My second daughter was born a bit early at 35 weeks. In her premature arrival, she needed more physical closeness for the first two years of her life.
Demanded is a better word: this child was so utterly insistent that she be held, and held by me, that I was at my wit's trying to help her sleep.
I remember one summer day when I was trying to put her down for a nap. I'd been reading the parenting books about sleep training that guaranteed that my child would be able to fall asleep on her own, with just a little help and patience on my part, but none of it was going well.
Instead, my daughter would scream and cry for her entire nap. That particular day I sat outside on the front steps, my heart broken by her crying, where the mailman found me: a weeping, exhausted mother, and on the other side of the door, a weeping, exhausted babe.
I took the mail and came back inside, gathered up my daughter, and held her on the couch. Her crying softened from wail, to snuffle, to sigh, and she settled into sleep and napped contentedly for the next hour.
I gave up on the sleep training and held my daughter for the next year, where she napped in my arms. After her second birthday, something started to shift, and her transition into sleep became easier, until those cuddles on the coach were a memory of the past. Today, this child is grounded and steady, and usually sleeps soundly and easily.
At the time, being thwarted in this way was excruciating. As a young, conscientious mother of a baby and a 3 year old, and the wife of a stretched thin, equally conscientious entrpreneur, my daily to do list felt overwhelming.
We were living the early days of a new business, with all the financial sacrifice that this brings. But I had time, creativity, and the energy of youth, and used all three to make our lives rich: cooking from scratch, sewing curtains and pillows for our home, browsing the thrift stores and garage sales for treasures.
And I had my other daughter, a delightful three year old, to care for. I did not plan on sitting on the coach with my baby each morning and each afternoon as she napped.
But that was what she needed, and that day when the mailman found me, wrecked on my front porch, I surrendered to her insistence.
Looking back, twenty years ago now, I am so grateful for each moment I spent with my daughter, the warm weight of her in my arms as she slept. And I am so grateful for what she taught me about slowing down and attending to what calls from each day - the beauty that is available in what I may not have chosen but in what is here, calling, arising as gift.
This poem is for all my children and the ways they deliciously thwart me, deeper into love.
On Being Thwarted
Bless every good thing that slows me down –
The window blind that doesn't quite close
The drawer that sticks
The front door that swings open, the lock broken
The dog who escapes through the front door,
pleased to roam the banks of the neighborhood pond
My favorite nightgown, worn tissue paper thin,
that rips with each sleep
The child who calls as I'm heading to work
The man ahead of me in line,
his cane on the arm of his best suit,
slowly packing each item in his wrinkled bag
The cat who insists on being fed
The dog who asks for a scratch
The ants who've found a way in, again
The baby who napped only when held, cradled to my chest
The teenage boy who asks to watch a show –
The husband asking for a back rub at the end of a long, long day
The refrigerator emptied, once again
The garden, withered by the summer drought
The laundry on the line, soaked by rain
The maze of healthcare –
The medical bill, wrongly entered
The missing receipt
The phone call to the doctor's office, again
The flat tire on my bike
The missing button on my frayed shorts
The bookshelves covered in dust
The way the light ebbs over the pond
The white crane, taking flight as the dogs leap for the cool water
The gangly adolescent, fishing quietly in the waning sky –
This glorious human life.
Image: from The Three Ages of Woman by Gustav Klimt, 1905