Thursday, February 14, 2008

Introducing Mean Mommy

We survived January. For those of you who might not know, I have to spend the entire month of January every year in Chicago for intensive classes. I had been working my stomach into knots over this for months because this time Emerson stayed home. It was just too much to ask my parents or Robbie to entertain a one-year-old in a studio apartment for 4 weeks.

I stressed about weaning him in time (especially when one of my psychology textbooks casually mentioned that improper weaning could be the most traumatic experience of a person's life - no pressure there), I worried about how he would react being away from me that long, and I worried about how we could accomplish all the things we needed to work on with him (teaching him to walk, getting him in the crib at night, getting him to wear his glasses, etc.). And of course because I stressed so much, everything went perfectly.

Weaning happened over Christmas break in Utah - we just kept passing him around and my family took turns giving him a bottle. The boy who was nursing 30x a day went completely to bottles in 2 weeks without even realizing it! When we got back to Michigan, we had one day to unpack, clean and repack before heading off to Chicago as a family. Robbie and Emerson spent the first four days with me and then took the bus back to Michigan. As I watched them pulling away and saw Emerson's tiny hand pressed up against the window, my heart broke. I cried as I waved goodbye, I cried when Robbie's text message telling me everything would be great popped up a few minutes later, I cried during the cab ride all the way back to school. Luckily I chose a cab that was playing mournful jazz on the radio and the view was the lonely lakeshore against a blue-black sky - it matched my mood perfectly.

After a couple of days, the sadness lessened and I was able to enjoy being a full-time student in Hyde Park. It was so nice to be around my like-minded classmates, to have endless intense adult discussions (no patty cake here), and most of all, be able to focus on only one thing at a time! I had also been looking forward to a whole month of good sleep without Emerson around, but my apartment building conspired against me. Between the traffic outside and neighbors who indulged in "relations" on a creaky bed at all hours of the night EVERY night, I was more sleep deprived than ever.

Of course, being in Hyde Park lent itself to many interesting encounters throughout the month. One of my favorites was when I was coming out of my aparment and a mentally disabled man was just coming in. We struck up a conversation and he told me he had lived in this building for over 10 years. Then he proceeded to pull out a small metal flute from his pocket and play a Christmas Carol. When he finished, he asked if anyone in my family took music lessons and I told him no- we thoroughly lacked musical talent. He said we should take lessons and always carry a small instrument with us "so you can bring music to people wherever you go."

Another encounter was at the local co-op grocery store that was closing down. Despite being several blocks away, I ventured over hoping that their close-out prices would be better than the mugging I was getting at the tiny markets by my apartment. It was an eerie feeling to shop in this large grocery store with only one or two random items scattered on the shelves. It was almost post-apocalyptic. As I was scavenging through the hearts of palms and canned herring to find worthy deals, I struck up a conversation with an elderly African-American woman. She told me that the co-op was closing because the university wanted to clear room for a big chain grocery store that would lure people from downtown to Hyde Park. She told me how this store had started as a small group of community members trying to help each other out. And she told me how she herself had struggled as a young mother until she was able to start a co-op with the people in her neighborhood. "You have to fight against the man," she said fiercely, and I agreed.

Meanwhile, back in Michigan Emerson and Robbie were living it up. Robbie told me smugly that being a stay-at-home parent was so easy, so I left him a "to-do" list to accomplish in all his "spare time." I wasn't suprised when I came home for a visit that weekend and discovered that NOTHING on that list was done. He and Emerson spent the entire week together sleeping in, watching tv, and going out with our work-at-home friend across the street. I suppose if I could live that way, staying at home would seem pretty fun too!

That same weekend my parents flew in to take over baby duty for the final two weeks. My mom is a compulsive cleaner, so she asked me to leave a list of household duties in addition to suggestions for fun things to do around town. The five of us ate out and did some fun shopping together for the first two days, but when I went back to school, my mom got down to business. She organized cupboards, sewed torn clothes, repaired odds and ends, salvaged our houseplants, got Emerson onto a schedule, got him sleeping in his crib, got him to use his walker without crying, slyly guilted Robbie into accomplishing the many little tasks he was putting off - in short, she and my father accomplished more in two weeks around my house than we had accomplished in a year. I was grateful and humbled to say the least.

After they left, we had one day of normalcy before we all got sick and my mother's perfect schedule and hard work with Emerson went out the door. Let me tell you, if there is a hell, it is getting sick as a whole family and being stuck indoors for 2 weeks with nothing to do but watch television during a writers' strike. I am still trying to get over a twisted addiction to "Make Me a Supermodel."

The worst part was that Emerson was barely sleeping unless we held him in our arms and he ate almost no solids. We eventually all got better, but he was still deeply entrenched in some bad, bad habits. Then I went to a playdate last week with a friend who has a little girl that is equally dramatic and stubborn. I realized that if she can get her daugher to eat and sleep, I can do it with Emerson. Thus "Mean Mommy" was born.

After one 45-minute long scream session that first night, Emerson settled back into crib life and even slept 6 full hours one night (halleuia!). We cut down on the formula and increased his solids to three full meals a day (the trick was to mix everything with his favorite food - hummus), we started making him wear his glasses again, and I put him back into a mostly regular routine. I never thought I would like that word - routine - but motherhood has broken me down.

And so Mean Mommy trudges on...basking in the small victories and praying that she doesn't traumatize the child for life.

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