If you are expecting a useful list of tricks and tips to get your little one sleeping from evening until morning then I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. Equally, if you already know how old my son is and are perhaps expecting a tale of nearly three years of woe and broken sleep and now a glorious celebration of a toddler mastering the full twelve hours of nighttime shut-eye, then I’m sorry to disappoint this is not that post either… Continue reading
I can’t sing. I love singing and so I sing a lot, but I’m not good at it. I also love talking, wittering really – mostly to my husband and son so it’s contained, don’t worry. By the time my unborn child is born they will have become extremely well acquainted with my voice…and the voice of their, now two and half year old, brother.
Is that it? I hear you ask. Is that the poor child’s gift? Well fortunately no. And now you may need to brace yourselves…I think I may, possibly, perhaps be about to veer into lifestyle territory…
There are three people in my life who consistently ‘offer’ me annoying and unwelcome advice and opinions. I don’t know these people brilliantly, they don’t know me that well. They certainly don’t know LJ so basically I wish they would just LEAVE ME ALONE!
Here are a few of the gems they have passed on to me and what, on a ranty day, I wish I could say in return (rather than what I do say which is generally mmm, oh right. Anyway funny about that freak rainstorm/hailstorm/snowstorm/sandstorm the other week…oh look at the time, must go byeeee’).
A common workplace team building exercise for adults involves somebody falling back into the arms of a waiting colleague. The idea is that the person falling puts their safety in the catcher’s hands and their faith in the other person’s ability and desire to catch them. It’s a fairly uncreative way to build a team and I do wonder what sort of workplace has employees that won’t catch each other under such controlled conditions! But it is a stark example of what trust, at its most primitive, looks like.
One of Little j’s favourite games at the moment is to a stand on our (floor level!) window ledge in our lounge and fall backwards into my arms. He doesn’t think about whether or not I’m going to be there. There is no doubt in his mind at all. He completely trusts me. In all aspects of his life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about trust this week. To have somebody’s trust is such a responsibility. A baby completely trusts their parents and sustaining this trust through Little J’s childhood and beyond feels like a top priority in terms of our relationship. I need to respect him and understand that, for him, the little things as well as the big things are important. I want him to believe that if he needs me in the night I’ll be there, or if I leave him somewhere or with someone that I’ll always come back. Similarly if he opens his mouth for a spoonful of peas, he’ll get peas and not the carrots I’ve hidden on the other spoon!
To be so completely trusted is not just a responsibility it is another gift of parenting. After the initial adjustment to the shock of newborn fragility, the more I see Little J’s trust in me the more I trust myself. My confidence is growing all the time as my parenting style is become more defined. I am getting better at recognising my instincts and not doubting myself. I want to parent with fairness and kindness; love, fun and patience and I am becoming increasingly proud of that ambition. Little J trusts me and actually, right now, I think he should.
Of course Little J won’t always trust me in quite the same way as he does now. And things, small things sometimes, will happen that will cause him to doubt me and will start to erode his unquestioning trust. Perhaps, as well, he will just become older and more aware of his own self and the possible dangers facing him. As the rest of the world starts to play a larger role in his everyday reality perhaps he’ll realise that he can’t (and doesn’t need to) trust anyone as completely as he did when life was just about him and me.
And maybe he will always hope that his mother or father will catch him, but he’ll start at some point to realise that his parents are just human and flawed and ordinary….it is not that we don’t want to catch him, it is that we might miss sometimes.
As adults we generally spend our lives ‘getting things done’. Our day is spent moving from one job to another, we have aims and purposes, deadlines and commitments. Even when we pencil in relaxation time it is often structured and shaped so that we get the best out of it. More often than not a long slow walk for a grown up is to somewhere or with a particular purpose in mind…perhaps a walk to a viewpoint, through a pretty forest, around a city’s sights, an opportunity to catch up with a friend, listen to music, exercise the dog…
Andrew and I took Little J on our family’s first buggy-free walk the other day. We ventured to the local park and decided to walk around the park to the swings, then back to the car via the cafe.
It started well…Little J waddled free from the car and made a determined beeline for the cross country path that I have only been able to gaze at longingly when there with the pushchair. We then crossed to the park’s outer path in sight of the road and stopped. For there in front of us were vehicles…cars, lorries, motorbikes and best of all, buses…not just one or two, but bus after bus after bus.
