Parenting H

Month: November, 2013

I am reading Horns To Toes and In Between to H. We come to the page about eyes.

“And we’ve all got two eyes that can open and close…”

H starts humming. I keep reading.

“And we have a fuzzy tummy that we all like to pat and a little belly button in the middle of that.”

Three pages later, H is still humming.

Puzzled, I turn back to the page where the humming started.

“And we’ve all got two eyes that can open and close…”

And then, in a flash, I understand. Open and close.

When we read Olivia’s Opposites, I say, “Open. Ahhh. Closed. Mmmm.”

H is making the sound of closed.

Later, I ask my mom, “All parents think their children are geniuses, don’t they?”

“Yes, Tracy,” my mom says, with a knowing smile and a nod. “All parents think their children are geniuses. Yes, they do.”


Waiting It Out

Taking him to bed despite, or maybe because of, his frantic protests. Letting him crawl away and then back to me. Feeling the warmth of his body as he lies on top of me to nurse. Murmuring. Rubbing his head. Rolling him onto the bed. Cradling him close. Feeling his feet kneading my thighs. Watching his arm rise and fall on his ribcage with each breath.  Listening to his breathing slow. Feeling his body quiet. Giving thanks, as he falls asleep, for a healthy and beautiful baby boy.

I thought I knew things about parenting, or the kind of parent I would be, before H came along.

All babies sleep in cribs, I was sure. I am not going to be my child’s playmate. I am going to be his parent, I was confident. All the firsts, first smiles, first birthdays, first steps, first haircuts, will be full of joy and only joy, I assumed. All I need to do is find the right book to help me understand my baby’s sleep and we will all be well rested. All I need to do is find the right book period and my every parenting question will be answered, I took for granted.

Now I know that some babies just cannot be put down for naps or bedtime. Now I know that there are many ways and places for sleep to happen. Now I know that to play is to parent. Now I know in my heart the great joy of firsts, but I also know that the joy of firsts can be tinged with sadness. Now I know that there is no book out there that can teach me better about my baby’s sleep than he can. And well rested? Now I have an inkling there may be no such thing as a parent, no matter the age of the child. Now I know there is no book period, no matter how helpful it is, that can teach me better about H than H himself can.

Maybe I knew nothing despite all the things I thought I knew, but it doesn’t matter now. H teaches me every day everything I need to know about parenting him, often throwing in an extra credit lesson for me about myself. He always shows up and he never gives up on me, no matter how many times I need the lesson repeated. He is a most excellent teacher, the best at showing me who I am and who I want to be, both as a parent and as a human being.

Your baby does not want to be held in cradle to nurse at bedtime anymore. You have always started bedtime this way, ever since he learned to nurse, but the last few times you tried he has latched for only a second or two before throwing himself back in your arms. He wants to nurse lying on the bed, and so you do. You nurse on the first side murmuring Wherever You Go: My Love Will Find You as he twists and kicks his leg into the air. He unlatches and rolls away, but does not race to the foot of the bed like he used to and resists less when you pull him back. You nurse on the second side, singing Taps, then Simple Gifts, Over the Rainbow, and Stewball. Sometimes he unlatches and relatches. When he unlatches and rolls away unsettled you switch to the other side while continuing to murmur and hum. You switch back and forth until you lose track of how many times it has been, and then he rolls away and lies quietly babbling to himself. You rub his back. He rolls around before finally settling on his tummy, and you rub his back some more as you watch him drift off to sleep without the help of nursing.

You look at him sprawled out asleep on the bed. You see the baby from the NICU, the baby you brought home from the hospital, and the baby you had just before he turned one, but all of these babies exist only in your mind’s eye. The baby asleep on the bed next to you is a little boy. He is your baby, but he is not really a baby anymore. The reality of this hits you, and you almost cry. You feel the tension of holding simultaneously the sadness of letting go of the baby he used to be and the joy of watching him grow into the person he is to be. It is not the first time you have been caught in this in-between place. The sweet and the bitter, the happy and the sad, the pulling close and the letting go collide often in parenting H. As you watch him sleeping, you bounce between joy and sadness before your mind comes to rest on the little boy next to you, not as he was or will be, but just as he is.


Born June 2012 at 33 weeks
3lbs 15.8oz
17 inches long

Today is World Prematurity Day. Visit the March of Dimes to learn more about premature birth and how it can be prevented.

H spots the mesh cup of golf pencils at the reference desk. He points, swinging his legs and bobbing up and down in excitement. H discovered these golf pencils last time we were here visiting with the children’s librarian. I set him on the desk, and he gets right to work removing the pencils from the mesh cup and depositing them in a rotating rack holding informational brochures and bookmarks, making faint pencil marks on some of them in the process.

