I briefly thought about dressing up our daughter as a vampire for Halloween. It is not cute, it is not girly, and it’s really not very creative, but it is appropriate…because SHE IS a tiny vamp. I am aware it’s not particularly nice or mature to refer to your innocent offspring as a mythlogical monster. When Nathan betsowed the moniker in her first few months of life, I more or less scolded him. But his apt conclusion that she “never sleeps and sucks the life out of us,” made me realize he wasn’t entirely wrong and we must come to terms with possessing such a unique child. Fortunately her daytime demeanor makes up for having an insomniac demon of the night.
In my younger days I had many legitimate fears of procreating, but my biggest hesitation was sleeplessness. I love sleep. I NEED sleep. I envy those who thrive on 3-4 hours of slumber; I cannot. If left to my own devices, I would regularly and happily sleep 9 1/2 hours per evening and awaken feeling like a champ. So as fate…or karma…would have it, we have a sleepless kid. I remind myself multiple times a day this is a small price to pay for an otherwise healthy, happy, pretty awesome toddler. But when you’re 90 minutes into the nightly
hell routine, parent switch-off #3 and enjoying kick/knee/punch in the face #17 of the inevitable wrestling match that ensues, it’s hard not to get a little huffy, so…bear with me. Hold up, I’ve mentioned before that our sweet girl isn’t a good sleeper? Let me justify my repetition…
I place 80% of the blame on my husband. You see, before we had kids he talked big of being the disciplinarian, the “enforcer,” the “iron fist” of our parental partnership. But he is a big. Fat. LIAR. It all started the day Hazel was born. The labor, delivery and postpartum period in the hospital turned out to be unexpectedly and uniquely complicated. I’ll spare you the details, because most people don’t gravitate toward pregnancy horror stories, but I know that with everything that happened Nathan was a bit traumatized and more than a little fearful for both his wife and newborn. Fortunately Hazel came out 100% healthy but he – thankfully – refused to leave my side until I was “in the clear” and stayed every night with me in the hospital. The angels of nurses kindly offered to take Hazel to the nursery so I could get much-needed rest (although their more vicious motive was clearly that they could maintain a better trajectory to jab my arms 132 times for IVs and meds and other forms of torture), and I gratefully obliged. Just as I awoke from a brief slumber, my eyes met with the “enforcer” laying on the couch, nestled in with our newborn babe. In stealth mode he apparently wandered into the nursery, announced he was “taking the baby” and felt it was necessary to sleep alongside her because he “didn’t want her to be alone.”
Now at this point it didn’t really cross my mind that this could set a dangerous precedent. After all, she wasn’t even 24 hours old, I hardly had the energy to raise my head, and I didn’t have the mental capacity or motor skills to convey this might not be a good idea. Since we were head-over-heels smitten with the tiny blob of human goodness, I thought it was…sweet. Adorable. But the trend continued every night. Five nights later when I was finally released to go home, it didn’t get better. Somewhere between the never-ending diaper changes and the every 2 hour nursing binges and the fear and panic of being responsible for another life, sleep routine got pushed to the side and we did whatever was necessary to get her to sleep and to allow us to get more than 56 minutes of shut-eye.
To shorten what is becoming a longer story than I anticipated (are your eyeballs peeled?), I’ll fast forward through the next 12 months and say we tried everything – EVERYTHING – to get our child to sleep. I read every stupid book, every advice column/article/blog and took in nearly every bit of advice from friends/family members/coworkers/strangers in the parking lot (except for whiskey…might be effective, but…call me crazy…I couldn’t bring myself to give our infant hard liquor). Despite our best efforts and intentions, on the nights she didn’t end up in our room, most ended up a lil’ something like this:
To this day I don’t know how he managed his 6’1” frame in and out of that crib. But kudos to the manufacturers for handling a better-than-anticipated weight limit. Nap time was no better:
For months Hazel slept against Nathan, earning her the affectionate nickname “Armpit Monkey.” I put the kibosh on this sleeping arrangement when her sweet baby smell was overtaken by stale Old Spice deodorant. Despite a reluctant attempt, the cry-it-out method was torture for everyone involved, led to arguments and apparently only strengthened Hazel’s impressive will because at just over 11 months I found her climbing out and hanging over the edge of the crib. This feat conjured up images of broken limbs and bruised faces in my worrisome mind and ultimately led to us dismantling the crib and turning it into a “toddler bed.” Thinking this would somehow help matters, it instead initiated the ongoing debacle of Vampire-turned-Ninja Hazel crawling out of her new bed, walking into our room, and disturbingly, silently, unexplainably nestling herself into our own.
At the one year mark I finally stopped nursing. The first night sans-boobjuice, she slept….well. Nathan and I laughed. Benefits aside, I clearly should have cut her off sooner! What were we thinking? We high-fived, patted each other on the back and came to the conclusion it was the nursing all along. Then night #2 rolled around and after an hour and half of trying to get her to fall asleep, we realized we were oh so wrong. And now, without the mammaries, we were one weapon down in our arsenal of sleep-inducing tactics. Back to square one.
I’m happy to report the situation has improved a bit over the past year. Her middle-of-the night awakenings have, for the most, diminished to the one it takes to ninja her way into our bed (Call up Webster, did I just make “ninja” a verb?). The majority of the time we’re not even aware of it anymore, we just wake up and…surprise! Hazel is here. The going-to-sleep period remains a dramatic, ongoing saga. People generally feel we are exaggerating or kindly ask, “what are you going to do when the next baby arrives?” Which warrants the timid response: “I have no freaking idea.” The best routine we have mustered is the following: Dinner, bath, books, toothbrushing and BED. To maintain our sanity and health, we now alternate half-hour “shifts.” It is expected and required that the alternate parent “rescues” parent A at exactly – not a second more – 30 minutes (or face the wrath of the initial shift-taker). If during any shift parent A or parent B becomes overly frazzled, can be heard cussing or develops a back spasm from shifting/wrestling/toddler wrangling, the opposite parent is not required, but may – and to prevent bloodshed SHOULD – rescue the other. This process continues until sleeping beauty finally, effectively arrives in the land of nod.
I know, I know. I should probably go into more detail so you can take thorough notes and ensure you don’t miss out on ANY of our amazing, unprecedented, brilliantly clever strategy. If demand is high enough, we might publish a manual entitled, “How to Guarantee Your Child Will Be In Your Bed Until Kindergarten and You Never Get A Full Night’s Rest: Just 28 Simple Steps.”
In the meantime, we’ll be perfecting the art of child slumber and hope she turns out like this:
and not this: