When my parents were newlyweds back in the late 1980s, they, like many newlyweds, didn’t have a lot of disposable income. One of my father’s first Christmas gifts to my mother was a typed document where he wrote down every big thing (and many little things) that happened to their small family that year. This was inspired by my late grandmother, his mother-in-law, who had ruminated on how her forty years of marriage to my grandfather went by so quickly; she wished she had written more things down to remember all the special moments.
My father has done this write up every year of my parents’ 28-year marriage; spare copies of this document are in my parents’ safety deposit box as precious family heirlooms. It has become a family tradition to read it on Christmas morning or, since a pastor’s Christmas season is so busy, help him finish it with our input.
In these pages throughout the decades, my mom was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer; my brother and I got braces and drivers’ licenses; we took road trips all over the United States in our 1990 Chevy van affectionately called “Big Blue;” our rottweiler mix mutilated a doorknob, let himself into the garage, and sat in the front seat of my convertible, ready to go for a ride. In the last few years, my brother and I graduated college, I got married, Spartacus was born, and both my parents have had some health issues. My father has battled some very scary stuff, first with a diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer in 2012, with extensive chemotherapy and radiation that resulted in the loss of smell, and later with a terrifying bout of sepsis in 2013 that required surgeries, six weeks in the hospital, and relearning how to walk.
Now relatively healthy, they drove down to see us for spring break this past week. Seeing them in person and not on a computer screen reminded me again how blessed we all are to have each other, and to be thankful to God for all the blessings in our lives.
I’ve recreated the idea of these yearly updates for my own small family, using Shutterfly to create scrapbook-style photo books for each year of our marriage. I update it every time I move pictures from my camera to the computer. I just finished adding photos from my parents’ visit. We drove to IKEA (the closest one to them is three hours away), fed Spartacus Swedish meatballs, played tourists at a local historic small town Main Street, worshiped together as a family at a Lenten service, and spent lots of time drinking coffee and playing with their first grandchild. They left for home on Thursday morning, and Thursday evening, Spartacus decided that is was high time in his young life to develop old-fashioned separation anxiety.
Spartacus has always been such an easy, pleasant baby, that we’ve never bothered too much with keeping a strict bedtime. In fact, we’ve tended to let him stay up later and later, since we get so few hours with him during the week. If I get home with him after school around 5 or 5:30 and he goes to bed at 7, that’s 90 minutes of family time – including bath, dinner, and nursing, and that’s assuming Hubster gets home when we do. Our “typical” evening for the last few weeks goes like this: Daddy has taken over bath time (they rock out to Credence Clearwater Revival), then Spartacus will nurse on one side and fall asleep. He will wake up and cry as soon as I lay him in his crib; he’ll nurse the other side, fall asleep, and stay asleep for the whole night, waking up only when I force him to at 7:05 AM when we absolutely must leave for daycare. He usually conks out between 9:30 and 10 most evenings, which works with our bedtimes too.
Thursday night we got ready for bed around eight. Spartacus nursed, fell asleep in my arms, and cried when I put him down. I picked him up, repeated on the other side, but when I laid him down he woke up again and wailed. We cuddled, read another book, and tried nursing; he kept pushing me away, but as soon as he felt himself get lowered into the crib, his hands tightened like vice-grips on my shirt and he started screaming again. This routine continued for several hours until I finally gave up and brought him into bed with us around 11. He nursed to sleep then, but at 3:45 he woke up again, restless. I nursed him again, he fell asleep, and I attempted to return him to his crib. Again, the screaming.
I know plenty of babies scream, but mine does so infrequently and for so short a time that this was disconcerting. It wasn’t tired screaming; it was pained screaming. His top teeth are coming in, so nursing hurts. Toys, cuddles, singing, dry diaper – nothing seemed to make baby Spartacus feel better. I tried to take him back to bed with me, but that didn’t work. I put him in his crib and watched the clock, knowing he was exhausted, so sure he’d eventually peter out…fifteen minutes…thirty minutes…still screaming, and that tight grip every time I’d attempt to set him down. At 5:30 I gave him some acetaminophen and that combined with nearly two hours of screaming finally seemed to give him enough relief to go back to sleep.
