The Days That Should Be The Hardest

Baby’s First Stuffy Nose #milestones

Both the little kids have a cold, generously passed down from their big sister.

This isn’t the toddlers first rodeo, so she is mostly a trooper. She’s a bit of a zombie and her nose runs like a faucet so I’m constantly harassing her with Kleenex and saline spray but she mostly goes about her business as usually with maybe a few extra snuggles required. Until suddenly she doesn’t anymore and she needs me RIGHT NOW and little problems feel like even bigger problems than they normally would be for a toddler.

Meanwhile, the baby is basking in the milestone of her first official cold. Her nose is runny. And, much like her toddler sibling, her feelings are much bigger than usual. She cries her saddest cry if not picked up quickly enough, if asked to burp after a meal, or if put in the carseat or kept awake for too long.

As I was snuggling her to sleep in one arm while pulling an emotional toddler into the rocking chair with us with the other arm today, I couldn’t help but think that this should be one of those hard days of parenting. Confined to the house with two needy sick kids in a pool of germs should be enough to send anyone over the edge.

And don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. I repeat, NOT EASY.

But instead of drowning in stress in these moments today, I found myself filled with gratitude.

To be honest, the feeling surprised me. Of all the wonderful, beautiful, gratitude inspiring moments of motherhood, I didn’t expect to be overcome with love while under a pile of crying, snot-covered children. Yet there I was.

Since then I’ve been thinking about it and trying to figure out why that was my reaction in that moment.

And I’m not sure it’s something I can explain.

The closest I can come to an explanation is to say this: that helping them feel better reminds me what a privilege it is to be a mother.

I get to be the one their tear filled eyes look for first. I get to be the lap they long to crawl into. I get the awesome privilege and responsibility of being the one they rely on to help them when things are tough.

Most days they look to me for their basic needs. I am the one who changes the diapers, the one who drives the car and retrieves the Legos off the top shelf and the one who rescues blankie from the dryer. I am the Keeper of the Snacks. I know the importance of this work, but for the most part, in its day to day setting, it is thankless work. And that’s okay.

But when they are sick, their needs take on a whole new level of urgency, and thus, my work takes on a new level of importance. When the nose has been suctioned clean and saline spray has been administered and vapor rub and tylenol are doing their work, when a fresh drink of water and a warm clean blankie soothe discomforts and mama’s arms open up to an inviting snuggle, I can feel the relief in their tiny bodies.

And know that I helped.

I know that the time I get to be home with them matters. But on the days when they don’t feel well and need their mama just a little more than usual, then it becomes obvious just how much this work matters. It’s the greatest, hardest, most important work I will ever do.

And all it took was a few runny noses to remind me.

A Letter to My Firstborn – I’m Sorry, Thank You, and I Promise

The oldest and the youngest <3

My dear sweet first baby,

It seems like just yesterday it was just you and me. In less than two years you’ve gained not one but two little sisters. Needless to say, they’ve brought a lot of change with them.

I know it hasn’t been easy for you. At almost seven years old, you’re still on the cusp of the “little” stage yourself. Yet suddenly, your needs seem to have fallen further down the priority list. Just this weekend on our family trip to the park you announced that you needed to use the restroom. But we were in the midst of juggling a baby diaper change and a toddler flinging herself down the playground equipment, and implementing the parenting teamwork strategy that would allow one of us to trek with you to the bathroom took some time. I could tell you were aware of the fact that your sisters’ needs were taking priority over your own. But still, you waited patiently.

As I watched your brave patience with us, my heart swelled and there was so much I wanted to tell you.

First, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry your needs have come in last so often lately. I’m sorry that your little sisters’ needs are often so much louder and more urgent than yours so they seem to take priority more often than not.

I’m sorry that I rely on you so much for help. It seems like I’m asking you for something a lot lately–to keep an eye on the toddler or entertain the baby or hand over the iPad or bring a cup of milk or hold a door. So often you cheerfully help without complaint.

