Sunday, January 26, 2014

Floor Time

With my first child I clung to the holy grail of Attachment Parenting. I honestly didn't know too much about it. I first learned about it from a neighbor right after Lenny was born, and the small bit he described to me sounded exactly like what my guts were telling me. Form a strong bond of love and attachment between parent and child. Who doesn't want that? I Googled it a few times and knew just enough of the basics to say that I loosely followed AP.

Lenny was a quiet newborn. I remember in the hospital hearing the other babies cry and jokingly covering his ears, telling him not to get any ideas. A few months in, it all hit the fan. By "hit the fan", I mean he would cry basically like a totally normal amount for a baby, definitely not colicky, just normal. But I could not handle it.

I never wanted Lenny to cry for any reason. I wanted to be his rock.

I was stuck on the idea that he couldn't understand.

I can't put him on a schedule. He doesn't understand waiting to eat.
I can't leave him on the floor alone. He doesn't understand where I am or if I am coming back.
I can't leave him in a crib to sleep or (God forbid) in the other room at night. He doesn't understand why he can't be with his mama.
I can't let him struggle for even a second. He doesn't understand the world and the way it is.
I can't put him to sleep without rocking and nursing him. He doesn't understand how to fall asleep on his own or know how to understand his own biological needs.
I can't shower or pee or cook dinner or clean unless he is sleeping because if I am not holding him he won't understand the big scary world and all the overwhelming and crazy things in it, not without his protective bubble and the view from mama's arms.

Our typical day... The two of us together allllll the time.
Side note: He has a distinct inch worm vibe going on here.

I thought I had to protect a sweet and helpless baby from all the hardships an infant can endure. To give him the best start for his life knowing there is someone who has always been there for him and someone he can always trust, now and forever.

I still believe that I need to lovingly attend to all my child's needs. And yes, I still do want to be a solid foundation of trust for him. But I realize now that I cannot be the center of his universe, the one that figures out his problems and smooths out the wrinkles in his sheets. He needs to be that person for himself. Of course I always knew he needed that to happen one day, but the crazy RIE parenting idea that stuck in my head since the first time I heard it was that he should be that person from the moment of his birth. Yes, even a teeny, cutie-patootie, itsy-bitsy wittle baby is a capable human person who is SO much smarter than we could ever give him credit for. Babies are not stupid. They do understand what is going on. New studies come out all the time showing that babies are very aware and intuitive in ways we didn't know they were.

I learned more about the RIE philosophy of childcare while working in daycare. The more I read, the more I wanted to know. I started following RIE bloggers. (Such as this one.) I borrowed Magda Gerber books from the library. It just made so much sense to me, to cultivate an awareness of my baby as a person, as an equal human being, with rights and needs and wants and ideas just like the rest of us. When I was pregnant with Carolina I was so sure that I would follow RIE, one hundred percent. Then she was born. The old temptations and habits came right back. Putting her in a swing to shut her up because I can't bear to hear her cry. Plugging her mouth with a paci because I can't bear to watch her struggle. The desperate urge to hold her all day and never let her go, to hold her while she sleeps, to hold her while I sleep, because how could you not want to gaze at the face of your milky little 6 pound crinkled up baby forever and not put her down? But I remembered what never putting Lenny down gave me- a clingy little boy and an obscenely stiff neck.

When I HAD to put him down, this was the spot. 
He absolutely loved the vibrating chair- it always put him right to sleep. 
(Maybe it was because the vibrations were rattling his brains??)

So what did I do? I laid her down. On the floor. Whenever possible. I laid her down and let her fall asleep on her own. I laid her down and let her explore the feeling of a soft mat against her cheek and the brightness of the lights above her head. I laid her down and let her experiment with her body, to learn what would happen if she stretches this muscle, what would happen if she moves this way or that. I laid her down and let her cry to express her frustration of not being able to reach a toy, and let her chew it up like there's no tomorrow when she figures out, on her own, how to get what she was working so hard for.

Little Carolina checkin' out the view from the ground.
How's the weather down there?
 (I got jokes, ya'll.)

The sounds of satisfaction she makes and the look of pure joy on her face is enough to sell me on floor time, and the whole kit and caboodle of RIE. Even when it's hard. Even during the times when she is fussing because she rolled over onto her stomach and realized she can't get back the other way, and the times when she is crying just because it's the easiest form of stress relief available to baby. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier just to carry her around everywhere all the time. And sometimes, even though I try to let her do her own thing, it seems like that is what I do. This baby girl needs to be held and comforted, a lot. Don't we all? But we also need our own space.

I practice RIE because I know I am giving her the gift of being able to do things for herself. Letting her struggle and reach a goal on her own will empower her, just as it does for older children, just as it does for adults.

Hammin' it up for the picture.
Ain't she cute?

And also, seriously. Let's get down to brass tacks here. AP is out the window mainly because of necessity... Once you have two kids, you just don't have the time to hold a baby all the time. Can I get an AMEN?
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