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Sleep Training: Day One

Last night we jumped into LONG OVERDUE sleep training with both feet. A little background:

Matty first began sleeping through the night when he was around 5 weeks old (the first time it happened, it scared the shit out of us). From the time he no longer needed a late night / early morning feeding, he slept like a champ. At home, we could put him in his crib wide awake and he would either go right to sleep, or protest for 5-10 minutes before giving in to the sandman. Away from the house, one of us would have to stay with him until he fell asleep, but it rarely took more than 20 minutes, which was perfectly tolerable.

This lasted until Sunday, March 13, 2011, a date that is traditionally known on the Roman calendar as HA HA FUCK YOU PARENTS Day.

Daylight Saving Time messed up Matty’s schedule something fierce and he never really recovered. I say he never really recovered, but should I actually say that Gia and I never really recovered his schedule for him? You betcha. Our bad. Matty was around 18 months old at this point and starting to become A) much more willful, and B) much more physically capable of doing whatever the hell he wanted to, like, for instance, climbing out of his crib. We converted his crib to a toddler bed via rail removal, and you would have though we converted his pajamas to rusty chain mail. So, he wouldn’t stay in the crib, but he couldn’t handle the toddler bed. One option he seemed somewhat interested in was the “big boy bed,” which is actually just a full matress and box spring parked on the floor in his room. We went with it. And that is where he has slept since last summer.

Since that transition, the bedtime routine has been this (with one or the other parent):

  • Head upstairs for a bath after dinner
  • Put on pajamas
  • Brush teeth
  • Read books
  • Turn off the light
  • Lay in bed until Matty falls asleep

    Sometimes he would fall asleep in 5-10 minutes, sometimes it would take 45 minutes. But if you got up to leave before he was asleep, he would follow you right out the bedroom door (which he can unlock) and stand at the top of the stairs, howling. [Side note: Matty's room is upstairs and our room is on the main floor, so we have a gate at the top of the stairs.]

    Even with the falling asleep variable, the bedtime routine was largely manageable. It was a nice way to end the day and spending some quality quiet time with your kid before they go to sleep is something akin to the fabric holding civilization together.

    The main problem is that Matty wakes up anywhere from one to three times per night. And when he wakes up, does he find a stuffed animal and put himself back to sleep? HAHAHAHAHAHA shut up. No, he climbs out of bed, walks (or runs) out of his room, and stands at the gate screaming bloody murder until one of us goes upstairs and puts him back to bed. And putting him back to bed is simple, right? Just tuck him into bed, kiss him on the head and you’re good, right? Again, har har har. No, one of us would have to stay with him until he falls back asleep. NOT MANAGEABLE.

    So, despite being in full agreement that this situation was one big Are You Kidding Me?, that’s the way it has been for the past, oh, 5-6 months. Until last night.

    When Matty falls asleep quickly and only wakes up once during the night, we are okay. Unfortunately, that combination only occurs maybe two or three nights out of seven each week. The other four or five nights were some version of oh-my-god-we-have-to-do-something-I-am-actually-willing-to-throw-all-of-our-money-at-the-problem-if-that-will-make-things-better. And with me facing an extremely busy travel schedule this year, well, Matty might just destroy Gia. And then Gia would destroy me. Mutually assured destruction is not a family value.

    We had tried a few touchy-feely “no cry” techniques, but Matty proved far too headstrong and willful for any sort of timely success. We saw little incremental progress, and when we would revisit the teaching materials, they would say things like, “You might have to work on it for a few months,” and, “You most important contribution is patience, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s working.” Exsqueeze me? No.

    On the other hand, the idea of locking him in his room and letting him shriek himself into a coma never sat quite right. I didn’t like it, and I have a much stronger stomach for toddler torture than my lovely wife, So, we decided on a hybrid approach: Lock him in his room (I turned the door knob around so the lock is on the outside), but go to him periodically, gradually increasing the time between visits until there are no more visits.

    So last night we gave it a shot. I put him down at about 7:45. I was barely out of his room and he was already trying to negotiate the door knob, which had become solid and motionless.

    The betrayal was, as expected, devastating. And he let us know all about it, for 56 straight minutes. The noises he made probably wouldn’t have been as guttural had someone been causing him actual physical harm. Gia wore headphones. We both drank whiskey. But less than an hour later, he was asleep. Sure, it was on the floor behind his door, but I had braced for several hours of terror and ultimately giving in. So … score!

    As I type, we are 27 minutes into Sleep Training: Day Two.

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