I’m sorry that my expectation for you to be an example to your sisters has led me to be more critical of your behavior. I know that it doesn’t always seem fair, that there are things they get away with that you get in trouble for. I worry that my critical voice is staying with you and making you more critical of yourself and others.

I’m sorry that, as you grow into this beautiful young woman, my parenting role is supposed to shift from managing you to trusting you and I don’t always get it right.

I’m sorry that I don’t tell you these things often enough.

Thank you for being kind and patient and big-hearted anyway.

Thank you for being sweet and understanding with your tired mama.

Thank you for everything you do to help, and for thinking of ways to help even without me asking. Thank you for your sweet notes and drawings that lift my spirits. Thank you for putting on a brave face even when you don’t feel like it.

Three Sisters <3

Most of all, thank you for adoring your baby sisters even though it would be easy to resent them for turning our little world upside down. I hope you see the way they look at you, like you are the most amazing and magical creature they’ve ever seen. Because you are.

I promise that it won’t always be this hard. They will grow and their needs won’t be quite so desperate all the time and a new kind of balance will calm the waves.

I promise that I will do my best to listen when you need something and not put too much on your shoulders just because you are the oldest.

I promise your sisters will become your best lifelong friends and that this tough stage will seem small in comparison to the years of friendship you have ahead of you.

I promise to do my best to see and honor your littleness. I promise not to make you grow up faster than you have to just because you are the oldest. I promise to carve out time for us to cuddle and for you to need me.

And last but not least, I promise you will be better for this. Growing up isn’t easy. Being the oldest isn’t easy. Sharing mom isn’t easy. But I promise that the lessons you are learning in patience and bravery and empathy and kindness and generosity and love and family will make it all worth it.

Always know how proud I am of you, and that the greatest gift in my life is being your mother.

Love,

Mom

 

The Best Last Baby

My third child is the best last baby I could have asked for. But probably not in the way you are imagining.

You see, somewhere along the line I got the impression that third babies are laid back, chill babies. They handle the chaos with grace and sleep through anything because they have to. They are born into a busy bustling family dynamic that is already firmly in place, so they don’t come along expecting to change anything. They just find their place in it.

So naturally, I expected a chill baby who slept through the night and smiled all the time and never fussed about anything. This misinformation probably contributed to my hesitation to officially call her our “last baby”. Deep down, the idea of having more than three made me gulp, for a variety of reasons. But when I felt her little kicks in my belly and imagined holding my sweet sleeping darling I couldn’t imagine closing the door on the stage of life.

Then she arrived.

And she is just as sweet and precious as I imagined she would be.

Aaaaand from day one she shattered my idea of what a third baby would be like. She didn’t slide quietly into our family dynamic. She marched in and dramatically planted her flag so that no one could possibly overlook her arrival.

And even though it was a shock to adjust my naive expectations to the new reality, as I sit here cradling her sleeping body on the six month anniversary of her birth, I can now see that she is the perfect last baby.

Because she has made it very clear to me that she is our last baby.

After two smooth pregnancies, hers came with complications, reminding me how nerve wracking growing a human can be.

After a night in the NICU for jaundice, she reminded me how heartbreakingly hard parenting can be when you have to watch your kids go through something difficult.

After six months of still not sleeping through the night she reminded me of the limitations of my own sanity.

After months of fussing every time I set her down she reminded me that my other children don’t stop needing me when a new one comes along.

After months of remembering how hard nursing is, after weeks of trying to convince her to eat baby food to no avail, after realizing she is going to start crawling soon in the midst of our lego-and-shopkins-and-Barbie-shoe infected living room, she reminded me that this parenting gig takes guts. Guts and heart and laundry detergent and wine.

After all this and more, I know in my gut that she is my last.

Sure, some of it has to do with finding my own personal limit to the number of children I can adequately parent. But actually, it’s more than that.

It’s about appreciating what I have.

