Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Mystery of the Midnight Crying

            Celia awoke screaming.
            I rushed into her room and picked her up. Her nose has been plugged up, and her throat is starting to get raspy, so she sounded horrible. I held her as she calmed down. We sat together rocking back and forth for awhile, then I asked her, “What’s wrong Sweetie? Why are you crying?”
            She didn’t answer.
            I asked again, “Why are you crying?”
            Silence.
            I easily get frustrated by a non-response, so I tried to calm my temptation to get impatient and instead urged her, “If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t help you. Tell me why you’re crying.”
            She looked at me, then looked away.
            “Okay,” I said as I gently lifted her back into the crib. “Goodnight.”
            No sooner had I started to walk away when she started to cry again. I went back to her but didn’t pick her up. “You need to tell me what’s wrong,” I said to her.
            “The cat peed in my bed,” Celia replied with tears in her eyes.
            This was, of course, true. And it was part of the reason why she’s been sleeping in her crib again. Maybe Celia was picking up on my anger earlier in the day. Michelle was telling me we might have to throw the mattress away. It frustrates me that suddenly, overnight, the things we’ve worked hard to attain become garbage. Welcome to the world of pets and children.
            I tried to make eye contact with Celia as I said, “Yes, the cat did pee in your bed. But why are you crying?”
            Celia looked away and started to cry again. I said a quick prayer for discernment, one of those one-word prayers that encapsulate about a hundred different emotions and possibilities but simply come out as, “Help.”
            Instantly, I knew that I needed to bring her into our bed for the rest of the night. Which is odd, because she hasn’t slept in our bed with us for a year now. But I’ve learned over the years to trust my first instinct in these kinds of things, so I asked Celia, “Do you want to sleep with Mommy and Daddy?”
            “Yeah,” she replied.
            I lifted her and brought her into our bed. She tossed and turned, but slept pretty well after that. Michelle and I, on the other hand, both had the same thought all night long. Michelle put it into words when she came down in the morning, “We need a king size bed.”
            I nodded my head in agreement. “If we do that again, we most certainly do.” The crick in my neck was speaking to me louder than any of Michelle’s words.
            Now that Celia was awake, I sat her down and looked her in the eye, “Celia, why were you crying so much last night?”
            Celia looked me in the eye and said, “Because I’m little.”
            I laughed. Well, that’s of course true. But I wanted to know more. “Is that the only reason you were crying?”
            “Yeah,” Celia replied as she squirmed out of my arms. Her attention span was gone.
            I suppose the mystery of the midnight crying will remain just that. And perhaps Celia’s second answer really is all I should need. Let’s face it, she’s little. It’s going to happen. So deal with it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tears of Laughter

            I was deeply engrossed in a late-night phone call with a friend when Celia started to cry. She’s been sleeping in her crib because the open access to freedom from the bed has been too enticing, and more importantly, the cat peed on her bed! I was so mad at that cat, but what do you do? It could have been any number of things – the cat has been sick, and wearing what I call the “cone of shame” for almost a week now.
            When Celia started to cry I gestured to Michelle to go upstairs and calm her down. Michelle gestured to me that she wanted me to go up too. I rolled my eyes and said to my friend, “Okay. I’ve gotta go. Michelle wants help with Celia.”
            I hung up and bounded upstairs. Michelle and I both leaned into the crib at the same time where our daughter was still crying loudly.
            Suddenly, Michelle said,” Celia! Have you been eating chocolate!?”
            “Michelle!” I whispered with force, “That was me!” My eyes were wide with shock. That’s the last thing Celia needed, was to go down the path of wanting chocolate in the middle of the night.
            I started to laugh. I couldn’t believe it.
            Michelle quickly tried to cover up for me. You don’t want Daddy laughing when he comes up to check on his disturbed daughter. “Daddy’s crying with you, because he feels your pain,” Michelle told Celia.
            I put my face in my hands and tried to make my laughter sound like crying. It was so ridiculous that I began to laugh all the more.
            “Daddy’s really sad,” Michelle said to Celia.
            I lifted my head to look at Celia, and then the laughter took over. Have you ever had a laughing fit, where you just can’t seem to stop laughing, no matter what you try? I haven’t had one in years. I can’t even remember the last time. But suddenly, here I was in front of my distressed daughter guffawing out of control, trying to make it sound like crying as best as I could.
