We had been invited to a dinner party.
Okay, it wasn't really a dinner party, it was just dinner at a friend's home where other couples were invited. However, for me, it didn't matter if it was a small social gathering or dinner with the Queen, as soon as we accepted the invitation I absolutely panicked.
Sigh... I was a new mom. My little boy was 14 months old and we had arrived at that miraculous point when he slept through the night. His bedtime was sacred and cherished. Motherhood had been a cold harsh reality shock to 'sleep loving' me and I was completely terrified of losing ground on this precious achievement. But of course 'grown ups' eat dinner in the evening so my baby's bedtime routine was going to face its first test.
I braced myself and planned and promised my fearful self that all would be well. I gathered together a huge pile of our regular going to sleep accessories; blankets, pyjamas, books, stuffed toys, cushions and we set off - honestly to what was going to be the first major turning point in my mothering journey.
My husband and I were the youngest couple there. Everyone else had children in their teens or older. They were established and sophisticated and rested. I admit that I wasn't used to NOT feeling like I had it together so I arrived with head held high - a brilliant new mother who had it all sorted. hmmm...
The first hour or so was fine. We had canapes, we chatted about things like sociology and foreign politics - all subjects that were basically the.last.thing.on.my.mind since I had had a baby - but I joined in with intelligent, witty comments all while holding a baby on my hip and feeling pretty fabulous. This was going well! I was amazing at this being a normal person / glamorous mom thing.
Then 7 PM rolled around, my husband and I exchanged a knowing glance and I headed to the study to put the baby to sleep.
...ahhh such a 'good' mommy.
I dressed him, sang to him and nursed him. We read stories. I prepared a luxurious bed and cuddled him up. Lights were dim, everything was quiet, now all he had to do was sweetly drift off to sleep.
I sat with him silently waiting. He laid there looking at me, eyes wide open. After a few moments he smiled and stood up.
no, no, no go to sleep...
I laid down with him then and patted his back, I sang, I patted, I whispered, I patted, I sang, I gritted my teeth and fought back tears for over an hour and he would not go to sleep! Finally, the hostess quietly came in. She had three teenaged boys, I should have listened to her, but when she said "just bring him out" I said I couldn't possibly, he would surely go to sleep in a minute.
A few minutes later my husband came in. For this I was grateful. I hissed at him through tears that we had to go home immediately. The baby was not sleeping. My husband very kindly said "everyone says to just bring him out".
Everyone said to 'just bring him out'! Everyone knew the truth - that I actually had no idea what I was doing? I imagined a room full of experienced parents all sitting around chatting and smiling to themselves, chuckling at the silly new mother. I was mortified. I could not go out there! We had to leave, in fact we had to sneak out the window and never show our faces around any of them again. That is what we absolutely had to do immediately.
I was sitting there, on a ridiculously huge pile of soft blue blankets, crying, and holding a toddler who had no intention of ever sleeping. I was crushed.
My husband is a gentle, realistic soul and saw that we couldn't really just sneak out the window. He kindly convinced me to go out and join the others. I was humiliated but quietly followed him back out to the dining room. When I walked into the room a couple of people sad 'Yay! you're back!' I smiled humbly and then everyone went on with the evening without another mention of it. My baby toddled around charmingly and we stayed until after 11 without any drama or heartache.
I actually had a good time and I learned something so, so important.
Now, I have four children. Life is so much more chaotic. Sleep is a luxury, and easily slides down the list of daily priorities. My children still have a regular bedtime but I have changed. Now, I have no problem going out with our children, in the evenings, to functions, I no longer even take along pyjamas. Babies sleep in slings or on laps or just play until we leave. They sleep in the car on the way home and have naps the next day or whenever. In fact, I am quite comfortable nowadays hosting a party myself. Life flows, we go along together. I am much, much more relaxed.
This is a lesson that has been so valuable. Parenting is excruciating if I am not relaxed. My children need me to roll with things, they need me to be able to go with the flow. Because truly, children very naturally flow along. It is us - us parents - that invite stress to come along as our trusty companion. When we share this stress with our children life as a parent becomes really, really hard.
I am genuinely thankful for that one particular dinner party and my beautiful boy who wouldn't sleep. I started out on a path that night that led me to a much more peaceful parenting place.
Relax, breathe, go with the flow...