There are a couple questions I’m frequently asked about mamahood and my lifestyle. The first one is about Cy’s bedtime routine, and given how I approach it, the question is: how do I have time for my husband and for own self?
So let me back up and explain how bedtime goes down in this house. Since Cy was about 3 months old, he started being able to nurse to sleep. At first this was great. It would start around 7 or 7:30 and take about half an hour for him to fall asleep and then he’d be out until about 11 p.m., when he’d need to nurse again (then again around 2 a.m, and then what happened between 4-7 a.m. was anybody’s guess). I could probably have just left him by himself in bed at that age, and gone downstairs to enjoy dinner and a movie with Toby every night, but he was still so little, I didn’t want him to wake up alone in the dark and be frightened. So I lay down with him. Plus, in the early days, I was pretty exhausted by his bedtime too, so I didn’t really want to do anything else.
Then, around four months of age, I probably would have felt comfortable enough with our routine that I would have let him be alone…except that’s when the 4-month sleep regression hell horror show started and it took anywhere between an hour to four hours of crying, carrying, rocking, singing, nursing madness to get him down to sleep at night. By the time that was over, it was often 11 p.m. and I didn’t want to do anything but crash myself.
We’re now getting back closer to what it was like when he was 3 months old (it takes more than nursing now, I have a routine: change his diaper & put on fresh clothes, nurse him, read On the Night You Were Born, then alternate nursing & carrying him until he falls asleep), and still I lie down in bed with him when I put him down. People wonder: aren’t you bored/annoyed having to go to bed when he does? Actually, no. That’s my down time too. I don’t go to sleep, but I do need to unwind before bed. So Toby and I get dinner, switching off taking turns to eat and stay with Cy. While Toby eats, I get caught up on emails, blogs, and Facebook. Then we pull the laptop onto the bed, snuggle in together, plug in the headphones, and watch movies and TV shows.
“But you can’t talk to each other with him sleeping right there,” people wonder. “When do you and Toby get time to talk?”
This is one of the big perks of Toby working from home. We talk all day long. Cy and I pop into Toby’s office once every couple of hours or so just to say hi for a few minutes. We trade off Cy duty while we eat lunch together and chat. Then in the evenings we’ll often go for walks together in the neighborhood or at the mall, and while Cy chills out in the stroller we catch up with each other. Actually, some of our best conversations come in the car when we go out to the mall or dinner because we can talk uninterrupted and not have to be busy entertaining Cy.
Did Cy always need us to be there? Probably not. Some days he would need a little extra reassurance, other days not. It’s hard to say which would be which, but I did prioritize his sense of security and so I’m glad I was there when he needed me to be.
This definitely wouldn’t work for every lifestyle, but it works well enough with ours.
The other question I’m frequently asked is: how does becoming a mother affect your perspective on what you do at The SOLD Project? (For those who don’t know, I oversee the education programs at an organization that aims to help prevent children from being trafficked as sex slaves, by providing education and raising awareness.)
This question is hard for me to answer. I mulled over it for ages, and honestly, I don’t think being a mother changes how I feel about my work at SOLD. I still believe selling children for sex is inescapably wrong. And I couldn’t possibly believe it is more wrong than I already did.
However, I think my work at SOLD affects me as a mother. I know all too well the horrific conditions (the squalor, the emotional and physical torture…) children, even babies are subjected to. (How young do you think it starts? 14? 10? 5? I’ve heard tales of the sexual abuse of 6-month olds.) I know how nauseatingly atrocious, and how very real this gross injustice is. How close it is to our front doors–even in the U.S. It’s not abstract to me. It’s not the millions of children worldwide, and it’s not the 500,000 in the U.S. each year. It’s children I know by name. Children with whom I have hugged and laughed. If anything like that were to happen to Cy…oh, let’s just not go there.
And here, I bump into a real cultural problem. Here, Thai people LOVE babies, and they adore Cy. Complete strangers come up to coo over him and touch him all the time. From several yards away, they’ll point at him and nudge their friends to look at how cute he is. Random people on the street ask to hold him. Waitstaff in restaurants are often conscientious about wanting to hold him and entertain him so Toby and I can eat in peace. If you say no, people will actually get offended.
There’s about 50% of me that relishes living in a country where the sense of community around babies is so strong. It’s lovely to be so feel so welcomed with a baby, and to know that people are so generous and loving with children.
About 40% of me is happy he gets a chance to be with so many people so he can develop his sense of confidence among others and his social skills.
About 10% of me is terrified every time he is in the arms of someone who just might try to whisk him away. Someone who might see his value in dollars.
We have a neighbor lady who just thrills every time she sees Cy. But instead of enjoying her excitement over him, I get nervous. This lady never spoke one single word to us in the three years we lived here before Cy came along–not even when I was pregnant. Her husband was actually rude to us when we had car trouble. Then, when I started taking Cy out on walks, suddenly she comes out like we’re best friends. At first, it was nice that we were somehow legitimate or something…but as Cy gets bigger and more sociable, she keeps asking, “Is he easy to take care of?” and “Is he afraid of people?” At first, the questions seemed innocuous. I didn’t blink twice at them. But she asks me this every time she sees him. Maybe they are benign questions, but I find it strange that that’s what (and all) she wants to know about him all the time.
Then, a couple of days ago, I was out walking with Cy and she spotted us, drove out of her way to pull up next to us because her friend (whom I’ve never met) really wanted to take a bunch of photos of Cy. Prickles on my mama bear neck began to rise. Why would a complete stranger want photos of Cy? As foreigners, we’re subject to our fair bit of exotification (is that a word?), which doesn’t bother me,…but I didn’t like the smell of this.
Maybe my work over-sensitizes me. Maybe I’m just weirded out because effusive praise always puts me on edge, as it often comes across as being not genuine. But I also know the vast majority of child abusers and abductors are not strangers. They’re people the child knows and trusts, people who know them by name.
Because of my work, I can’t really relax and enjoy when waitstaff take him off our hands for a minute. Because of my work, I have no idea how to find balance between teaching Cy to be confident among people, but to also take care. Because of my work, I will never ask Cy to kiss, hug, or be held by anyone he feels uncomfortable with–even family–because I want him to know he always has the right to say no and he always has ownership over his own body.
I wish I could end this on a lighter note.
Tell me: how would you handle the balance of cultural niceties versus protecting your child?
Thing I Love About Cy Today: When he stands up now, he loves to stick out his tongue and go, “Pbbbbt!“