4 a.m.

I keep waking up at 4 a.m.

It’s been awhile since I’ve awoken regularly in the middle of the night. Usually if I do, it’s because my bladder needs some relief. And I can go right back to sleep.

But lately it’s like some internal alarm is going off. And it’s set for 4 a.m. Which is not good.

Occasionally, I am waking up from a dream. Last night, it was a very strange dream about two teens (the boy, white, rich and 14 years old; the girl, poor and of a different race, and a little older, 17 maybe; also, she looked a lot like Angelina Jolie) who have this baby, and their families’ reactions, and how they grow and change and accept this child into their lives and their family histories. It was incredibly involved — most of my dreams are.

And by the time I realized that I had awoken with a racing mind — finishing this odd story my subconscious had cooked up for me, and then thinking about all the stuff I had to do — it was 30 minutes later, and I was like, “Go back to sleep already!” And it took another 15-20 minutes.

And my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m.

This has been a pattern for about a week now. I just noticed the pattern last night.

I don’t like the pattern.

Every mother — parent — knows from interrupted sleep. But I don’t understand what is interrupting my sleep now. Wacky dreams? Red wine (I usually have a glass after my “chores”)? Bun fussing? She does fuss at night without her binky. It usually goes something like: rustle, rustle, whimper, whimper, a soft, “mama”, then another whimper or two, and she’s back to sleep. I don’t rush into get her at the first whimper — I’d just wake her up. Then neither of us would get sleep.

What does 4 a.m. mean?

Quickies

It has been 16 days since my last cigarette. I still think about it a lot. It helps that the weather is bitter cold. I still haven’t settled on something to replace it, per se.

**

It has been six days since Bun has given up the binky. I still am quite surprised at how easy it was (knock wood). Nap time on the weekends is not going very smoothly (she’s napped one hour or two — down from three hours — or declined to nap at all), but bedtime is pretty easy. She cries a little extra as I’m putting her down in her crib, but she is usually sleeping by the time I’m singing Monkey lullabies.

**

The girls were noisy tonight. So.Frickin’.Loud. Happy loud: singing, laughing, banging maracas together. Unhappy loud: crying, screaming. From the time I picked ’em up at daycare until about 8:15 p.m., when I got them in bed.

Instead of the vacuum game (where I “chase” them around the room with the vacuum — it’s the only way I can get my rug vacuumed) we played the “march straight upstairs, I’m reading you three books” game. Monkey seemed to like it fine, but that Bun. She cannot sit still or stop babbling for anything.

I love her spirit, but, man, I wish she would give it a rest.

**

I know I have written a ton on Bun lately. She is, right now, my more challenging and changing child. Monkey is well, though, and proving to be whip smart. I hope to have more to say about her soon.

**

Remember how long it took me to get Christmas up around here? Well, it’s taking about that long to come down too.

Surviving the Game

I am in a fairly unique position.

I love NFL football. From September to January, Sundays (and Thursday night, or Monday night, or Saturday night) will find me putzing around the house with the TV on, tuned to the football game of the hour. I don’t watch as many as I used to. And I’m no fanatic — I don’t do fantasy football, or read stats, or watch the draft.

I just like me some good ol’ smash-mouth football.

And if the Steelers are on? I am watching the game. This is non-negotiable.

I am also the mother of two toddler girls.

Back in the day, the Steelers played at 1 p.m. This worked extremely well for me as a mother. At least one kid was napping; the other could be distracted with arts & crafts or even board games — kids’ board games are extremely easy to play in front of the television. Take my word for it.

But this year, if I am not mistaken, the majority of the Steelers’ games have been after 4 p.m. This meant I had two kids on my hands, plus dinner and/or bath time, and a husband who got so wrapped up in the game he forgot all about the rest of the world.

And now they are in the playoffs. Are, as a matter of fact, in the AFC Division Championship game this Sunday.

Last Sunday’s game was challenging — for me, I mean. DearDR went to watch with a friend of his whom he hasn’t seen in awhile. Leaving me home with the two girls, one of whom is still harboring an ear infection, is not napping well, and is a little clingy. And the other of whom is a 4-year-old Drama Queen.

