Schooled By My Students

It’s a thrill to watch my kids learn and grow and master new skills. But since they are only 2.5 and 1 mo. old, those skills are along the lines of learning to ride a scooter and finding their own foot. I get a different kind of thrill from seeing my writing students succeed. And boy, do they! One just got published in the New York Times! Go, M.G.!!

There’s little that’s more gratifying than helping a writer develop her talent and confidence so she can go out into the harsh world of publishing and not only survive, but thrive. You all read/saw “The Devil Wears Prada,” right? Editors can be scary!! (Not mine, of course, should they happen to be reading. Mine are all gentle and decent people with normal-sized egos, I swear!)

I’ve come to realize that I often learn as much from my students as they learn from me. For instance, one person wrote about the struggle to potty train her son. Boy, can I relate! Reading that made me realize I’m not the only one who risks frittering away her retirement fund on Pull-Ups. (I refuse to buy them in bulk. I’m in denial. I keep thinking, “This will be the LAST pack!”) Another thoughtful essay detailed the writer’s difficult adjustment to being a stay-at-home mom. Again, I can relate!

Another essay that sticks with me is about a mom’s coming to terms with her different relationship with each of her sons. She described her first baby as cheerful and charming, while her second was solemn and reserved. She worried she was a bad mother for comparing them, and feared her first-born would always be her favorite. Ultimately, she realized she loves both boys equally, but differently. I totally get this now!

Somewhat embarrassingly, I burst into tears at the pediatrician’s office the other day, partly due to guilt over this issue. It had been a horrible morning, trying to get 2 kids to 2 different doctors’ appointments on opposite sides of town. One involved pinning my screaming 2-y.o.’s arms to his sides while forcing him to breathe asthma medication through a nebulizer. The other required pinning down my screaming newborn while he got a Hepatitis B shot.

So, anyway, our pediatrician is so nice and warm and caring. I wailed about how Miles had never been like this baby, who does nothing but cry and spit up and insist on being held 24/7. I said I felt bad for Miles and bad about myself for feeling frustrated with Riley. And you know what the doctor said? That this is completely normal.

After all, she pointed out, I have a bond with Miles. He’s been my main man for almost 3 years now. (My main man in diapers, that is.) And newborns don’t give a lot back, as needy as they are. It’s all “feed me, burp me, change me, rock me” with not even a smile in return. Admit it: if you were dating your baby, you’d dump him so fast it’d make his head spin.

The doctor also said that Miles was an unusual baby and that Riley is what most babies are like. Oh, really? That means my little handful of a first-born was actually our EASY baby, in retrospect! I don’t know if this makes me feel better or worse. The doctor also said Riley would probably outgrow some of his issues in a few months. And you know what? The other night he actually slept 4.5 hours in a row. And I swear he smiled this morning. A light at the end of the tunnel!

Besides, as my SIL made me realize the other day, it’s a little early to brand Riley the black sheep of the family and start dressing him in “Bad to the Bone” onesies. He’s only a month old, for Pete’s sake!!

Anyway … thanks, students, for teaching me while I teach you. Keep those success stories coming. Now stop reading this blog and go write something!

READS O’ THE WEEK: Famed mom blogger Dooce has a new book out. And here’s another one that’s on my wish list: Sleep Is for the Weak: The Best of the Mommybloggers Including Amalah, Finslippy, Fussy, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, Mom-101, and More!


New-Mom Amnesia

What’s that? Did somebody say something? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. There’s a baby screaming in my ear. I also can’t smell anything, since I have a sinus infection and no use of my nostrils. At this point, I’m lucky I can still see through my puffy, half-shut eyes. Who needs all 5 senses, anyway?

As if that’s not enough, here’s another thing to make a new mom crazy: conflicting advice. I ran into my neighbor at the park yesterday, and she mentioned she had a 6-week-old niece. So we started comparing notes, and here’s what I found out:

  • While my pediatrician insists the optimal indoor temperature for a newborn is between 70 and 72 degrees, her sister’s doctor claims that babies need to be kept in a cool room.
  • While my baby wakes up every couple of hours demanding to be fed and won’t sleep longer than 2 hours at a time, her niece sleeps so long she has to be woken up to eat.
  • While her niece rarely cries, my baby cries intermittently around the clock for no apparent reason. Is he cold? Hot? Hungry? Gassy? Damned if I know.
Besides the general cluelessness that goes along with having a new baby, here are some other Things I’d Forgotten:
  • That newborns nurse 8-10 times a day, 2-4 hours apart, and that each feeding can take an entire hour by the time you do both boobs, burp and change the baby. So THAT’S what I do all day, in case you’re wondering.

