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Nothing Gold Can Stay

This is a story of dreams lost and dreams found, real and metaphorical.

In the span of the past two weeks since I’ve written, I’ve looked heartbreak in the face. Felt my body fill with exaltation and exuberance. Trudged heavy steps laden with disappointment and dread.

All, I might add, at the hands of a five-month-old.

The stage was primed for success: we had already survived the first night of sleep training with cry-it-out. Loving and emotional Husband (read: more likely to go into Eliana’s room than heartless Mommy) was headed on a business trip for two nights. Lila was going to stay with my parents at “Camp Gram” for another two days while Eliana and I cried-it-out at home.

Success was so close, I could taste it.

As I lay down to sleep alone that second night, I took a deep breath, steeling myself for the worst. Eliana could cry all night. And I would lay here, alone, suffering through it by myself as she suffered through it by herself, hoping that neither one of us would be scarred for longer than one night. Aching to help her, but aching to sleep, knowing that helping her would prevent future sleep.

I closed my eyes, anticipating difficulty falling asleep, but I was asleep in seconds.

Next thing I knew, I looked at the clock when I heard Eliana chatting happily in her crib:6:02.

In the morning? Wait, is the clock broken?

6:02?

6:02!?!

6:02!!

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we were free at last!

I bounded into Eliana’s room filled with a kind of pure, unadulterated glee that washed through my entire body, toe to forehead, so that my face hurt from smiling so much.

“Well, good morning, Eliana! How was your night, my little beautiful, perfect girl!”

Love may be unconditional, but it’s pretty freaking fabulous when the conditions just so happen to be right.

Eliana gazed into my eyes with the same joy that danced all the way down my alimentary canal. She squealed a celebratory squeak that sounded like “Whooo!” The subtitle was obviously, “Holy shitballs, Mommy, I can’t believe I actually slept through the night! I DID IT!”

It’s hard to say who was prouder of her accomplishment, her or me. I was like little Billy from Where the Red Fern Grows, delighted in the success of my Old Dan and Little Anne. What amazing feat would my little girl conquer next?

We were two girls with a new lease on life. I sang cheerfully at the top of my lungs as I dressed Eliana, the two of us alone in our home in a weird permutation of our family life that would only happen for one more day. I belted out “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppet Movie, not caring how stupid I sounded to her or anyone else in the world. Because goddamnit, life IS a happy song when there’s someone by your side to sing along!

Hell, if I knew how to click my heels, I would’ve done it. In fact, I tried, and let’s just say that it’s not a great idea to try that when you have a baby in your arms. Just sayin’.

Eliana spent the morning before I dropped her off at school squealing in sheer delight, obviously thrilled by how happy Mommy was. She didn’t even poop her shitstorm in the car. I saw that as a minor celebration of sorts.

At school, even my students seemed happier; or was it just that I could finally see them through my rose-colored glasses? It didn’t matter. The world was a better place. Hussein was dead, Qadaffi was dead, Kim Jong-Il was dead, and Eliana was sleeping through the night. A+s for everyone, kids! And no homework—for the rest of your lives!

But the day didn’t stop being fabulous there, oh no!

As I went to pick up Eliana at our in-school babysitting, the two babysitters rushed towards me the second I walked in the door.

“Ariel! She ROLLED today! We did not see this, but we put her down, yes, and then we go look at Ellie again, and, wow! She on her tummy!”

I nearly screamed in joy. See!? See!? She just needed to sleep! A well-rested baby, and now she’s rollin’ with the big kids!

I thought things couldn’t possibly get any better…but could they? Oh yes, they could!

“And, Ariel! She sitALLBY HERSELF today!”

I picked Eliana up and squeezed her, nearly crying from delight. Eliana looked so proud of herself—so filled with that special kind of radiance that comes with self-accomplishment that I just wanted to freeze that moment forever, put it in a bottle, and lock it away for some day when she’s twelve and she really needs it.

