Baby Elle doesn’t sleep like her baby friends, and now her parents worry they’re failures.
When a baby is born, her parents are perfect.
They have never left her too long in a wet diaper, or kept her up too late, or gotten too enthusiastic when clipping her fingernails. They have spent nine months, or longer, envisioning themselves as parents; parents who always install the car seat correctly, wash the baby’s clothes in baby-safe soap and keep the house clear of choking hazards.
That perfection lasts about a day, if they’re lucky, because then reality swoops in, fresh on the tails of Mr. Stork. All of those well-laid parental plans and ambitions run headlong into Real Life, which is much more disordered and opaque than the shimmering visions of parental perfection envisaged during pregnancy.
I have lately feared that my parenting skills have faltered, or worse, that I have downright failed in a certain, important dimension of parenthood. That is sleep, or more accurately, how my daughter doesn’t.
Sleep, or Elle’s regular, lengthy lack thereof, has emerged as the first “problem” Craig and I have encountered as parents. This now-nebulous concept – sleep – has recently sent us scrabbling for advice in the interminable minefields of child psychology books, or the less exacting but still daunting empire that is Grandma’s Opinion.
Two weeks ago, we didn’t think we had a sleep problem lurking inside those fuzzy fleece pajamas. Elle hung out with Mom and Dad until she fell asleep. She woke up a few times a night to nurse and then fell back asleep. Her crib was for stuffed bunny rabbit storage, our bed winning over most nights as the place she did her sleeping, in four- to five-hour increments. And all of that was fine… or, I suppose, all of that was just what we’ve come to expect as normal during these last nine months.
Then we stayed with friends in Denver who have babies who like to sleep. And that rocked our entire world. Suddenly, we weren’t the Attachment Parenting role models we thought we were. No, we were simply a couple of hacks suffering from sleep-deprivation who have unwittingly, through ignorance, laziness, whatever, created a monster. Yes, a child that does not like to sleep in a crib. And will not go to sleep without a fight.
Imagine my disbelief when, upon the clock striking 8 p.m. on the evening of our arrival at Susie and Ben’s, their 7-month-old son was carried upstairs, put into his crib, the door shut, and not seen again until 7 the next morning.
Gus is just an angel baby, I told myself as Elle proceeded to do her “Baby Work” until nearly 10 p.m. that evening, after which she refused to settle into the Pack ’n’ Play and whose presence on an already crowded futon made for a restless first night in Denver.
Then we visited our friends Kalee and Andrew. I was nursing Elle in their 14-month-old son Derek’s room when Kalee came in to put him down for a nap. “Oh! Sorry, she’s almost done,” I told her, sure that the drawn out taking a nap process would be nearly impossible for Derek if Elle and I were in the room.
“No problem! Take your time,” Kalee said, plunking Derek into his crib and walking out of the room.
He looked at me for a while. Then he walked around the crib. Then he whimpered a little bit, laid down in the crib and closed his eyes. I was mesmerized. Is this really happening? Is this truly how this child takes a nap?
I resisted the urge to poke the now-sleeping child, just to make sure he was for real. Elodie was, of course, still awake.
Why isn’t our daughter like my friends’ kids, who go to sleep at naptime and sleep through the night? The path to my current position as a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mother must have been flawed all along! I should be able to put her to sleep, without a fight, at 8 p.m., and have the rest of the night to do as I please! Like sleep for a full eight hours, if I so feel like it. And she should be able to be put in her crib when it’s time to take a nap, without screaming her head off.
In an attempt to stave off my feelings of inadequacy and parental failure, I have embarked upon a quest to get my baby to sleep – or, more appropriately, a baby who sleeps on my schedule. Is this an achievable goal? I’ll keep you posted.