I have news (and no, I’m not pregnant).
My child is sleeping through the night. After 14 months of thrashing, crying and waking every 2-3 hours no matter what, the trick was this: shutting her damn door. That’s it. No laborious crying it out, no feeling guilty about her not being in bed with us or finding her wailing and running circles in her room (though this did happen a few times). All she needed was some darkness. And a bedtime routine that consists of eating, bath, milk, story time and Alex putting her to bed, leaving me time to sit on the couch with a novel or bad reality television (which is glorious). And shutting the door.
Over the past few weeks, I have been introduced to playground life – a strange hybrid of individuals who watch their children play while pretend to have things in common with the other adults standing next to them. We all ooh and aah at each other’s babies, ignoring our aching backs or the direct sunlight boring a hole in our brains. It’s all about slides and climbing and sharing! Oh my!
With the recent rain, my friend, Stephanie, and her cutie, Jones, met Alex, Sophie and I at Opry Mills so the tots could run around indoors. As we perused H&M, the little ones hid in racks of clothing, dancing to the loud music and throwing themselves to the ground with glee. Once they tired of that, we went to the indoor “play” area, which is tiny and houses benches all along the perimeter, so exhausted parents can sit and observe while their crazy ass children run, climb, and stomp all over each other.
Stephanie assured me it was never crowded, but when we walked up, there were over 40 children of various ages (six months-10 years old, easily). I could feel myself hyperventilate as the cacophony of tinny voices racked my eardrums.
“Um, um.” I looked around, but Stephanie had already let Jones loose and was glancing back at me. How did she have that confidence? And where could I get some? I parked the stroller next to hers (was I supposed to just leave it here, unattended? This was an Orbit stroller. I would steal it if I found one just lounging around.) and told Alex to watch them. I passed by the antibacterial pump and pressed the tube. Nothing. Nothing!!! Sophie had already entered the mini-hell so I didn’t even have time to wipe down both of our hands. I sidled up behind her, realizing I was the only parent walking two feet behind my child with my arms extended. I stood up self-consciously and ignored my dire need for two bubble wrap suits to protect me from these infectious beasts. Snot, scrapes, scabs and coughs emanated from every open mouth and pore. I wished for my friend Lauren to witness this, as she would have yanked her son and Sophie to safety and been out of there.
I looked at all the objects there to climb, some so tall, that if Sophie got to the top and toppled off, she’d break her neck for sure. Who built this death trap? Could we sue if she fell? Had these toys ever been wiped down, or were they just loaded with viruses ready to attack?
I took my place on the bench beside Stephanie, wringing my hands in a ball. I glanced back at Alex, who was tucked safely outside this little prison, guarding our strollers.
“This is Alex’s idea of hell,” I said.
“Why?” she asked. “Is it nerves or all the kids?”
“Everything,” I said. “This is so hard for me, since I’m a germaphobe.”
She placed her hand on my knee (was her hand even clean?). “If this makes you too uncomfortable, we can go.”
I took a deep breath. “No, it’s good. This is good for her. I have to get over it. It’s my problem, not hers.”
I watched Sophie watching the other kids. She ran tentatively from one object to the next, always keeping her eyes peeled for me. My heart swelled as she climbed and played. I began to relax – that is, until this beast of a nine-year-old kept trying to run over the giant toy guitar Sophie was resting on, screaming, “Hey! Excuse me!” and even bumped her several times. It took everything I had not to hip check her right out of this little play area. Why would a nine-year-old even want to be in here? Shouldn’t she be texting all her friends or shopping for something? Wasn’t playing with babies when you were nine 2013 just so lame? I wanted to tell all of her friends. But I bet she didn’t have any because she was so mean and pushy.
We endured the play for a while longer before I captured Sophie and wiped her hands with fresh wipes. Stephanie and I parted ways and I counted the days until Sophie would get sick (if exposed to anything): probably two or three, which would put us just in time for the weekend! Great. And our friends were coming in town.
As Sophie passed out in the backseat, I fretted that she hadn’t even eaten anything, and I hadn’t packed her snacks. So she’d probably lose weight on top of getting sick, which would be my fault.
But as I glanced at the videos I took of her playing, her cheeks rosy, her limbs free, I knew that this was just the beginning. Playing was how she would learn about the world, and no germs could stop her from living the way she was intended to.
I took a deep breath and sat back in the hot seat, as we made our way home.
“We survived,” I said. “I can’t believe we have to be in the same vicinity as other kids for, like, years.”
“Did you see that one big girl who kept getting in Sophie’s way?”
“Uh, I wanted to punch her!”
“I wanted to karate chop her in the throat.”
I squeezed Alex’s hand. “Thank you for being so weird with me.”
“My pleasure. There’s no one I’d rather be so weird with.”
“Sophie’s going to hate us, isn’t she?”
He shrugged. “Probably at some point. But for now, she loves us.”
“Because we let her play with germy kids.”
“We played with germy kids. And we’re fine.”
“But I think kids are getting grosser. I’m pretty sure.” I spritzed some natural hand sanitizer on my hands. “I’m getting better, I think, though. With the germs.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence, listening to our daughter’s steady breath and the hum of the classical music she loved on 91.1.