We can do Hard Things.
I knelt by his bed and ran my fingers through his hair, methodically whispering "you've got this, you can do this" as I watched his eyelids flutter. As soon as my voice stopped, his eyes would flash open as his little hands flew to mine, gripping them in fear. I'd start again. "Buddy, you got this. You can do this. We can do Hard Things, remember?"
What seems like a scene from some sort of on-stage drama is actually just me trying to get my kid to sleep. Dramatic in its own fashion, this bedtime ritual carried on for quite some time a few weeks ago as he slowly overcame his fear of falling asleep alone. I offered Homemade Monster Spray, lights turned up too bright, a sound machine, and more. In the end, the only thing that satisfied him was a warm body next to his until he was sound asleep.
I'd lay there thinking "I told myself I'd never do this," then smile wondering how many times I've said that about parenting. Screen time, junk food, skipped naps, you name it. We all do things we say we'd never do.
me, most likely having a serious conversation about our sleep routine
In the beginning, it was sweet. It was a 5-minute game, which was just long enough for me to soak in the precious moments of his 3 year old self holding tight to his bear, Peyton, as he'd sigh happily in his sleep like he had just closed out the best day there ever was. Over time, those 5 minutes quickly turned to 10, to 20, to 40 minutes - him tossing and turning in his sleep, offering me a swift elbow in the face at times. He'd get fidgety and wake up, realize I was still there - and we'd start the charades over again. Instead of soaking in his sweetness, I felt my blood pressure rising with each toss and turn. I only pictured the dishes waiting in the sink and the lost time with my husband on our porch, wine in hand. Enough was enough. We both needed to let go a bit. Him from this nightly routine, and me from him.
And so I would realize that motherhood is just a constant pull between keeping your children close and wanting to let them go. Aside from my primary parenting goal (raise Kind humans, not Assholes), the goal that comes in close behind is Teach Them Not To Need Me. And the realization that you're raising your heart and soul to someday walk away from you with the independence you taught them to have is both freeing and soul-splintering. I had that realization as I shut the door behind me, listening to him scream bloody murder for me to come back. My heart quite possibly shattered at the thought that I was doing the right thing for us in that moment by not turning around.
It got easier, as all things that require time and patience do. We got to the point where bedtime just required the Pep Talk. The hair stroking, the offer of Monster Spray, the extra kisses and hugs. I would look him right in the eye and say, "Carter Beckett, you can do Hard Things." After a few nights of blank stares, he'd finally respond, "Mama. I do 'har-tings.'" His Hard is falling asleep alone. My Hard was realizing he needed me to let go in order for him to do it.
Our Hard is a collection of things. We've especially done Hard Things this year, and the spectrum is far and wide. We've lived in global fear while losing access to local playgrounds. We've lost our jobs and bits of our freedoms. We watched a Black man die at the hands of White men, and we've had the hardest of conversations around race and justice and what's right. We've lost our money, our loved ones, and vacations we had planned. We've lost that commute to work that used to keep us sane and we've lost access to our Tribes who also replenished that sanity. These are real, Hard Things. So to turn around in the same paragraph and tell you to embrace the Hard and find the Good would be an asshole thing to do. And just as I'm not about Raising Assholes, I'm definitely not about being one.
proof that independent sleep has happened for him, at least once before.
But like I'd tell any almost-4 year old who can't sleep, I'll tell you this: you can do Hard Things. Whatever your Hard Thing is, it's valid - whether it's teaching your child to sleep independently, leaving a broken relationship, or processing the feelings that this entire year has been a dumpster fire of emotional stress and anguish. When you're ready, let it go. And only when you're ready. It may take weeks, it may take months. It may require someone else to help you and it very well may require someone's tough love. Someone may have to walk out the door and not look back to get your attention - and maybe that someone is you.
Carter basically goes to sleep on command now. Two books, a hug, kiss - and I'm out. He's asleep. The verdict is still out on the psychological damage I may have caused him, but I suspect he'll work it out in therapy in 20 years while still under my insurance. The point is that we both tackled something hard and came out okay on the other end. In a year already so full of Hard Things, I hope you'll tackle one as well...and maybe we'll all get a little more sleep.