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Sleep Wars

Ronan Get In the Car Its a Bear! As I nonchalantly look on,
Ronan is terrified by the flash of the camera,
which is often how he looks
as we’re trying to get him to go to sleep.
The person holding him
has been edited to protect their identity.


Humans would be so much more productive if they didn’t have to sleep a third of their life.

I dislike sleeping on one hand; it often comes when I least want to sleep, when I have papers or projects. Then when I do want to sleep, I find that I’m wide-awake. When I lay down to sleep, that’s when my demons – my fears and worries and paranoia – are at their worst. It’s as if I have little control over when I rest.

Ronan seems to be much the same way. Greeting the world as a six-month-old must be confusing and exciting all at the same time. Because I’m often rushing from one place to another, I don’t always take the time to let him explore the world and really identify it in that baby way – y’know, crushing it in your hands until it is dead and then stuffing it in your mouth. I feel bad about that sometimes but other times I’m glad that my baby didn’t notice the deadly choking hazard and kept right on going.

Sleeping seems to be a roadblock for Ronan’s understanding of the world. When he was only a few months old he would sleep on the subway, gently rocking with the car’s movement until he fell asleep. Now that he’s seven months old, he’s AWAKE, there’s STUFF TO SEE, and Dad, I’ll cry if you try to get me to sleep. I MIGHT MISS SOMETHING!

I’ve written about Terry’s baby whisperer technique, which involves standing over his crib holding him until he’s quiet, then putting him in the crib, then picking him up for a moment or two if he’s fussy until he quiets down, then starting the whole process over again. Terry is a baby whisperer kung-fu master, often getting him to sleep within five to ten minutes. I feel like twenty or thirty minutes later I’m still trying to get him just to be calm. Often for half that time Ronan is staring at me with those big brown eyes, looking at me like I’m crazy for even contemplating putting him down for the night. Terry doesn’t enjoy the process, and I hate it, to the point that I announced that I’m not doing it any more. Which promptly meant the next time she had trouble putting him down with her kung-fu sleep technique, it was my fault for not using the baby whisperer technique. This could have something to do with the fact that she’s a black belt in baby sleep and I feel like I’m only a white belt. Last night I tried for thirty minutes before Terry sleepily allowed me to sneak away to the comfy rocker in the living room. Maybe if Robert Redford comes and whispers to Ronan, I’ll finally have the back strength to endure his protestations…

Babies cry. Everybody knows that. Secretly, everyone hates hearing babies cry. My masterful, and probably self-absorbed, damaging-the-baby’s-psyche technique is to hold him while he cries himself to sleep. The problem is that now he expects this. I don’t mind the crying; but I know that some people freak out when babies cry. I think it’s natural for them to cry part of the time. In the long run, I’m probably going to regret the babe-in-arms path. Still, even Ronan, for all his crying, seems to eventually enjoy falling asleep on me. The weird thing is when he will cry when you put him in the crib, but instantly fall asleep in your arms when you pick him up. Just because I’m evil (or bored, or evil and bored, or just impressed with this phenomena) sometimes I will lower him halfway into the crib, then pick him up just as his eyes start to open, then lower him halfway, then pick him up. I know he’s a real baby, but it really reminds me of those semi-animatronic dolls that open their eyes when you put them down. Only it’s a real boy. It’s really kind of freaky, but repeatedly observing that phenomena also probably wakes him up somewhat as he rapidly goes from awake to asleep to awake.

Bur those dammed dolls had an off switch so you could close their dead eyes when you were done with them.[i] You can’t turn Ronan off, which is good, because too many parents would leave their kids off until they were 18 (or older) and that would not work out well. I think you have to take the bad times of parenting, and not sleeping is definitely part of the bad times, along with the fun of seeing your kid smile and laugh and learn new things. Several people have remarked to me  that the cuteness factor of babies is so that we forgive them for being messy and noisy and awake when we want them to sleep. I think it’s more than that; I think we’ve adapted to the image of baby cuteness so that we feel protective of things that look cute. It’s a chicken-and-egg argument, but I think the cuteness was there first, and as prehistoric humans, we decided to forgive them for a lot.

Still, I have no idea why I’m writing this. I really should be sleeping. The baby books say that you should get sleep while your baby sleeps. Gee, if only I had an off switch…

[i] It occurs to me that I should point out that all of my childhood animatronic doll experience was because of my friend Tamara, who had a huge collection of these things. I didn’t actually own any dolls. I say this because Men’s Vogue recently launched an attack against stay-at-home-dads’ masculinity, and there are probably those readers wondering if I played with dolls as a kid. Well, yes – if you call dismantling Tamara’s dolls to see how they worked as playing with them. She and I haven’t kept in touch, I wonder why…


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