Every day, twice daily, I have the opportunity to bear witness as my daughter faces her deepest fear - the vulnerability of sleep.
I must admit that I have only recently started thinking of it this way. At first, the task of putting her to sleep felt arduous and stressful. It was hard to pick which was worse - nap time, when I was guaranteed failure, or bed time, when I was guaranteed success but would have to fight hard for it when already exhausted myself. It's not surprising that, with that mindset, I was losing patience. For a while Nick and I traded off, but that seemed to be adding to her anxiety and just making the whole thing worse. We decided that I would take over all sleep routines, since I needed to be able to put her down for a nap and she needed the same person to put her down every time. I think it took me about a day to get burned out.
Then, I was sitting with her and I had a revelation. Her sister was already napping in the other room, and I had a list of things I "needed to do" running through my mind. Suddenly, a little voice said "What do you have to do that is more important than this?" Ummm.... nothing.
See, every time she falls asleep she is facing down a huge fear. She's used to facing it alone, and she's used to fighting like hell. She knows that I'm nice and I take good care of her, but she's not yet sure if she can truly trust me. Her sleep routine is a great opportunity to teach her to trust me, and if I can view it that way then I'll be able to appreciate the gift that it is. If I am worried about the end goal, about getting her to fall asleep, then I am setting myself up for frustration.
So now, I view it as bearing witness. I watch - watch as she fidgets and fusses and bites her own thumbs to stay awake and bangs her head against the bed to keep from falling asleep. I listen - listen as she babbles and giggles manically to keep herself up, listen as she cycles into the most fearful and despondent crying you ever heard, listen as she sucks her thumb and pats or rubs the mattress to stay awake, to feel safe. I feel the warmth when I'm holding her and she wets her diaper - feel that she is actually so scared that she loses control of her bladder. What scares YOU so much that you would pee your pants if you encountered it? I witness her battle, try to key in on what is truly happening here, and I do everything in my power to give her strength and comfort through my presence.
I try to be with her while she fights, to reassure her and teach her that this is a safe place and she can trust me to take care of her. She doesn't know what it means, yet, to have someone there to help you fight your battles. Every day, for an hour and a half in the afternoon and another 20 minutes at night when her exhaustion is my ally, I use gentle pressure from my hand and the sound of my voice to remind her that I'm still there and she's not alone.
For two hours every day my daughter fights to survive, or at least that's how she sees it, and I bear witness.