Last summer, back when Natalie was still Baby Mayhem in utero, her Grandma Barbara gave her a brand-new crib.

Natalie didn’t sleep in the crib, though. For a long time — four months and change — she slept in our bed with us. More recently, she relocated from sharing my pillow to a private berth in the “Arm’s Length Co-Sleeper,” a three-walled bassinet tethered alongside our bed.

“When she sleeps through the night,” I’d say whenever Barbara (or anyone else) would ask me when we planned to move Noodles out of our bedroom and into her crib. But then she did sleep through the night. And then she did it again. Almost immediately she achieved consistency, reliably sleeping nine or ten hours at a clip. And I balked: she couldn’t go in the other room. Not yet. Not yet. Please, just one more night.

Then Natalie started at daycare, and promptly came home with something that sounded like sinus congestion. (I hear this is to be expected of daycare.) It surprised me, how relieved I was when the sniffles disrupted her sleep schedule. Now we were back to nursing several times a night, and the sidecar was still in business.

But she was rapidly outgrowing bassinet dimensions. Her extended arms spanned the entire sidecar, and the few inches of empty space above and below her were shrinking daily. &, who has been the Evening Duty Parent while I’ve spent most of this month in rehearsal, took the plunge one night and decided to try putting her down in the crib.

It worked. She went to sleep without resistance. (Then, eventually, I got home and moved her into the sidecar.)

Something had changed, though. We now had indisputable evidence that Natalie was capable of sleeping happily and at length in her crib. This was new. Previously she had refused the crib, just as she had refused the sidecar (and, indeed, refused any sleep surface that wasn’t in motion or immediately adjacent to me). But, as we quickly learned, she’s now content to spend the whole night in there, blissfully asleep while her daddy and I periodically startle awake to her stirrings on the Crib Cam.

This keeps happening. Natalie will insist on things a certain way, right up until the moment when she’s ready for a change. And then, all of a sudden, she’s done and moved on. It’s like flipping a switch. She no longer needs to nurse down, to nap in the swing, to cuddle in her sleep. Instead she’s chugging eight-ounce bottles, she’s sleeping by herself, she’s comfortable in her own room. As soon as she’s ready, she levels up.

When she’s ready. Not when we are.

Now it’s time to start her on solids. This is clear. The doctor recommends it; Natalie’s formula consumption is epic, often exceeding forty ounces in a day; and the kid is riveted when we eat, fascinated with the food on our plates, obsessed with mouthing anything she can grab. She’s ready. But I’ve been resisting it, because… well, a bunch of stupid reasons really. Baby food is slippery and slimy and messy. It’s much easier and cleaner to feed Natalie formula, and nurse her when she fusses. Her dirty diapers will change character again, this time to something thoroughly unpleasant: actual human excrement. In other words, I’m lazy and I skeeve, so I’m digging in my heels and holding my daughter back.

I guess that’s the last lesson to learn as my maternity leave winds down: how to follow her lead. She was ready to eat formula, quit co-sleeping, and welcome new caregivers well before I was. I move forward gradually, phase into things, treat myself gently and allow for the periodic two-steps-back. My daughter, apparently, does not.

In two weeks I go back to the office, full-time. Natalie’s ready. And I have two more weeks to practice letting go, one slightly bigger step at a time.

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