Maybe Next Year

While I wade through a (wonderfully lucky) year of maternity leave with my two small children, I’ve found myself occasionally deluged with the continual motion of the world around me. Nothing has stopped since my son was born in January – friends and family members and groups f which I am a part are having parties and weekends away and all manner of events that, while they sound amazingly fun, just do not work for me. I have a 3.5-year-old. I have an 8-month-old. My days are spent driving to preschool, doing laundry, prepping dinner, soothing boo-boos, mitigating tantrums, singling lullabies. My evenings are spent nursing and rocking and collapsing into bed. So I’ve found myself saying this a lot lately: “Maybe next year.”

Parenting, obviously, involves many choices. Lots of those choices inevitably mean sacrifice or compromise on the part of the parent. Now, on the one hand, I firmly believe that part of being an effective and loving parent is meeting my own needs in addition to those of my children – whether that be a monthly pedicure, book club, La Leche League meeting, whatever. But the plain fact is: if those things that I want interfere with my #1 job, that of parent, I need to consider back-burnering them for a bit.

I didn’t come to this place glibly or quickly. With my first child, that sometimes suffocating intensity of single-child mothering pushed me into occasional frustration over my lack of freedom. But now with my second child, for some reason, I find much more peace in simply doing what my baby needs of me. For my son, at least right now, that means me being with him for frequent nursing and cuddling from his bedtime at about 7 pm until 10 or 11, during which time he is restless and wakeful and just needs me nearby to settle in for some deep sleep later at night. Yes, it pretty much limits my evening activities to reading Kindle books on my iPhone in the dark. But this time around it’s a lot easier for me to know that it’s just for now. It will change. So all those things I might like to do? They just don’t make sense for my family right now. To put it in perspective…

Things I am Missing This Year:

  • Maya Angelou speaking at a local university.
  • Concerts by some of my favorite bands that hardly ever come to my area.
  • Margarita-soaked evenings with girlfriends.
  • Dinner-and-a-movie dates with my husband. Well, any evening date with my husband, really.

Things I am NOT Missing:

  • Reading Goodnight Moon to my little boy while he tries to eat the pages.
  • Singing him to sleep in my arms with Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” as we walk around in the dark.
  • Snuggling with my daughter and husband after the baby is asleep, listening to her “read” Dr. Seuss’ “What Was I Scared Of” in her expressive, lispy little girl voice.
  • A rare few quiet moments after both kids are asleep and my husband and I can actually have a conversation, where, instead of talking about politics or the latest new release, we inevitably talk about how amazing it is to us that our daughter can recite entire books, or how cute our son is when he tucks his lower lip in and hums like he’s talking to us.

Concerts and speakers and date nights and girls’ evenings out will still be there next year or the year after that. But my children will only be this little once, and as each month slips all too quickly between my fingers, I am sure that I am exactly where I need to be. Next year my kids will need me a teeny bit less. And the year after that, even less. And less and less until they will have whole lives, whole personal dramas playing out beyond my knowledge, whole days and weeks and years where I am not the center of their existence. I am so needed right now – more than I will ever be again – and that knowledge makes it easier to turn down those invitations. With any luck I will have years to do those things, but this little boy asleep with his soft fuzzy head on my chest will be grown before I know it, and I’m sure it is this I will want to remember.

AP on the Road

Heading to Chicago, Summer 2010. (Flying as a lap child - enjoying a few minutes in an empty seat during boarding!)

My 22-month old daughter zooms around the living room like an airplane, making whooshing noises. “Mama!” she says, “Whoosh!”

“That’s right, honey, Mama’s getting on an airplane soon. But I’ll be back in two days, OK?”

“Uh-huh,” she smiles, and hugs my leg tight. She knows I’ll come home, and that I’ll miss her terribly while I’m gone – we’ve done this before.

I think there are sometimes misconceptions about how feasible attachment parenting is for working parents, or in my case, a working and traveling mama. But for my family, AP has been nothing short of essential to maintaining a strong relationship with my daughter and organizing our family’s priorities.

