Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Transitions are hard, part 4

The immense majority of human biographies are a gray transit between domestic spasm and oblivion.
--George Steiner

Years ago, when I worked a summer as a front desk clerk in a Glacier Park hotel, I realized that the first thing everyone packs when they go on vacation is themselves. What I didn't realize at the time is that every parent brings their child with them as well, even if their child isn't physically with them. And that I carry ghosts with me wherever I go.

For us Bradsteins, during all of our recent travels, having ourselves with us has been the only constant, which means that all of our patterns were rolled like dice in a rock tumbler for the last month. 3B's sleep habits were certainly tossed around.

He flew to Vermont, where he had to sleep in a Pack N Play, which he promptly climbed out of. (The week before the trip, Mrs. K was so caught up in updating me on 3B's new linguistic tricks that she had forgotten to tell me that he had done the same with her.) But Mama was there to put him down every night. That is, until Mama joined me for the wedding in NYC, which is why Mama and Grammy tag-teamed putting 3B down in VT.

And then 3B was back home with us for a night before jetting off to DisneyWorld, where he again validated his sometimes moniker, Houdini, and so ended up sleeping in bed with us for over half a week. Back at home, we had Grammy put him down that first night since she would be doing that for the next week while Mama and I were in Brussels. After that week, we again returned and then Grammy left a day later.

It's no wonder then that 3B's been discombobulated and needy at bedtime.

Hell, I was discombobulated and needy at bedtime for awhile there too, which hasn't made it easier for me to figure out with Mama how we're going to get 3B back on track. We know that, to a certain extent, it will just take time for his sleep patterns to sort themselves out, but rather than being up with him until 10 every night until they do, we're trying to find ways to help him find his rhythm again.

In the midst of our travels, however, it was a different story. The one night we were back home from DisneyWorld before Mama and I headed to Brussels was also the first night in more than half a week during which 3B slept alone in his crib. So, I didn't hesitate to go in and comfort him when he was crying out from his crib for a hug, and it was there that I found myself facing my father's ghost.

Although 3B has never explicitly responded to back rubs, I still rub his back at times like this. It's part instinct, part habit, I suppose--my family was always big on back rubs and back scratches when I was a kid. And this is what we do as parents, isn't it? Pass on our reflexes. After holding 3B for awhile, rubbing his back, I slowly stopped rubbing in preparation for returning him to his crib.

As soon as I stopped, however, 3B twisted his arm around to my hand on his back, moved my hand up and down on his back and said, "Want daddy to keep rubbing your back." And suddenly I was back on my parent's bed on a Saturday morning, after a sourdough pancake breakfast, lying on my stomach, feeling Dad's dry, rough-skinned hands rubbing my back, hoping he would never stop.

As I resumed stroking 3B's back, I knew why Dad had given such long back rubs. There's just no feeling like that of comforting my son with a simple touch. Of letting him know that I'm with him. Of letting him know that I love him. In that moment, I realized that I was likely feeling the same depth of complete love for 3B that my father had for me, and had I not been holding 3B, soothing him to sleep, I likely would have slumped to the floor under the weight of that feeling.

I've had this feeling before, because 3B looks so much like I did as a child. Sometimes when I view video of him, I flush with emotion, and it seems as though I'm feeling for 3B the love my mother must have felt for me. It feels almost as if I've ceased breathing for several minutes. As though I'm floating outside of this life.

Even to contemplate that someone could have once loved me as wholly as I love 3B--as if he were the eyes in my face, the fingers on my hands, the air in my lungs that brings me life--is deeply moving and humbling. It reminds me that, because I cannot be touched by someone without also touching them, I don't only carry myself, Mama, and 3B wherever I go, but that I also carry Mom and Dad with me. It reminds me that my love for 3B is wholly unconditional which is empowering--I could hold him and rub his back all night, if that's what he needed--and terrifying--I would do whatever it takes to make him happy, no matter what it requires of me.

This is why I'm more than willing to take the time to let 3B find his own way back home to his comfortable rhythms, to the long, slow breath of sleep.

