Friday, October 15, 2010

Mission Impossible 2010: Coffee, A Cell Phone, And A Sleeping Baby

The further along I travel on the path of parenthood the more I find parallels between parenting and teaching.  In a way, this is beneficial for me because I can fall back on my pedagogical training at certain points and, I would imagine, I will be able to utilize my parenting skills in future classrooms.  In both professions (if you will) you are entrusted with the lives and minds of youngsters and it is your task not only to instill their porous, receptive brains with knowledge but also to shape their very persons; every thing that you say and do around them has an impact, positive or negative.  Teachers and parents both want the best for their children and often lose sleep thinking of ways to ensure that said youngsters are receiving the best care and instruction that can be offered.  Both serve as instructors, disciplinarians, mentors, friends (if you're lucky enough to earn your kids' trust), and any other number of roles.

It's amazing when you consider the way the dynamics of the parent/child and teacher/student relationships change on a daily basis; some days, as the adult, you're off and just don't have it--other times it's the kids who are impish and who will test your patience and wits.  The funny thing, though, is that one day might not necessarily have an impact on the next.  If a child is bad one day, he or she might be punished, but (ideally) the parent will not hold the incident against him or her, nor will the child begrudge the parent (once the punishment has ended); the same goes for teachers.  I remember one day when I was doing my student teaching that my cooperating teacher was out and it was up to me to run the show.  I had been teaching for a few months by then and was comfortable as the sole instructor (a substitute was also present but did not participate in the lesson).  I had encountered this situation before and everything had gone smoothly.  This time, however, things were horrendously different.  I don't know if it was the fact that it was a rainy day, if there was something going on amongst the students overall, or if people were just in a general funk, but I found myself fighting with nearly all of my students.  Nothing I had prepared was going over well and the class was listless and paying me little attention.

I left the school that day feeling dejected--as if I had let my students down, somehow.  I dreaded going back the next day but I recalled some advice I had received from a veteran teacher earlier in the year.  He had told me not to worry about having an argument with a student or a bad day in the classroom--that we (as teachers) spend far more time worrying about it than the students do.  In fact, they wouldn't even remember it the next day.  Silently, I hoped that this would be the case and, sure enough, when I reentered the classroom the next day, the students were all back to their normal selves and everything went off without incident.

One of the challenges of being a parent or a teacher is the innate need always to be "on."  This means always having the perfect lesson, always engaging one's students, as well as always keeping one's children entertained and having the most amazing ideas for fun things to do.  What I learned as a teacher is that it's okay NOT to be on all the time--nor is it expected!  I'm not sure about parenting but I suppose we'll see as Timmy gets older.  I hate when he and I fail to get along (much like today--more on that) or when he seems bored and I'm unable to perk him up.  I suppose the latter is the worst, though, because he is still too young to speak, to tell me what he wants to do.  It takes some clairvoyance on my part to be able to decipher from his body language what's going on inside of his head and what he'd most like to do.  I'm finding that I'm becoming more attuned to him, though, and I'm building a checklist or dossier of sorts that I can fall back on when I'm not having success keeping him happy.

I know what you're thinking--what the hell does this have to do with Mission Impossible or the other things from the title?  Has he lost his mind?  Maybe he's just trying to snag us with a snazzy headline only to bore us to death with his droll musings on parenting parallels?

Stick with me: I'm just building up the suspense.

So yeah...parenting is like teaching...but children are also like puppies.  How's THAT for a parallel?  It's true though and it's also something I realized today.  I had been sitting at my computer typing up an email, reading things online, and listening to some music when I realized that it had grown awfully quiet behind me.  Timmy had been in his Exersaucer bouncing happily about, playing with his toys...but then the silence came.  I turned around, unsure of what I would find...only to see Timmy standing up in his Exersaucer staring at me with (you guessed it) puppy dog eyes.  He was just staring at me.  So I said, "Hey buddy!"  He lit up and started jumping up and down.  I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up.  He grinned his gummy little grin and jumped up and down some more. 

I picked him up and brought him back to the computer with me.  And then I got to thinking about the baby/puppy connection.  Both drool a lot.  Both will amuse themselves with the simplest of toys.  Both are incredibly adorable (an evolutionary trait meant to dissuade the father animals from eating them--true story and seem to elicit an "Aww!" reaction with almost everything they do.  Both utilize chew toys.  Both are great conversation starters (mostly with women).  Both enjoy sleeping in your bed...and then taking it over.  Both need to be potty trained and taught other basic elements of life.

