Hundreds of books have been written about babies, toddlers and sleep. You may even own one, or seven of them. You may have been asked to read one by your partner at two in the morning, when you thought you were being extra helpful by suggesting a transition into the crib before dawn. You may have even skimmed said book on a flight from Minneapolis to Laguardia, somewhere in-between binges of Homeland and the crack-laden Delta cookies they doll out. The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Ferber Method, The Cry it Out Book for Horrible Parents who will Definitely Scar Their Children, Turning them into Sociopathic Serial Killers, the list goes on and on. I can’t forget my all-time favorite, The No Cry Sleep Solution, which is actually a book for kinder, more gentle and morally superior parents at the end of their delirious ropes, who refuse to entertain the cry it out option. It’s the sleep book equivalent of your kid’s loose, dangling tooth that just needs a little tug so you can be on your merry way, but you just can’t bring yourself to yank it. This book should come with a forward that includes suggestions for family therapists and divorce lawyers within a two-mile radius. A disclaimer is necessary, a warning that your significant other might be sleep deprived and crazy enough to say sweet and reassuring things like “don’t even think about touching my nipples ever again.” This particular book should come strapped to a box of wine on wheels with a reusable funnel.
All of this sleep stuff isn’t simple, it’s certainly not easy, like almost all things parenting. There is not a one size fits all onesie for sleep. So why do we torture ourselves over a stage that will ultimately be a bleary-eyed blip on the radar? Because we can’t help ourselves, that’s why. All of us have that one friend whose kid sleeps seven to seven like clockwork, would sleep through an earthquake, naps twice a day in a crib for two hour stretches at a time. We are sleep deprived and crazy and we start to compare our sleepless lives to the well-rested Joneses. This phase, also known as the "self-loathing trapped under a baby blues so I'll eat a pint of Talenti with a grapefruit spoon" is only going to make you crankier.
That goddamn Chupacabra of newborns sleeps for twelve hours without waking up. How dare they have it so easy, you’ll silently whisper. No wonder they go out on a lot of dates, you’ll finally mutter out loud, pouring your third cup of coffee before the sun is up. I guess that means they can actually put their kid down on a non-human surface without it crying. Is that a thing? People can actually lay their kids down on objects? How nice that must be, you’ll find yourself crying. Why can’t we have this sleep thingy too? You’ll say to your partner, the one whose nipples you’re now banned from visiting. Not even conjugal visits until the child is no longer nursing or heading off for college, whichever comes first. Must you wear the baby like a sloth from sunup to sundown? Even sloths have to detach from their mothers to forage for leaves at some point, a tidbit of information you absorbed while watching the third installment of Wild Kratts in a row with your four-year-old, because you were too tired to move or get up to go to the bathroom. Why can’t she just forage in her own crib, you’ll ask? She needs to forage; she needs to forage goddammit!
More than ten thousand times the number of sleep books exist today than they did when I was an infant back in the seventies. In 1974, you were lucky if you had a proper crib that didn’t kill you if you stuck your head through the metal guillotine bars. Car seats? Those are for fancy parents. Who needs car seats when you have a convertible Mercedes without seatbelts and your big sister’s lap to sit on. The floor is also a great spot for a baby, if you’re wondering. Nothing reduces the risk of head injury or death quite like being wedged between your father’s briefcase and a windshield ice scraper. Times have most certainly changed since my parents were raising four kids in a foreign land filled with lawn darts and three martini lunches. Most of that change has been for the better, of course. There’s been a lot of progress in understanding what causes SIDS, for instance. Smoking and falling asleep on the couch with your infant on your chest while watching Johnny Carson, not such a great idea. We’re no longer told to place a washcloth soaked in whisky into our child’s mouth when they are a bit feverish or teething. Much more research now points to the emotional impact on a child’s development if they are repeatedly hit or spanked for misbehaving. Getting whacked with a wooden spoon if you spill an entire bottle of finger paints on the white shag would send Janet Landsbury into a tailspin. I’m glad there’s been so much progress.
With all of our well-meaning effort to hear and acknowledge our children’s feelings, we’re left second-guessing our own decisions and behavior more and more. And the truth is, there’s not a sleep “solution” that will work for all. That’s why there are so many books on the subject. If you want to sleep with your baby suspended from the ceiling upside down to imitate the natural sleep patterns of fruit bats, I’m sure there’s a book out there for you that will validate that decision. I read an article not too long ago about a family that custom built two sets of bunk beds on either side of their own queen bed to accommodate their kids who constantly came into their room at night, looking for a warm body to snuggle. Do I think that the father must be some sort of twisted Ikea furniture assembling genius? Definitely. Did the sleep hack mean that his entire family got more sleep? Without a doubt.
The moral to my convoluted and booze filled story is that you should try, to the best of your ability, to focus on what works for you and your family and not to worry so much about that Chupacabra neighbor baby of the same age, who loves to sleep and nap on demand, who can also recite Spanish poetry and scenes from The Big Lebowski while your kid hasn’t rolled over yet. This too shall pass. The sloth baby will become a toddler who sleeps on her own and you will, eventually, be allowed to have a few unmonitored conversations with the nipples that lay beside you. You can do this thing. I’m cheering you on every step of the way.