Quiet Evenings

Some time ago, I read an article by Arianna Huffington on the importance of sleep and her incredible and impossible nightly sleep routine. I remember thinking then that I certainly don’t need sound-proof walls or nightly baths and warm milk to sleep well. All I need is the exhaustion that comes from taking care of kids; or conversely to have no kids!

Still, it struck me recently that I’m quite awful at this sleeping business. There were many nights when I would wake to feed Isabel, and then despite feeling absolutely exhausted, would not be able to sleep for another few hours, sometimes until dawn! So in the spirit of better sleep, over the weekend, I started diffusing lavender oil and putting on quiet, soothing music before bedtime. (Also this weekend Ning’s new bed arrived so we now have a massive nine-and-a-half feet, super comfortable bed to accommodate all four of us!)

For Ning, what made the difference was probably switching from a hard mattress to a super luxurious one. Isabel seemed indifferent to it all. I did sleep well but I can’t tell if it’s really the lavender scent and music. But Isaac certainly did sleep the best he did for a while! In fact, he didn’t rouse or wake at all at night!

The best part is, he quietens down a bit better because the music is enough to hold his attention so he doesn’t feel the need to yap on until he tumbles to sleep. And we get to have little chats about music! Initially, I started talking about what the music make me think of, how it made me feel just to get him to lie still. But I realised it was such a lovely conversation — I was telling him how a piece made me think of a green lush garden, the pitter-pat of rain and how each glistening drop would roll off from petal and leaf to the soft wet ground. He asked why the music sounded like rain and I explained it was because of the rhythm of the melody. Then when I asked if he liked music he said no! But later, when I wanted to turn it off he asked for it to be on.

And I realise, just as with speech, listening is perhaps the important aspect of a musical education. Even before playing, even before theory, even before pitch — just to listen and feel the music and learn to love it. Even if Isaac (and Isabel) never learn to play instruments or become technical virtuosos, I hope they would learn to always take a moment to be still and listen and listen and feel.

So more of that tonight! Music and scent also makes for a lovely spa-like atmosphere — always a good way to end the day =)

A Good Night’s Sleep

It’s a wonder what a difference a good night’s sleep can make!

Last night we decided to keep Isaac and Isabel separate again (because she was starting to develop a bit of runny nose and cough); but instead of having me nurse Isabel at night, we tried to just have Ning soothe her. The two nights before that, she had actually refused to nurse when she woke at night so we thought perhaps she didn’t really need any night feeds anymore.

So I managed to have unbroken sleep for quite a while – Isaac slept well himself – until Ning came in at some point with Isabel and said she couldn’t sleep anymore. It was still dark out so I thought perhaps it was three or four am but to my pleasant surprise, it was half past six! My very first eight hours of continuous sleep since Isabel was born!

Of course I’m very grateful to Ning because apparently Isabel did stir and fuss a couple of times in the night but he managed to soothe her with a combination of patting, pacifiering and changing her position.

But also, it’s really a stroke of good fortune that Isabel has been so easy to take care of. With Isaac, I didn’t have unbroken sleep until he was close to two! It was not just that he continued to need feeds at night — he also steadfastly rejected bottles and anything else that is not boob. So there was really no way for Ning to help although he was happy too!

So! It’s a happy morning and I’m feeling all bright and ready to run my various errands, and all resolved to start work!

It also helps that Isabel gives such brilliant smiles all the time!

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A Little While Longer

Before Isaac was born, I had all these fantasies about him being a perfect and easy baby — one who would drift off to sleep by himself and then sleep through the night at two months old, switch easily between bottle and breast and reach milestones right on cue (or better yet, early). I was convinced that if I followed all the sage advice, things would naturally fall into place and all of it would be achievable.

Only of course, it didn’t turn out to be so with Isaac and later I came to understand profoundly how certain temperaments are innate and as much as we can try to speed or slow certain things, so much more depends on that particular child.

Then Isabel came along and at times I often wonder how it would have been if she were my first child. Most times, I conclude that I would have been insufferable. I would have done everything by the book, and Isabel would have been perfectly easy (as I had hoped for Isaac) and I would have assumed that it’s because I have done everything right and probably gone around spouting insensitive (albeit unconsciously) remarks to everyone else. As it is, because of my earlier experience with Isaac, Isabel’s “easiness” is further evidence of innate differences in babies, even two born in the same family.

But there are also unexpected challenges with easy babies — because Isabel takes the bottle and started sleeping long stretches early, I find myself constantly worried about my milk supply, when I never used to with Isaac. Because she is so good natured and easygoing I find myself having to make an effort to give her attention (though on this front, she is so smiley these days that it gets easier to do this).

Most of all, it struck me last night, in the midst of her night feed, that it is all passing me by, too quickly, too soon. Having a first child and knowing that it gets better makes the challenges of a second child much more manageable. But I realised that that subconsciously, I was hurrying Isabel in my heart. They get so cute at one, at two, that I wanted the newborn phase to be over. Ironically, I felt each difficult phase more keenly with Isaac because the tunnel ahead seemed endless; but it also meant I was constantly aware that I had to cherish every moment — there was no “better” I could be assured of so I might as well treasure the “now”.

With Isabel, I already knew that things will get better — at some point she would sleep more, she would be cuter and so I wanted the early days to pass. Only now, the early days have passed and holding her close last night, I found myself wishing that she wouldn’t sleep through the night so quickly. I want to have this late night moment with her for a little while longer, for far far longer.

Because Isaac had demanded so much of me, I was everything to him. He would only feed from me, he could only be soothed by me, he could only sleep with me. It was so so difficult then, but it also forged an indelible bond. No matter that he is bathed or fed by my helper, or that are so many more fun companions now, or that I could spend an entire day at work, I am still his favourite person.

Now, Isabel can be fed by anyone, she can be held by many people, she is soothed by many things and she can sleep with the help of a variety of things. Her need for me has never been anywhere near the need Isaac had. So our bond will not be forged naturally through the crucible of desperate need — I must remember every day that it takes more than love to build a bond with Isabel. But it will be built.

My sweetheart — you can wake up at night for as long as you like. I will always hold you close and nurse you. Long after you sleep, I will watch your sleeping face and find myself in tears at the brevity of your powdery milk scent and downy hair. Every night, for the rest of my life, you will always be able to call on me — even when you have grown and have a child of your own, I will always always come to you.