Sunday morning

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  1. Two words: Self Soothing. That is the only way to get some sleep yourself before 10. As they develop into fine young teenagers (yeah I know it is still a while off) you learn to put yourself to bed and they will eventually find theirs. When your world is upside down, one of my kids would strongly suggest little tags, another young relative had to have her buppie (that one is not mine). My daughter needed the soft touch of a "baby" to rub on and eventually go to sleep. Your oldest nephew took 3 very long nights to learn to be a self soother. I never made that mistake again. As much as you love your children, you are not helping him to hold him to sleep. It makes you feel better... I know that for a fact.... but in the long run: Self Soother.

  2. What she said. The child who slept with her buppy still wakes up every morning tangled in her pinkie and cuddling her Cubbie Bear. They go to camp with her. They will probably be in her bed in college in another year. She has no desire to speak to me in the morning.

    Her brother needs a cuddle to bed (here is your kiss and here is your hug and here is your bear and I turn out the light) and comes down to snuggle with me every morning without the bear. They each have their own needs, but they all need to learn to go to sleep on their own when it is time for bed, no matter how much it hurts when they cry.

    A "substitution" object goes a long way when parents are absent, either in the next room or on another continent. Even if he lets it go when he goes to sleep, it still did the job. Of course when you introduce the concept of hugging the bear or playing with the tags to restore balance, you are holding him. As time goes by, he learns he can get happy even when you are not holding him.

    After long separations, extra holding time is fine, as long as 3B understands that it is special after the long trip, not a new evening ritual.

    3B does understand everything you say. Promise him you will be there in the morning, then be there. Discuss your various disappearances and reappearances with him before they happen. Get him a calendar and let him make a mark each day when you are there, so he knows how to count the days until you return. Or until you go to the park or Mrs. K's house or California to see his favorite Aunties. He will get it.

  3. KMoo and CAGirl: Yes to both of you, and not just because you're my sisters. 3B does have lovies, which we don't travel more than about three feet without, and he is, generally a self-soother. We also have a bedtime routine--bath, books on his futon-ton, and then off to see lovies. However, this has been a chaotic month for all of us, so not even all of those combined are keeping him comforted. Even when I went in last night, he still cried while I was in there, rubbing his back. I'm sure that soon enough we'll all forget this happened and be on to our next adventure. As we move along, we'll try to remember your suggestion about telling him we'll be here when he wakes up. He does understand a remarkable amount these days, and saying that would likely help.

  4. Anonymous8:37 PM

    Yep, even being back in his own bed, with Mama and Papa and all the lovies, 3B might need a while to get back into his self-soothin' groove. It just takes a while, even without jet lag.

    I keep realizing that I have a completely different view of my parents now. I was, of course, clueless of what it was like for them while I was a kid. So it's kind of shocking to think they had feelings and experiences like these.

    One of my favorite moments is hugging my girl, with her head on my shoulder, rubbing her back. It doesn't usually last long, but it's wonderful.

  5. If you want good hugs, play Hug Bug (not slug bug) and then when you see a bug (yes they are back) you get a hug... and you can give one back. Some of the sweetest hugs were exchanged upon getting out of the car. Of course that is with the one I had to convince that hugging was a good thing. He only tolerates physical contact from his mother (okay, I needed it)!! So long as he is in grade school, he gets carried out of the bed in the morning for morning snuggles before getting ready for school. If his floor is not cleaned up (his job) then only little tags get the carry and the snuggle until he gets himself up. I refuse to haul 85# of love over toys and such. Little tags are easier to maneuver.

  6. Amama: I'm not sure if I would have these realizations, or if they would come on so strong if Mom was here. If she was, we would talk about these things as they happened, and she might very well say, "Oh, he's nothing like you." Now, I can only wonder.

    KMoo: Thanks for the tips on getting good hugs. When 3B's in the back seat, he's generally busy driving--he's the tillerman, you know--but we'll try HugBug with him. So, your boy is up to 85#, eh? You grow yours skinny. I think 3B is almost up to that, or is that all diaper weight?