I put my daughter to bed tonight at around 7:30 PM. She's just over a year old and has developed a habit over the past two weeks or so of fussiness just before bed and naps. She's had a bit of a cold the last couple of days, which I'm sure is part of why she's so hard to put down at the end of the day, but there's a level of boundary testing that is going on. As a parent, hearing your baby screaming in the next room is like a knife through the heart, but you know she has to learn to put herself to sleep so you sit and grit your teeth, watching the clock and praying she just goes down. After about 20 minutes or so, I go in to reassure her that we're just in the next room and project a calming energy with my voice and sways while doing a quick diaper check and general situation assessment to ensure nothing is actually wrong. After that it's back in the crib and back to my spot on the couch to grit my teeth to the sounds of her screams after she watches me leave the room.
At about 8:20 I'm in the room again, it's now been about an hour of crying with no hint of sleep. With the light in her room still off, I activate her turtle nightlight, take her out of her crib, and lie down with her on the floor. The turtle is like a stuffed animal, but with blue and green lights that can be projected from its shell. The shell has little cutouts of stars and a moon, and when illuminated, the room is filled with stars in calming blue and green.
By this light, I begin to read "Goodnight Owl" and she is quietly sitting next to me, reaching out to turn each page as her congested nose makes little noises with every breath. I try to wipe her nose after reading the last page, but of course she doesn't want to cooperate and gets up, moving about her room. I sigh. This is not playtime.
I begin to dread the fact that I came in the room and took her out of the crib. Perhaps I've reset the cycle of her trying to get to sleep, but I watch quietly as she waddles over to her turtle nightlight. She picks it up, and the stars around the room begin to whirl with her movements. She looks up in amazement, smiling as she twirls in the darkness, illuminated by the soft greens and blues. I smile with a tear in my eye, suddenly overcome by her innocence and inquisitive nature despite having been screaming at the top of her lungs not five minutes before. She falls, but braces herself using her backside in a well-practiced motion. She smiles at me. I smile back and am filled with a million emotions I can't quite explain or put into words.
It's intense love and happiness seeing this healthy baby girl being so dazzled by everything around her, but a sadness knowing I'll have to leave the room again and she'll go back to screaming out for me. It's a longing for the past innocence of my own, but a satisfaction that I am there to guide her through a world that is new and amazing to her. It's pride, it's fulfillment, it's wonder, it's nostalgia, and hope all rolled into one with a few others to boot.
I smile, grab her bottle, and put my two hands out to her. She reaches for me to pick her up. I do, and offer her the bottle. She takes it, and begins to drink. I lie her down on the bed, rustle her hair, and tell her that daddy loves her. I leave the room and brace myself for the screams. I am met only with silence.