Good Night, Sleep Tight

Once, I put my foot in my mouth. (Yes, just once. I’ve got that much social savviness!)

I was at a wedding watching a youngster—maybe age two, maybe age three—run around chasing other children, having fun. I was standing with his father, admiring the boy, whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time, and commented “Wow, look at him! I haven’t seen him since he was nursing!” The father, turning to me with a look of irritation, simply stated “He’s still nursing.” Oh. Oops.

I was nowhere near motherhood at that time and honestly—really, truly honestly—did not know that some mothers nursed their children past, I don’t know, a year, a year and a half. I had never even thought about it. Therefore, I also did not know about milk banks, had never considered induced lactation (didn’t even know that was possible), and had never heard of La Leche League. So, of course, I also didn’t know that this man’s wife was a local LLL leader. Oh. Oops, again.

I was, understandably, embarrassed whether I should have been or not.

Ironically, in 2008, I started what I intended to be a reading and breastfeeding blog which I oh-so-cleverly entitled Book n’ Boob, certain it would go viral. I did, occasionally, write about books and breastfeeding, but I more often wrote about the general ins and outs of motherhood and wifing, my observations about creativity, and my having to seek professional help for what I referred to as a condition of “postpartum bullshit.” (In reference to the title of my then magnum opus, a gentleman and fellow blogger who stumbled upon the site did, initially, half-ass complain that he saw a lot of interesting wordsmithing but very little book and absolutely no boob. Although he became a regular reader, I am not completely sure that he ever fully forgave me his disappointment in missing out at the alleged promise of a nipple shot.)

So, on that blog, back on January 20, 2009, I wrote about what I then perceived as “the seemingly black-and-white politicizing of parenthood.” I discussed how “advertising one’s parental ideologies seemed par with a trendy haircut” and how when “a friend popped in, I removed the pacifier from my son’s peaceful mouth and hid it in the cutlery drawer.” I definitely, without a doubt, felt the pressure to be a perfect mom. It started with my pregnancy (doula or don’t) and continued until… well, I guess it still continues. Just not to the same degree or with the same intensity.

Like many women, I felt shame when I did something that seemed out of line with the current parental fashion statement. So, after feeling the need to secret keep, to hide my perceived mommy shortcomings, I came to admire the confident, informative retort of the father I had potentially offended. (Although, perhaps, if he was seriously offended, then he might have also been contributing to this icky parental polarizing.) Because, despite the fact that many people scoff (and that may be a nice way of putting it) at the choice to breastfeed older children, he stood by his family’s decision with poise. If my family had made the same choice, and I know many families that have, I might have (although I was one to breastfeed in restaurants) kept it all sorts of hush hush.

So, here is where I segue out of the Land of Lactation and into a confession-of-sorts about a parenting issue that I have been having, oh, since my son was, well, nursing. Up until six nights ago, my now seven-year-old son and I were co-sleeping. (Oh, the shock!)  This might not have been an issue—there are plenty of arguments for and against co-sleeping— if I had been thoughtful and consistent, but our bedtime routine was sadly unpredictable. I felt like I shouldn’t allow or encourage my son to sleep with me (some of this because of other people’s opinions and some because my son has some independence and anxiety issues), but I couldn’t seem to set the limit or follow through. After many late nights full of pleading and sobbing and eventual independent sleeping and then a cycle of regression in which we ended up back in the same pattern, I felt like a failure.

I am practicing being gentle with myself so I won’t go down the rabbit hole of “I must have totally screwed my child up!” And I– well he and I– have recently been victorious!

Six nights. All night. And this time the transition was tear free. (I attribute this success to my sobriety and to my work on boundary setting and being fully present.)

Still, I was, for years, embarrassed by the situation. I felt rather alone in my inadequacies. I couldn’t see other people’s shit. This was, of course, self-centered of me. My perceptions of the “us and them-isms” that I described in 2009, while not completely imaginary, were probably, in many ways a product of my projecting my own sense of insufficiency onto others. I have a habit of projecting. I also have a habit, although it may have improved somewhat, of being all sorts of tied up in my egoic mind.

In her book Broken Open: How Difficult Times can Help us Grow, in the chapter entitled “Bozos on the bus,” Elizabeth Lesser writes: We are all half-baked experiments-mistake-prone beings, born without an instruction book into a complex world. We must, must, must remember that. We must also take some responsibility, realize that we are all, sometimes, just surviving, and take it easy.

My inability to stand shoulders back, head up when discussing our co-sleeping habit had everything to do with fear of rejection, with being outcast, and with being seen as a loosey goosey weirdo, a maternal lightweight. I didn’t like to admit that we slept in the same bed nor could I confess that I had no handle on the situation. I was, as Eckhart Tolle phrases it, hiding behind my “ego armor” and “emphasizing the ‘otherness’ of others.” In my own fear and self-centeredness, I found myself creating a world in which I was the lone parent struggling through inconsistency and conflict. Ha!

And, since we have only broken the habit six days ago, and it took breaking the habit to publicly admit that we were in the habit (I see a trend here), I know I must still be wrapped up in that fear. So, I will remind myself, and maybe you, that we should honor our choices and remember that, in the words of Brene Brown: Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are reminders that we’re all in this together.

And, since I suck as conclusions, but this piece is getting too long, let me shout, as I hear my son peacefully snoring in the other room and I can finally stretch my legs out: Triumph! Oh, sweet Triumph! We’ve finally done it!

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