May 6, 2009

Negotiations and Love Songs

After Max was born, I could not, for any reason, imagine leaving him in that big beautiful crib by himself. Actually, he was born in Texas in the middle of a hurricane. We had evacuated to Houston during Hurricane Katrina, the city flooded, and we couldn’t go home. So we rented an apartment and the night Hurricane Rita made landfall, my water broke. So, when we brought him home from the hospital, it was to a shabby apartment in Houston that was outfitted with used and IKEA furniture. There was no real crib, just a portable crib that was kindly handed down from a generous stranger.


He was tiny and fragile and all curled up like a sleeping kitten. When I put him in the portable crib next to my bed, I could no longer feel his tiny feet against me or hear the soft hum of his breath. And, his legs didn’t stretch out like he enjoyed the vast space of the crib. Instead, he seemed to pull them in tighter like a mini agoraphobe rejecting the world outside.


Being a female human who has never been routinely abused or set an animal on fire, I did what came naturally – I picked him up and I put him in bed with me. I snuggled him in right next to me and we both promptly passed out.


Some of the mothers I told this to gasped in horror. There were “tsks” and knowing glances between them. The only thing stopping me from reaching out and smacking their smug faces was the baby in the sling on my chest and, of course, the fear that they really did know something I did not.


They warned that I had done it; I would never get him out of my bed. He was going to want to sleep next to me every night and would be a handful and probably I had completely ruined this child and should just throw him away and start again fresh with a new baby.


They said I should “ferberize” him. That is a fancy term for putting your baby in his crib and letting him cry until he either falls asleep or dies. I am more likely to beat my baby with a shovel than I am to let him wail himself to sleep, so that was out of the question from day one.


It’s been three and a half years now and those other mothers were right – Max does still sleep in bed with me. Each night, he starts in his own bed. I lie in bed with him and we read books for a while and then we turn off the light and hug and sing and talk about the day and when it is quiet, he snuggles up to me and falls asleep. I then get up and go about the night – filling the dishwasher, folding clothes, watching my TIVOed shows  - you know all the important stuff that has to wait while I spend all this time, you know, being a mother and bonding with my son and making him feel important and loved.


Then, I go to bed in my own bed. But, at some point each night, Max wakes up and ambles into my room. He climbs up in bed with me and snuggles right next to me and we sleep. I wake up in the morning with his sweet little face telling me he loves me and that he wants to help make the coffee. He brings me my pajama pants and my glasses and looks genuinely pleased that I have lived to see another day. Which, in turn, makes me genuinely happy to have lived to see another day.


My point in all of this is that the other night, I was lying in bed with Max and he didn’t want to go to sleep. He was indeed tired, but he didn’t want to go to sleep and was fighting it and was very angry that I was being the meanie who was making him stay in bed. As he quieted down, I told him, “I love you” and he said, grumpily, “I don’t want you to love me.”


I am an adult, a secure adult. I know he was angry and I was more impressed with his cunning ways than I was offended or hurt by what he said, but it got me thinking about love and being loved. There is a Paul Simon song called “Hearts and Bones” and there is a verse that puts it just right:


Why won’t you love me
For who I am
Where I am
He said:
cause that’s not the way the world is baby
This is how I love you, baby


We don’t get to choose how other people love us or if they love us. Max can tell me he doesn’t want me to love him, but I always will, from the bottom of my heart.  I can cry and scream because I think {insert name} should be this way, or do this, or if {insert name} really cared, he would blah, blah, blah. But, the reality is, we are lucky to be loved at all.


And, I went to sleep with my boy curled up next to me, his sweaty little head resting against my cheek, thinking how lucky I am to be loved. Yes, those mothers were right – I did do something that first night with Max that radically altered the course of my life – and I am forever grateful for it.




damselfly said...

Claire, Your faithful readership includes at least 3 people. That was a beautiful story.

Brad Mills said...

Very cool. Every night we hear the footsteps of our second son as well. It is good to see we are in such wonderful company!

Beth Ferry Pekins said...

Yeah Claire! Thanks for sharing these stories w/ us, I think there are more loyal readers than you think. My Claire joins me at some point each night too...who cares? I never could let her cry it out either. She's actually used her crib more in this past week playing in it since we've set it up for Charlie than she ever did as a baby. Too soon she'll be grown up and gone...time to enjoy the little ones!