It’s the phenomenon is known as “self-soothing.” And I honestly think it would be wonderful for my daughter to learn to soothe herself. It would probably make her stronger and happier. The only problem? I can’t teach anyone to self-soothe any more than I could teach classical guitar or Chinese. It’s a skill I don’t possess myself. I’m more likely to soothe with chocolate, alcohol and (used to be) cigarettes. Even yoga, the closest I’ve come to learning how to soothe myself, doesn’t quite count because I pay $80 a month so that someone else can tell me when to inhale and when to exhale.
Even my good self-soothing crutches are still crutches. I jog 3.5 miles daily, a discipline most people find quite commendable. What these most people don’t know is that I am hopelessly addicted to endorphins. If I didn’t go jogging, my alternatives would be to go crying in public restrooms, go beating up rude salespeople, go telling my boss what he can really do with my underpaid and unappreciated job. My daily jogging fix is what keeps me a (somewhat) pleasant human being.
I also have a terrible reading addiction. My Kindle is the best thing that ever happened to me. Not because I hate the texture of paper and much prefer reading on a digital screen. It’s because it’s such a relief to know I will never again have to experience the panic of finishing a book halfway through my subway ride. Twenty-five minutes without reading material? Forced instead into an extended stretch of self-reflection and serious contemplation? It’s amazing how many personal failures you can count in a 25-minute time span. It’s a torture I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
During my pregnancy, I couldn’t pour myself a glass of wine after a particularly tough day. And because a severe case of morning sickness made it impossible for me to hold down a meal, I couldn’t even count on large fries and a milkshake to solve any of my problems anymore either. So I fell back on the same soothing technique my daughter now endorses: Crying. Inconsolable crying. For hours on end. Until someone could rock me, pat me on the back and promise me that everything would be okay.
We have an opportunity here, my daughter and I, to find out what kind of true grit we’ve really got. Because, to be fair, if I am going to ask my daughter to learn to soothe herself, the best I can do is take a shot at it myself. I can ask myself, do I really want this glass of wine? (Absolutely.) Do I really need a second chocolate Cadbury Easter egg? (More than you can ever imagine.) Wouldn’t it be nice to skip today’s jog? (Nope.) How about I just lie in bed staring at the ceiling instead of finishing the last chapter of that Gillian Flynn novel? (Come on now, that’s just crazy talk.)
I wish I could say my daughter fared better than I did. For the record, we did make several attempts at leaving her alone, whimpering, in her baby crib. Which lasted a full 30 seconds before I finally broke free of my husband’s choke hold so I could scoop her up into my arms. To say I then “rocked her to sleep” is probably inaccurate. I rocked her until she finally gave up screaming her indignation at me and passed out from sheer exhaustion.
For the record, we also considered not giving her a pacifier. For as long as it takes to say we considered not giving her a pacifier. But as soon as our pediatrician said it was okay to use it, we lunged for it.
“It’s not a mute button,” she warned us. “You can’t just shove it in her mouth every time she starts crying.”
Sure, sure, right, of course not, we agreed.
To which my future self responds – Hahaha. Haha. Ha.
I’m not proud to admit I sometimes have to rely on outside influences to achieve an inner calm. And I hate to think that this is some sort of personal weakness I’ve passed on to my daughter. But as I’ve sat here, without my Kindle, giving into a moment of introspection, I’ve come to the following conclusion: I truly believe that the crutches we choose make us the fully realized, unique human beings we will one day become. Am I a beach read junkie/fitness freak/binge eater with a mild drinking problem? Maybe. Or, over the course of my lifetime, have my soothing techniques transformed me into an enlightened book reader, cultured wine connoisseur and foodie with a healthy dedication to personal fitness?
It’s so obviously the latter.
This, I’ve decided, is the gift I’m willing to give my daughter. The ability to one day spit out her pacifier and find her own, original sources of happiness, short-term, temporary and otherwise.
Jennifer van der Kwast is an American writer who has been living in the Netherlands for four years. Her brilliant daughter can already cry fluently in three different languages. You can follow her on Twitter @jennifervanderk.
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