Rebecca Nelson Lubin
I have a favorite new book about children that is not for children. It’s called, “Go The Fuck to Sleep” by Adam Mansbach and it truly captures the unbelievable agony that certain children will put their adults through as we try our best to sooth them to sleep. Now, in my nanny career I have often patted myself on the back for my prowess in getting children of all ages to sleep without a lot of drama, glasses of water or unnecessary chatter. I have sleep trained three sets of twins, stuck to nap schedules like a drill sergeant and even counseled my friends with real live children of their own on sleep discipline. Once I was catching up with one of my oldest friends from New York over the phone mid day in California as I cradled my cell in the crook of my neck and held out two bottles to the twins I was caring for. They slurped down their milk and I said to my friend,
“Hold on a sec. I have to put the boys down for their nap.”
I put my phone down, carried the babies to their cribs, kissed them and whispered good night, and returned to my phone and my friend.
“Okay,” I said, “Where were we?”
He, the father of a year old daughter said, “That was it? That’s how long it takes you to put them down for their nap?”
I asked, “How long does it take you?”
He sighed and said, “Two hours.”
I have heard of those types of children. The poor sleepers. The little lambs for whom bedtime becomes a both a battlefield and a test of wills. I have heard my own relatives regal the rest of us at family dinners with tales of long grown up cousins who simply refused to sleep and wore out their parent’s patience as they put them back to bed for hours on end, contemplating the ethics of slipping junior a tiny bit of Benadryl. And then, of course, we have the parents who gave up and allowed their child to fall asleep in their bed just this once and now can’t get the kid back to his own room. I remember being a child and longing to sleep in my parent’s bed. I would lie under my red and blue Mickey Mouse quilt, steering up enough courage to tip toe the ten feet from my room to theirs. I would tap on my mother’s shoulder and tell her I needed to sleep next to her. She would firmly, but not unkindly, send me back to my room. Back then I thought she was unfeeling. Now that raising children is my business, I think she was a genius.
The four and a half year old I care for once was an excellent sleeper. His mother and I co-parented him well through his infancy, read the same books, and stayed on the same page with sleep training and keep him to a rigid nap schedule. I encouraged her to let him cry it out, and stay with his same sleep schedule even when he resisted naps as he hit certain milestones, such as standing up and speaking. (We still laugh at the memory of him at nine months old, standing in his crib and calling out “Hi?? Hiiiiiii????”) At three years old he still stuck to an excellent sleeping routine. When I put him down, I would read him two books, sing him two songs, rub his head briefly, and say goodnight. It was perfect. And then he learned how to climb out of his crib. And we were shit out of luck.
The day I found him out of his crib with a huge Cheshire cat grin was one of those days where the entire game changes. Looking back over the last year and a half, I think I should have immediately gone out and bought a larger crib, something steel and industrial like that you might find in a government run orphanage in Romania. Either that or a discarded monkey enclosure from the San Francisco Zoo. We should have thought to keep him contained at night. He climbed out of his crib and out of our control. We have yet to reclaim it.
My employers hosted a political fundraiser in San Francisco last week and even though I was invited, I offered instead for them to make an entire evening of it, stay over in the city and enjoy sleeping in the next morning. I would stay overnight with the kids. The twenty-two month old baby was a joy to put to bed. I rocked her in her chair with her bottle, sang her two songs, laid her in her crib and kissed her goodnight. At 7:30 pm I took the four and a half year old into his parent’s room with me as his older brother watched a movie downstairs. (As a special treat, we were all going to have a “slumber party.”) I read him two books, I sang him two songs and I rubbed his head. He said he was thirsty. I passed him a Sippy cup filled with water. He said he was hungry. I passed him the buttered bagel I had remembered to bring upstairs with me. He wanted to talk about theology. He has a theory that God makes people in heaven and then flings them down to earth like Frisbees and they land in their mother’s bellies. He wanted to talk about it. I muttered the first of many “Go to sleeps.” He flopped onto his stomach. He flopped back onto his back. He rolled to the top of the bed. He rolled to the bottom. I whispered the first of many “Lie still.” I decided that my presence must be distracting him and got up and told him I was going to go downstairs and do a little work.
He asked, “What kind of work?”
I said, “I’m going to do the dinner dishes and then fold the laundry.”
He asked, “Then who will be with me?”
I said, “You’ll be fine! Go to sleep.”
He asked me to turn on some strategic lights to ease his isolation. I did and crept downstairs and began loading the dishwasher. Five minutes passed before the first pitiful cry came from upstairs.
“Betta? What are you doing down there?”
He was out of bed and standing at the top of the stairs, looking incredibly sad.
The forth time I went upstairs and put him back to bed seemed to have stuck, as I got through folding an entire basket of laundry without a peep from him. I moved onto preparing the boys lunches for camp the next day. At 9pm I gave the 11 year old a thirty-minute warning for bedtime and went to check on the four year old. He was not in bed. He was not in the room. I called out his name and he came sauntering back in the room, looking sly in his footsie pajamas.
“Somebody left the TV on in the media room.” He said.
“Nobody left the TV on.” I said.
“Maybe I turned the TV on.” He said.
I put him back to bed, and lay beside him, running my finger along the bridge of his nose like you do with an infant to lull them to sleep. His eyes would grow heavy and close, and then they would pop back open. At 9:30 his older brother came in.
“He’s still awake?” He asked.
“Yup.” I said.
“How long have you been putting him to bed?”
“Two hours.” I said.
I lay there and thought about Adam Mansbach’s book, and wondered how many children he had, and how long it took him to get his kids to go to sleep each night. Only someone who had spent some serious time in the sleep deprived trenches could write such a painfully honest and hilarious book. I’ll leave you with the words from my favorite page:
“The cubs and lions are snoring,
wrapped in a big snuggly heap.
How come you can do all this other great shit
But you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?”
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a writer and Nanny who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may read more of her articles at http://www.abandofwives.ning.com/