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6 Jul

Shit and Spit…

… and sleep. Remember sleep? I used to loooove sleep. That sweet, sweet feeling of sinking into bed, into a nest of blankets, into your own body, wrapping your arms around a cool soft pillow and letting yourself drift quietly away on a magic blankie ride to the land of Nod.

You can still have that when you’re a new mother, you know. You can sink into those blankets, drift away on that sweet ride.

It’s just that odds are it’s going to be a very short trip.

I was going to do a sweet little post about WonderBaby today. One of those lovely ‘letters to my baby’ posts that serve to both celebrate and record all that is amazing about the loves of our lives. Apropos of nothing at all – no birthday, no significant date – I was going to talk about how I love that she loves avocadoes, how I love that she smears them across her face and hoots for more. About how she reserves her turbo-crawling for really important projects like cat-hunting and climbing slides, and how she devotes most of her physical energies to standing and trying to walk. About how her crawling calls to mind the movements of a miniature gorilla on crack. About how she is more amazing to me than any creature that can be found in a zoo or in the wild or in any imagination, cracked-up or otherwise. About how much I love her.

It’s not Sisyphean if you can make it to the top

Yo, Ma? How d’ya say ‘bite me, Sisyphus’ in ancient Greek?

But despite all her crazy turbo-charged jacked-up-on-avocado adorableness, all that I can think about is how little she is sleeping these days, and how much she is – once again – kicking my ass.

She’s got a cold, and she’s cutting her first teeth. And she’s working on standing and walking 24-7 (in her sleep, people. In her sleep. Nothing weirder than checking on your baby middle of the night – ’cause, you know, if she’s been crying every hour on the hour any protracted silence becomes unnerving – and finding her fully upright and slumped against the bars of her nocturnal jail.) What we are currently living through (barely) is, I think, the mother of all sleep regressions.

I have, during a few of these nights, resorted to desperate measures: I have pulled WonderBaby into bed with me and suffered the Wild Kingdom sleep that is sleep with a rabid badger disguised as a baby. I wrote about that sweet torture for this month’s blog exchange, and don’t particularly feel like revisiting it. I will say only this: I know that someday I will look back on those nights and miss, keenly, the experience of laying awake while she kicks me in the boob with her tiny velvet feet. But for now, that experience gets filed under desperate measures.

And that, my friends, is a file that is getting pretty thick. Because when we aren’t bringing WonderBaby into bed with us, we are Crying It Out.

I know. I’m combining two entirely incompatible approaches to getting baby to sleep. It’s a recipe for disaster, if the quote-unquote experts are to be believed. Ferber and Sears are, both of them, spontaneously combusting as we speak.

But we’re doing what we have to do. We’re living under extreme conditions here, people.

To be clear – and to ward off any Sleep Training Nazis that might come goose-stepping at me with dog-eared copies of Mein Kampf der Kinder Schlaf (My Baby Sleep Struggle, by Dr. Ferber S. Weissbluth) and yelling about the One Right Way and Correct Sleep Solutions – we’re not crying it out and co-sleeping at the same time. We’re just doing what works in any given moment. I know WonderBaby’s cries. I understand her language. I bring her into bed with me when her cries are frantic, when I know that her crying is going escalate. We’ve had a few nights like this, nights during which she wakes up a few hours after going down and begins crying inconsolably. Really crying. Such that no amount of soothing and nursing settles her enough for her to go back into her crib without shrieking. Those nights, I send the Husband to the couch (so that he can get enough rest before rising at dawn to shoot all those Swiffer and Budweiser commercials that the world is so sorely lacking) and pull WonderBaby into bed to nurse and cuddle to sleep. The rest of that story, you know.

The other nights, we cry it out. WonderBaby no longer likes going to bed. WonderBaby protests bedtime. WonderBaby pulls herself up to standing the moment she hits the crib mattress and rattles her cage. She refuses. She will not have it. She will fight the good fight, she will resist, she will shout out against the tyranny of The Mom, she will… yawn… say it loud… hmm… shout… Ma Ma Ma Mazzz… (slump… thud.)

The Cry of Protest and the Chortle of Sleepiness are very different from the Distress Call, the Keening of Discomfort and the Warble of the Very Sad. The latter cannot be ignored (or, at least, I cannot ignore them.) The former, however, fall best upon deaf ears.

Once upon a time – not too long ago – I was convinced that I would never, ever be able to tolerate hearing my baby cry and not responding. The slightest whimper from her was like a dagger to my heart and I could not help but obey the impulse of my body to leap to her and clutch her to me and do anything, anything, to dry her tears. Now, not so much. Oh, my heart still clenches when I hear any variety of distress call, and I will sometimes wake to find myself leaping out of bed towards the nursery in response to those calls. But my tired body sags a little when a certain kind of crying starts, and a little voice inside my head murmurs oh sweetie I’m sorry as I shut the door of the nursery and wait for the cries to run their course.

I walk away from the door and let her put herself to sleep, or back to sleep. She usually does. I’m happy about that. But I’m still a little sad that we’ve turned this corner – this first corner of independence, this first of many such corners, where I insist that she do something on her own.

And a little conflicted. Because it’s hard to let go of the idea that a Good Mother clutches her child to her chest and never lets go, that she becomes a little wild at the sound of her baby’s cry. That only a Bad Mother ignores the pounding of her heart as she shuts the door on her crying baby and walks away. That only the heart of a Bad Mother calms itself easily as the crying fades behind that door.

This shit is hard.


Please visit the Basement this weekend; there’s a guest there who’d like some company as she tells her story