Lately, I find my bearings in the morning. At around 9:00 a.m., Alexi becomes restless in our bed between Lucie and me, shifting with pauses of sleep in between that get shorter and shorter. I land back in my bed, pulled out of my dream, and watch him and Lucie sleeping. Sometimes our dog, Stella, will jump down from the bed and ask to go out. Gradually the boy opens his eyes. He stretches a huge, grownup-sized stretch, clenching his fingers and moaning a little boy moan. He looks at each of us, from side to side. I say my usual, “Good morning, Alexi,” and he gives me the first of many heartbreakingly beautiful toothless grins that we see each day. I kiss his soft cheek and we begin our day in conversation.
This past Saturday, we hosted some family and friends for Canadian Thanksgiving. In addition to the 18 lb turkey, sweet potato-carrot casserole, slow-cooker stuffing, green beans, maple-cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, we also created a little “gratitude installation.” We invited guests to send, in advance, words and phrases that expressed the various things they felt grateful for. I took the words and wrote them in gold ink on collected autumnal leaves which were scattered over the white tablecloth on our dining room table.
I started thinking about all that I felt grateful for in relationship to my new role as Alexi’s mommy. This is something I can let slip when the parenting days get hard. Lack of time has been something challenging me greatly of late. Day after day, I have the perception that I get nothing done. I love my little boy but the nothingness of daily life is often a source of frustration.
So what, really, am I doing with my time?
Our parenting style is not what most mainstream North Americans are practicing. Several years ago, I stumbled across a book called “The Continuum Concept.” Without going into too many details, Jean Liedloff, the author, studied a tribe in South America and discovered that the babies were held for most of their first year in what she ended up calling the “in-arms” period. The children were incredibly mature and independent at a very young age and the tribe as a whole completely peaceful. She posited that in the west, we have lost touch of the continuum of knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation and that this loss is what has led to such alienation that exists now in humankind. She recommended to parents in the west that, if nothing else, they hold their babies for as often during the first year as possible.
I later on discovered attachment parenting, coined by Dr. William Sears. His theories and research is along the same lines as ‘The Continuum Concept,” only he lays out more concrete ways of parenting for western parents than Liedloff did. I also read Ashley Montague’s book on touch and skin, a book written in the ‘70’s, a compilation of vast amounts of research talking about the importance of touch in particular to the infant. After all of this reading, which resonated with my own thoughts and experiences, I decided that if I ever had children, I would put as many of these practices into effect, not only for myself and my kids, but as my contribution to the healing of the planet, on a very small scale.
So, how do I spend my time? I do lots of nothing...holding and rocking a crying baby, lying down with him to nap, breastfeeding him, walking with him in our sling, tummy to tummy...activities that yield no concrete result. But my hope is that all of these nothings will add up to a grounded, happy childhood for this little boy who will someday go into the world and do some marvelous work of his own as a happy and healthy adult. Ultimately, if I have the wherewithall to see parenting as the important job I know it is, I can feel grateful for all the nothingness in my life...and, indeed, understand that this nothing is, in fact, something.
Lately, I find my bearings at night. I nurse Alexi for the last time, in our bed around 9:00 p.m, and feel his breathing change rhythms against my naked chest. Lucie, on his other side, is nodding off behind a book about the royal family. I gently pry the book from her hands, turn out both of our lights, and wait in the dark to melt, slowly, into sleep. As I wait, I am captivated by the duet of sleep breathing, Alexi next to me, Lucie on the other side, sometimes even a trio with our dog Stella draped on the bottom third of the bed. Their breathing is better than any music, better than the wind in the forest, better than the call of loons on Lake Eden in Vermont. With a sigh, I slide into blissful slumber.