Sleep

Published on January 19th, 2022 | by Meg Thompson

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Growing Away

First, my daughter slept in a bassinet literally strapped to my side of the bed. She was so close I didn’t have to fully extend my arm to touch her chest and feel her manic heart.

After six months, we moved her to a crib on the other side of the room, pushed against the wall. In our apartment, this was the only option. I couldn’t touch her, but she was still in my line of sight.

When we moved into our house, she got her own room. The first night I paced up and down the dark hall between her room and ours as if I needed to memorize it. I comforted myself by saying this was it for a while: no more moving, no more distance.

Baby in a co-sleeper device that attaches to a bed. The baby wears a pink onesie with hearts on it and raises her left arm above her head.

Before I became a mother, I thought parents just felt emotional about watching their children grow up, seeing them become physically longer, take up more space, need less from them. I did not realize how much a child also grows away from you. 

We long for our children to be able to stay in our arms, knowing that they cannot. In fact, if they do, if they don’t grow, that is another problem. Every parent lives in fear of the pediatrician saying the most joyless and mechanical phrase: failure to thrive.

The stages of my daughter’s life line up in front of me, then disappear, checked off, becoming distant pages in her baby book. I try to be rational, but those days are gone. I’m a mother. I mother with my gut and my heart, my arms and my hands, and at the end of the day, I ache from it. My mind is for knowledge of toy recalls, vaccination schedules, preschool registration, things that anyone can manage. Anyone can drive her to the health department, write a check. It isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a lot of heart. It is when I translate her tonal language, take the toy out of the Happy Meal when she isn’t looking so she eats instead of plays, and wake up in the night because I think I hear her calling for me that I feel most like a mother.

Baby in walker

At a child’s birthday party, my sister-in-law tried to sit in a lawn chair underneath a black walnut tree and drink a cup of lemonade, but her three children, all under the age of five, were on her in moments, climbing up to her face like she was a set of monkey bars. 

“I’m never alone,” she called over their heads to me and my mother, lifting her chin so she could see us. We were seated across from her, our drinks easily nestled in our laps. 

“They go away,” my mother said. “They go away.”

They say children grow in their sleep, which is another reason why parents panic when their babies have trouble sleeping. What if they don’t grow? On one of our treasured and elusive date nights, my husband and I were sitting at a bar when a woman sidled up next to us, eager to talk about her fully grown children.

Young white girl with light brown hair, in bed and wearing light purple pajamas. A small brown dog with fluffy ears curls next to her.

“I have one piece of advice,” she said, even though we had not asked her for it. Leaning in close, she whispered, “Let your kids sleep with you.” This woman gets it, I thought, watching her stumble away.  At night, alone in her race car bed, my daughter has been growing up, and away, from me. In truth, though, as any mother knows, it begins much sooner. During the final months of my pregnancy, I would hold my stomach with both hands, and looking down at it, feeling my baby move inside, think: I am going to miss you.

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About the Author

Meg Thompson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Sun, Best of the Net, and McSweeney’s. She lives in Ohio with her partner, two children, and their Shih Tzu, Ginger. Read more at megthompsonwriter.com.



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