Monkey: Mama, can I go to the kid mall?
Me (trying not to miss the next play): No, Monkey, we’re not going to the kid mall.
Monkey: Why not?
Me: Because Mama is watching the football game.
Monkey: Just turn off the television!

I think instant reply was invented for mothers — or fathers, if by some miracle they end up POD during a football game. I cannot tell you how many times during yesterday’s game I needed the replay to actually see the Big Play of the Drive. And still I missed a touchdown, the muffed punt, the fake field goal, and Ben getting sacked (well, okay, I wouldn’t have wanted to see that anyway).

This, actually, is the number one rule of surviving the game: Realize that you are not going to watch the whole entire game. You may not even get to watch an entire drive. You may not see a touchdown or a completed pass or an interception. If you are going to “watch” the game with your kids (if they are under 6, and/or girls), you have to accept this now.

Otherwise, hire a babysitter and head to a sports bar.

Two: Dinner does not have to be a formal affair. I offered my girls chili (left over) or rice and beans (left over). Monkey declined both offers. She decided she wanted some cheese.

So they got deli slices, cheese, pepperfoni, organic tortilla chips (I included the organic part to make me feel a little better), and (in Bun’s case) Cheez-Its. Plus juice and soy milk. I had some left-over spinach pizza. We barely missed any of the game to eat!

Three: As long as they are not killing each other, let them do stuff you wouldn’t normally let them do. Within reason. Bun and Monkey happily slid down the cushions of our couch; there may have also been some jumping on the couch. I was too amazed that the Chargers had only had the ball for 17 seconds in the third quarter to really pay attention.

Four: Turn out the lights. This was actually Monkey’s idea, and it was awesome. She lay down on the couch to rest; Bun lay on her little couch; I lay on another one. We were pretending to sleep. Monkey complained that she couldn’t get to sleep “with all that noise” (i.e. the football game), so I turned it down. This was good for, like, 15-20 minutes.

Five: If they don’t need a bath, don’t bathe ’em. Unfortunately, my girls needed baths. Monkey had somehow gone two days without one (that may have been because of the birthday festivities the day before). The girls got what we call the Fast Bath (i.e. the shower), and I dried them off and dressed them in pajamas downstairs. I think I only missed the fourth touchdown.

Six: If the game is well-in-hand, let them watch a video while you listen to the last seven minutes on the radio. I know in many households there is more than one television, but not in ours! Heck, we don’t even have a converter box yet. If it were not for Lost, we wouldn’t even bother. But we can’t miss Lost.

And that’s how I survived Sunday’s Steeler game.

I haven’t worked out the details of this Sunday’s game yet. The 6:30 p.m. kickoff time presents another set of problems. If nothing presents itself, there’s always:

Hire a babysitter and head to a sports bar.

Back on the Merry-Go-Round

Last Thursday was Bun’s 2-year-old check up. They now do an autism screening questionnaire at this check up (I don’t recall them doing it for Monkey). One of the questions is, “Do you sometimes think your child is deaf?”

And I confess to thinking, “Jeez, doesn’t every parent think his or her child is deaf on occasion??”

The good news is that Bun tests normal on that questionnaire. Additionally, she’s in the 90th percentile for height and the 50th percentile for weight, so unfortunately that toddler belly is not making a comeback anytime soon. Color me not surprised.

The bad news is we have been, once again, referred to an ENT. Bun and I are going in early February.

[Aside: I made the appointment in Wexford, because that office is much easier for me to get to. DCL — the redoubtable DCL — is urging me to make the appointment in Oakland at Children’s.

I do not want to drive to Oakland. This attitude primarily bums me out because it reveals what a suburbanite I’ve become. “Oh, the traffic, the parking, whine whine whine.” Should I suck it up, and if I can get in earlier, should I drive into Oakland?]

Back to the point: this go-’round is no fun. Bun is currently on her fifth antibiotic this winter alone (dating to before Thanksgiving). That’s two ear infections (the latest one of which seems to be lingering) and one sinus infection.

