Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The first day of winter

I know that "real" winter is still about six weeks away, but for me winter started last Thursday. That was the evening I looked out the window and saw the red light. The light is a stoplight a few blocks from our house. It is weird that we can see this stoplight at all, but from the top of the stairs things line up just right so that the houses between us and the light do not block the view. All summer and well into the fall the trees make the light invisible. Once enough trees have lost their leaves, the light is again visible. 

Before Ada was born, I did not notice the light much, and when I did, I didn't place much importance on the sightings. But then Ada came along, and I learned all about the magical thinking that comes along with parenting an infant. You know, "I will  hold my baby for the count of 100, then slowly, slooowwwly get up and she'll stay asleep as I put her back in her bed." Total insanity if taken too seriously, but necessary in those early, sleepless months.

During Ada's first winter I spent countless hours nursing her while sitting in a rocking chair in her room. From this position, at night I could look through the gap in the curtains to the distant stoplight. Rocking and nursing, I attached special significance to the color the light showed. Red was the norm, as the light presides over a side street that runs into a bigger road. Red was okay, but it offered no special protection. Looking up to see a light green was good. It meant that I would have a relatively easy time putting Ada back to bed. Even better was a yellow light; it was a sign Ada would definitely fall back asleep with no problem. (oh, if only!)

After a while, I could not keep myself from staring out the window with the hopes of seeing a green or yellow light. Realizing that whatever magic I'd ascribed to those colors could not be counted on if I watched the light (instead of taking an occasional glimpse), I started using the light as a magical timer. I remember thinking "If I rock Ada for three more cycles of the light, then sit still for another three, I can then safely get up and put her back in bed without her waking up."

After that first winter, I did not need the light the way I had before. Ada had become a good sleeper and there were few 2 am rocking chair sessions. But I still looked to the light for signs. Now that I no longer sat in Ada's room looking out the window, I mostly saw the light as I walked up the stairs. If I saw a red light, bedtime was not necessarily going to be rocky, but I still hoped for the green or yellow that would portend good luck.

And now I am back in the days of night-waking and magical thinking. Ian and Mira's room does not face the light and in any case I kind of forgot about it over the summer. Now that the leaves are falling, I am happy to report that the twins get up a bit less than Ada used to. Chris and I still wake to feed them in the hours that most sane people are in bed, but except when bothered by a cold or a phantom or a neighbor's incredibly loud muffler, they sleep well for fairly long stretches. Seeing the light the other night reminded me of how hard it had been with Ada. I recalled that at this point with Ada I was still crying a lot. I can not really express how much the color of the light meant to me, even as I knew that it was just a stoplight, and not a parenting sign meant only for me.

I cry a lot less with Ian and Mira. Even with two, I find the experience of parenting newborns less stressful the second time around. A green light still buoys me a bit in the evening, but these days I don't need the reassurance of an inanimate object the way I used to. Now the light tells me that winter is coming, and with it my twins are getting older and more capable. Soon we will face new challenges, as they learn to roll, and crawl and (heaven help us) stand and walk. I look forward to these challenges, and to the joys of winter. 


  1. Until I read this post, I totally forgot about our version of the light. We had a clock in the boys' room and it was absolutely imperative to put Nate back in his crib on an even number. Preferably 6, but 8 was also okay. Whenever he woke too early, Jon and I would play the blame game - did you swaddle him and face him to the right and put him back at 3:26?

    Sounds crazy but it made sense at the time.

    The second time around easiness sometimes wants to lull me into another child, but having been on the internet enough to hear stories of multiple sets of twins, we are done with two!

  2. I remember dreading the night when Violet was very new. I had always loved sleeping and my darling baby was ruining it for me. I was like a petulant child who didn't want to play if she couldn't have her own way. I think a little magical thinking would have helped me immensely.

  3. Wow, I can so relate to this post. Both of mine were such rotten sleepers and I clung to all kinds of funny rituals.

  4. I had the seven minutes rule. I would fly around in circles through our old 'little house'. Beathing a path for seven minutes, steady pace, swift clip.

    It sort of worked.

    And, I know everyone crows on about how we were silly not to 'enjoy' how easy one is. I didn't find my first kid so easy. Juggling is hard for me and many sure. But for me not having a clue was the worst, number one a bigger struggle.

  5. I got weepy remembering how difficult it was with Harper, too. still is sometimes. but for us, also, the second time around is easier and not just because Penny is an awesome sleeper.

    glad to hear you're getting more sleep and enjoying baby-hood.

  6. Firstly, I really enjoyed reading that post - that was beautifully, measuredly written.

    Dudelet was a dreadful sleeper and we were utterly unprepared for the whole thing of parenting. Poor little boy - we've probably scarred him for life. My own magic was singing to him. And, of course, the swaddling had to be done in a terribly precise, exactly-like-this way, otherwise, the reason he woke up was the fault of whoever wrapped him up.

    But most of all, I remember being shellshocked and just not knowing what to do and feeling that we had no-one who could tell us.