And so we pointed, we waved, we tried to say bus, we waved again. After an eternity Little J looked at his little feet and watched them walk him along the path a little further. Until they trod on a leaf and he needed to squat down and investigate the leaf which became leaves, which became stones and twigs and more leaves and then…ooo a dog! And so we watched the dog, we pointed, waved, tried to say dog and waved again.
Andrew and I were having a lovely happy time, but all the while we were chivvying Little J along, reminding him over and over about the swings and enthusiastically encouraging him to come along and follow us.
And then we noticed ourselves doing this and wondered why. Yes we knew Little J would have fun at the swings, but wasn’t he having fun on the path? Of course he was, but our grown up minds had decided that swings would feature as a central activity in our afternoon outing and so we were walking to the swings. Little J was simply walking. Slowly, happily and totally in the moment.
Which is what Little J does all day everyday now I think about it. Even just around the house. Take going downstairs…most of the time he doesn’t really know or care why we’re going downstairs, and if he knew at the top, he’s forgotten by the bottom. Each step is an adventure…he notices something new or appreciates something familiar along the way. He finds great enjoyment in clutching the banister, he watches his foot slide on the carpet, sits on his bottom, looks back up the stairs, makes faces in the mirror on the wall, points at the pictures in the hall and ‘tells’ me how high the ceiling is.
To stop and slow down is a wonderful ‘talent’ and to be living alongside someone for whom this talent is still inbuilt feels like a wonderful gift.
So Andrew, Little J and I did make it to the swings the other day…and to the cafe….and back to the car! We were lucky enough to have time in our grown up schedule to be on a toddler schedule that day. Well almost, we really did need Little J to go a little bit quicker on the way back to the car as darkness was setting in. We landed on some strategies to speed things up while still having fun…we followed dogs, bikes and pushchairs until they disappeared in the middle distance; one of us ran on ahead and hid for Little J to find us in far off trees. And when all else failed we pulled out the bubbles. Get the right wind direction and blowing technique and your toddler will be off at speed toward your destination chasing bubbles.
So I’m keeping the bubbles in my coat pocket for now just in case, but mostly I’m going to enjoy being in the moment with Little J. I’ve realised that taking long slow walks to nowhere in particular is my new favourite thing!
There are harder things in life than being a parent to a healthy happy child and Andrew and I know how lucky we are. But there is no denying that it can all get a bit much sometimes and parenting a baby that won’t go to sleep or stay asleep is especially challenging.
We’re in an unsettled patch at the moment…Little J is one of those babies that if something is bothering him he will struggle to fall asleep. This could be teething pain, a cold, a developmental leap or maybe he’s just wondering which sofa he hid his favourite tractor under. Whatever it may be, it’s hard on him and us. The next day feels a bit grumpier. He gets tired, we get tired. He tries and tries to sleep but then needs another cuddle, meanwhile we want dinner and a glass of wine.
And of course that’s the point isn’t it? He needs us and I would much rather have a cuddle with my son than all the dinners and glasses of wine in the world. One day Little J will be Big J and I’ll probably need more cuddles from him than I’ll get, so I should be banking them now.
And yet still I parent at this time feeling as though I’m doing it all wrong; as though every ‘parenting expert’ is in the room and Supernanny is peering through the keyhole, all shaking their heads in disappointment. But they’re not here…in fact when it comes to sleep I wouldn’t give most parenting experts the time of day, let alone house room.
We don’t leave LJ much…’controlled crying’ and ‘cry it out’ are just not for us. When there is nothing bothering him, he settles to sleep straight away. When something is bothering him I’d rather he ‘told’ me and we learnt how to deal with it together to begin with. This does mean I have to dig a little (a lot) deeper sometimes come 6pm to find the energy, patience and love he needs…
A few months ago I was driving home from a rare evening out. LJ hadn’t settled to bed so we were late arriving to the party. He then woke up and wouldn’t settle back down so I left Andrew out and drove home to help my mother who had resorted to watching Crufts with LJ. I was frustrated, upset, tired and sure I had done something terribly wrong as a parent that meant he didn’t go to bed that night. On the way home Radio 4’s Poetry Please was taking my mind on a much needed wander and then the following was featured. It struck a chord with me and I’m revisiting it again today in preparation for tonight…it could all be a LOT worse and it will all one day be a distant and probably very happy memory.
All Things Pass – Lao Tzu
All things pass
A sunrise does not last all morning
All things pass
A cloudburst does not last all day
All things pass
Nor a sunset all night
All things pass
What always changes?
And if these do not last
Do man’s visions last?
Do man’s illusions?
Take things as they come
All things pass