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Just A Saturday Morning
I love being a dad.
But I'll be honest right now; life with two kids under the age of two has been no picnic lately.
It all started a few weeks ago. Pam was awake nursing our son early one morning when she heard a strange rattling noise over the baby monitor, followed by a distinct thud and the cries of our daughter, who had somehow managed to climb out of her crib and fall to the floor. She immediately woke me, and I ran to find Cece sprawled on the carpet—very startled, but thankfully unhurt. From then on, her crib days were over; Pam and I weren't going to take any chances with our little escape artist. I converted the crib into a toddler bed that afternoon, and that night, we tucked her into her new big girl bed with no problems. She didn't cry or complain, and she stayed put all night for three glorious nights in a row. We were so proud of her for adjusting so well. Our baby girl was growing up.
But then something changed. Maybe it's just that it took her three days to figure out that she was no longer confined to one place during the night, but on that fourth night, we had a little visitor around 1 am. Too tired from caring for Philip, we just decided to let her climb into bed with us.
Every night since then has ended up a Halpert family sleepover.
We have tried everything: reasoning with her, bribing her, baby gating, bringing her back to her bed and sitting with her until she fell asleep again, and letting her fall asleep with us before sneaking her back to her room, but nothing worked. She would always find a way back to our room, and with Philip still sleeping in the bassinet on Pam's side of the bed, this became a problem pretty quickly. For starters, she was interrupting those precious three-hour stretches of sleep time in between her baby brother's feedings. She would also wake Philip by talking too loudly or crying because we wanted her in her own bed. And other times, Philip would wake her by crying, and let me tell you— dealing with a cranky, semi-jealous, and sleepy toddler in addition to a needy, screeching seven week-old on a minimal amount of sleep is neither fun nor easy in any of those situations.
It also doesn't help matters that Cece seems to have started her terrible twos a month early and that Philip is a much fussier baby than Cece ever was. I had no idea how bad things actually were until I came home from jury duty on Monday to find Pam near tears with two screaming children. Apparently Philip had been crying for almost an hour in her arms when Cece, who just couldn't take the noise anymore, climbed up next to them on the couch and hit him. (A big thanks to my nephews for teaching her that kind of behavior, by the way.) Philip wasn't hurt and barely seemed to notice, but Pam felt awful. There was no way I was just going to leave her like that, so I stayed home for the rest of the afternoon, and she took care of Philip and rested while I distracted Cece, made dinner, and took care of bath time and bedtime. It felt good to be able to do something for my wife and even better when we had a rare few minutes to just sit and relax together before going to sleep.
I was supposed to go back to work the next morning, but when I started getting ready to leave, Cece threw an all-out red-faced, kicking, screaming, and clinging fit. NO, DADA! NO GO! NO BYE! DADA! NO, NO, NO, NO! And then as we tried to subdue her, Philip woke up and started crying his little heart out, and the look on Pam's face was pure panic.
So I called in to work claiming jury duty again that day… and the day after that… and the day after that… and by Friday morning, I just figured there was no sense in only working one day that week, so I stayed home that day, too—Pam certainly needed the help. I have no idea how she has managed during the day by herself because even with two of us taking care of them all this week, it was completely exhausting.
I think the worst part about all of this is that we have so much less time with each other. We are used to spending all day with each other at work and caring for only one child who sleeps in a crib across the hall, but now, it seems that even when we're home together, we are each in different rooms and paying attention to a different child. And when we go to bed at night, we have Cece between us and Philip close by.
I feel guilty even admitting to this, but I had a moment the other day where I thought about what things would be like if our babies hadn't come along until a few years after we had been married. I just really miss having my wife all to myself sometimes. I miss our nights out and our nights in and weekends spent in bed without having to worry about whether Philip needs to eat soon or if Cece is staying out of trouble or if we're running low on diapers. Don't get me wrong; I love our kids more than I could ever say. They are two of the three best things to ever happen to me, and I would do absolutely anything for them, but sometimes, it would be nice to be able to press a pause button.
