Sunday, July 26, 2009
“Good nap, Babe,” I replied. Since our month-old son Evan has come home from the hospital, ensuring lots of nocturnal family togetherness, we’ve decided to retire the phrase “good night” for now. “Good nap” and “see you in a few” have become its logical replacements.
As a lifelong aficionado of sleep, this aspect of parenthood was always the one I had dreaded the most. When Kara was pregnant and exhausted all the time, we were getting about nine hours of sleep a night, with the only minor difference being that she had to get up to go to the bathroom every twenty minutes while I drooled on in ignorant bliss.
“Are you worried that we’re getting too much sleep?” I would call to her from the bed in the morning, noticing just a little too late the faint whistling of a hurtling hairdryer.
Of course, nobody goes into parenthood expecting to get more sleep, just like nobody visits
Back when Evan was still in the hospital, gaining weight for his homecoming, Kara and I were ramping up for his arrival by waking up every three hours for Kara’s breast-pumping sessions, under the orders of the hospital’s lactation consultant, a soft-spoken but stern woman who ruled the maternity ward with an iron mammary.
“Every three hours, more if you can handle it. And keep the pump working as hard as you can tolerate,” she advised as she turned the dial on the breast pump further to the right, making Kara wince. The consultant reminded me of the six-fingered torturer from The Princess Bride. I kept expecting her to say, “I’m sure you’ve discovered my deep and abiding interest in pain” or “I’ve just sucked one year of your life away.”
Kara and I were thrilled when a different lactation consultant offered us a hint of leniency. “Oh, no, you don’t need to wake yourselves up,” she said, and we started to give her a high-five. “Just pump at about midnight, then again at 4 am,” she continued, transforming the high-five into a synchronized head-scratch.
After she left, I said, “Oh, what a relief! I thought we were going to have to keep waking ourselves up. Instead, you can just pump when we get up before dawn to unmoor our lobster boat for the day.”
In any other situation, if someone were to tell you that you don’t need to wake yourself up, but that you need to perform a half-hour activity at midnight and again at 4am, that person would probably be auditioning for an absurdist comedy troupe.
Despite my whining, all that waking up was good practice for the main event. Since Evan has been home, Kara and I have been feeling surprisingly good, even with the tiny amount of sleep we’ve been getting. We’ve theorized that your body knows it isn’t going to get any sleep with a baby around, so it doesn’t bother punishing you with fatigue.
Or perhaps nobody needs as much sleep as they think they do. In high school, I used to have a similar theory that cars would keep running just fine without any gas.
“It’s just a conspiracy the oil companies dreamed up,” I would tell people. “You don’t actually see the gas going into your car, do you? They just waft that gas smell into the air so you think something’s happening in there.”
In the coming months, Kara and I are likely to find out just how long it’s possible to run on empty.
You can tuck Mike Todd in at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The hospital had arranged this night as our dress rehearsal for parenthood as our baby neared his discharge date. Evan would be wheeled into a bedroom with all of his sensors attached, and the nurses would be right down the hall as our backup. Otherwise, Kara and I were to act like we were spending the night at home with our new baby, doing our best to trick him into thinking he still had competent caregivers.
After a brief pep talk, the nurse wheeled Evan and his electronic entourage into the room between the two double beds. The TV monitor above his bassinette beeped and flashed red. It was the kind of warning that, in a medical TV show, would send nurses scurrying around the room, preparing crash carts while the doctor rubbed two paddles together. Three weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) had taught us to ignore all the beeping and lights, only paying attention to the ones that made the nurses look up.
In a few moments, our small family was alone for the first time.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
“Diaper change?” Kara suggested.
“It would be much easier to change a baby that doesn’t need to be plugged in,” I said as I untangled the wires from the sensors on Evan’s feet and chest as his legs flailed about.
“BEEP!” said the monitor, and we both jumped.
Looking back at Evan, I learned my first lesson in “I just took my eyes off him for a second.”
“I think he peed on himself,” I said. He had actually launched most of the pee over his shoulder, soaking all three layers of the bedding by his head. This was Evan’s first commentary on my fumbling attempts to change him. He was used to the NICU nurses, who know their way around babies much like the Harlem Globetrotters know their way around basketballs. The head NICU nurse usually changes diapers with one hand, using the other to keep the two babies on the toes of her Crocs spinning.
Kara and I spent the majority of our first slumber-free party with Evan exploring the vast chasm between being responsible for your baby twice a day and being responsible for him all of the time. We found that to be a new parent is to discover new depths of insecurity.
“He never cried like this when the nurses were taking care of him,” I said. “I have no idea what we’re doing wrong.”
“BEEP!” said the monitor.
“I think this might be what a nervous breakdown feels like,” Kara said.
We had slept for about two hours during the night, broken up into three or four fitful chunks. By the time the nurse came to check on us in the morning, Evan was resting soundly for the first time, worn out from peeing on his old man all night.
“You guys did great,” the nurse said. “I’m going to take him back to the NICU now. He should be ready to come home very soon.”
