There was nothing extraordinary about last night. The lights in the nursery were dimmed; Bennett had a warm bath; and he snuggled up to my chest to nurse before bed. This was typical. This was routine. My husband lied on the floor next to the crib, waiting to burp him halfway through his feeding. Salmon was baking in the oven downstairs. Wine was waiting to be uncorked and poured after a long, wicked week. The clock read 7:16 when I noticed Bennett had fallen asleep, his arm slung across my breast, his open mouth making patterned suckling motions. This was normal. He had done this countless times before. He had done this almost every night. When I slowly pulled away, I saw him wince and squirm in the slice of light coming from a nearby clock. He then nuzzled into my hand which cradled the back of his fuzzy, warm head, and drifted off again. Stuart leaned over us to scoop him out of my lap, the way he always did, so he could place him in his crib and I could slip out of the room like a phantom shadow and float down the stairs, unattached, on my way to unwind. But I whispered…
He stopped, letting his hands fall to his sides, and I gazed down at our sleeping son. I watched his chest rise and fall, each warm breath brushing against my skin like a driftless cloud. I caressed his head in my palms, stroking and smoothing his small patch of hair. I didn’t want to move. Stuart and I looked at each other, smiling in unison, and looked back down at our baby boy, the tiny person we created.
Our little human.
It was then I realized: I was trapped. I was whipped and wrapped up in a routine. I was strung out on diaper creams, and nap schedules, and feeding times, and laundry. I shouldn’t have felt bad about it, but I did. What mother doesn’t get trapped? We have responsibilities, whether we are stay at home mothers or working mothers, and it’s so easy to get buried by butt balms, and breastmilk, and clean crib sheets because we know what it’s like if a rash goes too long uncared for; we know what it’s like if the boob or the bottle isn’t ready fast enough; we know what it’s like if, God forbid, baby misses that ideal nap time window. We know what it’s like, so we get trapped in a world dictated by prevention, where we do everything in our power to prevent these things from happening, so our babies don’t have to cry or so we can keep our sanity. We bust our behinds to keep our children happy, so we can be happy ourselves. But sometimes, we don’t see that we’re slaves. The clock ticks, and we’re hitting all our marks, responding to all the cues, getting the job done, and it feels great…until it’s 7:16 pm…and you notice the sleeping baby in your lap…and it hits you. The assembly line has stopped. You realize:
Your child is not a machine.
Your child needs more than to be stuck in an assembly line. Your child needs more than the perfect schedule. After all, your child breathes like us…sleeps like us…needs and wants like us. Our children are not robots. We can’t place them in our program or wire them a certain way. Sometimes, we forget that we’re wired the same way. We forget: that’s our little human right there. We don’t always see that we often get stuck in the go-go-go, in the functioning routine, but when we do, we realize we can break the cycle, and life will go on. We can snuggle a little longer; we can read one more book before lights out; we can miss that nap if baby’s not having it. It might seem monumental…you might think the rest of the day will now go to crap because that precious nap did not happen or bedtime was missed by a longshot. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that. But now, I see it differently. I see it as an opportunity to deviate from monotony for a little while. I see it as a reminder that our little humans, they just want to be with us, a little longer, a little closer, a little tighter.
I tell myself it’s OK to break the cycle. We can rearrange the schedule. We can push pause on the routine. We can look away from the clock sometimes and watch our babies sleep. We can laugh and play, even when we’re both overtired. We can rock back and forth for awhile, even if it still ends with no sleeping. This is life. This is what it’s all about. There is no perfect system. The truly “perfect” system is one that is a perfect mess because instead of being trapped, trying desperately to maintain a well-oiled machine, we’re too busy admiring our children’s tiny toes and fingers, watching the way their faces light up after a sneeze, and cherishing how sweet they look while dreaming.