Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No Move is Good Move: A Primer on What My Problem Is, Part III

If you're new to the No Move is Good Move saga, you'll find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

To add to my mounting panic over our nest-less existence, those were the months that marked the beginning of the end of Sophie’s career as a baby who slept like, well, a baby.

From her second month of life, Sophie sleep in her crib, every night, from 6 PM to 6 AM, and that was the problem: We had it too good. “This is it,” Alex and I said, congratulating ourselves during quiet, unhurried dinners, “we’ve got it made. She’s a sleeper, thanks to our stellar parenting and undeniable good looks.”

We moved to Boulder. Two weeks later, we went to Mexico. Two months after that, Sophie broke her collarbone on the babysitter’s watch, an episode that disturbed us much more than the bout of pneumonia she caught about as soon as her tiny bones mended. I would put her in her crib and stroke her head, either for an hour or until I’d rubbed off a good portion of her hair—whichever came first—and try and make dinner before she was able to figure out that she had accidentally fallen asleep. There would be night terrors sometime between midnight and one, and at least three other teary awakenings on a bad night. She would ask for—demand—milk each time she woke, and by morning, had drunk enough to add up to a volume that justified keeping a cow on the premises. And as if there was something a mere doctor could do about it, Alex and every relative I have implored me ask our pediatrician for ideas.

“You moved?” asked the pediatrician, as if he’d never heard such nonsense, “Oh, well.” He wrote the word “moved” in Sophie’s chart, and said,“That’ll do it.” He told me that a move can mess up a baby’s sleep schedule for as long as six months, and so can an illness, an injury, and a big change in routine, like starting day care, which she did in between bouts of the Bird Flu. Accepting that we’d sent our daughter’s schedule straight to hell in a basket bearing a nice pink bow, I told Alex to buck up. “We’re never sleeping again.”

Of course, I was wrong. We would sleep, but with a child in between us who apparently was dreaming that she was executing a triple axel toe-loop combo. In exasperation one morning, Alex looked down at the two of us in bed, Sophie occupying ¾ of the king-sized bed by lying diagonally, her feet in my face, and said, “This must end.”

We all deal with challenges differently. I usually hide under the covers of whatever bed is available with a box of strawberry Pop Tarts (frosted). Alex threatens to help, usually in the most condescending way possible, which is what he did the night he suggested, “Do you want me to read a book on this stuff or something?”

“Sure, go nuts,” I said. I went to my office and retrieved a half-dozen books with so many bookmarks and wrinkled Post-It Notes thrust between the pages that they resembled little paper porcupines. “Which philosophy do you want to subscribe to?” I asked him. “There’s Ferberizing, there’s the almighty American Academy of Pediatrics.” I tossed them onto the coffee table as I summarized. “On one end of the spectrum, there’s Dr. Weisbluth and his all-cry-all-the-time approach and the Sears clan at the other, who openly come right out and ask you, ‘What’s up your ass? Jesus. Just take the kid to bed with you.’” I shrugged and said, “I’m paraphrasing, of course.”

It was out of the kind of hand-wringing, hair-pulling, crazy-making, all-encompassing desperation that only severe and extended sleep deprivation can cause that I’d turned to the experts in the first place. Knowing that they’re just trying to help while they make a good living, I know that there’s a problem with relying too much on them. The problem with experts is that you can’t really call them up at 3:24 AM to say, “The best thing about not sleeping is that Bosom Buddies is on now.“ The problem with experts is that they may or may not have changed their minds about something they’ve written between having written it and having decided that maybe it would be better just to give the kid a big slug of whiskey.

The problem with experts is that, while I’m listening to the second half of an hour’s worth of screaming and crying that will no doubt escalate to the kind of wailing that eventually culminates in a vomiting jag, the good doctor is probably in his study, deciding what to bring to the next Rotary Club potluck. Just as he’s asking the shadowy figure of his wife in the doorway, “Do you think Swedish meatballs are too salty?” I’m wondering if it would be wrong to just put my head in the oven, next to the dinner that’s four hours late.

