I let M cry herself to sleep this month. It was both hard and easy, if that’s even possible. Co-sleeping hadn’t been working for weeks. I’d noticed she slept more peacefully during the day, alone, than she did next to me at night. A couple times during her naps it had taken me longer to get to her than it did to put herself back to sleep. I’d seen she could do it. I was also starting to lose my mind with the number of wakings each night. I know it’s a season, but something needed to change.
So, the first night I ate ice cream on the kitchen counter as I watched the clock. Maybe that sounds cold, but I was self-soothing, too. 25 minute crying spells punctuated by periods of sleep. By midnight I reassessed my goals. We wouldn’t do the whole night, just bedtime. My nerves were frayed and I missed my baby. The next night 9 minutes, the following just 30 seconds. Now bedtime is, dare I say it, easy.
Still, I nurse her twice a night and sometimes fall back asleep with her in my bed until she starts to climb my head again and remind me why co-sleeping wasn’t working. If I had it my way, we’d sweetly snuggle in deep slumber all night long. Ha. Instead we dance between her travel crib and my bed, listening to the intensity of her needs. And, this is a huge improvement, as we both now sleep for actual stretches of time, and many wakings she puts herself back to sleep.
Maybe we’ll focus on removing one of those remaining feedings next, but for now we’ll catch our breaths and just be happy for the easy bedtimes and respective moments of independence. A friend reminded me it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. After all, they call it baby steps for a reason.
Month nine has reminded me how every child and parent relationship is different. I especially realize this now, as we navigate our own middle ground, carving our path that doesn’t match any particular sleep training plan beyond our own.
I’m also reminded how childhood is a state of perpetual change, of togetherness and letting go. Her sister declared her own independence this month, without any forethought, and now sleeps soundly in her room. My heart aches a little to let them both go in these small ways, but I’m confident it’s time.
She’s obsessed with the idea of forever lately. “Can I keep you forever?” is her daily, heart-wrenching request. Three and a half years, and eight months. If I could keep them forever, I would. The first time she asked, I cried silently in the darkness of our shared bedroom. It was time for sleep and I was thankful she couldn’t see my tears.
Now as we settle into our new home, I just want time to stand still. Eight months have escaped through my fingers, despite my whole-hearted desire to hold on tight. The first time, those baby months moved slowly. The second I can hardly believe I’m already chasing a wiggly body across the floor.
In April, we found out we had to move. We knew it was a temporary home, but a new baby had me more deeply nested than I ever expected. As I stood on the front porch in my pajamas, reading the notice in sleep-deprived disbelief, I felt cheated.
My baby was not even three months old and all I wanted to do was snuggle and drink her in. We were finally finding our groove as a family of four and the last thing I wanted to do was spend a month of my life packing all our worldly belongings and looking for a new place to live. Even the little strawberries E tended outside our front door pulled at my heart, tears when I saw they’d finally ripened for her the day after all our stuff had been moved.
Little did I know it was exactly the push we needed.
A couple years ago I drew a picture. Four stick people stood happy in front of a simple home with two dogs, a large garden, and chickens. The smallest stick figure was a baby I didn’t know yet. A baby we had yet to create. Nearby I drew a Waldorf school. In my mind I was drawing a life somewhere far away. Oregon, maybe. I had no idea this would all come together just 15 minutes down the road.
Around the same time we started packing, a sweet friend found out she had to move for her husband’s job. I’d loved their huge backyard and an idea hit me—maybe we could buy their house if the timing worked out. Shyly I texted her and then kept on packing. It was then I found the picture, long forgotten, but still very much alive in my subconscious.
And, sure enough, all the pieces came together. We lived with family for a few months while we waited and then moved into exactly the house I’d drawn years before. Even the mysterious fourth family member had materialized, the Waldorf school, and the chickens. To add to the magic, my friend told me her daughter had started praying for E months before we even knew we had to move. I think her prayers helped bring us here.
Sometimes life feels too good to be true. I always get nervous when I have this feeling, like if I start breathing again I’ll wake up from the dream. So as her sister asks if we can stay forever, my heart aches a little. We’re in a sweet spot right now, even as the outside world seems to crumble around us.
