Learning to sleep, and to be okay with tears

It is my earliest memory. Darkness has consumed everything around me and I crumple to the floor. Water and salt soak my cheeks as I bury my face in the palms of my tiny six-year-old hands. I gasp and sob, but no one comes. I am alone and there is no respite. Deep in the closet of my room in the basement, my family has forgotten me. 

What comes before and what comes after are a mystery to me, but it was a recurring theme of my youth. A deep need to be rescued from trauma within and around me. Blame it on the fighting and yelling. There was plenty of it to go around. Whatever the cause, no one ever came in those anxious, lonely moments. At least until DH came along, with his confident mix of love and compassion paired with determined insistence that I get it together and stand on my own two feet. 

I’ve generally grown out of that six-year-old child, though a year ago right after Aria was born my post-pregnancy hormone surge had some interesting side effects. I felt that early memory magnified like never before. A new layer of fear wove its way into the memory and suddenly I had a new and inexplicable, all-encompassing fear of the dark. It lasted for about two weeks. I had to keep lights on everywhere and couldn’t go in the basement. Monsters seemed lurking around the dark corners of my house and mind. I have never felt feel like that. It had an animal-like edge. I was a gazelle one heart-beat away from being eaten by a lion and I was totally unprepared to meet death. 

Until I almost did, that day ten days after Aria was born when I ended up in the hospital. No fear of the dark after that. And no more fear in my six-year-old memory. 

So there is your context. Little Jessica crying in the dark. 

Let crib training begin. 


When Aria was about 3 months old I made the decision to start co-sleeping. She was big enough and pretty adept at turning over, but she was still waking up a lot in he night for feedings. With her beside me in bed, I could draw her to me in the night and feed her the way nature envisioned. In her fierce hunger, she could gulp down the liquid gold stored up in my breasts. And this war weary new mother could listen in satisfaction to my satiated babe as she drifted back into blissful unconsciousness. 

It’s a good thing I only sleep while unconscious. I never turn or move unless I’m awake, or at least aware. Aria made it through the dangers of sleeping in bed just fine. 

Since that time, there is no moment I feel more like a family than in the cool morning hours. My arm around Aria and DH’s arm around us both. Our little family pack of wolves. Arooooh! 

 Three or four months passed. Summer turned to fall. Aria was suckling in the night when she needed to be sleeping. Plus the briskness of autumn is prime cuddle time for couples; Aria was literally getting between us. 

I told DH it was time. I was going to do it. Continuing to co-sleep no longer felt like it was good for Aria or me. The instant gratification in the night was killing the self-sufficient adventurer I was hoping to raise in my daughter. 

It was time to crib train Aria. 

The only advice I’d been given was to put the baby in the crib and let her cry for forty five minutes until she fell asleep. Each night you did this the length would get less. This is the American version of crib training. 

Hell no. 

My little inner six-year-old could not do this. 

I gave it a half-arse try a couple of times and retreated. 

No one said anything about what to do when your child bangs her head on the crib bars, leaving a dark bruise on her forehead. This made an already intolerable task extra impossible. 

The nights continued to be restless. 

And my little pup had now grown legs. 

I remember when I heard the thud. 

I don’t remember the cry. 

I was already up the stairs by the time pain was registering in my little girl’s brain. 

She pushed through the pillows and toppled to the floor. 

She didn’t even bruise anything, but I wept for what might have been. 

Aria was no longer safe in our bed by herself. It was time. 


I set Aria in the crib. 

Her tantrum began almost instantly. 

I took a deep breath and leaned over the side of the crib. I wrapped my arms around her and held on tight. 

She thrashed and lurched and wailed. 

I sang. 

Hymn and hymn since that’s all I really know.  

I wanted her to know I was with her in this, but that I wasn’t giving in. I wanted her to know she was safe and that the crib was safe.  

I don’t remember how long I held her until she finally stopped fighting and relaxed. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes. 

I kept singing as I slowly extracted myself. The last step was a heavy hand on her chest until she relaxed one last time. I counted to sixty and let go. 


She slept for four hours. 

For the first month I would nurse Aria until she relaxed into a deep sleep. Then I’d place her in the crib and let my hand rest on her chest until she was ready. When she’d wake up four hours later, she would join us in bed. 

This ritual was relaxing, but time consuming. 

At some point I would have to let her cry, alone in the dark. 

