Saturday, August 27, 2016

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Last night, on our first post-child date, Jenna and I cried over our Proscuitto and Arugula Pizza at the Corner Room in Portland. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was the lack of sleep, but we agreed things have gotten harder over the past few days.

When Michael first came home from the hospital our bodies surged with new-parent adrenaline. He slept most of the day and night. He only fussed when we changed his diaper or wrestled with his PJs. He produced wet and stinky diapers on a strict and predictable cadence. "Hey", we thought, "maybe this whole parenting thing isn't so hard after all". And lo, at that utterance, a distant rumble did shake the earth and a booming voice called out: "Oh, you just wait".

Yesterday, I left Jenna in tears when I went to work. She was sleep deprived and frustrated. She was worried that Michael might be losing weight, at least according to our bathroom scale. She was worried that he hadn't pooped in 24 hours. Last night was a particularly challenging night. The sleep deprivation is taking its toll. Neither Jenna nor I have mastered the art of the afternoon nap. For us, it mostly consists of laying in a dark room and worrying. But we just installed blackout shades and we'll keep trying.

"Getting much sleep?" is the question I get all day at work. I try to smile. I try to joke. I share a bit about my life with the baby. Many of my co-workers are parents themselves and have been very supportive with advice and encouragement. I've struggled with insomnia my whole adult life and in 2014 finally started working with a sleep psychologist. I learned to track my sleep efficiency, set sleep schedules, and not worry so much about sleep. I've made great progress but now I have the ultimate wrench thrown in.

Luckily, I am a devout believer in "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger". Every parent I know is resilient, adaptable, and mentally strong. I truly believe that the pain and suffering of parenthood helps a person grow. At least, that's what I tell myself at 4AM as I ever-so-delicately place Michael in his bassinet and tiptoe away like a bomb technician trying to decide which wire to cut. If he cries, it goes boom, and I lose.

While researching newborns, I kept coming across a common theme: "It's miserable but worth it". We are far from miserable, and have only just begun our journey, but I'm starting to relate.

It's definitely worth it.

For example, Michael is very entertained by trees. When I get home from work I carry him around the edge of the yard. His tiny eyes light up with wonder as we walk beneath leafy branches. I hope Michael shares my love of outdoor adventure and joins me on hikes to the highest peaks and summits in Maine. Of course, he can do whatever he wants with his life, but I wouldn't be opposed to careers like Wildlife Biologist or National Park Ranger. I know. I couldn't get more ahead of myself if I tried.

I've also enjoyed reading to him on quiet afternoons. I stow him firmly in the crook of my arm and pull out my go-to material: Dr Seuss. I grew up with Dr. Seuss. Not just his books, but his art. I'm from Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College, where Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel was an undergraduate. The campus is decorated with his creations. As a child, I loved the enormous Dr. Seuss ice sculptures constructed during Dartmouth's Winter Carnival. His books are full of fantastical rhymes and psychedelic drawings. I try to put on an exuberant show for Michael. "No", I yell at the villain cutting down the Lorax's Truffula Trees, "You stop destroying the environment!". OK, I get a bit carried away.

I also love the quiet bonding I share with Michael as I feed him each night. After Jenna heads upstairs Michael dozes on my chest. The downstairs is dimly lit and quiet except for the calming woosh of the white noise machine. I tilt Michael back in my arms and gently touch the bottle to his lips. He slurps greedily as if taking his first drink after weeks of wandering in the desert. Then he turns into a rag doll, comatose, a limp noodle of satisfaction. I know he can't smile yet but I'm sure I see a tiny grin.

Despite all this, Jenna and I need to do a better job supporting each other. When I get home from work we're quick to judge each other's moods. Is she sad, happy, or tired? Is she feeling competent or confounded? She has worries and concerns about his eating, napping, or pooping, that make me feel helpless. Meanwhile, she's walking on eggshells trying not to say anything that might make me irritable. I worry that I'm becoming a stranger to Michael. I want to discover his quirks, and his likes and dislikes, not come home from work and get the Cliffs Notes. Jenna and I need to be more gentle with each other. We need to be more understanding and more supportive. Even if we don't have all the answers we can still put our arms around each other and say: "I love you". Everyone could use more of that in their lives.

Each day is a miracle and also a challenge. I still can't believe there is a baby living in my house. I expect to come down the stairs in the morning and find my old life. But it is nowhere to be seen. There is no turning back now. We're in it for the long haul.

Luckily, Jenna and I have each other. And despite the tears, despite the lack of sleep, and despite the anxiety, I know we can do this. Sometimes you have to break something down before you can build it up. I know what we are building is going to be worth it. It's going to be more amazing than we can possibly imagine.

But wait... what's that sound? Oh no, the creature has awoken from his morning slumber! It's time to change a diaper.