Monday, August 20, 2012

Go to Sleep, My Monkey

I'm really feeling the bittersweetness of home ownership today.  At times like these, I sometimes wonder if we wouldn't have been better off getting a smaller, but newer, townhouse or condo.  It's not like I've gotten much use out of our beautiful backyard, anyway.  It took over six weeks to hear back from the first electrician to give us an estimate for the expensive electrical overhaul that this house needs, and we elected not to go with him anyway.  We would like to have used the electrician who patched us up after the storm, but after several phone calls, we still haven't gotten an official estimate back from him.  And that was supposed to be the first order of business around here.  There is so much left that really needs to be done.

Like the kitchen drain.  I've lived without a garbage disposal before, and could do it again, but it really is a pain adjusting to being without when you've had one for years.  And disposal or no, it's terribly slow, and difficult to get water down without a drain catch, let alone with.  So sometimes that catch gets left off.  Even when loads of chopped, cooked onions are making their way down in the slowly draining water.

And at some point, the water simply stops draining.

So, Tom has spent much of the day trying to remedy the problem.  He waited until Abby was down for her nap before leaving to pick up some supplies, but some strange circumstance caused her to wake up early and screaming while I was alone in the house.  It's not the first time she's woken up crying instead of playing, singing, or talking to herself.  I expected her to pretty much calm down once I collected her.  Unfortunately, the screaming began while I was in the bathroom, and I could not go to her right away.  By the time I got upstairs, she was incensed, and continued to scream, face down on the mattress, while I stood there and offered to take her out of the crib.

I thought, perhaps, since she was not moving to get up, that she was not ready to, and would be assuaged by the offering of a binky.  I found one, recently knocked to the floor, and held it to her face.  She screamed in rage.  Unsure of what she needed, I thought I'd give her a minute of time and space to herself, and exited the room.  More screams and tears erupted, so I returned almost right away.

This time, she made a move to get up, and I helped her.  I brought her down to the basement to play, which is the usual routine when she awakens from her nap.  She was calm in my arms, but had a complete meltdown relapse as I passed through the gate.  I tried to sit on the floor with her, embrace her, talk to her, encourage her to "use her words," to tell me what was wrong.  More angry tears.  Shoves and kicks to get me off of her.

Meanwhile, the commotion began to upset Michael, who had previously been calmly and happily sitting in his bouncy chair.  As his cries began to build, I realized that I had to make a choice: leave Michael to reach his own point-of-no return, or abandon Abby to salvage his mood.  I really hated to pick him over her for such a small complaint, especially given that his needs generally must trump hers in his far-more-dependent state.  But nothing that I was doing was getting through to Abby, and I didn't think I could handle twice the tantrums if Michael should work himself into a state.

As I scooped up Michael in my arms, Abby went into full-on tantrum mode, with thrashing and kicking of her legs against the floor.  Her screams increased in pitch and volume.

Thankfully, despite the noise, it didn't take Michael long to calm back down again, and I set him on the floor.  I returned to Abby, picked her up in my arms, and sat in the easy chair with her.  She quieted, and quite suddenly, requested a book that she had seen on the shelf that I passed as I carried her to the chair.  I eagerly brought it down to read to her.  All was well, for about a minute, when I stalled her from turning the page to adjust the position of the pop-up that she was about to mangle in her hurried attempt to move ahead and mash the next page down.

And just like that, tantrum re-engaged, and I suddenly had neither the energy or creativity to try to quell it again.  Without much plan or thought, I scooped Abby back up, and carried her back up to her room again, to place her back in the crib.  I thought, perhaps, she could benefit from some "alone time."  Though, since she cannot really communicate with me to tell me whether or not this is the case, I really couldn't say whether it was a logical course of action or not.

Mostly, I needed space to think and breathe.  So I closed the door, and retreated back downstairs to watch over Michael.  I could hear her wailing over the monitor, and recalled an afternoon, long ago, when Abby was a little younger than Michael is now.  We had been in the midst of a nap-fighting week from Hell, and I had resorted to using the Ferber method (after exhausting pretty much every other process I could think of).  I'd let her go five minutes, then ten, then 15, and even 20.  Each time, her screams built louder after I checked in and left the room than before I had entered it.  So, after hitting the 20 minute mark, I hit my own limit.  I simply could not go back in to her and risk further escalation, but I could not stand the crying and screaming.  And she really needed that nap.  I reached out to Tom, who sensed in me such desperation that he came home on his lunch break to rescue me.  But it took him time to organize, and commute, and so I endured the cries of my baby for 45 impossibly long minutes until she gave up and fell asleep.  And when Tom arrived, just shortly after the heavy silence descended on the apartment, I sobbed in his arms.

To this day, I still wonder whether I did her some harm by leaving her that way.  I try to remind myself that I was simply trying to survive, to preserve what little self-control I had left.  But it does little to assuage the guilt.

And even as I recalled this experience, and the hurt that it still causes me, I could not make a move to go to Abby today.  I don't think I'd even really reached my limit this time- I could have handled just her.  But I didn't have just her this time, and while my presence and attention were doing Michael some obvious good, I simply hadn't been getting through to her.  I suppose that I could have tried more tactics, but I know from experience that it would have only gotten me so far.  I would have started down the right road, only to accidentally do something to set her off again, and it was too much to consider trying to handle with Michael around, particularly given her new propensity to push him down from a sitting position for no reason at all, and her long-held habit of throwing all kinds of things around the room that could potentially harm him.  While the throwing is a problem even when she is not angry, it is more of one when she is.

Of course, these are all excuses I've come up with after-the-fact.  At the time, I wasn't thinking of much at all- just listening over the monitor and feeling increasingly numb about it all.  Until the crying stopped.  Then the guilt, disappointment, and shame set in.  I let my baby cry alone.

Before I could dwell too much on it, though, I had my other baby to attend to.  He was showing clear signs of fatigue, and needed to be put down for a nap, himself.  Thankfully, his eyelids were drooping in no time, and he went down without a hitch.

I then had a decision to make.  Whether to let Abby be, because if she had fallen asleep, then it would be good for her to get some more in, and going upstairs might wake her, or whether to take a quick look to ease my conscience and settle my nerves.

Against my better judgement, but consistent with my instinct, I went to her.  She was lying down quietly, but very awake.  When she heard me come in, she calmly stood up to be lifted into my arms.  As we walked down the stairs together, she was back to her old self, chatting and pointing out the things that she saw.  And I felt confused, and relieved, all at once.

I put her down in the living room this time, so that I could rest on the couch, feeling suddenly both physically and emotionally exhausted from the whole ordeal.  As I lay there, sleepily watching over Abby while she clumsily walked around in my sandals and buckled the straps on Michael's swing, she suddenly approached me.  I expected an impromptu hug and a return to her antics, but instead, she gently stroked my hair and said, "Go to sleep."  Then, with incredible tenderness, and a touch of amusement in her eyes, she added, "My monkey."

Then she re-focused on my shoes.  And I covered my face and cried.  I cried out of a sense of failure, of maddening frustration.  Sometimes, I just can't get it right.  But my dear, sweet, daughter- she seems to have learned something along the way, despite my terrible shortcomings.  I want to take comfort in that.  Maybe someday, I'll be able to.