I work from home and travel in the U.S. and abroad to visit clients. In many ways it’s an ideal arrangement – when I’m not on the road, I can be at home with my daughter during the day, every day. But the travel… well, after Ruby was born, I dreaded the day I’d have to get back on the road.

My husband and I talked a lot about how we wanted to handle it. We ultimately felt that our daughter was too young to be away from me that first year. Nursing in particular was non-negotiable for us. I hated pumping (crazy respect for all of you who do!) and worried about my supply dipping during separations. My daughter never took a bottle (we never really tried), so in some ways that was our excuse to haul her along.

So haul we did. When Ruby was six months old, I started traveling again on a limited schedule. Bless his heart, since our daughter was born, my husband has used every minute of his hard-earned vacation to travel with Ruby and me on work trips. None of it was easy, and most of the time, it wasn’t even very fun.

“This is our priority right now,” we’d repeat to each other, when the packing, flying, hotel food, exhaustion and 1 a.m. hotel fire alarms (yes, this has happened more than once…) started to get to us. “Someday it will be different, but this is what we need to do for our family.”

At conferences and client meetings, I would race back and forth to our hotel room every two hours to nurse Ruby before my next event. I was stressed to the max trying simultaneously to be mama-me and professional-me. And though he loved the time with our daughter, trying to maintain sanity in tiny hotel rooms with a baby wasn’t exactly easy for my husband either.

But all the chaos has been worth it. Because we co-sleep, even at conferences and meetings where I hardly saw her during the day, at night my daughter would snuggle up against my side, tucking her fingers and toes under my body, and make up for not nursing during the day as much as she might have at home. Though I do work a full-time job requiring a fair amount of time away, I wasn’t away from my baby overnight until she was 18 months old. Our nursing relationship is STILL going strong as we close in on her second birthday.

I do travel without her most of the time now, though we try to go together if there are too many trips in close proximity to each other. She’s at an age where she mostly does better with keeping her routine and her surroundings at home, even though she misses nursing and misses me. I just pump for comfort while I’m away, because it doesn’t really matter if my supply dips. She still co-sleeps with my husband when I’m gone, which reinforces their bond and the centrality of his role in her life.

I am also appreciative that all our running around when she was tiny made my daughter a great traveler. She’s been to a dozen states and overseas. She is comfortable in new places. She loves flying. I think what she learned through all our mobility is that home is where the three of us are, not just in our house or our town. Home is the family bed and the comfort of nursing, wherever they might be located.

All this is to say that I am a firm believer in AP even for, and maybe especially for, working parents. While some see AP as a constant physical connection, what AP has helped us create is an unbreakable emotional bond that withstands even physical separations.

What about you? How important do you feel AP is to you as a working parent?

Does AP Get Easier or Harder?

I keep thinking about this lately – does attachment parenting get easier or harder as your child ages? Admittedly, I’m at a pretty early stage of the game, with a daughter who is not quite two. But even in that span of time, how AP functions in our household has undergone a number of transitions.

AP seemed “easy” when our daughter was a tiny baby because, for me, AP was like… breathing. I just couldn’t conceive of any other way of doing things. Being an attached parent with a newborn is all instinct and physical response – when I put her down it felt like someone was cutting off my arms, so I picked her up again and snuggled her close. When she cried, my milk sprayed through my shirt, so I let her nurse. Her crib felt like a strange alien in a room so very far from ours, so she slept between us.

On the other hand, it was hard, because everything was hard. You know, the bordering-on-breakdown exhaustion, the dozen poops a day, the clogged milk ducts, the raging hormonal shifts, the whole I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing bewilderment of new parents.

I also think AP can be hard with a new baby (particularly your first) because you’re trying so hard to do what’s best for your child, and there are dozens and dozens and dozens of voices telling you what to do, maybe pushing you in directions in which you don’t want to go. There is such an overwhelming culture of independence in the U.S. that, as new parents, we’re often made to feel that if our child needs us at all, we’re creating a dependent attention-monster who will nurse until they’re fifteen and sleep in our bed until they leave for college. Being an attached parent to a newborn can often feel like swimming against a very strong current.

