Kit got overtired and overstimulated today; there was insufficient napping, and lots of working hard on their current physical challenges of unassisted standing and self-feeding with a spoon. By bedtime they were wailing at any touch. Brushing their hair and wiping their face were decried as anti-baby hate crimes. We slowly got their pajamas on, with many pauses for hugs, and then I settled them on my lap.
Still sobbing, they reached for one of the books on the end table, which happened to be the thematically appropriate I Love You Because You're You. I read it to them and they gradually quieted down. But when it was done, they started crying again, with huge open-mouthed sobs. Then they reached for another book, Leslie Patricelli's Nighty-Night, a family favorite at bedtime. I gave it to them and they turned the pages on their own, crying hard, looking desperately for the part that would make them happy. Their hands were shaking, tears and snot pouring down their face, but they know books make them feel good so they kept trying.
My heart aches. My poor baby, trying so hard to self-soothe but too overwhelmed to manage it. I know that feeling so well. And I've read through books that way too, flipping pages too quickly, hungry for the solace that I know must be in there somewhere.
Eventually X brought in a bottle (we try not to use milk as a source of comfort or sleep-inducer, but in this case principles were sacrificed on the altar of the baby ever stopping crying), and Kit had a bit of milk and curled up on my lap with a bear and a binky and a fuzzy blanket and drifted off as I recited the names of all the people who love them. I put them in the crib and came out and told J and X about the books, and they both said that when Kit's upset they have specific favorite book pages they use to cheer them up. "I pull out the big guns," X said, "the 'rough nose' page in That's Not My Fox." J cited the "babies make noise" page of Everywhere Babies. Without even meaning to, we've taught Kit about books as medicine, books as giving yourself a hug, books as familiarity and sense and reassurance when you're falling apart.
Kit's been asleep for hours now, and I still want to go in and scoop them up out of the crib and cuddle them until I feel better. They were so sad and they tried so hard to fix it, the best way they knew how, and in the end it wasn't enough and they needed us to help. We've all been cherishing their newfound independence—crawling around the house, safely exploring objects and furniture on their own, making art, choosing when to pop in or spit out their pacifier, having meals with us at the dining table and being in charge of their own eating and drinking—and though of course it's totally reasonable for a toddler, or a person of any age, to need some help with emotional regulation at the end of an exhausting day, somehow I was still in "look at what you can do yourself!" mode and unexpectedly heartbroken when they couldn't.
By morning they'll have forgotten all about it, but I feel like I'm still sitting there in the rocking chair, watching them cry and turn pages and cry.