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On Sleep Training and Kung Pao

After last week’s entry, I think a lot of you must have prayed that Thing Two would start sleeping through the night because that very evening she went 8 hours. Eight hours! It was as if the Holy Spirit had convicted her of sin — not honoring her mother and father — and she responded in faith.

The day before, a friend called saying she was determined to put her baby through Baby Boot Camp that week — she and her hubby were going to bed with earplugs and a handle of whiskey — which inspired me to suck it up and let Maddie cry through that 4:30 a.m. feeding. Yes. I was going to do this. I had to do this. I would forever be sick and tired if I didn’t do this. I drifted off that night like a soldier preparing for an early morning siege.

And then…it was 7:30 a.m.

I was on a high. This went on for two days in a row, Saturday being the pinnacle, when she slept a full TEN hours and I actually had to wake her up at 8:30 because we were going to be late somewhere. I assure you, nothing could have annoyed me on those days because even if my car had broken down or my jeans had been too tight or Heidi Montag had been on the cover of Us Weekly (yet again), at least I had slept. The Sandman and me, we’re back together again, long-lost loves reunited! I wanted to dress in black pleather and compulsively sing “We Go Together.”

Oh vanity, vain, vain vanity.

That’s when Daylight Savings ended. Whoever continues to insist that we shift our clocks all around every six months despite the fact the vast majority of us do not work on family farms must not have had children. Especially not baby children. Thing One, who is already an early riser, was now getting up at 5 instead of 6. And his little sister was once again getting up, except now at 3:30 instead of 4:30 a.m. It was like a party, but in different rooms and with no red plastic cups filled with trashcan punch.

I realized this wasn’t going to happen without a fight. Or a handle of whiskey.

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, the second most convicting book for me behind the Bible is my sleep-training book, which insists on a time and a place for letting the baby cry it out. And, like the 10 Commandments, I sincerely agree with this principle but find it very difficult to perform. Letting a baby cry in the middle of the night is like lying in bed while somebody beats your shins with a baseball bat. It’s the worst. It’s like meat hooks are embedded deep in the flesh of my torso, tugging, tugging, tugging me up out of bed and to my baby’s crib. But lo, suddenly I feel an alternate tug, a quieter tug, the tug of the Baby Sleep Spirit, which nudges me to exercise self-restraint and teach the baby to soothe itself. Oh, how badly I want to! Yes! I want to give my child the gift of sleep. But there’s no easy way through a 5 a.m. tug-o-war match with the meat hooks and baseball bats. I wake up the next morning more bruised, battered and emotionally raw than if I had just gotten up and fed the baby. I guess I’ve just lost some of my will of steel after Thing One, and even THAT will was defined, occasionally, by Oreo overindulgence and luxurious, lengthy flights of self-pity.

But it has gotten a little easier. For the past few mornings, she wakes up at 5:25ish, fusses — a little shorter each morning and with less conviction — and then falls back asleep and I thank the Sleep Spirit and vow to trust him more. Then I hear Drew start to stir; he turns on his light and dumps out all his blocks. 

I really hate that sleep is a skill to be learned by crying. Such a metaphor for the human condition, isn’t it? — life is just plain hard and the only way out is through, and hopefully you acquire skills to thrive in this hostile environment, kind of like a cactus. It’s more training for us mommies, really, who have to sit there and suffer despite our every motherly instinct to make everything in our baby’s life tear-free like the golden shampoo. This is good practice, I guess, for the years ahead — difficult school assignments where I want to take over because, after all, I majored in English, and for that day Drew wants to move back home because his job out of college just isn’t “fulfilling” anymore.

Gah. I’m really sounding like a hard ass right now.

But what I really am TRYING to say is how hard it’s going to be for me in the future because it’s already so hard for me now, and that sometime down the road I’m sure I will coddle, cover up and make excuses for my kids because it will be the easiest thing to do, the path of least resistance.  I won’t always be able to take the baseball bat bludgeons because I’m only human, after all.  Boy how I wish the “I’m only human” line was really viable.

Not that I shouldn’t ever try to help my kids. Kids do need help, grace, pacifiers and rocking chairs. The trick is nurturing them into greater levels of character and personhood all while making them feel loved and esteemed and safe.

(And they say coaching the Cowboys is a hard job. And by "they" I mean Wade Phillips.)

It reminds me of yet another new nickname I’ve come up with for Maddie/Thing Two: Kung Pao. Stick with me here, because I realize your threshold for my children’s weird nicknames is now probably small. It’s amazing how incredibly sweet and incredibly sour she manages to smell all at the very same time. Lavender fuzz mixes with sweet baby head oils up top, and then putrid crust of turning milk festering in her neck creases below. She’s both sweet and sour, a yummy broth of contradiction. Kung Pao. 

That’s how sleep training is, or any training we have to do as parents. Sour process, sweet victories. Delicious children.


Anybody got an Oreo?