Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So THIS is What Parenting a Baby is Really Like

I tried so hard to hold my ground last year as Sarah and her mom worked me relentlessly on the topic of Sarah and me having a second child together. I kept saying I was due for a difficult baby (both Jackson and Max were incredibly easy babies and awesome sleepers), and that having two little ones would be exponentially more difficult. They told me I was worrying for nothing, that another child would probably be just as cooperative as Max, that it was critical we give him a playmate--preferably a girl.

Guess who turned out to be right? 

I realize it's early, and once things settle down I can draw new conclusions…but so far, the verdict is in, and William is definitely a "fussy" baby. Six weeks in, and he has yet to sleep more than 3 hours in a row, and even that's quite rare.  It's too early to declare him colicky--we're both holding out hope that his fussiness will subside over the next week or two. As it stands now, Sarah spends most nights up and down, up and down, generously allowing me to sleep because when morning comes, Max will be my responsibility. Then, most days, William fusses throughout the day, falling asleep for brief moments in our arms and then awakening again as soon as we try to put him down.

For 15 years, I've wondered what other parents were doing wrong that was preventing their children--and them--from sleeping consistently.  For 15 years, I've been thankful that I wasn't being subjected to the kind of exhaustion so many parents lament. For 15 years, I've lived in la-la land. Welcome to reality, Tony. Sleepus interruptus has officially arrived in the form of William Oliver, and it's as hard as I'd feared and imagined. Harder, even.

Having a fussy baby and a pre-schooler at the same time has now moved high on my list of things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies. In fact, I think our approach to jurisprudence needs to be rethought. Never mind prison--I say that when people are convicted of horrible crimes, they should be punished by having to raise a fussy baby and a rebellious pre-schooler for as long as a judge decrees. Believe me, anyone forced to do such penance will be transformed. I know I am.

There is nothing quite so frustrating as spending hours of your life desperately trying to get a baby to sleep--walking, singing, coddling, swaddling, feeding, burning, bouncing, patting--and then, when it seems the little one is down for the count, you try to put him down, oh so gently, so as not to disturb him, only to watch in horror as within seconds he's squirming and whining, and that fantasy of a few quiet moments to lie down in peace goes up in flames.

Yes, these are the times that try men's souls. I'd say they're the times that try women's souls, too, but let's face it--moms are better equipped to deal with fussy babies. The physical and emotional ties that bind baby and mother together enable mom to deal with sleep deprivation and round-the-clock fussiness with more patience and understanding that I could ever muster. Me, I find myself going all Samuel L. Jackson on the little sucker, letting loose with regular choruses of "Please go the fuck to sleep!"

So there you have it--one 46-year-old dad's struggle to cope with a house where sleep is elusive, a pre-schooler demands round-the-clock entertainment and attention, and an exhausted wife walks the house like a zombie wondering what hit her.

I know it all sounds so good that you wish you could change places with me. Sorry, you'll just have to be satisfied being stuck in your peaceful, sleep-filled, movie-going, restaurant-eating existences. Suckers!

UPDATE (Added after realizing that I posted this in a hurry initially and probably should have saved to finish later):

All kidding aside, the past six weeks have given me some great gifts:

1) I've learned just how much inner strength Sarah has--and it's substantial. The woman is endlessly patient as she spends hour after hour nurturing William no matter how tired she is, or how exhausted her arms are, or how helpless she is to make him feel better.

2) I've also learned how many gassy vegetables there are, as Sarah has become disturbingly dependent on zucchini.

3) I've developed an even greater level of appreciation for the first months I spent with my other, non-gassy, non-fussy children.

4) I've gained new insight into my relationship with my brother by watching the impact William's arrival has had on Max, and the degree to which he's had to give up the spotlight. Greg--it was all a setup! (Not that my brother ever takes the time to actually read my blog.)

5) I've gotten yet another lesson in the power of parental love, as no matter how much William has kept me--and to a much greater extent, Sarah--from getting solid sleep, our hearts melt every time the little bugger manages to work up a smile for either of us.

6) Perhaps most important, William's arrival has injected me with a needed dose of self-reflection, and it may be just the jolt I've needed to put my life in the proper perspective. I believe he's helping me learn to accept the things I haven't been able to do that maybe I wanted to do by now, while appreciating the things that I (we) so often take for granted.

Seriously, though, buddy--that's enough with the gifts. This fussy baby stuff is hard work for an old guy. Let's get to the fun part, hopefully sooner rather than later.


  1. So I know you dont need suggestions, but we dealt with this with Bobby and I have two things you can try if you are interested, they worked with him.
    1. Swaddle as tightly as possible at bedtime. All the wiggling and struggling with Bobby is what caused him to wiggle himself awake. When we "Burrito'd" him up tight, he was more likely to struggle a bit and then give up and go to sleep.
    2. At eight weeks Bobby had not slept through the night yet, and, as you know, about insane. My mother showed up with rice cereal and an infafeeder. I protested that he was not supposed to have solid food yet, and I got the grandma look ("Been there, done that, shut up, I know what Im doing") He swallowed two full infafeeders of rice cereal before bed with a look on his face like he had discovered gold. That night, 9 hours without a peep. Mary woke up and thought he had died in the night. Went into his room, and he was awake in the crib, quietly cooing. I couldn't believe it.

  2. Hey Tony... I'm here to counter Chuck cereal recommendation. Strongly suggest you don't go that route, and avoid all solids until 6 months at least. That's the newest peds recommendation, and it will help prevent allergies down the road!!! Remember, this phase will pass... pretty soon, too.

  3. Hey, guys, thanks for the advice--and counter-advice. Sarah and I are taking it all in, and making the best decisions we can with the info we have. And we really appreciate the encouragement in all of its forms. Maybe I should try to get some sleep now--the little guy's actually having a pretty good night.

  4. counter counter advice - our first kid, now six, we held back on food for allergy purposes. by the time our second, now two, was born, that thinking was reversed said our Pediatrician. They now think exposure to foods earlier helps PREVENT allergies. So in other words, you're damned if you do, damned if you dont. Isn't parenthood awesome?

  5. I couldn't have put it better myself, Dubhead. But your Pediatrician's (love the capital P) perspective is backed by the fact that some Native American tribes purposely fed poison oak to their babies so they could go through all the allergic reactions and develop an immunity that would be key to their ability to thrive.

    Thanks for reading--and commenting!