What was most alarming at this most recent appointment: the doctor (whom I think of as Hot Doc, with all apologies to my own hot doc, DearDR) took his time rechecking her ears. After looking in her left ear, he said, “That one’s clear. But, I can tell that she’s had repeated ear infections, just looking in there.”

Gah!

My pediatricians are not alarmists. They are all very calm, very cool. I really like almost every one of the docs at the practice, too. They are not dismissive; they do not condescend; the answer all my questions. They are awesome with my kids, to a man and woman.

So I felt that a statement like, “I can tell she’s had repeated infections” was scary. He went on to say, “You don’t want to get into scarring, and hearing problems, so if there’s an infection in the other ear, I’m going to refer you to an ENT again.”

The other ear was still infected.

Off we go. I really liked the doctor we saw last time in Wexford, so that was another deciding factor in heading that direction.

I don’t think this latest antibiotic is helping her, either. My poor Bun.

Maybe quitting the binky will help. I may also ask about a month of antibiotics before we go to tubes, see what the prevailing feeling is.

I just want Bun to be better. Maybe it is something she will outgrow — probably. But in the meantime, it’s tough on everyone. Especially Bun — and me!

Random Thoughts: Funereal*

If my experience is any indication, the Catholic Church has cornered the market on tear-jerking funeral songs. The opening hymn at Uncle P’s Mass on Wednesday was “Here I Am”. And it went downhill from there. “Shepherd Me, O God”, “On Eagles Wings”? Guaranteed to make you cry.

Aunt K had checked on all of us at the final viewing earlier that morning. “No one’s crying, right?” she said, coming up to my mother, father, sister and me. I gave a short laugh. “I’m serious [Childhood Pet Name]. You could crack.”

I come from a family of Irish and Italian stoics, by the way. Show No Emotion is on the family crest. Though it’s okay if you’ve been drinking.

I’m glad I was sitting behind Aunt K at the church, then. My father, mother, sister and I were waterworks central. We were not the only ones. I am glad that people sitting near us had a box of Kleenex.

I had been telling people that Uncle P was very sick for a long time — which was true. Uncle P had been receiving dialysis for about three years, and although he had recovered from prostate cancer a couple of years ago, he wasn’t what you would consider in robust health. He had beaten the odds several times over the years. He was doing okay, until Christmas Eve, when he fell.

So although he was sick for a long time, his death (after surgery for a broken hip) was still quite sudden.

Hence, the emotion at his funeral. It was running higher — in me, too — than I had thought it would.

*****************

The other contributing factor to the height of emotion is the simple fact that as every wedding reminds you of your own wedding, so each funeral reminds you of funerals you have gone to (through) before. The list of the dead goes through your mind. And it can start anywhere.

Uncle P was an uncle, a father, a brother, a husband. We have been here before for Uncle J, Aunt J’s husband (suddenly, of pancreatic cancer), for Uncle K, Aunt M’s husband (slowly, of COPD). Uncle P had buried a baby; so have I; my Uncle JP, my father’s brother, buried his 20-year-old son (suddenly, in a car accident). These ‘babies’ were someone’s grandchild, too, someone’s sibling.

Grief is hard. And it never goes away. It becomes background to the life you live with the living. And then you attend a funeral, you honor the life of another lost one, and the grief moves to the forefront again.

*****************

Funerals also make us aware of our mortality. My mother and father let us know of their plans for when they die — well, their preferences, in any case. It was a little creepy to talk about, but as they don’t plan on dying for another 30 years — right, Mom, Dad? We agreed on 30 years? — it was okay to talk about too.

One of their wishes that struck me a particularly difficult to imagine following through on is their wish that we don’t come ‘visit’ them. “I’m not there,” my dad pointed out. “You will be able to talk to me from anywhere, anytime,” my mother said.

Which brought to mind my annual or semi-annual visits to Gabriel’s gravesite. I know that he is not there. I like to think that Gabriel passed from a world of warmth, love, and darkness to one of warmth, love, and light. That tiny white casket we buried contains nothing more than an earthly shell.