“How old?” the librarian asks. She is not the children’s librarian. I have never seen her before.

“He’s almost 16 months,” I say.

“He’s adorable.”

She smiles at H, watching him with gentle eyes. She is friendly.

I fish the pencils from the brochures and return them to the cup. H takes them right back out, and I smile at his industriousness. Pencils clatter on the desk and fall to the floor, and I  pick them up obligingly. Pencil points that get stuck in the mesh of the cup break off, but I continue to smile. They can be resharpened.

H turns his attention from the rotating rack to the librarians’ phone. He puts a pencil on the phone and presses the nearest button. The phone goes to speaker, the dial tone loud in the quiet library.

“How did you know to do that?” the librarian asks H as she cheerfully lifts the receiver and puts it back on the hook to disengage the speaker.

“Lucky press,” I say.

She moves the phone a bit toward her and I move H a bit away from the phone. She periodically turns her attention to her work, but mostly she is watching H. She is still smiling. She is still friendly.

H sees another mesh cup of pens, markers, and highlighters. He empties this mesh cup, object by object, into the rotating rack. He takes some brochures from the rack and bends and crinkles them as he works at putting them back.

The librarian is smiling, still benignly, at H, but I begin to feel uncomfortable. We have been here too long, I think. We are being a nuisance.

H is focused on his project, oblivious to my growing unease. The voices in my head get louder. I shouldn’t be letting him do this, I think. We shouldn’t be here at all. A better parent wouldn’t let her baby play with the pencils at the library’s reference desk. The discomfort in my body becomes so great that I cannot stand still anymore.

“Would you like to go look at some books?” I ask H.

He pays no attention to me, continuing to find different configurations for the pencils, pens, markers, and mesh cups. He stacks the two cups on top of one another and works at putting one on top of the rotating rack.

“I am going to pick you up,” I tell H, looking at the librarian with embarrassment. I pick him up. He protests. He tries to keep his body where it is, but I am bigger and stronger so he is in my arms. H throws his weight back toward the desk and starts to cry his super sad cry.

“We’ll go look at some books,” I say to H, pointing back to the children’s section.

I look at the librarian. She smiles at me. “Oh, it’s okay,” she says, waving my hand away as I struggle to collect the remaining of the wayward golf pencils.

We walk away. H is screaming, his face red and twisted in displeasure. His cry is easily the loudest thing in the library. I shut out everything else around us, hearing and seeing nothing but him, so that I can remain calm and stay present with his feelings.

We get to the children’s section and H asks to play with the roller coaster bead toy table. I set him down and he stands, tears pooling on his cheeks, half heartedly moving the beads on their curved wires. It is not long before he sits down to crawl away. I follow him back to the main part of the library and pick him up. He points. I walk where he leads. We are back at the reference desk.

“He wasn’t done with his project,” I say to the librarian.

“He’s okay to be here,” she says kindly. She is still friendly.

H happily resumes his work with the golf pencils while I hold him tight against me. The shame of having taken him away not because of what he was doing but because of how I felt sits heavy in the pit of my stomach.

After a while H starts to get a bit frantic. Things are falling and clattering. The mesh cup topples to the floor.

“Are you all done?” I ask H. “Would you like me to pick you up?” He comes into my arms willingly. The librarian helps me right the cups and fill them with the pencils, markers, and pens.

“Good bye pencils,” I say. “It was so fun to play with you. See you next time!”

H and I wave at the pencils and at the librarian. She waves back at us, still smiling and friendly. As we walk away I point out the recycling bin at the check out line. H points and bounces his legs. We go through the metal detectors and turn around. “Bye library,” I wave. H looks and, after a beat, waves, too.

We turn and push the door open together. We are outside, down the stairs. I hug H close and think about all the wounded parts of me that made an appearance in the library. I acknowledge the part that thinks it is safest to be quiet and small, that to occupy space fully is to be bothersome. I notice the part that looks for validation from others in order to feel good about my parenting choices. The part that gives over my authority to others, that lets them decide where I do and do not belong, whether I am too much or not enough, whether I am good or bad, is harder to identify, but it was there. I know that they are not the whole of me, these parts, but they exist. Sometimes they are quiet, and sometimes, like now, they are loud. I know they do not serve me, that I feel stronger and better when they are not around. I think about how bad these parts of me can feel. I feel awful.

I do not know for sure how to keep from passing along these wounded parts to H, but I have a working theory. My theory is that H is watching me even when he does not appear to be, that he picks up on the subtlest of my words and behaviors. My theory is that if I work at staying present with my own feelings, if I turn them over with a curious, non-judging mind, if I hold myself gently, these wounds will heal and H will be less likely to carry them on. I do not know for sure, but I am working on it, for me and for H, anyway.