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October 25, 2003

Enter Sandman

We've been having trouble getting Scotty M down at night for about a month now. Sainted Wife thinks he is teething, which may be true, though it seems an unduly long process. I think he's decided a tit nightcap and an extended cuddle is preferable to falling asleep on his own, something he had no trouble doing before his hernia surgery. Since then his mom has been on pins and needles around him, preferring not to let him out of her sight.....ever, really, as if only her eternal vigilance will keep the hernia fairy from visiting the house a second time.

This has, as one may imagine, caused some small friction between us come bedtime each night. Sainted Wife wants nothing more than to pick up Scotty M and comfort him once he starts crying. I, on the other hand, think we should let him scream until he exhausts himself and goes to sleep on his own.

This is in spite of the fact that his screams drive me nuts. I think it's an evolutionary response, that the extended wails of an infant trip an internal trigger somewhere in the male psyche, driving him towards action in an attempt to end whatever crisis is causing the child distress.

I suspect that back in the day, the cave day, wails for comfort and food were answered almost immediately, and thus short in nature. Kids stayed close to their mothers, so fulfillment of the normal demands of the day was close at hand. Long cries, on the other hand, were indicative of a crisis that could not be solved by a mother. Screams that can't be silenced by mommy are by definiton serious. Cries like that meant that it was time to fetch the medicine man, or kill the invading cave bear, and whose job was it do do that?

It was Daddy's job. Those extended guttural wails meant one thing, regardless of their proximate cause. "Time to get off your ass and do what needs to be done, else you'll never get back to sleep."

And surely, just like today, there were evolutionary dead ends, evil dipshits who solved the problem by shaking the baby to death.

Back when Ngnat was an infant, I gave the wife a scare, telling her I could understand why some fathers snap like that. Not that I ever did, or would, but an infant who won't stop screaming, whose problems seem not only beyond resolution, but beyond even understanding, is one of the most frustrating things on the planet. It's no surprise to me that men who haven't learned patience, immature assholes who never should have been fathers in the first place, end up injuring or killing the child they should have been protecting.

There but for the grace of god and the tiniest smidgeon of empathy go I, and you, and anyone else who has ever just held a screaming child because they can't think of what else to do, held them until the cries become sobs, and then sniffles, until there's a child asleep in their arms.

Come bedtime, it's tempting for me to let the wife use her magic breasts to calm Scotty down, but that's not really fair to her or to him, despite her desire to do so anyway. If he's unable to go to sleep without her, then what happens in the middle of the night when he wakes up in his crib? Either she gets up and holds him until he falls asleep again, or he learns how to go to sleep on his own.

For the last month or so the Sainted Wife has been getting up in the middle of the night to answer his cries, and it's starting to affect her. Why, there have been at least two days in that period where I've had to brew my own coffee in the morning.

The horror. The horror.

Most nights it doesn't appear to me that Scotty is in pain, or hungry, or in need of a burp. Normally what happens is that he screams, and screams, and then shuts up the minute his mother picks him up. Often he's asleep less than three minutes later. It's at this point I tell the wife she's being an enabler, if I'm feeling particularly stupid that evening.

Tonight I decided to try the Ferber method, which consists of putting Scotty to bed for the night, then returning to calm him down every so often, though not picking him up. The trick to doing this, at least for me, is to close the door to his room and remain within while Scotty screams his lungs out. Were I to leave the wife would pop in behind me and take matters into her own chest, deepening, at least from my point of view, Scotty M's bedtime addiction to her.

Of course, this also meant that I had to sit beside the crib and suffer through the screams. I got through it by counting the seconds in and between each tantrum, figuring that by doing so I might be able to spot a calming trend before Scotty fell asleep. I also needed something to keep me from going batshit insane, and counting things has always aided me in that task.

For the first fifteen minutes or so, Scotty averaged 125 seconds of tantrum for every 4 seconds of silence, most of which was used for catching his breath. After I talked him down a couple of times, or at least partially down, he finally calmed down enough to enter what was at least a semblance of sleep, albeit one that was interrupted about every 12 seconds by a catch in his breathing, almost like a cut-off sob.

He's been quiet since, and so far I've avoided the hubristic "I told you so" to the wife. Too early for that, in any case. I'll need at least another seven days of success before I can dance that particular step.

Posted by Bigwig at October 25, 2003 11:04 PM | TrackBack
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Oh, bless you! Who is to say which method is right? Probably both are right. Personally, I could never bear the crying, and guess what? You all outgrew it. I expect Scotty is just going through a period of separation anxiety--just beginning to realize he is not an extention of his parents. He will soon be on to another phase and will leave this one behind. The next one could be worse! Sorry about your having to cook your own coffee. So sad.

Posted by: yomamma at October 26, 2003 02:20 PM

I am with you. Let screeching kids wail. They'll get over it and it will eventually teach them independence. Be strong.

Posted by: Kehaar at October 26, 2003 04:42 PM

Been there. Done that. With twins. I would go in,and it would be an hour or so before they were back to sleep. That went on for a couple of weeks.In the end, I let them cry it out, promising myself that I'd go in after 10 minutes to calm them down. (Keep in mind, I didn't nurse the boys, so...). I never had to go back in. They were out cold within 10 minutes. The rants went on for about a week. Then there was peace and quite in the house once again (just in time for dear hubby to get back from sea duty with the Navy. Go figure!)

Posted by: Beth at October 26, 2003 05:21 PM

Amen, and my thanks to Ferber. That's what I did with both my kids, and they're teenagers now and I still turn to that book for the occasional sleep problem.

Posted by: Kris Hasson-Jones at October 27, 2003 12:40 PM

Depends on the child. And on the parent. I have a friend whose daughter literally would not go to sleep at night without a cuddle. She's been a difficult sleeper her entire life, and is going to be one hell of an all-nighter champion once she gets to college. She seems to thrive on lack of sleep. It's astonishing.

Of course, you can't throw shoes at them. That's what I do when my cats wake me up in the middle of the night.

Posted by: Meryl Yourish at October 29, 2003 11:05 PM
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