It might as well be 1,000 o’clock. Everything is elastic and backwards and illogical. A girl and a boy and another boy and a dog float somewhere above reality, trying to defy gravity to dance with one another, but all they do is spin, spin, spin in slo-mo circles… their feet fishing for solid ground. To hear? Cries and coos and sighs. To see? Smiles and flailing arms and face-into-pillow resignation. It’s 1,000 o’clock and no one is sleeping.
Life inside a home with a baby who is struggling to sleep is timeless, and not in the way, say, Frank Sinatra or The Beatles are timeless. Clocks mean nothing. Ticks and tocks are white noise only. 3 a.m. might as well be 7 p.m. It’s all red, digital, flashing zeros as if the power keeps going out and coming back in infinite jest.
The other night, Colleen and I went all Rob and Laura Petrie. All church and state. Dare I say, all Journey? We went our separate ways (at night, anyway) to sleep in separate beds, all for the slim hope that the sweet, smiling boy we know as our son during the daytime hours would no longer–once the sun went down–be possessed by a banshee devil woman lurking somewhere underneath the soft, smooth, chubby surface.
So Declan spent the night in our bed with Colleen but didn’t really sleep there. He fussed and dozed and screamed and ate and kicked and dozed and ate and babbled and cried. I went to bed in the other room and slept for 4 hours and awoke feeling guilty and went into our bedroom to get Declan and tried to stop the crying and quickly felt engulfed and tried to put him down to sleep and felt hopeless.
The next night, I returned to our bed and all three of us tried to co-exist…you know, since placing Declan in the crib is apparently akin to placing him on the surface of the sun. The second contact is made, he starts screaming and I want to say, Really? Really? Is it all that bad? I feel both compassion for him and frustration with him and it all just mixes together like a Crayola box simmering in a broiler until it’s one big gray stinking blob. And then the sun comes out. And technically it’s another day, but it feels like the same one.
The part of the day when we’re supposed to be awake is great. We laugh and play as a family. Expectations are low or non-existent. We savor life and the boy we created and love like no one else.
And then, when the sun is just past its highest point, I kiss Colleen and Declan goodbye, pat the dog on the head, walk out the door, shut it behind me, turn the key until I hear the click of the lock, and then, almost immediately, feel guilty again. Every afternoon, I go to work and Colleen stays home with our child. And sometimes it’s fun for her. And often, it’s rewarding. But right now, it’s a lot of work and a lot of anxiety. And bedtime, which should represent a break, becomes the hardest type of work. She is servant to a wriggling, screaming boy who needs to sleep, wants to sleep, and yet won’t sleep… not after food, not after rocking, not after tens of minutes of finessing and doting. And I go to work and some days I think to myself, what a relief to be escaping that. But then I feel bad. Like I’m somehow the lone survivor of a terrible accident, leaving the wreckage behind. Or better yet, a psychic who silently chooses not to board a doomed flight. Or maybe not a doomed flight, but one that soars to paradise and then nearly crashes, soars to paradise and then nearly crashes, soars to paradise and then nearly crashes…
The struggle to put a tiny creature to sleep may happen in the physical world, but it’s mostly a mental game. And it centers around one question: how much control do we really have as parents? If our friends are getting their children to sleep through the night, what are we doing wrong? Maybe nothing.
You can read a blog or a book or some random internet link and get 5 bullet points for fixing your child’s sleep and they could work or not because none of them have to do with YOUR child. Just children in general. And even if we are tuned into our kids, even if we read their cues and know their personalities and try to parent them based on that experience rather than words on a page of some baby advice article, it’s still an ever-changing, imperfect process, right? So many factors out of our control, so many things we don’t know. And those three words–I don’t know–are never harder to admit than when our child wakes up wailing in the darkness, looking to us for comfort…and we are dead tired and out of patience….and the clock is ticking… 998, 999, 1,000…