Friday, February 11, 2011

me the mama, the salve.

For the past week I've been nursing sick kids--quite sick, with high fevers and empty eyes and no appetite. Everybody's been home from school. Today, however, I had one half-sick kid and one nearly-well kid with buckets of energy. Aaaaannd now I've got the fever. The last two days I've been achy and exhausted and completely unable to do anything more than chop cubes of cheese and pour cheerios into a bowl. Since it's February and we live in upstate NY, the temp and wind have been such that the only time I even opened the door today was to let the dog out then back in.

So today when Mitch got home, I collapsed on the couch and begged to be released from bedtime duties. It mostly went well, until the end. I thought the kids would be ready for bed early, both of them still somewhat sick, but I probably didn't factor in the fact that we hadn't left the house since Tuesday. Poor Clark wailed and howled. Mama Mama Mama Mama! I listened from downstairs, wondered if I should let Mitch handle it, thought maybe it would be good for Clark to have someone else comfort him. But since he was specific in his request for me, after a few minutes up I went.

Mitch was working on his laptop outside Clark's room, and as I passed him he said, "Are you sure Clark's ready for bed?" The minute I appeared Clark got quiet and wiped his wet face with his palms. Poor guy. It's true that he seemed awake. Not strung-out-and-over-tired awake, just awake. He talked about his stuffed pony. He told me about the cricket on his shirt. I wondered if I should just bring him back downstairs and try again later. I thought I'd sing to him first, however. 

There are two songs I recently reintroduced into our nighttime playlist, both tunes that I sang to him when he was a baby, when I walked the floor to get him to sleep. It's been interesting: one of the two he wants over and over now, every night, and the other makes his eyes heavy in the first few notes. It's like a muscle memory. So tonight, though he seemed so very awake, I started the first song, assuming he would break in with a request for different lighting or some pretzels. 

You can guess where this is going. I wasn't halfway through the first song when his eyes started to droop. By the end of the second round he was so asleep that his thumb had already fallen from his mouth. It took all of three minutes. 

When I emerged from the room Mitch said, "He needed his mama. I wasn't going to do, that's for sure." Apparently Mitch had tried to comfort him, tried to hold him; Clark wouldn't even look at his daddy, just pushed him away. And Clark is crazy about his daddy. 

He's in a mommy stage, there's no question. I knew that already. (So is Frances, by the way, and the two of them together can sometimes be a little more love than I can handle.) But it's interesting to me that he calmed so quickly when I arrived, that he gave in to the deep rest of sleep so immediately. It's true; he needed me. I don't know why, but it seems odd to me that these little creatures need me so deeply, and not just for the safety and regularity of routine (I get that. I am the one home with him all the time, the one making meals and bandaiding scrapes, the one helping him navigate conflicts with his sister and his fear of the monster upstairs), but for something more intrinsic.

I'm not explaining well. I guess I mean that I'm so focused on providing the physical stuff-- cooking, and keeping the house straight, and organizing craft activities, and ushering folks into snowpants and the minivan--that I don't realize how much emotional stuff I provide too. Yet as I'm writing this I'm aware that much of the physical stuff is the emotional stuff. I keep them on regular sleep schedules and pack snacks and watch for overtiredness. I try to protect them from the bombardment of the world, while also show them what that world is. It shouldn't surprise me that he needs just me the way he does, should it? I could see it more easily if I were the only caregiver, if his daddy weren't such an amazing father... Am I still shortchanging my role in this? Do I not see with perspective who I am to my son? I think I don't. 

Frances has lately taken to calling me the "best mama in the world." Every time she does it I hear a little disclaimer in my head. But then, the other day I flipped open the book The Emotional Life of the Toddler to a random page and read that, though the parent's job is to protect the child from emotional stress, no parent can do this all the time because the perfect parent doesn't exist. And it's important to remember that children are resilient enough that they bounce back from emotional strain pretty well. 

Why can't I remember that the perfect parent doesn't exist? Why do I (and so many of the women I know) pressure ourselves to be the perfect parent? Feel we've failed when we fall short of perfection? (Why do I hear in my head, when my sweet daughter tells me I'm the best mama in the world, that no, I'm not. Why don't I just hear the love?) Why is perfection, rather than very good solid parenting, the yardstick?

Can't be. Doesn't exist

I feel like I'm rambling, like I'm circling the core of the thing. Like, if I could say it right, this post would be half as long.

Okay, jumping ship. We'll attribute the ramblingness of this post to the fever, whadayasay? I've got to get some sleep. 

1 comment:

rebecca said...

Oh, I know what you mean. I feel like our culture and the emphasis on how much parents buy things has made us fetishize parenthood in a ridiculous way, to the point where all parents are crazy. It's as if we're getting coached from all directions--complaints from random strangers in advice columns about being around other people's monster children, parenting books, parenting magazines, parenting shows, I don't know. After a while I start to feel like we need to just stop fixating on parenting and focus on the fact that the best thing we can do for our kids is be happy and love them and not spend too much time worrying about what other people think.

Nice post, Cali. Thanks for writing it.