The way a baby can get a perfect stranger’s attention never ceases to amaze me. You could be standing in line at the grocery store or at the library and the person behind you is sure to strike up a conversation with your little one. Even as you push your stroller through the mall, you know everyone you pass looks inside to get a glimpse of your little person. If you stop long enough, you’d be surprised by the strange faces and sounds they make just to get your baby to laugh. Once they are done playing peek-a-boo, regardless of who the person is, they turn their attention to you, and inevitably ask the same question: Is your baby sleeping through the night?
In the beginning, when I didn’t know any better, I would proudly boast about how my little girl slept 11 straight hours (8PM to 7AM). I would explain that I had a regular daily regiment and a very strict nighttime routine that was the key to getting her to sleep through the night. I even shared my strategy with my friends that were having difficulties getting their babies to sleep through the night. I was sure to never stay out past “bed-time” and I know I made friends and family upset when I couldn’t make events that were scheduled past 7PM. But this all came back to bite me starting at about six months.
When we went to our six month baby wellness check up we told the doctor that something must be wrong with out little princess because she was no longer sleeping through the night. The doctor looked at me and smiled. She gave me the names of several books and said, “She is very healthy. Some babies just won’t sleep through the night until they are five years old. It’s normal.” My eyes opened wide. I raced home and started reading every book she had suggested. Some of the books had complicated 15-step plans, and others just suggested leaving them in the crib alone to “cry it out.” One book in particular, The No Cry Sleep Solution, had a very elaborate plan for getting my baby to sleep through the night and required me to fill out sleep logs every 10 days. While I didn’t complete the sleep logs and only half-heartedly tried the nine phase plan, I did come across a passage that completely changed my view of optimal sleeping habits for a child. I read that any baby that sleeps longer than five hours at a time is considered to be “sleeping through the night.” Well, my baby did that! She usually slept five and a half hours straight (on most nights anyway). So, my baby was technically sleeping through the night. I guess I just thought it would look a little differently.
After I gave up on the adult version of “sleeping through the night,” I felt a lot less tired and a lot better about my parenting skills. It is amazing what you can accomplish on such little sleep. All of a sudden waking up 15 times a night is better than 17. Then, when she only woke up four times I felt like I could run a marathon the next day. I felt like I could be proud of her soundly sleeping at night and I could answer “yes” to that inevitable question.
All of us think we’ll be perfect parents before we have children. We are sure that we will never curse, scream or hit. We will never serve anything other than organic food. We will never let the TV babysit our children for longer than 20 minutes a day (and what they watch is sure to be educational). The list goes on. From table manners to extra curricular activities our heads are filled with dreams of how we will raise our little ones to be better than the rest. My husband and I were no different.
While I was pregnant with my daughter, we got into a discussion about parenting. My husband and I talked about things like discipline, allowance and manners. Cursing also came up in the conversation. Since we really didn’t want our little princess to have the playground potty mouth, we decided to curb our language. Words that were considered profanity were to be omitted from our vocabulary, but others like ‘darn’ could be used in their place. We implemented this plan as soon as our little bundle of joy was brought home. We adhered to it diligently making sure to hold our tongues when we stubbed our toes and we were sure to use milder language when venting about our days.
Our determination faltered one day. One of us slipped up. I won’t name names, but one of us let a curse fly. Immediately it was pronounced a “one-time thing” that would never happen again. It couldn’t possibly hurt her in the long run. I mean we had only been home 2 days! She didn’t understand us yet anyway, and probably wouldn’t for another few months, at least. We would just stick to the plan and it would erase any damage done. In reality though, the days passed and the profanity crept back into our daily language exponentially. Needless to say, we aren’t curbing anything anymore. Our little girl is now one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Dammit’ is her first word.
It’s not that we want her to know every curse in the book, believe me. It’s just that this part of our life was just too difficult to change. With so many other changes happening, we figured it would be OK for this one to fall by the wayside. You have to pick your battles, and this was just not one we wanted to fight. We reasoned that sometimes you need to really express yourself and adding a curse word could really help you make a statement. Besides, soon enough she would hear them anyway, right? And by the time that she becomes a teenager she will have more four-letter words in her vocabulary than anything else, so why bother? At least this way she would know how to use them properly.
We have now come to the conclusion that the ‘perfect parent’ is a myth. You do what you can with what you got and try not to loose your sanity on the way. If you can do it with a little bit of grace, you might even get a gold star next to your name. In the end, the only one that you really have to convince is yourself anyway.
It seems as though we all go through life barely listening until someone says a key word that strikes a chord within us and wakes us up from autopilot. We then pay attention to the conversation, which takes a lot of energy if you are sleep deprived, and once it is no longer of interest to us we go right back to autopilot. That’s how you can find yourself driving to work on your day off and not have any idea how you got there. Or how you can say uh-huh to everything your spouse is saying and then not remember the conversation five minutes later. If key words are not continuously spoken in a conversation to keep the person interested, you tend to check out again, which can cause a lot of miscommunication with those involved in the conversation (because you were on autopilot during the entire thing). This must be how wars between countries and fights between husbands and wives start out.
I suppose if we were to listen and pay attention to everything all the time it would prove to be really exhausting. We would be like the newborn baby that needs to sleep all afternoon after being over-stimulated from looking at a stop sign or a stuffed animal. It would just make me feel a lot better if I knew what everyone's key words were, so that when I was talking I knew that I was actually being listened to, instead of knowing all they were hearing was blah, blah, blah.
My husband proves my theory on a daily basis. He is not the only one that proves the theory, but is the subject that does so most consistently. My husband’s key words for checking out and not paying attention seem to be anything related to housework and organization. I swear I could be talking in French and he wouldn't know the difference. If I really need to get the message across I have to make him stop what he is doing and look at me (like a three year old) before I can tell him what I need him to do. Most of the time, I have him repeat it back to me to be sure that the message stuck. Even then, sometimes it just slips right out. If he is involved in doing something while I am trying to talk to him though, that is a different story. He might as well be on the other side of the universe.
Its almost like his brain is broken into compartments and when one compartment is open, and he is playing with the items in it, no other compartment can be open at the same time. Before he can talk about or do anything else, all the items have to be put back into the compartment and only then can the next compartment be opened. Unfortunately, this does not prove to be true outside of his brain. On the outside, he NEVER puts anything back where it goes. Socks are littered all over the house and the desk where he works is covered in so many piles of stuff that you can't even see the desk! Sometimes I honestly don't even know how he functions.
Men and women alike have their key words that make them check out and check back in to reality. It is just a question of finding out what they are. Whether this is a phenomenon to keep us from over stimulation or just a way to let us get through the day, we are all just barely listening until something captures our attention and wakes us up.