She reminded me that pregnancy is hard, but she also reminded me that modern medicine is miraculous and that my own body is miraculous and that because of a combination of those miraculous things I have three beautiful healthy daughters.

She reminded me that parenting is sometimes so painfully hard that you can only survive it one hour at a time while you wait for the sun to come up after the longest night of your life. But she also reminded me what a blessing it is to love another human so much that it changes you.

She reminded me how much I need sleep to be a decent human but she also reminded me how beautiful the quiet night is.

She reminded me that children aren’t always what you expect them to be and that there’s a chance for me to grow from the things I can’t control.

She reminded me how hard the first few months of a new life can be. And she made sure that I slowed down and snuggled her long enough to see the beauty hidden in the struggle.

She is the perfect last baby because she reminded me why it is time for us to be done with this stage of life and she also reminded me of the beauty in being done with this stage of life.

Six months ago this tiny little five pound human showed up, planted her flag in my heart and woke me up in ways I didn’t even know I needed.

She’s been waking me up ever since.

(Literally. 😉 )

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

My toddler is sweet and funny and smart.

And she is also stubborn and independent and strong-willed.

(It’s possible she is also a little spoiled. Don’t judge. 😉 )

My oldest went to daycare because I worked at the time. But I stopped working when the toddler came along, so she has always been home with me.

In other words, this is my first rodeo when it comes to having a stay-at-home kiddo.

This seems like an appropriate time to acknowledge my oldest daughter’s amazing daycare teachers. I seriously took for granted how much they taught her–everything from eating at the toddler table to sitting still for a story, how to use a drinking fountain, lining up to walk somewhere, and tons of other simple social skills like taking turns and being aware of others.

I am overwhelmed just brainstorming this list of things, and yet I am now responsible for teaching them to my toddler and eventually my baby. Gulp.

ANYWAY… my toddler. She is entirely her own person, with a much different personality than her older sister, who was social and bubbly and fearless and talkative. The toddler is shy, sometimes painfully so. And she is still finding her voice.

So I’m learning that parenting one child is completely different than parenting another. As their mom, it’s my job to help them navigate new experiences and learn new skills safely so that they can learn and grow. However, guiding my my oldest social butterfly is a completely different process than guiding my shy introvert.

So basically, I’m “winging it”. Which explains why I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

In my latest phase of “winging it”, I decided the toddler was old enough that it was time to start seeking out more opportunities for her to “socialize”, hoping it would help with her shyness. So we signed up for the toddler art class at the local children’s museum. This is an amazingly perfect opportunity for us/her because it is short and simple and a no-pressure environment. They read a story and do a fun little activity and art project. And if they aren’t feeling it, they can go play back out in the museum.

Which is also awesome for me because it takes away some of the pressure to wrangle an uncooperative two year old if she isn’t feeling it.

As usual, she was thrilled to get to the children’s museum and promptly put on an Elsa dress and gathered up her favorite trains. When it was time to go to the art class area, she followed cooperatively and even sat mostly still for the story. After the book she sat with her trains and watched the other kids chase bubbles. But when it was time to sit down at the table to do the art project, she wasn’t interested. Instead, she headed back out to the museum to drive the fire truck, trains in tow.

Should I worry that she didn’t care about the bubbles? Should I push her to jump in or do I let her do her own thing? Do I push the art project or do I let her go play?

That’s basically the question that applies to everything, isn’t it? Do I push her outside of her comfort zone or do I wait for her to step out on her own?

I have no idea.

Because as I mentioned before, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Today my gut told me to let her go play. So I did.

She’s two. She wanted to learn by exploring the museum.  Who am I to tell her that she should be sitting and working on a project instead? There will come a time when teaching her necessary skills like sitting and project perseverance will be important. But I think, at two, my job is just to give her opportunities and let her choose.

Sometimes I think I forget that parenting is as much about listening to them as it is about telling them what to do. Sometimes I feel like, if I’m not in control, then I’m not doing my job. Then I’m not “parenting”. But maybe that’s making it about what I’m doing or not doing. Maybe it should be about what she is doing or not doing.

