The internet is wierd, strange, and cool. Here I am with a five, nine, and twelve year old, but somewhere out there someone is reading my post from way back when I was nursing a two-year old through the night. When a person comments on that post from three years ago I am obliged to re-read it and return a comment. In that process I re-visit who I was at that time and what I was focusing on. And, of course, it's usually something that does me good to hear once more.
The Universe is so clever that way.
The old post I speak of is called Not a Baby Anymore and it's about continuing to nurse my not-baby through the night even though my back hurt and I wasn't getting enough sleep. It's about making the choice to lean into my own strength and the strength of loving my girl instead of making a different choice that I don't feel good about.
It's timely in a strange sense because that little girl who was nursing through those long nights and putting my body and mind to the test still sleeps with me and still inspires me to dig deeper into myself. These days she doesn't nurse - though she desperately wishes she still did! - but she does take two million and seventy five years to fall asleep.
I lie with her anyway.
Sometimes I fall asleep even if she doesn't. When I wake up a bit later, Echo then is asleep but I am a groggy mess. I come downstairs, determined to grab some adult-time, looking like and feeling like a crabby train wreck. Other times I coax gently and sweetly, helping Echo to remember to close her eyes. I sing songs and guide her through meditations. And just as often I totally lose my shit and watch her eyes like a hawk, springing out at her with sharp, not-sleep-inducing verbal jabs: Close your eyes!....Close your eyes!... Close your eyes! Then she cries and we have to process and make up and another hour slips into the night. It often takes over an hour.
On those nights I stumble downstairs like a wilted train wreck with a still revving engine. I cry at Nathan and despair. I look at the clock and see that it's basically already my own bedtime. Then I whine and say things like, It isn't fair! Even though I'm pretty sure there isn't a Great Arbitrator in the sky doling out fair or unfair scenarios.
Then the next night I snuggle in again with Echo, determined to see her into sleepland, determined to be the kind of mom that does this, determined to be the kind of person that finds the strength to love even more at even greater lengths.
A couple days ago Echo found a Hello Kitty sleeping mask at the Goodwill. So for the last three nights bedtime has been swift and peaceful. The novelty of that mask has usurped all other rituals. There have been no songs, no back rubs, no meditations, no close-your-eyes admonishments. She simply pulls that fake satin cat face over her own and it's light out.
Three nights! Now I'm not fool enough to think this will go on forever. I know that one night the mask will feel scratchy, or that Echo will want to tell me about an important idea or that something will inspire a more lengthy bedtime. So I stayed there in bed, enjoying the quickness of her sleep and thought about it all.
From the outside it looks like I am a devoted mother. At least it looks this way to folks who think/parent like I do. To others, from the outside, I look like a crazy zealot - a hairy arm-pit, attachment hippie. And I know on the spectrum of parenting styles I do belong over there on that hippie end. But more specifically what I mean is that I (and others) describe extended nursing and co-sleeping and babywearing and all those other things as good for the baby. And they are! I imagine Echo's brain seriously flourishing, multiplying it's cells and other smarty-stuff like crazy, but even though I know it's true, it's not why I do any of this. Or its only partly why.
The secret motivating factor is me. None of this is self-sacrificing. It is all about me.
When folks say: You need a break! or, It's important to have a life outside of your kids! or, You've got to take care of yourself too you know! I only smile because all of this intensive parenting is for me.
It isn't just that I notice that Echo doesn't reach for my hand every time we walk together these days.
Instead of the instant and instinctual folding of her little hand into mine she's walking and talking and jumping and using pockets and picking up rocks. She isn't right there in my body space anymore. She spends a good part of the night sprawled in her own dream word, not even near me. Yes, the nights where she is tangled in my hair and has both legs thrown over mine still happen. Yes, the evenings where it takes her an hour and a half to fall asleep and I lie there stewing still happen (All the time!). But they won't always. She won't always be little and near me.
My family stock lives past their nineties, so even if Echo stays with us and holds our hands until she is twenty I will have FORTY YEARS of a child-free home, a child-free lifestyle. I will have FORTY YEARS to go to the movies instead of reading stories and waiting for signs of sleep. I will have FORTY YEARS of all of that. I am not in a hurry to get there now. Now, when the hands are still little and the house is full of stuffed animals and scuffs on the wall. Now is the time to endure thirty minutes of a kid reluctantly falling asleep because this is the only time in my life where that is going to happen.
(And if I don't have all these many more years to live, if I am meant to die tomorrow, I damn sure am going to help my daughter fall asleep tonight. No matter how long it takes.)
But it's not just that. It's not just that I like this time of children and I don't want to shove it along with irritation. I also like liking myself.
Being the mother I want to be, reaching for the goal of who I prefer to be, even when the kid is screaming or unlikeable, even when it's nine-thirty and I'd rather be eating chocolate and watching Downton Abbey, even when there is a birthday party at night and I'm not going to go, is the most self-loving thing I have ever done in my life.
I love being who I want to be.