Sean was born six weeks early and spent the first week of his life in the NICU. He was teeny tiny, but was never in any danger, other than being sent home to live with two clueless people.
Before we left the hospital, the nurse showed me the proper way to wrap my baby in a blanket. She stressed the importance of keeping his arms tucked in tight at all times. She said he was used to be being curled up in the confines of my womb and he would prefer being swaddled. She said that if he were allowed to flail his arms freely, he would feel insecure thusly destroying his sense of well-being and possibly leading to a life of crime. Only the worst kind of mother would allow flailing.
Perhaps all that was implied, I don’t really remember. In those days, uneven hormones along with the dauting task of caring for an infant made everything seem reallllly critical.
I felt a measure of confidence as I watched the nurse swaddle my tiny new baby because I had made burritos before and I recognized that she was merely making a yummy baby burrito. Nothing hard about that. Having passed swaddling 101, they released us to take our baby home.
When we got home, the first order of business was to change his diaper and then wrap him up in the prescribed manner at which I was an expert.
I laid him ever so gently diagonally across the blanket. Just like the nurse, I folded the bottom of the blanket into a triangle and pulled it up and over his feet. I then pulled the right side of the blanket tautly over him, rolled him forward a little, tucked it under and then repeated left to right.
Voila! I stood back and admired my work. All that was missing was a bow! But then, like Houdini, he began to twist and squiggle until he had freed his right arm which he began waving over his head like a flag. And then he pulled out his left arm. And then he began flailing both arms with all his might. He seemed to be saying, “Look at me! I’m flailing! And you can’t stop me!”
“Stop it baby!” I cried, “Stop flailing! Do you want to end up in jai!?” At which point he wadded up the blanket and threw it across the room.
I retrieved the blanket and rolled him up in it again and again. No matter how tightly and expertly I swaddled him, he pulled his arms out in record time. When visions of duct tape began to dance in my head I conceded.
On my very first day of motherhood, I learned this very important lesson: You can swaddle a baby but you can’t make them keep their arms in. Without duct tape. I also realized that when it comes to babies, expert advice is really only a suggestion.
Six years later, nothing in that regard has changed – I swaddle, he unswaddles, I tuck, he untucks, I wrap, he unwraps, I do, he undoes. It’s the pattern of our lives.
Nearly every night I peek in on Sean just before turning out the lights to find him sleeping with his arms outside the covers. I lean over him and kiss his forehead and then like a good mother, I pull the covers up under his chin and tuck his arms securely under the blanket.
And when I turn to take one last look before leaving the room, he pulls his arms out and flops them on top of the blanket.
You can tell from the look on his face that he is plotting how to get out of the swaddle.