satisfy their curiosity. Sometimes I am relieved to have a chance to explain and the information comes tumbling out like the rush of water through a broken dam. Other times, I am tired of the whole situation and only give brief, evasive answers. But in public, I can do nothing but helplessly observe human nature at its best and its worst.

On this particular night, the worst was confirmed as we pushed our way through a crowd and a man yelled (yes yelled) to the person walking next to him, “Did you see the eyes on that THING?!” My initial reaction was to think he meant how wide Emerson’s eyes were, but the meaning behind his tone was unmistakable. And to call him a “thing?”

I knew it was coming from the moment he was diagnosed, but this first major experience still hit me hard. It will certainly not be the last time we encounter a thoughtless idiot in public, and it will only get worse as Emerson begins to understand what’s going on. It’s going to be up to us to figure out how best to deal with it and model that for him.

Which leads me to the second part. More and more lately I’ve noticed Emerson’s eyes turning in. It’s only brief and only one eye at a time, but it’s a sign that he will most likely have strabismus – or crossed eyes. This morning as we were leaving for a wedding, I took a picture of him in his adorable, old-fashioned sailor suit (I have to torture him while I can!) The picture was perfect except that it caught him with one eye severely turned in, giving me proof of what I was hoping was only a figment of my imagination. When we got home later that day, I did research on strabismus and found a dizzying array of information on surgeries, eye patches, visual therapy, special glasses, etc. that could help with the condition, although none were a sure bet.

I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself, but I feel compelled to research something, which only makes me overwhelmed. As usual, I broke down into a depression – leaving Robbie to take over mid-way through a diaper change so I could sob on the living room floor. It seems like such a small thing to be so upset about, I know, but it opened this enormous well of grief.

Part of it is that of all the eye conditions that affect people with albinism, strabismus is the only thing he didn’t have yet. I was hoping against all hope that he would escape at least this one, but it doesn’t appear that will happen.

The other part of it is very shallow, I must admit. I don’t want Emerson to have one more thing for people to judge and make nasty remarks about. I want people to see the bright, incredibly funny little boy he’s turning into, not see a little boy with crossed eyes.

I know from my research that he could have surgeries to correct the problem, both for cosmetic purposes and to improve his vision, but we will be faced with tough decisions as parents. Do we live with the strabismus for several years first, attempting to correct them with patches now and visual therapy later in order to avoid surgery? Or do we attempt the surgery as soon as possible, putting Emerson through pain and possibly facing multiple surgeries to get it just right? The awful truth is, I don’t want him to go even one month with crossed eyes, but I know that’s the shallow part talking, not necessarily the good parent part.

Then again, maybe it is the parent part. I feel VERY grateful he’s alive and otherwise healthy, but a deep, primordial part of me wants him to have every advantage he can, even in the way he looks. Maybe it goes back to survival of the fittest and not wanting my baby to be the weak one at the back of the pack who gets picked off by the lion. (I obviously watch too much Animal Planet.) Maybe it’s our society’s obsession with looks or simple parental pride – you know, the kind you feel when your baby achieves some silly milestone like being in the 90th percentile for head circumference or rolling over a month before most babies.

Unfortunately, the most basic fact is that I worry what people will think and say because I have been that thoughtless idiot myself. I have never yelled anything in a public place, but I have certainly thought equally judgmental things about other people in my head. So I guess if there’s anything I can take out of this experience so far, it’s to reframe my own thoughts about what is beautiful and normal. I am the first to preach strength in diversity, but I haven’t always lived up to my own standards.

Most importantly, I have to let go if other people aren’t able to see Emerson the way I see him. Whatever happens with his eyes, he is beautiful and he is mine.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Baby Slings: The True Story

I'm a self-admitting stroller hater. Not sure what triggered the hatred within me, or even when it happened, but you will find no stroller love in my heart. This leaves me with limited options when it comes time to stroll around town w/ the kid. Huh... by just using the word 'stroll' in that sentence I think I realize the significance of the word stroller. I'm absolutely brilliant. But anyway...

So what's a parent to do if you he/she has no love for strollers? I can think of two options: Carry the kid around in your arms while dreaming of one day having biceps as large as mine, or of course, using a sling. As I already have trouble trying to board planes w/ my boys Pancho and Hopper (right and left biceps, respectively), I use a sling.

Upon first inspection, the average person uneducated in the ways of baby slinging may think that slings are pretty straight forward. Some fabric wrapped around the carrier body with the carried body buried somewhere in it with nothing but a random foot springing up here or little hand reaching out there. Little would they suspect, however, the complexity of snaps, knots, and straps involved in attaching this kid to you. And along with that complexity, of course, comes a hefty price tag. The simplest of the slings we own is one long piece of fabric that is wrapped around your body, tied in a knot, with the kid threaded through and held in place. $40. Seriously... nothing but fabric with stitching around its perimeter to clean up the edges. The infamous ring sling: nearly $100. The Kangaroo Korner 'pouch' sling: $68. Does the wife not realize I have a Bus to rebuild, and that I have half a set of new tires wrapped up (no pun intended) in baby slings??? But I digress.

So yes... my solution to my lack of love for the strollers is the use of a sling. Which, costs aside, aren't that bad of a thing. When others have to seek out elevators, I simply take the stairs. When others have to seek out a parking spot outside an exhibit at the zoo, I simply walk right in. When others are in danger, I am there...

There's another side of the sling, however, that I must deal with. It just so happens that I am the lucky father of the cutest kid this side of the Mississippi. Off on his own, playing in a gutter, people would slam on their brakes shrieking "Oh my! Did you see that baby!?!? What a cutie!!" I know every parent thinks the same of their child, but come on, why kid yourself. So here I am, sling user/abuser, with the cutest kid this side... strapped onto me facing forward most likely wearing his shades and serenading the town with his little voice. Needless to say, we attract some attention. Everyone sitting at the sidewalk patio tables look up "Awww!", others point, some rightfully shake their heads smiling. But what you must realize is that I don't want any of it. Just let me be people. Yeah, he's cute, yeah, its adorable, but I don't put him in here and walk around town to amuse you. I'm just a stroller hater, and until someone comes up with something better (or airport security relaxes a bit) this is it. I find myself walking down the street refusing to make eye contact with passerbyers or acknowledge the gawkers. I'm sure people are torn about me. I must love my kid, as I strap him to me and lug him around town for miles at a time, yet I must not be a very affectionate father, so stone-faced and grumpy and oh my, can you imagine how I must treat the baby momma? She must cry herself to sleep at night doubting her decisions in life while at the same time trying to think of what to cook for dinner tomorrow.

To make things worse, the wife wanted a picture yesterday of the kid lying in the cradle position in the sling while singing himself to sleep. No big deal, except we were on the streets of downtown AA, and the last thing I wanted anyone to think is that this was a novelty to me, that I thought it was oh-so-cute and oh, aren't I just the cutest gosh darn father you ever saw the likes of?

But on the other hand, it could be worse: I could have an ugly kid.