Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bedtime battles

June 08

My son Dovene is a strong lad; very active, full of boundless energy and curiosity and surprisingly strong willed for a baby. At 6 months, its amazing the things I’ve garnered about his unfolding personality-not the least of which is that he does not like being laughed at in the middle of a new effort!

From 6 weeks on, he began to play and fuss, he’d nap long hours in the afternoon then at night, suddenly as if he had been possessed, he would wake up and want to play till 1 or 2am. By the time he was 3 months old, I was drooping with fatigue.

One fine evening, I decided I had had it. I was the mother. I was the one with the oppression rights. So I declared 8pm his bedtime. If you think you’re strong willed and disciplined, you wait till you come up against a feisty miniscule human being. At 8 I put him to bed and turned out the lights. My original intention was to pray with him and sing him to sleep. But I was forced to retreat from the room in order to even put him in his cot. He began by sniffling then whining then full scale high octave screaming. Around 8:30 I convinced myself that I had made headway with him, threw in the towel picked him up and begged for forgiveness. I haven’t felt as evil as I did that night my entire life.

Day 2: we try again. This time I’m determined to win. I don’t. But I do make a new discovery: babies can raise the volume and pitch of an angry cry simultaneously. I thought he would exhaust himself and sleep but no, the tenacious little brat screamed till 9 when tail between my legs I returned to the room and picked him up. The next day I had a headache, I didn’t even try.

Day 4 I noticed something that stiffened my spine. When I put him down he began at once to cry, only this time he would stop after about 10 minutes and wait to see if I’d pick him up. If I didn’t then he’d resume at a higher pitch, louder volume. I told myself that my will had survived stronger wills than his, I would win. He continued to scream, I shut the door. It got louder, we left the living room altogether and went to sit on the porch. I would check on him from time to time to make sure that it really was just attention crying. It got louder and my heart just bled. I got up ready to concede. ‘Maybe’ I said, ‘he’s too young for this bedtime thing’. Then Kofi stepped in and said ‘sit down’. I didn’t but I did halt the procession to the door. I stood there irresolute till he said ‘sit down Mammie, he will be fine. Don’t let him push you around and don’t worry so much baby, you’re a good mother.’

So we raised our voices to be heard above the din and had a half-hearted lightweight conversation we could that neither of us could concentrate on but pretended we were enjoying. Eventually the crying stopped, he’d fallen asleep. I came back to the living room and I sat down and I cried. I felt wicked, unfeeling, relieved, victorious, smug. It was easier from there on. For about a week he put us through this less than delightful routine.

Then one day I put him to bed. He said. ‘Aarrgmmpph’ and he slept. Just like that. He stopped fussing and began to fall asleep wherever he was at 8 and even crying if we didn’t put him to bed immediately. These days he doesn’t nap for more than 30 minutes during the day and has begun to crawl. It is like hanging out all day with the Energizer Bunny and boy, am I glad I had this bedtime thing in place before the long sleepless play days and energetic nights rolled along. Every now and then he tests the limits to see if the rule really holds. Because I’ve gotten used to his cooperation, he always gets me. His father is made of sterner stuff. Each time I fail the test we have another few days of war. Though invariably I win, it takes its toll.

I love him madly; he is the light of my life. But this is one light I’m always glad to turn off at 8. In fact sometimes Kofi has to stop me from cheating and sending him off to bed at 7:30. [Though once I heard him exclaim tiredly, as he made a quick swoop to take some dangerous thing or other from the curious young man, ‘ooh! five whole hours more till your bedtime’.] When finally it hits 8, I smile and say with near tangible relish ‘bedtime Dov.’

I spend the first post bedtime half hour savouring the silence and enjoying being still. I fetch myself a tall glass of watered down juice -with ice for effect- stretch out on the couch and sigh with pleasure. Ah bedtime, what a lovely little invention!

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