The delicate
art of sleeping

by K. Bannerman

I have wandered along the Great Wall of China, I have plumbed the depths of caves deep in the Pyrenees for prehistoric art, I have scaled the cactus-covered cliffs of a buffalo jump, I have ridden a camel and swum with harbour seals. I can shoot a rifle, replace a tracheostomy tube, speak four or five languages (note: my proficiency is dependant on my level of inebriation) and play a mean game of Texas Hold’em. Two back injuries, one broken heart, one novel published and another on the way – I’ve taken on a lot of challenges in this life, and most of them, with a grin.

But never, NEVER, have I faced a challenge as overwhelming as PUTTING ZOE TO BED.

No one fully explained to me the difficulty of settling a baby to sleep. Maybe because they couldn’t. To say that “putting a baby to bed is hard” is the grossest understatement one can possibly make. It’s not just hard; it’s a heroic test of endurance which repeats itself night after night, until you are so exhausted that you wonder how you could possibly stand upright a moment longer, or walk one more lap around the living room, or rock the squawling bundle in your cramping arms one more time. You learn to survive on two hours sleep, not just one night or two nights but EVERY night, because that’s all you get. The whole event becomes a test of wills, to see who can last the longest, all the while chanting the mantra, “...she’s got to sleep sometime... she’s got to sleep sometime...”

Of course, the problem is that she does sleep, but only when she’s being held. As soon as she’s lying horizontally in her crib, she wakes up, and the whole darn circus starts all over again.

This could be remedied by sleeping in a chair with her, but somehow she knows when you aren’t standing, and she won’t abide by laziness. So, as soon as bum hits sofa, the cries begin again, and increase in pitch and frequency until you stand up and, just to keep from falling over, stumble along the circuit from the living room to the bathroom and back again.

I think, though, (and I don’t want to jinx myself, so I’m hesitant to claim that I know... I only think....) that I’ve found a way to get Zoe into bed. I think. Her father has devised his own method, and we discuss our techniques over bleary-eyed breakfasts, but this is my modus operandi:

  1. Give her a bath. This is helpful, because not only does it contribute to good hygiene but, if Zoe’s hungry, it will provoke a very angry cry from her. The screaming equivalent of “I don’t want a bath, I want food, damn it!” I keep the bath short because being hungry isn’t fun, but I’ve discovered that ‘angry cry’ takes a lot of effort. She really gets into it, and spends a lot of excess energy telling me how much I’ve pissed her off.
  2. Change her diaper. You want to start off clean, because you don’t want to perform this step later, when she’s drifting off to sleep – that would undermine all your efforts immediately.
  3. Eat. Again, this takes a lot of energy at first, because she grunts and flings her arms around and flops like a beached trout in my lap. The kid loves food. Eventually, she settles down, then closes her eyes, then lies there in utmost peace and contentment. I don’t know what sort of tranquillizer is present in human milk, but man alive, it’s potent stuff.
  4. Rise slowly from chair. This is VERY IMPORTANT. Rise slowly, evenly, and with breath held. Your thigh muscles will burn from the effort, but it’s worth it.
  5. Start humming “Little Piggies” by the Beatles. ‘Baby Beluga’ doesn’t work for me, although her father swears by it. I find most songs by the Beatles, Belle & Sebastian, or The Who will yield positive results, as long as they are delivered in a soothing, rhythmic manner. However, any melody will probably work as long as it can be repeated without break for at least 45 minutes, or until your larynx craps out.
  6. Arm test. Are her arms noodly? Do they dangle at her sides without any resistance to the law of gravity? When you hold her out, (gently! gently!) do her hands flop back and forth? If the answer is ‘No’, continue to hum and stroll. If the answer is ‘Yes’, then...
  7. Put her in crib. This is a delicate operation, comparable to neurosurgery. She must be held in the precise way, one arm under the back holding her head, the other cradling her bum: any deviation is instantly noted by Zoe, and will result in waking. The bum is placed on the mattress first, then quickly shift the free hand to help lower her head, tilting it just so to keep the light from falling in her eyes, or the blanket from tickling her chin, or any number of various distractions which, as yet, are beyond my determination. Now that she’s down...
  8. Hold breath, wait, watch for any movement, pray. If she stays still, success! Hurry around house to brush teeth, turn off lights, hop into bed and try to catch a few minutes of sleep for yourself, which will prove difficult because you’ll be on tenterhooks, listening for the smallest sound coming from the crib’s direction. If, however, she twitches, the eyes flash open, and she takes a deep breath in anticipation of a hearty cry...
  9. Repeat steps 3 - 8, as necessary, most likely until dawn gilds the east.

So there you go. Our family doctor told us that, if you can survive the first month of parenting, you can survive anything, and now that the month is over, I believe it. Bring on the shark tank, the Triathalon, the climbing of Mt. Everest. I can do it. I can put Zoe to bed, ergo, I can do anything.

AND, I can do it on two hours sleep.


© K. Bannerman

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem