1:43 – I squint at the yellow letters on the clock on the other side of the bed. A weak refrain of “Mommy, come sleep with me,” echoes from across the hall. I want to go back in there – to snuggle up with him while I still can, before he’s older and doesn’t need his mommy – but I know I’d be undoing everything we worked on for the past few weeks. The “just sleep in your own bed until your clock turns green for 4 nights in a row and we will get you a Lego ambulance” bribery that we’d used to end the games of musical beds would be all for naught.
Just moments after I pull the covers back over me, I hear a key in the door. He walks into the room. “I just got Miles to sleep, I’m still awake,” I say, giving him permission to be as loud as he needs. We chat for a bit. I don’t remember falling asleep.
An hour later I hear the baby. I haul myself upstairs pull her from the crib and half-asleep, nurse her. I’m thankful that she goes right back to sleep. Perhaps the digestive issues that have kept her up for the past few nights are behind us, I say to myself, happy that she finally seems comfortable and able to sleep.
It’s still dark when I hear footsteps. They stop when they get next to my bed. “Can I watch TV now?” the sleepy voice asks. He crawls into bed, over me, and sprawls out between his father and me. I plead for him to go to sleep but know it’s futile. He’s a morning person – has been since birth. After fifteen minutes of poking and prodding, I acquiesce.
“Stay in bed,” I say to the lump next to me, knowing it’s unlikely he will. While he needs sleep, he, too, is a morning person.
I start the routine. Curious George, heat a glass of milk, let out the dog, make coffee, feed the dog. I’m grateful I emptied the dishwasher the night before and that there’s no camp, hence no lunch to be packed, this week: two tasks I don’t need to check off the list.
I catch the blinking red light of my BlackBerry out of the corner of my eye. I check email. Only three today. I’m grateful for the holiday week but know that next week will not be so kind. Everyone will be back from vacation, ready to jump back in it. And, just as my husband is heading out of town again, the deluge of work will come. Murphy’s Law.
“Come snuggle with me,” I hear from the other room. I’d love to just sit – enjoy a cup of coffee with my favorite boy, just us, while the rest of the house sleeps – but I know I can’t. I have to whittle down my 3-page to-do list into a list of “things that must get done or bad things will happen”.
I’ve jotted down two items on my list when I hear babbling in the monitor. Time to start the second shift: feed the baby, spend a few minutes of time playing Legos with the older one (while keeping the younger one from eating them), maintain sanity while mentally creating my day’s agenda – work calls, contracts I need to finish, errands that need to be run.
By the time the nanny arrives we’ve all had breakfast, the kids are dressed, Mark is dressed – but not without struggle. Miles’ bedding is in a pile on his floor and he’s jumping on his bed, his CD player cranked, singing B-I-N-G-O as loudly as his little lungs will let him. I’m still in my pajamas. Wasting no time, I close the door to my office and answer emails at a furious pace – trying to cram five hours of work into two.
I fit in a trip to the gym – our promise to ourselves about a month ago: to make time for ourselves. To eat healthy. To get back in shape. The eating and working out has been hard; keeping the schedule has been even harder.
The nanny leaves and we go to lunch – what was supposed to be a nice lunch. A chance to catch up before 4 days of shows, of travel, of my being a single mom. Shortly after we arrive, we realize we’re up against the worst kind of preschool monster: a tired and hungry 4-year-old. We hold off the chaos by promising dessert if he finishes his lunch.
The baby starts too. We have no pacifier. A nap is out of the question. For the second time of the day, I try to force feed her peaches (one of the “P” fruits – her diet until her digestive issues are resolved). She protests. I give up her tiny bites of Miles’ grilled cheese. Naturally she loves it. Spends the next 15 minutes opening her mouth like a little bird – her way of asking for more. Just like she did with my salmon at lunch a few days earlier. Digestive issues be damned.
We spend the rest of the day juggling, dancing. It’s a blur of calls, emails, trading off kid-watching duties. Some days the dance works better than others. Today, it works. Perhaps because I’m not as stressed. Perhaps because I know he’s leaving tomorrow and want today to go as well as it can. Or, perhaps, simply because the kids had a nap and food and are relatively easy to manage.