And this is where it all comes together.

See, being a teacher, a parent, and a pet owner all have one fundamental thing in common: you think that you have taught your student/child/puppy something and that they have mastered that thing, without fail.  You find out that you are wrong, however, only when attempting to demonstrate this to others or at an incredibly inopportune time.  Teachers think that their students "really got" those lessons on algebra/grammar/the Revolutionary War/...until the tests come back...and not a single student scored above an eighty.  You could argue that the test was too difficult...but you can tell from the responses that these kids just didn't have a clue.  You train your puppy to perform a particular trick that it has repeated dozens of times...until you try to show a friend.  And the dog just stares blankly at you before walking away.  And then your friend does the same thing. 

For the parenting example, I will refer to my personal experience and thus finally segue into the bloody beating heart of this blog entry.  See, one of the largest difficulties I was having with Timmy since May or June was getting him to take his naps during the day.  I could tell (roughly) what times he would be getting tired and, as they began to grow more regular, I figured that it would be easy to get him to lie down.  Only it wasn't.  In fact, it got progressively worse.  He hated his swing and he gradually began to refuse to sleep in his pack and play.  Forget about the crib--he would have none of that one.  The only way that he would fall asleep with any consistency would be if he fell asleep on me.  He could be asleep on me for five minutes or an hour--the moment I would get up to place him down somewhere else, he would wake up and cry out in indignation.  The only way I was able to get him to fall asleep would be to put him in the swing (which he hated) and wait for him to pass out and stop crying (the latter of which he would do incessantly to the point that I worried I was scarring him mentally or emotionally). 

I did my due diligence, asking other parents for advice, reading up on messageboards online, and reading through the Baby 411 book.  The only consistent elements that I found were a) not to let him sleep on me and b) not to let him cry himself to sleep or to cry for longer than ten minutes at a stretch.  Some days he would fall asleep in his pack and play, other days in the swing (of his own volition), but most days found me reaching the end of my patience and getting frustrated more at myself than at him; I just couldn't figure it out.  He would sleep fine for a few days and then spend the next few fighting me viciously. 

Finally, he and I figured it out and, for the last two weeks, he was sleeping like an angel.  No fights, no moments of frustration, and no bloodcurdling Banshee screams from him.  Until today.

At first, everything was going according to plan.  The boy was sleeping and I was working on various computer projects, keeping an eye on him via our camera/video monitor system.  He went in for a nap around 1:40 (he usually begins sleeping anywhere from 12:30 until 2:00) and slept peacefully until around 2:30.  He needs much more than fifty minutes of sleep for his nap and usually sleeps two hours or more.  Occasionally, he will wake himself up but, if left alone, he will fall back to sleep.  Not this time.  Watching him through the monitor, he was sitting quietly but was very, very much awake.  He was playing with his pacifier, staring into the camera, and looking around the room serenely. 

Or so it seemed.

I went down and picked him up, taking him back upstairs with me.  I placed him in his Exersaucer figuring he would want to play.  He balked.  I picked him up and had him on my lap while I typed.  He fussed and squirmed.  I thought maybe he had a dirty diaper; all was clear in the underbuggins.  I placed him back into the Exersaucer.  He cried.  I picked him back up and laid down on the couch with him.  He fidgeted and cried, struggling to fight sleep; he won.  I placed him in his swing, figuring that he was exhausted and would be out cold within a few minutes; ten minutes later he was still awake, smacking his little hands on the plastic snack tray-portion of the swing.  Back in the Exersaucer.  More crying. 

Finally, I had enough.  I brought him back downstairs and got him set up for his nap.  That was when he decided to start screaming.  I went back upstairs and could hear him not only through the monitor but through the floor.  I had made coffee and was trying to enjoy it while I worked on a music project but Timmy's screams of mutilation were too much.  I went downstairs and snapped at him...then HE snapped and began to scream like I was skinning him with a cheese grater.  Seriously--it was so bad I had to close the windows because I was afraid the neighbors or passers-by would think I was attempting to cannibalize my boy. 

I put him back in his swing and decided to cancel my plans to work on my music project upstairs.  Instead, I shut the light, left him screaming in the swing, and headed downstairs to read.  I know--it sounds callous and heartless...but I know my boy and I knew that he wouldn't last this time; he would run out of gas.  So I sit down to read...and hear him screaming through the walls this time.  My resistance is low at this point since I have had exactly one doughnut and one small Celeste pizza all day.  I turn on the fan to try to cool me and calm me down and I begin reading.  After a few minutes I listen and realize that all is quiet.  I open the door and slink upstairs to check for sure and...sure enough...he's out cold in the swing.