And with that, we were part-time parents again. Kara and I sat on the edge of her bed, shell-shocked, amazed at how much we didn’t know. But perhaps more importantly, we started to feel like maybe, just maybe, we were starting to get the hang of it. Not really, but it makes me feel better to type that out.
You can burp Mike Todd at email@example.com.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
As I carried my dog
The trouble began when, midway through our walk around the neighborhood, I unhooked
Misty is so much larger than my dog that when she begins chasing Memphis in circles around the yard, as she did that evening, their relationship looks identical to that of a greyhound and a mechanical bunny. Memphis darted between two trees, Misty took the long way around, and when they reunited, the dogs passed each other like two trains in the night, provided those trains were on the same track. Their collision knocked
“Game over,” the dogs said to each other with their eyes.
Thankfully, through the wonders of modern technology, all I had to do was call my wife Kara to come pick us up, using my cell phone that I’d left on the coffee table.
The vet’s office was closed when we get home. In the morning,
Even with people, it can be tough to know what to do. A few years back, we’d gotten burned seeking unnecessary medical treatment for Kara. After returning from a vacation in an old, falling-down house, a rash showed up on Kara’s back. Ordinarily, this would have been a wait-and-see medical event, but Kara was scheduled to be a bridesmaid in less than a week. In a backless dress! Well, not entirely backless. The bottom part had a back. But with the rash spreading quickly on a Saturday night, we decided we couldn’t wait for Monday morning to see somebody about it, so our only option was the emergency room. We’d already talked to a pharmacist, and her recommendation to apply Cortaid had done little to stem Kara’s burgeoning leprosy.
As we drove there, I pictured us sitting in the ER waiting room with blood-spattered people calmly holding their severed digits in their laps, waiting their turn.
“Her back’s itchy,” I would whisper to them. “Do you mind if we go first?”
As it turned out, we were the only ones in the ER that night. After waiting for an hour, Kara disappeared with the doctor for ten minutes, then came back out shaking her head.
“What did the doctor tell you?” I asked.
“To take Benadryl,” she said.
“No free samples?” I asked.
“No. We really shouldn’t have come here,” she said.
Our share of the bill came to $450. We should have bought an above-ground pool and filled it with Benadryl instead.
In any event, the past few days have found
You can fan Mike Todd with palm fronds at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 10, 2009
And also, chicken soup for his grandmas' souls:
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Our son Evan, born two months early in his bid not to miss Transformers 2 on the big screen, has been wooing the nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (or NICU, an acronym that meant nothing to us three weeks ago, but which has become the most important word we know) since his recent and thrilling entrance into the world. Every day finds him a little bit stronger, eating a little bit more and breathing easier. His doctors expect Evan to be ready to come home in about a week, a prospect that both thrills and terrifies us.
At four pounds, he’s still so small. When a new mother passes us in the hallway at the hospital, wheeling her full-term baby around in its bassinette, I turn to Kara and say, “Did you see that baby? It was GIGANTIC.”
To us, non-preemie babies look like miniature sumo wrestlers, complete with diapers.
Since Evan has been in the NICU, our routine has been to visit the hospital about twice a day, each time bringing a cooler containing the latest haul of hard-earned breast milk. Kara and I have always been very close during our nine years of being together, but I can’t help feeling that we achieved a new level of togetherness when I walked into the room to see her hooked up to a breast pump for the first time.
“This might be the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” I said.
“Moo,” she replied. Ever since she gave birth in front of a room full of strangers, including nursing students that she voluntarily allowed to watch, Kara has been impressively uninhibited about things that would previously have mortified her. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no modesty in motherhood.
With Kara pumping 8-10 times a day, we no longer experience days and nights, just three-hour cycles. My job during all of this is to assemble the pump parts before each use, then disassemble and wash them afterwards. My hands have performed these tasks enough times that my brain doesn’t need to be involved in the process at all, which is generally how it prefers things.
My relationship with the breast pump is comparable to the relationship that the recruits in “Full Metal Jacket” had with their rifles. As I stand at the kitchen sink in the middle of the night with suds flying, my fingers nimbly picking apart the pump pieces, I chant to myself: “This is my breast pump. There are many breast pumps, but this one is mine. My breast pump is my best friend. Without me, my breast pump is useless. Without my breast pump, I am useless…”
And so on. If you’ve never seen “Full Metal Jacket,” please disregard the preceding paragraph. But you’re really missing out on a very instructive breastfeeding video.
When my mom saw Kara’s breast pump, which could be mistaken for a large clock radio with tubes coming out of it, she said, “Wow, these have really come a long way since I had babies around.”
And I wonder, what did breast pumps look like thirty years ago? They probably ran on diesel engines, and someone wearing goggles and a leather flight helmet had to start them and then jump out of the way.
Anyway, until Evan comes home, we’ll continue using the multiple alarm function on Kara’s cell phone to wake us up every few hours. And we’ll also continue looking forward to the time when our new alarm clock will be wearing a little blue onesie.
You can give Mike Todd a squeeze at email@example.com.