I helped her step into the experience of sitting through story time, which was new for her, and she did great. And then she let me know that that was enough for today.

And I’m glad I listened.

Because she played and explored and had an amazing time. She had a new experience that was ultimately positive, because it didn’t involve mom trying to make her do more than she was ready for.

And best of all, she had no idea that I had no idea what I was doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I Were Writing a Real-Life, In-The-Trenches Sleep Book For Parents, This Would Be the Intro

A Book About Sleeping And Not Sleeping For Human Parents of Human Children

By Me

Introduction

If you’re reading this, you probably have at least one child. And it’s also probably true that said children don’t sleep the way or the amount or the times that you want them to sleep. Maybe they never have, or maybe they did and then abruptly stopped. Or maybe they did and then slowly got up earlier and earlier each morning until suddenly the toddler who used to sleep til 8 a.m. is getting up at 5 a.m. and you’re left wondering “wtf just happened??”

Whatever the case may be, I too have touched the depths of insanity that can only be reached by months (years) of struggling to convince an irrational tiny human to sleep, all while being sleep deprived yourself. That makes us comrades in a way that only people who have been to battle with the tiny humans they created can understand. So welcome to the club you never meant to join.

I should probably take a moment to introduce myself. As a mother of three tiny humans, I should first tell you that I am in no way an expert on this subject matter. In fact, based on my own observation, it seems that I got progressively worse at teaching my children to sleep with each child. In response to my growing parental inadequacies, I compensated by reading All The Books on sleep and parenting.

From my small successes, grand failures, and excessive amounts of reading when I probably should have been napping, this book was born. In it, you will read about how there are a variety of different “sleep training” theories, some of which may work some of the time for some of your children. You will also come to learn that every child will be completely different than the next, so even if one child happens to be a sleeper (a.k.a. miracle), don’t expect it to happen again. The book will conclude with the knowledge that sometimes, regardless of what you do, your child won’t do what you want them to, in sleep or in any other part of their life. Strategies for getting over this lack of control will appear in Book Two. The one thing you won’t find in this book is all the research on why sleep is so important, and the lasting cognitive damage that lack of sleep can cause. Because let’s be honest, that would just be mean.

Before we dive in, I will conclude this introduction by acknowledging some of the people that made this book possible. First, thank you to all the people before me who have tackled this enormous subject matter in writing. Regardless of whether or not I agreed with your approach or if anything you wrote actually benefited my children’s sleep, I often clung to these books like life rafts of hopeful logic in a sea of insanity. Reading them got me through some of my most confusing parental challenges and I’ll always be grateful. Next I’d like to thank all of my readers, of this book and of my blog, where for the last several months I have written about nothing but sleep deprivation. Even through my lack of creativity and topic diversity, you continue to read and offer support. Some of you have even been following my work since this blog started, back when I only had one child and thought I knew something about parenting before my children stripped away the last of this false confidence. You all are the reason I continue to write this nonsense, and I’m surprisingly grateful for that motivation.

And, of course, I have to thank my husband, without whom I would be dead and not writing this.

Last but not least, I have to thank the three tiny humans who are truly the masterminds behind this work. Without your confusing and often infuriating resistance to sleep, I never would have known the true depths of this topic, nor would I have been sleep deprived enough to believe I could write about it. I look forward to the day when you grow to appreciate the true magic of sleep and are robbed of its joy by your own children.

Love,

Mom

 

A Blog Is a Funny Thing

Some things are harder to write about than others.

I try my best to do a lot of truth-telling on this blog. That often means admitting when things aren’t perfect. It means sharing the hard days of motherhood, the dark, embarrassing parts of motherhood.

It also means sharing the hard, scary personal truths. Like when you hoped for things and they didn’t turn out the way you wanted and you were sad even though you could see that, in the end, they would actually turn out better.