Like right now, it's just after six in the morning, and I'm downstairs with Philip. For whatever reason, he has hardly slept all night, alternating between needing to be entertained and being just plain cranky. It reminds me of Cece's reverse-cycling days where she would be awake all night and then sleep away most of the day, and I hope so much that tonight isn't the first night of Philip doing the same thing because I just might lose my mind.
He's asleep for now, though. I put him in the baby swing about fifteen minutes ago, and his eyes closed shortly after that. And thank God, too, because I was about to fall asleep myself. I'm so tired that I don't even want to move to the couch, so I just continue to lie on the floor next to Philip with my arm tucked under my head as a pillow.
(In doing this, I find that we really need to vacuum down here because I'm pretty sure that I just crushed a goldfish cracker with my elbow.)
I've got anywhere from a few minutes to an hour before Cece wakes up. At that point, Pam will offer to relieve me of parenting duties so that I can go upstairs and sleep a little more, but our daughter and son will likely have different plans that require two adults to (attempt to) handle. In the meantime, I have to make this time count, so I close my eyes and drift toward sleep.
I'm just about there when I hear my phone vibrate on the coffee table behind me, and my mood just sinks. Cece is probably awake, and Pam wants to check to see if it's safe to bring her downstairs or if Philip is asleep.
God, I just wanted a nap.
I groan and roll over, reaching for my phone and then holding it so that I can see for sure who is calling, and I am surprised to see that it isn't Pam. Very surprised, actually. And a little irritated because I am so freaking tired right now. I blink a few times to make sure I'm not having some sort of a weird dream, and then I answer.
"I'm having a baby!" He exclaims, so loudly that I have to pull the phone away from my ear.
And for a fraction of a second, my sleep deprivation has me really confused, but then he starts right into his reason for calling; as it turns out, he is not having a baby, but rather, his wife is, and every sentence from then on is all about her. It's odd because I recognize the voice as Michael's, but he sounds different somehow. He is excited, but it's a calm excitement, something almost uncharacteristic of the guy who used to be my boss. He asks what Holly will go through and how he can help, how he can make things easier on her and make her feel better through early-pregnancy morning sickness. Some of it is stuff that I'm not personally familiar with, some of it is incredibly awkward, and some of it is so medical that I have no idea, but if there's one thing I do know, it's how to take care of my wife. And I can practically hear him taking notes as I answer his questions and give him advice.
Be there to hold her hair back when she's sick and hold her when she's done.
Stock up on saltines and ginger ale.
Make sure you keep any foods, places, or things that smell funny out of her way.
Let her fall asleep anywhere she wants and don't wake her because she is going to be exhausted.
Put her first.
Tell her she's beautiful when she says she feels fat.
Let her cry over silly things and be annoyed with you, but be as supportive as possible; she is going through a lot, and she needs to know that she can count on you.
As I'm telling him all of this, I start to think about my own family— how exciting it was for me and Pam when we first learned that we were expecting Cece and Philip, how incredible it was to feel them kick and watch them enter the world and hold them for that very first time. Then there were times that I'd look at my wife while she was pregnant and just be blown away by the simple fact that she was carrying our baby. I get a similar feeling now sometimes when I watch her giggling with our daughter or cooing at our son. I live for those moments. Sure, things have been a little overwhelming lately, but that woman and those kids absolutely make my life.
Michael and I talk for a little while, but eventually, he has to go take care of Holly. I congratulate him and wish him luck, and after I hang up, I kind of have to shake my head at the thought of Michael Scott as a father. The thing is, though—he sounded sane, just nervous like any other guy about to become a dad. If this had happened with Jan or that Donna woman that he was with for a while or even Carol, it would have been a disaster. I would have seriously worried about the well-being of that child. But with Holly? He's different with her, and this is exactly what he has been waiting for his whole life.
They'll all be just fine.
"Shh… Cece, honey, come here. Let Daddy sleep."
"No. Dada need Blankie."
