The Sleep Wars, Round 3

Posted by jdg | Friday, March 31, 2006 |

We lived in a little apartment in the city that looked out across the street over the park to Sutro Tower. In the street there flowed rain and water from the guy who washes his P.T. Cruiser every day, and the water was filmy and prismatic and slow in the gutters. Cars went down by the apartment and down the street and the noise they made echoed in the living room. Garbage trucks and streetcleaning trucks came every day in the early morning, emptying the burdened curbs and filling the apartment with noise. The living room had six windows and as soon as the sun rose the room was filled with light and noise.

[fuck: I can't write this in bad faux-Hemingway. I'll just have to go with better-than-average Geraldo]

When we first reported from the sleep front, we were optimistic. We were examining and weighing the different battleplans offered by our joint chiefs of staff, Weissbluth and Sears. It was still early in the war, and our optimism carried us through dozens of nights of waking and screaming, waking and screaming, hour after hour. "It will be over soon," we told ourselves. "She won't be like this forever. Eventually she'll sleep through the night."

She never did; it became clear that unless we took up different tactics, the battle was going to be one long hard slog. Once we were at our wits end, we took a shot using Dr. Marc Weissbluth and Dr. Richard Ferber's "cry it out method." Juniper cried, alright, but she didn't really get the good doctors' "it out" part. She would cry for hours. It didn't work.

We have left a trail of experts behind us, experts whose advice just didn't work in the trenches. Weissbluth. Ferber. Sears. Michel "Dr. Judd" Cohen. Tracey "the Baby Whisperer" Hogg. We were desperate. One night she'd sleep great, the next lousy. In Rumsfeldian terms, we lacked the metrics to know if we were winning or losing the global war on sleep deprivation. Everything stagnated; nothing worked.

Then, Wood discovered Moxie. She's no fancypants pediatrician, she's just a cool blogger chick whose sleep discussions on Ask Moxie gave Wood a clear, more balanced perspective on infant sleep, and for months Moxie's sensible approach allowed us to work with Juniper's sleep in its natural state of flux; the war became one of attrition. A few weeks ago, Juniper wouldn't go back to sleep despite any amount of comforting, so we decided it might be time to try crying again. Rather than follow one asshole pediatrician's cockamamie theory de rigueur, we have taken the path of least resistance. And for the most part it has worked.

We are happy to report that at long last the enemy has shown weakness. She is now "sleeping through the night" because we retreated to a position of strength: the living room floor. We are sleeping on a lumpy fold-out mattress, entrenched with the dust bunnies while she sleeps in the luxury of her crib with the whole bedroom to herself. We're no longer in there to wake her up with every cough, sneeze, or rustle of the sheets at 3:30 in the morning, causing her to stand up and howl at us like a wounded emu until we pick her up. And she's sleeping. We wake up at dawn with the intense light from the living room windows and the noise of the garbage trucks and streetcleaners, but waking to the dawn and a sleeping child is a blessing after a full night of uninterrupted sleep.

Our strategy has been to put her to bed after some time with the booboobs that leaves her in milk-induced euphoric sleepitude, and then if she wakes up we Ferberishly let her whimper until she goes back to sleep on her own. Without us in the room, it usually works. We have had a week of good sleep, and last night when we put her to bed I was ready to put on a flight suit and land on an aircraft carrier to declare Mission Accomplished.

But our enemy is crafty, and understands how to exploit our greatest weakness. Yesterday Juniper had what Wood called her "cutest and sweetest day ever." And I can attest that the last few hours were indeed just that. We played with her Schleich animals, giggled in the tub, and she sat calm and silent in my lap while I read her seven books before bedtime. She even gave me a real hug and a kiss goodnight. Then at about 1:30 a.m. she woke and started crying, and by the timbre of her bellowing I could tell she was standing up. That was not good. Half an hour later her yowling was stronger than ever, and choked by tears. Wood was lying next to me in fitful frustration, ready to pull her hair out. Ten minutes later, with Juniper still crying, I went into the bedroom and picked her up. She was shaking. Her face glistened in the light that streamed in from the door I had opened. Choking and sobbing she threw her head against my chest and wailed. She was mad at me, and she was letting me know. She felt wounded. I wanted to smash Michel Cohen's smug face for telling me that "crying it out" doesn't affect her. I would have thrown Richard Ferber to wild dogs. I could not calm her down. After a few minutes of this punishment, her sleepy mother entered, lifted up her shirt and let Juniper rest her mouth on the boob. The sobbing stopped. She instantly fell asleep, imprisoning poor Wood in that position until she was asleep enough to lay back down in her crib, where she whimpered herself to a sleep that lasted the rest of the night.