But still, that’s the place I go, at least once a year, to lay white flowers down. To visit; to say, ‘I remember you.’ That’s all, and that’s what I need.

If my parents don’t care about us ‘visiting’ them after they are gone, that is well and good. But I think rituals — such as a funeral mass, a eulogy, a resting place to lay flowers down — those are for the living.

Which is why, if it’s all the same to them, I’ll inter my parents in Hawaii, and visit them there.

******************

…He took my hand. But he was still anxious. “You were wrong to come. You’ll suffer. I’ll look as if I’m dead, and that won’t be true…”
I said nothing.
“You understand. It’s too far. I can’t take this body with me….”
I said nothing.
“But it’ll be like an old abandoned shell. There’s nothing sad about an old shell.”

— The Little Prince, Antione de Saint-Exupery

* adj., of or suitable for a funeral

Sometimes Your Kids Can Surprise You

Some time around Christmas, I decided that Bun was going to be weaned from the binky (her pacifier for those of you who use a different term).

And I dreaded it. But I had done the research; I had gotten lots of opinions (thanks, all!) And I knew it had to be done.

I didn’t want to do it right on her birthday — happy birthday, give me that #%$* binky!

So I decided to do it the day after. I gathered up all the binkies that morning in a special “Binky Fairy” box. Bun was supposed to help me with this activity, but she ended up with one in her mouth and two in each hand. So that part of the plan didn’t work out so well. But eventually, I got them all in there.

I let Bun know that the Binky Fairy was going to come get the binkies and leave her a toy. We had been talking about this for a few days already.

I dreaded nightfall. First of all, it was the same day of my Uncle P’s funeral, and I was wiped out. Second, I just thought she would be crying all night long, and we would have a repeat of Monday night. Third, I thought it was going to take a few nights.

At the wake, I mentioned binky-weaning to a few of my cousins. Some of them had gone through it with their kids, too. The prevailing attitude was: it’s tough, but stick to it. One of my cousins said, “That was a long two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” I cried. “I read two to five days!”

She considered. “That’s probably right,” she said. “But it sure seemed like two weeks.”

B-Day came. I had already thrown away all the binkies at a remote location (the same place the Binky Fairy picked up Bun’s new toy, coincidentally enough). At bedtime Bun climbed up in my lap for her book.

I started to read.

“Binky,” Bun said. As in, “Just a gentle reminder, mommy dearest, but at this time of night I usually get a pacifier to go with my bedtime story.”

“No binky,” I said as matter-of-factly (if that’s even a word) as I could.

Bun started to slide out of my lap. “Binky!” she said more firmly. As in, “I think you misunderstood me, mother. Or you clearly as losing your wits. I get a binky, woman, and I get it now.”

I pulled her back onto my lap. “Do you want a book, or do you want to go to bed?”

“Binky?” with hope in her little voice.

“No binky,” I reminded her gently. “Book?”

So we read a book. She needed to be rocked an extra 10 minutes. And then, after I got Monkey in bed, another 15 minutes. And then she cried piteously for half an hour.

And then she fell asleep. And although I heard her fussing a couple of times in the night, she did not wake up screaming for her binky.

Last night, she asked for her binky once. She didn’t need any extra rocking. And she just fell asleep.

I am sure that by writing about it, I will have jinxed it.

But maybe not. Maybe I overestimated the role of the binky in Bun’s life.

We’ll see. Could it really be this easy? Oh, man, I hope so.

Simpatico

A couple of weeks after Gabriel had died, The Aunts took me out to lunch.

The Aunts are my father’s four sisters: Aunt K, Aunt M, Aunt N, and Aunt J (that’s oldest to youngest as well). Although all cut from the same cloth, they are all incredibly different as well. And that lunch? It was just what they knew to do for their terribly wounded niece.

We went to Piper’s Pub, and it was a wonderful time, as wonderful a time as I could have in those weeks and months after I lost Gabriel. As I had been pregnant until very recently, two drought beers from Pipers had me quite squiffy.

