It’s either atrociously early or awfully late—depending on how you choose to look at the circular clock hiding in the darkness on the wall by the bedroom door. But it doesn’t really matter, this thrifty timekeeping device from the nearby Target department store is trendy and fashionable but sadly stopped all attempts at accuracy many months ago.
Instead, the hands spin round and round and land on random digits that may be close but not quite—perhaps to reflect our own bleary-eyed warped sense of time as we wander the night as zombie-versions of our old selves.
Our five-month-old son Jack is crying and thrashing and squirming his mini-body in his mini baby-bed that lies in between Amanda (my wife and his mom) and me. Our regular adult queen-size bed is precisely large enough to fit all three of us—as long as Amanda and I sleep like number two pencils and do our best not to move a muscle.
Lately, Jack has been sleeping in short, restless fifteen-minute bursts … this week. Last week he was a champ, sleeping for many hours in a row several times. Next week, who knows.
I carefully post up on an elbow and watch as he brings his chunky baby fists to his enormous blue eyes and begins rubbing aggressively. As his co-sleeping mates, it’s difficult for both Amanda and me to ignore the rustling little man beside us.
Our instincts command us to pick him up at the first sign of trouble, telling us that if our tired bodies refuse than clearly, we don’t love him enough.
“This is what happens. He’s a baby ... and as far as we know, every baby is different,” explained our old-school-cool pediatrician.
With a fondness for faded tennis sneakers, an impressive collection of dad pants, and a consistently prickly gray beard, he was the clear winner in the pediatrician sweepstakes we played a few weeks before Jack was born. “He’s the one,” said Amanda,”I like him.” He’s the kind of guy who no matter how many neurotic questions you have he will simply laugh it off and say “your baby is perfect, he’s fine just the way he is.”
At each visit we find ourselves poking and prodding him with long lists of sleep-related inquiries as he pokes and prods Jack, assuring us that our pocket-sized dumpling with his three chins, an enormous belly, and silly giggle is doing just fine, even if he doesn’t sleep so great.
With a practiced look, he assures us that “a baby can’t self-soothe their way back to sleep until at least six months of age. You’re almost there. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Apparently, we’re not quite ready for the infamous and sometimes controversial phase of sleep training. Not yet.
Together, my wife and I nod our heads respectfully, even though this piece of information runs counter to the emergency baby sleep book (there are thousands) that Amanda bought at the recommendation of a recent Instagram post by one of her most trusted reality television celebrity friends. We continue nodding and silently agree that it may not be the appropriate time to bring this up.
Keep doing what you’re doing. OK. So … according to our current nighttime baby sleep routine that would mean …
Current Nighttime Baby Sleep Routine (Based on Science and Other Stuff)
Step 1: Since you’ve not yet stumbled upon the notion of preventing a baby from mustering up a ‘second wind’ during the evening hours, you should definitely continue to play peek-a-boo, make loud noises, and perform squishy farting sounds to entertain your child even well beyond the last feeding.
Step 2: Once baby is properly riled up, and the eternal flame of your soul is about to extinguish forever due to extreme exhaustion and the classic mistake of eating too many crab rangoons on takeout night, you should probably start the process of beginning to consider how to get this baby to bed.
Step 3: Change baby’s diaper and dress him or her in a fresh pair of jam-jams while conveying the sternness of the situation through a neutral and unloving facial expression that shows you mean very siriwiss bizness—there will be no more play play tonight. If perchance baby smiles directly into your heartless face while staring lovingly into your eyes, do NOT reciprocate, even when it feels like you are most definitely being a serious meanie pants.
Step 4: Because your baby is essentially brand spanking new, unspoiled, and as close to ‘how nature intended’ at this very moment, it is vital that you enact a rigorous, nightly skincare routine to introduce all sorts of chemically-infused, possibly organic, assuredly-not-natural lotions and toxic creams into their perfectly designed and until now, uncontaminated human body.
Bonus Tip: If said baby has a drooling issue, in which water flows, churns, and discharges from their mouth at a rate faster than the most treacherous of meandering river channels, be sure to lift each of his or her chinny-chin-chins up one-by-one and apply a very generous portion of Aquaphor healing ointment to properly combat that pesky chin rash.
Step 5: We’re rounding the corner now. Turn the lights off. Set the humidifier to full blast. And begin to pray as you snuggle baby over your shoulder and perform the bounce, rock, bob, and weave routine of your choice. Even better, turn on those sweet, soothing melodies you found of Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty tunes that have been ‘lullabied’ for the sole purpose of hornswoggling tiny little tykes off into a deep sleep.
