Combatting My Fear of the Dark- March 16, 2013

I am afraid of the dark. I have been consistently from the time I was six years old. I’m not afraid to admit it, as I honestly don’t care if people think I’m crazy. I’ve gotten to a stage in my life where I no longer worry about people liking me. So if you think I’m loony, I do understand.

What is changing is that I am reconsidering my fear of the dark when I put my daughter down to sleep in her crib. I have the same fear of the dark, but am more combative with my fears. I talk to them directly. “Leave her alone,” I say mentally. “If you come near her I’m going to kick your ass.” Then I leave a light on in the bathroom just in case. When I was younger, light represented protection. When I was left alone at home, I would turn on the lights in every room. I was still afraid and couldn’t sleep, but at least I could see and be vigilant until my parents got home. As an adult, I progressed to managing to fall asleep with the light on. The problem went away when I met my husband. When there is somebody else in the room or apartment with me- parents, roommates, friends at a slumber party- the fear is less debilitating.

My daughter, by contrast, exhibits no fear of the dark. She remains peacefully asleep as I transfer her from the boppy to her crib. Her arms fall beside her forming right angles around her beautiful face. Compared to my fear, she is a bastion of strength. I’m even less afraid when I’m around her. However, I sometimes wake up at night and am fearful for her. That’s when I turn the light on in the bathroom so that a) I can see her from my bedroom and b) to keep my imagined boogie monsters at bay.

Differences in the way objects appear during the day and night is interesting. I took a biochemistry class in 2004 and learned that the eye, not surprisingly, sees more precision during the day but is better at sensing motion at night. This phenomenon is highlighted by the fact that I need glasses. Without glasses at night, I can see less detail but am still sensitive to motion. During the day, I am rarely afraid. But at night, my other senses are heightened. When I grab for my glasses on the coffee table in the dark, for example, I don’t actually see the glasses clearly, although I pick them out at first reach about 90% of the time. It’s not so much that I can see their exact shape, but I can pick them out even amidst the rubble that is on my coffee table.  My imagination fills in what I can’t see.

So at night, familiar objects have a different look to them. The two mules looking out at me from the picture I took at the zoo take on a more somber meaning. The woman with heavy mascara looking out from a chemical dependency calendar I got for free looks downright scary at night. (I have to replace it.)

Falling Asleep Without Crying It Out- March 15, 2013

It’s 9:30 pm and my 7-month-old daughter is beside me, awake and curious.  A wind up ladybug is turning to the sound of “Someday Over the Rainbow” as she reaches for the keys on my laptop.  I tried holding her, rocking with her, breastfeeding, to no avail.  Last night she went to bed at 10 pm, and it looks like another night of the same.  Hold on, I have to take care of some crying. 

Yep, she fell asleep at 10 on the nose.  She was so cranky, that as soon as she latched on to my breast she fell asleep.  The times when she is asleep in front of me are some of my most treasured moments.  I hold her there, on the boppy, and if I could, I would hold her there all night.  If I didn’t need sleep and had infinite time and didn’t have to do anything else, I would hold her there all night.  It’s funny, but that’s the closeness I feel when she is asleep.

I just finished reading a book about ways to get your child to sleep.  I was surprised that one of the supposed professional recommendations was letting your child cry themselves out until they fall asleep.  This has the unappealing distinction of being called the “extinction” method.  The logic behind this plan is to force children to learn how to fall asleep by themselves.  If you help them by attending to them, the argument goes, your child will need you to help them fall asleep again if they wake up during the night or to fall asleep on subsequent nights.  With regard to the former, that has not been my experience.  My daughter wakes up about 6 hours after falling asleep to nurse and usually goes right back to sleep.  If she’s not asleep, I put her back in her crib and go back to sleep myself.  She does manage to fall asleep by herself, because when I get up in the morning, she is asleep. However, each night, we go through the same rituals of going to sleep- nursing, rocking, stand and hold, repeat.  When the crying continues, we let her stay up with us, as we did tonight, until she gets tired.  This is so much easier than letting her cry and cry and cry.  We live in an apartment, so that’s not really an option for us.  Secondly, and more importantly, I do not think this is good for her neurological development.  God knows why we have such loud babies compared to other animals.  While most animals try to protect their young from predators, a human baby’s cry would certainly attract them.  On the flip side, maybe it forces families to attend to their kin.  Maybe it’s a test of loyalty or perseverance.  Hey, it could be worse.  Salmon, for example, die after spawning.

Whatever the reason, nature has endowed humans, most of us anyway, with a sense of compassion for crying babies.  While I can understand how someone can become fed up with a crying baby (they are, after all, self-centered), it seems unethical and immoral to let a baby cry and cry and cry.  I don’t profess to be an expert on baby’s sleep.  I guess I am lucky that while my child becomes fussy and cries in our nightly ritual, my husband can attend to her while I regroup.  It would be a lot harder for a single mother, or a woman without that kind of support.

