Thursday, May 17, 2007

Settling

'Settle' has such negative connotations, doesn't it? As in, settling for a particular job, or life partner, or a less-than-optimum room at your hotel in Cuba. Settling in this sense means giving up your higher ambitions, shrugging a 'to hell with my ideals' shrug, and abandoning forward momentum for a soft glide in a more frictionless path, where sheer inertia is keeps effort unnecessary. Settling is apathy, a loss of passion or higher purpose, a deadly sin in a culture that prizes entrepreneurial pluck and get-up-and-go.

In another sense, settling can mean 'settling down.' Again, the connotation is of giving up: giving up loud music and recreational pharmaceuticals and outrageous political opinions and wild haircuts and distression body piercings. Settling down marks the end of carefree nomadism and the beginning of a 25 year mortgage. When you settle down, you settle for a job and a life partner. You settle for less than your dream life. It's the kind of stuff mid-life crises are built from, the slow stifling diminution of the authentic self eaten away in routine.

We are not a culture that looks kindly on settling.

But settling can have positive connotations, can't it? After a bad fright, we can settle down into a more tranquil state of mind. After a hard physical effort, we settle into a soft chair and relax, eyes closed and heart slowing.

I've been thinking a lot about settling, as the obligations in my life pile up and Pynchon and I take on a whole new person in our lives to care for and provide for. I'm happy with my life, my life of car payments and a mortgage and bus tickets and lattes and home repair and $200 trips to the grocery store and couple-time carved out of naps and bedtimes. Of a screen saver perpetually cycling baby photos. I like all this. I'm content and ... settled. Despite my contentment, I can't help but sometimes feel as though I've failed somehow. Settled: there's no way to spin this positively and sound vibrant, dynamic, alive? Is there?

Settled.

Even though Miss Baby is on formula now, and the Magic Boobies have been retired from service, it still largely falls to me to give her her final feed at bedtime, before depositing her in her crib, kissing her forehead, and pulling her blanket up. She's always tired, but she's sometimes not sleepy. When I feed her in the dark, rocking slowly and sh-shushing her, I feel her settle. It is the most calming, beautiful thing to watch, to be a part of. Now that she faces up at me, she locks her eyes with mine. Full of beans as we sit down, she flails her arms, pulls hard on her doudou, smacks my arm, digs her thumbnail deep into the palm of my hand, pushes the change table with her rigid legs. Yanks the bottle, bites the nipple. As she settles, she becomes gentler, quieter. She watches my face carefully. Her legs still, and she feels heavier on my lap. She coos and her breathing becomes rhythmic. The best part: the hands that have been pinching and smacking become so gentle. She rubs the hair on my arms so softly I get goosebumps. She reaches up and pats my face. With one finger she rubs my lip. Inserts a hand between my arm and my sweater and absentmindely wiggles her finger, feeling what it feels like, all these new sensations that she's settled enough to take the time to experience.

Eventually the bottle empties, or her eyes start to droop. I kiss her on the forehead, and lift her limp little self up--really, it's all I can do not to scoop her up into a hug, but I put her down in her crib, tuck her in, surround her with bears. She watches. Settled. And goes to sleep. And then I don't feel so alone in my contentment--so maybe I'm not living my childhood film star glamour life hard party fantasy. I really think, after mature consideration, that this is better.

15 comments:

slouching mom said...

Oh, wow. Your description of her "settling" into sleep is so lovely.

And it reminds me of putting my kids to bed when they were still little enough that I could hold them in a rocker.

I miss doing that.

Oh, The Joys said...

I think of "settled" as relaxed, at an easy peaceful spot. Just like her.

Jenifer said...

You are right about the negative (or mostly) connotations about "settled" and what it means. There is nothing nicer than a settled baby in your lap.

You brought me right back there.

Mad Hatter said...

Great description of the rocking chair moment. We still live that moment here every night. I rock her for the five minutes it takes her to settle. It's a move from chaos to glory and I revel in it every single night.

bubandpie said...

That description felt so familiar to me, and yet I don't settle my children to sleep that way, so I couldn't put my finger initially on what it reminded me of. And then I realized - it's that moment of almost magical transition when Bub ceases his bedtime silliness and throws his full attention into the stories I'm reading him. It's like flipping a switch, sudden and total. I think I do that to, have those moments when restlessness departs and I settle into myself.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

That is a lovely description, Mimi. You were missing her, weren't you?

I like to think about grooves. Getting in the groove. Getting your life set up so it runs well, doesn't make you feel crazy and desperate, so you can enjoy it rather than fight it. In the groove. Groooovin'.

cinnamon gurl said...

I use the word settle a lot more in my life now for the very same reason... especially since Swee'pea can be so hard to settle... it's SO delicious when he does.

That said, when I'm not exhausted I still struggle with that fact that I'm totally middle class and settled.

Beck said...

Hm. I often beat my head against being settled, wanting I do NOT know what instead, since all of the other options really, really suck.
I love that magical moment when the Baby is hovering between being awake and being asleep, her fingers entwined in my hair...

Bon said...

Mimi, beautiful. yeh, i never knew that "settling" could be beautiful until i learned to watch my child settle to sleep...and the peace that i found in that have helped me find immense peace with all the other lifestyle aspects of settling that enable it.

for which i am incredibly grateful. thanks for the reminder.

nomotherearth said...

I often think about this. What comforts me is the feeling that those who do party hard, aren't settled and have gone the fame route, are people who are desperately wishing they were sitting in a rocking chair putting a baby to sleep instead of where they are.

ewe are here said...

I really like your thoughts on 'settling'.

To me, at this point in my life, 'settling' means falling into a comfortable, calm place, the opposite of unsettled. I really don't want to be unsettled at this stage of my life...I want to be settled.

Lovely post.

kittenpie said...

Oh, that was lovely!

I've always been a homebody, someone comfy with hanging out with just a few good friends, a few good books. Someone who likes to coccoon myself in nice cozy clothes, often pajamas, surround myself with some art, and sip contentedly from a glass of wine or mug of tea. So settling? Sounds nice.

Omaha Mama said...

Your description makes me want to go curl up somewhere. Must go cuddle the little ones.

But really? I've always been a "settler". Being unsettled makes me itchy. It's always fallen into place for me and I'm quite content. But definitely settled.

Bon777 said...

Hi Mimi. I found you via Beck. Beautifully put. I find myself currently and surprisingly settled. After 10 years of marriage (boy that sounds long) and 3 beautiful children I finally truly feel it. If settling and contentment go hand in hand then I see nothing wrong with it.

NotSoSage said...

Lovely.

Only I always fear the moment (read: creaking floorboards) between the settling and my escape out the door. Perhaps I should think on that a little longer.