I could let her cry when she bonked her head or caught her hand in a cabinet. I want her to be tough. To realize injuries are not the end of the world. 

DH sagely pointed out that crying in the dark is no different. Feeling abandoned is a different kind of wound, but my reaction trains her reaction all the same. 

I hadn’t thought of it that way. In understanding I gained new strength. 


DH laid out the fifteen minute strategy. If she cries longer than fifteen minutes, you go in, comfort her, check her diaper and see if she needs any food. Then you put her back. 

Th first few times it took less than ten minutes. I was shocked. After a week, she’d be asleep in a matter of minutes. After that, under a minute. 

There are other things I need to “crib train” Aria on. It is hard to let your child cry. It brings out the little child in us all. DH pointed out that I’m not just “crib training” Aria, I’m crib training myself as well. 

Aria is strong. I can’t forget that. She crawled up my chest twenty minutes after she was born, crying and pushing as she went on her first quest to find her first meal. 


I’m strong too. Really strong. Maybe that’s even more important to remember. 


Last night DH and I took Aria to bed just for the heck of it. She did not want to be there. All grown up. 


Aria is officially horrified by bubble gumĀ 

She was sitting a yard away from me when I blew my chewing gum in a great big bubble. At first it appeared she was curious. 
Then I pulled the bubble back into my mouth. She shifted backwards, serious concern in her face. 

I did it again. Just as she got up next to the bubble, I made it disappear. 

Her concern deepened. 

I did it again. A nice big bubble. This time I let her touch it. 

Horror. Real horror. 

I have never seen such an expression on her face. 

She looked at the bits of gum on her fingers. And from her lips escaped a weak, plaintive wail. 

Clearly, my face must have been exploding. Over and over again. 

It was like a real life horror move. Like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark that faves me years of nightmares – they open the ark and the man’s face melts off. 

She moved toward making and then away from me. She wanted consoling, but I was the cause of her distress. Concern and horror stayed plastered on her face. 

Tender mother that I am. I grabbed my camera and did it again…


Mom’s are hardest on each otherĀ 

Some of you may be all too acquainted with the realm of judgmental other mothers. I have a theory about why mom’s are like this. 

I think each of us find our own way through motherhood. We learn to respond to our children in a way that works, and it’s some sort of equation balancing:

1) the unique behaviors and response of our child

2) our own tolerances, beliefs, and abilities 

3) the environment and unexpected hiccups that create a context for it all

So that all mashes up and bam! A parenting style is born. A way. Our way. A way that works. 

What happens next is that mothers come to pride themselves on this discovery and deem it the “right” way — because it works and we see the fruits of our labor in how amazing our child is. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so attuned to the subtleties of another human before, not even DH. I think as a mom I’m programmed to see the extraordinary in my child. I must be doing something, right?

But from this, I think some of that judgmental, competitive mom culture emerges. 

I was recently judged for coddling Aria and making her clingy. The statement was brutal and direct and condescending. But context is everything. The person came to these conclusions by observing me during the timespan when Aria had thrush, two ear infections, a cold, a rash, and was pushing four new teeth out. All she wanted for several weeks was mom. When Aria doesn’t feel well, she gets quiet and cuddly and wary of strangers. So instead of coming across as ill and in pain, she came across as a needy momma’s girl who won’t let anyone else near her. 

Even still, the judgment isn’t wholly untrue. I have a whole post waiting to be written about the pain I feel when I must leave Aria to cry herself to sleep in the night. 

The unfortunate thing is that hours later I still feel the deep need to defend myself. 

I’m mildly inclined to sit and mutter about how I’m not perfect and that I have both strengths and foibles and blah, blah, blah. 

That’s how we’re primed to talk in this country. Every thing we do must be labeled and valuated. 

I don’t know if you remember last year when I talked about learning mindfulness as a sublime way of being. I’m back studying it. With mindfulness, there is no valuation given. You simply step back from the stage of life and describe things as they are. 

So this is what I do know. 

I love being a mom. And I’m Aria’s mom. She and I are going to fashion and mold each other by the time we’re through. Some of her most and least admired features will probably be inspired by me. Some of the less admired parts she may even manage to shed once she’s self-aware enough to do so. Maybe she’ll be lucky enough to find someone like DH to coach her toward the self she aspires to. 

Coddled or nurtured, whatever you see through your lens, Aria will be okay. Life is full of opportunities to define and redefine ourselves. For both of us.