Mission accomplished.

I head back downstairs and get myself comfortable on the bed with book in hand.  I crave a warm sip of my strong brew...only to realize that I had left it upstairs on the computer desk before I placed Timmy in the swing.  And therein lie my dilemma: if I were to go upstairs I would risk waking the boy and thus defeating the efforts of the past HOUR PLUS...but, on the was a goodish brew...could I really just leave it to die a cold, lonely death on my desk?

I decided to test the water.

Slowly, I walked up the stairs to the upper level of the house, stopping on the third step from the top.  I could see Timmy but he could not see me; he was fast asleep.  I took another step up and the stairs creaked beneath my wait...and the boy stirred.  Then he opened his eyes.  I dropped down to my belly on the stairs and listened as he let out a lone whimper.  I watched as his eyes rolled...rolled...rolled...until finally, he was asleep once more.  I knew that there was no way I could make it across the room to my coffee without waking him and, once spotted, I knew that the jig would be up; he would awaken fully and begin screaming once again.

Thus began my Mission Impossible scenario.

I knew what must be done.  Taking a deep breath, I brought my foot off of the third step from the top and rested my knee on the floor above me.  I lowered my torso to the ground and slowly brought up my lagging leg; I would military crawl across the room to the desk.  It was a great plan...until I realized that I wouldn't be able to return the same way.  I decided that I would cross that bridge when I got to it.  At that point, my only concern was to get to the computer.  And thus, in the relative darkness of the room, I began to crawl.  Left-forearm forward with right knee...then right-forearm and left knee...keeping my eyes on the sleeping boy the entire time, as if he were a dragon that would ignite me with his fierce dragon...breath...were he to waken.

I'm trying to shift my weight as best I can so as to prevent the floor from creaking...and...surprisingly...I'm doing a decent job.  I try to coordinate my forward progress with each peak of the swing's movement: crawl when the swing comes all the way forward and creaks, crawl again when it reaches its backward-terminus.  I realize that I'm wearing all black and I figure that if I stay low to the ground and stop moving completely if Timmy wakes up and opens his eyes that he won't see me.  I'm using Jurassic Park logic, figuring that an infant's vision is like that of a T-Rex's.  I figure my logic is sound...because there's no one there to tell me otherwise.  Plus it sounds really cool and enhances the faux-danger level of my mission.

The danger though isn't so much that Timmy will wake up and see me but that he will wake up and sense me.  I swear to God, this kid came with built-in preternatural ninja skills.  He can be in a dead sleep and the moment someone enters the room he will wake up.  I mean, I could have heavy music blasting and a fan or air conditioner on so that there is no WAY he could possibly hear me come in...and he will wake up and look right at me!  Incidentally, when this has happened and he was really exhausted, if I stood stock still and held my breath, eventually his eyes would begin to roll back into his head and he was pass out once more.

Anyway, so I'm crawling across the room and I put up my sixth-sense-firewall so that his psychic probe can't detect me.  Finally, I draw closer and closer to my computer chair, which is right near my desk; the mug of delicious coffee is in sight...then it is almost within reach.  I stand up ever so softly and turn around with bated breath; he has not stirred.  Using my advanced ninja skills, I take three ginger ninja hop-steps until I am right by my desk; I do not hesitate for a moment.  I grab the mug and then gingerly ninja hop step back across the room, all the while simultaneously watching the boy, monitoring my proximity to the stairs, and ensuring that the coffee doesn't slosh and escape its container (I actually managed not to shake it even a little--it was pretty impressive).

I reach the stairs and bolt.  I realize that he might wake up but I find that I do not care; I have obtained the coffee and will now enjoy some quiet time, whether he wants to cooperate or not.  I return to the bedroom downstairs feeling invigorated and self-satisfied.  Okay...maybe I felt a bit smug...but, minus the laser alarm system, I'm pretty sure I just recreated perfectly that scene from Mission Impossible.  More or less.  At least in my mind.  I close the bedroom door behind me and place the mug down on a coaster on Heather's nightstand next to the bed.  I get my pillows set up on the bed and get comfortable, looking forward to some good Ulysses reading time and some quality joe.  I realized that I had shut the blinds in an attempt to help Timmy to fall asleep and decide that I wanted some natural light to read by instead of just the overhead ceiling light; this was my tragic mistake.

