NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Part 4: Bedtime.

It’s a cliche, right? When your kid is born, there’s this pivotal moment when they first wrap their tiny hand around your finger. Your heart melts, and in an instant you feel an unbreakable bond with this baby that can barely open its eyes.

But come on, is that really how it goes down?

Yup.

Well for me, at least. I can remember this exact moment with both my girls. And I’m grateful for that – I know it’s not like that for everybody. But I will make one slight modification:

For me, the moment my daughters won me over wasn’t when they grabbed my hand. It was when I tried to take my hand away, and they tightened their grip.

And now this is what I’m dealing with:

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It’s crazy to think of the number of ways bedtime has changed over the past three years. I remember the first night when our family grew from two to three; I was lying on the couch in the hospital, staring at my daughter through the clear bassinet while she slept. It was dark; aside from the faint glow of the hospital equipment the only light I could see was a thin fluorescent line coming through under the door to our room from the hallway.

Still, I could make out the newest member of our family. Tightly swaddled (not by me, my swaddle game was pretty weak in the early days), I remember watching her lying on her back, motionless at first. Then she began gently raising her toes and her head, then relaxing flat again, starting her first day off right with a few baby-crunches. I was happy and relieved and wondering what I was supposed to do when she woke up.

Since then bedtime has changed more times than I can remember. I remember pacing the floors of our condo in the wee hours trying to do the “5 S’s”, taking her out on the balcony, putting her in the Baldwin Bassinet, then the mamaRoo, then the Rock n’ Play, then the Pack n’ Play… hell she even slept on the Lay n’ Play once.

And finally, the crib.

The crib is when I start to remember the details. That’s when she started to fumble around with the pages of Giraffes Can’t Dance. That’s when she grew hair, hair that smelled so good after a bath as I rocked her, singing to her until she buried her face in my shoulder. Then she’d start snoring, and I’d try to get up from the glider without her feeling anything, hoping she’d float in my arms like a cloud to the crib mattress below.

Then she got bigger. We had to lower the crib mattress, which made things way more difficult. I always felt like I had to make a choice to either 1) drop her a few inches above the mattress and hope the bouncy landing didn’t wake her up, or 2) risk ending up like this lady.

And the worst part? Every time I leaned over to put her in the crib, she would suddenly latch onto me like a koala bear.

Or maybe that was the best part.

I wish I saw it that way every time. I wish that, as I pried her tiny arms off my neck, I would remember the day I was prying her tiny fingers off my hand in the hospital, and be grateful.

But I don’t always feel that way. Especially these days, now that bedtime involves two girls who have both figured out how to stretch out every single step of the the process from bath time to brushing teeth to pajamas to reading to getting in the bed to actually going to bed. And it’s easy to become jaded when all you want is to just have an hour to yourself, maybe hang out with your wife before you crash and do it all over again the next day.

Well I have good news, I guess. That crib/koala problem? That’s over. Because my oldest is in a big girl bed now.

I’ll never put her in a crib again.

And that’s what I need to remember. With all the things I complain about, there are other things I’m going to miss. I need to be present and try to enjoy them.

Easy to write, hard to do.

But I have to try –  because she’s growing up so fast, and although I have an equally adorably one-year-old waiting in the wings who does plenty of her own cute stuff to keep me occupied, she’s growing up too (even faster, I think).

They all grow up. That’s the goal.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I can “Be A Better Parent.” But now I’m thinking I should rephrase the goal. I don’t want to be a better parent; I want to enjoy parenting more.

So maybe the next time one of my girls tightens her grip, I’ll let her hold on a little longer. For both of us.

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