Saturday, August 25, 2012

When Theory Meets Reality

I had a lightbulb moment once.

A very small lightbulb moment, but luminous, and there, nonetheless.

I had nursed my tiny, days-old Peregrine for the second or third time that night. Nursing him in those early days was a tedious ordeal, mainly because he refused to nurse if his hands were within chewing distance. So for every feeding, I had to first un-swaddle him, then pin his hands behind his back with a blanket. After he nursed, the straitjacket came off and the swaddle went back on. It was awkward; we were both learning to live in a whole new world.

So, in the wee hours of this particular August morning, the whole thing was finished and Peregrine was ready to go back to bed. Only, he wasn't quite ready. He wanted to look at me first.

I had been told that the easiest way to teach a baby the difference between day and night in those early days when they sleep all the time anyway was to treat them differently when you feed them. In the day, be playful, make eye contact, talk, sing, bounce. At night, be silent and gentle, no words, no playing, feed and snuggle and lay back in bed. It's good advice, I'm sure. It's worked for many babies. The problem is, it didn't work that way for Peregrine. Over the last few nights, I had begun noticing a pattern. If I turned off the light and laid him back in bed right away, even with snuggling and patting, he would fuss and squirm and cry. Until I turned the light back on, and picked him up, and propped him up against my knees and looked at him--just looked at him--for a couple of minutes. That was all it took, and then I would turn off the light, put him in bed, and soon he would be peacefully asleep. So that became our ritual--re-swaddle, prop him up, and stare in each others' eyes for awhile.

And this night a thought fluttered through my head and hung there for awhile.

That's interesting. It doesn't work the way it's supposed to for Peregrine. The extended lights-on "play" doesn't make him more awake. It calms him and helps him sleep.

And then the lightbulb.

So that's how parenting works. You just figure out your own child.

I'm no stranger to theory meeting reality, really. I've been a teacher, a babysitter, an oldest sister, for many, many years. Theories and ideas are there because they worked for someone, or because they worked for many someones, and they exist to help us all navigate the very difficult world of raising human beings. But human beings are human beings, and they have their quirks and sometimes, what you've read or heard or had recommended may not fit with the real live person in your life.

And that's okay.

The day/night difference thing was small, very small, in the grand scheme of parenting choices I have made. But it meant something to me then, and I remember it still and reference it often. Parenting is a lot more than choosing how to raise a child, and then following your plan. It's a lot more than subscribing to a style or an idea or a philosophy. It's learning a person. And it's learning how you, as a person, relate to this person. And that will look different, for every single parent and every single child. Sometimes it will fit the theories. Sometimes it won't. Usually--perhaps always--it will fit some theories and not others. And then it will change the next day.

And you know what? Because of me, despite me, whatever you will, Peregrine has never had an issue telling day from night. Within weeks, he gave up the staring ritual and ever since, has eaten and gone right back to sleep.

But he does have a bizarre addiction to being swaddled very, very tightly, with his hands trapped at his sides. I know of no one else who still swaddles their one-year-old like a newborn.

And that's okay, too. For now. We might rethink the swaddling thing when he starts middle school.

No comments:

Post a Comment