A few days before we hit absolutely rock bottom with Gwen's failure to nap, I was once again trying to soothe her to sleep in her room, about an hour and a half past her normal naptime. She was completely overtired, crying and shrieking, but she would not settle down. I had put her down, walked away, and come back to pick her up probably about a dozen times.
Finally, at the end of my rope, I picked up the exhausted, weeping child and held her as I lay down on her bedroom floor. I positioned the two of us so that I could nurse, and as I rubbed her back and whispered "shhhh" she finally started to calm down. After a few minutes she drifted off to sleep, her head resting on my arm. I reached the other arm up as far as it could go and managed to snag a pile of cloth diapers from the change table to create a makeshift pillow for myself.
I lay there next to my sleeping child, stroking her soft downy hair, feeling the tickle of her breath on my arm. I watched her chest rise and fall and gloried in the chub of her cheeks and the pout of her lips. I rarely have the opportunity to appreciate Gwen in this way: she is never still, always a bundle of energy, not one for cuddling but quick to squirm and twist her way out of my arms to go find something to explore.
Right now as you read this, you think you know how the story's going to end. You want to hear that I lay there on the floor with her in absolute bliss for an hour or more, so grateful that she was finally able to sleep, and maybe even getting a few winks myself. You want to hear that I revelled in the chance to be still with her, to cuddle like we did when she was tiny, to stroke her velvet skin and silken hair. You want to hear how I used the time to reflect on how fast she was growing, understanding that I would spend years yearning for precious moments like this where time seemed to stand still.
I want the story to end that way, too.
But it didn't.
Instead, I lay there for 15 minutes and then, when I felt she was truly asleep, I slowly and painstakingly worked my arm free from under her head. I oh-so-quietly placed a few pillows around her so that if she rolled over in her sleep, she wouldn't bump into the legs of her crib. And then I stealthily crept out of the room.
I forget what I did next. Can't remember what it was that seemed so important to pull me out of that moment and back into the real world: dishes? laundry? the book I was reading? maybe just the thrilling promise of some time to myself, to fill with whatever I chose. What I do remember is that it was only a few brief moments before I heard a bump from upstairs and discovered that she'd woken up and was now crawling around the room. She must have woken up nearly as soon as I'd left.
I thought I was writing this post to explain what a bad mother I am, to point out yet one more way in which I failed my child by being too impatient to put my own life on hold just to support her need to nap. But as I reflect on the incident, I'm given a new insight. I fill my day with stimulation and accomplishments, never satisfied with sitting still and "doing nothing". Is it a coincidence that Gwen spends her every waking moment seeking out activity and excitement?
So perhaps I'm not such a bad mother after all. Busy, yes - my personality demands it. And Gwen's does too. In future years, we'll probably enjoy being very busy together. And in the meantime, perhaps I'll be a little bit more understanding of her inability to settle down, stop squirming, and give me a hug. After all, she comes by it honestly.