And the icing on the cake? Who, I ask you, was lurking in the corner, listening to every word?

Nemesis.

I hadn’t even noticed her, but there she was…waiting in the corner. In her nasal voice, she asked the babysitters, “Wait. She sat by herself?” Translation: “Wait. Her degenerate baby sat before my brilliant [soulless] baby did?!”

Babysitter #1 looked thrilled (after all, Babysitter #1 is, as I call her with pride, Eliana’s Peruvian Mommy). “Yes. She do this all by herself today. And roll! She so happy today!”

Being the bigger person, I resisted the urge to sneer triumphantly at Nemesis, which would have felt deliciously satisfying. Instead, I held my head up high and walked out the door with the sort of silent complacence that is far more damaging.

Eat it, Nemesis.

I gave Eliana a huge kiss on her cheek, and we were off. At my parents’ home, where we reunited with Lila, Eliana showed off her tricks like she was a circus pony. She was rolling all over the place. Sitting like a professional. Even Lila was impressed—each time Ellie rolled, Lila would tug my shirt and shriek with delight, “She did it! She really did it, Mommy! She’s rolling, Mommy, she’s rolling!”

I kid you not when I tell you that for a brief second, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.

Night #3? Another great night…up at 5, but no crying during the night.

It worked! It had really worked!

However, as Frost might say, “nothing gold can stay.”

After six days of amazing sleep, it happened: Eliana got a fever. The kind of fever that keeps a baby up all night. The kind with stomach cramps that make a baby contort in weird ways that make you scared, and nervous, and terrified, and ready to call the doctor in the middle of the night even though in your heart you know it’s just a fever and that she will be okay, you know she will.

So we babied her, and she cried all night long, almost as if she was making up for lost time. Husband and I sat with her all night, rotating in and out of her room, working in perfect parental synergy. There were no night-time resentments between us. No midnight snappiness. No reluctant agreements or silent seething. As Eliana passed between my arms to his and his to mine throughout the night, our hands were filled with patience, kindness, and gratitude for each other. The kind that gets lost in those first few months of having a new baby.

And by morning, we were all exhausted (except Lila, who, of course, in spite of my fears of her not sleeping through any of Eliana’s crying, slept through all of it). But we had made it. We had survived.

And when Eliana was feeling better later that day, she leaned close to me. Put her face right next to mine. She opened her mouth as wide as it would go, as if she were ready to swallow me whole, and thrust her head into my cheek. With mouth wide open, her flat tongue mushed right up against my cheek and lingered there. She backed away, looking at me with a huge smile on her face. And I knew it: for the first time, she kissed me. A real, wet, open-mouthed kiss filled with love and gratitude.

So now we’re back to square one. Again, our nights are checkered by repeated trips into Eliana’s room to shove binkies into her mouth. Again, our sleep is truncated by wails for comfort. Again, our patience with our kids and each other is punctured. Again, our mornings are bleary-eyed, filled with self-doubt: Should we have gone to her or left her alone? If I fed her, would she have slept longer?

But just as sleep training is pierced by occasional defeats, so too is life flavored with unexpected victories: a roll here, a sit there, and a kiss: all when you least expect them and need them most.

Nothing gold can stay…but silver ain’t so bad.

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Nothing Compares 2 U

The nights of sleep training may be dark and stormy, but my days have been cold and shitty.

The six ounce pumped breastmilk bag from work leaked all over my favorite bag. And yes, while I know it’s milk that came out of my very own ta-tas, it is no less repulsive to me that the items in my purse have an I-wish-it-were-questionable filmy residue all over them. My favorite eight-year-old pair of jeans—which, miraculously, actually fit me, even after I Eliana-ed— finally gave into time and ripped in the knee, rendering them useless unless I want to appear on some sad reunion show of “Growing Pains.” The garbage truck didn’t take recycling, so I had to pick up the four million cardboard boxes we had put out that had blown all over the driveway while Eliana cried in the car, and it rained outside. I’ve depleted my back supply of breastmilk; I am down to two extra bags. I smashed my arm into the wall, making it extremely unpleasant to carry a baby…or a three-year-old. I am drowning in papers I need to grade, parent-teacher conferences, and the overwhelming fear that I am falling short in all spheres of my life: mom, wife, teacher, friend.