  • The wide variety of bodily fluids that are part of a new mom’s day.

  • The laundry; my WORD, the laundry!

  • The random, inconsolable fits of crying, usually around dinnertime. (By the baby.)

  • The random, inconsolable fits of crying, at any time of day. (By me.) Those hormones are a bitch, I tell ya.

  • That satiny, silky newborn skin. (That is, until the baby acne erupts.)

  • That fuzzy, wuzzy newborn head. (Cradle cap notwithstanding.)

  • How heavy that infant car seat is, no matter how small the infant you’re carrying in it is.
And yet, since this is my second child, there are also a whole new set of issues. Here’s What’s Different This Time Around:
  • I don’t bolt out of bed at every noise the baby makes during the night. Just every third noise.

  • Forget sleeping when the baby sleeps when there’s a 2-year-old around.

  • I don’t change the baby’s diaper and outfit the minute they get dirty. What’s the rush?

  • I can let the baby cry for a minute or two without feeling like my heart is being torn out with rusty grill tongs.

  • I have no choice but to let the baby cry sometimes; say, when my older son yells, “Mom! I need help on the potty!” or “Is that smoke?”

  • Whereas last time I had taken several hundred pictures of the baby by this point, I have gone entire days without photographing my second child.
Hey, do you hear that? It’s the sound of … silence. Either that or I’ve gone deaf.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Constant product recalls. Add that to the list of what makes a new mom crazy. The latest is drop-side cribs. Read this, too.


The More Babies I Have, the Less I Know

I spent part of my morning cleaning baby poop off the wall and pen off the couch, courtesy of my second-born and first-born, respectively. Don’t let anyone tell you new motherhood isn’t glamorous. I’m sure that’s exactly how Gwen Stefani spends her mornings, right before she trots off to Rodeo Drive in her platform shoes and perfectly applied makeup.

You’d think I’d have a leg up, having had a baby boy before. But as we’ve learned here time and again, you’d be wrong. The first boy taught me to beware the dreaded pee in the face. (Even so, it’s already happened to Riley. Sorry, buddy. Mom’s a little slow on the uptake these days.) But Baby Boy #1 did not prepare us for projectile pooping.

Late one night, C. was changing the baby’s diaper when he gave a shout and jumped back from the changing table. Baby poop everywhere. Like the best description I once read in a book, it looked like someone was stomping on mustard packets in clogs. “I didn’t even know that was POSSIBLE!” C. exclaimed. Days later, we discovered splatters a good three feet away from the changing table. Good thing we never got around to repainting THAT room.

So, anyway, on to the much less unpleasant pen on the couch. It may sound like typical 2-year-old antics, but Miles has never been the destructive type. Sure, he experimented with some crayon wall art and tearing the pages out of books, but mostly these were one-time offenses. Now, though, he’s taken it to a new level. Tantrums, kicking, talking back, and tears are all part of our daily life lately.

Once again proving how na├»ve I am, I took it as a good sign that Miles has been so affectionate to his baby brother. I’d heard horror stories about siblings who’d tried to hurt a new baby or shunned them entirely. Even our pediatrician said repeatedly on Riley’s first visit: don’t leave the kids alone together, ever. And yet I smugly thought to myself, “Look how well he’s adjusting!” as I watched Miles rub Riley’s head and tuck his favorite toy into the bassinet. “Look, Mom, I’m sharing,” he told me proudly.

So how to explain the tantrums and destructive behavior? I turned to my Bible, What to Expect the First Year for help. In the Q&A section on siblings, there it was:

Q: My son shows no hostility toward his new sister. But he’s been acting very moody and disagreeable with me.

A: (I’m paraphrasing here.) Some older siblings see no point in taking things out on a helpless newborn, so they turn to the next best target: mom or dad. A first-born may vent his feelings toward his parents by throwing tantrums (check), exhibiting regressive behavior (check), refusing to eat (check), or rejecting his parents entirely and turning to someone else as a “favorite” (and check!) This type of behavior is a common and normal part of the adjustment period.