And now, with Juniper reasserting a position of strength, drawing us out of our trench and mowing us down like a Messerschmidt, her reinforcements have arrived. Wood's mother is here for one of her patented "middle-aged-woman-sleeping-on-Dutch's-living-room-floor" weeks. Like Lord Cornwallis eyeing the approach of the French fleet at Yorktown, an imminent sense of defeat rests woefully in our bellies. We have a friend whose mother-in-law visited from Paris after she and her husband spent a month sleep training their daughter. The first night she sat there white knuckled while the baby cried in the next room, and despite strict orders not to, she rushed into the bedroom and comforted her. This went on night after night, and that month's worth of sleep training unraveled in a matter of days. Wood's mother knows better than to do that; if she tries it she'll be sleeping in a cardboard box on Larkin Street tomorrow night. But still, with her snoring on our living room floor, we have no option but to return to our bed.

We'll see what happens, but by now we're like Caesar's grizzled veterans: we know we can take whatever comes at us. What have we learned? The only advice worth listening to is advice that doesn't purport some superior knowledge of what will work with your child. Babies have their own personalities that can vary significantly from the statistical mean. It just seems to make the most sense to work with your own baby rather than the baby that only exists in some pediatrician's head.

Another Friday, another photo of little urchins filling their lungs with the sweet, sweet taste of unfiltered tobacco.

The selfish parent

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 22, 2006 | , ,

During our long courtship, Wood and I had a way of insinuating the inevitable. We always talked as though we would be together forever; we discussed being married and having babies even when we were still babies ourselves. Our conversations were typically lame:

"When we have kids, man we are going to be so much cooler than our parents."


After we got married, we began thinking more seriously about issues and making theoretical plans for parenthood, at the very least so we'd be on the same page when the puck finally slipped past the goalie:

"We're not like going to be those kind of parents who, like, you know, put their kids' lives ahead of their own."

"I know, right?"

"I mean, we're not going to stop living our lives because the kids need to go to soccer practice and a million other things where the kids are so busy that we won't get a chance to do anything for ourselves."

"I totally believe in paying someone else to take care of my kids."

When we finally scored, Wood's belly bulged with impending change, and our thoughts on this matter advanced:

"The thing is, I don't want her to ever feel guilty like our parents made us feel with all their talk about how how much they sacrificed everything for us."

"We should teach her about leading a fulfilling life by leading fulfilling lives ourselves."

"We don't need to change our lives for her, we should include her in on our lives and change with her. I don't want to be a selfless parent. I want to be kind of a selfish one."

"We don't need to be martyrs, that's for sure."

Law schools tend to harvest a certain annoying air of ambition among their pupils. Everyone is so bloody concerned with their comparative performance in grades and extracurriculars and legal journals and eventually their careers. I think we were both very ambitious still when we had that last conversation fresh out of school. And ambition meant climbing career ladders. Sacrifice meant abandoning the climb.

The thing is, I still want to be a selfish parent, but my understanding of what selfishness means has changed since Wood and I had that conversation over rustic Italian food in Hayes Valley a year and a half ago. Having sat at a desk in a law firm for four years, billing hours, collecting paychecks, and generally finding no real fulfillment, daily now I am nagged by the realization that fulfillment has come to me, different now from how I once envisioned it. It has come in the form of a little girl who is growing up so fast, whose day-to-day life I only hear about, whose beautiful open eyes I only get to enjoy for an hour or two each weekday. Now the sacrifice looks like staying here at this desk, billing hours, collecting paychecks, making her life easy and comfortable. If I stayed here she could grow up rich, but I would be unhappy. Selfishness, on the other hand, looks like telling my bosses to go fuck themselves and walking out of here once and for all, a desire I find more difficult to suppress with each passing day.

