We’ll call it celebrating a milestone–or maybe a mind-stone

4 01 2013

I posted these words on Facebook today, the day after Mom and I packed all of Evanny’s 0-3 month clothes into attic-boxes and re-filled her drawers with her “new” wardrobe of 3-6s:

I’m starting to get to that point where I don’t give a damn anymore what other people think is how to care for babies. I’m typing one-handed while E snores on my shoulder, her little wheeze in my ear, her warm body against mine, her feet dangling (barely, but a little farther every day) between my legs, and maybe she SHOULD sleep in her bed instead, but she’s cozy and snug and beautiful right where she is; she’s content and secure, I’m sore-armed but charmed, and the net result is that right now, whether “things” are “getting done” or not (that would be “not”), we’re both happy. So here we are, letting it be–& thus let the zenning begin.

The last line is a reference to the 3 New Year’s Resolutions I put up a few days ago in the same venue: to play/laugh more, to worry less & be more zen, and to be kinder & more generous to Caleb (who will be back this evening, for a weekend his dad will be away/busy for half of, so my opportunity for practice will be starting soon!). The post was put up in dual recognition of my physical and emotional circumstances: physically, I was pinned to the chair by her almost-eleven-pounds worth of sleep-dead weight, and emotionally, I was realizing that I actually didn’t feel even a little bit bad about that.

Because I’m starting to get it: babyhood really doesn’t last very long. This semester, there’s going to be more screaming baby, because sometimes I’m going to have to put her down to get work done. There’s going to be more filth in the house, more lingeringly dirty dishes, more cat hair on the stairs, more piles of half-done (or not even started) laundry, and more dirt on the kitchen floor. There are going to be more last-minute store runs and more throwing away food we weren’t organized enough to cook before it spoiled. There’s going to be more waste, altogether, of money, food, and other resources as we have less time to plan how and when to use them. My ideals about how I want to live—and how I want us to live—are going to go out the window for a while, but that while won’t last forever, and it doesn’t have to define me, her, motherhood, parenting, or anything else. We’ll do what it takes, and if we hate it, we’ll do something else. And if I’m too ashamed of our disgusting house to ever have friends over, and if I have to apologize torrentially about the dirt and hair to everyone who comes over to do a little paid baby-bouncing while I grade, so be it; they’ll be forgiving for cash (I hope), and we can have people over again in the summer, when classes are over, and Daddy’s home to help, and Evanny will be bigger and more well-adjusted and maybe even a taker of naps.

We’ve tried several approaches to ″teaching″ the baby to sleep where and when it would be convenient for us for her to sleep, and none of them have worked very well yet for anyone involved. Some days she sleeps, and some days she doesn’t. When she does, she sleeps where she falls asleep—daytime relocation is never successful—and from when she falls asleep until she wakes herself up (or we try, foolishly, to relocate her). She cannot be ″put″ to sleep at anybody else’s bidding, and she cannot put herself to sleep on purpose. The internet, and all of the baby books, are full of advice about how to ″train″ babies to be able to put themselves to sleep, and the common thread of this training involves a lot of the baby crying and the adult either crying too or training him or herself not to care that the baby’s crying.