            Celia quieted down and stared at me with big eyes. My stomach kept buckling huge chuckles of laughter/sobs out of me.
            Finally, Michelle said, “Daddy, I think you need to leave the room to compose yourself.”
            Tears were rolling down my face as I nodded and left the room.
            I sat in the living room and had a cathartic laugh session. After wiping the tears from my eyes and calming down, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “For goodness sakes! Michelle didn’t need me to help with Celia!”
            Although, it’s hard to feel upset for being taken away from my friend when I’ve laughed that hard. It’s hard to feel anything but pure enjoyment. Maybe I need to do that more often!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Second-Born Syndrome

            Raising the second child is considerably different than the first. With the firstborn everything has to change – poisonous plants are disposed of, empty sockets are plugged, fragile things, sharp corners, loose cables all are modified. Slowly, slowly, kid stuff starts to overwhelm every room of the house, until there are toys, bibs, and “jolly jumpers” just about everywhere.
            With the first kid the parents go through some pretty major shocks to the system. They wish they had earplugs, noseplugs, and brainplugs for all the crying, diapers, and waking up in the middle of the night. My biggest shock was realizing that I wanted to go to bed early on a weekend night, rather than join my friends for some wonderful late-night festivity. Sleep becomes much, much more important than fun.
            Not only are parents of firstborns shocked, they’re delighted every time their child learns to crawl, talk, eat, pick their nose, you name it. Everything is just so darn exciting, and worthy of a photograph.
            Then along comes the second.
            It’s odd, because even though Joshua is colicky, with all the extra crying and puking, it just seems a whole lot easier than the first. The initial shock of having kids has worn off, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal this time around. I hear my son crying and think, “Well, it sucks, but it won’t last forever.”
            In some ways, I think second-born kids are gypped. Years ago I was digging through my parents’ photos trying to find some cute baby pictures of myself. I kept coming across my older brother, but only found a handful of photos with me in them. I remember shaking my head and thinking, “No way am I going to let that happen to my second child. He’s going to get all sorts of photos taken of him.”
            I’ll be honest with you, not only has Joshua had a mere fraction of photographs taken of him compared to Celia at his age, one of the big things keeping me taking his photo is the reminder of that experience digging through my parents’ photos. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered taking all the photographs I’ve taken so far. “Been there, done that. Who needs more baby pictures when we already have tons of Celia?”
            I’ve tried to be diligent and take some photos of him. He’s got a few good ones, especially when he’s sleeping (and not crying), but not too many when he’s awake yet. Although there is a funny one I took of Michelle and Celia laughing and playing on the bed as Joshua is propped up on pillows next to them puking. I don’t like the fact that he pukes so much, but at some point I just have to shake my head and laugh at some of these moments. He seems like he’s getting through it, and if everyone around us is right, most colicky kids suddenly snap out of it and turn out pretty normal.
            Celia seems to dealing with it fairly well. Sometimes when Joshua cries a lot, she “cries” too. When we give him medicine, she wants some medicine too. When we give him baby food, she wants baby food too. We always humor her with these episodes. One of our many child psychology books says that if you let your child “digress”, they’ll actually mature much more quickly and in a healthy way that builds their self-esteem. They get the message from you that they’re okay wherever they’re at, and that encourages them to be more self-confident than if a parent were to say, “You’re too old for that.”
            Not only does Celia seem to be handling it fairly well, she usually brings a bit of humor to Joshua’s malady. A few nights ago Joshua had puked up his dinner and Celia started loudly calling out, “Pukenator! Pukenator! He’s the Pukenator!”
            I smiled. Michelle and I kept caring for Joshua as Celia continued, “He’s the Pukenator! He’s the Pukenator! He’s the Pukenator!”
            I wondered to myself if I shouldn’t have given Joshua that nickname. I mostly still call him Jelly Bean, but when he pukes – well, “The Pukenator” just seems to fit better.
            Last night Celia surprised me with her depth of perception. After Joshua had spit up for over ten minutes straight, Celia said, “He’s a puking machine!”
            I laughed out loud. “Where did you learn that?” I asked her.
            Celia grinned and looked up at Michelle.
            Michelle shrugged her shoulders as she held Joshua and said, “Well, he is!”
