Once again, I have proven to be the kind of mother I used to criticize. I know I should be used to the hypocrisy by now, but it still manages to surprise me. This time, the culprit is my two-and-a-half year old daughter and her pacifier.
Back when I was a know-it-all mother of one or two, I was vigilant in my views of babies and bottles and pacifiers. If the doctors and books said the pacifier should go by six months and the bottle by twelve, then that’s what I did. I sleep trained both of my boys, too. Sure, there were some sleepless, tearful nights, but I knew that letting them cry a little would help them learn to get back to sleep on their own. I sat on my high horse for those two years or so, looking down my nose at the parents who let their two and three-year-olds walk around with pacifiers.
Fast forward to today, and I would be the subject of my own condescension. My daughter still has pacifiers and makes several trips into my room in the middle of the night. How far I’ve fallen from my pedestal of perfection!
I remember the justifications I would give myself with her as I broke my own rules. When she woke up every time the paci fell out of her mouth, I’d think: “If I just hold out a few weeks longer and surround her with more of them, I’ll encourage her fine motor skills as she reaches out to replace it.” Sure enough, she learned to grasp it and put it back in her mouth. I convinced myself I was being a smart parent, not a lazy parent.
A few months later and she would cry when all of them had been knocked on the floor through the slats in her crib. “She’s just moving so much during the day, of course this happens at night.” So I continued to wake up with her, replace the pacis, and tell myself I was doing the right thing.
I knew that she was too old to be using them, but I just couldn’t muster the energy and discipline it took to break her of the habit. Instead, we made a big deal out of having her throw her collection in the garbage on her second birthday…all except one. “You’re a big girl now, Allie. Babies need pacis, not big girls, right?” Then she looked at me with her big brown eyes and asked to just keep “Stripey.” I should have known I was in trouble when she had named them all.
In hindsight, I really should have just tossed them all then. That one last paci has haunted my sleep for the last five months. When there were multiples, she’d lose one and grab another in the middle of the night to replace it. Now, if she lost her one and only, she didn’t know how to find it.
I would be sleeping the sleep of the enabler until I felt a presence in the room with me. I’d peel open one eyelid to see this little person standing next to my bed, staring at me. At first it was cute. I’d scoop her up into bed between my husband and me and enjoy some sweet sleepy snuggles. I’d breathe in the smell of her freshly washed hair and wrap my arm around her warm little body as we all fell asleep together.
Inevitably though, I’d get punched in the face by a flailing little fist, or donkey kicked in the bladder by my restless sleeper. At that point, I’d scoop her up again and carry her upstairs to her room, plop her in her bed, locate the lost paci and return to my bed. In the morning, I would remind her that her last paci would need to go soon. After three months of this, I started to realize it was happening just about every night, multiple times per night.
About three nights ago, it hit me. I was being manipulated and used. She was cute, but she was cunning. She got snuggles every night, an escort back to her room, and someone to find and replace her pacifier for her. She was happy as could be, but I was sleeping as little as if she were a newborn.
I trudged up the stairs with her, saw 3:18 on the clock in her room, and told her I couldn’t find Stripey. I lied. I knew that the darn thing was under her bed, where it always was when it went missing. But something in me just snapped that night. I knew she’d put up a good fight, but I knew I was ready to fight for my sleep harder than she could.
She was up and down the stairs about two more times that night, crying over needing her paci, but this was no different to me than any of the other sleepless nights, so I was able to hold strong. Naptime the next day wasn’t a picnic, but after a short bit of crying, she did sleep without it.
The second night was predictably the worst. After about the fourth trip upstairs to bring her back up, I almost caved and dug out the damn thing from where I had hidden it. Then she came down the fifth time and screamed in my face as I refused to get out of bed, telling her to go back upstairs by herself, and I knew I could do this. The next morning, I found the last paci and buried it in the diaper pail under a pile of stinky diapers. This was my point of no return.
Last night was our third night under the new No Paci regime. Allie did cry a little at bedtime and came downstairs once to try to snuggle again. But I held strong and sent her back up by herself, reminding her that she couldn’t come downstairs again.
To my surprise this morning, it was the warmth of the sunshine on my face rather than my daughter’s breath on my face that woke me up. We made it through until morning with no paci, only one interruption and she didn’t get any snuggles to reward her midnight wanderings. I felt great as I got out of bed and made my coffee.
When the boys came down for breakfast, I gave them big hugs and smiles and shared the good news. I served them their oatmeal and told them to make a big deal over Allie when she came downstairs since she slept without her paci and stayed upstairs. “Did you hear her cry at all last night?” I asked them over breakfast.
Then my six-year-old smiled at me and said, “Nope! She crawled into bed with me and was quiet the rest of the night!”