One of the things about motherhood that has surprised me is not how much loving attention and care I give on a daily basis, but how much I must routinely steel myself for River's benefit.
The whole family was at Kevin and Crystal's this weekend, helping to put the finishing touches on their nursery (Thom and Summer adding wall decals, River tasting all the new baby's toys). Later, while we were hanging out in the living room, River took a tumble in the course of playing and bonked his head pretty solidly. Everyone in the room did what I wanted to--gasped sharply and readied themselves for the inevitable cry. Quite against my natural instincts, I reminded them to laugh it off and act normally until he actually showed signs of being upset. Low and behold, the little terminator shook it off and kept playing with nary a whimper or chin quiver.
That little act of restraint--not immediately rushing over to fuss and comfort my baby--has taken months of willpower to develop. It seems like such a cold thing for a mom to do, but I know in the long run River will be better and stronger for it. There is no way to avoid the many bumps, bruises, scrapes and falls he will encounter over the years, but my hope is that he will face each one on its own, dust himself off when he can, and trust me to be there to give hugs, kisses, and magic band aids when he really needs it.
Last night, as I was lying in bed thinking about this, we heard the tale-tell cry from the monitor. Months ago, one of us would have gotten up and gone to him, unable to leave him too long lest he build himself into a rage and refuse to go back to sleep. But after the (very successful!) sleep training we recently did I am much more confident he can actually get himself back sleep. So I waited. His cries rose and rose and I stayed where I was. Finally, after a minute, I heard the sound I was waiting for: the tapering cries, the little whimper, the tired last gasps before he fell asleep... all on his own. It was a miracle I couldn't have asked for just a few weeks ago, and now it is a nightly occurrence.
Still, the will-power it took to leave him there--to trust him to go back down and trust myself that leaving him alone was the right thing--was immense. It is hard-earned and does not come without a price. It's not as dramatic as the child who understands death for the first time, but it does feel like a kind of innocence lost.
The cover of pregnancy books always picture radiant women in sun dresses walking through fields of poppies in the afternoon light. It's as though new mothers are getting ready to attend a never-ending tea party, not deal with pain, poop, hurts, and heartbreak. If they wanted to be honest about the reality of motherhood, they would show an Amazon warrior gearing up for battle. Full belly covered in armor, face strong and stern: a woman willing to do whatever she must to protect her child.
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