We’re not used to people knocking at our back door. There was the guy who knocked to inform us a transistor had blown and it would be fixed at some point by someone. We had just moved in, and I was in my pajamas holding Tophs, who tends to pull my shirt down with his hand and expose my bra. So that was awesome.
But at 7:45 on a Friday night in February, it happened again.
This time, I sent Paul. He’d duct-taped the back door shut last fall to slow the ladybug infestation, so only he had the magical powers to open it.
He didn’t open it. Instead, he leaned toward the door and called out, “Can I help you?”
“It’s a little noisy,” she said.
At this point, you are thinking Paul and I were acting out one of those scenes from Fifty Shades of Grey or Scandal. You are rooting for us, how we bring sexy back to a place it’s never been—the postpartum world. How we role-play and I am the sophisticated Olivia Pope and Paul is Fitz, the most powerful man in the world, except he’s the Black version. Just sayin’. Switching up races really complicates role-playing by introducing the question of cultural authenticity. It turns the bedroom into a symposium on the Sociology of Race and the Media. Or so I’ve heard.
But we weren’t even doing that. Or watching a UFC fight. Or blending a green smoothie. WE weren’t doing anything. That, apparently, was the problem.
“Oh, the baby?” Paul asked her. As in the eight-month-old baby crying as babies were designed to?
“Yeah,” she said.
That was it. He didn’t apologize or make any promises. We scooped Tophs from the Pack ‘n Play and sat with him, stunned. It’s 7:45. On a Friday. What was I doing at 7:45 on a Friday night in college?
I’m a grade-A nerd who called the cops on my partying neighbor several times at three in the morning during my last year of college. So I’m slow to judge those who need quiet. But. Seven. Forty. Five.
This made me crazy, as in: You can burn your DSM. I’m not giving you a $20 co-pay. Just fax me a Xanax.
To give you some background, Eliot slept through the night by the time she was three months old. Paul and I followed this book, On Becoming Babywise, which details how to raise your child like a wolf in dictator’s clothing. We made that poor girl cry it out from day one. A tad harsh, we’ve since confessed, but who cares because she won’t remember it and every time I feel guilty I just take her to Harris Teeter and shove a free sugar cookie into her mouth. So that’s that.
Overall, Babywise worked. Eliot learned to fall asleep on her own, and I got my rest. Then came the second pregnancy. My thighs looked the same (big). My belly looked the same (huge). And my back fat was on and poppin’. So I was all, “I got this,” and refused to re-read the book.
You know how it goes from there: the second kid comes, you stop sterilizing the pacifier, you let him gum bacon at five weeks, and the only time he gets a bath is when he spits up sideways into his hair. It’s not your fault. I mean You. AreJustTrying. ToSurvive.
So at eight months, Tophs would still wake up throughout the night. We were so tired, we’d put him in our bed and go back to sleep, and the sweetest con artist alive continued to manipulate us night after night. He demanded our Tempur-Pedic mattress. And we gave in. We began to put him to sleep on our bed so that we could have some time to ourselves each night.
But sleeping next to Tophs is like harboring a beautiful, fugitive chinchilla. He digs his little paws into your shirt, begging you not to let him go. If you do, he squeal-barks. For at least an hour. Then you don’t sleep, and you get a knock on your back door, and the cycle continues.
You wanna know who I blame for this? Not the government. Not John Boehner’s spray tan. Not even the breakup of Destiny’s Child. I blame the nurses in the maternity ward.
If you ask me, Whole Foods built the whole hospital. I could smell the granola in my epidural. So after I delivered Tophs, all I heard was “skin to skin.” Like if I didn’t strap my baby to me while I peed, he would never grow teeth. They advised me to put him under my shirt in kangaroo fashion, which was adorable and snuggly at first. But you kangaroo a kid like Tophs at birth, and you’ve got a joey for life. This kid has stretched out every shirt I own by pulling on the collar. I worry he’ll try this with others: babysitters, Pope Francis, a rabid mountain goat.
The trick with sleep training a baby is you can’t give up. You have to commit. When the baby cries, you check on him, tell him you love him, and leave him. In Tophs’s case, you check on him, see puddles surrounding his head from fallen tears, curse yourself for not doing this sooner, and go write some lousy Facebook status about it.
So I flip-flopped. The girl scared me into co-sleeping with Tophs for a few nights, but after he bore a hole halfway through my sternum, I decided she’d have to buy some headphones. Tophs had to cry it out.
How did that go?
She knocked. This time it was 10:30 pm on a Tuesday.
I have a theory, you know. In January, Paul had knocked on her door. She’d been playing loud music all day, and I was like, Somebody got a subwoofer for Christmas. He asked her to turn it down. Maybe those were fightin’ words.
Granted, Tophs has never cried all day and never to an incessant beat, but I tried to hear the girl out. I’m sure the noise got annoying, and she didn’t ask to live upstairs from a baby. And I didn’t want to get a call from some 20-year-old RA about mediation. I am a grown woman and have the cellulite to prove it. At the same time, I can’t skip over a healthy, developmental milestone just because we live in a college dorm. Tophs cannot grow a beard in my bed.
We had to come up with a plan—something practical yet drastic, ridiculous yet dull. We called it: Spring Break.
Forget the beach and bikinis and random hookups. Spring Break 2013 was all about Sleep Training. If the girl stayed around in her dorm room all week, I couldn’t help her.
We bought Tophs a crib mattress, put him down awake(!) in the crib, and let him go. I’d forgotten how much a crib resembles a jail cell, especially when a baby’s feet stick out through the bars. Then we put Tophs in these black-and-white striped pajamas, so with a metal latrine in the corner, we’d have a scene straight out of Shawshank.
Poor kid. Lightest sleeper in the world. He learned quickly to fall asleep on his own, but as soon as I’d open the door to our room, he’d roll over. If I moved in the bed, he’d wake up and cry. For a while, it was fun to watch Paul quietly crawl into our bedroom from the hallway. But even that got old. No, wait. It didn’t.
Tophs improved a little each night. By mid-week, he was only crying for five minutes before falling asleep. Last night, he fell right to sleep without any tears. He slept through the night, and I woke up wondering what was wrong. Why hadn’t anyone gotten me out of bed before 6 a.m.?!
If the kid’s brain is half the size of his dimple, he’s really smart, and I have to wonder how much of our strategy he understood. Because tonight the students returned from spring break. And when Paul put him to bed, Tophs wailed for fifteen minutes straight.
I speak baby about as well as I speak meerkat, but I’m pretty sure he was saying, “Welcome back, friend. The Tophs has missed you.”