It’s November 28, and you, my inimitable daughter, are closing in on your second birthday like president-elect Donald Trump on Pennsylvania at 11:30 pm on Election Night. (Too soon? It will always be too soon. Alas.) A year ago, our little nuclear family was decamped (and very briefly glamped) in Texas amidst our much larger extended family, and you had your very first cold, which scared the everloving bejeezus out of your father and me. I would do anything for this little baby to feel better, I whimpered as your clammy little head burned up against me. I wish I could take this on instead of you, I said. I would do it. I would. Two days later, I did, and I spent the end of the 2015 Schuman Family Reunion shuffling around the giant rented house wearing my winter parka and screaming at my mom when she informed me it was “just a cold.”
One year and approximately 900 colds later (thanks to airplanes, trains, shopping carts, and every single one of your snotty-nosed little friends at the library, the Science Center, the History Museum Clubhouse, IKEA and Gymboree), my days of existential terror when my kid gets a minor illness are long past. This is fortunate, for my psyche has needed that bandwidth for both general existential terror regarding the individual soon to be in charge of what remains of the free world, whom you learned to proclaim GROSS at 18 months old (“Don’t teach her to dehumanize people!” your father scolded. Harumph), as well as existential terror at your super-swell new sleep schedule, which is just a more pronounced version of the sleep schedule that had us BLESSED WITH THE BEST a month ago.
Most nights, after barreling through the day a napless wonder—you’re far too busy to sleep, what with the MAKING HEXAGONS (i.e. sticking your magnetic triangles together) or LEARNING THE MUSICAL NOTES (i.e. banging on your glockenspiel mightily) or FINDING A MEDIUM CIRCLE (i.e. one of the approximately 9,000 stickers you recently decided you enjoyed sticking to our ottoman) or BOUNCING THE SPARKLY BALL (self-explanatory) or climbing atop the violin case of your visiting Grandma whilst extolling the virtues of the Lego flower you have stuck to your thumb (MY FLOWER MY FLOWER MY PRETTY LITTLE FLOWER) or PLOPPING LEAVES into the fountain near the cathedral down the street, alarming your visiting Grandpa with your apparent willingness to give yourself frostbite (“She won’t leave!” he texted me with only a small hint of desperation) or banging your two tambourines together in rhythm whilst singing all of your (somewhat creepy overly branded) Gymboree songs verbatim (COME ON EVERYBODY IT’S PARACHUTE TIME PARACHUTE TIME PARACHUTE TIME COME ON EVERYBODY IT’S PARACHUTE TIME HERE AT GYMBOREE) or asking us important questions (WHAT IS…YOUR…FAVORITE…FOOD?) or answering important questions (MY FAVORITE…FOOD…IS…PIZZA!) or making gentle suggestions (WANNA NURSE ON THE COUCH! ON THE COUCH!! ON THE COUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) or rocking your increasingly groovy dance moves, which lately involve coordinated tiptoe-stomping punctuated by extended twirling (I’M GETTING DIZZY) or HIDING behind the high chair (SHE’S HIDING! SHE’S HIDING!!!!!) and then proclaiming your effort FANTASTIC (BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!!) or jumping on our little cot mattress singing the TEN LITTLE PIPSQUEAKS song you made up yourself (TEN LITTLE PIPSQUEAKS JUMPING ON THE BED! JUMPING ON THE BED! YOU’RE A PIPSQUEAK! PIPSQUEAK!!!!!!!!) — you get tired for some reason, and crash out at about 7.
This seems like it should be a good development, in that it allows your parents a few hours to do stuff like witness the implosion of democracy, or converse in entire sentences, sentences that are not punctuated by seventy-five consecutive em-dashed recitations of Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes (procured especially for you by your idol, Miss Cathy the children’s librarian, who snatched up this brand-new release and set it aside just for us to check out). One night a few weeks ago, we were talking on the couch when suddenly your father saw the bedroom door open, and suddenly out you stumbled, stuffed dog in hand. You weren’t crying, but neither did you seem fully awake. You walked over to your easel and were mid-color before you even realized you were probably still tired, and I scooped you up and carried you back to bed before you could even whimper. It was remarkable. You haven’t done it since. Your father and I are partly convinced this was a hallucination.
Anyway, in these early evening times we’d best not get too caught up in despair at a potential presidential cabinet full of white supremacists and dipshits (and that’s just Rudy Guiliani), or a blessed non-You-Know-Who-related conversation, or (in my case) a Gilmore Girls revival binge (unrelated: WHY AM I SUDDENLY IN LOVE WITH LOGAN HUNTZBERGER, UGH). We best not; we’d best shuffle off to bed, because pretty soon the magic hour of three in the a.m. will arrive, and we’d best buckle. The fuck. Up.
