Who Needs Sleep?

Two weeks ago, my husband, Matt, and I were two smug parents. Why not? After suffering five months of midnight feedings and one month of 6 a.m. wakeups, our boy started to sleep later, until 6:30 or 7, sometimes even 7:15. Yes, we thought, we conquered the night. Christian was finally a good sleeper. We could rest easily and enough.

Until now. For no apparent reason, the kid started waking at 4 a.m. again. By stuffing him with rice cereal, we were able to coax him back to 5:30 a.m., but that was it. We came, we saw, but this time the night kicked our collective ass.

At the beginning of the ordeal, Matt’s shift lasted until 6:30 a.m., when mine started. Although he’s the one who works outside the home, he’s much better at losing sleep than I am. He can function on five hours sleep – badly, but still. I can’t function unless I get at least eight hours. I know what you’re saying and you’re right. I’m a sleep wimp. And it took a long time and a lot of 5:30 a.m. wakeups for Matt to believe in my need for sleep. But now he does. And he loves me so much that he volunteers for the midnight baby shift. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Although I like to attribute his sacrifice to love, affection may not be his prime motivator. On the days that started at dawn or earlier, I’d grab the baby and plod to the living room, where I would feed him and place him on the floor to play. Then I would crawl under a blanket on the couch and doze until my daughter, Rose, or Matt would wake up. If Rose awoke first, I’d get her breakfast and crawl back under the blanket to doze until Matt’s alarm at 7. Then I’d go back to the bedroom to hand the baby off to Matt and sleep for an hour until Matt absolutely had to get ready for work.

When Rose was an infant, I’d wake up early with her and fight sleep like a teamster on the night shift. Sometimes, I was ashamed to say, sleep would win. Christian is my second child and I definitely treat him as such. I don’t even pretend to be awake this time around. The living room is childproofed, so I tell myself it’s a safe environment and of course, if he gets somewhere uncomfortable, he’ll let me know. I know it’s bad parenting but I can only give what I’ve got, and I have not got 5:30 a.m. wakeups in me. I think that Matt took the early morning shift to shield the children from my neglect. And again, I’m grateful.

But all this losing sleep is taking its toll. Matt woke at 5:30 with Christian today and I got up at 6:45 so he could go back to sleep. He had until 8 to sleep, and I thought an hour and 15 minutes would give him some much-needed rest, but he awoke in a horrible mood, bemoaning the whole morning process. Apparently he’s not as good at losing sleep as we thought.

Exhaustion has taken its toll on our relationship, too. We no longer have the energy to meet each other’s emotional needs. We both know we’re just tired, but nevertheless, we get touchy when we miss our hugs and kisses or private grownup conversations.

We need to find a solution that works for both of us. I spent the morning reading up on infant sleep. If we could just go back to that sweet spot of 7 a.m. wakeups, everything would be fine.

We know what we must do, sooner or later. We’ll have to let him “Cry it out.” Every effective sleep solution I’ve seen is some version of “cry it out” –where the baby must cry itself to sleep. Every parent I’ve known who had sleep issues had to endure “cry it out” eventually. We did it with Rose when she was nine months old and it worked. She cried herself to sleep and learned to go back to sleep if she awoke. Although I didn’t think so at the time, “cry it out” was easy with one child. I had a high tolerance for crying, and at the time, we, and the neighbors in our building, were the only ones losing sleep. But when we have Christian “cry it out” he’s going to wake Rose in the next room. And she’s a monster when she’s cranky.

So here’s my solution: Rose needs to lose her pacifier, so if we banish the binky and “cry it out” at the same time, they’ll both cry and we can condense all of our misery into a few days or, at worst, a week. And once Christian sleeps and Rose quits the binky, maybe Matt and I can get some sleep again.


Besting My Brooding

I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. ~ Mark Twain

Last week I had a shot at an amazing opportunity. To take it, I had to get some work together and make it the best it could be. Writing is an art. As such, it’s subjective. The artist can believe it’s a fantastic work, when in fact it’s really garbage, and she can hate something that’s pure gold. So whenever we writers seek to send a piece of work out, we first send it to other writers to get their opinion on it. So I did. And I waited. Anxiously.

