I am in the green room—the color of sea glass, the walls translucent enough that when the sun hits them just right, they literally glow. But right now it is evening. The moon is risen and shooting its beams through the window to alight on the tiny face that gazes up from my arms. My firstborn and I, once again, are together at the appointed time and place for what could only be described as a rockathon and I don’t mean music. I have no idea what I did with the other babies that would follow (why is it that?) but with this first, one of my clearest memories is working to get her to fall asleep so I could put her in the beautiful crib we bought just for her and for just a while spend some time with my husband.
This was the goal of every evening, especially weekends. Our first little one, however, had other ideas.
So we rocked in the wooden rocking chair my husband bought for the purpose because it looked so homespun and sweet (and it was) and because never once did it occur to him or me that Little One and I would basically live in that chair every evening until dinner got cold and both my husband and I were too tired to want to eat it anyway. Just rocking and rocking and rocking, me going through my repertoire of songs: “Summertime” (and the Livin’ is Easy); “Julia” (by John Lennon); “Hush Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word”; “Down in the Valley”….and that’s just the tip of the playlist….until, finally, her little eyes would close and her breathing would grow deep and even, the signal that blessed sleep had come.
Then came the tricky part: Moving a sleeping infant to her crib without waking her up. Oh, the complexity of it! Quickly but not so quickly as to jerk her awake, I had to hold her sleeping body still, stop the rocker, stand up, move slowly to the crib, lift her over, lower her down and lay her ever-so-lightly as if she were a feather fluttering effortlessly to earth and wait with baited breath for the moment of truth. Would the eyes stay closed or would they pop open the instant her little body realized it was lying on mattress and not mommy? Sometimes, it was the first, but often enough it was the latter which left me with a choice: Do I go or do I stay?
I always stayed. Back to the drawing board we’d go, back to the rockathon, back to the playlist until the eyelids shut and it was time for the transfer. Sometimes it worked this second time. Sometimes it did not. And if it didn’t work on the third try, then this little first one would join her dad and me for dinner. And god knows what I did after that though I’m pretty certain that eventually either she succumbed to the crib or we succumbed to her and brought her into bed with us.
I was not a cry-it-out mom, though I have no doubt that my own mother and mother-in-law probably suggested I give it a try. It made for some interesting and exhausting evenings but letting any of my babies cry themselves to sleep was simply not something I could do. They cried, I picked them up, no matter the time, the place, the circumstances. My husband felt the same way. And it never changed, whether I was working or not. Somehow we survived it. Eventually they all ended up sleeping in their own beds and through the night. They have grown into successful, empathetic and secure young women and I tell myself part of that is because of how I held them when they needed it. That works for me.
But I know it doesn’t work for every mother. I’ve read the cry-it-out methodology and while it still is not my mothering style, I can see how a slow progressive approach could work and be humane enough for parents who require a more structured lifestyle. (I do not and will never agree to the methods that insist on complete structure and that promote crying it out from infancy until the baby simply stops crying. Most experts agree these harsher approaches can be dangerous and very detrimental to the baby’s development). But I do know very good mothers, in particular ones who are working, who have used the slower, gentler approaches to self-soothing and swear by them. For them it worked and their children, who are older and in school, are perfectly happy. Hey, there is more than one way to raise a baby.
But for me it was in that rocking chair, in the sea-glass green room with moonbeams shooting through the window, holding my firstborn singing “Summertime” while cicadas played a perfect backup serenade. In the end my husband would be patiently waiting, dinner would be late and warmed-over, we would be tired eaters, but our world just felt so right. I would do it all the exact same way today.