I'll admit it: I got greedy.  I couldn't be happy just with getting the coffee and getting the boy to fall asleep.  In a way, I almost deserved what came next.


I swung my feet over towards the floor...jauntily.  Maybe that's the worst part--I was in great spirits and would have bounced up off the bed were it not for what happened next.  I could tell you that I knocked over the full mug of coffee...but that wouldn't do the event justice.  No no--I damn near obliterated the mug.  I mean, I absolutely nailed this friggin thing with my foot.

Now I know what you're thinking: okay, so you knocked the mug over and spilled coffee everywhere--what's the big deal?

To understand fully what occurred next, you must have been reading carefully.  I didn't just swing my legs over...I swung them over with zest--with a real joie de vivre.  Needless to say, I got double-teamed by two of Newton and Nature's laws.  Fucking Newton.  You see, my momentum carried my forward even though I knew that I had knocked over the coffee.  In fact, as I was pulled into a seated position I saw the mug hit the floor and roll emptily away.  Though I did not see it I am convinced that the mug made at least two full revolutions mid-flight as it deposited the warm liquid of my java-nectar into the splash zone.  I saw this because it landed outside of this area and yet its outside was covered in spilled coffee, which could have come only from its airborne procession towards the floor.

Remember though--I said two of Newton and Nature's laws.  Acceleration pulled me forward but it was that spiteful bitch gravity that prevented me from applying the brakes.  Instead, my feet landed firmly--I mean dead center--in the puddle of coffee that is, at this point, sinking slowly into the carpet; my then-white socks absorbed a fair amount of said brew, however.  In the next moment I surprised myself with my reaction: I laughed.


Then I shook my head in disbelief.  I was grateful that the coffee cup didn't break (as it is my favorite coffee receptacle) and that the coffee splash radius covered only the carpet, the base of the fan, my socks, and Heather's tanktop.  I realized that I had to act quickly to try to mitigate the staining of said clothes and carpeting so I ran immediately into the kitchen to grab paper towels.  I daubed up what I could and then realized that I would need to get some wet paper towels to loosen what had already settled in.  I placed the tank top and the socks into the bathroom sink, which I had filled with hot water.  I won't looked like some invisible midget had diarrhea the second I swished the socks and shirt in the basin.  Gagging, I let the water out, and repeated the procedure until the water no longer maintained a fecal consistency and hue.

Returning to the bedroom, I realized that I would have to use more than half of the roll of paper towels if I wanted to dry up the entire area.  I decided to grab a raggy towel from the closet and use that to soak up what I could of the coffee.  This time, though, it looked like a giant had mistaken said towel for toilet paper.


So I'm doing my best to dry up the stain and, feeling like I have made significant progress, I stand up...without realizing that I'm right beneath the doorknob.  Oh, don't worry--it broke my fall...if I were falling upward as I attempted to stand up.  It caught me right on the bony part of my shoulder.  Now I get annoyed, mostly because of the shooting pain that is coursing through my arm and neck.  Then it subsides and my jocularity returns.  I decide that this would make a great blog entry.  I then decide that I would like to call Heather to tell her about it.

Then I realize that my phone is upstairs.  This time the dilemma is less of a quandary: if the phone goes off, it will almost surely disturb the boy's slumber.  I must go after it.  I slink up the stairs and decide at the top that I don't need to use any subterfuge in pursuing my bounty this time.  I take a step towards the center of the room...and the floor creaks...and Timmy opens his eyes...and looks right at me.  As any good soldier would do, I fall back on my training.  And by training I mean numerous viewings of Jurassic Park.  I become a statue.  I don't so much as blink as I stare right back at him from across the room.  He swings back staring right at me.  Then he swings forward, still looking me in the eyes...almost looking through me.  I think, "I'm wearing all black and I'm standing perfectly still...there's no WAY he can see me."  I summon all of my ninja energy and use it to convince myself that what I have just thought is true.  I no longer think I am a black-clothed ninja statue...I AM a pitch-colored column of nothingness floating in the vast expanse of darkness in front of a tired, swinging, baby.  I stare at him as he stares at me.  I will him back to sleep.  And...slowly...he closes his eyes...and returns to sleep.

I drop to my belly and crawl over to that damned couch, grab the phone, stand up, and gingerly ninja step my way to freedom.  I call Heather immediately upon returning downstairs.


Story of my life.