I consider myself a lucky mom....consider US lucky parents, really. Our child is generally well-natured. She's got spunk. She's got personality. She's sweet and affectionate. Far from perfect, but perfect for her. And I know in a lot of ways how great she is can be credited to nurture (aka we sure are some Kick-Ass parents!) and part can be credited to nature (aka, we sure have some Kick-Ass grenes!).
But there is one area where I guess only time will tell if we 'did right by her'....sleeping. Call me crazy. Call me a pushover. Call me undisciplined, stupid, insane, a softie. Call me what you will, but don't call me for sleep advice if you're looking for someone to loan you Dr. Ferber's book. I know his teachings (along with the harder-core cry it out method, the Happy Baby, Healthy Sleep Habits, and Happiest Baby on the Block) are considered parenting gold for many. I know they work for many. I also know quite a few moms whose "I'll NEVER..." rapidly became, "I SAID I would NEVER, but...". And that's fine. Really, it is. But I'm not one of them.
This is not to say my child has never cried for a few seconds alone, nor that I rush to her the second she fusses. I don't often rock her to sleep anymore (I doubt she'd even let me most of the time), and I make her stick to a bedtime schedule, even if she doesn't think she wants to go to bed quite yet. But you won't find me timing her crying spells to let them go longer each consecutive night. Nor will you find me going into her room and talking to her but NOT TOUCHING HER to reassure her she's ok. Rather, when my baby wakes at night crying, I head into her room, give her back her Boppy, lift her to my arms, and rock and sing.
I've always felt secure and happy with this choice in parenting, and nothing anyone says about the joy and beauty of 'sleep training' can convince me they are right and I am wrong. Perhaps I got lucky...after investing about 4 months into feeding and snuggling my baby to sleep every time, she started not needing to be snuggled so much. By month 6, she sometimes could go to sleep without the help of the magical boob. By month 10, she rarely needed the boob at all, thought the rock and snuggle were still much appreciated. And by 12 months of age, she was consistently able to be put to bed, wide awake, and fall asleep in a matter of minutes without so much as a peep. So when people told me I was wrong, when she was a baby, to let her fall asleep at the boob, I'm glad I shrugged them off. When people told me I shouldn't respond to her every cry, I know I did right by her when I ignored their advice. When others promised me that 'someday' I might need Ferber and the like, and I said 'No thanks.', I feel like I made the right decision for us.
Don't get me wrong: some moms and dads use 'sleep training', and it's a life-saver. Some kiddos need help getting into their rhythm, and that is ok as well. Just as I won't use those methods, not for my kid, I wouldn't tell them they must use my methods.
There are nights still when the thought of 'THIS is why parent let their kids cry it out!' pops into my mind. One such night happened this weekend, when suddenly Luca decided, at 1:16 a.m., that sleep was not an option for her. She awoke with a cry, so I trudged into her room, ripped from the cusp of a deep sleep, to give her the Bop and a snuggle, sure she'd be back asleep in a matter of seconds. A peek into her crib showed me that she had the Bop already (surprising, since losing the Bop is the reason she wakes fussing 99% of the time). Not too concerned, I lifted her onto my chest and began to rock slowly, sure she'd be asleep again soon. When she started to go limp, I put her down and left the room.
I was met with angry shrieks before I even hit the hall. Back into the room I went, plucking the Bop off its spot about 10 feet from the crib (this kid has quite the future in softball, I think!), and scooping her up all in one giant stride. The Bop went in her mouth, her head fell, sweaty and damp cheeked, to my chest, and we swayed together again.
Lie baby down. Leave room. Get into bed. Curl up, silently thanking whoever invented the down pillow-topper. Start to drift. Hear baby....shrieking again.
This time Darrick went to her, but 5 minutes later he was back, and she was crying before he'd even hit the mattress. I decided to let her have a second...see if she would pass out again. 2.5 seconds later, I was up again. This time, I thought I'd bring her in to lie with me in bed, and when she fell asleep we could sneak her into the crib once more. And this is where it really went awry.
We settled into bed, me on my back and Luca froggered up on my chest. She nuzzled in, absently playing with the strap of my tank top. I concentrated on deep, slow breaths to help calm her down. Her crying had caused her breath to become choppy, and I wanted to give her a mellow breathing pattern to follow. Sure enough, her breaths slowed and deepened, and her little hands loosened their grip on my tank top. I could feel her head start to get heavier, her little feet twitch as an early sign her body was letting go...giving itself up to sleep. Content, I started to count down in my head, knowing that within seconds she'd be out for the night.
