Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sieste à tout prix

According to my mother, I was a terrible napper as a child. One of my earliest memories is of standing up on my bed in the afternoon and peering through my bedroom window down at my parents gardening outside. I think I was screaming at them. Why sleep when the daytime world is so darn interesting?

My (weary) mother told me once that later on I'd grow up and wish I could take naps and no longer be able to. I didn't believe her.

She has gotten her revenge.

I am grateful, oh so grateful, that le Petit has decided to sleep very well in his crib at night, waking up only once or twice on most nights. It takes a good hour or two to nurse him to sleep, but once he's down I can usually get a solid three or four hours of sleep myself. Bliss! Alas, now that I'm no longer as stressed as I was in the first few weeks of motherhood, I'm no longer functioning on adrenaline and I've reverted to my previous sleep requirements: eight hours a night is ideal, seven is acceptable, six is enough for me to function, albeit in a fairly rotten mood.

I've been getting an average of six hours of sleep a night for the last week, and on Friday I was starting to get seriously grumpy. I was mad at myself for being grumpy because now that le Petit is sleeping in his own bed at night, I feel the heavens have given me a huge gift and I don't deserve to complain about anything else for at least a month.

My father and his wife are visiting and have been doing their best to help my husband and I get some rest and some time to ourselves. On Friday morning, they looked after le Petit while I went to the hairdresser and even managed to get him to take a forty minute nap in his crib. Miracle! Alas, he didn't make it through more than one measly sleep cycle, and by early afternoon was fussy and generally making himself unpleasant. Like mother, like son.

Time for the Bjorn! I strapped him in and started pacing the apartment. I've discovered a particularly twisted part of infant logic: the longer they've gone without sleep, the harder it is to put them down and the angrier they are about the whole idea. Luckily, I've built up some strategies, some parental sleep subterfuge, and I was pretty sure I could win this battle. Pacing wasn't working so I started pacing AND bouncing. I started adding in some workout moves from my body sculpt class, some lunges and leg lifts. (I've decided I'm going to put together a colic workout video. I won't promise a calm baby or buns of steel, but I find there's a certain satisfaction in working on two lost causes at the same time.)

After fifteen minutes or so he was finally KO, and I was feeling pretty worn out myself. "It's too bad I can't sleep in this thing," I mentioned to my dad's wife, and she asked, "Why not?"

Yeah, why not? I made a nice mound of pillows on one end of the couch and tentatively leaned back. I felt more pregnant than when I was pregnant, kind of like a listing cargo ship. I decided I was tired enough to make it work. Le Petit put his chin to one side, splayed his limbs out like a frog and continued to sleep.

Five minutes after my dad and his wife left to go for a walk, just as I was ready to put down my book, le Petit opened an eye. He looked at me serenely, still happy to be snuggled next to Mom. "Dammit," I thought, "Go back to sleep you little poop."

Eventually he started to fuss and I took him out of the Bjorn and unceremoniously plopped him down next to the mound of pillows. He started to smile and talk to me.

"Yeah, you are too darn cute, but you know what, you're even cuter when you're asleep," I told him in my high-pitched Mommy voice with just a teensy bit of sarcasm. He continued smiling at me, confused. I curled myself up in a U around him and closed my eyes as he babbled and flailed his arms and legs and whacked me periodically in the face.

When he got tired of his baby aerobics, I put him back in the Bjorn and decided to try something new: vacuuming. "Babies just love white noise," I explained to him, "It's in the owners' manual." He was unconvinced but calm as I vacuumed the living room, but decided he'd had enough and started crying before I could attack the hallway. "Didn't you read the owners' manual?" I asked him, exasperated.

I was irritatedly shoving the vacuum cleaner into a corner and le Petit was starting to genuinely scream when my dad and his wife walked through the front door. With hardly a word I grabbed the keys from them and left. "I think I need to go for a walk," I managed before slamming the door shut behind me.

Le Petit screamed in the hallway. Normal, I thought. He screamed in the elevator, and all the way out the front door of our building. Again, normal enough. But he broke his own rules and continued as we passed in front of the office building across the street, through the square, and halfway over the pedestrian bridge to the bank of the Seine. There he caught his breath for a few minutes before starting to howl again as we crossed over to an island in the middle of the river.

On our way we passed office workers on the sidewalk chatting and holding their cigarettes and plastic coffee cups. We passed nannies pushing strollers with quiet, complacent, pacifier-sucking babies with bored, bovine stares. We passed a couple of punky teenagers with oversized t-shirts and sagging jeans. And finally, on the island we passed in front of an elementary school just as class was letting out and hordes of chicly-dressed moms were picking up their equally chicly-dressed children. As le Petit continued to scream louder and louder, I was more and more aware of the spectacle we made as we passed by.

Le Petit has lungs. I mean, I know I'm his mom and these things are supposed to impress me, but I honestly think that he's decibels beyond any of his colleagues. He's obviously destined for a career on a stock market trading floor or as an opera singer or perhaps just as a particularly rowdy football fan. When people turn to stare, I try to tell myself that they're just looking at me in pity and they understand that there's nothing his poor, long-suffering mother can actually do for him at that moment. Thankfully, he's usually screaming loud enough that I can't hear their advice to me or their comments to each other.

At first, I hugged him close, murmured reassuring words (though I doubt he could hear me) and kissed him repeatedly on the top of his head. By the time we passed in front of the school, my arms hung at my sides and I stared emptily in front of me, ignoring him altogether.

He suddenly stopped crying and looked up at me with his huge brown eyes. Two long, wide tear traces still shone on his cheeks. "You know what? You're a pain in the ass," I told him. "But I love you anyway," I guiltily added. And then, just like that, he closed his eyes, let his head fall forward against my chest, and started to sleep.

And it lasted just long enough for me to walk back home in peace.

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