Step 6: Once baby has finally dozed off in the comfort of your arms, the binky is still, and your legs are about to crumble from fatigue, it’s time to gently place baby in their mini-bed, which should be properly inserted into the crib facing the mounted camera security monitor system.
Step 7: The very moment when baby senses that, once again, you are selfishly abandoning him or her, their brain (compliments of that brand new internal highway of neural pathways) will send out an all-hands-on-deck alert that intensifies with every inch you lower their body downward. Culminating in a full and total wake-up upon making physical contact with the mini-bed, the process ends with you shoving the binky into baby’s mouth and running for the door. Do not feel bad, this is an official protocol, based on science, and other stuff.
Step 8: If after performing Steps 1-7, you find that you were successful, proceed to the couch and turn the television on to watch either Celebrity Big Brother or whatever the latest Netflix documentary on serial killers happens to be.
Alternatively, you may also grab a bag of Doritos and stare at a wall, if you so choose. It is vital that you DO NOT engage in such activities as personal hobbies, lovemaking, food preparation, laundry, woodwork, cleaning or personal hygiene—your body does not have the capacity to perform such actions and you should do so only at your own risk.
Step 9: As baby is not ‘super pumped’ about being in one room and Mommy and Daddy being in an entirely different room, they will most likely wake up crying every twenty to thirty minutes. When this occurs (and it will) simply repeat Steps 5-7 as many times as necessary (probably a thousand, or so).
Step 10: When you and your significant other are ready for your own bedtime, baby will understand, somehow, that it is perfectly acceptable to continue not being ‘super pumped.’ Per the standard protocol process, the parents should rock, paper, scissors, shoot until one bleary-eyed loser must (quite dangerously) remove baby (while still laying in the mini-bed) from the crib and carry them (this is definitely a No-No listed on several warning labels) to the big people bed in the big people bedroom where baby can be plopped down in between the parents for the remainder of the night.
(The end of the 10-step routine)
When our quirky, fun-loving, I definitely go to Jimmy Buffet concerts on a more than regular basis pediatrician said “just keep doing what you’re doing,” I’m not entirely sure if he was fully aware of all ten-steps of our sleep routine or maybe just had a general idea that we were probably doing something at least okayish.
At the moment, Jack is still rustling. It would be great if we could tell him to just chill out, dude. Relax. Roll onto your side and go back to sleep. But babies don’t work like that, and just like grown adults, they usually don’t respond to words like dude, or chill.
And so, using his razor-sharp wolverine-nail-cat-claws that we either forgot to trim or chose not to trim (because it’s just about the scariest baby maintenance responsibility a parent must perform), he attacks his eyes and forehead with everything he’s got.
It’s … concerning.
Jack is a beautiful baby boy, a fact that has been confirmed by everyone we know, including Ph.D-level college-educated specialists who have spent their lives dedicated to studying babies and how good looking they may or may not be. This is an entirely unbiased, matter-of-fact, authentic piece of knowledge that everyone from random pedestrians to our favorite burrito delivery driver to our own family and friends has confirmed over and over.
Its indisputability has been made abundantly clear.
That being said, this tiny tot of ours has without a doubt inherited his father’s cursed ‘bubble boy syndrome,’ which has plagued me for all of time. Unfortunately, not only does this mean that his pale, see-through Irish skin will automatically reject such things as direct sunlight and pleasant excursions to the beach, but that it will also scream in silent agony over stuff like dust mites (those microscopic scoundrels) and pollen.
If, it turns out, that he is anything like his father, the list of somewhat concerning allergies may also include additional items such as coniferous tree; deciduous trees; garden gnomes; bushes; soil; heating vents, indoor areas; outdoor areas; nature; cats; carpeting; dogs; stamp collections; leopards; weaved baskets; some rare birds; styrofoam; sea life; air (go figure); squirrel pelts (seriously); comfortable sweaters; blankets; and most everything else on planet Earth.
While we do not yet know (although signs are pointing to a definitive yes) if this affliction will be accompanied by an eternally leaky nose, constant sneezing, and the catching of deep, bone-chilling colds on the regular, we do know that the temporary baby dermatitis on his head is more than a bit frustrating. It stinks to watch him clawing away at those itchy spots time and time again—especially at three in the morning.
Tomorrow, we’ll awkwardly hand him off to the nice teachers at daycare with a few passive words regarding our parental nail trimming neglect and a shrug of the shoulders, scampering away for another eight hours while hoping there isn’t an anonymous tip line to report parents for nail trimming-related infractions. There could be.
