There’s a style of child rearing called attachment parenting (AP).
According to Attachment Parenting International (an organisation with the self-proclaimed mission to nurture children for a compassionate world) AP is “an application of sensitive, responsive parenting…based in the practice of nurturing parenting methods that create strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between children and their parent(s).”
In practical terms, this means spending as much time with your baby as possible, and responding to their needs in real time.
So basically, carrying them around with you as you go about your business (a principle called ‘babywearing’) and having them sleep with you in the same bed (bed-sharing) or the same room (co-sleeping).
There are several other AP principles but at this stage of our development – baby and I – we’re most concerned with these two.
The child would love it if I carried her around with me all day long. She’s not yet familiar with the concept of keeping her own company. There must be someone in the room with her and if there’s not, they will be ‘wail’ to pay.
Sometimes I put her down and let her ‘cry it out’, but most times I don’t have the heart to hear her bawling.
One woman’s advice was, “Wacha alie, kwani atalia damu. Usipofanya hivyo utamzoesha mkono (let her cry, there is no way she will cry tears of blood, if you don’t do that, she’ll get used to being carried all the time).”
I thought that was bit harsh, and yet there are days when there’s too much going on and I can’t afford to walk, talk and bounce a baby on my hip at the same time. I’ve carried her on my back once or twice, but then someone told me that that was a sure way to give her bandy legs. “Atakuwa kama hao watoto wa rickets (she will look like those children who have rickets),” she said. Oh, the things you hear.
I’m developing my own style of parenting as we go along, which is a hybrid of all the weird and wonderful advice that I receive by the bucket load. It varies according to how tired I am at any given moment in time; baby is more likely to sit it out for a few, if Mama is exhausted.
But despite all my best efforts, we are co-sleepers. I had been given stern instructions to get her into her own bed, and if possible her own room, as soon as possible, otherwise I would never get her out of mine. I managed the first pretty early on, but yeah, I don’t have the heart to hear her bawling and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I put her in her own room.
Anyhow, her cot is right next to my bed. She can see me as she dozes off and again as she wakes up. But just recently, she has begun to understand what it means for another person to be asleep.
Before, when she woke up in the morning (after waking a couple of times at night to feed) she would immediately begin to cry. She would cry until I paid attention. Nowadays, if she’s up and I’m not, she tries to occupy herself until I wake up.
Most times, she just thinks I’m asleep because my body is still and my eyes are closed. So I crack my eyes open just a wee bit and watch her raise herself up by holding on to the side of the cot, sit back down, roll over, turn around, stand back up again, bounce up and down and generally have a good ole time by herself.
Her vocal repertoire has been expanded to include more sounds, so the track is no longer just, ‘ta ta ta’. There are some ‘ma ma mas’ and ‘da da das’ in there as well. How exciting is that?! I think I just might throw a party on the day she finally calls me Mama. Sigh.
So. I’m usually surveilling her without her knowledge, but as soon as we make eye contact, or I move my head, it’s game over. As soon as she realises that I’m awake, she wants out of the cot and into the real world.
This game of cat and mouse has become our morning ritual. We can go for a good 30 minutes before we hit injury time, and it becomes clear that whether Mama is asleep or not, baby is about to blow the final whistle and call it a new day.
And everyone knows that the referee’s decision is final.