Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cling-Free

In theory, I’m a big proponent of what Oh, The Joys calls the Horizontal Parenting Technique. In practice, however, any attempt of mine to assume the horizontal parenting position is received by both Bub and Pie as an invitation for a round of Mommy-Tug-of-War. "My mama!" Pie shouts, plopping herself down on whatever part of my body appears to offer the best approximation of a lap.

"No, my mama!" Bub shoots back, executing a flawless push-and-pull manoeuvre – pulling my arm and pushing his sister, who retaliates by pulling me in the opposite direction.

For this reason, I prefer to do most of my parenting in the vertical position.

I am not someone who copes well with the physical demands of parenting. When Bub was born I was taken aback at how physical a job motherhood can be. He hit fifteen pounds by two months of age, and during his waking hours he required a lot of bouncing. My wrists twinged from the repetitive stress of the twist-and-bounce manoeuvre, and my back ached from the hours of Snugli-toting.

When I look back on those days, I don’t feel a whole lot of fondness for them. It was an enormous relief to reclaim my bed when Bub was seven weeks old. He was sleeping well at that age (a practice he later discontinued), and it was such a luxury to stretch out in bed and read a chapter or two before turning out the light. I had co-slept for almost two months, but I had never slept well, holding myself rigid for fear of suffocating this fragile being whose foothold on life seemed so frighteningly tenuous.

The Pie was an easier baby to hold. Her body language was more yielding, her head more willing (as it is to this day) to nestle in the crook of my neck. But for all that, I lived in terror of having a baby who would nap only in my arms. I had encountered such babies at playgroups, read about them on Babycenter. I pulled out all the stops to ensure that she would nap in her bassinet – I used the swaddle, the soother, the mobile, the vibrations, the white-noise – anything to protect those precious nap-enabled hours of eating/showering/cooking/reading/web-surfing.

This was not a merely practical concern. I bore the physical demands of infant-care without much ease or grace. The tap of a cat’s paw on my shoulder was like the scratching of nails on a chalkboard, an unbearable violation of the physical space I craved.

I don’t have difficulty being physically affectionate with my children. I stroke their hair, pull them on my lap, give them hugs, and tickle their bellies. When Bub thinks it would be funny if I’d pretend to eat his nose, I give it a go. When Pie wants to share a popsicle, I make only a token effort to avoid the previously-licked areas. But I have a short fuse for the leaning, the clinging, the "up-up-up." A bout of Mommy-Tug-of-War is enough to make me flee from the room, suddenly recalling a basket of laundry that urgently needs to be put away upstairs. I freely give my children both mental and emotional energy – I think about them, analyze them, talk to them, read them stories – but my body I hoard for myself.

39 comments:

Luisa Perkins said...

I think knowing your personal boundaries--what works for you and what doesn't--is one of the best parenting techniques. Horizontal or vertical, you are always present for your two lovelies, and that's what is most important.

Plus, you wouldn't want to get bitten in a tender spot....

Christine said...

I totally get what you mean here. I am a physically, cuddly type person by nature, but these kids have made me define my limits so much more specifically. My son, for example, twists and plays with my hair constantly. When he was tiny and nursing it didn't bother me so much, but now he is huge and strong and I am almost bald!

Catherine said...

I was just practicing horizontal parenting this morning, between the now-commonly-observed hours of 5-6am. But then, I have only one child, so no tug of war possible...

Omaha Mama said...

When my two are using me for a jungle gym, climbing and clinging, I sometimes feel smothered and have to get them both off of me for a breather. I've even said to Brenna, give me a little space. I too am affectionate with my kids, but sometimes a person just needs to breathe! I could totally relate to what you were saying here, especially about horizontal parenting. My little guy sees me as a couch when I lay on the floor!

Joy, of course said...

I really understand this post.
There are times when I want to be so close to my children I feel like I could devour them. Burying my nose and lips in necks and hair and toes. And then there are times,especially at the end of the day when I am trying to eat dinner, or relax for a minute and their constant touching makes me physically cringe and want to jump and go lock myself in my bedroom. Alone. The word alone always sounded kind of sad until I had children. Now it's a beautiful cherished thing.

JMA said...

In Today's Parent one of their writers spoke of a pet mouse she once had who gave birth to 12 babies. She described the mommy mouse literally scraping the 12 nursing babies off of her underside, then running to the corner of the cage to catch her breath.

This imagery resonated with me, just like your post. As delicious as I find my children, there are times when I hide in the corner too.

cinnamon gurl said...

Great post! I too was taken aback at how physical motherhood is... I thought pregnancy would be the most physical part of it.

What I find most interesting is the sleep bit. I felt exactly the same way as you, I just didn't have a baby who would cooperate with my wishes. When I coslept with Swee'pea as a newborn I also didn't move all night long and woke up stiff and numb and sore. I would have loved to have gotten my bed back. And I spent months doing everything I could to get him to nap in his own bed, all the things you mentioned. But nothing worked. Eventually I gave in. It gave me more peace to put him in the sling so I could read or surf the web than to keep trying to get him into his bed.

