Monday, December 08, 2008

The Way It's Supposed to Be

I’m lying on my back on a yoga mat in a dimly lit room. At the conclusion of an hour-long class, we are settling into savasana: relaxation pose. The instructor’s voice, soft and low, melts into the new-age music, a smooth melody of soothing as she guides us.

“Relax your hips, your back . . . let them sink into the floor,” she sighs. “Notice your breathing, let each breath be soft, full and easy.”

I inhale slowly through my nose, filling my belly first - and WHOOSH! that air rushes back out as my fifteen month-old daughter bounces all of her twenty-two pounds on my midsection. The instructor’s gentle cues to completely relax are quickly drowned out by our giggles. Violet sits on my stomach, grinning, and bounces again, and I grin right back at her. More giggles ensue. Mommy and Me yoga, much like the rest of motherhood, does not follow a script.

This may be the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make since becoming a mama. I am admittedly Type A; I like things the way they’re supposed to be. I’ve lived most of my adult life the way you’re “supposed to:” following college with law school and a professional career, marrying my like-minded and motivated love along the way. We planned for Violet the way we planned every other part of our lives. We meticulously designed every detail of her nursery, read up on newborn care, and imagined ourselves gazing down lovingly as she cooed in her crib. I even made plans for my maternity leave, assuring a friend from work I’d visit regularly – we’d lunch while my little one snoozed, I told her.

Enter Violet. She had different plans. As an infant, she insisted on being in-arms at all times; she certainly wouldn’t sleep any other way, so the nursery we had worked so hard on remained unoccupied. She needed to nurse nearly every hour around the clock, and during the colicky episodes she suffered almost every evening, we could only comfort her if we stood next to a very loud vacuum cleaner. I had lunch with my friend only once, and not at the park as we’d planned, but in my living room, where she found me desperate and bedraggled, a newborn wrapped to my chest. There were a lot of tears those first few months, and many of them were mine. This, I thought, was definitely not the way it was supposed to be.

I struggled with this new chaotic existence, flailed and fought to force it into some semblance of order. Although I was with my daughter all the time, and doing all the things for her I believed I should - nursing her on demand, responding to her cries, keeping her physically close - my preoccupation with regaining control over my world kept me from being truly present in much of it. Often I was too busy formulating our next sleep strategy to appreciate each of her soft sighs as she snuggled into my neck. Something had to change. I didn’t want to miss any more of my baby’s babyhood wishing it away.

Eventually I realized that what needed to change was me. I wanted to give my daughter what she most deserved, and I hadn’t yet been able to offer: my presence. I began making a conscious effort when I was with her to stop my mind from racing ahead to the next ten things I needed to do. I focused instead on letting go of what I thought should be and simply being in the moment. It’s an effort I must renew every day. It isn’t always easy, but it is absolutely worth it; I have enjoyed so much with my daughter I might otherwise have missed.

I am still the same person in many ways; I still like lists and schedules, logic and analysis. And there is a place for all that in parenting, but I now know that the most important parts of motherhood can’t be planned. Life, like our yoga routine, may not proceed as I originally envisioned, but the way it is . . . well, that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

This post was originally submitted as an entry in the API Speaks AP Month essay contest. It was voted the #2 favorite, scoring me a one year membership to Attachment Parenting International, and an excerpt will be featured in the Spring 2009 issue of the Attached Family magazine. Thanks to all who voted!

1 comment:

Mat and Kristin said...

Dang! I thought for sure you would win. You are still my number 1 sister if that means anything!