I try to keep an open mind, in general, about baby advice, but I hate these common threads. This is a particular challenge in our house because Daddy thinks letting a baby cry is just fine, in theory, and although Daddy is infinitely respectful of the fact that his philosophy is not going to take the lead on this baby, for the simple reason that I’m the one at home all day every day to actually take whatever approach is chosen, it still frustrates him at the end of the day when he wants her to behave a certain way, and he believes that if we did more things his way she might. I don’t think it would work on this baby, regardless of how it worked on her brother (with whom Daddy was the one at home doing the implementing), because they’re very different babies. Her brother could be out-stubborned into sleeping simply by being held still when he was tired, for example; he would cry, but in that persistent, steady-state way of the tired baby who wishes he weren’t tired because playing is more fun, and who doesn’t understand yet that sleeping leads to being less tired and thus to doing more playing and having more fun. Attempts to do that with this one have involved her turning alarming colors of purple, choking on her own spit, and forgetting to breathe altogether in her effort to yell EVEN LOUDER since obviously we’re not hearing her disinterest in the idea. She yelled so hard and for so long when trapped in the carseat on the way home from a late night family outing NYE that she was hoarse the next day, and while she eventually ran out of steam and had to notch the volume down, she didn’t actually stop until she was out of the seat, in a clean diaper, and being nursed in the dark, which is how she likes night time to go. Daddy’s opinion is that we’re “teaching her to scream until she gets what she wants” and that that’s going to lead to a rotten older baby. Mine is that, at this age, “wants” and “needs” are indistinguishable for a baby, and our goal should be to teach her that she’s in good hands and her needs will be seen to. Obviously, we couldn’t help the carseat situation once we were out, with a tired baby, and needed to get home again, but that doesn’t recommend (at least to me) duplicating it by leaving her alone in her room to wail with the same panicked fervor about how she’s been left and ignored and might be eaten by bears–it’s not going to lead to her relaxing and sleeping. A friend posted a Fb link to a ″new study″ just the other day that ″proves″ that letting babies cry while they learn to sleep is just fine for babies—-it was a totally crap study (or at least the write-up published in the popular media outlet did a completely crap job of explaining it), as there was no discernible connection, at all, between what little ″data″ was presented and the ″expert opinions″ about the alleged benefits of babies crying: the study just said ″we looked at these babies, and also experts say blah blah blah,″ without the barest hint of a logical pathway laid out between the one and the other. I’d have flunked a freshman paper that tried that.

But what the article did do for me was hand over a few really valuable numbers. The first: a reminder that this baby, at 3 months old, is really just still 3 months very young, and what she is able to do now is really wholly unrelated to what she’ll be able to do when she’s bigger. The babies in the study were between 6 and 18 months old-—because younger than 6 months, there’s really no predictable expectation about their ability to put themselves to sleep. Some babies can do it, and some babies can’t. They’re not categorically supposed to-—some of them are just lucky. The other numbers that won my attention were the observational baseline set up before (or, rather, in complete isolation from, as there wasn’t any ″after″ mentioned) any baby-manipulation was conducted at all: 66% of babies, the researchers said, could already put themselves to sleep at 6 months old. By 12 months that was upwards of 85%; by 18 months something like 98%. Read another way, the magic numbers say this: if I don’t do a damn thing to ″teach″ her anything, there’s only a 2% chance that Evanny won’t have simply grown into being able to put herself to sleep by the time she’s 1 ½—and only a 33% chance that she won’t figure it out on her own in the next 3 months.

So the incentive to stand by her crib, or crouch in the hallway, or sit downstairs pulling my hair out while she shrieks and chokes on her own furious, frightened saliva in the interest of being ″trained″ to do something she’s almost guaranteed to grow into when she’s ready anyway seems, well, non-existent. She doesn’t need to be trained. She needs to be loved and lived with, and she’ll learn to put herself sleep. When she’s ready. Just like the rest of the 98% of all other babies in the world (you know, the ones without medical conditions, like her cousin’s alignment problem that caused stabbing headaches when she was put down to sleep-—as soon as the baby chiropractor cleared that up, Sophie started to learn how to sleep). For now, she’ll sometimes fall asleep in the sling, rocked by the motion of me puttering around the house or swaying in front of the computer screen (propped up on a shelf so as to be at a reasonable height), she’ll sometimes fall asleep being danced on my or Daddy’s shoulder, she’ll sometimes fall asleep like now, on the pillow in my lap where she was nursing, she’ll sometimes fall asleep rocked in my arms beside the bassinet, and she’ll sometimes fall asleep lying beside me, nursing in the dark, as a prequel to a ninja-like relocation into her bed. She’ll sometimes be put in her crib for a while when I need to do things with two hands, and maybe sometime soon she’ll even fall asleep there again (like she did when groggy from her first set of shots), or maybe not. Yet. Until she’s ready.

