Ariel Rivera and her son Kai. (Photo: Ariel Rivera)
Confession: I leave a pretty wacky list of instructions for my 18-month-old son’s babysitters.
For example, I instruct them to let Kai roll around naked on the bed before putting on his diaper and pajamas because not only does he love being without clothes, he puts up a pretty strong fight against his nighttime ensemble.
Give him his bottle in a quiet room and don’t let anyone talk to you or he’ll get distracted and not drink. He’d rather do anything than let his body calm down and ready itself for sleep.
And singing Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” during feeding, because Kai associates that song with sleep, is a foolproof trick.
If you really want Kai to eat, have him hold something in each hand, like a baby fork or a toy car, so he can’t pull the food from his mouth and throw it across the room (or rub it in his hair).
I recognize that I haven’t left any wiggle room in my babysitting guidelines but I have my reasons.
Once Kai was born, although I fell hopelessly in love, the lack of sleep deeply affected me and I felt very out of control for the first four months of motherhood. That is, until Kai started sleeping through the night, a feat my husband and I credit to strict rituals and schedules. I can’t speak for all kids, but I am an expert on my kid, and he thrives on his schedule.
What’s more, toward the end of my pregnancy, the lucrative and fulfilling job I held for five years unexpectedly ended. I had to stop measuring my success by what I produced in my creative field and instead by the level of happiness in my new child. It was a cosmic shift. I poured my heart and soul into Kai’s day and it become important that he have an identical experience whether he’s with me or not.
And the issue runs deeper — I spent some of my childhood feeling misunderstood and as a result, I’m desperate to know my child, even better than he knows himself. I’m aware that Kai is barely a toddler but I want him to always know that his parents listen to him and that his feelings and desires are valid. I believe that begins by recognizing the small details that make his day better and ensuring that they aren’t forgotten when someone else is caring for him.
Plus, I’m looking out for the babysitters — sometimes one of my saintly cousins or my brother will volunteer to watch Kai for the night and they’ll call me in a panic that he’s woken up crying and no rocking or singing helps calm him down. And I’ll say that I would have picked him up, given him a reassuring kiss and put him back down with his favorite stuffed monkey. He’s been soothing himself back to sleep by sucking his thumb and rubbing one of his nine plush toys or three blankets between his thumb and the forefinger of his opposite hand for the last 14 months (also, that it was clearly indicated on the list of instructions).
Is all this security harming him? Am I teaching my son that the world will bend itself to fit around him when I should be showing him how to be flexible? My husband and parents sometimes say so with love. I disagree, and feel that Kai can develop this skill (along with plenty of others) out in the world — but not during his bedtime routine while his mom’s out for the evening.