And then, of course, the problem with experts is that sometimes I just want to do things my own way. Because sometimes, unlike a certain ’80 sit-com, I like to think I know exactly who the boss is. (Of course, I’m almost always wrong.) Bossing aside, I do believe that ninety percent of the time, we know what to do with the crises in our lives, no matter how big or how small they are. We can trust our instincts, we can trust ourselves. Although she would win any day of the week in a cage match against Major Houlihan from MASH, and although I often wonder if astronauts can see the stick up her ass from space, the pediatrician’s nurse took me aside on Sophie’s fifth day of life, and told me that she had some advice about advice. She poked me square in the chest and said, “Now that the baby’s born, everyone wants to give you advice, but the best advice is already built-in. It’s in you.” She was telling me what I had already concluded after years of near-disastrous dates and relationships and experiences. Those experiments in substituting my judgment with someone else’s have served me well in the form of painful lessons that hold up over time. Nurse Ratchet with the Rave home perm reminded me that there’s hard-won wisdom in me, and damned if I was going to forsake it because I’d spend $24.95 on some yahoo’s thesis.

To be continued, unless you beg me to stop.


Amy said...

One word, Jody: peyote. I kid you not: rub a little bit on a kid's gums and it'll shut them up for at LEAST 6 hours. At least according to my relatives in south Jersey.

I just had a discussion about this very thing at lunch today with a friend:

"David was a wild boy when he was 3--temper tantrums, outlandish demands, petty behavior over food."

"So, what did you do?" I asked.

"I read book after book and tried all their advice. And then my neighbor told me exactly what to do. And it made complete sense. And so I went home that night and really, really thought about everything I'd read and then I really thought about everything she'd told me to do. And her advice made the best sense."

"And so did it work? Because David is a really well-adjusted, successful grown man now," I said (silently adding in my head: and a freaking hot hottie I'd totally shag in a second if I were 10 years younger.

"Nope. I went over to her door the next day, knocked on it, and when she opened up, I said: 'You gave fabulous advice yesterday. It really made a lot of sense. But I'm not going to do what you told me to do.' And she was shocked. Because she was a confident woman who nobody ever, ever questioned. But in the end, I knew: I had to do everything my own way, by my own gut instinct, because nobody else knows me and my family and my kids like I do."

And that made a lot of sense to me. If I ever have kids. Because I'm too busy educating other people's to ever want to come home to more of my own. But maybe that'll change (when they legalize peyote).

Chris said...

Fantastic story! As the parent of a wonderful 11-month-old who never has liked sleeping, I'd like to commiserate. The only thing the books did was make us feel like we weren't doing it right. They provided the painful illusion that there's a process that works for everyone. Everyone except, of course, you.

So I agree wholeheartedly with Nurse Stick-Up-Her-Ass.

Great writing, as always.

Joe said...

It's amazing that kids ever got born or raised before the "For Dummies" series came out. How did cave people have kids without the sage advice of Ferber or Spock or Sears? And when I say "cave people" I mean my parents of course.

Being older first-timer parents my wife and I had to rely on some of these books when my daughter came along. Both sets of grandparents gone, no close relatives with kids, most of our couple friends "DINKS" (double income no kids) - we didn't have anyone to ask advice from about raising a child. Some days I felt like dropping her off at the zoo to let the wolves have a go at raising her. She'd be better off with something that still had some instinct left.

So we bought all the books and subscribed to all the parenting magazines and surreptitiously took notes while shadowing moms at the mall. It wasn't long before we came to the conclusion that there is a whole industry based around undermining peoples confidence in their own judgment. I don't know why this came as a shock since that is the purpose of most advertising, but it was disturbing. Worse yet, most of the daily stuff fell to me (I'm a Mr. Mom) so where the hell was I going to find a maternal instinct?

She was a good sleeper for the first 9 months, not so good a sleeper for the next 2 months and now she back to giving me a solid 5 hours sleep at night. Tomorrow that may all change again.

Well, so far so good. Moira is 20 months old and I haven't seen signs of a budding sociopath emerging despite having daddy instead of mommy running to her in the middle of the night. I suppose I have a few years before I really screw her up. I'll see what the books have to say about that.