I’m washing my face and LP is sitting on the bathmat. We’re chatting.
“Babies can’t talk so they just cry instead,” I tell him.
“Why can’t they talk?,” he asks. “They haven’t learned how… Crying is the only way they can communicate. As a baby, you were crying SO MUCH… Just… all the time!,” I add with a smile.
“Why?” He seems surprised. “Oh, mon loup, if only I knew…”
He thinks for a second, then blankly tells me, his voice sort of authoritative and even a little reproachful: “I didn’t like my crib. It was dark and I was ALL ALONE… I hated it.”
And even though I don’t think it’s technically possible that he remembers, I must say I feel the hair on the back of my arms raise a little. And this instantly brings me back to something I never wrote much about, the time when he was six months old and we were trying to get him to sleep through the night by “letting him cry out”. Plainly spoken, one of our darkest parenting phases, even as these whole months were a bit of a blur of extreme fussiness and constant inconsolable crying.
We went on with it for a about 10 days, before stopping because things kept getting worse, and we were absolutely broken, and it felt completely, totally, heartwrenchingly wrong. It's not that I couldn't bear him crying: I just said it, he was crying all. the. time. It's the horrible state he was working himself into, which in hindsight we should have never, ever, let happen... He just wasn't calming down, for hours and hours, choking, retching, reaching a state where there was no turning back. Our instinct hinted what even the cry-it-out gurus later confirmed: it simply doesn’t work on babies like that, who are that intense and sensitive and high-needs. This was a definitive turn, after which we’ve learned to trust ourselves much more than everything else we’d heard, and found that you needed to adapt your style to your baby’s; ours was just naturally much happier the more we leaned toward attachment parenting (without fully embracing the whole philosophy).
Someone once told me my son was an “old soul,” and even though I don’t really believe in these things I kind of see some truth in it. I had sensed very early on (without really putting words on it) that LP, inexplicably, didn’t have innate complete emotional security, and this is something we’ve always tried to go the extra mile to fulfill, knowing that it needed to be prioritized over a lot of other things (like our own sleep for a few more months). Although I’m sure we’ll have more periods when this will somehow resurface, I think we’ve succeeded a great deal, and I’m really proud of this quite balanced, mostly relaxed child he has become.
I know cry-it-out has worked for a lot of people and I think it’s great for them. But you have no idea how much I regret having gone through with it, having sent him this completely counter-intuitive message that we weren’t there for him when he needed us, when he simply wasn’t ready to self-settle yet.
I know what he said couldn’t have been a real memory; or could it? Anyway, writing about it still somewhat gives me the chills.