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.
Each morning as the sun rises, I feel her little body start to squirm beside me. Soft, chubby hands pat against my back, followed by stubborn, kicking feet. I stay still for a few minutes, hoping she’ll settle to sleep again. If she doesn’t, I reach over and place the palm of my hand against her belly to try to will her back to dreamland with my touch.
Sometimes it works.
More often than not, she starts to coo and giggle, ready to meet the morning with joyful predictability. She smiles wide when we first lock eyes, knowing she has won and the day has officially begun. I quickly pull her to me and skitter out of the room to protect those still sleeping. Our bedroom has become a family space and I’m enjoying the closeness while it lasts.
The six o’clock hour belongs to just the two of us. I practice yoga on the floor while she puts every ounce of will into learning how to crawl. Occasionally she’ll get her legs just right and inchworm a couple inches forward. Mostly she just wiggles and yells, upset it isn’t coming more easily, determined to learn to move like her big sister. No sooner do I roll her onto her back for a break than she flips right back over to try again.
Finally she grows tired and I put her in a carrier to help her fall back to sleep for a cat nap. I write while she slumbers and then somehow, she and her sister both wake up at precisely the same moment, even in separate rooms. They see each other and her whole body moves in excitement. Our morning together is done and my early bird is ready to play with my lazy daisy.
Five months and already so animated, so wiggly, so smiley, and so determined. Everyone wants to hold her at parties, enchanted by her happy demeanor and thick, dark curls. A happy baby and those curls, everyone remarks, again and again. Five months and I’m starting to get glimpses of the person my early bird will become, and I couldn’t adore her more.
I worried, maybe because that’s what moms do. I forgot how my love for her sister intensified with time, a cumulative effect. Instead I looked back on three years and saw all the moments condensed together into one sensation in my heart.
So, the second time around, I expected to feel it all at once. The depth, the overwhelm, the obsession. When I was greeted instead with a familiar warmth, I thought maybe I was missing out on something earth shaking.
I asked everyone with more than one kid whether the bonding was different the second time, whether it was easier to bond with their first. I felt guilty asking. I worried people would think I was suffering from postpartum depression and hadn’t bonded at all, even though, of course, there should be no shame in those struggles. But I didn’t want there to be any confusion. I loved her already, it just didn’t feel the same as I thought it should.
I came up with all kinds of hypotheses. Maybe it was the medicated birth. Perhaps it was my fault for jumping back into work so quickly or not asking for more help so I could lie in bed and stare at her. Or maybe it was just the distractions of trying to take care of so much more with two children.
What I didn’t consider was time. I’d forgotten how I’d spent every afternoon nursing her sister in bed in an effort to bond more. Or how after months of colic, I’d pulled her sister to my chest and wept because some unknown layer of myself had been cracked open and suddenly her screaming was a call to hold her even closer instead of drive me away.
All I’d initially remembered of our bonding the first time was the intensity of those first hours of motherhood, as I’d transformed through the rawness of it all. I expected to sit in our hospital suite and feel it all again in that same life changing way. However, I’d already become a mother this time. My entire being wasn’t altered as it had been with her sister. I mistook this for a difference in bonding, when really it was just a difference in myself. That particular magic only happens once.
Four months in and I finally feel as connected to M as I’d hoped I would in those first moments. I can’t get enough of her wiggles and giggles. She is already quite the talker and wants so badly to run around and play with her sister. I’ve gotten better at sitting still and being with her. The adrenaline has worn off and I’ve relaxed, for the most part, into being a mom of two. Sometimes I’m caught off guard by the enormity of getting to love another baby. Moments of happy disbelief as I realize I get to do it all again. An incredible opportunity. Another daughter to love with all my heart.