Friday, June 5, 2009

Enter Sandman

Here is how it all started- the story behind "turnitupmom."

It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon, or so I thought. My three-month-old daughter, Liza, and I were still in our pajamas, bouncing to Steve Miller Band’s Jungle Love. Somehow the lyrics “drivin’ me mad, makin’ me crazy” seemed all too appropriate. Liza had been awake for seven hours straight, and I was running out of silly Mary Poppins-like antics to keep her content. She’d resisted the traditional methods of settling down, and I needed to come up with something, and fast. Clearly, she needed a nap. Clearly, I needed one too.

While I’m not a voracious reader of parenting manuals and how-to guides (Let’s face it, there is no manual.), I did expect that my daughter would respond well to the recipe for a happy baby: swaddle, sway, and shush. I envisioned her nestling into the crook of my arm and drifting off to sleep, lulled by classical melodies. Quite to the contrary, she squirmed free of my futile attempts to cuddle close with a warm, cozy blanket. I spent days grasping for straws until I realized that she required something a bit more edgy than “The Muffin Man.” That’s when I turned to my husband’s eclectic music collection.

That afternoon, we ripped up the dance floor (Okay, the linoleum kitchen tiles.), bouncing and grooving to the music. And the louder, the better. Liza closed her tiny fingers around my shirtsleeve, and we clung to each other. We whirled past kitchen counters strewn with bottles and dirty dishes, and we twirled in circles, dizzying ourselves. We weren’t waltzing to a Brahms lullaby, and yet I felt a deep sense of comfort separate from the rest of the world. It was an unmistakable bond with my daughter, as I gave myself permission to dance with a childlike abandon and wonder. 

Despite my utter exhaustion, an untapped stream of energy rose from deep within and gave way to flirtation with a light, carefree me. I wasn’t going to need a Richard Simmons video to get this body back in shape. I was sweatin’ to everything from Michael Jackson to Metallica. Before long, that room was filled with laughter, singing, and a curiously content baby. But God, did I need a shower.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it; my husband and I were quiet babies, content to sit and gaze and bat our hands at colorful rattles. I half-expected our daughter to be the same. It was in this moment that I made a conscious effort to shift my thinking. Instead of wishing her to be otherwise, I began to embrace all that she was- a curious, wide-eyed, active baby who made me laugh- instead of all that she wasn’t. And we danced. What emerged from this moment was the opportunity for me to know my child and to rediscover myself.

Did she fall asleep? Of course she did. After a few minutes, Liza nestled her head into the space under my chin and tucked her knees up into my chest. Her eyelids grew heavy and her body, limp. Although the couch was enticing, my heart told me to savor this moment. I pressed my lips against her forehead and continued to rock. Here I was, mommy-gone-mad, with a sense of calm falling around me. I, too, closed my eyes and let go, knowing that in a matter of months, her little tushy wouldn’t fit in the palm of my hand. My nap could wait. I didn’t ever want to wish that we had danced more.

I often ask myself, why does my daughter love to dance? Maybe it’s the rocking motion that simulates the womb or the liveliness of the music, but I have to believe that it’s more than that. Perhaps Liza is giving me exactly what I need- the chance to stop, to breathe, and to be fully present. Somewhere along the line, between juggling work and the inability to say “no,” I had suppressed my most basic need to be and to honor all that I am. 

Liza had her own agenda from the moment of conception. What I didn’t know was that it would come in the form of a gift, one that transcended my expectations.

The serendipity of it all is that one week later, I slipped on a pair of brand new jazz shoes and headed off to dance, this time with a group of women who love to sweat. Every week I do this for myself- for my body, my spirit, and a guilt-free break. Who do I have to thank for this? My little Liza who, literally, doesn’t miss a beat. Thanks to her, I’ve been reacquainted with the happy-go-lucky girl who could pirouette, slide into a split, and steal the show. (Although, I must admit that after delivering a baby, the thought of a split makes me cringe and contract my pelvic muscles.) Because of dance, we have a few more funky songs on our playlist and a few new moves for our kitchen repertoire. Because of dance, I have reconnected with a freer side of myself that I’d lost in the trenches of life. Liza gave me the push I needed to step out onto the dance floor again and to linger in moments of sheer fun.

I have since plunged into this new role, at times wacky and wild, and while it differs from the challenges of classroom instruction, it demands a similar creativity and freshness. Every day Liza cracks me up, and some days I wonder where she came from. Although, in truth, I’ve come to believe that while our children are of us, they are not us. 

My husband and I joke that someday our daughter will be the last child to conk out at her first slumber party. But for now, I have come to appreciate the fact that I can “sway” my daughter to sleep, even if it means cranking up a little classic Metallica. And maybe- just maybe- the Sandman will pay us a visit.


C Golightly said...

Great post. I too remember when I had to accept my oldest daughter as she was and not compare her - and this was about her sleeping habits. She didn't sleep for more than 6 hours until she was 6 months old. In my fog of sleep deprivation, I would constantly compare her to friend's babies who slept longer and then I finally realized I had to stop. It is wonderful to find something that enthuses you, and yoga is seeming to do that for me right now. Though I do love turning the music up and dancing and so do my girls - ages 6 and 3.

Sarah Morris said...

i love it MJ!!! it's so great as a daughter to know that your mom is a role model and you are that mom! much love. :)