Friday, March 11, 2011

Everything I Need to Know About Parenting I Learned From Watching Roseanne. (Not really.)

When Thora was getting her molars over the past few weeks, sleeping was once again a challenge. Since all four have broken through, everything is more or less back to normal. And now I'm on a new kick: Get Thora to fall asleep by herself. It's not that I don't love nursing her. It's not that I don't love rocking her to sleep, holding her in my arms, singing to her. It's that work and other life duties are calling and telling me that I may not always be there to put her down, so it's time she learned to do it without me.

Luckily for us, this hasn't been hard. Our bedtime routine is exactly the same. We put on the noise machine and dim the lights. We get her blanket and I settle in the glider with her on my lap. Her daddy tucks the blanket around her and kisses her and I nurse her and rock her while he turns out the light and closes the door. I used to sit in the dark with her for an hour or more, waiting for her to be dead asleep before I attempted to put her in her crib. Very often I too would fall asleep. Then I'd stir and realize we'd both passed out. I'd tiptoe slowly to the crib and put her down veeerrrry carefully. Half the time I'd clumsily drop my iPod in the crib or trip over a toy or sneeze or make a noise when closing the door behind me and she'd be up again in a second and I'd have to start all over again. But now I rock and nurse her for less than ten minutes until she's settled and drowsy. Then I walk over and put her in her crib with a kiss and she rolls over and 9.5 times out of ten, she goes right to sleep. This works at 7:30 pm and miraculously, it works at 3 am. I guess making the leap was harder for me than it was for her!

That was tonight and the night before and every night for a week before that. But that is with molars in. I've learned though that when there's teething going on, all sleeping bets are off. This last time I had to dust off and charge up the (first generation) iPad because listening to a ten minute news podcast on my iPod just wasn't enough.

My iPad is essentially a really expensive mini-television. I don't like writing emails on it and Facebook looks fuzzy. So I settle again and again on Netflix. Tapping through my options, I landed on Roseanne. Say what you want about Roseanne Barr or the show in general, but watching it through my new-parent eyes, it's interesting. The show deals with challenging topics that I think are probably very real struggles for parents everywhere.

In an episode I was watching one 3 am when Thora was just not sleeping, Roseanne's oldest daughter Becky was angry that her mother wanted to know where she was at all times. At fourteen she expected to be treated like an adult, yet she was obnoxious, sarcastic and completely unfair to her mother, just like a childish brat. When she didn't get her way, she gave her mother the silent treatment and when that didn't get her what she wanted, she slammed furniture and screamed, "I hate you!" as she stormed off.

(Happens right around 5:00 here, if you care.)

Roseanne, heartbroken and angry, had no idea what to do. Everyone - including her husband - advised her to give Becky more space. But she didn't know how. Then, one day while cleaning the girls' room she came across Becky's diary. She held it in her hand... and then put it back. Later that day she told her daughter she was going to give her more space. But to me it sounded like she was saying she was wrong. And I didn't think she was wrong. I felt indignant for her. She was trying to talk to Becky. Trying to hug her, tell her she loved her. Trying to tell her that she just didn't think she was old enough not to call home, not to tell her mother where she was going. I felt bad for her having to admit defeat in the face of a teenaged girl's silent treatment. I've been there. I've done that. I know how to make grownups squirm too. So I was on Roseanne's side this time. I wanted to tell Roseanne to smack some sense into that kid and tell her to stuff it and I wanted to scream when she didn't.

In the end though, Roseanne had the last word. The last scene in the episode showed the two daughters in their bedroom, talking the whole thing over. Becky was gloating about how she won, how she put Mom in her place and really showed her how grown up she really is. And she turned to hang a shirt in the closet, and there was Roseanne, hiding behind the closet door, listening to every word. "You can't get rid a me that easy!" she said with her smartass smile as the credits rolled.

As a parent, this episode terrified me. I had a sudden horrific image of my happy and well adjusted toddler becoming, well, me. I was Becky. No, I was worse. But now the shoe is on the other foot. What will I do if someday my daughter tells me she hates me?

At thirteen months, Thora gives big, sloppy, open mouthed kisses. All I have to do is say, "Gimme kisses!" and she toddles over to me, throws her arms around my neck and glomps herself on. And I tell you, there is nothing in the world I love more. I love that she waves and runs to me whenever she sees me. I love that she points to me and says "Mama."

When Thora was born I was sure I would never be able to leave her. I thought I'd have to quit my job and stay home with her forever. I thought I could never trust anyone else with her, that I'd never send her to school or to camp or to a playdate. But by the time she was three months old, I was ready to go back to work. Other than that, though, I was home. I couldn't imagine being away from her if I didn't absolutely have to be. Then by the time she was eight months old, I was ready to miss bedtime and meet a friend for drinks and dinner. When she was eleven months, Thora had her first babysitter (her Grandma) who watched her while we went to dinner for my birthday. Now she is thirteen months. This weekend I will leave her overnight for the first time so I can give a presentation in Florida. Next weekend we're off to a wedding and our dear friend J and her kids will be babysitting. The weekend after that I am off to another conference and this time I'll be missing three bedtimes! But it will be okay. I really believe Thora is ready for this. She's nursing less. She doesn't fall into a panic when I leave the apartment. She has slept 12 hours without waking up. She will be fine. And equally importantly, so will I.

Space is a good thing but it has to come in increments and when we are both ready. In this sense it works just like it does in my marriage. When Johnny and I were first dating, it was hard for each of us to let the other go, even for an evening. Every moment we spent away from each other felt like a potential threat. I used to tell myself again and again if you love someone, set them free but that is a lot easier said than done when you're twenty-something and insecure and desperately in love. It took us almost a decade to figure out that absence makes the heart grow fonder. We're together because we want to be. We can be apart because we want to be as well, but when we are, we miss each other and look forward to being together again.

Similarly, I want Thora to enjoy being with her old lady sometimes, and as she gets older, I want her to enjoy being with a babysitter, with her friends, in school, on her own. Also, I know there is a long time between thirteen months and thirteen years. I am not ready for two or five or ten, let alone adolescence. But I will be when the time comes. So far I am a fairly confident parent to a very quick-minded and independent kid. I can ask for help when I need it. I read books, I observe other families. I listen. (And, duh, I watch Roseanne.) I am not overprotective or neurotic. (Yet.) I like to think that I am growing and learning every day and taking everything slowly and as it comes.

I'm not trying to get ahead of myself here. But I know adolescence drops like a bomb. So I'm on the lookout for it already. My old Judy Blume books are on her shelf for when she's ready. And in the meantime, I'm going to rock her and nurse her at bedtime for as long as she'll let me.

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