Sometime in December, three months from now, E will have been “outside” in the world for as long as she was “inside” in the womb. Three months ago, we marked her 3-month birthday—the passing of the “fourth trimester”, marking the occasion with a look back on our new life with our first child.
Today, we celebrated her 6-month birthday. Two thirds of a pregnancy. Half a year. 184 some odd days and nights!
Right around 3 months, we made the too-eager-to-know-any better mistake of planning a small family vacation in Vermont. Only a four hour drive! What we didn’t realize was that our little lady, unlike almost every baby to have ever had the privilege of motorized transport, hates the car seat. From day one, she never liked to be swaddled, and gets feisty if restrained in any way. That four hour car ride turned to 7 or 8, with stops for feeds (both baby and adults), cry-breaks, gas, and “discussions” about just what exactly we were doing on such an adventure. Site-seeing at these stops included a secluded, axe-murderer friendly wilderness area on a dirt road a mile from the highway, the parking lot of an abandoned bowling alley, a general store with no bathroom, and the world’s oldest and mustiest Salvation Army.
Soon after we returned (Vermont being ever green, temperate, and wonderful), it became apparent that establishing regular, frequent sleep patterns were just about the best thing we could do for our daughter. So we set about it, reading lots of key chapters from the leading books and skimming depraved internet parenting forums, with conflicting information and daunting acronyms aplenty.
After weeks of trials (is she old enough? is it time yet? is she ready? are we ready? do we go in? do we pick her up? do we feed her? ), we worked out a general approach. Some maybe-boring details here, but we settled on a modified “Ferberizing” (not the car interior cleaning method it sounds like), involving agonized waiting through crying fits, based on a staggered, timed interim. But more importantly, we realized that for our daughter to be happy, rarely can she go longer than two hours without sleeping.
Sounds easy enough. But do the math—or live the life—and you soon realize that this means you are pretty much tied to the house. Naps can be short, too, but just refreshing enough to demand an additional two hours of wakefulness, and the stay-at-home-work-from-home parent (my wife) starts to lose her mind. Here’s a sample “bad sleep” day for us, and this is with a baby that on the whole, sleeps very well:
6:00am—wake up! happy smiles, change diaper, feed, take turns with grown-up morning bathroom routine, maybe grab an urgent banana or quick pre-breakfast snack, all three lie in bed together wearily keeping eyes open until baby gets bored and starts whining, dad take her to the living room while mom gets a catnap, play guitar or put on a record, read a book or lie prone on the couch with one eye open while your baby swats a cotton monkey on a string from her floor mat.
7:00–7:15am—baby gets cranky and needs 2nd feed, bring her back and wake up mom, shower or lie down again.
7:30am—first nap (first morning nap is often at 1.5 hours). mom and dad try to go back to sleep, or eat breakfast.
8:15am—wake from first nap. the famous “45 minute intruder” (baby forum lingo) is here today.
8:30am—dad leaves for work. feels very guilty. if weekend, family takes a walk, making sure to be home by 9:45 for nap wind-down, providing essentially a 20 minute walk, 20 minute hang, 20 minute walk back window at best.
9:45 or 10am—wind down for nap. feed if necessary, read books, cool down the energy, man.
10:15am—second nap. mom tries to run a handmade jewelry business. see you at 11am!
11am—wake up. change diaper. feed. occupy baby. repeat as necessary.
12:45pm—wind down for next nap.
1:45pm—wake from third nap. mind / entertain the baby for two more hours.
4:30pm—wake from fourth nap! squeeze in a late afternoon walk?
5:00pm—dad leaves work to make it home for…
6:00pm—bed time wind down. reading. feeding. instagram.
6:30pm—bed time for baby.
6:45pm—grown ups make dinner. hug. eat dinner. do dishes. clean kitchen. pick up after the house. catch up on a days worth of work in remaining 47 minutes.
10:00pm—brush teeth, go to bed.
11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00—pick one or two (or ack, three), but finally trending to one. Our LO (forumspeak: Little One!), and mom wake up for a 15–20 minute night feed. Though the baby almost always goes right back to sleep, mom isn’t always so lucky.
And there you have it.
In our new hour-radius-from-home lifestyle, we’ve tried a few times to go to check out the local playgrounds. Some are really nice—but taking a four- or five-month old to a playground can be a bit of a let down. There you are, surrounded by screaming, happy kids, with a wriggling lump that can’t do much but stare wide eyed at it all. That’s OK though. We’ll be that playground fam soon.
Another development in the past few months has been vocalization. E will have bursts of nonsense sounds, mostly vowel-based, and then go silent for hours. A few repeating consonant-vowel combos, and the occasional squeal during a high superman lift or belly kiss are highlights. When she’s very tired, she seems to let her guard down and we can occasionally bring forth a breathy chuckle or scream-laugh by making repeated strange noises, or burying our face in her underarm. Simple pleasures.
Her most consistent vocal pattern, however, is probably an extended, grunt-like complaining sound she makes whenever she wants to move but can’t, which can be very accurately transcribed as “eeeeEEEEeeeeeEEEEEeeeeee.”
She can more or less sit up now, though she’ll eventually nose dive or side flop, and she shows intense interest in the food on our plates and the water in our glasses. In the last few weeks, we started her out on solid foods. It’s been going well enough. A few tablespoons of mashed sweet potatoes, avocado, green beans, apples, etc. make for a nice additional ritual and some extremely hilarious facial reactions. She eats it all up, so far.
Here’s one tip — and email me if you want the sordid details—be careful with loads of starch when starting out on solid foods. A clogged up GI system does not a happy baby make.
I’ve always wondered how we can convince ourselves that in early July, summer might just never end, and in early February, we can’t see our way out of the sludge of winter, and yet every year the seasons change. Or how after folding and putting away a fresh load of laundry, there’s about five minutes when I really believe that this time, I might never have to do laundry again.
Some days, we’ll go in to get her after a nap and swear that we notice a change in her that she just did not have before going to sleep an hour earlier. A facial expression, the look of her hair, the size of her head. That old trick of human perception, our simultaneous ability and inability to notice change in real time, hits you twice as hard when it’s happening to the thing you love most in the world. I try to savor that.