By the way, sleep training never ends

A friend dropped in for a visit recently, ten minutes after Michael had gone down for his afternoon nap. I was hovering around the front door, ready to pounce on my friend. Not for the purpose of giving a warm welcoming hug, but to loudly whisper “Shhhh! Baby sleeping!

After some excessively hushed chatter, she asked with some incredulity, “Does he have to sleep in total silence?” I don’t remember how I answered, because this has no easy answer. Empirical evidence suggests no, but sometimes yes. Its the yes part that freaks me out – that 5% chance that my baby might wake up from a loud hello in the living room while in a bedroom with the door closed. And what I couldn’t adequately explain was the context of it all: you see, for half of his short life, Michael was one heck of a lousy napper, and that has scarred my neurotic mommy brain for life.

If you’ve been reading this blog from the start, you know that Michael was plagued with the 30 Minute Intruder from 8 weeks to 5 months. That was a long, hard, really dreadful time. The awfulness was probably mostly my fault, for insisting that things be different when I really had no control over any of it. In any case, a significant amount of trauma has remained. Naps are something which I don’t take for granted. I can’t, not with this particular baby who still strictly sleeps 30 minutes in the afternoon about 40% of the time – a percentage which becomes 100 if we are out with his stroller. (By the way, he has recently developed the unfortunate ability to detect “fake” strolling while apparently fast asleep. While on holiday last month in Tahiti, I found myself marching up and down the supermarket aisles, unable to stop for more than 5 seconds or pace forward and backward, because he would start awake and whine. So if I wanted to so much as look at an item, I would have to take it off the shelf without breaking stride, and continue marching with it in hand, examining it as I rounded the corner to the other aisle and then back to return the item to its place on the shelf.)

So. Naps are absurdly precious, and I defend them with my life. I’ve been known to run into his room to cover his ears with a pillow if things appear to be getting too loud. Every time Michael goes up to 45 minutes, I shrug and accept it as an okay performance. If he makes it to one hour, I’m a little more than satisfied. Anything more than one hour, I give him a bright smile and crow “Champion!” when I go in to get him (pronounced “Shom-pyon” in French, which is just more satisfying somehow). Two hours or more gets a standing ovation and lots of frenetic gamboling in joy.

This ridiculous obsession with naps is something that I don’t expect everybody to understand, unless they have themselves gone through relentless lousy napping for a significant period. Months. The kind of lousy napping that responds to nothing – to CIO, to changes of location, to white noise, to black-out, to no black-out, to changes of awake timing, to everything that every book and internet forum suggests. My father, in typical old generation gruffness, used to snort and say dismissively, “Just leave him in the room and he will learn.” Um, no.

Coincidentally, at the very same time that this visit was going on (and I was learning that my friend’s 10 week old baby sleeps 3-4 hours in the afternoons, bless him) I was communicating with another friend about her 25 Minute baby, who is also a nap fighter to beat all nap fighters, it appears. It’s been a long battle for her, and a harder one than I ever had with Michael. She’s earned many stripes. Here she was, sharing that her baby had finally conked out for 20 whole minutes in the stroller, after fighting and missing his earlier nap. Victory, she said.

Amen, sister, amen.

Before I became a mother, I was the judgiest judger. I had some book knowledge, but I thought I knew everything, actually. I thought toddlers only had tantrums because their parents couldn’t shut them up. I thought babies who were rocked to sleep all the time were spoiled. I thought babies who didn’t sleep well just weren’t trained well. I thought every baby was a project, and project failure meant parental mismanagement.

And then I got a baby who was chronically lousy at something (heck, at many things) and I realised with deep horror that children are not problems which one can troubleshoot. We all try our hardest in our own clouded, inexperienced way – endlessly fiddling with different white noise soundtracks in the hopes that our baby will enjoy “Extreme Rain” if he didn’t like “Moving Train”, giving him pillow after soft toy after blanket after pacifier hoping he will find some kind of sleep association that doesn’t involve us and our tired arms, letting him cry it out alone in his room in varied shades of darkness and to different timings – 30 minutes, 45 minutes, one hour.

Sometimes, nothing works. For now.

Can I share with you my pride before I fell? From 4 months to 6 months, Michael was a dream to put down for a nap. He would only sleep a short nap usually, but he would go down without a peep. I would carry him into the darkened bedroom, and he would be sucking his thumb and closing his eyes before I even got to the crib. I gave myself high fives for good training and having an easy baby to put to nap. Then month 6 rolled round and well. That ended. Regression, progression, regression. The endless circles of training and educating that we now trek with blistered feet and weary hearts. There are mysterious wakings and mysterious not sleepings and we all scramble to find answers but most of the time it’s just the baby asserting his right to be totally inconsistent.

I try not to judge anymore, about anything. It’s hard to anyway, when so many times, my little project has abjectly failed to perform as he should. My kid has pretty much done everything your “naughty” kid is doing right now. Screaming tantrum because I didn’t let him crawl into the busy aisle? Check. Diaper war in the public changing room? Check. Not going to sleep when he should? Oh, absolutely. We all try to get our kids to hit particular milestones and be potty trained before they are ready and to give up their bottles and do this and do that but sometimes it’s just not happening right now. Which, I realise, doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Do what works, guys, do what works.

To the friend of the 25 Minute baby: you are doing everything right, mama. May our next children be born without alarm clocks in their heads.



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