At eight months, one and a half weeks old, Q slept his first night in his own room.
Until then, he had been either in our bed or on a mat on our floor, and I was struggling to let go of ideals. Sometimes I slept on the couch; sometimes my husband slept on the floor. Some nights, in the middle of the night, I had to breathe through the panic about how I could possibly get through the day after on so little sleep… but of course I always did (though sometimes with help, I must admit). The thing is, it’s hard to feel mindful, intentional or in control when you’re operating for basic survival. And so once again, this role of ‘parent’ strips away so much of what I thought I was, and what I thought would be, and forces me to let go.
This time, the letting go was physical. Q had been waking up every two hours for months on end. Three hours of sleep in a row on any given night was considered a treat, and that was rare. I was struggling with my deep-seated shoulds, my perceived need to provide the perfect rearing environment, and my own fears of whether or not he was going to be sleeping in my bed for the next three years, all while doing my best to enjoy the sweet baby smell; the feel of his soft, tiny hands on my belly in the dark; his breathing on my chest as I delayed putting him back in his bed just one more minute to have him all to myself in the quiet dark of night.
I was tired, but I found suggestions of sleep training mind boggling. If he was crying, then he needed me. It felt that simple. Not that it was easy to be needed, and the days when I wanted to shake him to stop him needing me so much were scary. But sleep training would only work in his own room, and we knew we’d be traveling at the end of 7 months and would only have one room for all three of us for several weeks anyways. So debate and values and judgements aside, to me it had been, and still was, a moot point. Plus, he was genuinely nursing each time he woke up. How would he ever learn to do otherwise?
Then, on New Year’s Eve at Safta’s (Grandma’s) house, we found ourselves with two rooms for just Q and I. On a whim, my partner already off on a plane, I figured I’d give it a shot. The first night wasn’t great – does anyone, anywhere handle transitions well? Do share your secrets.
By night two he was sleeping five hours at a stretch.
And on night two, alone in my big bed, I cried because I missed him.
How ridiculous to miss what you wanted to get rid of. How silly to cry over getting what you want. I was glad for my own space, for reading in bed with the light on, for not needing to tiptoe through my most intimate of worlds. But it was the very first real letting go I’d had to do since birth. He was still nursing, still being carried, still in my arms and in all the hours of my days, but now, asleep, I couldn’t see him breathing, hear him sighing, or check with a glance that he was alright.
I’m well aware that before my job of helping him to maturity is through, there will be many more letting go’s. Safta says that’s what parenting is all about. Letting go. Over and over. In bigger and bigger ways. You grow with them, she reminds me. You don’t let go all at once but at a crawl or a creep, moment by moment, leap by leap, until suddenly they fly. But this first caught me by surprise, as so many firsts have – the first growth spurt; the first tooth cut; the first needle; all shake an ideal, drown a pretence of control, and force a mindful letting go. With a wall between us for the first time, I had no idea I would feel lonely without a small hand to claw its nails across by face or grab my hair in a tight little fist, pulling with no understanding of the sensitive nerves attached on the other end. I could not have predicted that the tossing and turning that kept me awake would wake me in its absence. And though his little body may return to my/our bed on special occasions, weekend mornings, or long, sick nights, for now, he is taking this proverbial step and all is as it should be.
So I’ll listen at his door, worry just a little more, and stay up late writing words that help me to harness the invasion of feelings of comes from the first big letting go of what I love, so I can slowly, slowly watch it become free. That is, after all, the point of letting go, is it not? To allow more freedom, more lightness, into dark places.