On Fears and Firsts

Last night, my wife and I had one of the worst nights of sleep since our son was an biological alarm clock with a repeating two hour snooze. He is 15 months old and last night, for the first time, he slept through the entire night, self soothed, and had to be woken up in the morning. Wonderful, right? Yes, definitely, but it was also the worst night of sleep we’ve had in a year.

Let me explain, my son had been co-sleeping with my wife since transitioning from the bassinet. At the time, co-sleeping helped my wife get better sleep by better facilitating breastfeeding during the night, allowing my son to get better sleep as well. However, this meant I had no room to sleep as my son inherited my wife’s genetic predisposition to hog the bed. The end result was me combining our guest bed and main bed to create a sort of mega-bed when pushed side by side. This solution worked great as it made my wife and I more comforatble and ensured my son had plenty of space to help mitigate the risks associated with co-sleeping.

After our son’s first birthday, we started transitioning him into his own room and crib for naptimes. This process involved a lot of tears and patience. Sometimes that meant leaning over his crib for an hour soothing him to sleep. Other times it meant we had to skip a nap. The next step was to try this at night. We weren’t surpised when he had the same difficulties we experienced during the naptime transition. Ultimately, every night, our son would wake up, refuse to go back down in his crib, and end up back in our room cuddled snuggly up against my wife.

That is until last night.

I usually go to bed around midnight, which is two to three hours after my wife and son are alseep. This typically meant I had just enough time to fall asleep before our son made his nightly migration back to our room and exiled me back to the hinterlands of mega-bed.

So what’s the problem?

Around 1am, I awoke. Not because my son was crying, but because I felt winter’s kiss on my exposed feet. For the first time in almost a year, my wife had stolen my blanket. This happened several more times before I awoke to an eerie pre-dawn silence, which is in itself significant, but I’ll revisit that shortly.

At 3am, my wife woke up. Surpised, no terrified, our son hadn’t woke us up crying, her mind immediately went to the worst case scenario. Clearly, some psychopath had broke into our home in the dark of night and stole away with our beloved little one. “What about carbon monoxide,” she thought, “it smells like eggs, oh dear god it smells like eggs.” Well that was true, but the source of the natural gas wasn’t what she’d had in mind. After quelling her fears and wafting away the noxious cloud, she went back to sleep after an hour of fighting an army of worries.

Needless to say, my wife and I had an interesting night sharing the same side of mega-bed again.

After a long night of crippling anxiety, blanket thieving, fart breathing, and numerous other annoyances, I awoke to the eerie silence of pre-dawn. Amazed, I went to check on our son’s well being. I found him sleeping facedown with his butt triumphantly propped up in the air like the flag raised on Mount Suribachi. I spent a moment reflecting on how beautiful he is alseep, only to then be gripped by paralyzing fear thinking, “He is alseep, isn’t he?” In short order, I placed my hand on his back to feel his breathing. I couldn’t feel it and my heart sank the Titanic taking all rational thought with it. Immediately, I picked him up. He felt limp. I honestly cannot articulate the terror consuming me in the instants before his eyes breifly opened and I regained enough sanity to quickly place him back into the warmth of his crib. I was sure I’d woken him up, but he curled up and feel right back to sleep.

Went I got back into the room, my wife was sitting up. “What’s wrong?” she asked. We laughed recounting the difficulties of a night we’d been working towards for months. We’re extremely proud of our son, but he is growing up too fast.

Beyond providing a comedic anecdote, there is a deeper moral to this story. Often times as a parent, we have these preconceived notions and expectations regarding the outcomes of our child rearing efforts. Take this story for instance. My wife and I had been working toward my son sleeping in his own room for months. What we never could have anticipated is our reaction to the first successful night of our efforts. If your inital foray into parenting also involved diving into catostrphic emergency mode the first time your child gets sick, breathes weird, falls or gets cut, it may surpise you as well to learn those same emotions can be attached to seemingly benign firsts such as sleeping through the night in their own room.

This phenomenon got me thinking. Throughout our son’s life, this situation will reoccur countless times, e.g. the first time he rides a bike, sleeps over with a friend, drives a car, finds a spouse, gets married, has children, on and on it goes. Being a parent is terrifying. If last night taught me anything, it’s that the only thing I know is that I know basically nothing. My expecations about parenting have more often than not proven to be wrong.

I feel like I’m fresh out of training and walking toward the precipice, confident, hang glider in hand and mentally prepared to leap. Only, when I peek over the edge all of my preconceived notions, all my confidence and certainty, evaporates like morning dew and the fear of the unknown paralyzes me. In this analogy, parenting is the flight down and my son is the air. I need to make the jump, I want to jump, I have to jump, but now I’m not certain of the outcome. Will everything be ok? Will I fail? Will I careen into the side of a cliff? What will happen? When I take a step back and analyze the situation, I know I will overcome my fears of the unknown and make the leap. But what I’ve realized is, like the hang glider, I cannot guide the air, the air guides me. I cannot create thermal updrafts, but I can learn to recognize them. I cannot know the exact path my flight will take on my way back down to earth, but I do know one thing: it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

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