I didn’t come into parenting with a plan. I just assumed I’d see what kind of kid I got and work with that.
What I got was a really content but self-assertive baby. I never liked the idea of letting a child “cry it out” or otherwise forcing them to conform to some idea of what childcare should look like, so, without explicitly intending to do so, we’ve ended up co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and letting Ted decide how and when he’d wean. He’s willful and ferociously independent, and we’ve encouraged that at every step. With one glaring exception: while he loves doing everything himself, he has to have an engaged audience. It’s not enough that we’re present. A nod and a grunt of approval won’t do. He likes checking in every minute, and being looked straight in the eye and answered in full sentences. Anything less, and he will become extremely vocal about deserving a better show. Now.
For over a year, I’ve done my best to comply. But I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since Ted was born, and some nights are worse than others. Teething sucks. Trying to be cheerful and involved when all you want to do is crawl into some dark corner and cry sucks even worse. Feeling guilty for not being 100% there for your child is the pits.
While our babies couldn’t move, the differences weren’t that obvious. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that while all our friends’ toddlers are happy to occupy themselves for long stretches of time, Ted seems to be getting worse. I used to be able to cook dinner while he played just outside the kitchen. Now, he clings to my leg and demands to be picked up. “The stove is hot,” I’d tell him, “the knife sharp.” But nothing worked. As long as I engaged, he’d cry.
I’d start cooking before DH got home, so I felt I had no choice but to ignore Ted (and get a crock pot). At first, I did so guiltily, but then I read an article on time alone at how we Montessori, and decided to go cold turkey on being available 24/7.
From the moment Ted wakes up (usually before 6am), it’s all systems go. By late afternoon, even if he did take a good nap, I’m frazzled. So for the last few days, late afternoons is when mommy checks out.
Ted wakes up from his nap, goes potty and has a snack. Then, we play a little or go shopping (he loves pushing the cart, and helping to put things in). Come 5.30, however, he’s on his own. I find a comfy spot, open a book or the laptop, and turn a deaf ear to his pleas. It took a few minutes the first day, even less today. He’s getting the idea.
Yes, he squished a lot of Cheerios into the carpet. Yes, his nursery looked like he couldn’t decide what to wear and had to leave in a hurry. Yes, the den became a minefield of books and blocks. But he played by himself for almost a half hour, and only came over to ask for help going potty.
When the time came to get the dinner ready, he got clingy and whined again, but for once I had the energy to deal with it.
After a year of being constantly there (we have no family in States and are yet to leave Ted with a babysitter) and incessantly responsive, I did feel guilty. Less so when he played happily, and I caught a breather. It made me (finally!) realise that becoming a mother doesn’t trump being an extreme introvert.
I used to take at least a couple of hours a day of alone time to recharge, and alone meant not a soul in my view or within an earshot. Thirty minutes and being aware of what my toddler’s up to will have to suffice now.