The following is my contribution for last Friday.
When I was preparing for parenthood, I had all these theories and ideas about what kind of parent I would be and how I would handle certain situations. I think this is probably a universal trend. What mother in the world has not said, about one thing or another, “My child will never do that” or “I will never allow such and such in my house.” Yeah. I’d venture to say one of the biggest issues that we expound on before the little bundle arrives is sleep. Specifically, sleeping quarters, sleeping times, and that loaded and half-cocked gun, sleep training.
I have to interrupt myself for a moment, because I have this picture in my head of a bunch of moms in warm-up suits with whistles a-blowing, stomping around on a field teeming with crib-bound babies in various states: some are screaming, some are cooing at their mobiles, some are swaddled, some are flailing–and some are actually asleep. Because isn’t that the way it is? You can read all the manuals and employ every mother’s tried and true method, but ultimately it’s all about your individual baby. My baby is a champion sleeper who sings herself to sleep around 10:30 every night and sleeps in until after 10 every morning. You’d better believe I’m counting my blessings, because I know my next child could be up at the crack of dawn. Like, wide awake and ready to–gulp–start the day. But I digress.
One of those things I said I’d never do was keep Mia in my room at night. I did, of course. It was the first of many hearty servings of crow that I would (will) eat. She slept in one of those little sleeping boxes right in my bed until she was too long for it, and then she slept in the bassinet insert of the pack-and-play until she could roll over, and then she slept in the bottom of the pack-and-play. I kept inventing deadlines for her relocation, but then, at the last minute, I would move the deadline back. There was always some reason, some logic I could offer should someone ask me why (no one ever did), but the real reason I kept to myself: when she was a foot away from my bed I could hear her breathing. There is no more powerful sound than the pattern of her inhalation and exhalation, no sweeter music. I needed it close to me. It soothed me, and not in a calming-spa-relaxation kind of way. In an “Oh my god, is she still alive?!” kind of way. It was best that I didn’t have far to travel for confirmation.
But I knew it couldn’t last. I knew she needed the comfort of her own bed, her own room, her own space. She likes her crib and enjoys looking at the things in her room, and that’s as it should be in my opinion. So I set about establishing a new deadline. My aunt Mary’s July visit was a perfect opportunity, because I was giving her my room, so on the day of her arrival I folded up the pack-and-play and put it away. I inflated my air mattress and placed it on the floor next to the crib. I put Mia to bed that night and waited for a protest that never came. It was that simple. She was ready. I would have to adjust. And I did.
I’ve come a long way since then. I missed her closeness for a long time, but now I rather like having my space back. Sure, I still get up during the night to hear the breathing, and sure, I bring her to bed with me on the weekends after the early morning bottle, but we have a peaceful sleeping arrangement and it works for us. I am never so sure of how well it works for us until, because of travel or company, we have to share a room again.
When Mia was a tiny baby I put her to bed asleep. As she got older and more aware of her surroundings (read: easily distracted and more reluctant to just go to sleep because it was time to do so), I put her to bed awake at around the same time every night and, much to my smug delight, she would coo or fuss a little, or rarely, cry for a few minutes, and then she would fall asleep all by herself and stay that way all night long. See above re: my next baby will never sleep, ever. Nowadays she is awake every night when I put her to bed, and while she expresses in no uncertain terms that she’d really rather stay in my room at catch a few reruns of “Will and Grace*,” she gets over it quickly with the help of her aquarium and groovy ceiling nightlight. But when we are sleeping in someone else’s house or, God forbid, in a hotel room, and she is a strange pack-and-play, and she can SEE ME RIGHT THERE NEXT TO HER, all bets are off. Which is why, during our stay at my dad’s over Thanksgiving, the kid and I did not sleep much.
Were she not my kid, and just someone I was assigned to room with, I would have included the following in my letter of complaint to the establishment:
- tenant would not stop staring at me
- tenant threw things at me in an effort to get my attention
- tenant babbled loudly, and even screamed at times
- tenant continuously kicked the side of her bed, causing my bed to shake
- tenant smelled
Which brings me to my point. When you share a room with a baby for almost 7 months you get used to things–sounds, movements, smells. They become part of the sleeping experience, part of the background. You just don’t notice them after a while. Fast forward four months. The background changes. You get used to the absence of certain things. Like being stared at from a short distance, and weird odors. That which used to be the norm is now a reason to wake suddenly from a deep sleep, sit up in the semi-darkness, inhale deeply, and say to the small figure whose face is pressed firmly into the mesh of the nearby pack-and-play and who has probably been staring at you for some time, “It smells like poop in here.”**
I used to sleep through passing trains, low-flying airplanes, the sounds of the dirt racetrack near my granparents’ house. Now smells wake me. Having a baby really does change everything.
*TV is another plate of crow I’ve had to eat. I vowed never to have it on while Mia was in the room, but that didn’t last. She doesn’t really watch TV, but now she is in love with those pink cow creatures and Elmo, and she will stop whatever she is doing and dance to the “Reba” theme song.
**My kid never, ever poops in the middle of the night. I’m pretty sure she was expressing her opinion about the sleeping arrangements, which, as you might have gathered, did not meet with her approval.