AP feels easier in some ways with a toddler because frankly, I don’t give a flying flip what anyone else thinks about my parenting at this point. I’m confident in my choices because they work for my family, and because I see my daughter every day developing into a kind, loving, happy child, and I believe AP plays an important role in that development. I don’t feel the need to defend anything I do, and in fact enjoy (just a teeny bit) throwing someone for a loop every now and then.

At a conference recently, across a table of a dozen male and female colleagues, most of whom do not have children, a senior staff member of the organization I work for loudly asked me, “SO, WHEN DID YOU STOP BREASTFEEDING?” A bit blindsided, I just answered, “WE HAVEN’T!” with a big smile. After a few seconds of stunned silence, she said, “Oh. Well.” And went back to scrutinizing the menu. I mean, what do you do? I wasn’t going to lie about it. I’m so happy to still be nursing my two-year-old. And you know? The world went right on turning, and maybe, just maybe, I gave a couple of my colleagues something to think about.

I do see some challenges ahead, though. We are just beginning to tread the waters of the dreaded discipline, and in many ways this seems like a much more complex and nuanced application of AP principles than having a healthy pregnancy, feeding a newborn with love and respect, and engaging in nighttime parenting. (I never thought I’d say that anything was more difficult than nighttime parenting, but here I am.) Toddlers, dear as they are, can be so outrageously frustrating, and patience is not my strong suit. Every time my daughter looks right at me and dumps a bowl of peas/blueberries/spaghetti on the floor (a daily occurrence at the moment), I have to be very intentional about my response, suppressing the flare of anger and annoyance (and the occasional desire to bang my head against the wall). I can tell that, when it comes to discipline, being true to AP principles will have to be a much more cerebral, conscious process for me than it has been thus far.

It makes me wonder how I’ll see AP in five, ten, fifteen years – will I think it’s easier or harder than right now? Only time will tell.

Do you think AP has gotten easier or harder for your family as your children have grown?


On the way to Playschool the other morning, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw tears sliding down my 21-month-old’s cheeks.

“Ruby, what’s wrong, honey?” I asked, concerned and surprised – she’d been talking excitedly all morning about visiting her friends at school, where she spends two mornings a week.

“Oww, mama,” she said, tapping her nose with her forefinger, her eyes welling up even more. She’d just gotten over a nasty cold that had kept her out of school for a full week.

We pulled into the drop-off at school, and my daughter’s favorite teacher was waiting to take her inside. Ruby started really crying as I unbuckled her. “Oh, she’ll be fine,” her teacher smiled at me. “We can handle it!”

“I’m sure you can,” I smiled back, “but let me have a minute with her.”

I held Ruby tight and looked in her eyes.

“Ruby, do you really not feel good?”

“No, mama.” (sniff, sniff)

“Do you want to go to school today?”

“No.” (sniff)

“Do you just need to come home with mama?”

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.” (nod sniff nod sniff)

In a split second, I mentally ticked through all my work plans for the morning – and then brushed them away. When it comes right down to it, there’s just not a thing more important than doing what my daughter needs. So home we went, much to the consternation of Ruby’s teachers. I think they thought I was “giving in” to her, or “spoiling” her. But I like to think I just chose to listen to my child. My daughter, who, just like all of us, has her very own needs and emotions, her good days and bad days. I know her well enough to know when she is truly upset and uncomfortable, and when she needs a break. Whatever the reason, she very clearly did not want to be at school that day.

When I was growing up, my parents occasionally let me take what they called “mental health days” when I got too stressed out about school. That time away was invaluable to me, an over-achiever who worried too much from a very young age. I remember those days so clearly, how they’d help me calm down, re-focus, and feel more connected to whichever parent I spent that day with.

I want my daughter to be able to have those kinds of days. I want her to trust that I will listen to her and take her seriously. That when she has an emotional need, I’ll do everything I can to meet it. I think part of my job as a parent is knowing her well enough to see those cues, to know when “My nose hurts” actually means “I need some time with you.” So that morning, instead of working as I’d planned, I cuddled with my daughter. We read books, ate snacks, and danced to her “silly music.” And truly? That time together was more valuable than anything else I could have been doing.

Has there been a time when truly listening to your child changed your plans or your approach to a certain situation?