This is a story of dreams lost and dreams found, real and metaphorical.
In the span of the past two weeks since I’ve written, I’ve looked heartbreak in the face. Felt my body fill with exaltation and exuberance. Trudged heavy steps laden with disappointment and dread.
All, I might add, at the hands of a five-month-old.
The stage was primed for success: we had already survived the first night of sleep training with cry-it-out. Loving and emotional Husband (read: more likely to go into Eliana’s room than heartless Mommy) was headed on a business trip for two nights. Lila was going to stay with my parents at “Camp Gram” for another two days while Eliana and I cried-it-out at home.
Success was so close, I could taste it.
As I lay down to sleep alone that second night, I took a deep breath, steeling myself for the worst. Eliana could cry all night. And I would lay here, alone, suffering through it by myself as she suffered through it by herself, hoping that neither one of us would be scarred for longer than one night. Aching to help her, but aching to sleep, knowing that helping her would prevent future sleep.
I closed my eyes, anticipating difficulty falling asleep, but I was asleep in seconds.
Next thing I knew, I looked at the clock when I heard Eliana chatting happily in her crib:6:02.
In the morning? Wait, is the clock broken?
Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we were free at last!
I bounded into Eliana’s room filled with a kind of pure, unadulterated glee that washed through my entire body, toe to forehead, so that my face hurt from smiling so much.
“Well, good morning, Eliana! How was your night, my little beautiful, perfect girl!”
Love may be unconditional, but it’s pretty freaking fabulous when the conditions just so happen to be right.
Eliana gazed into my eyes with the same joy that danced all the way down my alimentary canal. She squealed a celebratory squeak that sounded like “Whooo!” The subtitle was obviously, “Holy shitballs, Mommy, I can’t believe I actually slept through the night! I DID IT!”
It’s hard to say who was prouder of her accomplishment, her or me. I was like little Billy from Where the Red Fern Grows, delighted in the success of my Old Dan and Little Anne. What amazing feat would my little girl conquer next?
We were two girls with a new lease on life. I sang cheerfully at the top of my lungs as I dressed Eliana, the two of us alone in our home in a weird permutation of our family life that would only happen for one more day. I belted out “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppet Movie, not caring how stupid I sounded to her or anyone else in the world. Because goddamnit, life IS a happy song when there’s someone by your side to sing along!
Hell, if I knew how to click my heels, I would’ve done it. In fact, I tried, and let’s just say that it’s not a great idea to try that when you have a baby in your arms. Just sayin’.
Eliana spent the morning before I dropped her off at school squealing in sheer delight, obviously thrilled by how happy Mommy was. She didn’t even poop her shitstorm in the car. I saw that as a minor celebration of sorts.
At school, even my students seemed happier; or was it just that I could finally see them through my rose-colored glasses? It didn’t matter. The world was a better place. Hussein was dead, Qadaffi was dead, Kim Jong-Il was dead, and Eliana was sleeping through the night. A+s for everyone, kids! And no homework—for the rest of your lives!
But the day didn’t stop being fabulous there, oh no!
As I went to pick up Eliana at our in-school babysitting, the two babysitters rushed towards me the second I walked in the door.
“Ariel! She ROLLED today! We did not see this, but we put her down, yes, and then we go look at Ellie again, and, wow! She on her tummy!”
I nearly screamed in joy. See!? See!? She just needed to sleep! A well-rested baby, and now she’s rollin’ with the big kids!
I thought things couldn’t possibly get any better…but could they? Oh yes, they could!
“And, Ariel! She sitALLBY HERSELF today!”
I picked Eliana up and squeezed her, nearly crying from delight. Eliana looked so proud of herself—so filled with that special kind of radiance that comes with self-accomplishment that I just wanted to freeze that moment forever, put it in a bottle, and lock it away for some day when she’s twelve and she really needs it.
And the icing on the cake? Who, I ask you, was lurking in the corner, listening to every word?
I hadn’t even noticed her, but there she was…waiting in the corner. In her nasal voice, she asked the babysitters, “Wait. She sat by herself?” Translation: “Wait. Her degenerate baby sat before my brilliant [soulless] baby did?!”
Babysitter #1 looked thrilled (after all, Babysitter #1 is, as I call her with pride, Eliana’s Peruvian Mommy). “Yes. She do this all by herself today. And roll! She so happy today!”
Being the bigger person, I resisted the urge to sneer triumphantly at Nemesis, which would have felt deliciously satisfying. Instead, I held my head up high and walked out the door with the sort of silent complacence that is far more damaging.
Eat it, Nemesis.
I gave Eliana a huge kiss on her cheek, and we were off. At my parents’ home, where we reunited with Lila, Eliana showed off her tricks like she was a circus pony. She was rolling all over the place. Sitting like a professional. Even Lila was impressed—each time Ellie rolled, Lila would tug my shirt and shriek with delight, “She did it! She really did it, Mommy! She’s rolling, Mommy, she’s rolling!”
I kid you not when I tell you that for a brief second, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
Night #3? Another great night…up at 5, but no crying during the night.
It worked! It had really worked!
However, as Frost might say, “nothing gold can stay.”
After six days of amazing sleep, it happened: Eliana got a fever. The kind of fever that keeps a baby up all night. The kind with stomach cramps that make a baby contort in weird ways that make you scared, and nervous, and terrified, and ready to call the doctor in the middle of the night even though in your heart you know it’s just a fever and that she will be okay, you know she will.
So we babied her, and she cried all night long, almost as if she was making up for lost time. Husband and I sat with her all night, rotating in and out of her room, working in perfect parental synergy. There were no night-time resentments between us. No midnight snappiness. No reluctant agreements or silent seething. As Eliana passed between my arms to his and his to mine throughout the night, our hands were filled with patience, kindness, and gratitude for each other. The kind that gets lost in those first few months of having a new baby.
And by morning, we were all exhausted (except Lila, who, of course, in spite of my fears of her not sleeping through any of Eliana’s crying, slept through all of it). But we had made it. We had survived.
And when Eliana was feeling better later that day, she leaned close to me. Put her face right next to mine. She opened her mouth as wide as it would go, as if she were ready to swallow me whole, and thrust her head into my cheek. With mouth wide open, her flat tongue mushed right up against my cheek and lingered there. She backed away, looking at me with a huge smile on her face. And I knew it: for the first time, she kissed me. A real, wet, open-mouthed kiss filled with love and gratitude.
So now we’re back to square one. Again, our nights are checkered by repeated trips into Eliana’s room to shove binkies into her mouth. Again, our sleep is truncated by wails for comfort. Again, our patience with our kids and each other is punctured. Again, our mornings are bleary-eyed, filled with self-doubt: Should we have gone to her or left her alone? If I fed her, would she have slept longer?
But just as sleep training is pierced by occasional defeats, so too is life flavored with unexpected victories: a roll here, a sit there, and a kiss: all when you least expect them and need them most.
Nothing gold can stay…but silver ain’t so bad.