There are days that I wonder if I expended all of my maternal sympathies when raising Connor, leaving Ike with a cynical, tired parent and not as much of a loving one. ‘Rado got my undivided attention as an infant and in those days I felt like I had endless patience (excluding the sleep-training, growth-spurt-so-he’s-not-sleeping-well, and he’s-fighting-every-nap days). This romanticized version of his infancy keeps ebbing and flowing in my mind as Ike wakes up every hour after 3 a.m. because his pacifier popped out or he worked his way out of his swaddle or he’s hungry or needs a diaper change; Connor slept through the night at 3-months old, he barely ever cried inconsolably, he was happy and coo-y, and he was just a chill baby. In this heavy haze of exhaustion that I don’t recall having dealt with previously in my parenting career, I turn to the internet and other parents of more than one child to tell me how I’m supposed to deal with it. Does everyone have such a hard time transitioning from one child to two? How do you get a kid who wakes up more frequently now than he did as a 1-, 2-, 4-, or 6-week old to stay asleep? Am I asking too much of this 2-month old?
As I ask Google for midnight advice night after night, these questions beget another bigger, scary inquiry: am I treating Ike as a problem instead of treating him as my baby, my youngest, the fruit of my looms? I worry that the answer is “Yes.” I am so focused on getting more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep, being able to do housework without him crying at me, and eating dinner two-handed that I don’t take time to enjoy his coos, those fleeting baby smiles, or the deep dimple on his left cheek. I reveled in the time I spent with Connor after work and on the weekends; it seemed like there just wasn’t enough of it. With Ike I feel more of the anxiety I felt when Connor was new, that anxiety that stems from being unsure of how to treat him and of not being an adept enough mother to make him happy or, more accurately, to keep him from crying and whining. I’m not so good at reading baby cues, those things that every baby site says you’ll pick up on as a parent. I’m better at looking at the clock and knowing it’s time for him to eat or time for him to be sleepy. But every day has been so different – he’s eating more, he didn’t take a good nap, he took one so long that it threw off his eating schedule – that it only seems to be time for Ike to cry and whine and be generally unhappy with me.
Now, to be fair, Ike isn’t always crying and whining. We have marvelous, miraculous moments when he’s happy to be playing on his play mat, sitting in his chair while we make dinner, or hanging out on our laps after dinner has been downed and the dishes left on the table. Today, he even smiled at me. This is big, people. It wasn’t gas, for realz. We were trying to get to know each other through a mama-Ike stare down and he gave me a big, smirky smile because he knew I had been waiting for it. I love hearing his kitty noises when he’s on the changing pad or just watching and listening to the blur that we create when we’re home together. I know there’s a happy baby in there, I just don’t know how to keep that baby, well, happy.
So tonight I will pass out hoping, as I do each night, that tonight will be better – that Ike will sleep like a champ and that Connor won’t come out of his room or cry out more than once tonight asking for his “corners” (he likes to hold the right corners of his blanket when sleeping). These hours, the hours between Ike’s bedtime and his dream feed, have become the most peaceful for me. They are hours filled with hope, promise, and, let’s be honest, no kids. No kids crying, needing, whining, or wanting. It’s those things, though, that make me feel like a parent. I don’t mind the crying if I can fix it, the needing if I can satiate it, or the wanting if I can negotiate around it (I always mind the whining). It’s these evenings of hope that make me feel that I am no longer a “morning person.” The a.m. version of me has often been pummeled by a 2-year old’s feet, is exhausted from waking hour after hour to pop Ike’s pacifier back in his mouth, and knows that it will be an ugly sprint to get the boys out the door without being late for work. The p.m. version of me just enjoyed a Nutty Bar.