To set up this post I’d like for you to imagine me wearing a helmet and sitting underneath my desk in an attempt to avoid the rocks and sharp objects and possibly dirty panties that will be aimed straight at my face. Because there are few other topics that divide parents as much as the one I’m going to bring up. It’s kind of like politics and religion, things one does not bring up in mixed company, except I will not be called a heathen or referred to as elitist liberal scum after this. Instead, I’m going to be known as a baby killer.
Internet, when Leta was five months old, I let her cry herself to sleep. Hello, my name is Heather, and I am the worst kind of monster. The kind who just wants one goddamn night of sleep.
I wrote about sleep training Leta a few times and was told in no uncertain terms that when I die and am standing at the judgment bar of God that he will not bring up all those times I had sex before I was married, or that handful of times I smoked pot and got so paranoid that I locked myself in a closet — the police wouldn’t look in there! — or the fact that I find Bill Clinton really sexy, no. God is going to shake his head and ask me why I didn’t love my baby. And then I’d be sentenced to share a bunk with John Gotti in a cell next to the public toilets in hell.
The sleep thing with Leta was a really complicated issue. She wouldn’t nurse during the day, and she’d catnap at night, waking every thirty to forty-five minutes to eat in an attempt to make up for all the eating she didn’t do during the day. And she was colicky, liked to scream and scream and then scream some more. She did all of the screaming for everyone in the world. Also, she refused to be held or comforted in any way. So it really wasn’t a matter of whether or not I loved my baby. We had tried everything short of placing her in a basket and setting it afloat in a river with a note attached that said WILL BITE IF PROVOKED.
So we let her cry it out, and it was really hard. Like, really, really hard. And I am gonna bet that I did more crying than she did. But when it was over she slept through the night, again and again and again. And she’s been a great sleeper ever since with the usual hiccups here and there during transitional or stressful periods. Even now, we read a book and then she goes to sleep at 7:30 PM. Every night. And very rarely she will bring up those nights when she cried and I didn’t come to get her:
“Why didn’t you come when I cried, mom?”
“Because I didn’t love you, Leta.”
My philosophy with parenting has always been that you do what you have to do to make you and your family a functional unit. Whatever works. I wanted to co-sleep with Leta, but she wanted none of it. Zero parts of it she wanted. And so when Marlo was born I decided that I would just go with the flow, watch her cues and not force anything. And so far it’s worked out phenomenally, and she has taken the lead, although already she is breaking my heart.
First, we slept together. I nursed and she fell asleep on my body, and that continued for several weeks. But then she made it clear that she’d rather sleep on the bed beside me. And then she was like, “You know what? I don’t like it here beside you, either. I’d like my own space, thank you very much.”
So I put her in a co-sleeper beside the bed. And that worked for several weeks, until she started to wake up every hour. That turned out to be her way of saying, “Mother, I’d like my own room. And how about a cell phone with unlimited texting.”
And that’s where we are. She goes down at 6:30 PM in her nursery, wakes at about 2 AM to eat, and then wakes for the day at 7AM. I sleep with a monitor in my room, and when she stirs I get up and walk to her room to feed her. I don’t mind this at all. In fact, I love those moments together alone with her in the silence and warmth of her room. And after I put her back down and walk back to my room I marvel at how lucky she and I are this time. Because that’s exactly what it is: luck.
And I didn’t think I was going to bring this up, I was just going to plow through this entry and get it up and then maybe go outside and breathe a bit, but it makes so much sense now. The life and the beauty and the luck of Marlo, a kid who looks just like my Granny Boone when she smiles, my Granny who died about an hour ago. That’s a whole other post I will get to when I pull it together, but I’m so overwhelmed at the juxtaposition of life and death, even in an entry about getting my rotten kids to sleep. Yes, rotten and wonderful, all of it, the push and pull, the agony and joy and work of what it means to be a part of a family.