After our meal, three of the aunts had to go, but Aunt K and I went to another local eatery and watering hole. This time for a few cigarettes. (At one time, all The Aunts smoked. Most of The Uncles, too come to think of it. They have all quit a number of times over the years. I don’t think any of them currently smoke.)

Aunt K — she is something else. (A sentiment that could be applied to any of my family members really. We run the gamut.)

Aunt K had a daughter, her second, who was severely handicapped and had Down’s syndrome. Her name was Maureen. She died at 2 years of age.

My family — especially of course Aunt K — always remembers her. We remember all our lost.

While we were having another beverage and a couple of smokes on that summer’s day five years ago (going on six), Aunt K told me a couple of things.

The first was a little story from her life. She had just gotten married to Uncle P (they were married for 48 years) and she was working full-time; he was a Pittsburgh police officer (later a detective). One day, she told me, someone brought sweets in for ‘the girls’ (she used that term, I swear) to have on their coffee break. One of the other ladies with whom Aunt K worked went ga-ga over a chocolate eclair.

“Oh, K,” she said to my aunt, “this is better than sex.”

To which my aunt replied, “I don’t think you’re doing it right.”

This hysterical bon mot was followed with more serious talk. When Aunt K said, “I know exactly what you are going through” to me that day, she wasn’t kidding. She had loved and lost a baby, too. She went on to have three more after Maureen, for a total of five (gotta love the Irish and Italian Catholics, man).

I’m paraphrasing somewhat here, but this is true in spirit — if not word for word — to our conversation.

“Look, honey,” she said, her hand over my hand. “You are hurting terribly right now. And you go on hurting. You grieve.

“Your husband is hurting now, too, though. And you need to go through this together. And you have to let him grieve in his own way.

“Uncle P, he never talked about Maureen after she died. When I found out I was pregnant again, I panicked. ‘What if this baby is like Maureen?’ I remember asking him. And he just said, ‘It’s not. And you can’t think that way.'”

She patted my hand some more, probably sipped from her drink, offered me another cigarette.

“This will make you and DearDR stronger, you watch. I know it made P and I closer. Even though we never talked about it with each other. And DearDR’s a good man.”

My Uncle P was a good man too. We buried him yesterday. And I thought a lot about that conversation that Aunt K and I had. I hope that I can offer the smallest consolation to her — in being in attendance yesterday, in recalling this conversation, in grieving with her and her children and her grandchildren and all the rest of us who loved Uncle P.

“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
— The Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, chapter 4, verse 7

Bun Turns Two: 2008 Performance Appraisal

You can review last year’s performance appraisal here.

Goal: Hang around a good long time.
Performance: Seems perfectly willing to comply with enthusiasm to this request. Growing in leaps and bounds.
2010 Goal: Stop running away from Mommy in public, especially where parking lots and streets are concerned.



Goal: Get as tall as big sister Monkey.
Performance: While seemingly eager to meet this goal as well, I fear biology may be against her. She is, after all, the younger sister. However, it should be noted that Bun is tall for her age. At the library the other day, when I told someone she would be 2 in a few days, the woman exclaimed, “Oh, I figured she was well on her way toward 3 already.” In this way, Bun, biology will favor you: You have tall parents, and it is likely that somewhere in your early 20s, you and Monkey will be the same height.
Goal for 2010: Bring back the toddler belly!

Goal: Learn to eat pizza.
Performance: As in all food-related areas, Bun once more excelled. Although Mommy prefers to cut it into smaller pieces for her, Bun is perfectly content to gnaw on a skinny slice. Has been known to eat a couple of toddler-sized slices of Costco pizza in one sitting. Among some of her other favorites: Pierogies (usually eats three in one sitting); pasta marinara; veggie chili; not dogs; mac ‘n’ cheese; oatmeal; and, her daily breakfast, yogurt.
Goal for 2010: Branch out into other vegetables (Bun likes peas and broccoli, and that’s it), such as carrots.

Goal: Grow some teeth.
Performance: See for yourself below!
Goal for 2010: Keep using ’em to show off that personality.




