I hear a lot about “scheduling” and how to “fit a baby into a family’s schedule. There’s some gobbledygook about training and waiting to feed you and making sure to never feed you unless you’re hungry, and spacing out feedings so that you’ll get nice and full and not interrupt me at some inconvenient time. I think there are even some books that encourage me to teach you how to leap through flaming hoops. Or maybe that’s dogs. I always get confused when I hear the word “training” and “infant”.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the advice. You have fit into “the schedule” since you were born. Some portion of “The Family Schedule” belongs to you by the simple fact of your existence within the family. “The Family Schedule” is not my schedule, it’s not your father’s schedule, it’s the schedule of the family. When your biggest brother started Kindergarten, he modified “The Family Schedule”. When the middle brother starts summer camp, he will modify “The Family Schedule”, and when you were born you modified “The Family Schedule”. I do not see how it could be otherwise. Our family encompasses each individual member, and we all adapt to each other.
You do not ask anything unreasonable of me. I’m sure that will come when you’re two and you want me to somehow use laser reconstructive surgery to make your four squares of toast back into one piece of toast so that I can properly cut them into triangles. (Toddlers love geometry) or when you’re five and you feel very strongly that “I HATE YOU mommy” is a compelling reason why I should let you have ice cream for dinner. Unreasonable will come soon enough, I’m sure. We all have unreasonable dreams and wishes that we must grow past. At thirty-two I still have those unreasonable wishes, although I’m mostly able to recognize the fact that they will not come true any time soon. (Like the desire for an uninterrupted moment on the toilet to finish pooping in peace. That, with children, is the epitome of unreasonableness on my part.)
You expect to sleep snuggled up to my body and safe. It is modern sleeping arrangements that diminish the safety of your sleeping next to me at night. Your design and your evolution know nothing about too-soft mattresses, back-to-sleep, and the odd habit that adult humans have developed where they like to sleep atop miniature cliffs where you could easily plummet onto a hard floor. You are meant to sleep next to me, and so you sleep best when you are next to me. During the day it is safe to be next to me, and so you cry to be held so that you can sleep safely in my arms or in a wrap, or on the boppy at the breast. You like warmth, my heartbeat, my closeness, safety. Considering that I am your only defense against the tigers and lions and bears that your instincts insist are prowling our house at all hours of the day.. It is understandable. I try to find ways to give you what you need while keeping you safe. Your reasonable demands and our desire for sleep drive us all to be more creative. And when we can’t be, I can’t think of any better reason to be awake at 3AM. I definitely cannot think of any better company than one curly-headed blue eyed babygirl who I love to pieces.
You expect to eat when hungry. You know nothing of ticking clocks and deadlines, of brothers that need to catch buses, of doctor’s appointments, of work schedules. Words have no meaning to you just yet. Why should clocks and timers and hours-passed and minutes-until have any meaning over the rumbling of your belly? Of course you expect to eat when you are hungry. Of course you become confused, annoyed and increasingly upset if I can’t feed you right that moment. You come from within a warm watery world where all of your needs are met before they even exist. This world of ours where you feel hunger and have to wait to be fed.. How alien it must be. Of course you screech. I’ve seen some adults freaking out when their dinner isn’t brought out fast enough at a restaurant. You’re only six weeks old. Patience comes later.
You expect to be kept clean. The diapers that you wear hold your poop and pee close to your delicate skin, and they turn cold against you. You know nothing about the time to line dry, to machine-dry your diapers, nothing about the cost of disposables, nothing about whether it’s a good time to be interrupted for a change of diaper. You don’t pee or poo on a schedule, so the idea of letting you sit in pee until that three-hour timer goes off? No thanks. I’d be rather upset if I had to sit in a puddle for an hour because “it’s not time yet”. I don’t expect you to have more patience and understanding than an adult can muster in a similar situation. You’re uncomfortable. You’re not able to change your own diaper. I got it.
You expect to be held, to be carried, to be kept close. You are a single infant, born to a primate, who eats rapidly digested milk. You are a “carry mammal”, not a species that is often left alone in a nest while its parents disappear to forage. You are helpless, no more suited to being alone than a newborn kangaroo. You evolved to be in my arms and close to my milk. Not to be bounced, vibrated and swung in a mechanical plastic contraption that plays oddly disembodied nursery rhymes. Sure, there are moments where I would really really really really like you to appreciate the bouncy seat that I bought for such moments. I can’t exactly fault you for not liking it, though.
You wake when you are done sleeping. You sleep when you are done being awake. You cry when you have a need. You eat when you are hungry. And you do all of these things without any knowledge of “the family schedule”.
So how do I fit you into this schedule of ours?
In the morning I nurse you when you are hungry. I carry you in one arm while I wake up your brothers, I nurse you on a boppy while I help them get dressed. I wear you in a wrap while I make sure they eat. I change your diaper on my lap while we wait for the bus. I nurse you before we go anywhere, and if you need to nurse on the way we stop and sit and talk while you eat. Your brothers give you kisses and play with your fingers and we all talk about random things and explore whatever happens to be around us.
In the afternoon I nurse you while I eat my lunch. I wear you while I tend to the garden. I step back and let your five year old and two year old brothers be the ones to dig in the dirt, to pull up the weeds under my direction. It is their garden, it is imperfect and amusing and awesome and lovely. In part because my hands are occupied by you. They flood the dirt with the water from the watering can. And their plants thrive in oddly spaced intervals. They lose interest half way through and I finish the job when you’re asleep again in the wrap. Sure, sometimes they pull up one of the bean plants and let the half-dozen tiny little maple trees stay firmly rooted in the careful (sort of) rows of cucumber plants. I don’t mind, it’s an experimental garden after all. Just as our schedule right now is an experimental schedule.
I learn to parent your brothers with my voice and with my attention, to compel cooperation rather than use my arms to step them through the motions. I come up with games to make the process fun. I explain where things are. To the left, to the right, down. It’s in the drawer with the three stickers on it, no the other one. Good job! I ask for favors using please and thank you. By the time you’re ready to free my arms, your 22-month-older brother will know the words for all of his colors and the up-down right-left dimensions of 3D space.
At night we all snuggle down into the big bed and we read stories together and your brothers snuggle up to me while you nurse. Then when you are all asleep I lay you down and carry them to their beds. This is when I am home alone. When your daddy is here he does the story reading and the child-carrying while I hold you a bit longer. The snuggling divies up a bit, sometimes they choose to snuggle with dad, sometimes with you and with me. Sometimes you’ll be in your daddy’s arms and both of your brothers will have found their space in mine.
After everyone else is asleep, we curl around each other and nurse. Your eyes come open in the quiet and we talk to each other. This is our time, yours and mine. Soon you’ll fall into the same schedule as your brothers. Soon we will encourage you to have a more consistent bedtime and more consistent napping times. That will come when you’re awake longer, sleep less, when you’re older, when you put down your own roots in your own routine, and carve out the space that is yours.
Until then, schedule can wait.