physical and emotional parenting

Mom made it safely back to Wisconsin, although her flights were delayed due to the stormy weather the midwest had been experiencing.  It was good to have her here, but it’s good to get back to normal again, too.  The fact that JJ will be gone for three days starting tomorrow night will make everything feel “off” again, but luckily it’s only three days; it will be over before I know it.  My goal for the time when JJ is gone is to get really, seriously rested.  No more of this going to bed after midnight (or later!) business.  My sleep and my health is a priority; my family depends on my being rested and healthy.

Along those lines, tonight I also decided to begin re-training Baby J as far as her sleep goes.  I need her to start sleeping better at night because not only do I go to bed far too late, she usually wakes me up twice at night, further exacerbating my lack of sleep.  In desperation (and again, because my parents were visiting and big sister was sleeping in the nursery), I have been bringing her into our bed for her nighttime feedings over the past few weeks, and then falling asleep with her between us.  Emotionally, I don’t mind doing that at all, but practically, I know that’s not a habit I want to instill in her.  So, hopefully now that everything is back to normal in our house, I can help her improve her sleeping.  Maybe her naps will finally straighten themselves out then, too.

She initially goes down to sleep at night without a peep, but she’s been developing this habit of waking up about an hour after she goes to sleep, once her pacifier falls out of her mouth.  When my parents were here, Lyd had to sleep in the same room with her baby sister, so at the first peep from the baby, I would rush upstairs to pop her nuk back into her mouth so that Lyd wouldn’t wake up.  But even before my parents arrived, I was doing that same thing, because Baby J was sick with her breathing problems, and I didn’t want her to unnecessarily cry.  I knew it wasn’t ideal, and I knew I was training her to wake up like that, but I also decided that it was the best choice under the circumstances.  However, she is now healthy, the grandparents have gone home, big sister has moved back into the guest room at night, so tonight — I let her cry.

Eee gads.  I HATE doing that!  The only way I could keep from rushing in there to stop her screaming was to sit in the next room on my bed with my copy of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” and read the sections that pertained to what I was attempting to do, reading encouragement from the author and stories from other parents who went through the same thing.  I also timed her crying by the clock, because I’ve learned that it often seems like they are crying for longer than they really are.  As it turned out, Baby J wailed heartbreakingly for about 25 minutes, was quiet for 3 minutes, absolutely screamed at the top of her lungs for 3 minutes more, and fell asleep.  It’s now been almost two hours since that, and she hasn’t made a peep.  I even checked in on her after she fell asleep, just to make sure she was really okay.  Every once and a while, she gets an arm or leg stuck between the bars of her crib, and she screams bloody murder when that happens, so I needed to assure myself that she wasn’t in that position again.  Luckily, she was fine, comfortably ensconced in the middle of her crib.  Whew!  Hopefully the next few nights will have even less crying, and I hope she’ll start sleeping until at least 3am before she wakes up to be fed.  That would be incredibly helpful to me.

I’ve been pondering my parenting of my oldest daughter lately.  It’s getting to a point, a good point, where I can see so clearly how my attitudes and actions and words directly affect her.  Parenting Baby J is pretty much purely physical at this point, but parenting Lyd is more and more about her emotional development.  It’s driving home what I already knew, namely that I have to always be conscious of my words and actions, intentional and unintentional, but lately, it’s hit me how much she absolutely wants to be like me.  It catches me by surprise, sometimes, because there’s still this small, self-esteem-challenged part of me that thinks, “Why would anyone want to be like ME?”  But my darling daughter, she feels none of that.  She wants to be just like me.  She wants to follow me wherever I go, and she gets very sad when I leave for work.  She literally wants to be wherever I am, and as she says, “Momma, I want to BE with you!”  She craves physical affection, and is constantly giving me hugs, kisses, zerberts, tickles, touches, and asking for those things in return more often than she used to.  She is a mass of emotions, and we deal with poutiness and orneriness on a daily basis.  But other times she will do exactly what I ask her right when I ask her to do it, and will be immensely proud of herself.  Humor goes a long way with her.  She frequently may not want to do what I ask her to do, but if I can make her giggle, it goes a long way towards making her willing to do it.

I guess I’m writing all this out because sometimes I feel so inadaquate as her mother.  I don’t know how I am ever going to successfully raise this girl to adulthood.  She has so many strong emotions (which, for those of you who know me, is a TOTAL SURPRISE, I’m sure!), and I sometimes think that since I still am not the best at dealing with my own emotions, how in the world will I help her deal with hers?  I love her so much, and yet her constant need to be with me all day long drives me bonkers at times!  But other times, like today, when she cried real, agonizing tears as she realized that her best friend is moving away and she’ll likely never see him again, I realize that this is her first experience with loss, and I need to help her navigate her emotions, even as I validate the fact that it’s okay and normal for her to feel this deep sadness.  Heavy stuff.

Sometimes I think that in trying to parent her, I’m also parenting myself, just a little bit.  Her weaknesses are my weaknesses, her strengths are my strengths.  I am awed and grateful to God for giving this daughter of mine to me.  Just as God is the one who brings people together in marriage, I believe God is also the one who matches children to parents.  I know that God sent JJ and I exactly the right child for us in our eldest daughter.  She is just what we needed, and he will give us the gifts and patience and wisdom necessary to parent her.  I know I am growing from this experience, growing in ways I never thought possible.  And, I’m learning more about unconditional love than I ever imagined.

There is a plaque that hangs in the nursery above the crib, the same plaque that hung above my crib.  The poem on it reads:

Oh, give me patience when wee hands Tug at me with their small demands.

Give me gentle and smiling eyes; Keep my lips from hasty replies.

Let not weariness, confusion, or noise Obscure my vision of life’s fleeting joys.

So when in years to come, my house is still, No bitter memories its rooms may fill.

That’s my prayer tonight.  And so many nights in the past.  And, I suspect, will be my prayer many more nights to come.

But, for all my questions and uncertainties, do you want to know the truth?  There’s also this part of me that wants to hang on to these “clingy” days.  Because I know, I know I know they will NOT last forever.  She’s starting school this fall, and that will be the end of this stage.  She will love school, I have no doubt, and her teacher will become the center of her world.  She will learn to read, and a whole new world will open up to her, a world in which she won’t necessarily need me quite as much anymore.  This is my last summer to enjoy my little girl in this way.  And it will probably race by like every other season does.  This stage in my little daughter’s life will never come again.

For all the struggles and uncertainties, I wish I could just bottle a little bit of her up right now: her spontaneous hugs, her random declarations of “Momma, you’re the BEST!”, her joys in the little things of life, her excitement over the things I am excited about, her belief that I know everything, her willingness to ask any question, her utter delight in her little sister — oh, it makes me teary just typing all this out, because I know it’s not going to last.

But I thank God with every bit of my being, for giving me this here and now.  I have been gifted with the opportunity to parent this little girl, and I simply cannot imagine my life without her.

(And, to think, I’ve been blessed with another daughter as well!  I’ll get to do this stage again in a few years!  What a gift.)

(And have I mentioned my amazing husband?  I know I don’t talk about him all that much, but we have one heck of a marriage, let me tell you.  Neither of us had any real idea of what we were getting into eight years ago, but here we are today, more tightly-knit as a couple then I ever imagined we would be.  What a guy God planned for me.  What an absolute, unbelievable blessing I have in my darling husband.)