The book advises not to take it personally, don’t scold or punish, but respond with patience, understanding, reassurance, and extra attention. And to remember that this will pass—in a few MONTHS! Hmmph. Easier said than done.

As always, I find it much more helpful to read about the experiences of real mothers rather than just consulting the experts. This week, I’m identifying especially with Kristina Riggle, author of “Small Sacrifices” in A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers . From guilt trips to engorgement, she’s been through it all and lived to write about it. My kinda gal!


Oh, Brother!

Somehow, I got lulled into a false sense of security. Maybe because I’m a second-time mom? Maybe because we confidently left the hospital a day early, convinced we knew the drill? Maybe because baby Riley seemed so laid back those first few days? Why, there was one day last week when I managed to shower, nap, cook dinner, and update my blog ALL IN THE SAME DAY. Yeah, well…

brothersLet’s just say we’ve taken one step forward and 2 or 3 steps back. The grandparents have gone home, the pre-made meals are almost all eaten, the formerly chill baby has become nocturnal, and the novelty of being a big brother has started to wear off for Miles.

At first, this big brother gig was better than Christmas. Most of the gifts arriving at our house are not for the baby, but for Miles. Fair enough; he’s the one old enough to notice. He’s now added to his fleet of toys a safari boat, a remote-control construction truck, and an enormous battery-powered space shuttle complete with a bazillion separate parts and action figures. Thanks, Dad.

Miles’ reaction when he visited me and the baby in the hospital was adorable. My mom brought him in, proudly sporting his “I’m a Big Brother” T-shirt. His eyes open wide with wonder, he made a beeline for the bassinet, pulled up a chair, and climbed up to peer in at his new baby brother. “He’s so tiny!” Miles said. Then he proceeded to try to pry open the baby’s eyes and mouth to see what color his eyes were and whether he had any teeth.

Once we got home, things went pretty smoothly. First, because my mom devoted all her attention to Miles, so he barely even noticed the baby was getting most of mine. And of course, all the new toys helped keep him busy. Second, Miles is (thankfully) a heavy sleeper, so he wasn’t disturbed by the baby’s cries at night or during naps.

So far, Miles’ interactions with his little brother mainly involve him coming over to the bouncy seat or bassinet and cooing, “He’s so cuuuute!” and attempting to kiss or hug the baby. I try in vain to explain that crushing an 8 lb. newborn with one’s entire body weight is perhaps not the best way to show affection. But hey, it’s better than hitting the baby over the head with a truck, right?

Also, Miles likes to show his little brother his toys. And by “show,” I mean he sticks the toy half an inch away from the baby’s eyeball. “Miles, Miles! Back up, buddy. Give Riley some space,” I tell him. He likes to watch me change Riley’s diaper, but doesn’t like it when the baby cries. More than once, I’ve turned around to grab a wipe and found Miles holding his hand over the baby’s mouth. “Miles!! You can’t do that!” I shout. “But I just want him to stop crying,” he explains, all wide-eyed and innocent.

Miles does seem proud of his new big brother title, though. He often tells people, a propos nothing, “I have a new baby. I’m a big brother.” (Which he pronounces “bruh-zher.”) One morning, my mom asked him whether he’d like a big muffin or a mini muffin for breakfast. “I want a big muffin. I’m a big brother!” he announced. Of course.

I sense Miles’ patience is wearing thin, though, especially now that his devoted admirers (aka grandparents) have gone home. In his defense, it IS hard for me to do everything I used to with him now that I have a baby attached to me nearly 24/7. It’s hard to kick a soccer ball/play hide & seek/read to him in the rocking chair now that another little guy is sharing my time, attention, and lap.

Not to mention the fact that the baby tricked us into thinking he was a mellow, laid-back fellow, only to start the 2 a.m. fussing a few days in. So while Miles wakes up bright-eyed and full of energy each morning, Mom and Dad are stumbling around sleep-walking. But as our pediatrician and all those “Party in my crib: 3 a.m.” onesies will attest, this is the norm for newborns.

It’s an adjustment, people. That’s for sure. We have our good days (like the one I described above), and our bad days (like when I yelled at Miles for climbing in the baby’s Moses basket and both of us burst into tears.) But the hormones are leveling off, everyone’s healthy, and we’ve got lots of friends and family to lean on for support. Really, what more could a new mom ask for? (Besides a nap, obviously!)


Make Room for Riley!

