May you build a ladder to the stars
and climb on every rung.
When Evie and I moved to join her daddy in Florida a little over a year ago, there was a period of adjustment for all of us. Gill adjusted to sharing the TV again, I adjusted to lugging groceries up the 4,876 stairs in our townhouse, and Evie adjusted to adjusting. One of her major adjustments was actually a backslide. Evie refused to go to sleep by herself or to stay in her bed the entire night.
Before we moved, I would put Evie in her bed at night, kiss her forehead, tell her I loved her and walk out of the room. The next morning I would know she had awakened by the chattering I heard coming from the other side of her bedroom door. After we moved, all of that came to a screeching halt. Bedtime became a battle which I eventually lost, i.e., surrendered, and you could find me each night in Evie’s room, rocking in the the rocking chair, waiting for sounds of soft snoring coming from her bed. And after we moved, I knew she was awake by the kidney-kicking I received each morning from the little body pressed up against my back.
After awhile, I adjusted to Evie’s refusal to adjust. I could have fought it. I could have put another child lock on her doorknob like she had in North Carolina. I could have Ferberized her again. I could have dutifully carried her back into her room each night and put her back into her own bed. But I didn’t. The truth is, I came to enjoy that quiet time in her darkened room at night, softly rocking and thinking my thoughts while my baby drifted off to dreamland. And I enjoyed rolling over in the middle of the night to find her warm little body snuggled against me. And I knew she enjoyed these things, too. They made her feel safe. I made her feel safe.
Mother’s intuition is a son of bitch. A real bastard. It told me that all of this had to end. It hissed in my ear that I had set up and was continuing to foster bad habits. It stood behind the rocking chair and crouched by my bed, lecturing me about how I would feel still doing all of this when Evie turned six, eight, ten years old. I ignored it. Then I ignored it some more. Then Evie turned four, and I was ready to listen.
One day, out of the blue, I started to talk to Eve about acting like a big girl. Not just being a big girl but acting like one. I told her that all of her friends were big girls. They didn’t need their mommies to stay with them at night, and they slept in their own beds all night by themselves. Evie offered that they also didn’t wear Pull-ups to bed. I panicked a little and told Evie not to get ahead of herself, i.e. rush Mommy.
That night we began the experiment. I have learned this over the past several months: If you want Evie to do something, don’t offer a reward. Threaten to take something away. Sound cruel? As Bill Cosby so wisely observed, “This is not your child!” So, I told Evie if she didn’t go to sleep by herself, she couldn’t watch her favorite show the next day. I figured we’d tackle the going asleep first and then work on staying in her own bed all night next. I asked Evie to explain back to me the deal we were making. She said, “I have to go to sleep by myself and stay in my bed. Not get in your bed.” She threw me off guard, but my brain quickly rallied and caught up with that of my four-year-old daughter. “That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. Evie, you have to stay in your own bed,” I managed, strong disciplinarian that I am.
And she did. Holy mother’s intuition, she really did it. And she kept doing it. And she also doesn’t wear Pull-up’s anymore at night. My child, bless her little Type A heart, is an overachiever.
And I? Am a freakin’ mess.
My baby. My baby. Where is my baby? I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m proud. I wish I’d never started this. Mother’s intuition rolls its eyes at me and tells me to get over myself. It explains through gritted teeth that Evie has to learn how to make herself feel safe. That part of growing up is pulling away. That part of being a parent is pushing away. That if I don’t help Evie instill a firm sense of independence and pride in herself, that she and her good-for-nothing unemployed boyfriend will still be living with us when she’s 37.
I know, I know. But can I just say one thing? One of the most unnerving things I’ve had to do in my short parenting career is stay downstairs. My baby is upstairs in her dark room with three nightlights burning, her blankets pulled up to her chin, who knows what lurking outside the window, trying, trying, trying to be a big girl, and I have to stay downstairs. Stay downstairs and piddle. Flip through the channels. Check email. Pet the kitty. Wait…was that Evie? Was that her little voice? Does she need me?
No. In this case she doesn’t. And she’s so proud of herself. She’s acting like a big girl. I would never, ever take that away from her. I will find a million little things to do before I walk out of her room at night, though: Hang up a dress that was on lying on the floor. “Night night, sweetie.” “Night night, Mommy.” Straighten up a few books on her bookshelves. “I love you. I’ll see you in the morning.” “See you in the morning.” Hand her another stuffed animal. “Mommy, are you leaving?” “Yes. Sorry. I’m going.”
I have to deal with my issues around the act of pushing away a person who has depended on me for so much for so long. But. When I roll over in the morning to see that little pink-nightgowned figure standing in the bedroom doorway, waiting for me to see her, I don’t hesitate for a second.
“Come here,” I whisper.