summer's end
20 August 1999
7:30 am. Can’t deal with a restless child anymore, need more sleep. "Dan, can you rock him?" " I can try."

7:45 "He’s not going back to sleep." I get up. Take care of Damian while Dan gets ready for work.

His first day of work.

Summer’s over.

No more sleeping in, catching up while Dan watches Damian. No more Wednesday morning trips to the Santa Monica farmer’s market. No more group trips to the supermarket, family strolls, we rehash our lives as Damian in the stroller reaches out to brush his hand against plants, on the way home I carry Damian in the sling while Dan pushes the empty or grocery-filled stroller. No more.

Now it’s just me and my boy.

The first time, last year, I was so scared. Alone with a three month old, the day stretched -- endless minutes, empty hours -- no conversation, no playing, no getting lost in reading writing computer games. Just me and this needy creature.

Now is different. Alone with a fifteen month old.

Last season: I bring him to the bathroom. Perch him on my knee. He looks around with interest, chews on a teething ring. Or clings to me, making it hard to grab hold of the toilet paper roll.

This morning: I bring him to the bathroom, he pulls opens the top drawer under the sink, fishes out a lens case with some old contacts in solution, starts shaking it up to see the water slosh. I give him his brand new toothbrush (for his brand new teeth) in its shiny wrapper, he crinkles it for a while, then drops it and wanders into the hall to do some impromptu yoga.

Last season: I pop him into the Baby Bjorn for a walk. He waves his arms excitedly, we head off. I think private thoughts. Lost in my world. He chatters "goo gwai ga good." Falls apart halfway back, wailing with fatigue. I hold him on my shoulder and awkwardly trudge home, each step a new lesson in painful joints.

This morning: I pop him in the sling (too big for the Bjorn), he waves his arms excitedly, we head off. (Some things don’t change.) Two blocks in, my back aches. Three blocks, my knee aches. Four blocks, I’m covered in sweat. This kid’s gotten heavy. If I do this every morning, I’ll lose weight in no time. He swivels his head, watching cars and people and examining trees. His focus sharper, his intent more specific. We walk on Sunset Blvd, he fixates on workmen and their trucks.

Last season: We get back from a walk, I nurse in the armchair, he falls asleep instantly. I ease him onto my shoulder, try to ease him into the crib. No dice. He wakes instantly. I pick him up, hold him on my shoulder for his long nap. I get a crick in my neck, a stitch in my side, an ache in my heart.

This morning: We get back from our walk, I nurse at the dining table while I read email on my tabletop laptop. He falls asleep almost instantly. I ease him onto my shoulder, into the crib. He settles, content. I come back to the computer, write this entry.

I can deal with this. This could work.

Last season, Damian didn’t sleep. We took turns with him at night and Dan slept in to catch up, went to work late, got home late. I sometimes got an extra hour of sleep in the morning, sometimes not. We'd bitch to each other later on the phone about who got less sleep.

While Dan got ready for work, I had Damian duty. My cereal was always soggy by the time I got back to it.

After Dan left for work, more Damian duty. Some mornings I sat there, too stoned with sleep deprivation to do more than make occasional faces at him or hand him a new toy to try. I felt like a terrible mommy, not stimulating the baby brain cells enough, not interacting in new and exciting ways, but my own brain cells were shutting down, off on hiatus. Zombie mommy.

When the sitter came at two pm, I wolfed lunch, sat down at the computer "must write NOW must write RIGHT now. Time’s a wasting..." Stopped writing early so I could fix dinner, it was that or eat at ten, too crazy to try cooking with my cling-wrap baby after she left.

The best times were in the evening hours before Dan got home. I could relax and enjoy my child knowing help/relief/another pair of hands was around the corner. But when he called and said "I’m going to be half an hour late, 8:30 instead of 8," I’d fight back tears. Only half an hour more. Only. I can make it. I can. I love my boy, why do I feel this way, why do I feel so trapped? Answer: alone with a bundle of inchoate need and longing for eight hours on a babysitter day, twelve on a non-sitter day, it’s just too much. Too much for someone used to solitude and freedom. Doesn’t mean I didn’t love him, just means I wanted some s p a c e.

And when Dan got home, we ate and put Damian to bed and that was pretty much it for our evening.

By the end of the season we were both pretty cross. Dan felt the weight of responsibilities at work and at home, no time to decompress. He walked in the door, I handed baby care off to him, otherwise I went mental. And I felt the weight of responsibilities at home and fear that my writing was slip sliding away from me. And really, how much can you do with a three-four-five month old? They’re too young for Peek-a-Boo, too young for Pat-a-Cake, too young for "what color is that?" and "where’s my nose?" We played a lot of horsey and airplane (only when I do it it’s "the daring young man on the flying trapeze") and danced around the living room, but I’d get winded, my arms would get tired, I’d collapse. And still have to pull it out of myself and find a new way to amuse.

He’s a different kid now, a completely fascinating one. Partly because he’s so enchanted with the world around him. He loves chasing the cat, loves teasing the cat with the feather toy, loves watching the gardeners mow the lawn and blow the leaves, loves any silly game that crosses my mind and if I don’t think of any, he will. Sometimes he just giggles at a stray thought.

I still haven’t figured out how to deal with dinner if Dan doesn’t come home at six every night. He says he will, but it’s a lot like New Year’s resolutions to lose weight -- you mean well but the proof is down the road when your clothes feel baggy... or don’t. But still, there’s always the tupperware drawer to entertain during cooking stints. And the cat food-and-toy drawer. And the produce drawer in the fridge if I get desperate.

Bottom line, it’s easier to amuse and be amused by a fifteen month old than a five month old. People talk about wanting babies. Cuddling babies. Longing for babies. That baby powder smell, that newborn blurry gaze. Me, I love the toddler stage. Babies need. Toddlers explore. Toddlers interact. Toddlers hug and run off to play and come back and hug some more and giggle wildly and throw food and pick flowers and grow before your eyes.

I think this season’s going to be okay.

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