            I chuckled. Our son, the puking machine. On the bright side, he is starting to improve. We’ve now got him on antacid and a few naturopathic medicines, plus he now has no more twists in his spine thanks to the chiropractor. He’s sleeping through the night much better, and actually seems quite happy at times. During the day one of us, usually Michelle, walks him in the stroller. This seems to be the only way to keep him from crying. But it does seem to be working.
            I don’t know if he’s really improving, or if it’s just another phase, but I think we’re managing it pretty well. Maybe that’s the difference with the second-born. If there’s anything learned from the first, it’s that this season passes rather quickly. It’s not like I’m going to be wiping up his puke two years from now. If we can give him all the extra attention he needs now, I think he’ll turn out pretty well.
            At this point, puking or not, I’m going to remember to keep taking his photo. He may grow up with some sort of “Second-Born Syndrome”, but at the very least he’ll have photos of himself, mostly puking or sleeping, to look back on and smile.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Less Than Successful Bed-Sleeping

            The bed isn’t working.
            It started a couple of days ago, when Celia didn’t want to go to sleep. I put her in the bed, tucked her in, said, “Goodnight, Sweetheart. I love you,” kissed her, and went downstairs. A couple of minutes later I heard quiet footsteps on the stairway. I turned my head to see my little daughter grinning at me from the bottom step!
            I looked over at the baby monitor in shock. It’s one of those “noise activated” systems, so it’s completely quiet unless there’s a significant noise on the other end. I turned my head back to my grinning daughter. I had absolutely no clue that she’d snuck out of her bed and come downstairs. And in all honesty, it scared me.
            All sorts of “what if’s” started racing through my head. What if she wakes up quietly, then starts going downstairs but she’s wearing those silly pajamas with no grips on the feet and slips down the stairs? What if she wakes up, goes downstairs, opens the refrigerator, and leaves the door open all night? What if she moves a chair over to the kitchen (which she could do if she tried hard enough) and stands on it so she can reach the knives?
            As my mind played out seventeen preposterous scenarios, Celia lost interest and began walking into the living room.
            “Oh no you don’t,” I said, scooping her up. I walked her upstairs and began explaining things to her. “I’ve always said you have a choice between the bed and the crib. You’re showing me that you’re choosing the crib, because you’re not staying in the bed.”
            I walked into her room, plopped her into the crib, kissed her as she started to cry, gave her the green blanket (the one she can’t sleep without), and walked out.
            Let the wailing begin, I thought. And of course, she did cry for a minute or so, but she really was tired, just protesting bedtime, and she quieted down and slept rather quickly.
            As I sat downstairs and thought over what had just happened, I shook my head. “Too bad,” I thought. “I guess she isn’t 100% ready for the bed yet.”
            The next night went better. She went to bed and slept through the night. My morale went up. Perhaps she just had a little hiccup?
            The night after that she went to bed just fine, but sometime in the middle of the night I awoke with a start. Even in my sleep, I had the feeling that someone was looking at me. I just knew it.
            I turned my head and looked straight into the eyes of my daughter.
            “What are you doing here?” I asked her (I was confused myself).
            “Daddy and Mommy’s bed,” Celia said.
            I blinked my eyes. Okay, this is one of those parenting moments they don’t tell you about in the books. I lifted her onto the bed. Celia instantly looked up through the skylight and said, “Wow! I see stars!”
            By this time, Michelle had woken up. “Yes, Celia. Aren’t they beautiful?”
            “Les,” Celia said. She’s still having trouble pronouncing her “Y’s”.
            We snuggled her and started telling her about the constellations.
            It was a funny thing, in the end. We had an impromptu family time engaging in  2am stargazing, which really, when I look back at it, isn’t such a bad idea. In fact, it’s kind of cool, the kind of idea I wish I’d come up with myself.
            But it also makes me think this bed training may not be all smooth riding. So far, it’s brought me more tension, surprises, and angst than even the move into a new house. I guess it’s probably because there are so many unknowns involved. We just don’t know what to expect next. But, come to think of it, maybe that’s just the kind of spice our lives need.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Braving the New Bed

            The day has finally arrived – Celia has upgraded from the crib to a bed.
            At first, this may not sound like such a big deal. Sleeping is sleeping, right? Wrong! When you’ve got a little two-year-old who sometimes wails because she doesn’t want to go to sleep, or who wakes up five times in the middle of the night crying, or who engages in the practice of crib-side bouncing to help her calm down, this is quite a big deal indeed.