As a new parent, I’ve learned that being tired all the time is not nearly as bad as it sounds, but it’s also not fun and can be kinda horrible sometimes, too. Confusing?
And Jack, well he’s a super cool dude. He’s chill. His head is enormous and growing even bigger without fail—like a hot-air balloon attached to a tiny basket of a body. His smile will melt your heart no matter how many times you’ve seen it. And when he’s excited he squeals like an adorable and shiny river porpoise—happy to see you and ready to play.
In short, we are very lucky parents. And like almost every parental unit has claimed throughout the course of time, it’s absolutely impossible to quantify how much we love him—because that number doesn’t exist. Sentimental, I know. But nevertheless, the truth.
As a bonus, he seems to have been born with complete autonomous control over each of his eyebrows. I’m assuming this skill will come in handy if he ever decides to become a professional wrestler or just some normal person who enjoys confusing people with asymmetrical expressions of intrigue—so that’s pretty great, too.
I get up this time. It’s possible that Amanda got up the last three times and so I feel like it’s my duty as the Dad who tries to somehow keep pace with the Mom to snag this one.
Don’t worry, I clean rooms and change stinky poo-poos and do all sorts of things, too. But, since Jack’s birth, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that no matter how tired I am or how much I think I’m contributing to this tandem parenting partnership, that Amanda has always done more and is always somehow a thousand times more tired than me—even though she would never admit it. The very act of breastfeeding every three hours is proof of that.
While kneeling awkwardly on the big bed, I remove a squirming Jack from his mini-bed, which is aptly named a DockATot. I can’t remember if it’s branded as a luxury mini-bed for babies or if I made that up because it seems preposterous that babies have access to mini-beds with bowling-lane bumpers they can bounce back and forth between all night.
Plenty fun to say aloud, the DockATot is marketed as a cozy, co-sleeping space that ‘reinvents the womb’ while also offering its own microclimate. It’s really quite nice.
“This tot is docked!” Is a witty catchphrase we’ve both said many, many times after proudly getting Jack down for a nap, which typically lasts between seven and thirteen minutes, on average.
How could we not love saying something like that over and over again? It’s amazing. And also makes it sound as if the baby is some sort of significant section of a space station that requires a complex docking process during which any number of a thousand possible wrong moves can occur.
Which, funny enough, is actually not too far off.
Amanda’s most recent strategy, after rocking Jack back to sleep in her tired but strong Mom arms, is to insert him carefully into the DockATot while maintaining a hard press against his body, her arm still underneath his back, her heart pressed naturally against his chest, thumping to remind his sleeping body that all is well.
Press the arm downward and sliiiiiiiiiiiiiip it out fast and smooth.
Start breathing again.
Like a number two pencil.
Right now, I have a lot of work to do before I get to that stage. With Jack in my arms, I rock left and right, I bounce him up and down. Now right then left. Down then up. Repeat over and over until I hit a rhythm. Until it becomes a waltz performed in the darkness to the hum of a noise machine … the swoosh of the heating vents … the light snoring of the new neighbor who now sleeps on the opposite side of our bedroom wall … my own breathing … Jack’s crying.
We rock and bounce and shush. The shushing sounds like it should.
Of course, ‘shush’ in baby talk means either ‘please’ or ‘for the dear love of God’ or ‘I really can’t handle this anymore, and I may be watching my brain melt out of my nostrils and into oblivion so please, please fall asleep.’
And so I shush. I bounce, rock, bob, and weave. My eyes adjusting to the darkness, enough to calculate distances to bed corners and doorways and any other objects that might consider attacking my shins or face for no good reason. The waltz transitions naturally into a two-step, then into a jig, or maybe it’s a foxtrot—it’s difficult to tell.
Jack squirms some more to let me know what he thinks of the shushing. His eyes are closed, but he’s not sleeping yet. I increase the intensity, doing my best to discover the exact pace and pattern of movements that will transport him to slumber town—that magical land where a baby can dream of chugging breastmilk and pooping all day without anyone fussing over bibs or diapers or wet clothes or applying creams and ointments to patches of dry skin across his head.
But he’s not there yet. Something isn’t working. I might be bobbing when I should be weaving. Or breathing too heavy, or maybe not enough. Perhaps at this moment in time, factoring in the local tides and the new super blood wolf moon, with an emphasis on the current gravitational pull and the recent dip in the stock market, I should be considering the influence that this winter’s below average snowfall might be contributing to his wakefulness at this very minute.
The right sequence is a real tough nut to crack.