A drive home from errand running that should take us 35 minutes, takes an hour and a half. Miles melts down. Ava naps. I should be happy I only have one screaming child to contend with but I know that naps after 4 pm are never good. Bedtime will be a struggle. I also know the dinner we had planned (that takes 30 minutes to prep and an hour to cook) is off the table. I’m secretly relieved that our dinnertime marathon – the mad dash to bedtime – has been made considerably easier. No cooking, no dishes. I make up a game: Miles counts the red cars. I count the blue ones. He’s thrilled with the new game. Crisis averted. Life seems manageable again.
We get home and call the only place we can think of that has healthy, affordable take-out. “It was slow today, we’re closing now.”
That was Plan B. We have no Plan C. We discuss the options: cheap takeout pre-kid-bedtime and blow the diet or healthy adult takeout post-kid-bedtime and blow the budget. We go with the latter and turn on the oven to heat up chicken nuggets for Miles.
It’s already 7. Normally I’d be putting the baby to bed. Instead she’s sitting in her highchair protesting yet another meal of peaches. I pull her from the highchair with a sigh, aware that this likely means another rough night of waking every few hours, uncomfortable and unhappy.
After a quick bath and a shortened bedtime routine, I nurse and rock her. She’s fighting sleep – perhaps it’s her tummy, perhaps it’s the tooth that keeps threatening to pop through, or perhaps because she just isn’t ready to go to sleep. I curse Atlanta traffic. I curse the late nap. I curse my own impatience. I grow antsy. I start to compile the list of things I need to finish – the session I shot almost 2 weeks ago that needs to be edited, the pile of mail that needs to be sorted, bills that need to be paid, laundry that needs to be done… The anxiety builds as I watch the clock. I hear the water run downstairs. Bedtime routine for #2 has begun: dinner, TV, milk, bath, an obscene number of stories and bed. I’m relieved that I have help and know that if this happened one day later, I’d be struggling by myself – an extra television show to buy some additional time to get the baby to sleep, willing the baby to sleep, hoping not to miss the preschooler’s bedtime window and avoid two overtired, off-schedule children.
I think I have baby asleep so I gently set her in her crib. She wakes up the minute she hits the mattress. I vary between the “babies only cry if something is wrong and need to be cuddled” and the “babies need to learn how to sleep – you need to let them cry it out” schools of thought. Tonight, I’m in the former camp. I pick her up and rock some more.
I pace the room – a combination nursery, guest room, sewing room, overflow storage area. A hodge podge of mismatched furniture, piles of hand-me-downs for her to wear when she gets older, bags of hand-me-downs that are ready to be passed along to the next person, and various items for which we can’t find room anywhere else. I think about how meticulously we planned our son’s room and how, this time, we were grateful for the baby to have a place to sleep and be changed. Anything else was gravy. I look at friends’ nurseries with envy. I look at others’ houses with envy. We’ve spent the last four years in a state of limbo – Are we moving to Florida? Are we renovating our house? Decorating or organizing isn’t worth it at this point. Even attempts at cleaning have been futile – although more out of necessity than anything else. I beat myself up over it all for the next 15 minutes.
After three tries, I get the baby to sleep – not for long, though, I suspect.
I’m still in the clothes I wore to the gym earlier. I’ve been peed on, puked on and my hair – my daughter’s favorite toy of late – is in knots.
I check email on both phones and scan Twitter while Mark picks up food. I see Megan’s post. And, for the first time all day, I stop.
I used to miss my husband that way. I used to count down the days until he was back because I wanted him next to me in the bed, because I wanted to share my days with him. Now I count down the days until he’s back because I’m exhausted. I miss him because I need a break from juggling my job and life at home.
I used to be present in my life. Now I get through.
This realization breaks my heart.
Mark gets home with the food and we spent dinner talking. For the first time in a very long time, there is no TV, there are no kids, there are no phones, no email, no texts. We talk about how things used to be, what we want for the future. We talk about who we’ve become what who we want to be.
And, also for the first time in a very long time, I realize I will miss him.
He will leave while I’m asleep. I’ll go to bed shortly and he will walk out the door. I will spend the next four days repeating the routine without him, without my partner. 13 years, 3 different cities, 2 kids. I’m used to it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. And, I hope it never is.