I don't remember trying to fall asleep on the couch after talking to Michael, but apparently I did, and I smile with my eyes closed when I feel my daughter trying to drape her favorite yellow baby blanket over me. The edge touching my right arm is wet from being chewed on, but I don't mind at all because, really, how much more adorable could she be?
She kisses the tip of my nose, and I have my answer: not much. Lately, she has been going through what Pam calls a "Daddy phase," which basically means that I am her go-to parent for everything. She follows me around, wants to do everything that I do, and if she needs anything from getting her teeth brushed to dressing, she only accepts my help. It's been part of the reason that she has been a problem for Pam over the last couple weeks and the reason why I haven't been able to go to the bathroom without someone standing right outside the door in what seems like forever, but when she does things like this, it seems like a small price to pay. I love that she needs me and wants to be my little sidekick, and she really is a good little girl. She might be an out-of-control terror sometimes, but then she goes and does something sweet like share her blanket or tell her mama that she looks 'pwetty,' and I forget everything else. Even a couple days ago, Philip was crying in the car, and she reached her arm over to comfort him, softly repeating, 'It okay' and 'No cry, Baby,' to him until we arrived home a few minutes later.
Yeah, she has some behavioral issues right now that we need to work through, but ultimately, I think Pam and I are succeeding in our efforts to raise a kind, thoughtful child.
"Is that you, Cece?" I ask, opening my eyes so that I am now face to face with her, and she giggles.
"Hi, buddy," I reach my arm out and pull her to me for a hug and a kiss. "Thank you for sharing Blankie with me. That was very nice of you."
I peer over her messy blonde curls to see Pam watching us as she sits on the floor cradling Philip near his baby swing. We exchange a grin, and even though I hardly slept at all last night, I suddenly can't wait to get up and start Saturday with my family.
It's the first breakfast in a while where Cece doesn't either spill something, refuse to sit still, or throw a tantrum for one reason or another. We keep waiting, but it never happens. Instead, she sits cooperatively in her booster seat, calmly eating her banana slices and Cheerios while alternating between babbling to her food and chatting with us. It's kind of adorable. Afterwards, she even lets Pam help her get dressed while I tend to Philip, and when they come back downstairs, she has a huge smile on her face.
"Dada, I big girl!" She announces from her place perched on her mother's hip as they enter the living room where Philip and I are on the floor, hanging out on his play mat.
I'm not sure where my temperamental toddler went, but I am certainly enjoying this version of her.
"Yes, you are," Pam agrees. "You sat nicely at the table just like Mommy and Daddy, and you used the potty all by yourself."
"No way, Cece! You used the potty by yourself?" I ask, exaggerating my excitement to reinforce her good behavior. I'm pretty happy about it to begin with, though—it's one step closer to having only one kid in diapers again.
"Yes," she grins proudly.
"Alright! Good job, Cee!"
"So now Cece gets to pick a sticker as her big girl prize," my wife says, adding extra emphasis to her last three words as she sets Cece down by me so that she can retrieve a sheet of stickers from her secret hiding place (on top of the refrigerator).
We experimented with a few different rewards for potty training, but after my sister introduced Cece to stickers in November, we knew we had found a winner. They are inexpensive, not messy, not sugary, and for some reason, Cece goes absolutely crazy for them. With the way she reacts sometimes, you would think we were getting ready to give her candy or ice cream, but no, just a sticker. And as a bonus—they are helping us teach her colors.
"Stickie, stickie, stickie," Cece repeats in a sing-song voice as she eagerly bounces up and down in anticipation. "Stickie!"
Pam quickly returns, and Cece skips over to assess her options: colorful metallic hearts, stars, and flowers. Her eyes widen, and she examines them carefully before touching her finger to a sparkly blue star.
"Blue star?" Pam asks, pointing to it.
"Boo staw," she repeats. "Yes."
