Sleep with a child- regardless of age, it seems- is an elusive beast. I keep waiting. Waiting for it to level out. To find the magic combination of structure, security, or any other number of variables. To stop blaming myself for rough sleep nights.
I have started a post about sleep before. So this is clearly not a new struggle for me. It’s about 700 words. Which probably doesn’t mean much to most of you- it didn’t mean a thing to me until I started on this writing journey. Though I did have an introduction to assessing writing by word count through my ex-husband and our writing group. Funny aside, I was very clear with said writing group that I wasn’t a writer, just an avid reader. I never would have guessed that I would be over a year into writing my own blog. And even still- I don’t see myself as a writer.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the point. Sleep. Babies and sleep. Toddlers and sleep. Preschoolers and sleep. Do any of them do it?! Every time I read the sleep book and “train” my son, we hit a magical stride. Weeks, even months may pass and we both get glorious amounts of sleep. And then a sneaky ninja comes under the cover of night and runs us off track. Steals our sleep. Causes me to question my ability- my sanity.
I determined, shortly after Moose’s first birthday, that sleep training was a myth. That there was nothing I could do to control nocturnal repetition with my tiny human. Basically, I threw my hands in the air out of frustration and feeling utterly unprepared to care for this dictator I molded in my belly. Now, almost two years later, I thought I had found the middle, after surviving the pendulum swinging wildly in the opposite direction.
Sleep is such a tricky and sensitive subject. All questions about your offspring’s circadian rhythm feel like a judgment. “Is he sleeping through the night yet?” I hated that question. I had to stifle the same response the bubbled into my throat every time I received it. With bitter tones, I wanted to spat “He hates sleep. I’m so very tired. I’m failing, clearly.” Obviously, I recognized the irrational nature of such a response. I’ve never said it. Instead, I smile with worry in my eyes, “Most of the time”.
Pulling myself and my emotion from the scenario, I recognize that the questions are innocent. The suggestions always with good intention. The individual merely attempting to connect with another person. To engage in my life. In my struggle. In my joy. I hate to admit this, but I struggle with this realization with most interactions, not just sleep related. My own demons isolating me- disconnecting me from those that just want to help. That love me. Because I take all questions, observations, and suggestions as a personal affront- a commentary on my inability to mother properly. A declaration that I am making all of the wrong choices. That I’m not enough.
I begin a lot of posts in my head. While I’m driving., laying in bed, or on a run (before it got cold and dark early and I had the perfect excuse to slack off). A lot of them fizzle out. They don’t get past a few sentences, so they don’t coalesce into anything that gets published. Others kind of burrow into my brain until I finally get the words out via my fingertips. I tell you this to set the stage.
I am sleep training Moose. Again. It’s the seventh circle of hell and I get the joy of revisiting it at least biannually. The joys of two separate houses, four separate caregivers, and a really stubborn toddler.
So it’s 2:45 am. Moose has been up since 2- but I followed the rules. I laid in bed and listened to him cry. I timed it. Time seems to slow to an unnatural pace when he is crying. So I timed it- each excruciating second.
Ten minutes of crying
I get out of bed, pad into his room, pat his back. Calm him. Leave.
Twelve more minutes of crying.
Do it all over again. Trying not to cry myself or lose my sanity.
By the time he started crying “mommy” in the distinct way that tears at my soul, I determined that this was a situation that didn’t fit into the guidelines of the book. So I did the cardinal sin- I took him out of bed. I picked him up, he snuggled his face into my shoulder and wrapped his arms around my neck. A reflexive response on his part- one that comforts me as much as it does him.
As I rocked him, I started the narrative in my head. Sorting out the lines of a post about how I worry I am doing everything wrong. How I am jealous of the parents that have kids that slept through the night with no trouble. The ones that seem to have all the answers. The ones that appear to have it easy.
The ludicrous nature of that thought sort of snapped me back to reality. No parent has it easy. We have different struggles, but it isn’t easy. None of this is easy. And everything can be second guessed or laced with guilt. At least I can. That may be my superpower.
So I sat in the dark, Moose’s curls tickling my nose, the soothing sound of the rocking chair on the hardwood floor. I quieted my mind. I put the guilt down. I reconciled that second guessing my decision to comfort Moose when he was in pain (teething really is a never ending blast) wasn’t going to help anyone- especially me. There are no clear cut answers- no book that can give you the solution to all situations. If it did, toddlers would never have meltdowns. Parents would never wake in the middle of the night. There wouldn’t be so many different ways to parent. There is something to intuition and knowing the differences in cries.
I realized that I followed the process that was the best way to suss out if I was needed. I determined I was. Trusting my instincts allowed me to see the situation differently- the beauty of it. The wonder in being able to sooth him. Calm him with my embrace. Right now, “mommy” is synonymous with solace.
One day his problems will be bigger than teething or growing pains. His tumbles won’t be solved by my kiss or a quick snuggle. Rocking him in my arms won’t abolish the monsters in his world. One day, I will be powerless to mend him when he cries- for his hurts will mature as he does. He will endure his first heartbreak. His first crushing disappointment. Fears that no one can solve. I won’t be able to rid his world of those experiences. I will be incapable of healing the wounds. But today, I can. I can rock him to ease his burden- sooth him.
I worry a lot about his emotional health. I think that is why sleep training can be so daunting at times. I worry that I am failing him in his moment of need. That I am inadvertently teaching him that his needs don’t matter. That his emotions are inconsequential. To become too self reliant. That I will cause him to become me.
I am walking the tightrope of teaching him that I am here and that there are instances that he can sooth himself. That he doesn’t always need me. That he doesn’t always get what he wants- instead he gets what he needs.
As I write this and process it through, I realize that I am laying the bricks. The bedrock of our relationship. He may not always get what he wants. He may be disappointed by my response sometimes. But when he really needs me- I will be there. I pray that when he has his first heartbreak- though I will not be able to assemble the pieces of his heart back together for him- he will still come to me and weep in my arms. I pray he will always know my embrace as a place of comfort- even if they cannot right the wrong or heal the aching.
I write this from a mind that is fatigued. Eyes that are heavy. A body that gets weary. But a heart filled with the best intentions. And sometimes, a road paved with good intentions is the best kind. I have said it before, this gig is hard. I will make mistakes. I am sure I have made plenty so far. But if “mommy” or “mom” continues to stay synonymous with comfort, I am doing a whole lot right.