I’m usually quite confident in my work, but this opportunity was so important to me, I began to second-guess myself. My friend sent me back a critique – a really good one. She told me what she liked and what she’d like to see more of, and she told me about my — let’s take a page from my old job and call them “opportunities for improvement.”

I read the critique on Friday night. I had purposely left my work alone when I finished editing that morning, and planned to pick it back up on Monday, just to get some distance from it, so I could read it more objectively. Reading the critique on Friday was my first mistake. I kept my vow to stay away from the manuscript but now I had a whole host of things to think about. It was a really good critique, and I agreed with her points. She identified my weak spots and appreciated my strong spots, but all I could envision was failing. I wasn’t sure I could deliver what she suggested.

All weekend, I worried. I worried that my best wouldn’t be good enough. I worried that I couldn’t develop the parts she suggested. I worried that if I didn’t, my opportunity would go “poof” and be gone.

For one night and two days, fear blossomed in my mind. And Monday, I sat down to fix the manuscript. I marked it up with my red pen and started a rewrite. As I added pieces and developed my narrative, something happened. I realized that it wasn’t so hard. I realized that I’d had this ability all along. And I realized that I had made the work exponentially better.

I’m not typically a worrier (see “Different Colored Glasses”), but when I do indulge, worrying is an attempt to gain control where I feel I have none. So worrying about something I have complete control over was new to me. I don’t think that my best efforts have ever been tested like this. What I know now that I needed to know then is that my best is all I can do, and whether or not I’m successful, it’s always good enough.


Mom’s Day Off

Since I was proactive with the Mother’s Day post, and it’s still up, I’m taking the week off. It’s a great time to catch up on old posts, and for those of you who are mothers, happy Mothers’ Day!!


Maria Had Two Moms

Mother’s day means so many different things to me. When my mother was present, it was her day. As a kid, I’d make a gift out of painted pasta and she’d fawn over it like it was Michelangelo’s David. As I grew, I bought cards, perfumes and piano-themed gifts. I’d always ask how her piano students liked the new wall art or knickknacks and she’d always tell me they loved them.

In my teens, I filled cards with heartfelt words and bought her flowers or Russell Stover chocolates with nuts. I tried to go practical as I got older, but she shopped nearly every day, so she was hard to buy for. As her Alzheimer’s started to kick in, I saw her awareness window closing fast, so I sent practical gifts and more heartfelt cards. I knew there would soon be a time that she couldn’t read or understand them. When those inevitable days came, I tried musical cards. I figured she’d notice the noise. I stopped sending gifts. She didn’t need anything. She sat at the dining room table all day, ripping up paper, shrieking or sleeping.

She was gone for eight years before she died, a year and a half ago. Last May was the first Mother’s Day I didn’t need to send a card.

During the 13 years of my mother’s illness, I remarried and had my first child. Rose never met her Yaya. By the time she was born, Yaya was so far gone she wouldn’t have acknowledged Rose’s presence, much less understood that she was her granddaughter. Rose was almost two when she visited my parents’ house the first time, for my mother’s funeral.

My mom had her parental shortcomings, but I got as close to her as she’d allow, and she was my go-to parent. And it was so hard to see her go the way she did. By the time she died, all of my grieving was over and I thanked God that she could now reunite with the soul she’d lost long ago.

I thought I’d done my grieving, but last Mother’s Day made me realize how much I missed her.

But a funny thing happened after that.

I got a letter from the adoption agency that had placed me with my parents. My birth mother wanted to meet me. Three weeks after that sad Mother’s Day, we talked for the first time. I had wanted that experience my whole life. I always wondered if she thought about me. I always felt the grief of abandonment.

