Parenting Gone Awry, Silliness

Flailing Not Failing

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.

38 thoughts on “Flailing Not Failing

  1. I don’t know why this has made me cry. Perhaps it’s the line, “you can swaddle a baby, but you can’t make them keep their arms in.”
    If you only knew how hard I tried to “swaddle” my son against his own decision to join the Marines. Then when he finally enlisted and I saw the peace envelope him, and his grades improve, and his excited commitment to weekly meetings with his recruiter; I realized I had truly been squelching a dream. I swaddled him alright, but he flailed his arms at me. He was right. It’s what he needed. I had not swaddled him; I had restrained him.

    I love reading how you cherish your little boy. Your home must be so magical all year long.

    * * *
    I try to imagine what it is like for you, and other mothers like you, to send your baby off to do such a grown up and dauting task, to defend our country, maybe even with his very life. I can’t make my mind go there, really go there. It’s just too much for my heart. So we pray always for our soldiers, every single night, Sean and I, that God will see fit to protect our soldiers and bring them home to their families. That’s all we know to do.

  2. Lovely post.

    Really, the expert is the baby–they will always let you know what they really need. Our job is to really listen to them.

  3. In some ways life gets better as your child grows but it doesn’t always get easier. There are always new “swaddling” challenges to be met.

  4. For whatever reason, Gabe also would not be swaddled. I tried. It’s so very interesting that babies have their own personality right from the start. Very eloquent; thank you.

  5. Thanks for your kind words, Antique Mommy. And you did make me chuckle…and tear up. It’s that laughter through tears thing that sometimes feels so good.

  6. This may well be my favorite post ever. My youngest in particular undid every last bit of “swaddling” I ever tried. He’s turning 21 in a few weeks, and I stand in utter amazement at the man he has become…much of it as a result of his fierce determination to work his way out of every blanket he’s ever been wrapped in. Wonderful, wonderful post.

    On a different note entirely, it touches me deeply to know you & your son pray for our soldiers every night. You say it is all you know to do, but it is invaluable beyond words. Exactly one year ago on Christmas Eve, my husband was targeted by enemy fire in Iraq. By God’s grace they missed their target…and this year he is home with our family, I believe in direct answer to prayers such as yours. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    * * *
    Oh that about your husband is making my eyes sting with tears. Thank you for letting me know. Sometimes our prayers seem so vacant and hollow, yet I know they are not. We ask that God might look upon our requests for our soliders with favor, but ultimately that His will be done, knowing that we might hate it. It delights my heart to hear when a soldier is returned home safely.

  7. As the mother of two sons who refused to be swaddled and loved to flail, they have survived, even thrived to the ages of 15 and 17…. We take all those little directions in the hospital so seriously…I can totally relate to the thought that I must not be able to properly care for an infant if I can’t keep them swaddled.

    Merry Christmas!!

  8. I love reading about your flailing and un-flailing. I so appreciate your humor and wisdom. Thank you for your blog. Merry Christmas!

  9. I had an unswaddler too. She wouldn’t keep her arms in for love or money! I can’t say yet if jail is in her future (!!) but she’s certainly got a mind of her own. Then she is only three so that’s part of the job description! Fortunately she was my second, because I know I would’ve been equally as obsessed about keeping her older sister firmly swaddled had she not been perfectly content to stay that way on her own!
    Merry Christmas!

  10. He’s so tiny!

    * * *
    He weighed 4-pounds when we brought him home, no bigger than a pot roast. You would think you could boss around a 4-pound baby, but no, it actually works the other way around.

  11. We must have had the same nurse. After my nurse gave the swaddling demonstration, emphasizing how I absolutely HAD to keep his tiny hands secured, my boy began to scream. She gave me an uneasy smile and then handed me my wailing child.

    I couldn’t help but notice that my son’s tiny arms were beating on the blanket, trying desperately to wiggle free. I loosened the blanket, freed his arms and then watched as his right thumb landed squarely in his mouth, quieting him instantly. I never tried to swaddle him again.

  12. Ooooooooh! Just got the picture! Soooooo cute! So tiny! I miss having babies.

    Just took my 21 year old (who is home from college on break) for show and tell for my second grader. Got some funny looks, he’s over 6 feet tall — they are used to seeing me with grade schoolers! It goes so dang fast . . .

  13. You must remember that Sean was the impossible baby sent from God to complete the Mommy part of Antique Mommy. Also, remember that maternity nurses are professional swaddlers. I learned how after my three kids were almost grown when I became a nurse. (Also, as an aside….
    I looked it up and the definition said, “Swaddler, a noun, a term of contempt for an Irish Methodist”) You sure you are not an Irish Methodist?

