I’m exhausted, but can’t sleep. I slowly, laboriously turn my head to the left. My mum is ‘resting her eyes’ with a book on her lap, wrapped in a blanket thoughtfully thrown over her by someone. I rotate my head back to the right, careful not to disturb any wires or tubes. Cousin J is propped in a chair dozing, managing to look both incredibly uncomfortable and blissfully asleep. I know that’s what I should be doing, but I am freaking the hell out. I always thought wearing an oxygen mask would be kind of cool. That is not the case. I look again at the screen beside my bed, eyes flickering over the numbers and lines like they have been, every few minutes, for the past hours. I close my eyes but almost immediately open them again. Is she ok? To the nurse checking my stats I am silent. I look calm and restful, but the numbers don’t lie, and she knows I am worrying. My baby is in trouble.
The past few nights Jelly has slept from 8-7. I know! Crazy, right? And how am I taking advantage of this? My sleep schedule has been 12-5. Yep. Five whole hours. Five toss-and-turn, kick-the-covers, stare-at-the-clock from 10-12p and 5-7a hours. I assume it’s the work stress thing. I wish I could come up with a way to deal with it better. I got a bad, cheap massage, where the lotion smelled like the cleaning solution used at the hotel I stay at while in Boston, and the exasperating masseuse gave me tentative little pats and asked anxiously, ‘How’s the pressure?’. I wanted to ask her to clarify her question.
I’m postpartum and stupidly weepy. I’ve got the TV on for the 11p feeding, but am watching her eat and sobbing. What have I done? What am I going to do? There’s no way I can possibly do right by this innocent in my arms. All the imaginary horrors out in the big scary world crowd my hormone-overloaded mind. I can’t live with this fear. How do people do this?
My software product has released, but that just means that more people are freaking out. I’ve been assigned no less than six brand-new customers to manage in the past three days alone. This means creating the necessary folders and paperwork, finding and scheduling resources, getting them into training, a blur of internal calls that all seem to run together. Next will be helping with the dozens of assessments, the multitude of questions, then the actual implementations and all the configuration challenges that arise. Weekly customer calls, issues lists, status reports, project plans, service tools – all these things will need to be maintained by me. And this is in addition to my ‘regular’ job.
I stagger to her room like a zombie, tired beyond tired. I was warned about this, but didn’t believe the stories I’d read or the advice I’d been given. It’s the 1am feeding, the hardest one, because I’ve only been asleep a handful of hours. I have a critical meeting first thing in the morning, and it takes forever for her to burp. I change her diaper and am just so done with this whole thing. Instead of setting her gently in the crib, tenderly and 1950’s-housewife style, I drop her. Like, DROP. I’m instantly wide awake, and filled with shame. This is it. This is what I have to watch for and guard against. When things are really hard, no matter what, I have to be in control. It is my job to watch over her and protect her, from everything. Including myself.
I fill our weekends with fun activities. Swimming, shopping, plans for trips to the beach. Retail therapy isn’t helping; it just makes me more depressed that I’m spending money stupidly. I snack listlessly in the evenings, addicted to online Facebook games that are soothing in their monotony. Laundry piles up. I stop eating food that falls on the living room carpet because it’s too dirty even for me. I think about moving. I think about Jelly starting preschool in two months. I make plans, and cancel plans. I fight with Jenny about which shoes she’ll wear, cleaning up toys, drinking water instead of juice, watching TV. It would be so much easier to give up, give in.
I peruse the sales racks, delighting in the cute summer colors and adorable breezy styles. Visits to Canada now frequently include a stop at PleaseMum, the Gymboree of the North. Jenny is running around the store playing ‘Every Mother’s Biggest Shopping Headache’, aka, ‘Hide in the Clothes Racks’. I occasionally spot-check her, and mumble things that she ignores, like ‘stay with mama’ and ‘look with your eyes, not your hands’. My attention is snared by a sales bin of little socks and mitts, and when I look up, a handful of minutes later, she’s gone. I do a quick circle around where I last saw her, realizing too late that she was headed in the direction of the rest of the mall. My heart skips a beat. Bile rises in my throat. I open my mouth, unembarrassed to scream at the top of my lungs, prepared to do whatever it takes to GET HER BACK. “She’s over there”, points an amused shopper at that moment, seeing my instant panic and the toddler behind the shelf. My sister N was in the store with me, and probably never even knew it happened.
We’re getting ready to go to a waterpark this weekend. I’m excited, yet at some point very late (or early) last night it dawned on me that it’s going to be very, very crowded. I consider writing my cell phone number on Jelly’s arm in permanent marker, or fabric-painting it on the back of her bathing suit. I know there’s no way she’ll wear a bracelet of any kind. Maybe I can manufacture some sort of anklet out of part of an old sock that a kindly stranger will check if we become separated? If I pin a whistle to her, will she use it?
There is an article making the mommy rounds lately, about how parenting is just no fun. It’s very en vogue to admit to disliking being a parent right now; to loving your husband more than your child, to wanting more ‘me’ time, to claim less satisfaction and happiness than childless folk. I don’t get it. I love being a mom. It’s thankless and tough and painful and terrifying. It’s drudgery and diapers and frustration and demanding. But I’d still be spazzing out about work, sans Jelly. I still wouldn’t clean my house. I’d definitely still spend my money on stupidity.
I pity the man I eventually meet, because I can’t see how I could ever love someone as unconditionally and patiently as I love Jellybean. I have no problem saying, ‘Sorry, sweets, mama is going to sit on her butt and read a magazine right now because she’ll lose her frickin’ mind if she has to sing the ‘Thomas’ theme one more time’. I feel stupid admitting that, despite a restless weary night, I STILL get excited when I hear she’s awake, because, well, I get to see her. It’s a gift. A brutal and nerve-wracking gift, but a gift all the same. I think a lot about how things would be if I didn’t have Jelly. The end result is always, super-crappy.
Sure, there’s added stress, more dirt and noise and bone-deep weariness. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I would absolutely say I’m happier. I think that there are people who had unrealistic expectations of being a parent; who thought it was an answer, or a solution, or a reward. It may be a gift, but it’s also a job. It requires dedication, and focus, and effort. You have to always be on your game, or at least, a major percentage of the time. You have to say the right things, make the right decisions. I don’t agree with the ‘helicopter’ style of parenting, but I sure as hell understand it. It doesn't matter what else is going on in my life - Jenny is it.
My biggest fear in this world is getting distracted and looking away for an instant.