Thursday, February 10, 2011

Seven Minutes in Heaven - Sleep Update

Yes, my kid is turning one in three days. Yes, she's walking and talking. I have a ton of cute stories, pictures, and photos. But I want to talk about sleep. Maybe you remember my blog entry from a few months back about the best and worst seven minutes of my life?

I'll refresh your memory in a paragraph. For the first nine months of Thora's life we co-slept happily. But then, on a dime, she became a ravenous all-night nurser and neither of us could sleep a wink. I just couldn't get her off my boob. Transitioning her into her room slowly sorta worked, but for every two steps forward she made one back and I was running out of patience. So in a desperate moment of extreme sleep deprivation, we deposited Thora in her crib and left her to soothe herself to sleep for seven agonizing minutes. They felt like seven years. They were horrible and traumatic to me. But she slept.

I guess that sort of semi counts as crying it out? While I absolutely understand that if you follow CIO or Ferber or whatever other sleep "trainer" is all the rage, your child will sleep much longer much faster, I am still opposed to it all because arbitrary rules about how long to ignore your screaming kid really just don't make any sense to me. Even if it "works" in the end, just leaving Thora there to cry is a means I just can't live with. And seven minutes may not seem like a long time, but it is, especially when you are watching the clock and pretending not to hear your kid choke and splutter. So we never did it again. And thankfully, most of the time we don't even have to.

I hate to jinx myself, but it does appear that we are on a general upswing. If I had to plot Thora's sleep progression on a chart, I would see a trend towards sleeping longer and more uninterruptedly. The last four out of five nights she has gone down without any fuss and woken up at most only once in the night to nurse. Three nights ago before bed I planted a book and two toys in her crib so that she might learn to amuse herself when she wakes up. The next morning I opened my eyes and there was light streaming in around the edges of the light-blocking blinds. I panicked. 7:30! Latest morning ever! I tiptoed past her bedroom door and sipped tea and read Time magazine while Johnny dozed. Thora slept on until we got nervous and got her, close to 8 am. She was smiling, holding the music shaker I'd planted for her. The next morning all we heard was the music from the pressing of buttons on a musical keychain. That was an incredible sound. We snuggled around the monitor. "You hear that?" "I hear it." "How cute is that?" "Oh my god I know. I miss her. Let's go get her."

Of course there are always outliers in a charted trend. One big fat giant tear-splattered draining exhausting outlier in particular.

Before we moved in, we - or rather Johnny and his friends and his mother - painted the bedrooms. And since we moved in, I've been wanting to paint the rest of the apartment. I hate white walls. They scream just hospital or classroom or dorm room. But it took us, quite possibly the nitpickiest people in the world when it comes to color, forever to decide a theme. First it was disappointing that we couldn't just paint everything Tim Burton black, white, and grey. But with a blue-grey theme in our bedroom and a lavender theme in Thora's room, we got brave. We picked... green.

Now, call me crazy, but the green really works! It's a little limey, a little Kermit-the-Froggy. But I like it. Anyway, getting it on the wall was a different story. Last March, after painting the bedrooms until he was dropping of exhaustion, Johnny was bailed out by our friend M who painted tirelessly into the wee hours. (Thank you again, M!) Resolving never to do that to a friend or to ourselves again, we decided we would pay to have the rest of the house painted. But it's not like we're rolling in money, so a professional was out. We asked the part-time porter in our building, who assessed the space and with a confident nod, assured us he could do the whole job in a day and for $200. Who could argue with that?

He agreed to come on a Saturday at 9 am. I agreed to take Thora and spend the day at my parents' apartment in Queens. Skeptical that he'd get everything finished in one day, we planned that I would spend the night there with the baby. My parents were delighted. I, on the other hand, was sick and exhausted at the end of a long and stressful week and very nervous at the prospect of trying to juggle my weekend obligations with a possibly overnight visit to my parents.

We got up very early on Saturday. By 8:30 I was mostly packed. By 8:50 the painter called and said he'd be late. By 9:15 I was overwhelmed and Johnny was cranky. At 9:50, our painter strolled in. And he had company. "My brother-in-law," he explained. "I brought him to help."

I headed out, pushing the stroller with one hand and pulling my suitcase behind me with the other, and left Johnny with his new buddies.

Truth be told, Thora and I had a really nice afternoon with my folks. She even napped well twice lying in my arms, which made me sleepy, so my mom tried to entertain her while I napped but she was on me like white on rice.

She had a good dinner and played well into the evening. She had such fun discovering toys my mother had for her, pressing buttons, grabbing everything, pulling out leaves and petals from my mother's copious dried flowers, pointing and shouting "plant! plant!" the whole time. She got tired right on schedule, around 7 pm. A pack n' play just like ours materialized but I knew she had a snowball's chance in hell of having a good night's sleep in it where we put it, and we didn't have an alternative spot. My parents, trying to be helpful, pulled out the couch in the guest room. There weren't enough pillows in their four bedroom apartment to surround my wiggly baby safely. I knew I could be looking at a long night of holding Thora, sitting motionless and miserable for hours and hours.