The martyrs are the men and women who against their will must suffer the indignity of missing their children's lives during these wonderful early days before they grow up and school and the outside world pluck them away, the days when their universe is so small and their parents are the warm, giant orbs and galaxies within it. Luckily, I can look forward to acting on my selfish desire; my tunnel is short and there's a light at the end of it. I won't be a martyr after all.

And I sure as hell feel lucky that I get to be a selfish parent for a few years. I'm not saying such a decision would be selfish for anyone else, but it is for me. I want this. I want this more than anything on earth. And I want it for me, not for her.

When I returned to Kalamazoo after a year in Ireland back in 1997, I was an annoying prick. I had that fourth-semester worldliness that so many college students who study abroad return with; I put an Irish flag up in my bedroom and listened to Irish traditional music just to let everyone know that I was different now. I had seen the world. I had seen the Egon Schieles at the Leopold Museum in Vienna; I had ordered a bottle of pinot grigio at a trattoria in the Trastevere; I had painstakingly walked every inch of Leopold Bloom's path from Irishtown to Eccles Street. I was nineteen years old and thought I was hot fucking shit.

Sometimes I so want to punch nineteen-year-old me.

You can bet I looked forward to March 17 in those days as an opportunity to flaunt my experience with all things Irish. St. Patrick's Day in Dublin had been mildly disappointing; there was a parade with a few dozen neo-pagan creative anachronists dressed like Celtic warriors and maidens skipping across College Green before St. Patrick himself ended the parade on stilts waving a giant crucifix at them. At night, there were anti-climactic fireworks over the Liffey. There were no more drunks on the streets than usual. The Irish I talked to were confused by the whole drinking-green-beer-starting-at-7:00 a.m. phenomenon we have here in the states; to them it sounded like smoking crack on Martin Luther King's birthday.

In 1998, Wood and I were living on separate sides of a duplex in a student neighborhood with four other roommates, and we all decided to throw a St. Patrick's Day party. I even designed a flier that showcased my superb collage skills, full of cheesy Irish sayings and ephemera:

That flier incorporated my first and all-time favorite street urchin photo that I had ripped out of my high school history textbook. At the time of the party I was big into the quasi-hippie "homebrew" scene, but I was way more serious about making awesome labels for my bottles than I was about the beer itself. For St. Patrick's Day I brewed up a special batch of my signature "Licensed to Ale" IPA, with added green food coloring. Most people were smart enough to stick to the keg of Guinness. My roommate's younger brother drank like four bottles of my "Licensed to Ale" and we found him passed out naked next to the toilet a few hours later.

The best thing about that party was the leprechauns. There was an elderly dwarf who worked in the bulk foods department at Meijer's who I had contemplated offering $50 to show up dressed in the tiny green waistcoat I bought at the Salvation Army, but I thought he might have found that insulting. I had to settle for my two shortest friends. They did me proud. My friend Hether even performed a series of jigs for the drunken frat boys that Wood's roommates invited. I wore a checkered sportcoat, green pants, and the orange-haired "paddy hat" that I'd purchased at a souvenir shop on Nassau Street. In this get-up I was cornered by a frat boy who said to me in a low voice, "I am trying really hard to control myself right now just to not kick your ass for wearing that." While I respected his self control, I was mildly disappointed because I had my trusty wooden shillelaigh in hand. Although it would have resulted in an even more profound ass whooping, the image of me knocking some frat guy over the head with a souvenir shillelaigh from Kate's Cottage in Killarney, County Kerry would have lasted much longer than any bruises or broken bones. I would have cherished such a moment on my deathbed. What's a St. Patrick's Day party without at least one donneybrook?

