Long-term ‘survival mode’

So, on the night Ruby came home, I nursed her, and then I rocked her, sang my first lullaby, with tears streaming down my face — happy, surreal moments mixed with massive hormone shifts — and then I caaaarefullllllly laid her down in the pack-and-play, which was right next to my bed. 

The second her tiny, dark-haired head deigned to touch the mattress, her eyes flew open and she began screaming. 

I don’t know how, at 48 hours old, she really knew the difference between that mattress and my own, but let me tell you something: I tried all the tricks — warming it up, putting my shirt in there, et cetera, ad nauseam. This is when I discovered you can read all the message boards, all the books, but your baby hasn’t read any of them and definitely signed no agreements to follow any of the information contained therein.

We very quickly discovered Ruby was Not Interested in sleeping in any of the fancy vehicles for sleeping that we had carefully scanned with a Target ray gun. As in zero of them. Ever. 

I owned up to this at an early pediatrician visit. My pediatrician responded: You’re just in survival mode. Do whatever you have to do. 

I’m sure she meant survival mode, as in “give yourself grace in the first couple of weeks as a first-time mom,” but I didn’t ask for clarification. 

That was six years ago. 

Full confession: I typed out the beginnings of this column idea with my left thumb, in the dark, with my phone high over my face, hoping not to accidentally drop it on my 2-year-old’s head as he nursed in his sleep, on his belly, draped across my chest, fighting a fever and a nasty cough.

That photo there? You can see the me-shaped spot where my two youngest, both sick, fell asleep on either side of me with feverish red cheeks. 

You’d think as a mom of three, with six years of experience, I’d have this figured out. But when my baby’s temp hits nearly 105 and all sorts of alarm bells are clanging in the middle of the night and I’m debating a trip to the ER, that’s survival mode, too. 

And when I take my kids to a restaurant and pray they don’t act like hooligans, that’s survival mode. 

When my kid poses an unexpected question about death and the afterlife — and I hardly have that clarified for myself, let alone a small human with a lot of frontal-lobe development yet to go — that’s survival mode. 

I told my husband recently, while making espresso after a night of “sleep,” that I really thought that by 6, 4 and 2, we’d be getting more sleep. At least a little more. 

He looked at me as if I were crazy, because what other than my own survival instinct would have led me to believe that would be the case? How had my mind somewhere decided that by now I’d have the bed to myself again most of the time? Instead it’s just a revolving door for anyone who needs some extra snuggles, sickness TLC or reassurance after a bad dream. 

And yet, the research shows: The more you hug your kids, the better off they are. Why do we need scientific research to show us what we already know — both parents and children — by instinct? 

I don’t know. Here is what I do know: When new parents ask me, “Does this [insert topic here] get better?” my stock response has become: “Probably not. But YOU do.” And I mean it. Parenting IS survival mode.

This is not to suggest that if your kids stay put all night that they aren’t getting hugged enough; it’s simply apparently how much my kids seem to crave it. If your children sleep all night, in their own beds, you are SO lucky. 

Your magic is welcome over here. 


Katie Dohman is currently living in the midst of a total full-house renovation with her three kids, two pets and one husband. Follow her adventures at instagram.com/dohmicile.