Sleep training has completely dissolved into a whole hot mess of nothing: even dream-feeding Eliana, that little monster (read: my adorable, lovely gift of a child) still wakes up at 4 AM to eat/play/make sure we age prematurely. And while I genuinely understand that the solution to this is to cry-it-out, I’m just too afraid that this legitimate solution to Eliana’s night-wakings will wake up Lila, and honestly, having one child awake at 3 AM is still preferable to having two awake at that hour. On top of this, I am actually more exhausted from going in to “soothe” Eliana by shoving a pacifier in her mouth than I was when I was getting up and feeding her at night. So yeah, she’s not really eating during the night (sleeping food-free from 11ish to 4ish), but for the love of GOD, why has no one yet invented Binky Glue out of Omega-3s?! Listen up, people: I mentioned this like a month ago. NECESSITY. Just get on this shit and make this happen, entrepreneurs!

And the A+D topping on it all is that, for the past four days, my work day routinely begins with Eliana giggling to herself mischievously, and then, just at the moment at which we are finally in the garage ready to drive to school, with her strapped into her car seat, she shits all over herself, necessitating a complete outfit change and an extra ten minutes, guaranteeing I’m late. All the while, she laughs maniacally, and occasionally coughs this little fake-cough she’s got going on that she thinks—quite correctly—is adorable.

Life goes on, shit-stained or not.

And then, then I sit and eat lunch with a woman I will simply dub Nemesis.

Nemesis has a daughter one month older than Eliana. Eliana and Mini-Nemesis have the same two babysitters at our school’s make-shift babysitter co-op, by which we six teachers pay two babysitters to take care of our kids in a tucked-away room in the school. Nemesis has mastered the art of lobbing a cutting comment that makes me reassess my abilities as a parent over and over again. Examples:

“Wait, are you kidding me? 4 AM is a night feeding. You still feed her at night?”

“Oh, I don’t need to sleep train. My baby was sleeping through the night at two months!”

“Wait, how big is she? Sixteen pounds at four months? She’s enormous!”

Nemesis really makes me want to hurt someone. Namely, her.

True, I take comfort in the little things. Our babysitters, whom I trust, love and cherish for being able to be alone in a 12 x 12 room with six children all day without losing their minds or murdering any of their charges have said to me, “[Mini-Nemesis] never smiles. She is sad baby. We no tell the mommy because she not be so happy.”

So take that, Nemesis. Your baby may be sleeping through the night, but she is sad, soulless gremlin and lives a life without joy. In all likelihood, she will spend her free time as a lonely adult re-reading the maudlin, horrific poetry she’s written as she bakes fiber-rich muffins in between stroking her two aging cats.

Oddly, this gives me comfort, and it is an image I revisit often as I whisper the words I assume most Husbands loathe to hear their wives’ say in the middle of the night: “Can you just shove a binky in her mouth? It’s your turn.”

The larger issue here, though, is this: why do I care? Why does it make any difference to me at all what someone else’s baby is like? It’s not like if Mini-Nemesis stops sleeping through the night, Eliana will miraculously begin sleeping through the night because only X number of babies are allowed to live this way. It’s not like Mini-Nemesis is somehow “beating” my child at the game of being a baby. They are different people. Different lives.

But WHY do I care? Why can’t I just let Nemesis have her little fabulous baby and not be jealous?

As I question what’s wrong with me as a parent, I can’t help but think about all the other horrid things I’ve wondered about and am ashamed of myself for considering.

