My 3-year-old daughter Bridget is starting to sting together sentences and have actual conversations, which is when I think parenting starts getting real fun.
I mean, I love them before that and all, but it’s a whole lot of screaming and you-cleaning-up poop before intelligible sentences come into play. Graspable language is when you start getting to hear their hilarious, unfiltered take on life.
Like the other day, when Bridget started nosing around my coffee cup…
Bridget (pointing to my coffee): That COFFEE.
Bridget: I drink?
Me: No, drink your milk.
Bridget (sighing): I smell? Smell good.
Me: Okay, you can smell it.
She grabs the cup, closes her eyes, and inhales.
Bridget: Smells GOOD, mama… I drink?
Me (grabbing the cup back): No, Bidgie.
Bridget (hands on hips): YOU drink!?
Me: I’m a grown-up. This is a grown-up drink.
Bridget (stomping away): This is… POOP!
The funniest part was how she clearly meant to say “This is a bunch of bullsh*t!” before stomping down the hall, but she did the three-year-old version of baby-swearing instead. Given the look on her face, I could practically hear the proper obscenities falling into place.
(Aww, she wants to drink lots of coffee and swear… she is mine.)
I lie in bed for hour after boring hour, dreading how awful I’m going to feel the next day as my cats mock me with endless napping. I flip uncomfortably back and forth while I watch the black light surrounding my windows slowly shifting into gray, then finally white. Daylight.
A nurse friend once let me in on a little secret. Allergy pills, she told me, are as effective a sleep aid as anything else you can buy over the counter.
I jumped on that train and rode it happily until my body was used to the dose. I started taking two pills, which worked until I needed three. Then four. Then eight. Then eleven.
That’s no good. I dropped the allergy pills and realized that Ambien would be much the same scenario. Sure it works, but for only so long. Eventually your body builds a tolerance and you just need more. It’s a dead end.
Last week, my insomnia was acting up again, so my husband made a little suggestion.
John: Hey, remember last year when you gave up coffee? That seemed to work for you.
Me: YOU GIVE UP COFFEE!
John: But I don’t need to. I can fall asleep right after an espresso.
How DARE he? I LOVE coffee. I love the taste, the warmth, the rich scent… coffee is one of the few pleasures we are still allowed to indulge in, plus it’s supposed to contain a bunch of antioxidants that help prevent Parkinson’s and Type II Diabetes. How am I supposed to get through a rough day with the kids without caffeine? These children will drive a chihuahua to throwing up.
Except that deep down, I knew he was right.
John can knock back a triple-shot espresso and be snoring ten minutes later, whereas a single cup of drip coffee leaves my adrenalin pumping for hours. It’s part of why I love it, and also why I shouldn’t have it.
There’s a logical explanation for all this. A couple of years ago, John and I had our DNA analyzed by 23 and me, a genetic testing company. They tell you all kinds of interesting things about yourself, including your genetic ancestry, percentage of Neanderthal blood, and vulnerability to many diseases.
I learned, for example, that all the stories I’d heard about having Cherokee blood are probably poppycock. For years I had heard all about how my great-great-great grandfather, the Scotsman, illicitly married a Cherokee woman. She was supposed to be amazing beautiful, dazzlingly cleaver, and mean as a snake.
We were supposed to have tribal roll numbers, I was told, but my grandparents didn’t apply for them because they could pass for white and being part Native American was nothing to be proud of in those days.
When my test results came back, however, I learned that my blood is actually white, with added white, and an extra dash of white on top. How utterly disappointing.
23 and me also tested the rate at which you break down caffeine. Fast metabolizers, for example, break it down quickly, so it doesn’t stay in their systems very long. Research shows that a few cups of coffee helps prevent heart attacks in fast metabolizers. John is a fast metabolizer.
Slow metabolizers, on the other hand, break caffeine down very slowly, so it stays in their systems for ages. A couple of cups of coffee significantly increases the risk of heart attacks in slow metabolizers.
As you may have guessed, the results showed that I am a slow metabolizer. Life isn’t fair.
Since I was at my wit’s end with fatigue, I was willing to try just about anything to get some more sleep. So, out coffee went.
I had a raging headache for a few days as my system went into caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine restricts your blood vessels, so when you quit drinking it, your blood vessels dilate and a bunch of blood pours into your head a neck, causing headaches until your body readjusts.
