When Sam is on-call for work, it’s sort of a known factor that I’ll be doing everything by myself for a week. This is fine, it’s better by about a million and a half miles than him being gone every other week like his old job required; I can do a week “alone” every other month. No problem.
Except last night, when it was a problem.
Sam’s phone rang at 6:22 p.m. with a power emergency he left to tend. (Did you know that happens? Like, when you call the power company because your lights are off, or you just ran into a power pole with your car- someone is leaving their house to come help you. Fact.)
So, his phone rings, he leaves, and it’s 6:22 p.m. Do you have small kids? Do you have any kids at all? Do you know what is happening at 6:22 p.m. in a home with children?
Everything. That is what’s happening. Every feeling, every emotion, every complaint, every need, every chore, everything is happening. My mom calls it the witching hour, aptly named, because your children will indeed turn to witchcraft and evil spells for the next 2 hours until they are sound asleep.
Or actually, maybe it’s because the mom turns into a witch for the next two hours until they are sound asleep?
I’m not actually sure. Either way, aptly named.
At 6:22 at our house last night, dinner was almost over and the kids were ready for a bath. Which, spelled out a bit further, meant that my kitchen was torn apart by dinner preparations, my table and floor were torn apart by dinner consumption (and food throwing by my youngest, WHY SAMMY WHY) and the kids were dancing around naked in the bathroom while straining to get into the bathtub filled with warm water. This is normal, because we usually split ways after dinner, me to the bathing arena and Sam to the kitchen, me cleaning our slippery children while he cleans all the dishes and dinner mess. It’s a good system, except when he leaves in the middle of our loud little circus. This was also, interestingly enough, the night I had prepared myself to throw down the hatchet and make the baby “cry it out” for bedtime.
The last week or so (or even more? I don’t know. Life has been a blur of travel, holidays, and illness) Sammy has been terrible at night. He falls asleep fine, but then he is up constantly, from about 10:30 on, wanting to nurse or play or cry or whatever his dumb baby brain is thinking about at that particular hour. Like most bad habits that my children start to exhibit, it snuck up on me, one instance at a time. We slept in 4 different houses in 4 consecutive weeks when we were traveling last month, so I had a lot of grace for my kids and their sleeping needs. Especially because we were staying in other people’s homes and I didn’t want any unnecessary crying or bedtime shenanigans, more often than not I was rocking, singing, and nursing when it was time to go sleep, and way more often than not, both kids ended up in my bed sometime during the night. But. Now we are home. Now it is time to settle back in to routine. Both kids in their beds at 7:30 p.m. and falling asleep on their own and staying asleep until morning. Right?
Wrong, says Sam the Fifth. Very wrong, Mama. Now let’s play “bite the mommy and daddy until they wake up and play with me” one more time tonight, whaddya say?
Egads. That is what I say.
So last night! Was the night! When I was going to put my tired foot down on my drool covered wood floors and say Go The #$%& To Sleep, Baby Sam!
After many splashes of bath water, a wrestling match into pajamas (Sammy, that is. Clara is an angel at bedtime, seriously), a toy cleanup whirlwind, and reading a book, it was time for bed. I tucked Clara in her bed, rocked Sammy while singing a few Christmas carols, then laid the baby in his crib and tiptoed out of their shared nursery. Sammy immediately started crying. I cursed.
Cut to 45 minutes later:
After several failed attempts to lightly pat Sammy’s back and lay him back down, after a few hugs, after a few desperate “It’s night-night time, buddy. It really is!” in my most convincing voice, he was still crying. Standing up, shaking the bars of his crib, furiously crying. And of course his poor tortured sister was also crying, because unlike the maniac across the room, she actually wanted to fall asleep.
I gave up on the “put them to bed in their own beds” mantra and carried a very upset Smoochie to our room, along with an armload of her pillows, stuffed animals (“my guys, mama. Don’t forget my guys!”) and settled her into my bed. Where she continued to cry, asking me to fall asleep with her, too tired to be rational at this point. But not, as it turns out, too tired to watch an episode of Bubble Guppies. Thank God for those weird mermaid kids.
23 minutes later:
Sammy still wailing intermittently. Bubble Guppies end credits rolling. Me speed reading tips on crying it out at 11 months old. Clara still awake. In perhaps the best parenting move of my day, I press play and let Clara watch the exact same Bubble Guppies, again. In case you’re counting, it’s close to 10 p.m. at this point and she is about to get 46 minutes deep into a cartoon haze. I’ll pick up my mothering award at the door, thanks a bunch.
23 more minutes later:
Bubble Guppies is almost over. The baby is still upset. I am slumped against the three feet of wall between our room and the nursery, my phone the only light in the hall, defeatedly reading bedtime tips for babies. Suddenly I find a list about “crying it out,” a sort of “are these things true of your baby?” list to help you determine why they’re waking up during the night.
-Will he only fall asleep with a binky? No. He hates binkies.
-Will he only fall asleep while nursing or drinking a bottle? No. He nurses in 5 minutes flat.
–Will he only fall asleep to music or rocking? No, he can skip either one.
-Does he nap well during the day? At least 4 hours combined.
-And most importantly, Does he fall asleep on his own? YES. Always has.
“Your baby does not need to cry it out. He needs to be night-weaned. Slowly and gently.”
OH GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN. Why have I been torturing my son all night? WHY AM I THE WORST MOM EVER? And why didn’t I read this stuff before we started?
I rush in and pick up my sad son. I cradle him to me and tell him I’m sorry. I climb in my bed next to Clara, turn off the tv, pull both of my tired babies close to me. I nurse Sammy while Clara snuggles up against his back, both of us kissing his head resting between us. He drifts off to sleep but his sister is still awake, breathing slow and even in the dark. I feel her delicate hand reaching across the pillow, searching for me. She touches my cheek and then presses her hand to my chest, right where my heart lays beneath my sternum. She’s done this since she was a baby; impatiently pulling open my robe or tugging aside my shirt to rest her cheek or her hand on my heartbeat. It’s been such a long night, alone, making decisions and unmaking them and feeling so tired before we had even begun; I am so tired. Clara drapes herself around her sleeping brother and falls asleep with her fingers brushing against the warmth of my beating heart.
I laid there for a few minutes, praying over my kids and feeling so thankful for their lives. I took a picture of them sleeping and sent it to their dad. I crept out of my room and cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned, took out trash, measured coffee grounds for the next morning, turned off lights and blew out candles, brushed my teeth and crawled back in my bed full of babies. I tucked myself around them and fell asleep with a sigh.
Parenting is so hard. Parenting is so amazing. Parenting makes me cry happy tears and sad tears and frustrated tears, all in the same hour. Parenting is the gift of real, messy love. The gift of perspective.
Parenting is a small hand holding your heartbeat, counting on the steady rhythm of your blood and breath to make sense of the great big world beyond their sleepy eyes.
And all of that,
every bit of it:
is so, so good.