This morning I was easing out of this incredible sexy dream in which I was eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese with a real adult spoon and not being forced to share with anyone when I opened my eyes to my daughter standing 6 inches away from my face and silently staring at me. The following conversation ensued:
Me: (shriek-whispering): Oh my God!
Sadie (bossy-whispering): We are not allowed to say that, Mama
Me (defensive-whispering): You’re right Sugar, we’re not. You scared me, though!
Sadie (indignant-whispering): Why? I was being super quiet.
Me (irritated half-talking): Look, honey. It’s not even trying to be light outside. It’s…..dude, it’s 5:50 in the morning. You can't just come in here all Bride of Chucky and stand at my bedside willing me to rouse from a dead slumber. That’s just not cool.
Sadie (long pause, followed by normal indoor voice): ……..What? Who’s Chucky? Did she get married?
Me (long sigh, back to whispering): Sadie, you have to go back to your room. We’re still sleeping
Sadie (whine-whispering): But I can’t. My monitor’s in there and he won’t stop staring at me.
Me (regular talking. if I have to have a conversation this complicated pre-dawn, my husband’s coming down with me): He? You mean your baby monitor? Honey, it’s a machine. It’s a camera. It’s there so we can see you in your bed. Or, in a case like right now, for example, so we can see that you’ve wandered down the hall in the pitch darkness to will me awake and are no longer there.
Sadie: He’s freaking me out. He STARES at me. And sometimes, he turns around.
Me: (mildly disturbed and fairly curious about why the video monitor is gendered but too tired to address it, and willing to do pretty much anything to make my kid retreat from whence she came): Baby, you have to go back to your room until it’s light outside. But we’ll talk about taking your monitor down.
Sadie: Today? For forever?
Me: IF YOU GO AWAY NOW.
I’m not always great at speaking to my toddlers like toddlers, but I do follow through on promises I’ve made to them. Once I was no longer operating from sleep-doped fight-or-flight, I went into Sadie’s room, and took down the video monitor that has been hanging from her bedroom wall since she was a seven-pound potato person. I hugged her, she grinned at me, and I left to put the camera in the bin with the other baby items I need to put in the attic.
The whole exchange lasted maybe 40 seconds, and to an outsider likely looked completely innocuous. In fact, I’m positive that my kid thought nothing beyond, Word. Got my way again. My plans to be the boss here are coming along nicely. But y’all? I didn’t make it past her threshold before I'd soaked my collar in tears. No milestone, not weaning nor walking nor dismantling the changing table fractured my heart quite like the taking down of the monitor.
Why though? She’ll be four in a few months. We barely turn the thing on anymore other than to peek in on her mildly-creepy-from-the-infrared-but-still-precious sleeping self, wallowing in that sentimental voyeurism that has become the norm for the tech-savvy modern parent. But even that’s becoming ever more rare, as it’s less cute to sleep-creep on a pre-school-aged child than it is a baby, especially because they often have their hands down their pants or somehow smuggled seven sheets of stickers into their rooms and spent their pre-sleep half-hour collaging their bedspreads (which, let’s be honest, is an offense best left undiscovered until morning, because what am I going to do, wake her up? No. Instead I’ll seethe at my perfectly innocent but adult-and-currently-right-beside-me husband until he falls asleep and I’m left doing time math until 2am: If I skip walking the dogs and cutting off crusts then I’ll have 15 extra minutes to un-peel stickers before it’s time to leave for school).
I think this one was so hard for me because my daughter’s request for privacy drove home the fact that she’s not even remotely baby-like anymore. She’s barely even a toddler. She’s barreling into bigkiddom so quickly it takes my breath away, and as she does so it becomes ever more apparent how a-human-person-in-her-own-right-and-independent-from-me she is. More than that, our interaction has shifted from the I keep you safe, make the rules, instruct you on how to proceed, and you do it dynamic and into one that’s a bit more nuanced, one that involves negotiation and discussion, one that feels rife with unknowns and booby traps and so very many more ways to fail.
With babies, the inner discussion is simpler, less weighty: I can tell her to stop smearing spaghetti on her hair, but she’ll probably do it anyway. Do I want to take the food away and bear the pitch and octave of her tantrum or do I want to just say fuck it and do the extra bath tonight?
With the monitor thing it was: I could say no, but am I saying no because there’s a legitimate reason for us to continue to watch her in her room, or am I just emotional about her growing up? Yes, I may desire the ability to see when she’s gone to sleep or if she’s systematically spitting an entire glass of water around the perimeter of her area rug, but is that really important in the long run? How long can I expect to know every single thing she does every second of the day and really, how long do I want to? If I don’t take the monitor down I could be telling her that she's undeserving of our trust or that her needs are less important than mine. Hasn’t she earned the right to this small pocket of autonomy?
I feel like the older my kids get, the wider the potential-to-fuck-them-up window swings open. Yes, sleep training is stressful, but babies are human mammals. Whether it’s in bed with parents or in a crib, preceded by 15 minutes of demon howling or immediately with a smile, they’re going to go to sleep. Now that I have a kid capable of secondary thoughts and emotions, able to reason and problem-solve and manipulate, I’m in an actual relationship with an actual person. Except I made the person with whom I’m in the relationship and she’s also deeply irrational and prone to wild toddlery mood-swings. And also pretending to nap whilst making a “campfire” with every single item in her drawers and closet.
Which I find as I burst cheerfully into her room after 2 hours of dead silence assuming that she’s the world’s most trust-worthy and responsible person who still pees herself 3 nights a week. Yeah, you’re right, it’s too soon.
What am I, insane? Privacy, schmivacy. She's three. The monitor is my friend and he is back to stalking duty as soon as I refold all 47 of these tiny shirts and dresses. She can grow up tomorrow. Today, I'm going to pull her into my lap and breathe in her slightly urine-tinged scent while I break the news.
Pray for me.