Not impressed, a wriggling Jack begins to engage in another newish move he has recently perfected. Using his tiny hands (that somehow also look like enormous catcher mitts), he removes the green binky from his mouth and looks at it as if to say: “what is this bullshit?” He waves it around and around in a circular motion, generating speed, his eyes still half shut, winding the binky up as if it were a discus to be launched into the night sky.
Those enormous blue eyes whiz their way around the room, feeding his baby brain with the information he needs to quickly calculate distances, measure obtuse geometric angles, and apply the complex algorithmic genius necessary to accurately toss a binky into the nether regions where it shan’t ever be found again.
I watch helplessly as he launches that great green binky into the air and across the room. It bounces off this and that and other things—I don’t know because I can’t quite see anything at all actually, let alone a projectile binky that up until now was the focal point of my get this baby to sleep strategy.
It’s long gone now. The binky has disappeared. It’s possible that Jack dispatched it through some sort of mini black hole that his little genius baby mind conjured up out of thin air, transporting it deep into the multiverse or perhaps sending it off on its own interdimensional field trip where I can no longer detect or comprehend the binky’s existence.
A more likely scenario: Jack skillfully hucked it—like a rock smoothed by the rolling of waves over time and ready for skipping—across the room and into the shady underbelly of the bedroom dresser—just out of arm’s reach and gone for now, but maybe not forever.
There, the binky, personified and in the process of becoming self-aware, will begin a new life living amongst a community of other binkies that have suffered the same fate.
Eventually, it will come to realize that post-baby life isn’t so bad after all. Sure, it’s dusty, and there’s not much to do under the bedroom dresser. But occasionally, when the adults are at work, and the baby is away at daycare contracting hostile viral eye infections and seasonal colds capable of producing his bodyweight in mucus, you get to come out and play.
Stretch your binky legs. Grab some hummus. Watch some daytime television. Perhaps even venture out into the real world while slowly coming to the conclusion that maybe you’re the newest animated star in a computer-generated Pixar movie about your new lifestyle and the wacky hijinks of your new binky crew.
While I’m sure that’s the case, it doesn’t change the fact that Jack is still not super pumped about something. And it’s the middle of the night. And I’m tired. And my body hurts. And I’m a weak, weak human being compared to the sneaky woman sneaking up behind my body so sneakily like a lady vampire who makes no sound but is also really good at taking care of babies.
Amanda takes Jack in her arms, and after a few laps around the bed, all of a sudden everything is right in the world again. In a few moments, Jack is safely docked and whistling away his tiny little baby snores. His patches of ruffled red skin on his forehead and above the ears are left alone to settle down for the time being.
We lay our tired bodies down like number two pencils and drift off to sleep before the workday surprises us with its impending and most unwelcome arrival.
In the morning, we will take another go at sedating Jack with as much breast milk as it takes to buy us enough time to trim those sabertooth nails of his. If we’re lucky, we’ll clip and file one or two of them down to a level close enough to agree that they look okay enough for now. We will work and make food and do laundry and put gas in the car and take showers and clean rooms and fold clothes and fill humidifiers and change diapers and wash dishes and maybe do more or at least half of all those things that never stop needing to be done.
And in between, Amanda will somehow read a few more pages from whatever sleep-training book we once bought on Amazon and decided to dust off next. I’ll drag my tired legs around the apartment and collect the binkies from underneath the furniture, once lost and forgotten, but found again and boiled until they’re ready for the next midnight stroll to slumber town.
I’ll watch as Amanda, the engineer, requisite handywoman, and self-appointed person in charge of all construction-related apartment activities removes our trendy and fashionable timekeeping device from the wall. While sitting comfortably on our fern-patterned Ikea chair, she will crack open the back panel of the clock and expertly replace the battery. “Oh,” I will say.
In a few weeks, everything will change again. Jack—destroyer of modern-day swaddling technology; the Houdini of dual-zipper swaddle-like nighttime batwing flight suits; and evader of any and all nurturing bedtime clothing designed as close to perfection as possible—with the minor exception of not being an actual womb nor a Mommy or Daddy—will begin sleeping in his crib for the very first time.
Not only that, but he will do so through the night ... for many hours ... several times in a row.
Eventually, we will begin the process of not sleeping like number two pencils. Forging new stretched-out positions in which arms and legs and torsos are allowed to expand outward and even shift from side-to-side without thinking twice. Our bodies will greedily adjust to the extra sleep as if this was how it had always been.
And like I said, being tired all the time is not nearly as bad as it sounds, not when you get to hang out with a cool little dude you get to call your son. A perfectly tiny thing with a perfectly wonderful smile. I don’t know how he will sleep next week or the week after or the week after that. But for now, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and that should be just fine.