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The Weight of Need

Cora’s down with another cold, which
seemed to morph from bad allergies last week, which came on the
heels of a tooth, which . . . . and so on. In the past six weeks
Cora’s slept eight hours in a row approximately twice,
meaning in the past six weeks I’ve slept five hours in a row
approximately twice. Cora’s cold has ratcheted the clinginess
factor way back up, and she’s now firmly stuck to my hip any
time I’m in the vicinity. And of course, she’s up every
hour or two at night, whimpering and crying for Mama, and I either
go in and comfort her or lie there staring sleeplessly at the
monitor, second-guessing my tactics and browbeating my mothering

As if this weren’t enough, Maddie’s begun requesting
that I, rather than my mother, put her down for naptimes. So far
I’ve held strong and said no; she’s offered to wait for
her nap until I’m finished putting Cora down, or begged me to
put her down first, but I’ve refused. I could, of course, do
both girls by myself; when Mom’s out of town or working I
always do, and Maddie simply sits and plays quietly by herself
while I deal with Cora. But as I look at my oldest daughter,
clinging to my leg and refusing to let go, and my youngest
daughter, clinging to my hair and refusing to let go, I want to
scream, “Can’t SOMEONE in this house get to sleep
without me?” And since I haven’t weaned Cora from
naptime yet, Maddie’s always the odd-man-out, getting
shuttled off to Gamma instead. Cue the Mommy Guilt.

I’m working on just three or four
hours of sleep a day for the past however long (about sixteen
months), so bear with me if I start to sound whiney or self-pitying
(too late). But yesterday everything really came to a head: Maddie
did her naptime begging and crying, which continued while I started
with Cora. Cora finally fell asleep, only to awaken as I put her in
the crib, frantically roll over, and scream, “No, no, no!
Mama, mama, mama! Up, up, up!” as I hastily backed out of the
room. Cora’s cries continued nonstop for over an hour,
silenced for twelve minutes as she fell into an exhausted sleep,
then began again. After rocking her and calming her for twenty
minutes I had to head out to work, which brought an entire new bout
of crying on as I slipped away, Gamma struggling to contain Cora
and keep her from throwing herself out the door after me.

Cora’s naptime “routine” – conking out in
my arms, only to awaken as I leave and begin screaming for at least
an hour – has been going on for three or four days now, and
combining that with her hourly waking at night, that kid
ain’t sleeping. I can honestly say I've stared at her red
eyes and tired face and thought, How much would a shot of tequila
really hurt her? I’m snatching an hour nap once or twice a
week, but I’m dragging all day, and worse, I’m
resentful and crabby as I go about raising my girls.

It’s the need, don’t you know – the weight of it.
I told Brian last night I’m about two more bad nights away
from becoming the face on the “Have You Seen My Mommy?”
posters put up by sad little girls on the playground. An
exaggeration, perhaps, but sometimes the line feels very slender:
the constant neediness welling out of them makes me want to run
screaming, and I have to continuously will myself to stay in place,
to not snap at Maddie for asking a question 97 times, to simply not
run away. I get through five minutes and think, Ok, I did it. How
about five minutes more.

And listen – it’s not like I’m on my own here.
I’ve got a mom who’s helping out every minute
she’s around and a husband who kicks in every second
he’s not working. I’m not on some 24/7 Child Overload.
But those two grownups simply can’t fulfill my role: they
don’t have the essential Mommy-ness my girls crave,
especially Cora. Coming in after going grocery shopping with
Maddie, I’ll see Cora go from smiling to screaming as she
realizes Mommy’s been gone all that time, and she’ll
run to me, saying, “Up! Up! Up!” and patting my legs
until I pick her up. Twining her hands through my hair and nestling
her head in my neck, Cora will sigh contentedly and absolutely
refuse to be put down for the next half hour.

The flip side of this is that I love being wanted by my girls,
being desired; being chosen by another person to be the object of
their affection is no small thing, and I love that they choose to
love me, choose to like playing with me. It’s a fine line
between want and need, but oh the difference it makes to my mental

When I’m cooking dinner and Cora comes over, smiling, wraps
her arms around my legs in a toddler hug, and pats my leg
repeatedly, humming “Mama, mama, mama!” as if to say,
“Yep, that’s my Mama and I love her!”, well
I’m over the moon. Those moments make me feel special, and
cherished, and appreciated. Contrast that with another dinner
scenario – I’m cooking and Cora comes over, rubbing her
eyes and dragging her Silky, and bangs at knees saying,
“Mama! Up! Mama! Up!” until I relent. If I pick her up
for a quick snuggle and attempt to put her back down, the real
tears start, replete with Western Wall-style wailing and rocking.
Those moments make me feel like another lovey for Cora, something
she “must” have for comfort, but only a prop in her
life that she needs. Do you see the difference?

My children choose me a dozen times a day, and I get a thrill off
of each one – when Maddie comes over with her Silky, lays her
head in my lap for ten seconds, says, “I love you,
Mommy,” and moves on; or when Cora starts up the playground
equipment before turning to me, extending her hand, and saying,
“Mama?” with a grin on her face, for all the world
inviting me to come play in her world with her. These moments are
what make parenting all worthwhile, as any parent will tell you;
those times your toddler’s climbing the stairs in front of
you and gets too tired, and turns and simply melts into you,
trusting you’ll be there to catch her and carry her the rest
of the way.

And I catalog those moments here because literally counting my joys
keeps me from counting my frustrations. I know this is just a
season, and all too soon my children will neither want nor need me
as much – indeed, my job is to make them need me less every
day. Apparently I suck at my job right now.

How much more can I take? All moms know the answer- we bear what we
must. I remember one night when Cora was about seven months old and
I was getting up every hour or two to nurse her, and I sank into
bed weeping around 4 a.m., telling Brian I couldn’t take it
any more. That was almost a year ago, and I’m still hanging
in there. Now I don’t get up, but I still lie there for hours
at a time, listening, and still wake Brian up, weeping and at the
end of my rope. My girls give me flashes of pure joy throughout the
days – Maddie learning to skip, Cora multiplying her
vocabulary. I cling to those flashes as I blearily fix Maddie
breakfast an hour after I went back to sleep from getting up with

Listen, tonight I’ll get five hours of sleep and tomorrow
I’ll catch a good hour-long nap, and tomorrow’s blog
will be babbling on about how in love with my girls I am. And I am,
and nothing can change that. But today, the weight of their need is
dragging me down.


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