Let’s be honest. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but there are days when parenting outright sucks. When your child hates you and you’re not too fond of them.
Yesterday was one of those days.
Test Subject V has recently gone to a four-hour schedule, and for the most part, she’s adjusting well. Once in a while, I’ll fudge it and give her a bottle at three and a half hours if she gets fussy, but generally, she’s getting on pretty well.
Which is awesome, because it’s a much better schedule for me. It was getting to the point where all I was doing all day was sitting in front of the TV, watching old episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” (a guilty pleasure) and feeding her. Change her, fifteen minutes of mat time, and a fifteen minute nap, and she was back to feeding.
Anyway, she woke up at seven thirty, and was an absolute angel. I fed her at eight, put her down at ten thirty, and expected a good 45 minutes to an hour of “daddy time,” which these days includes things like shaving, brushing my teeth, and taking a shower. Yesterday, I was feeling brave and tried all three.
While I was in the shower, Test Subject V awoke, and when nobody answered her awake noises, she began to cry. And CRY. I got out of the shower, and tried to comfort her, but to no avail. We went on a short walk, which quieted her down, but then it began to rain, and the tears returned. All told she cried more than she didn’t from 11am until My Colleague returned from work around six.
Now, V is usually a pretty happy, quiet baby. But when she cries, it’s just heart-rending. I can handle crying babies, but my own is a different story. It felt like seven straight hours of rejection and hatred from the person I love the most. I know it’s not, I know babies cry. But sometimes, it’s impossible not to take it personally. When My Colleague got back from work, I gave her a big hug and just started sobbing.
I told her that dinner was on the stove, and warm, but that I couldn’t take it any more. I needed to get away. With her full understanding and blessing, I went down the road a couple blocks to my favorite hole-in-the-wall, locals-only spot in Salem, Major Magleashe’s. I had a burger and a couple drinks, and came back in time for Vera’s final feeding. By that point, she and my wife were perfectly content, and I felt a lot better.
So first lesson of this post: Don’t be afraid to run away, as long as you run away at reasonable times and not for too long. There’s nothing wrong with needing to get away from your child, whether that means dinner alone down the street or just hiding for five minutes in the bathroom.
But there’s another lesson here. And it has to do with the picture at the beginning of this post. I took that picture during a moment of peace, in the middle of that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She doesn’t look like she’s been crying for the last four hours, does she? I took the picture and threw it up on my Instagram with no caption and relatively little editing. Just because I like to throw cute baby pictures on my Instagram to share them with friends and family.
But later, as I tried in vain to hold a schnuller in the mouth of my screaming child as she fought sleep, I started thinking a couple things I’d read and listened to recently about the unhealthy nature of social media—about how we’re all broadcasting polished, curated versions of our lives, and how looking at a stream of those from people we know makes us feel worse about our own lives.
I’ve never bought that argument. Because from the first real “social media” I used—Friendster and LiveJournal—I always used them to discuss real issues in my life, to wrestle with difficult questions, to try to make real connections with people I’d lost track of. I’ve always tried to be genuine and real online, and it’s been good for me. Some of my best friends, I’ve never met in person. And that’s okay. Online connections have gotten me jobs, have coached me about applying to grad school, and have helped me through major heath issues.
But it occurred to me that by posting the picture above without a caption, I wasn’t doing that—I was playing into the argument that our online presence is somehow inherently inauthentic. So I went back onto Instagram and added this:
With babies, there are good days and bad days. Yesterday was a good day. She was an angel. Today is a bad day. She can’t stand my face but can’t be away from me. I took this picture during a reprieve from the screaming to remind myself that even during the bad days, there are moments when she is sweet and loving and beautiful. She’ll be yelling again in a moment.
I cross-posted it on Facebook, and received an outpouring of support, solidarity, and “you can do it” messages from friends. And those messages really did make me feel better. Not as much better as getting the fuck away from the little monster for a few minutes, but better.
Part of the reason I started this blog is because I am experimenting with a notion of “parenting in public.” I blog about having a baby. I go out with the baby and spend as much time as possible with her in public spaces.
Parenting is always going to be deeply personal. The decisions we make are going to be unpopular with some, are always going to be subject to judgement or even criticism from other parents, and the community at large. (STOP TELLING ME MY BABY NEEDS A HAT. SHE HAD A HAT. SHE TORE IT OFF. WE’RE ONLY WALKING FROM MY CAR TO THE GROCERY STORE.) But there’s no reason why parenting needs to be private.
I’m wondering if, just maybe, it does “take a village,” if having the courage to be open about the decisions we make with our children, about our disappointments and moral failings as well as our victories… if maybe that might actually make us better parents.
And maybe, even if it doesn’t, if it might make us less judgmental the next time we see another parent having a hard time with their kids. Because Americans, especially American parents, can be judgmental assholes about others’ childrearing, and what could happen if we tried to help each other more and judge each other less?
Anyway, that’s just what’s on my mind the last day or two. Here’s one more picture of my daughter looking adorable yesterday, just as a reminder that even when they’re monsters, they’re pretty awesome and sweet and amazing.