I’m not saying I was a perfect mom. I screwed up plenty—just not on purpose.
Then my daughter got her first fever and all my rules went out the window.
Our normally upbeat, busy girl was suddenly cranky and lethargic. She had no appetite and burst into tears whenever she wasn’t on my lap. A different kind of maternal instinct kicked in, one that screamed, “Do anything, ANYTHING, to keep this baby happy.”
The shift began at breakfast. Viv’s usual foods didn’t appeal to her and I worried she’d be hungry. So I presented a variety of yummy treats — muffins, tortilla chips, cookies and vanilla pudding — like a not-sexy version of the food scene in 9 ½ Weeks. Viv was mostly apathetic, but I finally had success with strawberry ice cream. (I imagine it felt good on her throat.)
Strawberry ice cream for breakfast. This from a mom who had once huffed self-righteously that stuffing a baby full of cake and ice cream was tantamount to child abuse. (Looking back, I’m not proud of that.)
Breakfast took a lot out of Viv, so our next activity was the two-hour nap she took on top of my body. So much for our schedule. So much for our sleep training. Other than the crick in my neck, I didn’t mind. I loved the closeness, and making her feel better.
Typically we’d get dressed at some point, but that day we wore our PJ’s to the pediatrician, who assessed her symptoms and predicted we’d see a Roseola rash soon. I couldn’t help but notice that not changing clothes prevented fussing, and made naps so cozy.
As her fever rose, Viv’s mood spiraled downward and I had to stretch beyond the usual books and toys for entertainment. When I turned on Sesame Street, Elmo became the first “person” to make Viv smile all day. From there it was just a short, slippery slope to Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer.
Then we hit up the iPad and its “only for the airplane” collection of apps, watching Fisher Price animals hide behind hay, betraying themselves with telltale moos and baas.
At some point, Viv and I stood inside the doorway of the refrigerator for a solid 15 minutes so she could visit the cow on the milk carton and enjoy the cool air, electricity bill be damned.
When the day drew to a close, we went straight to story time, skipping over the bath and teeth-brushing entirely.
Following the rules had officially given way to anything goes.
I had no doubt it was the right thing to do while Viv was sick. The problem is, now that she’s healthy, I’m having trouble putting the cork back in the bottle.
If Viv’s having a cranky moment, I think, maybe some strawberry ice cream? It’s such a quick fix. Or when I’m really tired from a vigorous make-believe session with puppets and pillow forts, why not flip on Sprout or Nick Jr.?
What’s to prevent total baby anarchy?
All right, all right, I know the answer. I know I have a kid who thrives under a cultivated mix of boundaries and freedom, and who sleeps better on a schedule. And I know we’re creating good habits for later.
But as a mother, it was probably good for me to learn that the world didn’t end when I broke a few parenting rules. My baby sure didn’t know the difference – she just knew that she could count on me.
Going forward, when it comes to TV, sweets and taking the path of least resistance, well, I’ll try to do what Aristotle must have done with his kids: everything in moderation.