My mindfulness teacher and I are currently working on distinguishing feeling tones. There are three: we instantly perceive anything that happens as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
From that initial perception, we usually react by judging the experience as good (because we found it pleasant) and want it to happen again, or bad (because it was unpleasant or painful) and wish it wouldn't happen again.
I thought about this today as my baby had trouble sleeping. She alternated between fussy, crying, and screaming for almost three hours. I couldn't figure out what to do for her, and while I was mostly calm, at one point I started to despair and cried a bit myself.
When I tried to feed her, she started to nibble. This has happened a few times recently, that she will start to bite down instead of latch on and nurse. It might be because she's teething.
I could always able to nurse her to get her to calm down. Now this happened instead. It made me sick to my stomach, as well as concerned: now you won't sleep OR eat?
I stopped trying to nurse and sat rocking her in her room, hoping she would calm down. She yelled and fought to get out of my arms, her face puffy from exhaustion and crying.
I gave up and went out to the brightly lit living room. I sat down on the couch to call for help.
My mom, sister, and husband didn't pick up. I put my phone away and when I looked down, baby girl had collapsed in my arms and was sleeping.
I stayed there for over an hour, afraid to put her down in case she would wake up again.
Yesterday, the same mysterious child went down easily for three naps and was rested and happy all day.
It's really tempting to call yesterday a good day and today a bad day. It's tempting to label her behavior as good or bad.
That causes me an extra layer of difficulty, though, if I label today as "bad." It sets me up for frustration and self-pity and annoyance at my daughter. What if today just was what it was?
When I am out with Alicia in public, people frequently tell me I have a "good" baby, an "easy" baby. They say that because they see that she is chill and relaxed and smiling.
In that moment, she is helping us share a nice, calm, "good" moment - but I've always hesitated when people say she is good. Does that mean if she was crying, that would make her bad?
The more compliments I get, the more people praise her for being good because she is quiet, the more I think of the adage, "Children should be seen and not heard."
I read that growing up, in books set in Victorian times. It is something I associate with generations past. Yet it still seems to apply, in this day and age.
Wait, really? We want babies and toddlers to be quiet all the time? Is that realistic or fair? Babies cry, it's a thing. (Adults cry, too. I think both are healthy!)
Babies express themselves by crying and screaming. I can't encourage Alicia to use her words to tell me how she feels or ask for what she needs, yet. For now, this is all we've got.
She is calm and smiles, sometimes. She hollers like the best of them and struggles to push away from me, sometimes.
She isn't being good or bad in any moment, she's just being.
This idea of accepting, and not getting tied to judgements of good or bad, is daily practice for me as a new mom. A day like yesterday is easier on me in a lot of ways. That doesn't have to make yesterday good and today bad, though.
We did our thing yesterday, and we did it today. It looks different – yesterday she slept in her crib and I typed on my laptop. Today she slept on me, and I dictated this into my phone.
Eventually, every day, somehow, we get there. She sleeps, I write, she plays, I breathe, she eats some, I eat some. We live that day.
Thinking about it that way helps me reach a calmer place, closer to neutral. A day isn't good or bad, it just is what it is.
Motherhood as a daily opportunity for spiritual practice - now that's something I didn't know to look forward to!
Food for thought:
Karen Maezen Miller's book on mindful mothering
Brian Lesage's teaching on feeling tones (45 minute audio)