It’s 2:27 a.m. Guess where I am? On the bathroom floor, next to the toilet. Just like a college freshman. Except I’m not drunk and there’s a baby, not a party, around the corner. I’m on the other side of the wall next to Declan’s room, trying to decide if, when, how to intervene to help him get back to sleep. It has been 30 minutes since we heard him start fussing. I have been sitting on the floor, listening for signs of distress. So far, nothing. So I have done…nothing.
A big part of sleep training (and parenting, I suppose) is knowing when to intervene and when to hold off and let them figure it out on their own. In chez Berry, a lot of those calculations happen next to a toilet. It’s the closest spot we can get to Declan’s room without being in it, and from this plush home base we conduct nightly surveillance to determine what is mission critical.
The idea is to shush from the door when Declan is upset…but only after a certain period of time in which we let him try to settle himself. His ability to do this can change by the day. Skill acquisition is not a gentle incline for babies. It’s an undulating, bumpy ride, filled with amazing peaks and sudden drops.
Right now, the challenge is teething. At least two teeth are coming in–maybe more–so when he cries, we have to figure out if it’s because of the pain, a bad dream, loneliness, inability to go back to sleep, hunger, boredom, or something else.
Being on the other side of the wall is pretty brutal when he’s really upset. He screams and I shush and he screams some more and I just feel powerless. Sometimes I go in there and pick him up to stop the crying. Sometimes I sit in the bathroom and stew and obsess over how hard it is for ME and I feel guilty for being so selfish when he’s the one crying and then I feel resentful that I have to care about his feelings. I’ve realized, sitting on the other side of the wall, how hard it is for me to admit I am not in control, especially when things don’t go according to MY PLANS.
Right now, though, I’m in good spirits. 50 minutes in, the fussing/babbling hasn’t stopped, but it hasn’t escalated, either. I figured he’d be screaming about his teeth and we’d trade off chugging shot glasses filled with Tylenol to manage our respective pains and then both pass out until 6 a.m. (kidding). Instead, I’m hearing what sounds like “Dad-dah” coming from the other side of the wall. I’m convinced he’s onto our bathroom scheme.
I can’t always predict when he will fall asleep based on the volume of his crying. He could be at an 11 and seconds away from dozing off, or he could be at a 3 and still an hour away from sleep. So I sit and wait. No wonder kids are scared of monsters in the closet. Most every night, there’s something lurking in the dark, spying on them, turning the door knob, breathing a little too loudly. It’s called a dad.
The 2-3 a.m. wake-up has been our big bump in the road lately. No matter how Declan sleeps the night before, how he naps, his mood that day, how much he’s had to eat, whatever…he seems to perk up around now. You know the expression “butt crack of dawn?” 2-3 a.m. is just the butt crack. There is no dawn. Dawn doesn’t even seem close. So yeah, up at the butt crack, hanging out next to a toilet. I love my life.
Here’s how I see it: a baby starts out a small part of his or her mother, then is attached by a cord, and then not at all. Early on, only feet and seconds separate parents from child, and then longer stretches of time, and then walls of rooms, and then neighborhood streets and school playgrounds, and eventually miles and mountains and states and oceans. And there’s a feeling of helplessness, I imagine, at each turn. The wall is up, our children on one side, us on the other, and sometimes the best thing we can do is to be available without intervening. The wall and the space between are part of the process. And as parents, we have to make peace with that.
So now it’s 3:10 and I’m going to cede control and go back to my bed. My services, it appears, were not necessary. No intervention. Not a single shush. Declan just wanted to be up yapping. Of course, I could be back here in 20 minutes with a full-blown crying crisis on my hands. But hey, at least I’ll be in the bathroom…next to the tissue.
Click here for Part 1.