The clock reads two-thirty in the morning. Xander is wide awake. He does somersaults in our bed, spins around so his feet are in my side, then in my neck. He pulls his pacifier out of his mouth and giggles before putting it back in his mouth. He tucks his head against my shoulder and pulls at my shirt until he can get his little fingers into the dip above my collarbone. He rolls over to touch Eric, then rolls back to me again.
I refuse to nurse him overnight anymore. He was waking up every hour, on the hour, and only a boob would get him back to sleep. Two weeks ago, in a fit of exhaustion, I said, “No more!” He fussed, he fidgeted. He tossed and turned in our bed, kicking me in the chest, dropping his head heavily onto my belly, tossing a fist into my face. Eventually, he slept. Without screaming. And without nursing. I thought, “Ah, here is the glimmer of light at the end of this sleepless tunnel!” False hope.
At three-thirty, when Xander is still awake, I get up. I have work to do, anyway. I leave him in bed with Eric, but worry. Eric is a heavier sleeper than I am. I’m never entirely confident that Xander will not end up on the floor in my absence. I line my pillows along the edge of the bed, futile against a crawler, but padding enough to let me work.
I write and edit until six-thirty. I know the sun and the kids will be up soon, but I just can’t keep my eyes open. I drift off on the sofa. Eric wakes me at seven. “Do you want to move to the bed? The kids will be up soon.” I shake my head and pull my laptop back into my lap. I ask him to make coffee.
Eric takes the kids to the bus at eight-fifteen. I nurse Xander and use my phone to scour the internet, searching for a sleep training suggestion I can swallow. I know I’m looking for a miracle, something I can do today that will make up for last night’s sleeplessness. I need to work, I need to write, I need Xander to sleep.
Article after article tells me that it is cruel to let him cry himself to sleep. All make claims about trust and abandonment and trauma. Letting him cry himself to sleep will completely destroy him and our mommy-baby bond, apparently. That seems a bit extreme, but I buy it because I’m not sure I’m capable of listening to him scream, anyway. I start digging for alternatives, but all of the comments on these “gentler” suggestions contain various versions of “This is hooey. The only thing that worked was letting him cry himself to sleep. Now he takes three hour naps and sleeps twelve hours a night.” Three hour naps. Twelve hours a night. I try to remember the last time I slept twelve hours in one night. College, maybe? I wonder how long ago these commenters were me, doing this vain internet search, sleeplessness turned into exhaustion turned into desperation. I find one article that suggests letting him cry, but sitting by his crib. He can’t feel abandoned if I’m sitting right there, right? And he gave up the nighttime nursing without much of a fight, so this shouldn’t be too bad.
But we don’t have a crib. He rarely used the bassinet we had; what would have been the point of a crib? The pack-n-play will have to do.
Xander drifts off while nursing. I try laying him in his crib. He wakes up and fusses, but I put him down anyway. I sit by his crib, averting my eyes as directed by this internet expert. His fussing turns to screaming. He pulls himself up and reaches over the side of the pack-n-play. His palm turned toward the sky, he beckons, opening and closing his little fist in the gesture that means he wants something. He wants me.
I stare, unwavering. “I’m still here,” I coo. He opens and closes his hand more quickly. “Mamamamamama!” he screams. If he can just learn to sleep on his own, I tell myself, I can write, I can write, I can write. He sits down hard in the pack-n-play and screams for a moment before pulling himself up to beckon again.
He wants me. He wants me to hold him. I know that he will be asleep in seconds if I just pick him up. But then my arms will be full and how will I write? I persist. So does he.
I lay him back down. He is quiet while I touch him. He starts to fuss as soon as I stand up. He stands, too, and screams and beckons. We do this over and over again.
At nine-thirty, I lay him down. He starts to fuss as I stand up. I reach down and touch his chest. He whimpers. His eyes close. I pull my hand away, and his eyes open immediately. He cries. I touch his chest again. This time I wait until his breathing is heavy and steady before I pull my hand away and sneak out of the room. I collapse in front of the computer. It is nine-forty-five. I have been awake since two-thirty. This is what comes as my fingers move across the keyboard.
At ten minutes past ten, the phone rings and I snatch it up before it’s through its first ring. “Please stay asleep,” but I hear him crying before I’ve even finished my silent prayer. A woman is calling to ask if I’d like to change my electric company. I snap unnecessarily at her (“Our utilities are included in our condo fee. And you woke the baby.”). My fingers hover over the keyboard, but my need to write cannot outscream Xander. I go to him, meeting his fat, beckoning fists and scooping him up. “Mamamamama,” he says, then sighs as he rubs his still-sleepy eyes, settles against my chest, and drifts back to sleep.
He’ll only be my snuggly baby for a little while longer, I remind myself as I finish typing this one-handed.
“See?” I say aloud as I proofread this one last time. “I can do both things at once.” Xander sighs an agreement in his sleep.