It starts out innocently enough, like a classic middle-of-the-night resettling that requires a semi-extended nurse, something that has now become so enmeshed with my sleep schedule, my body, and my very self, that when the time comes (someday soon-ish? Will I be breastfeeding a 9-year-old?) that you no longer do it, I will feel like a part of myself has withered and died and dissolved into dust and been eaten by dust mites. Except after about ten minutes, instead of flinging yourself off of my person and grunting back into slumber, you pop up to a seat and proclaim something along the lines of ZEBRAS HAVE STRIPES. THEY ARE MAMMALS AND THEY NURSE WITH THEIR MAMAS JUST LIKE YOU. MAMA HAS BLACK HAIR. BEANIE HAS BLONDIE HAIR. DUCKS ARE BIRDS. FROGS ARE PHIBIANS DEY ‘ATCH FROM EGGS. DEY DON’T GOOM GOOM WITH THEIR MAMAS. Excellent points all, but perhaps not necessarily vital to expound upon until five, six, sometimes seven or nearing on eight o’clock when, after the situation has gone from tragedy to farce to calm, Zen-like embrace of the stillness of the pre-dawn and the low humming electricity of our mother-daughter bond, and then back again to tragedy, you suddenly realize that you’ve been up half the goddamned night and you’re exhausted. Why didn’t you tell me, Mama? You seem to be demanding, as you dissolve into the sobs that I actually welcome, because I know they will precipitate you throwing yourself down upon the bed and collapsing back into a blessed few more hours’ sleep.
Over the just-finished Thanksgiving holiday, I got to do two nights of this solo, while your father gallivanted around New York like some sort of single hipster. It was the first time he has ever been away from you. He’s kind enough to pretend he was sad about it, but I think about him in his bed that he has all to himself, with nothing there to entertain him between 3 and 6 a.m. but his own breathing, and I wonder.
This too shall pass, he and I tell each other, as you tromp blearily around the living room, saying LET’S FIND AN ANIMAL TO BRING WITH US, going to your ever-growing collection of stuffed buddies and selecting a few of your favorites: Slippely the Cat, Skinny the Frog, Guy Is Named The Frog (who is actually an ugly doll and not a frog at all). And it certainly shall — but what shall it pass into? Easily something worse.
But here’s the thing. You are so impossibly cute right now.
When not tearing around creation and demonstrating your newfound ability to feed yourself with a spoon and fork to mixed success viz. our unfortunately carpeted living/dining area, you often enjoy crawling onto the couch and snuggling up to one or both of your parents (SNUGGLING!!!!), smiling your ridiculous smile while we read to you, or practicing your different Emotion Faces. (“What’s your happy face?” Mouth agape in what only tangentially resembles a smile. “What’s your bored face?” Entire visage scrunched up like you just mainlined a mouthful of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix.)
You are so impossibly cute that even in the middle of the goddamned night, when nobody except fourth-shift medical professionals and goddamned Santa Claus should be awake, and yet we’re all awake, listening to you hold forth the latest in philosophical research (WHAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF BIG??? LITTLE!!! WHAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF HOT???? COLD!!!! WHAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF SLEEP????? Funny that you ask, kid, because you’re fucking lookin’ right at it), we just breathe in the cold, silent, last strains of night, and look at you, and smile. Maybe this is evolutionary. (Probably it is.) I don’t care. These days are, and continue to be, almost impossibly hard. But I will bawl myself to bits when they’re over.
Last night, during which you were restless and squirmy and whimpery even when you deigned to sleep, your father and I were huddled up together on the smaller of the two beds we scootched up next to each other to better facilitate our mishmash of a co-sleeping lifestyle (I wanted to get a king, but your ever-practical dad just brought the full guest bed in next to the queen regular bed, and now we have bypassed king all the way to SuperTyrant), while you snoozed by yourself up on the queen, queen of your own slumber domain. As he and I attempted to whisper a final conversation of the night, we heard the telltale sounds of your night waking — a smacking of the lips, the tiny thunk thunk of you herking your arms and legs around as you crankily regain semi-consciousness, a rustling as you push yourself to a wobbly seat. But instead of feeling for me and then crying GOOM GOOM NOW in disappointment, you just wobble-crawled down to where we were. And instead of raking your raggedy nails over my chest until you’d successfully yanked down my shirt and freed the requisite appendage, you scrambled over me and flopped yourself down into the little crook between your parents, whereupon you let out a sigh immediately conked back out.
And it was the heart-exploding wonder of that gesture that kept both of us afloat during the lengthy bout of performance art that precipitated not four hours later. Speaking of which, it’s almost 10, my tiny one. I’d better close MAMA’S COMPUTER (DO THE LETTERS AND NUMBERS! FIVE GREEN AND SPECKLED FROGS! WATCH A VID!) and conk out while I can, because chances are it’s going to be a long — and FANTASTIC!!!!!!!! — night.