The best part about this experience is the last part.  When she does fall asleep, it’s the result of a hard won effort, the icing on the cake, so to speak, which makes the moment sweeter.  The weight of her body on my lap, her chubby cheeks turned to one side, her eyes peacefully closed.  All I want to do is be with her at that moment, to feel her breathing and the dynamic energy of her presence.  At some time in the future, this will end.  She won’t need me to hold her anymore.  She won’t latch on to my breast for comfort.  So I’m cherishing these moments that we have together.  Caring for an infant seems like a long time because it’s the only thing I know now, but in the timeline that is life, it is a short period.  It’s not always easy, but I find ways to treasure it now.

Introducing Solids- March 10, 2013

This weekend, I officially introduced my daughter to solid foods.  Previously, my husband snuck in some pistachio ice cream when we were visiting his family in New Jersey in February.  She also had some chai tea at about four months, to which I was an accomplice.

“Oh come on,” my husband said beguilingly. “Just a little bit.”  More

Separation- March 6, 2013/ #2

In the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Massachusetts, President Obama gave an address in which he commented that children slowly separate from their parents as they grow older. For some reason, that stuck in my mind. More

Wailing about Weaning

As I was eating a salad for dinner this evening, my nearly seven-month-old daughter reached her hand into my bowl.  When I gently removed her hand, she giggled, and tried to reach in again.  When that wasn’t successful, she engaged in a tug of war with my plate.  She grabbed one end, and I had to hold my ground to prevent her from toppling the salad with balsamic vinaigrette over my futon.  My daughter will be seven months old this Sunday and thus far I have not given her solids, unless you count the sip of chai tea when she was four months old that my husband made me do and a taste of pistachio ice cream when she was five months old (also, might I add, courtesy of my husband.)  My daughter is a happy, healthy kid, weighing in at 16 lbs 4 oz at her six-month check up. She is in the 50% weight and 75% height brackets, so she is actually tall and thinner than most babies.  You wouldn’t guess that by looking at her though. She has big puffy cheeks and her wrists slightly bulge from her hands.  Her legs, if they were on an adult, would be considered overweight.  But she isn’t.  She has no body issues.  She is just happy.

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and preferably continued breastfeeding for the first year.  I knew that breastfeeding would be my choice in how I feed my baby.  At my daughter’s six month check up, the doctor, a naturopath, gave the go ahead to start solids.  No citrus, dairy, wheat, nuts, or, of course, honey.  Wait three days to see if there is an adverse reaction, and if not, introduce another food.  I knew my daughter was ready, as she had already eyed up our food for the last two months and been disappointed that she wasn’t able to partake.  I thought I was ready too, until it finally came down to actually handing over the food.  I was scared.  Scared of the poop that would start to smell and scared that we wouldn’t have the same bond that we had before.  I know that the transition to solids is gradual, that it can be baby-led, when she’s ready, but she was ready, and I wasn’t.

A father that attends Baby Storytime at our local library told me how his daughter transitioned to solids quite suddenly.  His wife returned to work, and the event was pretty traumatic for their daughter, who refused to take a bottle.  This father had to resort to using one of those droppers they use to give medicine to pets.  She was still breastfed, but in this particular way.  It wasn’t long, however, before she transitioned to solid foods completely. The day his daughter refused the breast, he told me his wife knew that was the last time she would breastfeed.

To make sure I was doing the right thing, or perhaps seeking reason to forestall this transition to solids, I came across an article that recommended exclusive breastfeeding for 6-8 months to avoid allergies.  My husband developed allergies to wheat in his forties.  I didn’t want that to happen to our daughter, I rationalized, so I kept on breastfeeding.  Everything, or almost everything, in her body right now came from me.  Her cheeks, her arms, her legs, that all came from my booby milk.  There is a certain awesomeness that my breast milk made that happen.  But when I ate my salad this evening, I saw how eagerly she wanted to play with my food bowl.  I gave in.  I tore off a piece of a bell pepper and gave it to her.  To my surprise, she completely ignored it.  I tried again.  Nope, not interested.  She wanted to play with my food.  According to authors Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, authors of Baby-Led Weaning, that is precisely what babies do with their food first- they play with it.  This is part of a natural course of development, they say, that leads to eating by themselves.

So this weekend, I am going to offer my daughter a piece of cantaloupe on a plate.  I already have the cantaloupe.  It has been sitting in my fridge, and now I have a good use for it.  We will partake in a family meal-eating cantaloupe.  If she doesn’t partake in it, that’s fine, but at least I would have done my duty by doing the right thing.

Originally written March 6, 2013