And then....thumping on the staircase. 4 feet, heavy with slumber and desperate for a patch of floor in our room. Silently I swore at her, "RUBY! Get the fuck out of here and go back down those stairs NOW!". Of course, I had to remain silent, so I started making a low hum and shush noise, hoping Luca would not hear Ruby pound up the stairs, click across the tile in our room and onto the carpet, paw at her dog bed, shift and turn and lie down and shift some more and lick her paws and scratch her ear and shift still more and then sigh like all this work to get comfortable was taking SUCH a toll. My efforts to shield Luca from this proved pointless, as her head snapped up, her Bop fell onto my neck, and she whispered 'Doh'. Riiiiight.
So what now? Well, once she tried to scale down my torso to get to the end of the bed and go visit the 'Doh', I knew there was no chance in hell she'd be falling asleep in that room. So I decided to take her down to bounce on the yoga ball. This was a sure-fire method to get her to sleep, the golden ticket that always worked for us.
Down the stairs we went, into the great room. I sat on the ball, bouncing her as she hugged up to me. We created our own rhythm...a mommy and baby dance into dreamland. And she started to give in to sleep, and then....behind me on the recliner...I heard the soft snore that leads to a giant beastly rumble, coming from Piggy. Frantic, I looked around to see what was in arm's reach, and found a pair of Luca's jammies. I grabbed them with a toe, hoisted them to my hand, and flung them over my shoulder, hearing them land on top of Piggy. Just enough disruption to wake her without hurting her. The snoring stopped. Sweet silence. I looked at the clock. It was 2:07 a.m. And then I heard, from behind me, "Sllllllllurp...shlemp, shlemp, gnaw, gnaw, gnaw..."...the sweet sound of Piggy licking and chewing her paws. If you know Piggy, you know this paw licking can last for minutes and minutes on end, and it clearly would not do. Luca started to lift her head to look around, so I panicked once more, grabbed her empty sippy cup, and chucked it over my shoulder so that it would hit the back of the chair behind Piggy. I knew the noise would make Piggy stop. And it did. And it also made her streeeeeeeetch off the recliner, climb onto the floor, and come rambling over to sniff Luca's bare feet.
In an attempt to not freak out, I...well....freaked out. I jumped off the yoga ball, threw the sliding door open, looked at Pig, and said, sternly, "PIG. OUT." And out she went, and back on the ball we went, Luca now with wide eyes. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Shush and hum and sing. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.
From the backyard: LOUD barking, running across the tiles of the patio, a stainless steel dog food bowl sent skittering across the patio, more barking.
I was 3 seconds from waking Darrick to take over when silence reigned finally. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Rock and bounce and hum and bounce. Head rolling gently with the rhythm. Legs softening and going limp. Hand letting loose the tendril of my hair it had been holding.
Trying to not even BREATHE too loud, I bounced to a standing position, kept the rocking motion going, and walked Luca back up into her crib. It was 2:15 a.m. I could have gone back to bed, but I know this game, and I knew better. I'd rather be disturbed from watching TV than from sleep, and I knew this was not the end of it for us tonight. I wandered out back, loved on Pig and apologized for being mean, and then went back inside where....crying. More crying. Harder and more frantic than before.
This time I didn't even fool myself. There was no low lighting and boucning and humming. No kicking out the dogs so there would be silence. Instead, I settled into the recliner with a little 'Tori and Dean', and let my monster roam the downstairs. I didn't know how long it would be. It was 2:27 now. Luca spent some time wandering the room, hugging Piggy, who was now on the couch, and coming up to curl onto my lap. Finally, she headed into the kitchen, where she found an empty box to play with. That was fine for about a minute, and then the crying started, loud and shrill, red face and real, hot, fat tears on her cheeks. Frustrated, I scooped her up, refilled her sippy with milk, told her, "This is it. Drink this milk and then it's to bed with you." In my head was this voice, saying, "Uh huuuh, sure. Nice try mommy. I give her 5 minutes before she's frantic once more."
She drank the milk. I held her in my arms. We climbed the stairs, her mewing "uhn...uhn...." and me assuring her in a soft voice, "It's bedtime for babies. Babies need to go nigh-nigh. It's time for babies to sleep."
We went into her room. I rocked her one last time, kissed her sweet cheek, put her in her crib, told her I love her, and closed the door. And then...back downstairs to watch TV until she awoke again.
Silence. Tori and Dean talking about how he won't cheat on her with the scuba instructor, Kim. More silence. Piggy standing up, turning in a circle on the couch, and settling back in. More silence.
It was 3:20 when I finally allowed myself to believe it was over for the night and headed back up to bed. Sweet pillow. Insanely comfortable bed.
Thinking about something a mommy friend of mine once said, I told myself, "I can deal with these nights, because they won't always happen. It's only for a season, and this season belongs to her."