Go the F*ck to Sleep!

Rebecca Nelson Lubin
guest column
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


Psyber Chica said...

I listened to the book last week on youtube. It was read by Samuel L. Jackson, it was hilarious, his voice was perfect for this book.

Texas Nanny said...

I love that book. One of my past infant charges was a non-sleeper, who slept only 9 hours total on good days and was constantly cranky.

I think even with the good sleepers everyone has had a moment or two where you want the baby to go down so you can do something else and they won't, or they keep waking up.

The similar thing I love is this song by Tim Minchin:

Rebecca said... in California no one has the luxury of "sleeping in until noon" as we have those silly things like work and school the next morning. Show of hand please. Anyone out there "sleeping in until noon" on a regular basis?

MissDee said...

Rebecca: Not I! I am lucky to get 6hours of sleep on a school night and 7 during non-school days. I think celebrities are the only ones who sleep until noon.

I remember reading an article in Glamour many years ago. An LA based PR exec (I remember she worked with celebrities or something similar) would start her day at 8a, go into her office at 930-10a, have lunch/meetings/blah blah blah, leave her office at 8p, go to a party by 10p, get home at 3a, and back into her office the next day. Some life!

SandMan said...

Isn't 7:30 really early to be putting a kid to bed? Why would anyone spend 2 hours trying to force a kid to sleep? This makes no sense. Use your brains and some independent judgment, don't blindly follow a "sleep schedule." Babies and children will sleep when they are tired, not before, and nothing is more tiresome than an adult trying to force a child into a strict nap routine.

If it takes 2 hours to get them to sleep, why not move their bedtime to a point when they may actually be tired and able to fall asleep fairly soon after going to bed? I firmly believe all of the unbelievable emphasis on strict naps and bedtimes are setting these kids up for serious sleep disorders down the line. If a person can not go to sleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, they should get up and engage in a quiet activity until tired. This includes children. Both of my kids stayed up what was considered "late" by the neighborhod standards (11:00pm - midnight) as I got home from work around 6:30pm and their dad around 10:00 pm and they are both excellent students. They also napped when they wanted to as babies and toddlers and did fine. My neighbor also has a physician husband and puts her kids to bed at 6:00 pm!!!! and they never see their dad except on his rare weekend off! Why? Because they "need" to keep to a "sleep schedule." Who needs to go to bed at 6:00 pm????

Marypoppin'pills said...

I can really appreciate this topic because it was a major source of contention between myself and a few other family members and friends. My son's sleep schedule has always been erratic, from the day he was born. He would never adhere to a nap or bedtime routine and for the longest time I felt like pulling my hair out. After discussing it with his Doctor and realizing that it was not affecting his daily activities and he never seemed tired or sleep deprived, we just came to the conclusion that my son didn't need 10-12 hours of sleep a night like some kids. Even when he was a baby, naps were few and far between.

His typical bedtime during the school year is 11pm-7am. During the summer, some nights he will stay awake until 1am and get up about 9am. He is a well-behaved Honor Roll student in several extra-curricular activities such as Spanish Club, Officers Club, Tech Club and Taekwondo. I don't fight it anymore as he seems no worse for wear... and I have my sanity back! ;-)

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

Rebecca....I get to sleep until noon currently, but that is because I am in between jobs right now and my college is closed for the Summer Session due to statewide budget cuts. :( Believe me..if I could be in school and working, I would much rather be doing that. I feel so unproductive and am trying so darn hard to find a new job. It is HARD. I have multiple interviews..but either the families I meet are trying to nickel and dime me or the good families hire someone else.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me!!

Phoenix said...

my husband sleeps until noon or noon thirty, one or two everyday. Every freakin day! I envy his life and feel a fool for not driving home on my lunch break to kick him in his shins then drive back to work. On the weekends I get to sleep until the sun goes down because I stay awake till the sun comes up. Why? because I adapt to my husband on the weekend. He in his thirtys still gets to live like a teenager.

And yes. This book is freakin hilarious. I love it!

repost - anon nanny said...

My charges (ages 9 and 3) have a bedtime of 8:30PM during the school year (3 year old naps for 2 hours most afternoons) and 9:30PM during the summer. They wake up at 6:30AM during the school year and 7:30AM during the summer). Last night, we were all out watching the fireworks and didn't get the kids to bed until after 11. The 3 year old fell asleep pretty quickly but the 9 year old was up until midnight The 3 year old still woke up at 7:30 and was a little cranky this morning so I put her down for her nap at noon instead of the usual 1PM. The 9 year old DID sleep in until past 10AM this morning.

I do think younger children are less likely to sleep in to make up for late nights while school age children are usually more flexible.
That being said, each child has different sleep needs and there is no "cookie cutter" sleep solution.
Some people would say 8:30 is way too late of a bedtime for a 3 year old but you have to take naps into account. If she didn't nap, her bedtime would be more like 7 or 7:30. Others may think 8:30 is early if they come from a household where the kids stay up until 10 or 11. If the 3 year old misses her nap or has a shorter "car nap" due to all of us being out that time, I put her to bed around 7:45 or 8. (9 year old is typically in day camp but the weeks when his day camp is closed, we often go out for the day and the 3 year old only takes a shorter car nap on the way home).

As far as bedtime routines, both are easy to put down and fall asleep within 15 minutes of the lights going off. I usually take them both upstairs 20 minutes before the bedtime, read stories to the 3 year old while the 9 year old reads to himself in bed. I tuck the 3 year old in, say goodnight and leave the room. The I go to the 9 year old's room and give him a 5 minute warning to finish up his reading and turn the light off.

I feel that they are both getting enough sleep for their ages and bedtime is not a battle.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

Once kids get to an age (4 or so) where I can be fairly sure they aren't going to hurt themselves if left alone in their room, I do just that.

I sit 'em down, explain to them that nap/bedtime is going to be something they have to observe and they must stay in their room, but that if I don't hear them thumping around after I tuck them in, I won't come in and try to force them to sleep. I am, of course, always available for a "retuck" once they are tired and ready to sleep.

I've cared for kids who loved to sleep, kids who weren't all that fond of sleep, kids who slept on the floor rather than brave their "big kid" bed, kids who dove into their "big kid" bed and loved it from the start.

Bedtime is for grown-ups anyhow, lol!

P.S. Rebecca, a bottle at 22 months old? May I ask why?

NervousNanny said...

Tales from the Nanny(hood)- I had the exact same response about the bottle. My charges-twin girls (16 months) were off of their bottles right after they turned one.

I am facebook friends with the mom of some kids I nannied for a few summers ago and was astonished to see that the two-and-a-half year old "baby" still has his bottle in a recent picture. Crazy!
And on the book-love it! Saw an interview with the author on the Today Show a few weeks back. Apparently he is a serious writer of serious things (nonfiction) and was inspired to write this by his daughter.

AussieNanny said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book! When my 9 month old charge is having a not-so-great-day, I read this for a good laugh!