It would be really easy to talk myself out of sharing these things. You see, in the moment, it feels good to write it all out and get it off my chest.

But then I sleep on it, and the next morning I wake up and things look different. The stress and exhaustion have lessened and suddenly “honesty” looks more like weakness or oversharing.

I felt those feelings in that moment, but my blog post immortalized those feelings forever.

Is that really what I wanted to do? Maybe I should have let the moment pass.

But then, is writing about only the good moments deceiving? Like pretending the bad moments don’t exist too?

I’ve struggled with this dilemma for a long time. Before I even had a blog, I wrote in journals. Time would pass and I would go back and read the journal and what I had written would no longer be true. And I would think, “What if someone finds this and thinks this represents me and how I feel, but it doesn’t anymore?” So I would rip out the journal pages and throw them away.

I’ve deleted more than one blog for the same reason. The temptation is still there to edit what you all see.

But the truth is, trying to make this space a perfect representation of who I am is impossible. Because I’m constantly changing. And because writing the full range of the human feelings and thoughts and dreams in one tiny little blog is impossible, if that were the goal I would either delete everything I write or worse, never write at all.

Yesterday I wrote a post about not having it all at once. The post isn’t perfect and it doesn’t come close to capturing my feelings on the topic. But I could choose to spend hours agonizing over how to make the post perfect. Or I could write what I’m feeling to the best of my ability and then go play with my kids.

Or I could go back and feel frustrated that I didn’t get it exactly right and delete it.

Instead, I’m trying to make peace with the fact that this blog will never be perfect and sometimes how I feel will change right after I’ve written it down and so what once was true for me isn’t anymore and that’s okay.

At the end of the day I’d rather have a collection of imperfect moments to look back on than have nothing at all simply because I was too scared to not get it exactly right.

Need

Today was one of those days where someone needed something All. Day. Long.

The baby needed to be fed.

The baby needed to be changed.

The toddler needed to be changed.

The six year old needed a snack.

The toddler wanted her milk.

The six year old needed her finger nail clipped.

The baby needed to be put to sleep.

The toddler needed the legos down from the shelf.

The six year old needed me to look at the thing she was looking at.

The baby needed to be brought down from her nap.

The six year old needed a box to build a house.

The toddler needed help putting the cap back on the markers after she colored on herself.

The baby needed to be fed.

The baby needed a diaper.

The toddler needed a diaper.

The six year old needed me to make a table for her cardboard house.

The toddler needed to be pulled out of the baby walker where she was stuck for the fourth time this hour because she refuses to listen to the logic that she is too big for it.

The six year old needed me to watch her concert.

The toddler needed lunch.

The toddler needed a nap.

The baby needed to be fed.

The baby needed a diaper.

The baby needed a nap.

The living room needed to have a path cleared through it so the toddler could walk without falling over toys.

The laundry needs to be folded.

The six year old wants to go outside.

The toddler wants to go downstairs.

The baby wants to be held.

What are we going to have for dinner?

When was the last time I ate something?

Did I ever pee or if you wait long enough do you just stop having to go?

All. Day. Long.

Often before I had completed one request, another one was being made.

A steady stream of needing something.

 

Surprisingly, I’m not complaining. I’m exhausted. And I am looking forward to when the husband comes home from work so I can hide in the bathroom for 15 minutes of alone time. But I’m not complaining.

Instead, I’m writing this because, as I look around my trainwrecked living room where at least one toy was broken today because the only pathway through involved stepping on things, I know that the time will come all too soon when there are no toys to pick up. When no one needs anything. When I can read a book and use the bathroom and get a snack for myself whenever I feel like it.

And when that time comes, I’m going to miss this.

When You Can’t Have It All at Once

I wrote this whole post, and when I went back to re-read it, it sounded like a giant pity party. So this is take two.

Why the pity party, you ask?

Well for a the past couple of weeks, I was hopefully entertaining the very realistic possibility of having it all.

Having it all? Really?

