Monday, December 7, 2009

When the Five S's Become the Giant Redundant F

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

I forgot to mention in my December 1st book review that The Five S's don't work in the face of the One Ginormous Insatiable H (hunger), so when Carrie's in the shower or trying to get a little extra sleep, I get to experience a whole new level of helplessness when the pumped milk and my bag of tricks both run dry.

Yesterday I began writing a passionate entry all about Amari - the origins of her name, her astrological reading, other people's forecasts and projections, and so on. It was loving, light-hearted, and fun, and I was feeling both well-rested and inspired. Two consecutive nights had been relatively peaceful, and more importantly - predictable. "We have a system," I thought, "We've got this parenting thing wired," which in retrospect sounds as delusional as when I used to watch sad movies over and over again expecting them to end differently. The unfortunate truth is that Titanic sinks every time and so, I am learning, do the spirits of the over-confident parent.

After a lot of discussion this week, Carrie and I decided to buy some organic formula and mix an ounce or two with pumped milk just before bedtime. We did this for two reasons: to try to begin storing pumped milk for Carrie's return to work next month, and to see if Amari needed more than Carrie was producing. Our hope was that if she got enough nutrition she would be sated longer, and we might steal some extra sleep. Selfish? Perhaps, but it was a thoughtful, conscious decision. And by conscious decision I mean I Googled "famous formula fed babies that turned out to be geniuses," and I was immediately comforted by the results. And by immediately comforted by the results, I mean I quickly realized I was being ridiculous.

Carrie was reluctant to supplement with formula because it made her feel like a failure, like she wasn't producing enough milk to satisfy our daughter. I was reluctant because I wanted to be supportive, and because Carrie said that some people attribute obesity in America to the popularity of formula in previous generations. Initially, I somehow heard her say "formula leads to eating disorders," which then elicited some mild anxiety when Amari spit up after her first feeding. Guess I have to cancel her infant fashion magazines.

The results of the formula were great. Amari ate voraciously, but didn't slip into one of those zombie-like food comas I was worried about. Instead she looked satisfied. She stared at me wide-eyed and we got some good "face time" without her rooting for mom or a bottle. I'd read that babies can already mirror facial expressions after a few days, so I started to purse my lips, stick out my tongue, and smile. She mirrored the first two almost immediately, and the next day she smiled, too. I was ecstatic, in love, certain that we'd made the right decision. Eventually Amari finished the bottle and drifted off to sleep.

Interestingly, the formula also appeared to end two days of constipation which, after changing a dozen diapers daily, had me a little worried. Carrie assured me it was normal, that she'd read about a baby who was backed up for 22 days. Twenty-two days? I was freaking out after twenty-two hours. During another stretch of constipation, my brother's wife, Olga, gave Amari a gentle massage around the front and back of her knees, and she took four gigantic dumps in the next few hours. Olga also told me that when she was a colicky baby her father used to soothe her by placing a tortilla on her stomach. I was impressed and inspired, deciding then that I would find the time to research other cross-cultural home remedies.

Saturday night, as we prepared for our first family outing, Carrie and I made our own cultural discovery - not as unique as an ethnic cuisine stomach salve, but effective nonetheless. Since day one we've been experimenting with bathing, trying to find a relatively tear-free solution to cleanliness. We'd refined our technique from a very unsuccessful, far too exposed, little plastic tub to a much more pleasant holding Amari in the shower and then passing her into a warm towel. Nonetheless, the waterworks would start as soon as the cool air hit her skin and they continued until she was dressed and warm. This time we employed the sound and warmth of Carrie's hair dryer, which had already calmed a crying bout the night before. When Carrie opened the warm towel, I had the air blowing lightly on her skin. Silence. Carrie rubbed her with oil, put a diaper on, dressed her. Not a peep. She stared at the gun-shaped source of her bliss and rooted at the hot air as if to say, "Hook a sister up with a non-stop supply of that." And we have - the hair dryer now sits downstairs where we change most of her diapers.

All the way to birthday party I talked about cornering the pocket hairdryer market. I was practically manic, and Carrie was kind enough to humor me, probably just mentally adding it to my growing list of brilliant baby ideas along with the stomach-shaped co-sleeper and the manne-cuddle - a life-like mannequin that holds your baby while you take a break. By the end of the evening, I was ready to learn about mechanics and build my own prototype. It turns out they already exist, but they cost a pretty penny. The party went really well. Apparently Amari is going to be one of those Eddie Haskel types that all parents adore. She was quiet, alert, and entirely lovable. When we got home, Carrie went to sleep, and I curled up on the couch with Amari, an extension cord, and my trusty hair dryer.

Kidding. I should mention, however, that another white noise solution we've had success with during meltdowns in the car is turning the radio on to static and matching the volume of her tears. It calms me down, too.

Long story still pretty long - and I know all of this sounds fine so far - Sunday night was awful. I had made the mistake of getting attached to what was working, expecting it to continue indefinitely. I recalled someone telling me that expectations are premeditated resentments, but in the moment that didn't help. Amari had kept me up until half past one and I was grumpy. She had slept through most of my brother's visit - something she loves to do when we have company - so it shouldn't have surprised me that she didn't want to sleep when night came. It wouldn't have been so bad if I could have put her down for a few minutes, if she hadn't spit up all over me, if she didn't cry every time I pulled the bottle (which she wasn't even drinking from) away from her. As two o'clock approached, I grabbed Amari, woke Carrie up, and said, "Can you take her? I'm done." It was the strongest reaction I'd had so far and I felt immediately guilty - for about two minutes - and then I fell asleep. Today my mood continued, fueled by restless sleep and residual guilt. I felt disappointed by my inability to separate my reaction from the reality of the situation - that Amari has her own schedule and I need to adjust mine or suffer.

If I were more emotionally capable, I would have cried. I tend to internalize - I'm a work in progress - but I certainly felt close to tears when Carrie was showering and Amari was hungry. I refused to break my only-in-the-evening formula rule, so I tried the S's, a walk to mailbox, a song, an honest plea with Amari for patience, and a silent prayer, but none of those things had any nutritional value so they were only brief respites from the cries of my hungry baby. Once again I felt done, frustrated to the point of hopelessness. I briskly handed Amari off, but later apologized to both her and Carrie for being such a grump. Today's lesson is not to beat myself up too much when I feel like a failure, like I've missed the mark. I remembered another friend saying, "You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take," and although he was talking about basketball, in this moment it did help.

Forgiveness, I have learned, is the act of giving up on a better past. Today is coming to a peaceful end, and all I can change is how I react in the future. Amari is asleep already, which forecasts a restful night. Tomorrow - a passionate, loving, light-hearted entry all about her.

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