Pictures from that party did prove useful when making the flier for the next year's St. Patrick's Day party, held in a big shitty house where I lived with five of the best guys in the world, including one leprechaun:
I'm pretty sure I almost got beat up by some frat boys at that party too. I would have wanted to beat me up if I were a frat boy. I dimly recall playing banjo in a trio with my Dutch-Korean friend on violin and some frat boy playing guitar who kept getting mad at us for fucking up "Whiskey in the Jar" because we were so deeply embarrassed. I had just received my admission letter to the university of Michigan Law School that day so I don't remember much that happened after the sixth celebratory Guinness. The next year in Ann Arbor I woke to a hot blonde coed puking all over my front yard at 8:30 in the morning. A few hours later I was drinking out of a jar in Dominic's across from the Law Quad and I saw that same blonde coed with a group of frat boys who were all wasted. I hadn't had a haircut in a long time. The blonde pointed at me and then the whole table erupted into a chant:"MULLET! MULLET! MULLET! MULLET!"I rushed out of the place in shame, giving them the kind of looks that could have gotten my ass kicked. St. Patrick's Day never lived up to my expectations until I just finally accepted that the holiday belongs to frat boys and secretaries who like to buy little plush shamrocks and leprechauns to pose carefully on the edge of their cubicle walls. Now I am never disappointed.

The Excitator

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 15, 2006 |

On Monday I heard a story on NPR about the monks of the Carthusian order. A guy I went to law school with used to tell a corny story about a few years he spent as a monk in Colorado in a beautiful monastery filled with marble floors and golden fixtures where he dined on lavish meals and quaffed mightily from the monastery's own store of homemade wine and brew. "If this is poverty," he claims to have said. "Bring on chastity!"

Well, that was obviously not a Carthusian monastery. The Carthusians all live silent, solitary lives in their cells and have very little contact with their fellow monks. They do sometimes eat together, but don't talk. When they do talk, they only speak in Latin. They always wear heavy cowls and uncomfortable hairshirts. These guys pray. All day long.

So they spend their days in solitude, retire for bed at about 6:30 p.m., and are roused from their sleep at midnight to participate in the matins and lauds in the chapel, where for two or more hours they will do some late-night chanting. How does a monk who is not allowed to have a watch or an alarm clock get out of bed every night at midnight? Well one particularly responsible monk is allowed to keep a wind-up alarm clock, which he sets for midnight every night. Then he goes around from cell to cell, and rings a big-ass bell that hangs above every monk's head while he is sleeping. The roused monk must then rap his hand on a board to acknowledge that he is awake, then throws on his robes and hauls ass to the chapel. This very responsible monk is known as the excitator (Latin: "one who rouses"). He returns at 5:30 in the morning to wake them for their days.

Well, after two weeks on the road with Juniper, our trusty little excitator (who has woken up every ten minutes at night for the last five days) I think Wood and I both would gladly sign ourselves over to the cruelest Abbot of the cruelest Carthusian Charterhouse just so we could get some fucking sleep.

"Wonder if she'll sleep in the new car seat," Boobahs said.

"She'll sleep," said Dada. "Let's just hope we can get at least halfway to Detroit before she wakes up."

"What's that? Hour and a half?" Boobahs asked.

"A little less," Dada replied.

Dada strapped me in. I looked at the old guy who was waving at me outside the car. He played pots and pans with me last night. I smiled. This seat is new it faces ahead, so I didn't have to look at birdpoo on the back window the whole time, so the sun don't shine in my eyes and make me cry when they drive away from it. Dada played music, and sang. Boobahs handed me a cracker. Num num.

Dada wanted to take me down the tunnel but he didn't right away; he carried me over to the red dog on the wall and I breathed at it how he likes me to. "Is that a doggie, Junebug?" he asked, and I breathed like a dog again to show him what I knew. I should have been in bed long ago but I was still awake. Where does that tunnel go, I wondered. There was a loud wooshing noise as we got further and further down that tunnel. Boobahs smiled at me and she was wearing the swirly coat even though it wasn't cold. Dada put me down on my feet and I walked up and down the tunnel. We were the last ones. Dada lifted me under the arms. At the end of the tunnel was a room where a hundred people sat close together all facing the same way. We walked past them all and they smiled up at me, some of them made the silly face. Dada kissed me on my head and I didn't holler at all. Boobahs pulled out my toys and they let me sit in my own seat. It didn't smell like home but I liked the wooshing sound. "You gonna breastfeed her now?" asked Dada. "I'll wait till we take off," said Boobahs. I reached out for her and put my arm down her shirt and she and Dada both smiled and looked around to all the other people who were looking the other way. I wasn't crying, but the ground wasn't still, and then I was crying.