Yep, that’s right. You see, it’s not too much of a stretch. I’m lucky enough (yes, even on the hard days) to be home with my sweet babies all day. I love this gig (yes, even on the hard days) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So what more could you want?

Great question. I love being a mom, but part of being a mom is being a human. I love being there for my kids but I also want to set an example for them. For me, that involves being something in addition to being a mom.

So I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means for me. It’s a surprisingly hard question. There’s a lot of things I could do with my time outside of motherhood, some more practical than others. And for somebody who writes about authenticity, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what my authentic path in this life is.

But a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I had found it. An online masters degree in English with an emphasis in writing. I could finally check a masters degree off my bucket list, I could study the thing I’ve been most passionate about all along. I could suck it up and be brave enough to get serious about writing. And I could do it all online, meaning I wouldn’t have to put my kids in daycare to attend class.

I knew when I submitted my application that I was a few undergrad English credits short of the requirement, but I thought, “What the heck? Go for it.” Once they reviewed my transcripts then I would know how many I needed and could complete them. The previous graduate program I had been enrolled in just lumped all my required undergrad and grad work into my program plan.

Not the case with this one.

This morning I received a very nice email from the program director explaining that I was short the required credits. And this afternoon I received the standard “We regret to inform you…” letter.

Turns out, even though my logical brain knew that it was a possibility, a stamped and sealed rejection letter is still a blow to the ego. And the morale.

Thus, the pity party.

You may be thinking, it’s just a few undergrad classes. Just get them done and then enroll in the graduate program.

You’re right, it is just a few classes. Classes I would happily take.

Except they aren’t offered online. Which means time in class. Which means daycare. Which means giving up time with my kids.

Which means NOT “having it all”. At least not all at once.

So, quick u-turn before we end up back in pity party land, that is where I’m at. I’ll admit, I was majorly bummed to have felt like “having it all” was so close to possible, only to have the hope dashed. Mostly, I was excited about this new possibility.

And it’s not that it’s not possible. It definitely is. I have several different choices of ways to make it work.

But I’m not going to. At least, not right now.

Because the truth is, it isn’t about the details. It’s about a big picture choice I have to make. I can either make it work, which means making sacrifices, the biggest of which will be time with my kids. Or I can be patient. Waiting a few years until my children are in school means a lot more flexibility when it comes to pursuing my own educational goals.

For me, it’s an obvious choice.

I know this time with them is a gift. One that I’m not willing to sacrifice.

And just to be clear, it’s not because I feel obligated to stay with them. It’s because I want to. With all my heart. Even on the hardest days, this mom gig is my dream job.

Waiting to start the program isn’t a sacrifice for me. Giving up time with my kids would be.

So the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this isn’t a simple rejection from a graduate committee. It’s actually a quiet little nudge from the universe. To stop trying so hard to move on to the next thing and just enjoy this thing. This time where I have the privilege of making motherhood my priority. This time where I don’t have to juggle all the things. I’m choosing to believe that someone up there is looking out for me and knows I need a little reminder to use this time wisely. There will be a time for classes and degrees. Right now is the time for little people. Because classes and degrees will always be there. Little people won’t.

Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to have needed the reminder.

This is also a good time to mention that just because this particular path isn’t the right personal growth path for me right now doesn’t mean there isn’t a personal growth path for me right now. It’s just not one defined by a university.

Someone who inspires me recently wrote on her own blog (in reference to her music career) that if there isn’t a gig, create one. In other words, don’t wait for someone to offer you a path. Make your own.

Just because my current personal growth path isn’t nationally accredited doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. I have piles of books to read and mountains of ideas to write. I don’t need someone else to assign me work for me to do work of value. And the best part is, when I’m writing my own curriculum, I can make sure it never interferes with the real work of value, soaking up the beautiful madness of motherhood.

Not having plans work out the way you thought you wanted them to isn’t fun, even when you know deep down it’s for the best. I will own that. So tonight I have scheduled a real-life pity party with a good friend, complete with beer and possibly some form of nachos.

