Sleep on it: Catching Guilt-free Z’s
“I was just suckered by an ‘I dropped my soother’ maneuver. What.. did my daughter read The Art of War before bed time tonight?”
As soon as I send the tweet I feel a tsunami-sized wave of guilt. Ugh. Note to self.. cynicism – even if it fleshes out the bass undertones of humour – cannot quell the guilt that a mom feels when she vocalizes anything other than intense love and pride for her child.
Right now Vee’s angelic cries of ‘Mama’ are ripping a hole in my heart. I have had to put a wall between us, and a bedroom door that I have closed to no avail. I am still in the throes of bedtime agony.
On the one hand I feel joy and a sense of methodic accomplishment when there is a break in the wailing. There is a flash glimmer of ‘this works!’ which is fast replaced by a sense of dismal grief… Am I teaching my baby to fall asleep by herself, or am I teaching her that no one will come when she needs them?
Her little voice is sounding out at less frequent intervals, and each time the silence brings another wave of joy ebbing to shame. Do I go? Do I stay? Am I scarring her? Am I lying to myself to reclaim some lost time for my ‘pre-baby self’? Or am I genuinely teaching her? Will she really learn that mommy will always come home, or be there in the morning?
Am I freeing her, or am I just freeing myself?
These questions make me feel lost, and incapable. My mother would be a great resource to talk to, but she is of the ‘rock-baby-to-sleep-until-puberty’ school of parenting and I can’t raise the issue without a bit of an argument.
The truth is – without wanting to park my problems at my mom’s door – I had terrible, crippling ‘home sickness’ until I was about 13 years old. It’s true. I sucked at sleepovers. You know that kid who would cry at 11pm and have their parents come pick them up? Yep. That was me. Except I was 11. And in grade 8 already.
I couldn’t make it through a month of camp. I visited family in Europe and wrote melancholy letters, begging to come home. I pined away the days wishing fervently for the sense of belonging, comfort, familiarity, and love that my family brought with it. I always wanted to go ‘home’ but I never once thought to be in the moment or enjoy the experiences and people that life was putting in my path. (Or in the Europe case, my parent’s 3rd mortgage.)
I know there were a million and one factors that contributed to the neuroses-riddle kid that I was, but I can’t help but feel like if I earn my daughter’s basic trust now, and weather the screaming, that it actually is for the best.
I may hate myself in the process, and she might too, but I know that she will not be afraid to spread those wings, and see the world. Or sleep in a tree-house, or at a backyard campout. She will not be paralyzed from fear because she is sleeping on an unfamiliar pullout couch, and she will not convince herself that while she is away, her parents have met some terrible, gory end, which somehow is her fault. Hmm. Maybe I should dig up my therapist’s number again..
I never learned how to put myself to sleep. I need my laptop. My iPod Touch. The TV. Music. Audiobooks. The nightlight. I have convinced myself I am nocturnal just to avoid dealing with the situation. Luckily, motherhood was an intervention in its own right. I still have tons of sleep issues, but I’ve realized that my insomnia is purely conditioned. And while I’m not blaming anyone but myself for this, I do think that starting to instill Vee now with these tools, is a big step.
Motherhood makes us take risks. I have no real experience with Pavlovian response (aside from drooling every time I see a margarita), but my heart tells me that if I work with my baby to give her a new skill, she can only thrive and flourish.
The crying has stopped and I silently will the world to stop adhering to its noisy laws of physics while I open the doorknob and peak through to her crib. She is smiling in her sleep and I feel an unexpected tightness in my throat.
‘Good night, Honey Girl’, I whisper as I retrace my steps out of her room on my tiptoes.
‘Mama’ she says, still sleeping, still smiling. And my heart soars.