Every night before I go to sleep I peak in the kid’s rooms. Mostly this ritual started because Gigi sleeps in a toddler bed now, and had a habit of falling asleep in her reading chair or on the floor. Of course if I was up checking on her I had to check on Zeke too. Even though Gigi seems to have grown out of falling asleep on the floor (not before I got some great pictures, don’t worry!), I still like to check on them before I climb into our bed. Sleeping babies and toddlers look so sweet and perfect, it kind of relaxes me to see them so peaceful.
Gigi’s door tends to stick when I close it, usually it doesn’t wake her up. Last night as I left Gigi’s room and made my way to Zeke’s door I heard it, the scream. She was awake. I quickly checked on Zeke then made my way back to her, hoping to calm her down in time to avoid a meltdown. Too late.
She was understandably frightened, and I don’t really blame her. If I was woken up in the middle of the night by the door to our bedroom closing I would be freaked the heck out too! I tried to give her some water, sing her a song, the whole routine. Nothing was working. I thought “Well, time for tough love”, kissed her forehead and started to leave her to calm down on her own, but then I heard her trying to say something through her tears. Trying to catch her breath long enough to get out a tiny little sentence.
“I just, I just, I just want Mommy to stay here with Gigi.”
Here in lies the rub of parenting. Every ounce of your heart tells you to curl up next to your crying toddler and stay with them till they fall asleep. Your head, on the other hand, is filled with anecdotes from book after book, articles you see on Facebook and wisdom passed down from parents before you. You’re not supposed to give into your child’s demands. You are supposed to set boundaries. Under no circumstances are you to stay in your child’s room while they fall asleep because you will create a crutch that will ruin your adult life as you know it.
I actually consider myself pretty good at setting boundaries and expectations and all that stuff. Not because any book told me too, but because I instinctively know I am the parent. It’s up to me to guide my child through this world and teach her about her emotions and how they affect her behavior. When I see there is something she is too young to handle, I handle it for her. I pick my battles, but I’ll admit I (in a very encouraging manner) don’t let her get away with things. She is expected to eat her food, to help clean up, to say please and thank you etc. She is expected to fall asleep without Scott or I hovering over her. Nine times out of ten she does those things happily. But here I was, at number ten.
If you don’t have kids you might not be able to understand the constant internal battle going on in a parent’s mind. It’s a vicious cycle of pressure and guilt, pressure and guilt. You feel pressure to do something a certain way and guilt if you don’t do it that way. Even if your heart is telling you it’s okay. If you breastfeed you feel guilt for not being able to drink alcohol like everyone else in the world, or guilt that your boobs will forever look different, or guilt for making other people feel uncomfortable with how you chose to feed your child. If you formula feed you feel guilt because everyone is shoving down your throat how ‘breast is best’, or guilt because it must somehow be your fault you couldn’t produce enough milk. You can never win, and the battle over getting your child to sleep isn’t any easier.
As I’ve mentioned before, Gigi is a good sleeper. We do our little routine, plop her down in her bed and she goes to sleep. I don’t consider myself a baby sleeping guru but if anyone shows interest maybe I’ll write a post about that. We never had to do ‘crying it out’, or hire a sleep consultant, so on the rare occasion she was having trouble sleeping I didn’t mind staying with her. She wanted me to stay too.
I was sitting on her bed looking down on her sweet little face when I noticed her hand. Her hand was resting on the bed, outstretched towards me. As silly as it sounds, it kind of caught me of guard. It looked so tiny and perfect. For some reason, I instantly thought of a mom/designer/internet ‘celeb’ I follow on Instagram.
Her name is Tori and I started following her when I was pregnant with Gigi. She posts dreamy, creamy white pictures of her event planning business, her beautiful home and gorgeous fashionable daughter. Her pictures ooze the kind of boho-chic vibe I, and a lot of moms, only wish we could emulate. She had one girl when I started following her but eventually she became pregnant with a boy. The love for her family and her excitement for their new baby was inspirational. One day she posted stunning pictures from a baby shower her friends threw her, then suddenly things changed.
The night of her baby shower she was admitted to the hospital because of complications with her pregnancy. She spent the rest of her time in the hospital before the birth of her son where it was revealed she had an extremely rare form of cancer. The thing is though, she didn’t let her followers know she had cancer. She would post pictures with hints in the captions that something was going on, how grateful she was for good days, asking for strength on hard days. We never knew what was wrong, but we knew something was. Months passed and she began to post pictures of herself again, it was obvious she had lost weight. It was obvious she had surgery on her breasts. Her followers, myself included, kept praying and sending good vibes. Her positive attitude was uplifting to me. Her life still seemed so beautiful and full of light.
In the beginning of this year, 10 months after the birth of her son and being diagnosed, the truth was offered to us. She agreed to let her sister share her story, and a gofundme was set up for her family. I read the updates in disbelief. Here is a woman I’ve never met, only had a glimpse into her existence, but she was sick and I was distraught.
Her struggle brought up a lot of deeply buried pain for me. My father died when I was fourteen months old. My entire life I’ve always experienced the hurt of my father’s death from the lens of a child, now I’m experiencing it again through the lens of a parent. If I found out I was sick and could possibly leave my babies with out their mother… I cannot put into words that level of pain. I’ve never fully understood that until now. What my father must have felt, what Tori must have felt, I cannot imagine.
I GET to be here, sitting on my daughter’s bed listening to her say she “just wants me.” This is a gift. As I stared at her little hand and thought of Tori I knew I needed to stay. I curled up to Gigi, which immediately replaced her tears with a smile. She basically thought it was the silliest thing in the world. We laid there and talked for a bit, I got her to close her eyes a few times, but there was no way she was falling asleep with me next to her. It was too much fun! I stayed until I knew she was happy then let her know it was time for sleep, to which she replied, “okay.” She got her mommy for a little while longer, she was okay.
I started writing this blog a week ago, I am finishing it tonight. Today I found out that Tori has found peace and is now an angel for her family. The moment I read the latest update I cried. I cried for a woman I’ve never met and her beautiful children. For her husband, her sister and her parents. For the journey they have ahead of them. For the journey Tori went through this past year. I cried even knowing people die everyday. People suffer everyday, I know this. Even so, this story has re-broken my heart.
Tori’s sister shared a picture of Tori that I can’t get out of my head. Tori is wearing a beautiful white dress, holding her baby boy in her arms while her daughter is clutching on tightly to Tori’s legs. Literally clutching. Her little arms are wrapped so tightly around Tori, my heart fell right into my stomach when I saw it. She needs her mommy. Gigi needs her mommy. I need my daddy. Our children need us.
What is my take away from all this? I just want to be a good mom. I want my kids to know if they need me, I’ll be there. And I’ll stay there, as long as they want me to. Because I GET to be there, and some mommys and daddys don’t.
There is a famous quote that goes something like, you may just be one person to the world but to one person you are the world. I have no idea who said it (Google can’t seem to make up its mind on who said it either), but it pretty much sums up how our tiny children feel about us. We, as parents, are their world. We cannot take that for granted.
Forget the books. Forget the articles. Forget the advice.
Stay with your babies, if just for tonight. They need you.