And then tomorrow I’ll get back to work.

Screw Sleep Training (Alternate Title: I’m Too Tired To Title This Blog Post)

I failed at sleep training.

On my third child no less. As though somehow having two humans before this one some how made me more knowledgeable or qualified. Ha. This experience has been resounding proof that every child is different. So different, in fact, that we might as well be first time parents all over again with each new offspring.

The first two children slept. Not perfectly and not all the time, but enough for me to keep some sanity. Enough for me to believe in “sleep training”.

I should probably clarify, however, that “sleep training” gurus might not totally accept my version of their methods. I was never able to let the “cry it out” method last for more than 5-10 minutes at a time before going back in to comfort and try again. But somehow, it worked. My two oldest two took a couple of days to adjust to the “self-soothing” trend and have mostly slept like rockstars since then.

So why would it ever occur to me that it wouldn’t work with offspring number three?

Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t even worried about it. My older two sleep trained earlier, though I can’t remember why. Probably some book told me it was the “right” time. But with this one, sleep training wasn’t even on my radar. She’s my last baby, was born early so she is small for her age, and she is just so darn snuggly that I was fine to cuddle a lot.

But then the mystical “four month sleep regression” hit.

And suddenly my snuggly sleeper woke up every time I set her down. It didn’t take long for sleep deprivation, both hers and mine, to escalate. So I decided it was time she learned to self-sooth, because how else would she fall back asleep? With a toddler around I couldn’t always spend hours being her comfort object so she could get a good nap. Even if I wanted to, it just wasn’t possible.

So I did what had always worked in the past. Set her down awake and left the room. When she cried I would go back and comfort her. And then I would leave and let her fuss. And then I would go back again.

Sometimes it worked. Just enough for me to think I just needed to buckle down and stick with it. But a lot of times it didn’t work. A lot of times she battled me longer than I had the energy for. Or she would fall asleep only to wake up twenty minutes later. Most of the time it left me feeling defeated, to the point where the sound of her crying would trigger a hormonal response that made me feel like I was drowning in my own body.

After a month of this, after days of hope and even more days of despair, I’ve given up.

It was not an easy concession. Not following through on my goal, not sticking with the plan, feels like a failure. Like I’ve not only failed at my own goal but I’ve failed my child.

By my the third child I should know how to do this, right?

Ha.

The good news is, I’m too emotionally exhausted to give these feelings of failure much energy. I spent the weekend holding the baby for her naps, or letting her nap in the rock-n-play next to my chair. Instead of taking her upstairs and battling with her about bedtime, I nurse her in the rocking chair in the living room and hold her until she is sound asleep before I take her up to bed. Sometimes she wakes up once I lay her down but it’s not a struggle like before.

It doesn’t feel great to set a goal, to believe that I need to help my child achieve this sleep milestone, and then abandon it when it doesn’t work.

But it also doesn’t feel good to keep burning myself out on something that clearly isn’t working.

The final nail in the sleep training coffin came to me in an article from a friend. It’s called “To the Losers Who Haven’t Sleep Trained Their Babies” and you can read it here. And also another article that crossed my feed this morning from Scary Mommy, which you can read here.

I like to believe that the universe sends us what we need, and today I needed those articles. Because they gave me the permission I didn’t need to scrap my idea of what sleep training was supposed to look like. Baby number three is a different kiddo than the first two, and quite frankly, I’m a different mother than I was with the first two. So it only makes sense that, rather than following the same cookie-cutter rules for sleep training, we need to find what works for us.

So that’s what we’re going to do.

Swimming in Paradise

Sunset in Key West

This weekend was a rough one on the baby sleep front. If you’ve read anything I’ve written lately (or read between the lines of what I haven’t had the energy to write), then you know we are in one of “those” phases of child rearing that feel extra hard.

