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It Takes a Village

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou


Fucking carrots.”

I rarely find myself cursing out vegetables, but this is what happened to me two nights ago at 2 AM as I paced the halls, furious at Eliana’s near-hourly night waking.

In Husband’s absence, I’m short on a lot of things: friendship, love, company, sympathy, patience, entertainment. I’m also, as it turns out, short on a scapegoat. And at 2 AM, well, the carrots I fed her for the first time that night, they would have to do.

With Husband away on a business trip, the girls and I are “vacationing” at what my siblings/nieces/nephews and I fondly call “CampGram”, my parents’ home about five minutes away from where we live. For the week that Husband’s gone, I’ve decided to take advantage of my parents’ goodwill (it’s a hobby, really) and the fact that a year and a half ago, we moved out of New York City to New Jersey to be closer to my parents, sisters and their families. This week turns out to be just one of those incredible times that I’m grateful to be so close to “home”.

It doesn’t matter that the house no longer looks the way it did when I was a child—the sounds, the smells, the experience of living with my parents is the same, and I admit enthusiastically, I’m loving re-visiting my childhood and adolescence without the drama of puberty. Staying with my parents is like staying at the Ritz Carlton for the mommy-and-kids-set; the food is outstanding, the accommodations top-notch, the toys phenomenal, and the staff is incredibly friendly, warm, and loving. The turn-down service is impeccable; “Pa” puts Lila to bed, with stories, songs, and cuddles included. Oh, and you can’t beat the rate!

There’s something nearly magical about sleeping in my childhood bedroom again while Lila and Eliana sleep across the hall in my sisters’ old rooms. When I close my eyes at night, the covers conjure memories of other nights I’ve spent in this room: nights before sleep-away camp where I was so nervous and excited I could barely sleep, the night before my wedding, when I consciously remembered it would be my “last night in the nursery” like Wendy in Peter Pan, the nights I snuck my phone into bed with me as a teenager, hoping my parents wouldn’t catch me and my muffled conversations. As a child, I can remember tucking myself under covers, hoarding books, toys, and flashlights, the same way Lila does at my parents’ home, where she has recently fallen asleep clenching a plastic Buzz Lightyear, a barrette, and a necklace. I remember many nights when, after my parents thought we were asleep, Sister #2 and I would throw our stuffed animals across the hall, back and forth to one another, tucking secret written messages into their shirts until our parents noticed that we weren’t sleeping and demanded that the game end.

And as I fall asleep at night here in my childhood home, the sensory experience of the house is even the same as it was when I was living alone with my parents after my older siblings all went to college; CNN blares on the TV, my mother snores softly on the couch in the den as my father enjoys a clandestine rendezvous with ice cream. The heat turns on and off throughout the night, and my mother—the night watch—continues to pace the halls at all hours of the night, the mother of four always on the look-out, even as an “empty-nester” (Let’s face it—with eight grandchildren all in spitting distance, their “empty nest” is more full than it was with four children living in it. I mean, you don’t get the moniker “Camp Gram” by playing mah-jong and getting your hair colored purple in your free time.)

While I enjoy time-traveling to the eighties and nineties of my old life, Lila adores being cradled in the warmth of Gram and Pa, who are able to enjoy my two girls without the chaos of all the other grandchildren around, which is how it usually is. My parents get a kick out of Eliana’s constant kicking—the girl is obviously training for The Chorus Line, pounding her legs in delight in her crib with the enthusiasm of a three-hundred-pound tap-dancer, every morning at5:30 AM sharp. My parents get to see what I see: Eliana as a chatty baby who always wants to be involved in the conversation and tries to shriek her way into it, and Lila, a constant negotiator, who can disarm you with charm and people-savvy. Eliana is getting to know my parents, and my heart just about melts when I see either of the girls snuggling enthusiastically in their arms.

There’s a tinge of sadness, too—I see how much Lila loves being with my parents, and I can’t help but think about the grandparent they girls will never meet, my husband’s mother, whom I never met either. Sometimes I’ll see an expression in their faces that I don’t recognize and wonder, do my children act like her? Are their mannerisms the same? Are these personality quirks or facial expressions ghosts that linger in their genetic codes? What would she think of them? Or me, for that matter? As a wife?  As a mother?

She is with us, even when she’s not.

Because a mother-child relationship is fraught and complex, no matter the age of the people involved. Even as a thirty-one-year-old woman, in living back at “Camp Gram,” I have slipped back into my childhood roles like they are old coats that already know the shape of my body. As a child, I craved my mother’s attention, sought her advice eagerly, laughed at her inability to operate a VCR, relied on her to fill in the gaps and come up with solutions.

