I had a wonderful experience last night, extraordinary really, while most would consider it commonplace. Last night, I rocked my daughter to sleep. Bam. There it is. Did your universe stop in shock and wonder, as mine did last night? Probably not. So what’s so spectacular about this common, every day thing, that millions do around the world every night? Well, it was the first time, ever in her life.
In her 3 years, 3 months and 28 days, I have never rocked my daughter to sleep.
Trust me, it’s not for lack of wanting to, but rather, she would never allow it. Our daughter, even as a baby, was not the cuddly type. She would struggle in our arms, or arch herself back, not wanting to be held close. She would never allow us to rock her at night, it would either upset her or she would just try to wriggle free. Her bedtime routine as a baby? Walk over to the crib and lay her in it. That’s it. That’s all she would allow. And as she grew into a toddler? Walk over to the bed and lay her in it. No cuddles, no rocking, no stories. She wanted nothing to do with any of them. And oh, how my heart ached to cuddle her, to rock her. Even if she woke up in the middle of the night (okay not if, but when) she would not allow us to cuddle her or rock her back to sleep.
After her diagnosis on the spectrum, looking back, I can see that this was one of our first signs that something was a little off. But, at the time we thought it easily explainable, I mean after all, this was a baby who had very negative connotations with being restrained and held close – week after week, my very own arms were the ones that held her down for blood work and feeding tube changes, while she screamed and cried and struggled. After such a cruel start to life, who wouldn’t be a little resistant to being held close?
But as she got older, even once those things were no longer necessary, her aversion did not improve. Oh, I knew she didn’t hate my arms, for she would let me hold her, sometimes. Briefly. And then she was wriggling to get free. So then we started blaming it on the “Terrible Twos”, laughing that she was just too busy to cuddle. Laughing, to hide the aching.
Over time we started seeing so many other “things”, and then as readers of my blog already know, all those things finally came together into one big jumble that led to the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. She was 2 years and 9 months old. And the light bulb clicked on, as suddenly we realized why our very affectionate daughter (for she did display affection in many ways), just could not cuddle, and honestly, it lessened my longing a bit. I could understand why, and I accepted what was.
As our daughter entered the ABA program (Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy), she started becoming more affectionate and cuddly. Suddenly she was letting us lay down on the couch with her, or even coming to lay down with us! She started coming to us seeking comfort when hurt or upset . Before, if we tried to comfort her by hugging or holding her, it only made things worse – it would intensify her screaming and anger, or she would cover her face screaming, “Don’t look at me! Don’t touch me!”. So this was a particularly huge step. Oh, the cuddling all had to be on her terms, she normally has to be the one to initiate the contact, and she has her limits – for example, she’ll let us lay next to her, but we can’t put our arm around her, but still it was a big change. Also, finally, after 3 years, she would let us sit next to her and read her a bedtime story – sometimes she would even crawl in our lap for a bit! But still never any rocking to sleep. I knew she was getting past the age of that anyways.
It was around 9:30 pm. She had been asleep for over an hour. I was at the computer working on a photo order, when I heard her start crying softly. I tiptoed up the stairs and went into her room to check on her. She was sitting up whimpering, so I picked her up. I laid her in my arms, cradle-hold style, something she never, and I mean NEVER lets us do, and started slowly rocking her. She didn’t fight it. In fact, she sighed, and turned into me, snuggling. I hardly dared to breathe. I sat there holding her, rocking her slowly back and forth, looking at her sweet face in the dark. I could see her eye-lids grow heavy and fall. She was asleep! I had rocked her to sleep! She was growing heavy in my arms, 28 pounds of dead weight. It felt amazing. I could feel the tears building in my eyes – this, this, is what I had craved for so long. To cradle my daughter in my arms, rocking her, watching her angelic face as it slept, feeling her breath on my arm. Every now and then her eyes would pop open drowsily and look up into my face, as though to make sure I was still there, and then she’d snuggle a bit closer, and go back to sleep. I wanted it to last forever.
Of course it didn’t, because as time went on the eyes started opening more frequently, and she started squirming. She dropped her baby doll, and I had to bend over to pick her up. All good things must come to an end, and I knew I had better lay her in her bed before she fully woke up, and then we had her roaming the house for the next hour. So, I laid her down, tucked her in, and crept downstairs. My husband saw my “happy” smile on my face – the silly, goofy grin I get when so exceedingly happy there are no words, and he asked what it was about. And as I told him, I started crying, and he held me, for he knew just what that moment meant to me – everything in the whole world, and beyond.