Cheating Feels So Good
by Christy Carl-Sillman
I’m going to great lengths to write this column. I’m cheating. I’m breaking all the rules. I’m defying the experts and their advice. It’s true: I am writing this column on my BlackBerry with my sleeping son nestled in my arms.
When you have a child you have to teach them everything. Not just their multiplication tables or how to look both ways before crossing the street, but the basic functions of life. Read any baby book these days and you’ll get all sorts of advice on how to feed, develop communication, soothe, and even help your baby sleep. It’s called sleep training. Apparently some of us, my son included, are not born with the ability to fall asleep on our own. It is true that some children show sleepy cues and blissfully fall off to sleep when put down in their crib. I now believe this to be some urban myth which the government created to help advance our species.
Sleep training involves giving your child the opportunity to learn how to self-soothe and thus, they recover from interrupted sleep cycles independently. There are many different ways to approach “sleep training,” from the controversial “cry-it-out” method to bed-sharing options.
After reading many, MANY, books on infant sleep patterns, I will sum up what knowledge I have gathered.
If a child falls asleep in a swing, stroller, or in Noah’s case, a rocking chair in loving arms, the method for which they fell asleep must be continued for the duration of sleep. Otherwise the baby will wake up, discover they have been magically transferred to a stagnant cold crib, and freak out. The typical sleep cycle for a baby is around 30 minutes, so if the baby learns to rely on artificial means of soothing (swing, pacifier, parental touch … etc.) they will briefly awaken and not know how to get back to the next sleep cycle on their own. So the goal is to help your child develop self soothing techniques, so that for the rest of their life they are able to approach sleep in an independent and healthy manner.
Since my son Noah had colic, we went to great lengths to soothe him. We used every device, herbal potion, relaxation CD, and calming method out there to help find the solution to his constant fussiness. Ultimately we found that holding him close to us, with a pacifier, in the rocking chair would put him to sleep fairly quickly and give us some parenting peace. Magically, at 2 months old when I started a bedtime routine which includes rocking him to sleep and then placing him in his crib, he began sleeping almost through the night with perhaps one wake-up a night. That was a game-changer. Our major problem has been with his inability to nap.
The dilemma I have run into is that most of the “methods” of sleep training involve crying, and lots of it. It makes sense – If all Noah has known is that we comfort him to sleep in the rocking chair and then when we suddenly put him down to sleep in a motionless crib, he will not have any clue as how to help soothe himself to sleep, this will piss him off, and crying will ensue. He’s basically saying to us, “uhhhm, a little help here, I’m tired, and I just want to go to sleep but I don’t know how.” I just don’t really like the idea of leaving him to cry and suffer through figuring out how to soothe himself.
So in order to avoid major over-tired meltdowns, I let Noah nap on me after I rock him to sleep in the rocking chair. Noah is only five months old and that rocking chair already creaks like an old western bar door and has a big hole in the arm from where it rubs against the bookcase. It’s seen its rocking mileage. At first it was so nice to sit and hold my beautiful sleeping angel, but after a few days I got really bored.
So when Mr. David Lacy approached me about writing for iPinion I realized this would be the perfect way to pass the time while he slept in my arms. At first I used the quiet calm of Noah napping on me to let my mind wonder through possible columns. Then I discovered the notepad application on my BlackBerry and decided to write down my column ideas to be typed out later. I rarely found time to sit at a computer, so I decided to try and start typing one out on the BlackBerry notepad. Before I knew it I had the entire column written on my phone in the span of two naps. I was then able to email the note to myself and later edited/tightened it up on my computer. Using multitasking to the fullest, I’ve created a co-dependent relationship with my son.
Now, at five months old, Noah has become more socially aware, and his lack of self-soothing techniques is starting to cause problems within our previously solid night-time sleep. Also, with my return to work, we needed to provide his other caregivers (the granny-nannies) the break naps usually afford. I’ve also thought a lot about my own sleep issues and wonder if maybe insomniacs had parents who never taught them how to self soothe. Maybe I could save him from life-long sleep issues if I intervene now?
So we’ve gone with a cry method I feel most comfortable with. We put him down sleepy but awake, and then sit in the folding chair we set up next to the crib. When he starts to cry, we talk to him softly and repeat the sleep queue “sleepy-sleep Noah, I love you” to help him associate that phrase with sleeping.
He also has a comfort item (his monkey blankie) which we only give him in the crib. We can give him loving gentle touches as often as we want but we should not pat him to sleep, because he will associate that action with sleep and we could be patting him all night long. We can only pick him up as a last resort to help calm him down a bit. These are the rules, and consistency is the key to this methods success.
This method is what I am currently cheating on. It worked wonderfully; the crying record has only been 15 minutes, but most times it’s only taken five to seven minutes. Suddenly I had this freedom, and I about went crazy with all the possibilities. Cleaning, cooking, working on my ever looming thesis – the world was at my fingertips … well, the world within my home.
Now, though, I realize that I was getting as much out of our nap sessions as he was. In fact, I’ve discovered he is my writing muse. Without the peaceful lullaby of his snores I cannot dump my thoughts into my BlackBerry.
So I cheat. I do it because I need that time to be creative, and I do it because there will be a day, not too far away, where he will be older and sleeping in my arms will be a distant memory. Right now I cherish the moment, I cherish his cheek on my arm as I click away on my phone. Now, the real question is, can I write my thesis on my BlackBerry?