It was rough, but temporary, and I was noticing drastic improvement in my ability to fall asleep. I even knocked out before midnight for several days in a row, which is kind of a record for me. The headaches were subsiding, I was waking up with a clearer head, and everything was going great.
Until yesterday. Kids are kind of a mixed bag, though we love them to pieces. Some days they are charming little cherubs who melt your heart with all the adorable things they say and do, while others… well… there are other days when they are so demonically insane, they would drive the Dalai Lama to punch out a window while letting a string of profanities fly.
Yesterday was one of those days.
My baby Bridget is a freakishly-strong infant with a good right hook, who can blow your windows out with nonstop screaming and doesn’t hesitate to claw your lips off in the middle of a tantrum. She told me she was hungry yesterday, but wasn’t happy about anything I gave her to eat.
I handed her a bowl of Cheerios. She grabbed a handful, moved her arm over the floor, and dropped them to the ground.
“No, Bridget,” I told her.
She gave me a hard, challenging stare before grabbing two handfuls, swiveling around in her baby seat, and chucking them halfway across the kitchen.
“NO!” I told her firmly.
She picked up the bowl, stared me dead in the eye, and threw it straight at my face. Grrrrr…
Okay, I guess she didn’t want Cheerios. By this point, the entire kitchen was littered with Cheerios, but since Bridget was frantically screaming while pointing at her mouth, I guessed that she was still hungry and getting fairly impatient about it. I decided to whip up a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich (What kid doesn’t like PB&J’s?). I could slap one together quickly, cut it in half, and stuff it into her angry mouth before she stomped off and burned the place straight to the ground.
I scrambled to put together a PB&J as though my life depended on it, then dashed over to hand it to her.
She stared at it, looked me straight in the eyes, and threw it against the wall. Where it stuck.
She threw up her arms and screamed hysterically, so I frantically handed her a sippy cup full of water. Maybe she’s thirsty. She grabbed the cup, reached out her arm, and clocked me across the face with it.
That’s IT. She’s going down for a nap.
I stomped upstairs to put her in her crib and threw a blanket over her, then walked back downstairs in hopes up rounding up some Cheerios of my own, since I hadn’t eaten yet and that wasn’t helping defuse the situation any. As I rounded the corner, I saw my toddler Brontë carrying her Minnie Mouse potty chair into the kitchen, hiked up over her shoulder.
“I WANT TO POTTY IN THE KITCHEN!” she announced, like it was a completely rational thing to say. By the looks of it, she had already pottied in Minnie Mouse, when it was still in her room, because a toxic sludge of Number Two, dissolved into Number One, had leaked out in a giant trial across the white carpets as she carried the potty across the entire house.
The smelly green trail led from her bedroom, across the living room and couches, over her shoulder, across her feet, and onto the Cheerios and sandwich bits all over the kitchen floor.
“Put it down!” I yelled.
She dropped it. A big wave of dark green poop water flew up into a mushroom cloud hovering just above the potty, then splashed down onto my legs and the kitchen floor. Pieces of torn sandwich bread were swelling green like swampy Barbie sponges as Brontë stared at me and blinked. “I potty in the kitchen?” she asked, as though everything were normal and we hadn’t just experienced a poop hurricane.
“You are taking a shower,” I told her while lifting her up with one arm and marching her upstairs. I cleaned her off and laid her down for a nap, because the last thing I needed was a hyperactive toddler crunching fecal-soaked Cheerios into the tile and carpet as I tried to navigate the mess.
I walked back into the kitchen, surveyed the damage, and noticed the coffee my husband left in the pot this morning after he went to work. It was still hot. The light was still on.
I decided to pour myself a conciliatory cup of coffee to enjoy before tackling the inferno. I figured it was better than grabbing my keys, hightailing it to the car, and tearing off into the sunset while blasting rock music.
The coffee was nice, and it gave me just enough energy to salvage the kitchen wasteland before it started attracting flies. I managed to get the kids up and get through the rest of the day without getting punched in the face again or scrubbing any more waste out of the carpet.
But later that night, when I laid down to finally sleep after an exhausting day, I was still completely keyed up. Damn.
I watched some Netflix. I read a book. I surfed the web. I tried to sleep.
The hours passed by. My muscles ached and yet, I couldn’t relax them. The light outside began to cast an eerie gray.