And here we are again. She has made my lunch for school. (Yes. Seriously.) She has set a vitamin out on my plate. She has reminded me to get dinner together for the night that she and Dad are going out. She can’t figure out how to get on Facebook despite at least fifty lessons. Truly, Lila can use the computer with more competence than Gram can. That’s not even a joke. Next year, we might have Lila do Turbo-Tax for us.

Technical difficulties aside, though, Gram is ready to stick her hands into this sleep training business, with sleeves rolled up.


“Fucking carrots.”

These are the words I mutter as I drag myself down the hall to Eliana’s room to respond to her millionth night waking.

Though the week at Camp Gram had otherwise been an Ellysium of multigenerational love in every other way, Eliana’s sleep was turning out to be a nightmare. Eliana was waking up at night, but instead of ignoring her and shoving earplugs deeper into my ears as I would at my own home (where a good night for her goes from 6:30-4 until she needs to eat again before returning to sleep), I ran to her cry like I was her little bitch so as to avoid waking my parents, who had welcomed us with open arms into their home, but probably not into their REM cycles.

And genius baby that she is, Eliana figured it out.

The night-time wakings began increasing. First every four hours. Then two hours. Was it the fucking carrots that were making her wake up like this?

Suddenly, I’m nursing every two hours or two and a half hours, and it’s like Eliana is six weeks old again.

In the mango glow of the nightlight, here, in my oldest sister’s childhood bedroom, I feel my eyes well up with tears, partly from exhaustion and partly from anger at my own self-sabotage after all Eliana and I have worked through together with sleep training. You can’t please all generations at once, I guess. Out of three generations under one roof, I’m the only one suffering, so I guess I’ll just have to take this one for the team.

Except that all the sleep training I’ve done will be undermined. And then we’ll be back at home, and Husband will be home, and he will go to her because he always goes to her more than I ever did, and we’ll be back at square one, and I’ll have to do it all over again…

I want to cry.

Eliana drifts off into sleep, and as I bring her to the crib, slowly, slowly lowering her body into it, my body aching to go back into bed, her eyes blink wide open, like one of those creepy dolls in a horror movie. Add shrill-like screams.


Nothing, no, nothing could make this worse.

Except, that is, the fact that I’ve woken up Mom.


Here we are: both of us awake at 2:45 AM, Mom still in a nightgown reminiscent of the ones I remember her wearing when I was a child. The house feels the same, but instead of my running into my parents’ room with a nightmare or stomachache, Mom is coming into my daughter’s room in her own house.

Legitimately, this feels like the sort of nonsensical, surrealistic dream I would have if I had the luxury of sleeping right now.

Mom’s forehead creases into a “T” between the eyes. “Ariel, what’s wrong?”

“Mom, please. I can handle this. Please go to sleep.” There is begging in my voice.

“It’s okay. She didn’t even wake me.”

“Then why are you awake?”

“I was already up.”

“I didn’t want to wake you.”

“I’m up already.”

Right, Mom, because people just troll the halls at three in the morning looking for a good time.

“Ariel, what’s wrong with her?”

I sigh and try not to cry, but I know Mom can hear it in my voice. “Being here is totally derailing all my sleep training. She knows I’m coming now—she’s expecting me to come any time she whines. I’ve ruined everything.”

Used to my drama, Mom reassures me, “You haven’t ruined everything. She’s not even bothering us, Ariel.”

“She is, I know she is!”

“Just let her cry, Ariel. Honestly, it won’t bother us.”

“I can’t—that’s not right. We’re going to go back home tomorrow.”

“That’s ridiculous! Just stay and LET. HER. CRY.”

Eliana has been listening intently to all of this. Her eyes jump from mine to my mother’s; she is awaiting the verdict.

“And give her Mylicon, Ariel. Did you give her Mylicon yet?”

“No, Mom, she doesn’t need Mylicon—”

Before I can finish my sentence, Mom has already opened up a bottle of Mylicon that has materialized out of thin air and shoved the dropper in Eliana’s mouth. No measurement necessary, apparently; Mom pretty much just dumped a liter straight into Eliana’s mouth, and she is gobbling up its minty goodness with gusto.

“Now put her in the crib, Ariel.”

“She’s going to cry. You’ll see.”

“Then LET. HER. CRY!”

“Are you sure?”

“YES. And tomorrow, we’re putting the bumpers back in the crib. This no-bumpers thing is bullshit.”

I take Eliana and place her into her crib because only a fool battles with a mother at three in the morning, or, more specifically, only a fool battles with my mother at any time of the day, since she is eternally right no matter what.

As I lower her body into the crib, Eliana gives me a look that probably translates to, “Wait—seriously…you’re LEAVING?”

But this ain’t no joke. As I walk out of Eliana’s room, my mom closes the door behind me and puts her hand on my shoulder.

“Now go to sleep and don’t go back to her. Do what you would do at home.”

“Are you sure?”


And the night passes. Miraculously, Eliana doesn’t wake up again. Was it the Mylicon? The last nursing session?

