Monday, May 19, 2008

Murphy's Law of Mothering #109

Okay, so I haven't written 108 of these before, but it seemed more interesting to say that than to start at #1. This one goes like this: an academic mother just cannot be allowed her first full day off after the spring semester has ended without taking care of a sick child. The universe simply does not allow such deliciousness. Today was to be a day alone in the house to do whatever I wanted. A day off, guilt-free, with husband at work and child at nursery school. But no.

So here is my long, pathetic tale of a sleepless night and a lost day off. It is also a tale of a parenting failure. Read on, if you have the time, interest, and stomach for it.

Last night I put my little girl to bed and everything seemed fine. She has been recovering from a her latest bout of two or three colds in a row, but hadn't been bothered much by them and was on the tail end of recovery. This year has been much better than last year (her first in nursery school), and she has only missed maybe three or four days of school all year. Oh, but pride goeth before the fall: I became too confident that she would finish the school year without another absence. I was, once again, wrong.

She awoke around 8, just as we sat down to dinner, whimpering and writhing around. I mistook it for a nightmare, and when I asked her, she nodded. We worked to get her back to sleep, soothing her and then telling her we would check on her, continuing to build on our recent successes in getting her to fall asleep on her own (she does it easily now, though she often ends up in our bed in the wee hours). But she wanted me to stay with her, and when I wouldn't, threw what we thought was a tantrum.

My husband took over. He thought he was doing the right thing, certain that she was either tantruming or having a night terror (which she sometimes has and in which she can only calm when he takes a firm tone with her and orders her to go back to sleep). It was the sleep training standoff we had been dreading (and that I thought we had avoided by gradually moving her into her own bed, then into her own room, then into learning how to soothe herself without me there). Or so we thought.

At one point she told him her ear hurt, but it was in a chain of various reasons she had given why she wouldn't stop crying (monsters, wanting mommy, etc.), and she didn't mention it again while he was working with her, even denying that anything was hurting when he asked. He tried everything to calm her down and get her to go to sleep without me, convinced that her behavior was simply about getting me to come in and stay with her. He tried soothing her, sitting with her, being stern, even a time out. In the end she told him to go away and pulled the covers over her head. We thought she had given in and gone to sleep. But then we heard the whimpering start up again. But when he checked on her, she seemed asleep, or at least playing possum. I crept in a few minutes later, and she was snoring. Success? Not even close.

We went to bed, turned on the monitor, and five minutes later, heard her wake up and start crying again. Mr. Tough Guy melted and went to retrieve her. She fell into my arms, but did not fall asleep, thus proving that she had not been throwing a tantrum to get me to stay with her. When I asked her what was bothering her she wouldn't answer at first, but then sat up and cried that her ear hurt really bad. I of course gave her Tylenol immediately.

So. If you have ever been through something like this, then you know how awful we both felt in that moment. (If you haven't, if you are the self-sacrificing martyr type who never makes parenting blunders, then go ahead and feel superior all you want but please keep it to yourself.)

My punishment came in the form of a sleepless night the likes of which I haven't had since my child was a newborn. (How I survived months of such nights I will never know, as now just one like this is pure torture.) My husband's punishment? Well, I'm not sure if he's had it yet. You see, he's the sort who simply cannot tolerate sleep interruption, to the point that I decided long ago (like when she was a few months old) that it wasn't worth it to try to share the overnight stuff. And I'm an ardent feminist who has demanded he do his share of all of the parenting otherwise, so that tells you how bad it is. It's like waking a sleeping dragon. So after his usual growling I spirited her away to her room and put her to bed, curling my body around her legs at the end of the bed.

In the pre-dawn hours she finally slept, but fitfully, moaning in her sleep, so of course I couldn't really rest or sleep myself save for isolated patches of snoozing here and there. Morning came full-force all too soon and she couldn't sleep any longer and wouldn't stay in bed resting (a good sign) but wouldn't exactly play either (a bad sign), so the day of sick child at home with mama began in earnest.

Now, many hours later, she is actually doing quite well. Typical of an ear infection, her pain ebbs and flows, so she goes back and forth between resting on the couch and playing. We'll see the doctor in about an hour to find out how it looks and what to do to keep her comfortable tonight. I'm dreading another sleepless one, remembering now how desperate I used to feel at the end of each day when she was a newborn, exhausted and knowing that restorative sleep was not in the overnight forecast. Chances of feeling like shit in the morning? 100%.

Of course the important thing is that she seems fine and will recover. All of my middle-of-the-night fears of exotic mystery illnesses and other terrors of every parent's mind have been calmed after seeing that she is getting better rather than worse and after reading up on ear infections and learning that her intractable pain and inconsolable tears were entirely normal nighttime symptoms. That is truly all that matters.

BUT, to return (finally) to the title of this way too long and much too dull post, I have learned once again that it is one of the laws of mothering that, after your academic year is over and your summer break has begun (a period of about 6 weeks before you teach summer session during which everyone thinks you are on vacation but in which you actually need to do everything you have no time to do in the teaching year: revise and submit papers for publication, revise your job application dossier for the upcoming market, revise old syllabi and create new ones, read all of those articles and books that you have put off all year, and clean and organize your entire personal and professional life) but your daughter has two precious days left in HER school year, (two days in which you might have experienced the glorious freedom of time all to yourself to oh, maybe, relax a bit before doing all of the aforementioned unpaid work you must do during your "break"), SHE WILL GET SICK. It happened last year, it's happening again this year, it will probably happen next year. (Don't try to tell me to think positively about next time. I find that positive thinking only has the power of making this mama crankier when it fails to effect the desired result. Cold hard realism, even pessimism, at least leaves the hope of being pleasantly surprised.

I have a feeling that, if anyone finds this little blog and reads the above, sleep-deprivation-induced post, I will get one or more nasty comments about my bitching about this. I have one thing to say to anyone who even thinks about posting a negative comment rather than commiserating with a tired mother: BITE ME.

For anyone who has bothered to read my ramblings and can relate and is generous enough to leave a supportive (or better yet, funny) comment, to you I say: thank you, bless you, leave your own mama blog link and I promise to read your rantings in return!

Now that it's summer I'll try to post more often. I forgot how helpful it is to just get everything out and release it into virtual space.

1 comment:

catnip said...

I read the whole thing because I remember all too well that stage where they can't quite communicate what's wrong - they just whine - and you just want to put in earplugs. And they always get sick on the worst possible day. You are not a failure, just a normal parent.