It’s 12.53 pm and the time has come. He’s rubbing his eyes, staring blankly at the brightly coloured butterfly suspended above his head, and there’s been a yawn. A fateful yawn. Taking the cues, you scoop him up, turn down the radio, and perhaps squeeze in a quiet story. Then, in the darkened nursery, you kiss his head, lay him down, clean, fed, and dry, following all the official guidelines, and off he drifts to sleep, lullabies playing softly from your phone on the window sill.
Except that happened exactly one, three and half weeks ago, and hasn’t been repeated. Instead, baby decides he’s not tired and wants to practice rolling. You’re treated to a rendition of shuffle, shuffle, boom, shuffle, shuffle bang as his legs come up and over before crashing down on the mattress. You leave him to it, relaxed in his bed, lullabies still gently playing.
Then the grizzling starts. A low growl from the back of his throat that escapes almost viciously from his mouth. A pause, then another. It’s okay though. You can stand a couple of those. More yawning and eye rubbing. Maybe he will take himself off to sleep.
And the lullabies play on gently in the background as you carry on washing the dishes or emptying the dryer, holding your breath, willing on sleep.
Suddenly, like you knew it would be, it’s not a growl or a grunt, it’s a cry. There are no pauses, no gaps. Arms and legs start to protest too as sleep seems a million miles away and the lullabies chime in the background, lost under the sound.
The internal debate begins: to leave or to pick up, to ignore or to sooth. Because there are the voices telling you to let him cry it out. It builds independence. He has to learn. He’ll think you’ll always come running the minute he lets out a cry. You have to be strong. Then there are the other voices arguing back, equally loudly. He’s clearly upset. He needs to know that you’re there. It’s completely natural for a baby to want his mother. It’s unhealthy to leave a baby crying. Imagine the sense of abandonment they must feel.
The voices compete for the stage against another rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle.
And baby still cries. Call it giving in, giving up, or giving your baby what he needs, whether you are ashamed of your weakness or confident in your decision to attend to the tears, you pick the little guy up. On your shoulder he nestles, cries calming, breath slowing. Quiet, calm, soothed, a deep breath that suggests he’s tipping gently from awake to asleep.
Except no. The deep breath was in proportion to the depth of scream that follows. Even in your arms, safe and sound, he finds energy to cry. Fists flailing, fingers grabbing, and head bumping against your neck, being tired has long passed. Over tiredness has kicked in.
The lullabies can barely be heard now. It makes no sense, you tell yourself. I read the signs, I set the scene, and I did it all right. How they told me too, whoever they are. The parenting Gods. The oracles of wisdom. The Internet.
You sing. You bounce. You walk.
You shhhh. You cradle. You hum.
You rock. You sing again.
The lullaby plays, mocking you with its calm predictability.
But calm does come. It does. Slowly, slowly. You lay him down, on the edge of sleep, and hold your breath again. Three, two, one. Alas, no, not this time. The grizzles begin again. So does the debate. Sometimes the grizzles turn to snores and sometimes they turn to tears. Sometimes this is a sign that sleep is coming; other times it’s just the warm up to another chorus of upset.
It’s 1.18 pm and the lullabies are still playing.
The debate continues. The routines. The tried and tested tropes for daytime naps get repeated and repeated. Sooth, settle, place gently in bed. Gurgles (good), grizzles (not bad), cries (bad), screams (game over). And you’re still there, in the darkened nursery. The rest of the world does not exist. You are alone and cut off. No decision seems right. Nothing seems good enough. You worry about sixth months time when nursery begins. You worry about visiting your family and them seeing what a failure you are. You worry about this going on for weeks, months, years. What habits are you teaching? What expectations are you setting?
The lullabies drive you to distraction and there’s just you, alone, trying to work it out to the chimes of bells and piano scales.
It’s 1.30 pm and his eyes are closing. Gingerly you remove your hand from his stomach as it rises and falls in peaceful breath. He is an angel lying there. Perfect in every way. You wipe a tear from your own cheek, take a deep breath, and slip out into the lit hallway. Pausing at the door, you smile to the sweet sound of lullabies floating through the house and assure yourself that next time will be easier.