Our bedtime routine with Lilian is fairly simple. One of us gives her a bath, then we get her into her jammies and sleep-sack, read a few books, and then I nurse her and put her down to sleep. The bath is pretty clutch, both because it helps her to fall asleep (a steep rise in core temperature followed by a steady temperature drop sends a pretty strong signal to your brain that it’s time for bed) and because she loves it.
When she was tiny, we bathed her in a sink. Then she got too big for the sink, and I got too worried about her bashing her face on the faucet. So, I bought a little red bucket at Target for five bucks and we used that. But, she outgrew that, so we got her a little tub at Ikea.
(Sheesh, Lilian. When are you going to stop outgrowing things?!)
When we moved her into the little tub, I started dropping in a small fleet of rubber duckies to float around with her. They were originally for my own amusement, but now she’ll pick them up and chew on them.
She’s getting better at sitting up on her own, but the bathtub is not exactly the best place to practice, so I keep a hand on her to hold her steady. I used to use the other hand to grab the rubber duckies and return them to her after they floated away. But then, a couple of nights ago, I noticed something pretty amazing. She was using her feet to kick at the duckies and send them back towards her. So, now, I hold her head up while she kicks and kicks and kicks. And then she retrieves the ducky and chomps on it to her hear’s content. At least until she drops the ducky, and the kicking starts all over again.
It would be so easy for me to hand her the errant ducks. In fact, I occasionally forget and hand them back to her absentmindedly. But I try to remind myself that it’s not my job to hand her the duckies. My job as a parent is to keep her head above the water as she figures out how to get the duckies. My job as a parent is to help her feel safe to try kicking out, reaching out, leaning all the way across the tub. My job is to let her try, and to let her know that I’ll catch her if she doesn’t make it.
It’s hard to do it that way. I want nothing more than to give her that immediate happiness. I want her to have the ducky. I want her to have all of the duckies. But I would be doing her a deep disservice if I did. She’ll be a stronger, smarter, happier person if I help her figure out the strength and joy in doing things for yourself. Besides, I would be missing out on the delight that’s inherent in watching her improve. That indescribable feeling of pride as I realize that, wow, my itty bitty baby has figured out how to use her feet to move a duck all the way across her tub.
I remember all of the times when my parents made me do things the hard way. I was 13 years old when my Dad gave me bus money and told me to get to the next town over on my own. I was 14 years old when I took an Amtrak train all on my own to NYC to visit my sister. By the time I was in high school, I could figure out how to get pretty much anywhere with little to no assistance. At the time, I was a little bit scared and more than a little bit resentful. But now I’m so grateful to my parents for giving me the tools that I needed in order to navigate my way through the world. They were always there when I really needed them. But they also encouraged me to push myself past my comfort zone.
That’s what I want to do for my daughter. I want her to know that I’ll never let her head slip under the water. I’m going to be there to catch her, if she needs it. But, if she can’t reach the ducky with her hands, she needs to try and use her feet. Because its that much more fun to chomp on a ducky when you got it yourself.
I promise, Lilian, that I’m going to parent the hard way. We might both resent it in the moment, but you’re going to thank me for it someday.