Flee To An Inner Playground

staying sane with baby won't stop crying

Image: CC by 2.0 Ben_Kerckx

I cannot bear to hear a baby cry. I feel it right to my core. But in the first year of my daughter’s life she suffered from a chronic illness that caused a lot of crying. And I mean a lot. Her wails were heartrending, made all the worse by how little I could do to ease her misery. We got through the days with kangaroo parenting and lots of nursing, but, because it was so hard for her to sleep, our nights were unspeakably long.

For hours each evening she could stay asleep only if I walked while holding her against my shoulder. I’d circle the dining room table, looking out the dark windows hoping for the momentary distraction of a passing car. The minutes went by in slow motion. My arms were cramped and my body beyond weary. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, she usually calmed enough that I could slump into bed against a pile of pillows where she slept on my chest and I slept too.

During those hours of walking I couldn’t watch TV, even dim light kept her awake much longer. (Science now tells us that as little as a light shining on the back of our knees is enough to change our circadian clocks.) So I resorted to the only distractions available: the ones I could play inside my head.

Now that my daughter is grown (and healthy!) I’d nearly forgotten those mental games until I listened to my friend Bernie DeKoven’s marvelous new recording,  Recess for the Soul, which is packed with ideas for playing on what Bernie calls the Inner Playground.

Bernie describes undergoing a procedure at the dentist, saying,

Under certifiably physical duress, my mighty mind can take me away from the all too personal now. I can, instead, should I so choose, talk to myself, joke with myself, fool myself into some semblance of squirmlessness, even when the world wherein I found myself proves so profoundly squirmworthy.

I wish I’d heard of Bernie’s tactics back then…

I’ll share a few of the games I played on my own inner playground. These weren’t clever by any means, simply last-resort mechanisms to keep a desperately tired and worried parent going. If you’re at the end of your rope for whatever reason, head on in to your inner playground.  (For a much wider range of mental games, refer to Bernie’s recording.)

Betting On Myself

I’d tell myself that I could make it another 15 minutes without looking at the clock. Then I’d try to gauge how long that time period might be before checking the time. If I gave in and looked too soon, losing the bet, I’d lengthen the next time period, not letting myself look for another 20 minutes. And so on.

Reconstructing

As I walked back and forth in my dark home in the wee hours, I’d challenge myself to reconstruct something in detail. One night it might be a book plot. Another night a childhood memory and another night a good time I’d had with friends. It wasn’t easy, but good mental exercise. It also, I’m sure, was a relief to so fully visit another realm in my mind.

Absurd Movie Screenplays

I’d mentally write screenplays, the more absurd the better. If I found myself with anything resembling a normal plot line I’d joggle it up by adding a talking giraffe, a time travel bathtub, or something equally implausible. The exhausted mind is actually pretty creative, maybe because logic is for people who get enough sleep.

Hidden Camera

When I was totally at the end of my rope and could find no way to ease my baby’s misery, I got to the point where I longed to set her down gently and fling myself out the window. So I’d pretend there was some omnipresent camera watching me. Somehow that made it easier to keep going, as if I were acting in a play about a very patient mother. When I was really tired, I pretended the film being made that moment was the only evidence that God might see of my life. I know, dire.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to be fully present with my daughter, I did. But there’s only so much mindfulness one can bear after hours of walking a sick child. Don’t wait until you’re ready to toss yourself out the window. Play as wildly as you’d like on your own inner playground.

(And if you’ve got techniques to help any of us through miseries like sitting on a plane with take-off delayed, waiting for the jury to come to a verdict, or pacing the floor of a surgical ward please share them with us!)

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19 thoughts on “Flee To An Inner Playground

  1. On sleepless nights, I have always built my dream home in my head, and then slowly furnished it, room by room, including the contents of each cupboard and drawer. I finish in the bedroom, and leave the bed till last. I often found that as I lay down on my beautiful and comfortable new bed with its perfect pillows and fabulous puffy mattress, I would finally fall asleep. The trick is coming in handy now that I’m weaning myself off the painkillers I’ve become dependent on, and my nights are more painful…

    Liked by 1 person

      • My first two didn’t (and at two and four years old, still don’t, sleep). My six month old though, is one of those mythical magical unicorn babies. A fact for which I am grateful each night 🙂

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  2. My advice to new parents is to let go of your expectations. This applies to so many things, including this scenario. Both of my kids went through that period around week 4-12 where they fussed for hours in the evening. With my first I’d spent that time sobbing, silently begging her to sleep, getting angrier and more distressed as the hours of the night slipped away from me. When I hit that stretch of time with my second, I told myself I wasn’t going to get any sleep at all, then geared up like I was actually going on a 10 mile hike, Being in that mindset let me stay calm and even enjoy those quiet hours snuggled close. When he did finally fall asleep, it was a pleasant surprise and I felt relief instead of resentful and angry. I like to use it as an example of how pessimism can be beneficial. I did the same thing with both of my very long labors as well actually.

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  3. Years and years ago, my wife taught me a memory/word game she’d played as a child in Germany. It’s called “Ich packe meinen Koffer” (I’m Packing My Suitcase).

    The first person says “I’m packing my suitcase, and I’m taking an Apple.”
    The next person repeats this line, then adds “…and a Baseball.”
    Each person in turn repeats all the prior items and adds something that starts with the next letter. “Cat…Doughnut…Eraser…etc”
    Sometimes I play it by myself when I’m stuck waiting or doing my once or twice yearly MRIs.

    Another “waiting game” I use was first taught to me as a relaxation exercise to combat stage fright; I’m lucky not to suffer from that common malady, but the exercise is challenging enough to be interesting for its own sake (I think).
    Inhale, and while you’re breathing in, count how long it takes you to breathe in. So, perhaps 3.
    Now, when you breathe out, make it take twice as long — so, 6.
    Then simply try to gradually stretch the length of each inhale/exhale pair. “Simply,” but not so easily. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember playing Packing the Suitcase in school, probably a way to help kids learn rudimentary alphabetizing skills.

      The waiting game sounds like an excellent way to calm down by focusing on the breath. Perfect for nearly any stressful situation. I’m going to remember that one!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Infants, Babies, the Power of Touch and commented:
    LAURA GRACE WELDON:
    I cannot bear to hear a baby cry. I feel it right to my core. But in the first year of my daughter’s life she suffered from a chronic illness that caused a lot of crying. And I mean a lot. Her wails were heartrending, made all the worse by how little I could do to ease her misery. We got through the days with kangaroo parenting and lots of nursing, but, because it was so hard for her to sleep, our nights were unspeakably long.

    For hours each evening she could stay asleep only if I walked while holding her against my shoulder. I’d circle the dining room table, looking out the dark windows hoping for the momentary distraction of a passing car. The minutes went by in slow motion. My arms were cramped and my body beyond weary. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, she usually calmed enough that I could slump into bed against a pile of pillows where she slept on my chest and I slept too.

    Like

  5. There I have been times I’ve taken refuge in a “mental playground” (I never thought of it in those terms, but I like it).
    Some of the things I recall doing: go through the alphabet thinking of a place that begins with each letter. I.e. Alabama, Boston, China… Limit it to cities, or natural geography the second time through. You can do the same kind of thing with song titles or musicians/bands. Or imagine having a huge pile of money to give away and picking out the charities and the amounts they’d get.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Especially when times are hard, my husband and I love picking out projects and organizations we’d fund it we had a million bucks. (And no matter how hard times get, I donate some amount to a good cause every time I sit down to do bills.)

      I really like the alphabet ideas, particularly related to music. I’ll be trying that one!

      Like

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