I woke up in the morning with a stiff neck and sore back. I’d slept poorly, up every hour throughout the night. Still, there was magic in those pre-dawn hours – a bittersweet moment where my daughter gave me something I thought I’d never feel again.
She slept on me, with my arms wrapped around her and her tousled blond head on that spot between my shoulder and my heart. The last time she slept on me was June 2012, right before her first birthday. I was flying back with her from Oregon and the long trip and timezone changes kicked her butt and she passed out on me on the last leg of our trip home. She’s always been independent – slept in her crib the first night she came home from the hospital and never was interested in co-sleeping. Sometimes she’d doze off while nursing, but rarely stayed that way – she’d stretch and fight me, wanting her own space. I see pictures of infants and toddlers online that have fallen asleep in highchairs, strollers, shopping carts and playrooms – Guinevere has on occasion slept in her carseat, but never anywhere else other than her bed. I’ve tried frequently in her short 2.5 years to get her to snuggle or co-sleep with me, but she always thought it was a game – and never settled down until she had her own space. What a blessing to have such a strong, secure, independent child. What a pull on a mother’s heart to have to accept that need for space – when all I crave is for my baby to crawl in my arms, just for a moment.
We knew before Guinevere was born that she’d be our only child. I’ve never given specifics on the blog and probably never will, but I’ve always found it comforting to know this up front, so that I can more greatly appreciate every changing stage in her life. I remember the very last time she nursed – I sobbed the entire time because I wasn’t ready to wean. She laughed the entire time and bit my nipples and scratched my arm, completely uninterested in actually eating. But I’m so grateful that I can remember it. And that I was able to remember what I thought was the last time she’d ever sleep in my arms.
Until this past week, when the flu struck the Johnson house. Guinevere was hit first, and it was never so serious that we had to see a doctor. She had a very mild fever the first night and nothing again, and was in mostly good spirits during the day, but nights are hard – she sucks her four fingers on her right hand. The callouses on those fingers are bold and noticeable and her teeth are even more noticeably crooked outwards as a result of her chosen method to self-soothe. The doctor and dentist both demand that we make her stop, but I have an incredibly independent and well-adjusted child. She can happily go into any new setting with new people she’s never even met before, and has no fears about being apart from her family or familiar friends. Since at this point, I’m already going to have to pay for braces, I see no harm in allowing her to continue to develop self-soothing and personal management techniques all on her own. Surely the braces will be cheaper than therapy that might be needed if I take away her method to cope, right?
But when she’s congested, she can’t suck her fingers and still breathe and it devastates her – not being able to comfort herself. She was up all night crying, and finally agreed to let me stay in her room with her (she has a queen sized bed) so that I could rub her back and help her blow her nose when she woke up every half hour or so. By about 3am she was so exhausted from being up all night, feeling awful, and miserable from not being able to suck her fingers, that she willingly let me lift her on me, and she nestled in for sleep. For the first time in over 18 months, likely closer to 2 years, I was able to fill that role of comfort for her that she so fiercely prefers to manage herself.
The second she relaxed on me, her head nestling in and her deep, rattled breaths calming, my tears started – hot streams that fell straight back into my ears. I’ve long craved that feeling – curled up with my little girl. Lately she’s better about sharing space next to her on the chair to watch a movie, or says “snugglesnugglesnuggle!” and leans in for a quick bear hug and kiss, but is then just as quickly wriggling away to do her own thing. She is always so busy – a mile a minute, there is so much for her to do and see and sing and play with – she rarely slows down. And while its also been a blessing that she is so vocal for her age, and has done ridiculous things like potty train herself, it means that I have less and less ways to keep her my baby and have to accept that she’s a big girl.
As tough as it is to watch your child sick, I am so grateful I got to have one night with her sleeping sweetly on me. Motherhood has been the most beautiful experience and it is bittersweet and heartwrenching to move onto new chapters and say goodbye to old ones – and mamas to 2+ get to relive those moments. I’m so happy I got to relive one as well.