It's interesting to me, because our approaches now would seem quite different. But maybe it's not so much about what the parents do as what the kids do?

cinnamon gurl said...

PS the clinginess drives me nuts too. I'm all for cuddles and hugs and stuff, when it starts getting whiny, I'm outta there.

mcewen said...

Very interesting. Not so much now, but I remember a time when it felt as if I was permanently in a swarm of something, everyone pulling and picking at me. Maybe that's because I've three close in age, maybe it's because I was trying to hang on to something. Whatever it was, I lost it a long time ago [resistance is futile]
Yours the doormat!
cheers

Mad Hatter said...

Well, you knew I had to comment on this one. Yup, I am like you. I need a wide berth when it comes to personal space. Heck, I'm even claustrophobic when I feel that I've been confined. As you know, I got the kid who would only nap on me. For the first 3 months, we didn't co-sleep. She slept on top of my body. I could move all night long, lying there with an infant strapped to my tummy. Ah, but at least this way, I got a little sleep. If it weren't for car naps I would have died. She still (at 2 and 1/2) wants to be carried a lot. Add to that a husband who works 6 evenings a week. Sometimes I swear my mental health will snap ... and then she gives me a breather and all is right with the world.

bubandpie said...

CG and Mad - Yeah, it's the baby who makes the decision more than the parent. All we decide is how much to freak out about it. Personally, I opted to freak out about it a lot.

Bon said...

i was amazed, last spring and summer, when O was small and new and colicky and miserable, how desperately i just wanted to put him down sometimes, to have my body back to myself.

now, though, he is so independent, so "run away and play and hide", that i ache a little for the lack of snuggling.

Beck said...

I often play "Mama in A Coma" or other horizontal games, and my kids clambour all over me and fightfightfight for my love. My physical boundaries with adults are pretty rigid, but eight years of parenting very touch-intensive kids has relaxed me considerably.
Still - I'm me and you're you and there's no law that says we have to be otherwise.

slouching mom said...

I'm with bon. When my boys were infants, I found the constant contact on the edge of aversive if there was no down time to be had.

Now I want it back. The boys are too busy to snuggle.

Kinda reminds me of that Harry Chapin song about a father and his son.

Jenifer said...

I thought I was in the minority on this issue...I like my physical space a lot. I have the Dirty Dancing approach a lot of the time - this is your space, this is mine" I need that.

When I hear of kids sleeping on them or crawling all over them all the time it makes me feel like I can't breathe. I get on the floor and play with my kids and play and hug and all the rest. My body is my body and it needs it's own space to exist in.

My kids are generally not the type to maul you, but they do love to climb on their Dad.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I am visiting family, and my mother told us the story last night of how her mother handled this: she went to her room and pretended to be dead. Yep. She lay very still and refused to respond to the children until they got very upset. One time my mom grabbed her nose to see if she was alive and made her scream.

Ah, Grandma. How I miss you.

Jenn said...

Horizontal, vertical--you know in your heart the best parenting.

And you're doing it.

Mimi said...

Yes. It's weird how physically affectionate I am with Munchkin, but how angry I get when she clings and clings and yanks and smacks. I love to touch her, sometimes on her terms and sometimes on mine, but I feel suffocated when she is particularly demanding. Or during months 0-5: what a relief, as you note, to get your own bed back. I would often read (and still do) an extra chapter of my book, just to luxuriate in my alone-ness.

The sling. It kept her quiet and it kept her asleep, but I was DESPERATE just to put her down. Off. My. Body.

NotSoSage said...

Oi, this one hit close to home, as we're going through a very clingy stage with Mme L. She's really independent but lately leaving her at daycare is as though you're abandoning her on a deserted island. She will literally hang off of your neck if you stand up while her arms are still around you. I find it difficult, emotionally, of course. But I find it so unbearable to be physically confined that way, and that she uses it as a tool while I am doing everything I can to teach her that she should have some control over when and how she is touched.

theflyingmum said...

Oh, I sooooo know what you mean here. When Ben feels "needy" it drives me and my husband both around the bend. But with Ben, it's more of a whiny neediness, not a physical one. I want to keep his willingness to snuggle alive for as long as I can, but really, on my terms...

kgirl said...

I just find that horizontal parenting is easier. Problem is, as my belly gets bigger, I have a much harder time returning to vertical!

Alpha DogMa said...

1. Do NOT put your feet on me. Really. If you want to see me go ballistic, sit next to me on the sofa or climb into my bed and put your naked icicle toes on my person. I will freak.

2. My space bubble has shrunken, but it is still there despite constant pin pricks by the boys.

3. By the time we became a parents to humans, we'd been cosleeping with a dog for 3 years and the bed was already too crowded.