Month eight and she says, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” in her little baby voice, again and again. I don’t know how she’s gotten so big already, but then I look at her sister and know how quickly everything changes. If I could really keep them both forever, I would.
She sleeps in her big red stroller as we navigate the city crosswalks. I’ve learned to look ahead for curbs so I know where I’ll be able to get off and on the sidewalk before the walking man stops blinking and the cars swarm every inch of available asphalt.
Navigating San Francisco’s streets was much easier when I didn’t have two kids. Now the cursing bums, racing cars, and excrement-ridden streets present a gauntlet obstacle course. Her big sister stops to pick up leaves and I cringe at what might be on her hands. A bath is definitely in order.
We cross the path of a homeless woman drinking a forty. She has no hair and her makeup is thick, as though she performed on stage all week and didn’t bother to wash it off. She mumbles something about E being cute. E stops and looks her in the eyes, curious. I nudge her along but she sees something in the woman.
“You’re so pretty,” she says with complete wonder, as if she’s looking at an entirely different person than the rest of us see, if we even bother to glance her direction at all. I’m certain she’s the only one to look this woman in the eyes all day.
The woman stares back, speechless.
“She thinks you’re pretty,” I say as I pull E down the street to keep pace with her dad, who is pushing the stroller. After years of living in Berkeley, we know better than to let our children visit unfamiliar homeless people.
“You’re really pretty!” E yells from a few yards down the street, her eyes still glued to the woman despite being dragged the other direction.
I’m touched but also a little heartbroken. There’s no good way to explain to a three-year-old why she can’t stop and talk to this woman. Homelessness and mental illness are among the concepts that must wait, at least for now.
Last week my sister’s boyfriend had to put his dog down and E overheard us talking about it. Since then we’ve fielded a barrage of questions about life and death and who can possibly make the dog’s heart work again. She wants to believe doctors can fix all hearts. And, hearts, of course, are the magical secret to what keeps us alive. Adding homelessness to the list of big life ideas just feels like too much right now.
The rest of the weekend in the city passes without much drama. We get smarter and avoid long walks through the CBD. I’m acutely aware of how suburban we’ve become and how sheltered our children are already, but I prefer it this way, while they’re this little.
We order room service and enjoy the calm of our hotel room, fourteen stories up. The girls do their own thing while we eat and it’s as peaceful a dinner as I can remember in the last three years. The next day we go to the Academy of Sciences and M sleeps most of the time as her sister runs and explores, chasing real birds on the lawn outside and hiding from pretend earthquakes in the simulator.
For dinner, we decide to be brave and try a restaurant two blocks from our hotel. It’s the kind of place we would’ve picked before we had children. Stellar reviews, seven tables, authentic Italian cuisine. It also promises minimal street time and the possibility of sitting through a real, grown-up meal. Our first, alone, as a family of four.
We start off strong with M asleep in the carrier and E still in good spirits, a miracle really after such a busy day. I ignore the older woman at the table by the door, who loudly announces this isn’t a place she’d bring children. We’re not talking five star gourmet. This is a quaint, hole in the wall on a busy street. We’re not the only family present.
M awakens after the first course and is all smiles. A relief, we just might make it through a whole meal! Then the waiter delivers the pizza and she sticks her little fingers straight into the hot dough and starts wailing. There’s no coming back. We get doggie bags and finish our meal in our room, a funny memory for later, despite my present disappointment. To console ourselves, we order two huge, but sadly mediocre, pieces of cake from room service.
Our first adventure to the city ends and we lie awake in bed at home, talking. E is sad to leave the castles, insistent we should’ve stayed forever. Out of nowhere, she finishes the evening with a sort of revelation.
“You know that woman I said was pretty, Mommy?”
“She could’ve saved N’s dog.”
“What do you mean?”
“She was special, Mommy.”
An angel, perhaps? Or maybe just the excellent imagination of a three-year-old.
We’ll probably never know, but it’s a story I plan to keep for always. M six months old, a happy observer of this miraculous, crazy world, and E, almost 3.5 years, already throwing herself into the complex mystery of it all. I fall asleep between my two little loves, grateful to be in my own bed.
Instead of keeping a regular baby book for the girls, I’ve started compiling my written memories for them, including these posts. I’m catching up today on both three months and three years.
