Sleep Tight, Little Ones.

three weeks old

A dear, dear friend of mine in Chicago had a baby yesterday. A little boy. Such a joy.

I don’t know many tiny babies any more. There’s a period when you’re surrounded by babies everywhere, or maybe it just seems like that when you have one of your own. Then a few years pass and you’re using cloth diapers as dust cloths and giving away your pack and play. Thinking about my friend’s baby has brought back a flood of memories about those few months when John was very little. Vague and blurry, sleep-deprived memories, but fond ones nonetheless.

I’m not really very much of a baby person, to tell you the truth. I babysat a lot when I was a teenager, but it was more for the money than the love of babies. And I was better at children than at babies anyway.

I loved John instantly, but I was a little bit surprised, honestly, about how much I enjoyed the tiny baby phase of things. The first month or two, though exhausting, was a golden time for me. I loved (still love) the idea that in those early days and weeks your only job is to make this little human happy — to meet his most basic needs and watch him eat, breath and (hopefully) sleep. It doesn’t really matter how or when or where any of that happens. It matters only that he’s content.

Sooner or later, you have to start making actual decisions. Sleep decisions are the first big ones. Will he learn to put himself to sleep? Will he sleep with you? Will he sleep at all and for how long? And what will tonight’s routine do to tomorrow’s schedule? And should you wake him up from this nap so he’ll go back down? Will you nurse him to sleep? And for how long? Even the most basic decisions seem fraught.

I remember the very first time someone suggested to me that I should let John fuss for a little while before going to sleep. It like rejoining the world for the first time. And not in a good way. I didn’t do it, but even in not doing it I was aware of the possible impact of that choice. If I rock him to sleep today, maybe it’ll be harder for him the next time. Or maybe letting him fuss is the thing that’s harmful.

As a parent, I’ve often found myself wishing for the instruction manual. If only there was some way to be sure that you’re doing the right thing. Of course, there isn’t. Only you know your child, and your best judgement is his best shot. That’s a lot of responsibility, and it seems like those early sleep issues are the first ones to bring it all home. Being a mom or a dad is grown up business.

Everyone says (incessantly) when babies are little that it all goes by so fast. Sigh. So fast. And they say it to you when you haven’t slept through the night in weeks and there’s something unknown and crusty on your sweater. It sure doesn’t seem fast at the time. But it turns out to be true. It does go by really fast. There’s nothing like that time at the very beginning when you can hold your sweet bundle all day and night without even thinking of what comes next.

Although I only know one or two babies these days, it makes me a little sad to hold them. I miss mine, who is now big and six and missing two teeth. I think about that some evenings when I rest with him until his eyes close and his breathing deepens. Someday, he needs to take himself upstairs, read for a little while, and turn out the light. But I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

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