It started so well. On Sunday night, Lena surprised us by finally reaching a long overdue milestone—she slept in her own room, in her own bed, alone, all night from 8pm to 7am with NO wake ups. Not one. She’s 17 months old and this is a first. Please, spare me the stories of your kid who has slept through the night since they were 4 months old because SCREW YOU. Just kidding. (But not really).
We figured this was a one time deal so we had low expectations for the following night. Amazingly, the kidlet snoozed from 8:15pm to 5:40am again in her own bed, alone. No wake ups.
Well, last night was a different story.
She fought sleep and finally drifted off at 8:30, only to wake up three hours later, at which time I decided to crawl in bed with her. She wanted to nurse all night, of course. When I wouldn’t let her, she screamed and flailed. When I relented, she dozed but insisted on lying DIRECTLY ON TOP of me and twitching until 6:30 in the morning when she unceremoniously opened her eyes and literally walked out of bed. Thanks, kid.
So after a crap night I had the great idea to wrangle the child, a stroller, and a bag that weighed roughly the same as a small pony, onto the train and into Center City so we could play at the splash pad. There were highs—Lena’s smiling, eager face as she saw the train approach; watching her joyfully collect water in her cup and dump it out. Then there were the lows—the screaming, smacking, and throwing herself on the dirty ground when I attempted to remove her from a dangerous situation; the running off half naked down the Ben Franklin Parkway as I attempted to change her diaper. Oh, and the 15 minutes of crying on the train ride home because she was tired and over it.
My point of telling this boring, tedious story is that joy is often wrapped up in a brown paper bag filled with a steaming pile of dog shit. This dichotomy is not only healthy, but so universal and ordinary, that it’s a wonder why we act so surprised when cruddy things happen alongside wonderful things. Let’s not let the toddlerest of moments ruin our day, our week, our lives.
Cherish the good. Remember that the bad is almost always a phase. And drink copious amounts of coffee and gin.
Parenthood brings up all kinds of questions and often has you feeling woefully unprepared to deal with situations related to basic human functions like eating, sleeping, and pooping. Parenting a high spirited kid feels like that, all while sitting in a bunker waiting for a bomb to drop.
Simply put, a high spirited kid is MORE. All kids are challenging from time to time, but high needs/high spirited littles are more intense, more alert, more energetic, and more emotional than the average tot. Spiritedness is something parents ascribe to their own children, so the way it looks varies greatly from kid to kid. Since Lena is our first, we just thought that all babies cried incessantly, never slept, and wanted to be held all the time. I mean, she’s a BABY, of course she’s needy. But when she started daycare around 10 weeks old, we observed other kids her age happily sitting in swings and sleeping in their own cribs.
Shortly thereafter I came across Dr. Sears’s The Fussy Baby Book* and for the first time, I thought, YES!!! THIS! This describes my girl. I had been feeling so guilty that we had done something wrong, that those advice-giving old ladies were right–you can in fact spoil a baby by holding them too much and nursing on demand. I read lots and lots of things about sleep and development. Like this, this, and this. We hadn’t done anything to make her the way she was–we had adapted our parenting style to fit our baby’s needs.
I recently realized that over the last 14 months, I’ve developed a sort of informal parenting manifesto that’s guided me towards a happier and more balanced life. I’m about to formalize it, yo.
Don’t read parenting books. Someone is always trying to sell you something, even if it’s not immediately obvious what that is. I’ve found them irrelevant at best and anxiety-inducing at worst. Instead, get to know your kid and trust your instincts. Studies and “experts” be damned.
All kids are different. So are their parents, their families, their cultures, and their communities. Unless you’re harming your child physically, mentally, or emotionally, you’ll find no judgment from me. Do whatcha gotta. (Also, I really don’t have time to care what you’re doing cause I haven’t slept a solid 8 hours in 16 months.)
We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing most of the time. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the next stage looks like and I don’t really care. I’m trying to get through the day here. I’m following my kid’s lead, talking with my husband, and doing what feels right.
Stop it with the labels and the categorizing. Humans have a desire, a need really, to classify the world around us as a way of understanding the mess. I get it. But the world is gray and more gray, not black and white, so cut this shit out. Especially when talking about “types of moms.” These are not real people, they’re caricatures. It’s patronizing, misogynistic, and most importantly, predictable and unfunny. WE’RE OVER IT.
Get outdoors. My kid, and many others I know, are totally likeable creatures outdoors. It’s like a switch gets flipped once their lungs fill with fresh air and they hear birds chirping. If your kid is whiny and losing it, pick ’em up and go outside. Build a yurt and move in until your kid is 18. Everyone will be happier. You can thank me later.
Remember that this too shall pass. Try to find the joy in each phase while remembering that it all ends, even the bad parts. That doesn’t mean you can and should enjoy every minute, but if you keep wishing for the next phase when it gets “easier” you’ll wish away your next 20 years. Right now I’m working part time. I won’t be forever–I’ll have a career again. Right now my kid shits in her diaper–in 1-2 years she’ll be able to better regulate her bodily functions. Life moves forward.
Try to be flexible. Learn to bob and weave, because just as you get comfortable, life will punch you in the fucking ear. I don’t trust you if you say you know what you’re doing. Maybe you know what you’re doing today. If so, kudos. I will raise a glass to your awesomeness. Enjoy it, truly. (I’m secretly hoping your easy baby is a hellacious tween).
Seriously, LOSE THE JUDGEMENT. Yes, this necessitates a second mention. Listen to your friends and family who have kids. Don’t try to fix the situation, they don’t need that. They just need someone who can listen and not be a dick.
Find your tribe. There are people out there who are dealing with similar situations and who can provide gentle advice and support. It doesn’t mean they do everything the exact same way, but they get it and they’re there for you. Maybe they’re online, maybe they’re at the local tot lot. But they ARE there. Keep your eyes open and maybe say hi to that frazzled parent at the grocery store. Tell them they’re doing a good job, and you’ve been there. You were there yesterday and probably will be again tomorrow.
I hope this doesn’t sound sanctimonious. I don’t know what I’m doing beyond this moment and I wouldn’t even pretend to know how to parent your kid. You probably have your own list and probably it looks different from mine. But if having a high spirited kid has taught me anything, it’s that we can’t make assumptions about what others are going through.
Stay strong, friends. And stock up on the coffee.
*I am not particularly a giant fan of Dr. Sears, but in this area, he got it right in my opinion. Delayed vaccine schedule? Not so much…