  14. Oh, those babies. My first used to wave her flag, too and then freak out. Same with the passy. It was a love-hate relationship with both. I also contemplated duct taping with the passy. I wish you the Merriest of Christmases!

  15. The nurses at my hospital had even perfected a swaddle that would hold a pacifier in a little mouth. Imagine that! Never could quite duplicate it though, so Peabody ended up not being a pacifier boy after all, which in retrospect was pprobably a good thing. I’m trying to figure out how all that works with your lovely metaphor and I really can’t but that’s also okay because mostly I stopped by to tell you MERRY CHRISTMAS from the FriedOkra family to yours! 🙂

  16. So funny that you and I both talked about swaddling this week. Except you were sweet and thoughtful about it, and I was just plain snarky.

  17. Ah swaddling… My daughter was a also a premee– she was 3pounds 4ounces at birth and came home at 5 pounds… I was a somwwhat swaddler… but I remember that I cracked up when my older brother and his wife recieved like 4 different colors and styles of pre-made swaddlers– I guess they had it easy?
    Now they are due again in June… I wonder if they will choose to swaddle 🙂

  18. I love every bit of this post. My favorite is “the expert advice is really only a suggestion.”
    You are so right.
    Merry Christmas!

  19. That’s one cute escape artist.

    I agree with the whole tucking untucking thing, the only time my son’s shirt stays tucked in is it is tucked into his underwear and the underwear is riding high above his pants.

  20. My oldest could unswaddle himself in seconds and in general wasnt happy with anything more than a diaper on until he was about 4 or 5 months old, he still(6) strips down as far as I will allow the second he walks in the door. The next babe was the complete opposite and unhappy unless he was covered and wrapped from the tip of his toes to the tip of his nose. LOL. He still wants to be wrapped up*like a taco mom* every night.
    The baby is somewhere in between likes to be loose, but covered up.

    I tend to think all three will survive just fine. The one thing I remember from the nurse was the one with the first one who told me that I would basically be poisoning my baby if I fed him anything but breastmilk and how I would try but he was CLEARLY starving and both of us would wind up crying. The day we got home, Chris made him a bottle while I slept and I screamed @ him afterwards because I was sure from what the nurse had said we were going to lose him…wrong, he thrived, sucked down 4 oz in as many minutes and promptly fell asleep for 5 hours.
    After that, I decided the nurse was full of it and we would follow the babies lead as he was clearly the one in the know at that point.

  21. My son is in the process of throwing the blanket across the room. (I absolutely loved those words and this post. I well remember how tightly the nurses could swaddle, but mine always came undone.) I have enjoyed a few months of post-college living with us days, but the swaddling was not to be had. He is moving into his own place.

  22. Ugh, she would not stay swaddled, she would not stay on her back despite reinforcement, she wouldn’t take a pacifier, I never mastered burping her, etc. It’s astounding that she’s a living, well-adjusted kindergartener!

  23. Jonathan did not seem to like to be swaddled either. Born New Year’s day, I thought he need to be bundled and swaddled and all that stuff. He got heat rash. He is one of the most hot-natured peole I have ever known.

  24. Merry Christmas, AM! I know what you mean by swaddling thing. My boys never wanted to be swaddled. They always wiggled their way out. But now they sure do love to snuggle!

  25. I snorted my coffee when I read this:

    “…other than being sent home to live with two clueless people.”

    I think that’s how all new parents feel. I know we did. Thanks for the laugh.

  26. Ha ha – so true. 🙂 Love the newborn pictures of you & Sean! My little boy is two now, and I am currently swaddling a brand new baby girl – now they make these cool Velcro swaddlers & it really is possibly to make them keep their arms in. 🙂

  27. Beautiful!!

    And this comment…”He was teeny tiny, but was never in any danger, other than being sent home to live with two clueless people.” I still feel like that on a regular basis with my 4 and 2 year old…clueless and blessed beyond measure!!

  28. Because our baby gets out of swaddles so fast, hubby calls our baby Handini (like Houdini). Now at 4 months he doesn’t remain in the swaddle at all. Sigh. They do grow up fast.

  29. Just found your blog and absolutely love this post! Enjoyed your humor, your storytelling skills, and your wisdom! As Mom to two adult sons, I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses:

    “When you were very small
    and just a touch away,
    I covered you with blankets
    Against the cool night air.
    But now that you are tall
    And out of reach,
    I fold my hands
    And cover you with prayer.”
    -Dona Maddux Cooper-

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