Goal: Learn to run.
Performance: Some people are sorry this goal was ever set. Because it was achieved in a timely manner, and Bun hasn’t stopped since. If she’s using her legs for something other than kicking Mommy and Daddy during diaper changes, she’s running. Very fast, and usually away from me.
Goal for 2010: Learn to heel. That is — stay by Mommy or Daddy, especially out in public. At home, tear it up. Like I can stop you.

Goal: Keep up the good work of loving on Mommy and making her laugh.
Performance: Bun expanded her audience to include Monkey, Daddy, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, people sitting behind us in church, and so on.
Goal for 2010: Keep the smiles — and hugs — coming.

Happy Birthday, Bun. Let that light shine. (I’ll teach Monkey to take a little better pictures of you.)


To see more pictures of Bun, especially that personality, go here.

To repay me for giving birth to her two years ago, Bun decided to try and stay up — with Mommy holding her — all.damn.night. It was either due to the extended time at DCL’s because Mommy had to go to a funeral home last night. Or the hot chocolate I gave to the girls as a treat at 8 p.m. Either way, we’re having a rough day. Er, I am in any case. I haven’t gotten a phone call from DCL, so maybe Bun is being a good little birthday pixie.

Change I Can (Barely) Live With

It has been one week since I smoked a cigarette.

And I don’t like it. Not one little bit.

I don’t feel virtuous. Or triumphant.

I think about that cigarette — that once-a-night cigarette I used to have, that I haven’t had for one week — all the time.

I don’t want to quit smoking. I know I should quit smoking. But I don’t want to.

I’m not even going to say, “I quit smoking.”

I just haven’t smoked in one week. I haven’t bought a pack of cigarettes in one week. I haven’t huddled outside in the cold after the kids are in bed and my “chores” are done to have one cigarette. For one whole week. Seven days.

I am tense and irritable. Cranky as all get-out. I miss my cigarette. I crave it all the time. I think about it all the time. And I think about how I am not going to smoke it. Not tonight, at any rate. I think that every day.

It was my one treat, my one bad-for-me habit. And, to a certain extent, it was that one left-over thing about the single woman I used to be.

It was, ironically, the one thing I clung to in the time-for-me part of my night. The worst thing I could cling to, granted, but that monkey nicotine… Well, it was my monkey.

One week.

Let’s go for two. What do you say?

The Closest I’ve Come to a Lazy Day…

…in quite sometime. That describes this surprisingly low-key Saturday. We went to the library; I wrote an angry letter for Bella (regarding Nanny’s crappy care at the hospital); and we sat around at home.

I actually sat on the couch for about an hour reading a book! Bun was supposed to be napping. Monkey played right next to me. For an hour! Well, okay, for about 20 minutes of that hour she leaned up against me and ate an apple. But I’m telling you: an hour, on the couch. That hasn’t happened in a long time.

And I’m frightened that it may not happen again for a long time. I am shocked to report that Bun did not nap. At all today. Usually, if I leave her alone long enough, she eventually drifts off. Not today.

It’s the beginning of the end, my friends.

When Monkey turned two, her gift from my parents (as per our request) was a ‘big-girl bed’.

I have no intention of putting Bun — my wild child — in a big-girl bed any time soon. Maybe in six months. Maybe.

One of the things I have intended to do is to put the girls into one room. I thought maybe it would happen last spring, but no go. So, maybe this spring. It means painting (I want to do the girls’ room a lavender color — which will clash horrendously with the rug, but we’ll change that later) and moving a lot of furniture around. And, yes, putting Bun in a big-girl bed.

Monkey stopped napping every day at 2 and 1/2 years of age. Occasionally, she would still conk out, but it was not to be counted on. I am afraid Bun is heading the same direction.

And I live in fear. Fear of the Saturday that comes when I have two children up all day long.

I don’t even want to think about it. Must seek comfort with DearDR. And possibly green beans.

Nanny update: Nanny was moved into a personal care home today. All the tests from the hospital were negative (for whatever they were testing her for), which, to quote a certain football coach in these parts, “is a positive.” We are hoping she puts on some weight and regains some strength. Please keep her — and us — in your thoughts and prayers. Thanks.