"She's awake," said Boobahs. Outside the world went by slow, all brown and empty. Everything was slow and there were other cars going slow alongside us. "How far are we now?"

"Twenty minutes, maybe," said Dada. "Depends on how far away this accident is." I hollered. Boobahs climbed into the backseat with me. I hushed.

"Oh honey, she's soooo sick," says Boobahs. "You can see it in her eyes, they're so red and wet."

Dada turned around to look at me. He smiled at me but I just looked at him. "Yeah," he said. "She looks like a total stoner."

Boobahs showed me the cards and tried to get me to say my words. "The cow goes 'mooooo'" she said. "Crab? Apple? Monkey? Flower? Fish?" I didn't say nothing. Boobahs showed me my doll and I held my doll. "She's falling asleep again," Boobahs told Dada.

"Good," he said back and then I did.

"Baby, why won't you sleep?" Dada said. He bounced me back where the light was on, where the ladies in hats were shoveling ice. Around the corner Boobahs put three little white pillows behind her head and closed her eyes. "I just want to sleep five minutes," she said. "Dada!" I said. None of the people turned around this time. "Dada!" I hollered, and a fat man turned and gave a mean look. Dada patted me on the back and bounced and then he sat back down. "Look Juniper," he said. "Look out the window. Hush now." Dada pointed through the glass and I saw pink and orange and all kinds of lights on the ground. "Sunrise," Dada said. "You see the sunrise?" Pretty soon everything was pointing down and my ears hurted. I didn't want to sleep so I didn't.

"So what did you think of that one?" asked Strange Lady after they strapped me back to the seat. I hollered. Strange Lady sat in the front seat next to Dada and Boobahs sat next to me. She was old like Naanaa; she smelled like wet soap. It was raining. I felt like crying so I did. I cried loud.

"Hush up now Juniper," said Dada.

"Turn left here, tight left," said the strange lady.

"What neighborhood are we going to now?" Dada asked.

"Lafayette Park," said Strange Lady. "So get on the Lodge. Straight through the light, then off to the left." Boobahs put the waa waa up to my lips. I drank some. It was cold. It was good. Outside the car everything was dirty and gray. I was scared and wanted my Boobahs. I didn't want to go into another house. The last one smelled like cats, and waa waa dripped from the ceiling. Dada liked it though.

"That's where Ty Cobb lived." he said. "I'd be afraid of Ty Cobb's ghost. He was one ruthless prick."

"The house next door was a bordello," said Strange Lady. "And not that long ago." Those houses were big and cold. Dada ran his hand along the wood. Boobahs touched the colored windows that looked like sunrise. In one house there was a doggie. Another was full of books. We were going to another house. "There's a great parking spot," Strange Lady said. "Can you parallel park?"

"I can parallel back uphill into a spot with six inches to spare," Dada said. Outside the car it was clean. There were trees. And swings. "Wow, " Dada said. "That infant swing is a tiny Eames shell." His voice was happy.

"Up," I said. "Up!" I wanted Dada to put me in the swing. This place smelled like the park. I reached out for the swings and hollered but Dada kept on walking. We went into a house that was made out of windows. Dada was excited, he was pointing his shiny black box but not at me. The black box flashed again and again.

"I love it," Dada said. "I love absolutely everything about it."

"If you know Mies van der Rohe, you know he believed that less is more," the Strange Lady who smelled like wet soap said. The house was very bright. You could see outside. There were trees. You could see the swings. And a slide. Dada gave me to Boobahs, she held me sideways and sang to me. "You could walk to work," Strange Lady said to her.

"This will be Juniper's room," said Boobahs.