Saturday night I had plans with friends at 7:30. The baby goes to bed at 7 (that’s the goal anyway), so this was somewhat ambitious. But I thought we could make it work. Of course, rather than fall asleep nursing like she will do on lucky occasions, she finished eating and was wired. So I decided to lay her down awake, since that’s the goal, and since it has been working pretty well at nap times. I stood outside the door of the room for a few minutes to make sure she would settle in.

But in her usual over-ambitious attempt to calm herself, she stuck her fingers in her mouth and gagged herself. My husband and I rushed back in and scooped her up to make sure she didn’t choke. She seemed fine, so I left her with my very capable husband and headed for the door, just in time to catch my ride.

At which point she threw up everything that she had just eaten. Into her bed. And her pajamas. And all over my husband.

SIGH.

So I helped change pajamas and sheets and dug out a new sleep sack and heated up a bottle and made escape attempt number two.

Which worked. My much-more-patient husband put her to bed and I had a wonderful, much-needed dinner with dear friends.

And the baby, who had slept through the night for the two previous nights, woke up when I went to crawl in bed at midnight. And stayed up until 1:30 a.m., something she hasn’t done for a long time. And then got up before 5 a.m.

And then decided to get up every couple of hours all night the next night as well, just to make her point.

Have I said SIGH yet? SIGH.

Okay so back to my point. During my friend dinner, we were talking about my situation, and parenting, and drowning, and life, and plans. At one point in the conversation, my friend asked if there was a part of the day I looked forward to every day.

And I had to think. I actually had to think about it.

(Face palm)

So I’m not making excuses or anything here. There are moments that are so overwhelming that I can’t see out of this hole I’m in. I think five months of exhaustion, three years of being pregnant or nursing, hormones, and possibly a touch of seasonal or postpartum depression are adding weight to an already heavy load.

And sometimes the stress feels so big that it’s all I can see. And when I do write, it’s all I can think to write about. And I don’t like that, because it doesn’t feel good to write (or live) all in the negative. I’d much rather create and share something positive. But I also want this to be a place where I share the real, authentic moments of parenting, and you can’t do that without telling the truth about the darkness.

So I do. But I think it’s also worth saying, that just because sometimes the darkness is all I see doesn’t mean it’s all darkness. Sure there have been a lot of moments lately that feel like I can’t keep my head above water. But then suddenly I find a foothold and come up for air and realize that the water I was drowning in is this beautiful bay of crystal blue water with white sand beaches and dolphins and sunshine and palm treas.

I got so caught up in trying to keep my head above water that I didn’t (couldn’t) notice that I was swimming in paradise.

I thought back to my conversation with my friends and the question, what do I look forward to each day, and I had to smack myself and laugh. Every day I get to watch my toddler learn new words. Right now she has learned how to add “peas” (please) to her requests, which is about the most adorable thing ever and she pretty much gets whatever she wants when she says it. (Hey, it is the magic word.) I get to listen to her sweet little voice sing and see her mischievous smile when she sneaks up on me and tickles me. I get to watch her sit and pour through books and “read” them to herself. I get to sit and build legos with her.

I get to watch my baby smile. I get to hear her laugh because she is so ticklish that even changing her clothes makes her laugh. I get to watch her trying to sit up and trying to pull her knees up under her and soon I’ll get to see her succeed at all of these big brave things she is trying. I get to watch her eyes get heavy and I get to nurse her when she is hungry and hold her when she cries.

I get to pick the oldest up from school every day. I get to see what she’s working on in school, I get to help her make Valentines for her classmates and celebrate with her when she earns a certificate for “compassion”. I get to hear her reading harder books every day. I get to see her sisters’ faces light up when she walks in the room.

I get to be there when they don’t feel good and need extra love. I get to be there when they feel amazing and brave and full of life. I get to be there for it all.

The hard days are worth writing about because they are real. But so are all the other moments. There’s not just one thing I look forward to every day because my day is filled with beautiful moments, both good and bad, with the people I love most in the world.

Even on the days where swimming is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I’m still swimming in paradise.