I've been thinking a lot lately about karma and how "what goes around comes around." And also about emotional detachment and being zen. Because I was a philosophy minor? No. Because of potty training and nap times and tragically mundane stuff like that. But still. You can get lofty.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post called "What Potty Training Taught Me," in which I hinted at the hell potty training has been in this household. Honestly, guys, nothing about parenting - not the fussiness, the sleeplessness, the loneliness, the tantrums, the contrariness - has been this hard for me.
People have a lot of advice on the subject, as everyone does on everything parenting-related, and I now truly understand, more than I ever have before, that kids are simply different, and what works for your kid may not work for mine. People who say that kids have to train themselves had kids that effectively trained themselves. People who say that you have to be strict had kids who responded to strictness.
What we have is an adorable, blue-eyed little girl, who will mindlessly pee all over the couch, then look at my face, as I try to judge how I want to play this one (our latest tactic is saying little, letting the responsibility lie with her) and then ask, softly, "Are you happy?"
Not because she's perfected sarcasm at age three, but because she is honestly interested in emotions lately. And so when I say something like, "I'm not that happy when you have an accident," she'll say, "I want you to be happy." Now we're not even talking about potty training anymore. Now we're dealing in feelings.
This is just one example of many when it comes to how non-interested Nora is in potty training. And for a few weeks I thought constantly and relentlessly about how to get her to change her attitude. J and I have been nothing but positive about the whole thing - at least for the most part. Maybe we needed to be more aggressive? Maybe more enthusiastic? Maybe less cloying? Maybe more hands-off? We'd tried every tactic in the book and then some but perhaps we weren't doing it right.
Then one day I was talking to Nora's teacher, who suggested, when I asked her advice, that we let her wear pull-ups to school for the time being to alleviate the number of accidents she was having, that her teachers were having to clean up. Less stress for everyone.
I don't know why that did it, but I decided that very day to just let it go. Nora could have accidents. I didn't care. She would get it. She was the only person in control of the situation - I'd always known that - and she'd get it when it meant enough to her. That day, when I brought her home from school, I didn't leave the baby crying on his activity mat to take her for the potty break I knew she needed. Instead I asked her if she had to go and she said no. And I said "ok."
I have felt a million times better since. When I get worried about the time it's taking her to learn, I think about the fact that I was three-and-a-half at least, according to my mother, before I was fully potty-trained. Payback. Or genes. Or whatever.
I've had to face similar changes with Gabriel's sleeping habits.
So maybe Nora isn't the world's potty-training champion. Doesn't matter because she was the champion at sleep. Oh, that child and sleep. Slept through the night at barely 12 weeks. Shifted through time zones effortlessly and slept late when she needed it. Crashed when she became overtired, instead of giving us a hard time. Still, she's an amazing and deep sleeper.
Not our darling Gabriel!
While he's certainly not terrible, he's required more work. A bit of sleep training and scheduling. We got him to sleep through the night a couple months ago, a feat I announced at the time with incredible pride, only to lose our stride. The past few weeks have been less than stellar. Yes, he's teething and has gotten his first cold, but it's hard to revert back to a place of such all-encompassing fatigue.
Plus, as I was telling J this morning, the fact that his sleep habits - when good - were because of my work, and not because of his natural patterns, it's hard not to feel - when things aren't going well - that it's not my fault. Sure, he's got a cold, but up three or four times to eat? Certainly there must be something I could do. Leaf through my copy of "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," for the millionth time, or not let him nurse so much at night lest he develop a habit or maybe check into a hotel for a week, and sleep there.
Well. That last one is more of a daydream.
It's this sort of annoying and unrelenting self-analysis and doubt that might be my least favorite part of parenting. That I can obsess over the timing of Gabe's morning wakeup for hours, wondering what in the world I can do to make it better (as in, later...5:30, kid, really?)
This line of thinking carries me so quickly to other questions, other overly-dramatic conclusions...perhaps putting him in daycare two days a week is ruining his sleeping patterns, or even worse, his life...perhaps leaving him to cry will have a negative and lasting effect on him, or maybe NOT leaving him to cry will make him needy and weak...perhaps a supplemental bottle of formula would help him get through the night, but what about the undeniable, God-given, guilt-producing, glory of my breast milk, I mean, come ON, am I Satan over here?
When I get like this, J always says one thing. He says, all casual, "He's just a baby." And for a while I was like, "Just a baby?! What do you even mean? He's just a baby whose nap was 24 minutes shorter than it should have been today!"
But recently, I've started to get it. He is just a baby. Babies cry and are unpredictable, and me getting all obsessed over these minor details does nothing good for him. For anyone. Perhaps most importantly, for myself. Because thinking about how many ounces I can pump in a day when there is Herman Cain coverage out there - when there is Kim Kardashian and Jessica Simpson's pregnant! - is, well, a little depressing.
So, as I was rocking little Gabriel last night, during his third wakeup of the evening, I looked over at my snoring first child - the two are sharing a room - and I thought about how easy this particular aspect of babyhood had been with her. Payback, I thought. I'm due for a not great sleeper.
And I let it go.
This is how I'm getting zen. I hope that when Justin comes home tonight, we talk about a lot of things, like whatever wine we open after the children are in bed, or how "Breaking Bad" has instilled in me a totally unfounded fear of Mexican drug lords.
Maybe just a little bit about how the hours between when I pick Nora up from school and he comes home are difficult, because the baby is fussy and I'm all worn out on motherhood at that point - because it is important that we talk about our days - but not too much questioning or concern because that seriously gets in the way of having a good time.
I mean, so does pee on the couch. But not as much as it used to.