It was loud. It smelled like the backside of a bus. "Why do we always end up in Soho?" Dada asked. "I hate Soho." We crossed a busy street. I smelled food. It was cold there. My cheeks hurt. Dada pointed to a doggie but I didn't see it. I was tired, so I cried. "Hush your bellering and moaning, now Juniper," Dada said, and patted me some, so I hushed like he said. Still I could hear all the loud noises and I did not like them. The shapes and colors changed. There were all kinds of people. "No Dutch, you're gonna embarrass me," Boobahs said. "Come on, just take the picture," Dada said, and stroked my cheek. His finger was cold. He pointed to a lady. She was dark and tall. "Boobies," he said. "Look at the boobies." The lady had lots of boobahs . More boobahs than I had ever seen. Dada lifted me up and let me look at them. They were hard, and cold like a spoon. Boobahs held up the shiny box. "A couple more," said Dada. Boobahs looked back and forth and then looked into the shiny box again. It flashed. She was mad at Dada. "I can't believe you made me do that," Boobahs said. "I can't believe you're teaching her that word." "Boobahs," I said, and reached out my arms to her. I had never seen so many.

I coughed some. "She's sooo sick," Boobahs said. "Her cough makes her sound like some kind of animal."

"Did she puke that time?" asked Dada.

"Not this time," said Boobahs.

Dada turned to look at me. "Her crying makes her cough worse and her cough makes her cry."
I couldn't say nothing so I just whimpered some. I kept tasting something on my lips. "So much snot it's dribbling down off her chin," said Dada. "At least she loves that frosty. It must feel good on her throat." Boobahs held out the spoon with the yum yum on it. It was cold and yum. I tapped my finger on the palm of my other hand.

"You want more Juniper? MORE? She's so sick and full of snot but she still wants more," Boobahs said. It was dark. We had been in the car all day. My tum tum hurt, and I coughed a lot, and I started hollering some. "She's so sick, Dutch," Boobahs said. "There are real tears there."

"Poor Juniper," said Dada, and he turned to look at me. I coughed again and there was a tickle in my throat, and then a gush sound.

"Puking! Puke!" said Boobahs. "Oh crap, she's puking it all up. Get me a rag quick." There was a warm feeling. It smelled like long ago times.

"You poor little sicky," said Dada. "You poor sick little baby." I hollered some when Boobahs tried to touch me with the scratchy thing she ran across my lips and neck. I hollered some more.
"It's all over the backseat. All over her carseat," said Boobahs. "How far are we from my mom's house?" Boobahs asked. She wiped the rag across everywhere. I watched her arms move, watched the rag. I was tired and I wanted to sleep some so I did.

Another tunnel. "Plane!" said Dada. "Pppp," I said. Dada's head almost hit the top when we walked in. Less people in this one. I looked back. A man was achooing right next to me. I looked at him, smiled and said "Hi!" I waved. He didn't say nothing. He didn't even look at me. He just kept achooing. His coat was yellow. He had a hairy face. Dada gave him the mean look. There was a lot of sounds. The wooshing sound again, and coughing.

"She's pensive now, for the first time ever she's real cuddly," said Dada.

"That's because she's sick," said Other Naanaa. "Let's take her to the emergency room."

Dada handed me over to Boobahs and went bye bye and then I hollered at him.

"Let's wait," said Boobahs. "Hopefully she won't puke all over me again tonight. Last night, even after she puked in the car in the middle of the night I woke up with puke all over my chest."

Dada came back and said, "That's nothing. She was sleeping on the couch with me this afternoon and she woke up coughing and gagging; she puked against my head and neck and when I saw the mirror it looked like someone had dumped a quart of large-curd cottage cheese over my face." Other Naanaa stuck her face up to me. She kissed me and made me holler. Then she had the sad look but I kept on hollering. Boobahs looked tired and she picked me up under the arms and put me in Dada's hands. "Hush Juney," he said so I did. I buried my face in him and whimpered some. "It'll be all night like this, with this one," said Dada. "No sleep."

"Are you sure you don't want to trade her in for another one, one that's not broken?" asked Boobahs. Dada laughed like he'd been tickled.

Sunrise. Cough. Cold. Cage. Cry. What room was this? Every time I get to know a place, they take me away. Didn't they know I just wanted to be with them, pressed up to their warmth? Dada was there in bed. He drooled and turned his head the other way, Boobahs opened her eyes to my bellowing, she came and I was coughing and crying. Her hands were soft and warm and she was not wearing a shirt and it was warm where she was in bed. I put my mouth on the num and closed my eyes. She smelled like home.

[with apologies to William Faulkner]

Friday Morning Street Urchin Blogging

Posted by jdg | Friday, March 03, 2006