When I was pregnant with Mini Me, I was terrified that something would be terribly wrong with him–mostly because of all of the terrible things I had done during my very in-depth studies for my PhD in partying at the University of Georgia. Of course I was not pregnant with Mini Me during these studies, but I was convinced that I had done irreparable damage to my body that would cause great harm to my unborn child. I went to my OB/GYN and asked if there was any way that he could tell if the baby had a port wine birth stain all over his face. My doctor just looked at me as if I had totally lost my mind. “Um, no. I’m afraid I cannot. Does that run in your family? Because that is a hereditary condition.” I looked at him and said, “NO. IT DOES NOT, BUT IT HAS TO START SOMEWHERE, DOESN’T IT?” I had him there. He just looked away and said I should not bother myself with such concerns and I had absolutely no reason to worry about a port wine birth stain. Ahhh, but I did. I drank so much red wine in college, I was sure that there was some stored up in there just waiting to stain that baby all over his face to punish me. Of course I did not think of this prior to getting pregnant. All I thought about was the adorable baby that was to be. I did not think about the 65 extra unwanted pounds or the purple stretch marks that would cover the bottom part of my belly. I did not think about the sleepless nights. The many, many sleepless nights. Around the eighth month of my pregnancy, when I was having trouble sleeping, Mothah was in town for a visit. “Jennifah, I hate to tell you this, but honey, you have had youah last good night of sleep.Forevah.” I just looked at her. What she really meant was this: In the sleep department, I was totally fucked. For the rest of my life. She was right. We brought Mini Me home from the hospital and put him in the family cradle next to our bed. He screamed his ass off. We would pick him up, swaddle him, rock him, etc. , put him back in the cradle. He would scream his ass off. This is how Mini Me ended up sleeping in our bed. It was the only way that I could get any sleep. I say I because JC could sleep through the atomic bomb going off in our bedroom. Now, this was 1998. I knew that I was not supposed to put Mini Me in our bed. I had sworn I wouldn’t. I will just go ahead and admit that, pretty much, everything that I swore I would not do as a parent, I have done. And then some. Because before you are a parent, you don’t have a fucking clue. So shut the hell up with all of your “well I would do this and I would do that” because frankly, you don’t know what the hell you would do. So Mini Me slept in our bed for three years. I am not really sure how we even got The Middle Child. Maybe Mini Me went to his MiMi’s or his MiMa’s to spend the weekend. He would do that. And yes, he had to sleep with them too.
The Middle Child came into this world and did not want to sleep with us. She wanted to sleep in her Moses basket beside our bed. She slept in it until she was too big for it. We could even put her down in it awake and she would go to sleep with zero crying whatsoever. I remember thinking “where did this angel come from?” I guessed God had sent her to make up for the spawn of….okay I won’t say it. I know I shouldn’t. I don’t really mean it, but dammit he was a difficult sleeper! When The Middle Child moved to her crib, we could put her in it, again awake, and she would roll over, suck her thumb, and go to sleep with zero crying whatsoever, sometimes she would say “Night Night” and roll over and just go to sleep. This, my friends, was a dream come true. When she got a little older, if she got tired, she might just disappear and we would find her asleep in her bed! I could not have asked for anything more.
If you happened to read “The Prize At The End Of The Cancer”, it is basically The Baby’s birth story. He entered this world under extreme circumstances, and I was not in the best mental or physical condition that I could have been in at the time of his birth. I say that not to excuse what I am about to tell you, but in an attempt to explain my actions. The Baby, like his brother Mini Me, did not like being put in a cradle or a crib. We would swaddle him and put him down and he, too, would scream his ass off. This would make me cry uncontrollably. It broke my heart into a million pieces. The thought of his sweet little self, back there in that big, beautiful, yet awful, $500 crib, surrounded by wonderful, yet somehow awful and scary bedding, swaddled in the softest, yet most horrible blankets, and clothed in the most wonderful, yet also most harrowing nightgowns with his monogram on them, screaming in misery…..I just could not take it. He wanted me. If I held him, he would sleep. So, I would hold him. 24/7. And I was so tired that one night, in the middle of the night, he and I were sitting in the glider out in the den, and I fell asleep rocking him. I woke up and he was face down on the carpet! He wasn’t crying. I was sure he was dead, and I had killed him by dropping him on the floor. I picked him up and he looked at me and blinked his eyes. We had very soft, padded carpet. Mothah was staying with us to help me and try to keep me from going over the edge. I went and woke her up. I was crying hysterically and told her I thought we needed to go to the hospital. She started laughing. She took The Baby from me and looked him over. “He is FINE, Jennifah. He does not need to go to the hospital. What probably happened was that he just slipped down, slowly, onto the floor. The carpet is soft and padded. He is totally fine. Stop crying. STOP IT.” I did. About 30 minutes later. You would have thought this was my first baby, not my third. The loss of 2 liters of blood when he was born had really done a number on me. My mother in law found a contraption that would fit inside our bed and The Baby could sleep in it. It was like a little box. It was low enough that he felt like he was sleeping right next to us, but we could not roll over on him and he could not get tangled up in the bed covers. It even had a little light on it. It folded in half for easy travel. The Baby actually liked the damn thing! So, The Baby slept with us. It was, again, the only way I (or Mothah!) could get any sleep.
Here is the part that should be embarrassing. It’s the part that you might judge me for, and that is totally fine because I really don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about it. The pediatrician knows already. The Baby slept with us for 7 years. In fact, he just moved out. We have tried, countless times, to move him out over the years. We have used charts and stickers and money and prizes. Nothing has worked. We have tried reading to him and staying in his room until he falls asleep. We have tried leaving a light on–all to no avail. For the past 6-8 months, he has been sleeping on the floor in our room. 2 weeks ago, he and I rearranged his bedroom so that his bed is positioned for him to be able to see my bedroom from his bed. He has slept in his bed, all night, every night, ever since. He was ready. He has been sleeping in his own bed at his MiMa’s or in a sleeping bag at his MiMi’s for over a year now–so it’s not like he couldn’t do it–he just wouldn’t do it at home. He just wasn’t ready to do it at home. We did not feel like it was necessary to force him. We kind of miss him now…..it means he is growing up and we are getting older and things are changing…..There are a whole lot of feelings that I don’t want to feel! Imagine that.
I guess my point of sharing this with you is that my kids dictated how they wanted to sleep. I know that there are many books about how to force your kid to sleep…how to make them cry it out….etc. I know all of that psychology. I have read it. I have all of those books. Or had them. Shit, I hope I have given them all to Goodwill by now. I allowed my kids to dictate how they wanted to sleep–right, wrong, or indifferent. I was and still am judged for it. And I believe that it was the right thing to do for us, no matter how painful it was at times. I will end with this story. When Mini Me was about two and a half, we were at a park in Memphis, Tennessee. There was a homeless man there who was watching my us play. He went up to my husband and said, “Whatever you do, don’t ever break him.” That has stuck with us ever since. For us, that has meant allowing our kids to be themselves, and sometimes it means not going “by the book”. I believe it is okay to not go “by the book”. Don’t ever break him…… it resonates deep within my soul today and Mini Me is 17. I try to live by it with all three of my children.