For years now, I have thought about opening up a dialogue on this little blog about our intuitive, albeit a little odd, parenting style. From time to time, I begin writing only to stop for one of many reasons.
At times, I have worried that I may hurt or even anger other parents by explaining the reasons we are the way we are. I worry that other mommas will feel judged or guilty when I open my heart about co-sleeping or extended breastfeeding and let’s face it, motherhood is hard enough and I don’t want to make anyone feel judged when I know in my heart, parenting is a deeply personal thing that must be custom-fit to each child. After all, what works for us isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t want my desire to be transparent to be confused with a desire to push our parenting style on others.
I’ve worried, also, that opening my heart here could allow bad things in; I haven’t wanted to expose myself to deeply hurtful comments left anonymously which in past experience, can lead to the most painful doubt and guilt we parents can feel when we think we are failing our children somehow. The what-ifs have kept me quiet; they’ve kept me closing half-written drafts in which I try desperately to put into words why we follow our intuition over traditional parenting wisdom and after one of the most heartbreaking experiences this little family has weathered, I’ve finally realized what it is that I’ve been trying to say all along:
We are a family that infertility built.
Tuesday night started out an odd night at our house. Typically, our house is buzzing with activity until at least 11:00 PM, when all four of us—me, Travis, Ada and our dog, Scout, climb into one queen-size bed. Usually, Scout turns in circles to smooth a spot for herself at Travis’ feet. We read, sing songs and once the lights go out, we tangle up in each other and drift off to sleep to a symphony of snores. Yes, it is sometimes midnight before our three-year-old’s head hits the pillow but when it does, she’s in between the two people who have watched in awe as she was fearfully and wonderfully made.
But that night, there were no books or songs or tangled legs. Ada fell asleep on the couch at 9:00 PM and Scout, who has been fighting what we thought was a cold she picked up at the groomer’s, curled up beside her and snored. I was feeling worn down after a difficult day and had indulged in something I rarely get: a quiet bedtime routine of slowly dressing in pajamas, washing my face and brushing my teeth.
Travis brought Ada to bed first and she whimpered a little when he put her down next to me. I snuggled in close to her and hummed her favorite song until she drifted off again. Then he brought up Scout and just as he does every night, he set her at the foot of the bed. But something was different. Something was wrong. She fell over and started shaking violently.
It’s funny but my husband never wanted a dog and if it hadn’t been for the fact that my dad’s dog had a litter of (free) puppies the Christmas I was diagnosed with unexplainable infertility, I don’t think he ever would have caved and let me bring one home. She had been my Christmas wish since childhood, when I watched Lady and the Tramp so many times the tape fell apart and she was the magic we needed during a holiday season that had turned us into very tired and scared grownups. She was our first baby.
She was supposed to be my dog but that first night we got her, Travis held her all night. I should have known the father he’d be then. I woke up to find him, Mr. Practical, sleeping on his belly with his arm draped over the cardboard box we had turned into a temporary bed, one hand resting on that tiny puppy.
“What are you doing,” I whispered in the darkness.
“She cries when I leave her,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
Before long, the dog who would “never sleep in our bed,” had found her perfect spot between Travis’ feet. She’d always take refuge in his lap first and he’d scratch her ears and whisper things like, “My faithful hound.” We never had the heart to put her in a kennel, even when people would assure us that dogs love the security. Our dog didn’t and we knew that. We knew that she was happiest when she was with us, that she thought of us as her pack. Our free range puppy, we often joked.
She was always there when we came home after heartbreaking news at the doctor’s office and when we so desperately wanted a baby, she filled that hole in our hearts. And for that reason, we probably let her get away with more than we should have like sleeping on my head during storms or sitting beside me in a chair at the kitchen table while I spent sleepless nights crafting.
During my pregnancy with Ada, she slept with her head on my belly long before there was any real evidence of a life growing in there and it gave me comfort that everything was alright during my very fearful first trimester. She did that up until I brought Ada home, at which point she would lay as close as possible as Ada slept. I think she was just as nervous in the beginning as we were and from time to time, she’d pop her head up and make sure Ada was breathing.
Our free range puppy and our free range baby girl were quite a pair. We went from this quiet, barren-feeling house to the sweetest chaos with these two wild and free and fiercely independent spirits who found happiness sitting in sunbeams together or chasing each other through the yard. Honest to God, they fought like sisters and in some ways, I guess they were.
You see, this isn’t a blog post about a parenting style. I’m not going to quote the experts to explain why we chose this crowded, family bed with a dog at the foot and a tangled-hair toddler in between us. I won’t try to sell you on a philosophy. The only thing I can tell you is that as I sit here in that bed that’s suddenly missing one of those wild and free spirits, I realize how sacred this place has become for us. This is where we come to at the end of a hard day to remind ourselves of what we’re fighting so damn hard for from the moment we drag ourselves up in the morning. It’s why we take the extra jobs, bite our tongues when we’re beyond frustrated with each other and fold the laundry on the kitchen table because every other place is covered with toys and bills and dirty plates. We bring our family to sleep on this mattress that still has “Luke 1:37” written in permanent marker under the seam because we’ve already fought through the place where that bed felt too empty and we have been overjoyed, blissful even, to share every inch we have in our home and hearts with them.
It isn’t a book that’s made us the parents we are but complete and utter gratitude for the wild little spirits that have filled our home that once felt devastatingly empty. And maybe you’re thinking these are pretty intense feelings to have after losing a dog but she was more than that. As Travis said on the very sad drive from the vet’s office, “She taught me how to love small things.”
I know I’ve rambled and cried through this entire thing and maybe I’ll look back and think none of it makes sense but from the very bottom of my heart, what I guess I’m trying to say is love those small things and worry less about having the answers. Who cares if the experts say 8 PM is bedtime; play an extra game of tag if that’s what feels right. Read one more book. Eat ice cream for breakfast from time to time. And my God, don’t be afraid to take comfort in the little wild spirits that depend on you just because you’re the “grown up.” You’re a family and should cling to each other, whether everything is right where it should be or there is an empty place at the foot of your bed.
Yes, from a family that infertility built, love the small things because if suddenly everything changes, it’s the small things you’re going to miss most.