And that, I’m realizing, is okay with me, although I wish I were better at managing it in ways that didn’t leave her Daddy totally frustrated by an end-of-the-day cranky baby he feels powerless to assuage, because that makes him feel rotten, and then I feel guilty and nobody’s happy until the post-feed ninja-transfer. I’m even, to some degree, prepared to roll with the filth part (especially since my Dad just bought us some new pots & pans, so we can still make dinner even when nobody gets to the dishes). Today, Evanny has spent a lot of time sleeping on me: recovering from the excitement of her Lola’s visit and resting up for the excitement of having her brother around on the weekend. My favorite part was the while she spent curled into my left arm with her head turned towards me, her breath against my neck, her nearest hand curled into my chest just below my collarbone, the other flung over my shoulder, while I turned my face into hers, pressing my forehead against the top of her head, breathing into her space with her, while my hair fell across the gap, edging in a cave to keep us warm together.

She’s only going to be such a Very Small Mammal for a very little while; it’s literally only a matter of months until she never again fits into these spaces, until my body can only be near hers, but will never contain hers, not even in only limbs, ever again. ″You grew again,″ I told her this morning. ″Just look at your gigantic fingers. Where did my little tiny baby-hands go?″ ″Gone forever,″ my mother said. And in only a little time, frustrating baby sleep habits, and her need for physical intervention, will be gone forever too. And if, contrary to probability, she becomes a little kid who, at 3, still needs to be nursed to fall asleep at night, there are worse ways to snuggle a little one to sleep (we were still both crawling into Caleb’s bed for a bedtime snuggle at 4, and the reason it switched to a littler while with one parent instead was because his loft bed isn’t big or sturdy enough for us all to be in), and her Daddy is skilled enough at ninja-transfers that I’ve known him to get an unconscious 4-year-old up a narrow ladder and into said loft-bed asleep, so I’m really not that worried about it. (Although still too obviously affected by the guilt of how it’s making Daddy crazy, as evinced by the row we had about it last night, wherein I stomped out into the snow in my socks, demonstrating how very good I am at this whole zen business… or at least demonstrating how very far I’ve got to go!) We’ll (eventually, wet socks and all) find ways, together, and not only is everybody going to come out of Evanny’s babyhood just fine, but if we’re lucky we’ll learn, all of us, no small number of forever-lessons about strong reeds bending in the wind and waves along the way.

I will be rocks, I will be water.
I will leave this to my daughter:
Lift your head up in the wind;
when you feel yourself grow colder,
wrap the night around your shoulders,
and I will be with you, even then

–Deb Talan, “Rocks and Water”

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2 responses

5 01 2013
Cris

I’m so happy. This. This, my dear, is love. You’ve got it nailed. Screw the so-called research and do what your heart knows is right. Love that little one and her brother and their father and yourself… and the rest will just take care of itself. I have happy tears for your discovery and zenning. =) YAY, you!

7 01 2013
Megan

I haven’t finished reading yet but I had to put in right now. That snuggled up in your arms feeling? Enjoy every second that you can of it because it really doesn’t last long. Ciaran is only 1 and we still bed share but he no longer sleeps on my chest/shoulder with that limp abandon of his 3 month old self. One year olds are a ton of fun but I really do miss those moments.

And congratulations on your most important mommy milestone. Do what works for you and Ev and let the rest of the world spin on its own axis. I actually very intentionally never ask my parent friends how their baby sleeps because I know that they probably are A) sick of the question and B) will likely feel judged by whatever totally normal acceptable answer they give. If they bring it up I may commiserate but I see no good in bringing up the subject.

Good Luck and snuggle that cute baby for me.

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