            As I was thinking about letting her sleep in a bed for the first time, I had all sorts of doubts. What if she protests going to bed? What if she wakes up and comes into our bedroom? What if she’s scared about the big space she’s suddenly sleeping in? The possibilities of things that could go wrong seemed endless to me.
            For something so significant, I needed to mentally prepare Celia so she could handle the challenge. Over a month ago I started preparing her. “You know, Celia, when you turn two you’ll get to sleep in a full-sized bed. Did you know that?”
            Celia was quiet when I shared this information with her. But I continued non-stop, every single night before putting her to bed, explaining that when she’d turned two and we’d moved into our new house, she’d get to sleep in a bed instead of a crib.
            Oddly, she never did give me any sign that this information was sinking in. But when the day finally came, when Michelle and I finally scrapped together the energy and time to put the bed together a week after moving in, Celia was utterly thrilled that night.
            “Look, Celia! This is your bed!”
            Celia’s eyes lit up and she bounced onto the lower bunk. Then, she climbed up the ladder to the top bunk, smiling all the way.
            “You get to sleep in your new bed tonight!”
            Celia bounced and crawled around exploring every corner of her new bunk bed. I secretly became quite worried that she’d never be able to sleep with all this new excitement. I was shocked when she crawled under the covers without me asking, and that was it. I kissed her goodnight, turned off the light, and left the room.
            I went downstairs and instantly felt completely uncomfortable. What if she woke up? What would happen? Would she just walk downstairs, or would we hear her cry? What if? What if? I had fifteen different scenarios playing out in my head.
            But nothing awkward happened. Nor did anything happen the next night, or the next one either.
            I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Maybe it really is this easy? It feels so odd. I’m keeping the crib around in her room, in case she digresses. You never know, maybe she’ll suddenly have one of those nights where she’s out of control again. I mean, she may be two now, but she’s not that much older than a few weeks ago. Not to me, anyway.
            For now, it looks like she really has progressed. And for all the worry, I’m secretly hoping this will end up being a truly good thing for me and Michelle, in particular on the weekends. When she’s sleeping in the crib, if Celia wants to wake up she has to cry so we can lift her out. On the other hand, in a bed, there are no bars to restrain her. All she has to do is get up.
            Just picture it. It’s 7am on a Saturday and Michelle and I are still asleep. Of course we’re asleep, because we’ve just had a smashing amazing party the night before. Celia wakes up. Looks around. She rubs her eyes, crawls out of bed, and walks over to her toys. Slam dunk! She then spends an hour puttering around quietly while her Mom and Dad snore away.
            Ta-Da! Everybody’s happy. All I need is my daughter to participate in my little plan, and we’ll be set.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Thankful Home

            I love living in my own home again. It’s exactly as loud or quiet as we want it to be. Everything is exactly in its uncluttered location. The fridge is stocked with only the foods we eat. Celia has her own room where she can play uninterrupted for as long as she likes. And the sex life is back up to snuff, where it ought to be.
            When we gaze out the kitchen windows to the humongous yard out back, or watch the sunset on the mountains almost every day from our living room window, or gaze up at the stars from the skylight above our bed, I turn to Michelle, or she to me, and we say, “I love it here. I’m so thankful.”
            It’s good timing that today is Canadian Thanksgiving – although we didn’t need much spurring to be thankful. Michelle and I could have listed dozens of things to be thankful for. I’m amazed that I can take Joshua for a walk in his stroller, and within twenty minutes I’m on a lovely dirt road on the mountain overlooking the valley, with a gorgeous view and a trail that goes for miles and miles. I never could have done that in the big city.
            I’m amazed that we now live in a town where we stop by the gourmet pizza restaurant for lunch only to discover that we know people at six of the eight tables there, well enough to give them hugs. And, in fact, my younger brother’s girlfriend also shows up to pick up a pizza and sits with us for ten minutes as she waits for it. Now that’s a small town.
            I’m amazed that some of the older members at the church we’ve started to attend have already volunteered to help us in whatever ways possible – moving our stuff on the big moving day, or even holding our colicky son so Michelle can get things settled. It’s unbelievable to me that people have reached out to help us in such a short time.
