Sunday, November 11, 2007

Faking it

I'm starting to suspect that parenthood is just one big improvisation, and I feel a bit like I did in high school drama class. I try my best, I imitate the others, and it falls flat. What am I doing wrong? Why aren't I convincing anyone, least of all myself?

Some of the time -- okay, most of the time, lately -- I feel like I get it, but not tonight.

We have this weekend tradition of getting out and going for a walk somewhere that isn't in the immediate neighborhood, somewhere you can only get to by car and thus out of range for me and le Petit during the week.

Le Petit is ambivalent about the car. He'll put up with it during the day, but there's no guarantee it will lull him to sleep, even when he badly needs a nap. Past a certain hour of the evening, he HATES it. He can scream in the car for at least forty-five minutes straight, and probably longer, but that's mercifully the longest it has taken us to get home so far. I sit right next to him in the back seat, but there is nothing I can do to calm him. I've tried talking to him gently, singing to him, patting his belly, sliding one hand behind his back with the other on his tummy, leaning my head in to his to try and fool him into thinking he was being held in my arms instead of strapped into the car seat. He's not duped. He doesn't understand why I can't pick him up, and he's panicked about it.

Every time it happens I tell myself I won't subject him to it again, that I'll plan better next time and we'll get home before dark. Yet every weekend we manage to screw up and find ourselves in a car with a screaming infant. It happened again tonight on our way back from a walk in the forest, and once again, I felt like a complete ass. A failure as a mom.

His nursing schedule, such as it is, is also throwing me off. He's hungry far less often, so when I tried to nurse him before we drove back, he wasn't interested. When we got back home he was hungry, but it was an hour and a half before his usual bedtime. We had to decide if we wanted to feed him right away and keep him awake with us until bedtime and then find something other than nursing to get him to sleep, or try to nurse him down forty-five minutes ahead of schedule. We went for the second option, and when after nursing for twenty minutes he looked up at me wide awake and smiled, I knew we'd screwed up. Again.

I put him in his crib anyway, with a kiss and an optimistic "Good night, little guy!" and then let him fuss for a while. When the fussing turned to crying, I gave up and brought him into the living room to sit on the couch and watch television with me. So much for the sacred bedtime ritual, which tonight ended with him in a bright room, hypnotized by moving images. Great, I thought, I'm already using the television to distract my kid. I definitely get mommy points for that one.

At nine o'clock, his usual bedtime, he started rubbing his eyes and squirming, so we decided to try again. Rewind and replay the bedtime ritual: diaper change and cuddles with dad, nursing and a quiet goodnight monologue and lullaby with mom. Predictably, he wasn't hungry, and he wouldn't stay at my (probably empty) breast. I started pacing the room with him, but his eyes stayed stubbornly open.

Lacking the patience to keep pacing and with no other tricks to try, I placed him back in his crib with another kiss goodnight. He squirmed and rolled himself onto his side, pushing his head up again the crib bumper. He started sucking his thumb and fussing intermittently; I laid down on our bed beside him to see what happened. After a few minutes of fussing, he had fallen asleep.

I was proud of him, and not so proud of us. Where was my planning? Where was my patience? Why do I feel so un-parental, so amateurish?

It occurs to me that our parents were probably just as inept at the beginning. We looked up to them as oracles, as the experts that held the sky in place and helped the earth keep turning in the right direction, when they were just overwhelmed, perplexed thirty-somethings, a lot like us.


Mom in France said...

It's amazing how babies have their own agenda and how part of learning parenting is trying to sleuth what the heck they're saying.

We crossed France twice during our summer vacation and I swear I spent most of the time in the backseat -- the middle seat no less! -- trying to entertain Boo. Gone were the romantic drives and quiet conversation.

I keep thinking that the communication thing will get easier. Every time I learn one signal (or think I do), a new thing comes along development-wise to throw me. We had friends over this weekend with an older baby (10 months) and his parents couldn't figure out : is he sick? teething? just grumpy? Either way, treatment is the same -- comfort best as can. Wait it out.

Hang in there PmP! Le Petit loves you despite your blunders (until he's a teenager, haha).

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Oh, man, he changes and his needs change so fast! Somehow, despite the mistakes we keep making, we feel more and more confident. Just wait until the next baby comes along... (not that we're in any hurry, but anyway!)