I stuck it out for about 45 minutes. She was so deeply asleep that I got brave and put her down in the pack n' play. Before she even hit the mattress, she was awake. I offered pinky, to no avail. She wailed and stood up, holding her arms out and saying "up!" We moved into the guest room and lay down on the pull-out bed. She fell asleep nursing. I plumped up the pillows and as I backed away, I hoped that she would stay still. She didn't. An hour later I heard screaming. I raced into the room and found her dangling off the mattress, an arm stuck in the metal frame of the sleeper. There was no putting her back to sleep. At that point - close to 9:30 - she wasn't interested in sleeping at all.

We gave in and played. I figured she would get tired again eventually. But she didn't. She did stay clingy however. This kid was like glue! I couldn't put her down. 10 came and went. 11. By midnight, my parents went to bed. Thora and I again lay down together on the pull-out couch and I started awake twenty minutes later with her again dangerously close to the edge. I closed the pull out-couch and settled in to sleep sitting up, with the baby in my arms. I put her down - but only long enough to grab a blanket to drape over myself. Instant screaming and wailing. I heard footsteps of concern from the apartment above us. Lights went on. My parents got out of bed and tried to help. I called Johnny in despair. He had just wrapped up painting for the night; they were not even close to done. He was in his own version of despair, knowing that he had to get up and spend all of Sunday painting with two strangers just like he did all day Saturday. There was nothing he could do. With the painting only halfway finished, we could not come home.

What really blew about this whole thing is that I knew darn well if I could put Thora down somewhere she'd be in the dark and safe and not freaked out, she would have gone to sleep in three minutes. She might have cried a bit, perhaps a little longer than she would at home, but she would have gone down. But I forgot her noise machine and her monitor. The pack n' play didn't fit in the room with the pull-out couch when the couch was pulled out. Anywhere the pack n' play did fit had nowhere for me to sleep comfortably. The pull-out couch wasn't safe for Thora. And no matter how I tried, I really could not hold her all night. And worst of all, the heat was blasting. She was sweating, I was cotton-mouthed. I was at my wits' end.

My parents were so sweet. Not that there was anything for them to do but to be kept awake by my cranky one year old. Determined not to let me suffer alone, they followed us into the living room and parked on couches on either side of Thora. I changed her from fuzzy PJs to a cotton onesie. I stretched out on the rug next to her. Soon it was 1 am and we were all dozing except for Thora. At that point she was completely engrossed in a musical plastic table that only sang the alphabet song in Spanish, dancing along in a sleepy, dreamy way like Audrey Horne dancing by the jukebox in the RR Diner. (From Twin Peaks.) It was totally surreal. Don't believe me? (Of course I was too tired when I filmed this to remember to hold the phone the right way. I can't rotate it, just tilt your head.)

Thora finally crashed at 2:13 right on the living room floor. This had been a seven hour process. Since I'd complained so much about the heat, my parents had opened every window in the house and I was now ice cold. Afraid she would wake up again if I went to pee or even got up to grab myself the blanket I'd left on the pull-out couch, I just pulled my coat over myself and curled up next to her. And we slept.

It was almost cute. Except that she woke up at 6:30 and was raring to go. I was so frustrated I wanted to cry. She continued throughout the entire day to be so fussy and clingy that I had to take her with me to go to the bathroom. My mother entertained herself by making Thora model hats that she knitted.

I couldn't wait for the painting job to be done.

By the time we got home she was tired again. I was not going to take any chances, so we went through our whole entire bedtime ritual. Dinner. Bath time. Bubbles. Baby massage with Earth Mama Angel Baby lotion. Pajamas. Quiet play. Lighting change. Noise machine. By 9 pm she was ready. She went down in minutes and, miracle of miracles, she stayed asleep until 6:30 am.

That was a tough, tough weekend. It makes a funny story, especially the club dancing with the Spanish alphabet song, but I don't ever want to do that again. It felt like someone swapped my kid for someone else's fussy, sleepless, cranky monster. Staying home with the paint fumes simply wasn't an option so I had no choice. But this is why I generally turn down evening invitations, why I am loathe to travel long distances with her, why I race home after work to be with her at bedtime. It only takes one night like that to make the nights she sleeps well feel like a gift from heaven.


  1. Wow. I relate in so many ways. Except the sleeping on the upswing. Yesterday Clementine had two naps: one 10 minutes long the other 20 minutes long. Today she refused to take an afternoon nap at all. And last night she woke up almost every hour. I've let her cry for 10 minutes or more. More than once. And it doesn't get her any closer to sleep.

    But that is pointless. What I really want to know is how you massage her still. About a month ago Clementine started to flip, wiggle, squirm and lunge during any sort of diaper change, dressing or massage. Massage lasts 12 seconds. How do you do it???

  2. Oy, sounds like a rough weekend! But at least you got a cute video out of it...


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