It turned out that my birth mother had wanted to keep me, but her parents forbade it. She’d wanted to marry my birth father and make a family, but they wouldn’t allow it. She told me the real story of how I came to be. And last year, on my birthday, she called me, and told me the story of the day I was born. Most kids take that story for granted, but I’d never had it, and hearing it was the second best birthday gift ever. The year before, Rose took her first steps right before my birthday and beat her to the punch.

When I got pregnant the first time, I wished someone could walk me through the morning sickness, the emotionality, the fatigue – someone who’d been through it. Even if my mother was lucid at the time, she’d never been pregnant, so she couldn’t have helped me there. So it was a lucky coincidence that I was pregnant with my son the first time I spoke to my birth mother. She offered me was a camaraderie that child-bearers have shared for millennia. I was grateful for that. And I was able to offer her a first and second grandchild.

When Rose started preschool, the other moms would talk about how they were coping with motherhood, and I remember one lamenting a lack of emotional support from her mother. At least you’ve got a mother to ask, I’d thought, I don’t even have that. I would never have imagined that a couple of years later, I’d have a brand-new mother.

I’m really grateful for my relationship with my birth mother. Adoptee reunions don’t always turn out like mine. I’m one of the lucky ones. Not only did I have a mom to raise me, now I have a mom to guide me through parenthood. I had given up on finding my birth mom years ago. I never imagined anything like this. I met my birth father too, — don’t want to leave him out — but I’m saving his story for Father’s day.

So this year, when I send my Mother’s Day card, I’m back to writing heartfelt messages. But most importantly, I have a place to send it.


The Grecian Formula

Easter – the cornerstone of Christianity. For most kids, it means pretty baskets of candy on Easter morning, dressing up and going to church with all the other kids from school, and a big ham for dinner. For me, Easter was one huge ritual that made my family different.

Greeks celebrate Easter, but not the same way most Americans do. For starters, the Greek Orthodox Church goes by the “old” calendar, so most of the time, Easter falls on a different Sunday than regular Easter. Greek Easter does coincide with the new calendar sometimes, but Greek Easter usually falls a week to a month later.

The only advantage to having a late Easter was half-priced candy. My mom never shopped for candy until the day after Easter, so she could fill my basket for half the price. And in my mind, that didn’t make up for being an Easter freak.

Growing up in Mahopac, New York, where everyone was either Catholic or Jewish, I was always a religious outsider. All the Catholic kids had CCD – catechism classes – one night a week, and even though they complained about it, they all shared that common experience in their conversations the next day. I had nothing to add, so I’d focus on my schoolwork until they talked about something else. The Jewish kids had Hebrew school, but most of them lived on the other side of town so I didn’t hear about that until Junior High. Once the Catholic kids had their confirmations at about age 12, CCD was over, but their church experience was still different – they could go to a half-hour-long mass in jeans almost any time and day of the week, it seemed, and I had to wear skirts and pantyhose for a 90-minute Sunday morning service 35 minutes away.

Junior High made Easter a little easier on me because I had an ally – there was one Russian girl in our school who was Russian Orthodox. We weren’t friends normally – she was really popular — but we’d always wish each other a happy Easter whenever it came around to us. That was the extent of the alliance. We were still religious freaks but she had her popularity to carry her through. I did not.

Easter was when I hated being Greek the most. Not only did Easter fall on a different day, but Greeks celebrated Easter in spades. Most go to church on Palm Sunday and then every day starting Good Friday. Friday night service always lasted until 9 p.m. or so. Then Saturday night service didn’t start until about 10 and it lasted until about 2 a.m. The congregation holds candles during most Easter services. On Friday night we go outside for a special procession representing Christ’s funeral, and we usually wind up on the news. So not only was I a freak, I was a freaky enough to provide entertainment for the normal world.

On Saturday night at midnight, everyone’s candles are extinguished and the priest calls out “Christos Anesti” (Christ has Risen) and he lights the first candle from his own, and the congregation spreads this “light of Christ” from candle to candle until the whole church is ablaze. Then we spend a couple more hours celebrating the resurrection and when we’re about to collapse, we get back in our cars and go home, keeping the candles lit. Perpetuating the flame is one of those traditions that made sense back when people lived in small villages and walked to and from church, but carrying three lit candles on the 35-minute drive back from Danbury, Connecticut, never seemed safe to me.