Baby RileyOK, I take back everything I said about my unborn baby being a procrastinator. Turns out, he’s the picture of punctuality — he arrived on his own, no inducement necessary, at 6:14 a.m. on his due date! That’s right, just like his mom, my son is a master at meeting a deadline.

So here’s what happened: my mom arrived on a Weds. night. Thurs., I ran around showing her how to get to Miles’ school and gym class, how to use the microwave and TV (Miles is addicted to “Wow, Wow, Wubbsy” on Noggin right now. Who comes up with these shows?!), his daily schedule, food preferences, etc. We went out to lunch, and on the walk back to the car I started noticing that my belly felt tight.

“I think I’m having contractions,” I told my mom. Now, this is the biggest mystery ever to me — how someone who’s already had a baby could NOT know when she’s in labor. But I just wasn’t sure. By 8 p.m. that night, I decided I was definitely having regular contractions. I settled onto the couch with a bowl of ice cream to watch “Ugly Betty.”

By 10 p.m. I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. “I’d better go to bed and get some sleep while I can,” I thought. Too late. Within an hour, my contractions were getting more intense and closer together. 12 minutes, then 10, then 8 minutes apart. Given my experience last time, however — when I had contractions all day long, went to the hospital when they were 4 min. apart, and was told I was only 1.5 cm dilated — I wasn’t in any rush this time.

Still, C. called my doctor, who told us to come in if I was in pain. “Remember how long it took them to get us into a room last time,” C. reminded me. True. And besides, we were scheduled to show up at the hospital in a few hours anyway for my induction.

We checked in around 12:45 a.m. It was all coming back to me now: how they leave you in the triage room FOREVER while your contractions get more and more painful. How the nurses dilly-dally around and ask you the same questions over and over while you’re gasping away, freezing in a backless gown. It was 3:15 a.m. before we were settled in a birthing suite and I got an epidural.

Fun fact: epidurals don’t work on me. Last time, I had a “pocket” where the anesthesia didn’t reach. Basically, half my body. Then it wore off totally at the end. This time, because of the position of the baby’s head, I was experiencing the dreaded “back labor.” The anesthesiologist said, “Did you know you have a little bit of scoliosis? That could be why it’s not working completely.” No. No, I did not know that. GOOD THING I’M JUST FINDING OUT NOW!!!

For a while, things were OK. I sucked on a popsicle, listened to my iPod, and breathed my way through the contractions, squeezing the hell out of my husband’s hand in the process. Then there was a period of sobbing and swearing. The anesthesiologist was called back in. A really nice guy, he looked at me with pity and said, “I’m so sorry, honey. I’ll do what I can, but these things aren’t always 100% effective.” Again, good to know … ONLY IT’S TOO DAMN LATE TO MATTER!!!

The blessing was that it didn’t take nearly as long for me to progress this time. I was 3.5 cm dilated when I got to the hospital. They broke my water, and soon I was 6 cm, then before I knew it, 10 cm. I was disappointed that my doctor was not on call and a male doctor was. No offense, but I don’t get it. Isn’t being a male ob/gyn like being a mechanic who’s never owned or driven a car? Anyway, this guy was nice enough, but a little nonchalant. Of course why wouldn’t he be since HE’S never given birth!! Fortunately, there was a female resident there, too, who was very helpful and encouraging.

Now, they tell me I only pushed for 7 min. Unlike last time, when it took 2 hours, a team of specialists, and a mountain of medical equipment to get the baby out.

However, I will tell you it felt like MUCH longer. They kept telling me to take a break, and I wanted to say, “Listen, if you were in the middle of getting a root canal, you wouldn’t stop and take a breather right when you got to the most painful part, would you?”

But the important thing is, I DID IT!! The baby came out and was handed to me right away. My beautiful baby boy! He wasn’t even squished and banged up and covered in meconium the way Miles was. He was perfect! I have never been so relieved in my life.

Baby Riley came into the world in just under 8 hours, weighing in at just under 8 lbs. Again, ON his due date, people! That’s my boy!

Stay tuned for Tales of a Big Brother, next time on Diary of a New Mom …

READ O’ THE WEEK: Talk about perfect timing — my contributor’s copy of A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers: Stories that celebrate the miracle of life arrived yesterday. I’m excited and honored to have my essay, “Taking Care,” included in this anthology! Available March 18 wherever books are sold. This would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift (hint, hint)!

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