Or was it simply that Eliana finally understood the tenet that governs much of our family’s life: It may take a village, sweetheart, but at the end of the day? You just don’t fuck with Gram.


Cry It Out: The Art of War

Eliana has proven to a worthy opponent.

Sleep-training failed the first time around, and I see no shame in admitting this. In retrospect, the mushy-wimp approach I went with, the old “go and in soothe” routine, turned out to train people all right, but it wasn’t Eliana. Over the course of three weeks, Husband and I had been trained like obsequious, fearful slaves to go in and “soothe” Eliana by shoving a pacifier in her mouth approximately every two hours throughout the course of any given night. There was no question that this was way worse than feeding her twice a night.

We are whipped beyond belief.

How victorious Eliana must feel.

I’ve known in my heart for at least two weeks now what really needs to be done here. I’ve resisted it until this point because I’ve anticipated it will be a messy, horrific trainwreck with many psychological casualties.

But one can only hide from the truth for so long.

Only one method is going to make this family sleep through the night again, and it ain’t pretty.

Cry It Out.

As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, “If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight.”

So now, it is time to fight.

“Crying-it-out” comes in various forms. In its most sensitive form, you can do “gradual extinction,” by which you plan to suck up a week of your life by catering to your wee one’s needs on a timed basis. On the first night, as the baby cries for food or comfort, you only go in every five minutes. On the second night, you go in every ten minutes. On the third night, every twenty minutes. On the fourth night, you and your husband remember what it’s like to actually have a life past seven o’clock at night, and you don’t go in anymore, because your baby is magically “cured.” At this point, once you’ve had, oh, let’s say three consistent nights of uninterrupted sleep, you’ll start liking your husband again for more than fifteen minute increments, and you may even have the dumb idea that hey! Maybe it’s time to have another baby! This happens to be a dangerous side effect of getting your child to sleep through the night.

However, this kind-hearted, sensitive method is for pansies. It’s for first-time parents who don’t want to scar their kiddos. You know who you are.

Those of us with two kids are passed that point. Sentimentality has no place in our homes when it comes to sleeping. I was armed and ready to play a big game in which I had no choice but to win. It was time for Cry It Out. Not gradual extinction. Just extinction, hard core and straight up. As in, “Goodnight, sweetheart. See you at 5 AM. Good luck.” (Door closes; Mommy hopes for the best.) Game on, Eliana. GAME ON.

I had been waiting a week for the right night to start. Now some of you out there may be thinking, “Oh, I’ll be she waited for a weekend.” NO. I wanted to do this quick, dirty, and on my terms. Husband was going on a business trip, which would conveniently take him out of the equation as a potential underminer to my evil plan. My parents generously accepted Lila as their sleepover guest for three nights, so that she would not be woken during the night as Eliana screamed for mercy. With Lila outsourced and Husband conveniently out of the picture, the night was ripe for victory. Poor, poor Eliana. She had no idea what was coming.

Naturally, the best-laid tactical plans are often unraveled, and so too was mine. Having misread the calendar, I learned that Husband’s business trip was Tuesday, not Monday, but with the plan already hatched in my mind, I was completely unwilling to break and change my start date of Monday, the cruelest day of the week, and therefore, the most metaphorically appropriate for sleep training. Multiple times in the early evening, I casually commented to Husband, “So you know the plan, right? I shut the door after feeding her, and then we don’t go in until 5 AM. No matter how much she cries or screams. No binkies, no nothing. Stay out of the room no matter what. Got it?”

“Got it.”

At 9:30, I nursed Eliana. She ate a little, eyes barely open. Quietly, I whispered to her, “It’s going to really suck tonight, but trust me, you’ll thank me later. This is called ‘tough love’. So even though you’re gonna feel like I hate you, I’m doing this because I love you. And because when we’re all well-rested, we’re all actually going to be able to love you even more.” I placed her gingerly in the crib and walked away. So far, so good.

At 10:30, as we watched TV, I reminded Husband casually, “So. No going in tonight, remember. No matter what. Okay?”


For safety’s sake, I verified once more before I shoved neon orange earplugs into my ears as I pulled the covers up in bed at 11:00, “So you know we’re not going in, right?”

“YES. I get it! I’m not going in!”

Fine, he was annoyed by my patronizing repetition. I admit I was even a little annoyed by myself. But in my fantasy plan, there was no room for mistakes. A sleepy pop-in to Eliana’s room was not an option; it would compromise the entire operation. I admit that a part of me wanted to set up a mini-obstacle course in the hallway with plastic storage bins, stacking blocks, and small Toy Story figurines between our bedroom and Eliana’s room so that on the off chance that Husband decided he would go to her, he would be slightly maimed as he tripped over toys, thus jolting him awake and snapping him back on plan.

