Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cradle cap, redux

So, have you noticed that I haven’t written about sleep yet? (I can see you all, my vast audience, nodding silently, “Yes, yes — we were wondering about that.”) It’s not because I haven’t tried. But sleep is a slippery subject these days. And each time I try to write about it, each time I think I have the story straight, each time I think I can sum it up in a tight little blog entry, the subject shifts and my mind blows out. Either I’m immediately blocked and must go check out Facebook, or I end up writing a five-page, single-spaced, typed essay. Seriously.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired.

But I think the real problem is that there is no tidy sleep story, no master narrative of sleep, at least not in this household. For the longest time, Isaac’s sleep story was wrapped up with Rowan’s, and went something like this: Rowan was a terrible sleeper. Rachel and I made many mistakes and did many things to encourage his terrible sleep. We would not make the same mistakes with Isaac, who would as a result sleep beautifully. Once upon a time and happily ever after and all that.

Isaac has not read this story.

Case in point: even as I write this, he is waking up from a too-short, mistimed nap, the result of an earlier, mistimed nap, the result of waking up at 5 a.m. and resettling around 6:30 this morning. After waking up at 3:48 a.m., 2:30 a.m., and 10:40 p.m. during the night. Which is on the slightly worse end of fairly typical for him moment.

“Fairly typical,” of course, changes constantly. Over the course of his five months, Isaac has slept in our bed, on top of a pillow, in a bassinet, in a single bed next to ours, and, mostly, in his own crib. He has napped beautifully and not at all. He has woken once in the night and six times. Just when I think I might lose it, he sleeps a solid five-hour chunk in the middle of the night and I wake hopeful. (Unless, of course, Rowan wakes up too, which he has taken to doing, given all the commotion around here, and Rachel or I go to sleep with him for a while.)

The fly in the ointment is that Theo learned to roll over. Normally, I applaud such developmental milestones, but he rolls over in the middle of the night, gets stuck like a turtle upended on its shell, and can’t get back. And so he yells. I spend lots of time these days coaching him on rolling the other way, but so far no dice. None of the baby books has a solution for this particular problem (and in my lower moments, I’ve debated Velcro or bungee cords). Until he learns how to roll back to his stomach, Rachel and I are pretty much in agreement that most forms of “sleep training” (also known as “crying it out”) would probably be, if not entirely useless, much more difficult to implement. In any case, he’s probably too young.

Which sucks. I mean, haven’t we done everything right? Haven’t we avoided all our previous “mistakes”? But no. The colossal mistake we are making, have made, is assuming that we have or ever did have control over the process. Sure, we can help facilitate our sons’ sleep to some extent. But even doing everything “right” doesn’t guarantee a baby that will sleep the night. Maybe Rowan would have been a terrible sleeper no matter what we did. We’ll never know. But wee Isaac, poor maligned second child (Rachel, a firstborn, thinks I overidentify with the baby of the family), could probably benefit from a clean slate in terms of sleep story. He’ll do it when he’s ready, maybe with some help from us. And until then we trudge back and forth at night, playing musical beds and soothing our children, and each other, to the best of our abilities.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Picky (or, The Real Reason We Had Children)

Continuing along with our theme of bodily functions...

Cold season is upon us, a season that brings great joy to Rachel, because it allows her to indulge in one of her favourite pastimes: picking the crap out of Rowan’s nose. She’s relentless to the point of obsession (and denial), ignoring the wailing and the flailing and shrieking and running away and screaming of “No!” as she pursues her crusty quarry. With the arrival of Isaac, her joy has doubled.

Although I occasionally remind her to give the children a break, mostly I look on bemusedly — partly because no child ever died from having his nose picked, or picked at, and partly because if I called her on it, then she would call me on my own obsessions. If Rachel’s on snot detail (and ear wax, can’t forget the ear wax — and, yes, it’s true, you could probably grow potatoes in Rowan’s ears), then I am all over the fingernails and haircuts.

Like any other self-respecting mother, I carry nail clippers in my pocket at all times. You would too, if a tiny baby scratched your nipples — and his own head — with his little razor-sharp claws. You would, if your three-year-old had jaggedy toenails and half-moons of black at the end of each finger. And nobody likes a mullet. Least of all me, apparently.

And then there was Isaac’s spectacular case of cradle cap, wherein his entire scalp was covered in a stinky layer of dead skin that looked like the Gobi Desert. I spent much of his early months oiling up his tiny head in order to soften the crust. Then, I picked off the flakes as he nursed serenely.

This urge to groom, to pick, it seems hardwired. Is it some parental instinct, as natural as chimps picking fleas off each other? Or maybe it’s the enforced intimacy of having and caring for children, biological or adopted, that hardwires us, makes us into parents instead of just innocent bystanders. Whatever the case, little satisfies me more than tucking short-nailed, clean-nosed, downy-scalped children into bed each night. Until a life is conferred upon me, I guess this is as good as it gets.