My son is a good sleeper. He was born big at 9 lbs, 9 oz and after just a month, he began sleeping in stretches, letting my husband and I piece together four or five hours of rest at a time.
By the time he was 3 or 4 months old, he would sleep soundly for 10 hours at a time as long as I remembered to dream feed him a few hours after he first drifted off.
When he was 13 months old, we transitioned him to his own crib, in his own room. It felt odd at first, not hearing his night noises, the little snuffles and grunts that had become the background noise we fell asleep to each night, but it felt good, too. I relished being able to talk with my husband before we fell asleep and getting ready in my own room in the morning instead of gathering my clothes and sneaking into the hall bathroom.
My son is almost two now and he knows his bedtime routine well. He loves his bath, his stories and his special pajamas. On a usual night he leads the routine, instructing me on the steps, pushing towards rest as soon as he feels tired.
Despite his usual good temperament when it comes to bedtime and naps, he does have the occasional bad night or bad week. This week has been one of them. He's been happy each evening as I begin his bedtime routine but just as I lay him in his crib, he balks. He bucks backwards, clings to my neck and screams, loudly and firmly, “NO CRIB, NO BED."
The first night I assumed there was something wrong with his bed so I took out the mattress, remade it with his softest sheets, and placed his favorite stuffed owl in the top corner. Still, when I tried to lay him down I was met with a firm, desperate, “No mama. No crib, no bed."
I tried to lay him down anyway, hoping he wouldn't resist but he clung to my collar and twisted his fingers into my hair. I pried him off, laid him down, and tried to leave the room. He cried out, desperate and sad, needing me, so I went back in, sat down on the floor and held his hand through the bars of his crib.
We never did cry it out. I thought I might try it early on but the first time his cry hit my ear, a cry of sadness I knew I had the power to stop, I went back in and picked him up. There would be so much in his life I couldn't solve with a hug—I felt I should take advantage while that was all he still needed to feel better.
The transition into his room was scary for my baby so I sat with him, each night, for a whole month as he got used to it.
I started out in the crib with him, holding him close and letting him know he was safe.
The next week I sat next to his crib, holding his hand.
The week after, I sat in the middle of the floor, equidistant from his crib to the door.
In the final week I stood in the doorway, whispering occasional comfort as he learned to sleep on his own.
Each night I spent at least 40 minutes waiting with him and, though it may not seem long, when you have just the few hours between his sleep and your own to prepare for the next day, make lunches, and finish work, standing still when there is so much to be done can seem painful.
I was proud of myself when I laid him down, a month after we began the process and kissed his cheeks, sang his song and walked out the door. He didn't call out or stir and was able to sleep all on his own.
The time and effort I put into creating a sweet, tear-free bedtime routine makes it all the more difficult when my son has a hard sleep week. I wonder if I've done something wrong or if maybe I should have just let him cry. I wonder if he's sick or having nightmares or if something happened at preschool.
Each night for the past 12 days he has fought sleep and cried out for me to hold his hand, for water, or for “more song." I've rocked him and cuddled him and held his hand and sung to him but the moment I try to slip out, even if he's been still for 15 minutes, he snaps awake and cries out.
So night after night, I've found myself sitting in the dark, quiet and still, waiting it out, 45 minutes,60 minutes, 90 minutes. I use the time to make shopping lists in my head or brainstorm Christmas presents. If I'm feeling particularly frustrated, I try to reflect on all the beauty in my son, the curve of his cheek, the bridge of his nose, the smell of his hair, and to remember that this too shall pass and one day I'll look back and wonder where my small boy went.
And that's parenting really—you do all you can but sometimes you still find yourself sitting in the dark, waiting it out, trying as hard as you can to remember how quickly it will all rush by.
Maybe your dark is a preschool conference as the teacher tells you that your child's been biting again or the doctor's office as they diagnose the third ear infection of the year. You shake your head in frustration and wonder what else you could have done, wonder why nothing is working.
For me, right now, my dark is literal. As my boy grows, though, as his world expands and his problems shift outside of his crib, my dark may become murkier and my "waiting it out" longer. I hope that when these changes come, I'll hold onto my confidence, my patience and my ability to sit quietly in the dark.