One of what I treasure most about motherhood is what I get to learn in the process – about my child, about myself, about life. And the most recent lesson is this –things will unfold in their own time.
I recall a particularly challenging period when Isaac was younger. He was not sleeping well at night and I was all up in arms about nurturing good sleep habits from the start. Wakeful babies are always challenging but the difficulty was compounded by the fact that I was in a constant dilemma. Should I nurse him? Should I let him continue crying? If I stuck at this sleep training will it get better? Each day and night were full of doubt and indecisions.
In the end, I went with my instinct. Quite contrary to what all the books and sleep experts claimed, the length of crying did not reduce each time we left Isaac to “cry it out”, with shush-patting or otherwise. Instead his crying escalated over the few nights we tried the method. Ultimately, we decided it simply did not work for us – it may have worked for many others but we all have different babies. I continued to nurse him to sleep, and to nurse him whenever he wanted at night.
So it took time, eighteen months, before Isaac had any semblance of sleeping through the night. And then, miraculously, Isaac weaned from night-feedings, almost by himself. It took only a few nights, and unlike our previous attempt, he didn’t cry for hours, merely whined for minutes before falling asleep. Most recently, he seemed to have self-weaned from nursing – again with no fuss. He simply asked for nursing less and less before dropping off entirely.
Last night, Isaac did not ask to nurse, making it the fourth night since he last nursed. When it was bedtime, we switched off the lights, I told him a bedtime story (it was the crow and the pitcher from Aesop’s fables last night) and then decided I was not going to pat him to sleep for a change. So I told him, Mummy is here and I am going to lie facing you but I am not going to pat you, and we will both close our eyes and sleep ok? Of course, he did not sleep immediately – he sang and chatted for a bit but finally fell asleep. And it struck me. There was no nursing! No patting! Didn’t we somehow stumble into a great routine? Bedtime play, lights off, bedtime story, then sleeping without fuss. We didn’t have to make Isaac cry, or make him upset. We used none of the tactics proffered to be necessary for cultivating good sleep habits. All we did was to work with Isaac, and gently nudged him along when he was ready.
In the same way, we went from worrying about Isaac’s lack of reading habit to marveling at how he would say “iPad off!” after a few minutes of videos for “Mummy read thicker book!” and then proceed to read his thousand-page encyclopedia of plants and flowers. He went from a squirmy, inattentive child, to one who would stop crying for snacks to listen to our explanation that on why eating before bedtime would cause bacteria to attack his teeth (oops not fully accurate!) and result in his teeth falling off, and then really stop crying and asking for snacks. He went from an almost hyperactive boy to one who can lie still to listen to my bedtime stories – which are very boring because I make them up on the fly and try to insert lessons like three steps to problem-solving learnt from the crow. From a silent toddler, his speech development is now catching up at an astonishingly rapid pace.
We did nothing remarkable to engender this transformation – we provided exposure gently (almost lazily) and in Isaac’s own time, he came to develop these habits and characteristics by himself. When I look back now, I think, yes eighteen months was a long long time to endure without a full night’s night. But mothers are so splendid at rising to the occasion and I came through. Also, eighteen months is such a brief time out of the years and years – I won’t quibble with Isaac for these months when he needed me.
Most of all I came to understand – no child at this age is out to make life difficult for me. What was difficult for me then, what is difficult for me now is just very young, very tender need from him. I am happy to give it to him. He will never need me this way again. I am happy to have been gentle and patient with him, I am happy to be gentle and patient with him.
Even more than meeting “the one” – what did it take for Isaac to come to us today? I had to meet Ning, of all the people in the world. We had to fall in love. We had to decide to have a child. Of all the infinite genetic possibilities contained in millions and millions of sperms and hundreds and thousands of eggs, it was one particular sequence that met another particular sequence and created this child Isaac. What are the chances I would have this particular child if I lived my life again – frighteningly, vanishingly small.
So I love this child and I am happy to be gentle, and patient, and wait and watch him grow in his own time.