Cece squeals with glee when Pam peels it off and sticks it to her pink flower-print shirt, and we both compliment her again on her good behavior. (At the same time, though, I know we're both thinking, Please stay good today, while also trying not to get our hopes up.) She then looks from Pam to me and to Philip, and when her eyes fall on her brother, she grows still, studying him for a few moments before turning back to Pam with a quizzical expression.
"Baby have one?" She asks curiously. "Uh stickie?"
"You want to pick out a sticker for your brother?"
Cece nods very seriously, and Pam and I exchange a glance because, yeah, our daughter is amazing. When she wants to be a good big sister, she is the best big sister.
"That's very nice of you, sweetie. I'm sure he would love one," she says, once again presenting Cece with her choices. "Which one do you think he would like?"
She deliberates for a good minute before selecting a shiny blue heart, and when Pam peels it off she reaches out her hand, "Mama, I do it?"
Pam gladly gives her the sticker, and we watch as Cece kneels down and gently affixes it to Philip's onesie, just above his bellybutton.
"Good baby," she coos, imitating Pam's tone as she pats his tummy. "Good brudder."
Philip happily kicks his legs and gives his sister his signature gummy smile, and my wife and I just melt. Lately, we have lamented their more nightmarish qualities, but right now, it is impossible not to marvel over their sweetness.
Well played, Halpert kids. Well played.
Shortly after that, Cece is quietly occupied with crayons and a giant pad of paper, Philip is drifting toward sleep in his baby swing, and my wife is curled up next to me on the couch with her head in my lap. She and I are both hoping for a family nap this morning, but even if that doesn't happen, today has been ideal so far. We have each other and two happy, healthy babies.
It reminds me of the phone call I received this morning, and I smile to myself. I just have to tell Pam. I know Michael asked me not to because he wants to tell her himself, but I can't help it. We've had such a great morning already, and I know she'll be thrilled for him because despite all the inappropriate comments and incidents, Pam has always had a soft spot for Michael (with the exception of those awful few weeks where he dated her mother).
Yeah, I can't keep this to myself.
"So, uh, Michael called this morning before you guys got up," I start, unable to stop a huge grin from spreading over my face once she looks back at me. "He and Holly are expecting."
She gasps. "Really?"
"Oh, wow. They must be so excited!" She says giddily, her eyes all lit up. I just knew she would react this way. "That's wonderful."
"I guess it's a pretty recent thing, so he wanted some advice."
She suddenly looks panicked.
"You didn't scare him by talking about what we've been dealing with lately, did you?"
I laugh, even though she has a point. Though Michael certainly seems to have mellowed considerably, his tendency to blow things out of proportion couldn't possibly have disappeared entirely. Had our conversation focused on parenting and not Holly, I may have started a problem if I had shared our more recent experiences.
"Scare him?" I ask, pretending to forget the events of the last few weeks. "What's so scary about these guys?" I tease as I gesture toward our drowsy son and our well-behaved-for-the-moment daughter.
She rolls her eyes and groans, dramatically covering her eyes and forehead with the back of her hand. "Two months of almost complete sleepless chaos, Jim. Don't even joke."
I smirk and pull her hand away, kissing the inside of her wrist.
"Don't worry. I didn't tell him about any of it. He mostly just wanted to know what he could do for Holly and what kind of things he should expect to happen with her. It was very…" I pause because I'm not really sure how to describe our discussion. "It was the least Michael-centered conversation that I've ever had with him. All he could talk about was her."
She grins and shakes her head, and for a few moments, she is speechless.
"They're perfect for each other, you know," she muses softly.
"Yeah," I agree, combing my fingers through the loose waves of her hair with a smile. God, I love this girl. Seeing her so genuinely happy for them almost compels me to say something ridiculously cheesy like, 'You're perfect for me,' but then she sighs and cuddles into me, and it no longer feels like a time for declarations. We rarely get peaceful moments like this anymore, so we just sit quietly, watching our children and enjoying each other's closeness.
She and I. Michael and Holly. We're all really lucky. And after a long and sometimes devastatingly discouraging road, we all have what we wanted most.
It's funny how things work out.