            I’m happy that Michelle and I have both felt this deep sense of thankfulness, because Heaven knows we’re still quite tired. Last night we decided to watch a movie together, now that we finally unpacked the tv and I bought a second-hand sound system off Craigslist to replace the one that got destroyed in the move. About fifteen minutes in, The Pukenator started to cry so Michelle went upstairs to console him. I paused the movie to wait for her to come back down.
            I woke up at 3:30am in a daze. Where was I? Why was I sleeping on the couch? In my clothing? What was going on? My mind struggled to land on solid ground as I put the pieces together – Michelle must have fallen asleep with Joshua, and I must have done the same waiting for her. I peeled myself off the couch, uncluttered the living room, and slithered into bed.
            Yes, we’re pooped at the end of each day, but the days are good. Joshua seems to be happier every day. Celia loves her daycare. The air is crisp, and the skies are blue – a big change from rainy Vancouver. I still don’t know exactly how we’ll make it financially, or how long it’s going to take for me to find a friend who I want to hang out with a scotch and talk about life’s most significant details. This is true. But then, these things will come in time.
            For now, it’s probably safe to say, I think we’re going to be all right.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chaotic Cake-Cutting

            The only thing more chaotic and stressful than hosting a two-year-old birthday party is to have the unimaginable coincidence of celebrating it the day after moving into your new home. Imagine twenty-some kids running around wildly, popping balloons, destroying my mother’s flowers, over-stressing the swing, and not even once sitting still, even during the serving of the cake.
            I’d thought it would be overall a bit more, oh, I don’t know, peaceful, somehow. Thankfully, there were lots of adults around so no major harm was done, but Celia didn’t even open half her presents – how could she, surrounded by two dozen delightful screaming children – which means that I have very little sense of who gave her what.
            By the time the birthday party was over, Michelle was stressed and exhausted. She’d lost her voice, and the light was starting to leave her eyes.
            “Don’t stop now,” I told her. “We have to move over Celia’s crib and another load of our stuff so we can sleep in our new home tonight.”
            “I don’t want to sleep in our new home tonight. I want to stay here another night.” Michelle not only sounded horrible, she had a look in her eye like a cornered squirrel – trying to find an escape route to safety.
            “What!? We didn’t say that before! We’d planned on staying in our new home!” I was exasperated. I’d spent the entire last two days working up a sweat loading and unloading nearly every last item of ours into the new house. All that was left was Celia’s crib, some clothing, and random household items strewn around the parents’ house. My back was sore, I was dehydrated, and I was ready to collapse into bed just as soon as we put some sheets on it.
            “I don’t want to,” Michelle replied with a rasp. “I’m done.”
            I paused.
            I think taking a breath and looking her in the eye was probably the best thing I could have done, because I was about to snap at her. Instead, I saw the weariness in her eyes and tried to set aside my own exhaustion so I could empathize.
            “I can respect the fact that you’re tired,” I said, looking her in the eye, “And that we’re absolutely crazy to move the day of our daughter’s birthday. But I’ve already moved nearly everything. I need you for one or two more hours to give it that last push. In two hours it’ll all be over. The kids will be in bed and we can sit down with a drink and relax. But I need you right now. My mom will come over and help. We can do this.”
            Michelle nodded. She took a deep breath and seemed to calm down. I turned and instantly spun into action, loading the kids and a few more items into the van.
            My mom was a godsend. I don’t think we could have done it without her. She held a wailing Joshua as Michelle and I put sheets on our bed and got the room semi-decent for him to sleep in. Then, she held different parts of the crib as I reassembled it in Celia’s new room.
            Sure enough, within an hour and a half both kids were asleep, and Michelle started washing up to do the same.
            “I’m heading back to the parents’ house for another load.” I told her.
            I kissed her and drove back the parents’ house, running up and down stairs with boxes and sifting through the kitchen for critical items. As I was about to go out the door to sleep in my new home, my dad stopped me.
            He put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye. Then, he kissed my left cheek, then right cheek, and then the left again, as he always does. Michelle says she thinks he does three kisses to reflect the Trinity, and that he’s praying a blessing over you when he does it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I felt blessed. Then, he looked me in the eye while holding my head and said, “Welcome home, Habibi.”
            For the last few months I’ve felt like a nomad, living life in transition, always thinking about what’s next and having a lot of difficulty staying in the present. Finally, the day has come. And my dad was the first to say it.
            I am home.