They call it sleep training. But who’s really getting trained? The baby or the parents? I suspect the latter. And if that’s the case, the parent training comes in two parts: 1) how to intervene, and 2) how not to intervene. This post is about step one.

“Shushing?” we said. “You mean, the really obnoxious hissing-through-the-teeth noise? We’re just going to set our baby down in the crib and start shushing and he’s just going to magically go to sleep?! Yeah, right!”
“You’ll have key words, too. A phrase to repeat. To comfort him.”
“A phrase?” we said. “Like ‘The power of Christ compels you…to sleep?'”
“Maybe something sweeter. You know, not a reference to ‘The Exorcist.'”
“Yeah, ok. Shushing and non-exorcism related mantras. Got it. Piece of cake.”

And thus began our sleep training journey. At least in my mind. For those who don’t know, we hired a sleep coach. Paid some money to a woman with a 97% success rate in this sort of thing (although, really, isn’t everyone eventually a 100% success rate?! It’s sleep, after all. Kind of essential to the human condition. It’s like an OB-GYN claiming to have a 97% success rate ensuring patients give birth to Homo sapiens, and not, say, iguana mermaids. But I digress…). She gave us a plan and, for the past month, we’ve stuck to it. The result? More consistent sleep. More independent sleep. Happier baby. Happier parents. Still some issues, but our lives are vastly improved.

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At the start, I was a little skeptical. Skeptical mostly of the “crutches” that were supposed to ease Declan from zombie midget to sleeping angel.

But sure enough, Colleen had some success that first night in shushing him down to sleep. He cried. Sometimes for awhile. But she was there in the room with him, hiding under covers, laying low on a mattress, responding to his cries with soothing exaltations of our agreed-upon phrase “sleeeepy tiiiime, sleeeeepy tiiiime”. It was the kind of gentle transition from our room to his room that we wanted.

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Then I came home, ramped up from an adrenaline-filled night of local television news (TONIGHT: SOMEBODY GOT SHOT, SOMEBODY GOT HIT BY A CAR, BUT FIRST, DID SOMEBODY SAY IT WAS GOING TO SPRINKLE? WE HAVE LIVE TEAM COVERAGE!!!).

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But being the enlightened, modern man that I am, I returned from the office, dutifully took off my work pants, threw on my dad sweats, and plunged into the darkness of the our son’s room, crawling commando-style along the floor to the mattress to avoid baby eyes, nestling up close to Colleen, and assuring her that I would handle it from here.

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I may as well have brought home a middle school brass section to play a horribly out of tune and off tempo version of Reveille.
When Declan started crying, I got to work, clearing my throat for what I assumed would sound, to our son, like a spoonful of sugar from Mary Poppins. Sleepy time, sleepy time…shush shush, I said.

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But apparently it came out more like: SLEEPYTIMESLEEPYTIMESHUSHMOTHER******SHUSH!!!! In other words, like death metal shushing. Or this.
But I kept at it. Because I’m a dad. And why pause for self-reflection when I can just beat my head into the wall repeatedly? So on I shushed with the tenderness of a rhinoceros, unaware of the increasing tension in the room. The more Declan cried, the louder and faster I shushed. And Colleen, wonderfully supportive woman that she is, tried not to intervene. He needs to be able to do this, too…his own way she must have said to herself.

So 5 minutes passed. And then 10. And finally around the 15 minute mark, with all 3 of us further from sleep than we’d been when my dad sweats sauntered in the room, Colleen tapped me on the shoulder, leaned over, and whispered, “Maybe try it a little softer and slower. It’s pretty, um… intense right now.”

And so I did. And what do you know? The tension seemed to ease, Declan’s cries diminished to fusses, and pretty soon, he was asleep. And before long, this was happening more often than not. We’d put him in the crib and he would sleep. Not right away. But more easily.

So did I train him? Can I really take credit for that? Sure I can. SLEEPYTIMESLEEPYTIMESHUSHMOTHER******SHUSH!!!! is pretty powerful motivation.

Click here for Part 2.

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