For starters: Is Eliana going to be obese? Is she already obese? She was sixteen pounds and six ounces at her four-month appointment and twenty-six inches. This makes her extremely big and extremely tall. Above the 95th percentile, according to our pediatrician. (See? The doctors are the ones who start with the comparisons, not the parents. It’s planted in us early to compare our baby to a room of 99 other babies.) Is that huge? Does a large baby make an obese adult? And why do I care? She’s a BABY. What the hell is wrong with me? I care because I am projecting ten to twenty years in her future, and I worry: people are mean to overweight women. It’s shitty and terrible, but it’s true. A fat guy has it made in the shade—if he’s funny, people think he’s hilarious, good-natured, and all around awesome. See under: Seth Rogen, Zack Galifianikus, Kevin James. But an overweight woman—no matter how funny, smart, talented, thoughtful she is—is just more likely to face a life checkered by self-doubt and insecurity because people are assholes. And even if she has total confidence in herself, and let’s say there’s no insecurity or self-doubt (which means she is—by some genetic, impossible accident—not my own child), other people will still be assholes behind her back. I don’t want Eliana to live that way.

Second: what’s up with her ear? She’s got two cute ears. According to the hearing test at the hospital, they work. However, one of them  (Lucky Lefty) happens to be slightly larger than the other. Why am I already considering what haircut will work to mask that? The kid does not HAVE hair. She’s as bald as breasts are saggy post-nursing. And while Sinead O’Connor rocked that look, well. Well. Yeah. Granted, I too was as bald as linoleum floor until I was three. As an adult, I have more thick, curly hair than I know what to do with. But still, that doesn’t change the fact that now, Eliana is so bald that we can legitimately see her soft spot as it pulses. It is as nauseating as it sounds.

Third: what is that blue mark between her eyebrows? Will it go away? Is it a vein? A blood vessel? Will other people notice it with the frequency that I do?

Fourth: why hasn’t she rolled yet? All the other babies her age are rolling. Lila rolled at four months when she was a baby. But Ellie likes to roll on her side and chill out there. She never goes the distance. Is this indicative of a person who lacks motivation and drive in a more macro sense? How is she ever going to be a satisfied adult if she doesn’t keep trying and she just gives up instead of rolling the whole way?

What the fuck is wrong with me?!

            SHE IS A BABY!

            The problem with comparisons, as Husband likes to point out, is that the person making the comparison is the one who always feels miserable. And yes, he’s right, as he often is, since he is the Ernie to my Bert and the Hobbes to my Calvin. Every time I think of Nemesis’ baby sleeping through the night, my blood curdles. Every time I read a Facebook post about another baby doing something that my baby hasn’t done yet—and it doesn’t matter if that baby is nine months older because when you’re a psycho like me, logic has no place in your life—I feel a pit of worry in my stomach forming already. Forget keeping up with the Joneses; keeping up with the babies is killing me.

In my heart, I really and truly love Eliana authentically for who she is: a cute, lovable, smiley, happy, cheerful baby who has the mushiest face I’ve ever seen. Who doesn’t yet sleep through the night. Who loves being kissed in her neck folds. Who gazes, wide-eyed with a huge smile on her face at big sister Lila, like she is the single most amazing person in the world. Who happily talks to herself in her crib alone for at least forty minutes every single night. Who gives me a Muppet-esque smile every time I walk into a room, squealing with delight that Rock Star Mommy has entered the building. Whose fingers creep into my mouth, using my face as a handlebar as she nurses, as if she is trying to grab my entire body into a hug.  Who smiles at everyone and laughs this ridiculous dorky-sounding chuckle that makes me smile just hearing it. She is an Ernie in the making.

Nemesis and Mini-Nemesis will remain in my daily life, as will my own fears and doubts about who Eliana will become both in terms of her personality and her physique. I can’t change Nemesis’ daily cutting comments or the horrid way she makes me feel anymore than I can change the blue dot between Eliana’s eyebrows.

But, filled with fear, anxiety, doubt or not, I’m going to love Eliana just the way she is: funky-eared, night-fed, blue-veined, non-rolling, and perfectly imperfect.

Top that, Nemesis. Top that.