After the Catholics had their Easter, life went back to normal and I always had to miss some social event to go to Easter services. Once I convinced my parents to let me attend a Saturday night party before church. By the time they picked me up, I was drunk. Holding the candle without setting fire to someone’s hair presented a challenge, but I sang louder than I ever had (It’s the only time the congregation ever sings in Greek church) and although I could have slept in my pew, church didn’t seem so bad that night.

If you’ve stayed until the end of the Saturday night service, it’s ok for you to miss Sunday’s service. Sometimes we’d go home early and then be obligated to attend church on Sunday. The Sunday service consists of a lot of “Christos Anesti’s,” followed by readings of the resurrection story in several different languages besides Greek and English. The church taps as many bilingual parishioners as it can for this service so it can get quite lengthy and most of your time is spent listening to readings you don’t understand.

I gave up on Orthodoxy in my twenties, well after the feeling of freakiness subsided, but Easter was never the same without the marathon church services. Over the years I’ve sporadically attended Orthodox Easter services. I even entertained the thought of enrolling my daughter, Rose, in Greek preschool and attending church with her – not for the religion, but for the language and culture. But when we went to my mother’s funeral and the drawn-out, repetitive ceremony reminded me what Greek church really was, I decided against it.

Nevertheless, what has stuck with me are the traditions. When we had Rose, I realized that, no matter how freaky, I owed it to my daughter to celebrate the Greek part of her heritage. To that end, we gave her, and her brother after her, Greek middle names.

Last year we dyed eggs with Rose for the first time. I didn’t go so far as to dye all the eggs red in classic Greek tradition (to represent Christ’s blood), but we did dye them on Holy Thursday, in accordance with Orthodoxy. I was shocked, too, that even though my husband, Matt, was raised Baptist, his family never dyed eggs for Easter. And when I told him about the Greek tradition of the egg game, he said it was stupid. “I’m glad MY heritage isn’t completely devoid of culture,” I snapped.

On Easter Sunday, Rose got her candy like the other kids, but when our friends came for dinner, I taught the girls the egg game. Each girl held an Easter egg, and the first girl would tap her friend’s egg with her own, then vice versa. The first girl is supposed to say, “Christos Anesti” and tap. The second is supposed to say “Alethos Anesti” (Indeed he has risen) and tap, but they were two years old so I forewent the Greek lesson. The girl whose egg remains intact longest wins. Well, the girls just fell in love with the game. They played until we ran out of eggs. Smugly, I told my husband, “See? That’s why this tradition’s lasted thousands of years!”

I even made lamb for dinner. The first thing people ask me when they find out I’m Greek is, “Did you eat Greek food all the time?” or “Do you cook a lot of Greek food at home?” When people ask Rose and my son, Christian, this question, I want them to be able to say, without a doubt, “Yes.” Food is a huge part of every culture and since it can be the only thing that outsiders relate to, I want my kids to have that cultural bridge in their lives.

I want them to feel American, too. Their father is Southern – a culture which overrides any ethnic heritage. My parents always pointed out the differences between “The Greeks” and “The Americans,” or “The Italians,” or “The Jews,” because Greeks like to think they’re superior to everyone else. Growing up in the suburbs, with no other Greeks around, I became more American than my parents would have liked. But now that I’ve got a family, having that history and culture means a lot to me – a lot more than I ever thought it would. I wish I spoke more Greek, so I could teach the kids more. I wish I’d paid more attention when my mother explained our traditions so I’d know how to cut Greek New Year’s bread. I wish I could pepper my kid’s experience with colorful Greek expressions. And those are a few of the reasons I want them to grow up with their new Yaya.

But for now, while we’re 3,000 miles away from most of my family, the Grecian ruins of my upbringing will have to suffice. And maybe someday, they’ll want to learn more about being Greek on their own.