Oh, little Miriam. The more I get to know you, the more I discover your joy. You laugh and smile with such ease. You love watching your sister play with toys. You’re happiest facing out to the world. You move your body to show us how eager you are to jump off our laps and run around.
The mom guilt has been more real this time. With your sister, I only had to focus on her. Now I have you both and feel bad I don’t spend more time just sitting and holding you. But you don’t seem to mind. You love your swing and activity mat. You’re happy cuddled up against me while we sleep.
At first I tried to fight you into your own space at night, but I’ve decided to embrace the closeness because we often don’t get that same time when the sun is out. Still, I try my best to give you little moments throughout the day. Maybe that’s why you wake up at 5AM, so we get to be alone together. Thank goodness you seem so content. Getting to know you is a gift.
Three months, already.
Three Years (a couple months late)
One of the best afternoons of my life was also one of the simplest. A few weeks before M arrived, E and I went to the park with Grandma. It was an unusually warm January day and while Grandma basked in the sun, E and I went looking for worms in the swollen creek.
We’d just finished one of the biggest rain storms in recent memory and everything was alive and flowing. Instead of worrying about what needed to happen next, I allowed time to stretch endlessly before us. We turned over every rock we could find, we poked our sticks into the creek bed, and we laughed. She held my hand and I did my best to squat with my pregnant belly beside her, again and again.
After months of working five days a week, this was exactly the afternoon I needed. Weekends while working were filled with to-do’s and I’d missed those days where we just spent time together, exploring and seeing the world through new eyes. As we drove home from the park, I cried bittersweet tears because I knew it was the last time we’d have those moments alone, before her sister arrived. Sure, we’d still have our solo dates, but life would never be exactly the same as it was in that moment, just the two of us.
Three years old has been a flurry of moments, some incredibly intense, others undeniably sweet. From being told “You’re the greatest, greatest mommy!” to what seems like mere minutes later receiving angry commands to go my room, I can attest the term “threenager” isn’t entirely in jest. Still, my love for her only grows as she’s better able to articulate her thoughts and I get to know her even better each day.
E is out with Grandma and M is asleep in her swing. It’s hard to put her down but there’s more to get done these days than there was with her sister. I’m slowly accepting that second children spend a little more time on their own.
The attachment parenting voice in my head says I should hold her against me while I write, but the realist tells me to save the babywearing for when I need it, for when the dishes are piling up or I have to chase her sister. Besides, she’s peacefully asleep over there.
Everything has felt easier this time around, except for the division of attention. M receives a little less than her sister did, and E has to learn to share. A friend reminded me E got to be the only child for almost three years. M will always have to share me. Somehow this makes me feel better when one of the girls has to wait.
There’s definitely more waiting happening around here. Thankfully E’s always happy to see her sister, even if she isn’t always happy to see me. I don’t mind, I’d rather receive the blame for the changes. Still, I’ve shed a few tears, alone in my room, remembering how we slept snuggled against each other until just a few days before her sister arrived. It doesn’t help that she still calls for me in the dark, sometimes screaming, others crying. She wants me to sleep next to her, but I can’t.
Instead, I spend my nights doing the newborn shuffle. Nursing and diapers and little blocks of sleep. M is still working on the difference between night and day. Sometimes she doesn’t settle in for a good stretch of sleep until the wee hours of the morning. The sleep deprivation is finally catching me, the cumulative affect of just four broken hours of sleep a night. Forget napping when the baby naps. I have a big girl running around this house.
That’s the thing, though. To someone who has never had children, it all sounds so challenging. I know because I used to be that person and hear these stories and think, “Oh, God, how will I ever survive that?” But you do, and with a smile on your face, most of the time.
I’m falling more in love with M each day. It wasn’t the same ripped open, crazy, knock you over feeling I had with E, but I’m certain that’s because this time I’d already transformed into a mom. With M, it’s a deep, familiar love, like it’s been there all along and each day I get the joy of rediscovering it a little more. I’d worried I couldn’t possibly love someone as much as E, but now I know you can’t compare the love for your children. It’s different, but no more or less than the other.
One month in, I still can’t believe I’m going on this adventure again. I’m doing my best to fill them both with enough love and attention. I know it’s enough, it’s just an adjustment.