Such are the deranged musings of a sleep-deprived mother.

With earplugs in my ears, Lila “on leave,” and Husband already asleep next to me, I closed my eyes and gave myself a little pep talk. Ariel, you can do this. This will be a hard night, but in a week when we’re all sleeping through the night, we will all be grateful, and you shall feted like a general returning from war, if only by yourself for yourself. You can do it. You can do it. You can do this. DO NOT GIVE IN.

Poor Eliana. Poor, poor Eliana. She had no idea what was going to hit her. But this was no time for sympathy. Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, “Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

So stealthily, without preparation on Ellie’s part, this game would have to be won.

If I was to come out of this victorious, I had to out-game this baby, crying or not.

I closed my eyes, hoped for the best, and fell asleep quickly.

12:16. Eliana cries. Earplugs or not, I hear her. Husband sits up in bed, already visibly upset by her distress and the fact that if he does anything to help/calm/approach/soothe/look at her, there may be Mommy-led domestic violence in our home. Getting out of bed he says, “Forget it. I’m going downstairs. I can’t take this. I’ll see you in the morning.”

The man wonderful, warm, loving and concerned. He is all heart; he would be totally useless in this war. But Sun Tzu reminds us, “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” So Husband’s bowing out was actually an asset to me; victory was on its way, as I was still ready to fight.

With his towel already thrown in, I know I’m going to have to endure this brutal night alone, but I’m ready for it. I stare at the ceiling as Eliana cries. A part of me is sickly curious how long it will last, not because I’m worried about her, but because I want to see what kind of moxie the kid’s got. Girl can’t roll, but how long can she cry for without giving up? At 12:32, the cries die down. She is done.

I let a complacent smile wash across my face. Thinking of Eliana’s sweet resting face, a mean, smarmy thought takes me: Is that the best you can do? Before I can consider what kind of terrible mother I am to think that, I fall back asleep again.

3:09. Husband is nowhere to be seen, and the crying this time is loud. Really fucking loud. Eliana may have been tricked the first time into self-soothing, but this time? Perhaps a mouthful of her own hand just ain’t cuttin’ it. I cringe as I hear her—she sounds so sad! So distressed! So lonely! If only I could…it would be so easy to just peek in and see…STOP. STOP, ARIEL. DO NOT GIVE IN!

Miraculously, the crying stops by 3:18. I can hardly believe my good fortune! Has the game already been called? Is Mommy the victor already? So soon? And to think I was going to go in! That I was going to give her the satisfaction of winning over me!

At 4:23, the game changes entirely. Now, Eliana is wailing like someone is covering her bald head in Bandaids and then just ripping them off as quickly as possible. Husband has come back to the bedroom, but he knows better than to ask me if he should go in. I admit I want him to ask me…I want him to tell me this is ridiculous. That she’s five-months-old. That’s she’s not ready for this. That this isn’t the only way. But he doesn’t. Instead, he angrily takes a pillow off our bed and goes into our walk-in closet, where I hear him lay down on the ground before shutting the door.

The crying gets louder and louder; I try to depersonalize it by saying to myself over and over again that this is what babies sound like when they’re upset, but this isn’t just any baby. It’s MY baby. And she sounds terrible. The worst I’ve ever heard her, literally in her entire life. At 4:34, her wailing becomes unbearable. She’s human. She’s a person. This isn’t a game. I’m probably fucking her up for life. If you can’t count on your own mother, who can you count on in your life? She will never forgive me for this. This is laying the grounds for a life of distrust. She’ll never be able to feel supported again. She’ll question anyone who ever claims to be loyal to her. WHAT AM I DOING?

To distract myself, I get up and open the closet door in our bedroom. I can’t see Husband, who is lying on the ground in the dark, but I hear his voice, “I keep worrying that she’s got her leg caught between the crib slats and that we’re going to go in there and it’s going to be horribly contorted and purple.”

Thanks for that.

The crying continues—loud, endless, painful. I watch the clock as the minutes crawl by. 4:41. 4:43. 4:47. 4:51. 4:53. 4:57.

I feel sick.

At 4:58, I rationalize to myself: the clock in her room says 5:00. I know it does because it is always faster than the clock in our room.

After all: “There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.”

I steel myself for the worst, and as I walk towards Eliana’s room in the dark quiet of the hallway, past Lila’s creepily empty bedroom, I am deathly afraid that Husband is right: that I will go in there, that there will be something horribly wrong with Eliana that I will never be able to fix, something that I will never be able to forgive myself for.

I get to her room and look into the crib. Eliana looks at me—there are no tears. In fact, she is now smiling, as if my presence is the off-switch to her crying. No hurt feelings; in fact, the only ones who have been psychologically scarred are Husband and me.

Tonight: night #2. This time, I take a page from another great war general, Ulysses S. Grant: “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”

So tonight, we keep moving on.