So there are my three disjointed thoughts to your post. I'm sorry, but I'm too bagged to come up with segues for each thought. Apologies all around.

(BTW - awesome Friends list yesterday. Though as far as Blue Rodeo goes: I find myself oddly attracted to Greg Keelor. I've fantasies of getting him cleaned up and into a Hugo Boss suit.)

nomotherearth said...

In the early months, I felt very invaded as the Boy would only sleep in the Bjorn, the stroller, or on someone.

These days, sometimes I need the closeness. Other times, the "mummy pick you up!" routine drives me mad. The Boy is pushing 30lbs and this pregnancy is draining my ability to carry someone that heavy for prolonged periods.

Sometimes I think that the best feeling in the world is walking down the street alone, with no stroller, no bags, nothing. Just me.

edj said...

I remember, when my 3 were about the ages of yours, going through a time when I could not STAND to be touched. I had so few moments in the day when some small person wasn't touching me. I can really relate.
But we're out of those times now, and I enjoy all the snuggles I can get.
I still don't like Mommy Tug-of-War though.

Gina said...

Relating. My almost two year old has been spoiled rotten by her doting father. Guess there's worse but it's a definite stresser. Visiting via em. Love your blog.

Lawyer Mama said...

That My Mommy tug of war is so familiar. I too was surprised by how physically demanding parenting is. Not just in the physical exertion but in the constant contact. There are times when it is overwhelming to me. But then there are times when both boys have dog piled me on the couch and I absolutely love it and know I will miss it when they are older and want their own physical space.

Big fan of the horizontal parenting though. BIG fan!

painted maypole said...

Wow... you would not do well with the May Queen, for whom my husband and I seem to merely be human jungle gyms. She has always jumped, climbed, slid, hung from, etc our bodies. I have the bruises to prove it. I have tried to break her of this, particularly as she gets older and BIGGER, but have so far failed to make much impact. I probably should have set better boundaries much sooner.

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

I can so relate - especially to the sleep part. I am unbelievably grateful that my husband gets this, and helps me to get the space and quiet I need in order to sleep -taking the monitor to the living room with him, for example, while I sleep in the bedroom. When they were just under a year, my twin boys would fight with each other while nursing, and it was maddening - I so wanted to just shove them both off of me and run the hell away. I am very affectionate, though, and so are they. Now I really miss nursing...

Ladybug said...

This post is exactly the way I feel. I could have written this myself. This is my first time to your blog but will definately not be my last!!

Em said...

I've gotten "better" at sharing my body the longer I parent... but I still keep my bed child free for the most part (a cuddle after a nightmare, or an early morning snuggle is my limit). I never slept well with a baby or child lying next to me... and if I don't sleep well the whole world suffers :)

Lisa b said...

I so relate to this. I realllly need my physical space. The constant neediness of a new baby really got to me too. When it gets too much I also hear that laundry basket or blog calling.

Kyla said...

At times, I am like this. There are points where BubTar's endless cuddling just gets to be a wee bit too much and I say "Please? Please. Stop rubbing on me...just for a few minutes. PLEASE." *lol*

Emily said...

Thanks for the post. I was feeling like WSM (World's SHittiest Mother) today because I have so little patience for the clinginess, and it is really important to remember that even good mothers have a hard time with it.

Oh, The Joys said...

I will freely admit that the primary flaw of The Horizontal Parenting method is the part where they children bounce upon your person. Oof! Ouch! Gah!

Mommy off the Record said...

I'm a lot like you I think. I never co-slept with my son (luckily he always slept well in his crib) and although I have enjoyed the few times he's slept with me I can't imagine doing it every night for months or years. I, too, like my space!

Lucy said...

I'm so with you! I'm actually very physical with my children - we do lots of cuddling and snuggling and kissing and loving. But I don't have much time for clingy-ness. I've been known to, in a fit of irritation, tell them to "just stop touching me!"

My friends used to tease me about my eight feet of personal space, but I've gotten more touchy-feely as I age. Maybe it's that I'm married to such a non-physical man that I crave it more now. I don't even mind being climbed on, except that my toddler always pulls up my shirt so he can stick his finger in my bellybutton. That tickles!

Christina said...

I completely understand. I also don't particularly like the physical aspect of parenting, which is why I let my husband wear the baby sling and carry the baby much of the time. My arms, my hips, my back give out far too fast for the happiness of my children, so daddy is the more physical of the two of us.

ewe are here said...

We all have limits. We're human, after all.

But, like you, I also wanted to make 100% sure my wee ones could sleep on their own, i.e., NOT on me. Far too many horror stories...

Susanne said...

What works best for me in that regard is being consciously physical for a short time, fool around, cuddle or even pretend fight so that I can pull back later. And I relish having my bed for me.

But if I don't give my son enough physical contact he'll tug at me all the time. This way we're both happy.