A quiet war had been raging in the Bethea household for a few months. Under the roof of a seemingly normal mid-century ranch style, on a peaceful tree-lined street, an epic battle had been waging where blood was spilled, tears were shed, and the sanity of one young mother hung in balance like a spider on Jonathan Edwards’ fireplace mantel.
Someone has replaced my pink little ball of sleeping baby with a speed addict after a venti triple shot.
And I wanted vengeance.
I guess it all started around Christmas time. The holidays were busy for everyone, so when Eloise started to sleep less, I just thought she was trying to be social and stay up with us for all of the family gatherings and friend functions. She seemed happy, so it didn’t think about it too hard when she didn’t go to bed until midnight. She had always gone to bed late but slept late, and that worked fine for both of us. I would wake up early in the mornings and get a lot of work done (I’m a WFHM, remember) before she woke up. Slowly, she started to wake up a little earlier each morning until she was getting up at 7am after going to sleep at 12am. Quickly after that, her naptime dwindled from the usual hour and a half to one hour and then thirty minutes and finally to nothing. It took me about a month to really realize that my child had stopped sleeping.
Not only had she stopped sleeping, but she HATED trying to go to sleep. If I as much as took her into her room, she would immediately start crying. If I rocked her to sleep for twenty or thirty minutes, as soon as I stood by the crib and started to put her down, she would start screaming. I would put her down at 10:30 or 11 and after finally going to sleep after crying for 30 or so minutes, she would then proceed to wake up at 12:00, 1:45, 3:30, 5:30, and at 7 I would give up pretending to sleep for the night and start my day. If I tried to put her down for a nap, she would scream in her bed for 30 or so minutes until she either gave up from exhaustion or I broke down and came to get her. I would be crying- she would be crying, and I would be at my wit’s end trying to figure out what to do with her.
They say sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of depression. I am going to go a step further and say that sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of insanity. After days and weeks of never sleeping more than 2 consecutive hours, my mental processes began to break down. I couldn’t speak in complete sentences. I was pissed off all the time, and nobody wanted to be my friend. In retrospect, I kinda reminded myself of one of the really ghetto cast members of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. It was ugly. I was ugly. I needed help. So I read forums about getting babies to sleep, read books about it, asked friends what to do, and even prayed that the Lord would come down and zap my baby into a ten hour coma. Nothing was working.
Finally, one afternoon, I was sitting in the playroom with Eloise screaming. I held her and laid on the ground with her in my arms. I found a blanket and pulled it over us in frustration. I wanted the earth to swallow us both up and bury us warm, silent heaviness of thousands of pounds of dirt and rock – just chillin out, like a couple of peaceful dinosaur fossils. While I was wishing I was a Stegosaurus, she started to calm down and slowly got quiet. I remember thinking about how nice it would be to live in the slow blackness of the earth (I told you I was going crazy), and that the blanket over our heads was keeping us there- safe and sound. The next thing I knew, I was waking up sweating in a pile of my own drool. I don’t even remember falling asleep on the floor under the blanket, but there we were, mom and daughter, enjoying a nap together. Nap. And she was still asleep. GLORY.
I laid still for a minute to consider my next move. I needed to get out from under this hot blanket without waking her up. So I wiggled and wiggled and wiggled some more to get out from under my child. Finally, successful, I gingerly placed the blanket back on top of her and tip toed away. She slept like that for another hour. The child who never napped anymore had finally relaxed and drifted off. While she was asleep, I considered what was different about the situation that was allowing her to sleep this time and not others and googled my little fingers to the bone. Her naps were my cocaine- and I had just had the first hit. I needed more.
Finally, I found a forum where some mother had talked about the fact that her baby needed everything dark before it could go to sleep. It made perfect sense. Eloise was finally asleep because it was finally dark. All my little Stegosaurus wanted was to crawl into the earth and bury herself for a while. It was so simple, and yet so hard for me to figure out. So I did everything this mother on this forum suggested (whoever you are, emandi27, you are my HERO). I made blackout curtains for her room, turned off all night lights, got a sleep machine that made white noise sounds, and bathed her at the same time every night. I did the same thing at nap time, and before I knew it, I had a kid on a schedule. Apparently, when babies are sleepy but don’t go to sleep, their bodies release a hormone that tries to keep them awake more to overcompensate. So if your baby doesn’t nap, it doesn’t mean that she is going to fall asleep earlier that night. It means that her body is going to release a hormone that will make her not be able to to go sleep at bedtime and scream bloody murder if you try. So Eloise had to start sleeping before she could sleep more (if that makes sense) and the only way she could do that was if I used the blackout curtains. My sanity returned. I was no longer a real housewife of Atlanta. I had returned to a real housewife of Florence (whatever that is).
Isn’t it funny how things that seem so simple are often the hardest thing to figure out? I mean, it isn’t rocket science to think that a baby might need a dark place to be able to sleep. Chris needs everything pitch black to be able to sleep as well- and Eloise is 50% him. Why did I spend so much time going crazy when all I had to do was put up some silly curtains?
Because it is what you don’t know that makes life what it is. If I knew everything, nothing would go wrong and I would have no stories to tell. If I knew everything, I wouldn’t live in Florence, I wouldn’t be so unsure of what to do with my life, I wouldn’t have accidentally gotten pregnant and I wouldn’t have my precious child to keep me awake at night. If I knew everything, I wouldn’t have to humble myself and make fun of my shortcomings. If I knew everything, I would already be complete and there would be no room for discovery or growth. I would be a robot. It would be no fun.
For me, it is always been what I don’t know- my failures and my incompleteness -that has slowly defined the path of my life. And I am okay with that. Just like a dead Stegosaurus, you have to be buried in the darkness of the earth for thousands of years before you can become a fossil good enough for a museum display. And I like to think that is what is happening to me. I am buried in the darkness of never knowing what the crap is going on with my life – not being able to see the simple answers or the next step until it slaps me in the face. Once it does, I realize that yet another small part of myself has solidified into a little leg-bone of knowledge, and hopefully at the end of all of this, I will be completely calcified into a fossil of a beautiful and meaningful life.
So-and-so I learned it takes the darkness of blackout curtains to make Eloise sleep and restore my sanity. It takes the darkness of being buried in the earth to make the strength of a fossil. And most importantly, it takes the darkness of not knowing what’s ahead to make the beauty of human experience. It’s the darkness that makes the light.