As I struggled to go back to bed at the time I normally wake up, I did some Googling on separation anxiety combined with teething. The internet did not offer too much hope; I kept reading things like, “Separation anxiety usually eases by the time babies are 24 months old (BabyCenter).” Not encouraging when he’s only eight months.
|Annabelle’s separation anxiety|
Some articles spoke encouragement that this was part of positive development; Spartacus now understood “object permanence,” that things exist even though he can’t see them. Well, good for him; now how can I convince him that even though I’m not physically holding him, I’m not abandoning him forever and ever? I swear, it’s like he’s started listening to the dog; Annabelle’s constant story seems to be, “You’re home! I thought you’d left me forever and ever! I thought you were never coming back!” Even when all we did was take the trash out. The one thing all the articles agreed on was keeping our goodbyes light, not drawn out, and to make sure he sees me leave; sneaking out while he’s distracted only increases his fear of letting go of me, lest I literally seem to vanish into thin air.
Last night, we started the bedtime routine much earlier – 5:30, when he started yawning. Bath, dinner with us, jammies, book, nurse. We attempted to create a more soothing bedtime environment; we dimmed the lights, lit some candles, and played some nice classical music (as opposed the the Scrubs or Frasier reruns we usually have on while cleaning up dinner). Spartacus slept from 7:30-8 in his crib, then woke up screaming. I rocked, sang, and nursed again, then put him down at 8:40. I spread some infant soothing rub (lavender and eucalyptus) on his chest. We let him cry for twenty minutes; I then went in and picked him, hugged him, and felt him instantly relax against my chest. The last time he seemed this stressed out was when he was in the billy bed when he was first born; he’d be so relieved to be out from the lights that he’d fall asleep instantly when we could hold him. I returned him to bed, kissed him on the head, told him I’d see him in the morning, and he began screaming again…I set the timer for twenty minutes again, but after ten he went quiet…he was asleep. We poured wine and sat on the couch, listening…at 11 he woke up, but his cries were so tired, that within five minutes he was back to sleep. He slept until 7:15 this morning, thank goodness. While bedtime still took the better part of two hours, I’m hopeful that Thursday night was more fluke than habit. We both get up at 5:30 every morning, and I can’t operate under less sleep than that.
It is so hard to listen to the fear within his cries, the yearning for safety and security and the feeling of love that envelops him when he’s in our arms. I still feel that way when I hug my parents; while I obviously didn’t cry out in pain when they got in their car to drive the 1200 miles home on Thursday, their visit reminded me how precious they are to me. Updating my yearbook for March with their visit and all the other exciting happenings in March reminded me what a wonderful blessing my family is, and how valuable is each moment with my mother, father, husband, child. I’m thankful for spring break, because it gave me the chance to spend time with Spartacus and realize how far he’s come; since we spend most of our free time with him cuddling, I don’t put him down long enough to see his milestones.
This week, I witnessed him rolling from tummy to back and then to tummy again (a feat I knew he could do but I hadn’t yet seen). He scooted himself backwards on the floor when playing with my mom. Today, I put him standing against his pack n play, and he stood there all by himself without my support. He’s started regularly pushing against us to set him down when we hold him. He drank from a sippy cup for the first time. At 23 pounds, he’s wearing 18-month clothing.
When I drop him off at daycare and see his empty carseat in my rearview mirror, I experience some separation anxiety of my own. Returning to work again on Monday will be difficult! While we still have no word on Hubster’s situation with the army and moving for seminary, I do only have nine Mondays left in the school year until I get summer off with my baby boy. And Miss Annabelle, of course. She gets lonely too.
|Spartacus and Miss Annabelle #thoserollsthough|