Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even... wait a second, this is our house, Christmas 2007, and we've got a five-month-old baby. So if Santa did land on the roof, there was no way we could have heard a reindeer hoof for anything.

We arrived at the family house in Troyes on the 23rd and sequestered ourselves and our pile of luggage and baby junk in a tiny attic bedroom. The good news? Where we built our nest, you couldn't hear any of the ruckus from the dining room. Even the noise from an invading army would be filtered to a murmur, so there was some chance le Petit would sleep through Christmas Eve dinner as all ten of my in-laws tried to out express one another at the top of their lungs.

The bad news? Le Petit had no intention of sleeping in his folding crib in a strange room. At home, when I place him on his back in his crib he promptly flips to his side and curls up in his favorite corner. A half an hour later, I'll invariably find him on his tummy, often with one arm over the crib bumper and his hand grasping the bar. He's now so comfortable in his Very Own Bed that I can often put him down only half asleep and he'll find his thumb and his favorite position and fall asleep all by himself.

The folding crib is a different story. First, he seems to have some trouble flipping to his tummy from his back with the new mattress, and I don't dare place him on his tummy myself. Second, he doesn't have his beloved crib bumper to snuggle up against. I hear him scratching his fingernails against the nylon mesh looking for something familiar to hold onto, finding nothing, and it makes me feel terrible for the little guy.

Dinner on the 23rd was punctuated by crying made all the more strident by the tinny speaker of a baby monitor. As my husband and I took turns pacing the attic floor with le Petit in our arms, his relatives sped through four courses of soup, pot au feu, salad and dessert. When we managed to get le Petit down, he'd stay asleep for a mere thirty minutes before waking up again hysterical. This lasted well beyond dinner, into the wee hours of the morning. It felt like August, when we visited Troyes in the worst of the oh-my-god-I-have-a-newborn shell-shocked phase. We were sleepwalking once again.

It was heartbreaking, because the second I picked up le Petit he stopped crying and buried his head in my shoulder, already asleep. I considered tucking him in with us, but the two ancient twin beds we'd pushed together were really not safe for him. I'd already nearly fallen through the gap onto the floor myself. So we both slept for an hour or so with him in my arms, my back propped against the headboard, until I finally managed to transfer him to his crib at four in the morning. We all woke up at eight, exhausted.

My husband and I were both irritable, and he was frantic, convinced that This Was It, le Petit's sleep had been irreparably disturbed and we wouldn't get any sleep at all in the new year. He was also upset that I was the only one who'd been able to calm him: as my husband paced the attic with le Petit to give me a chance to eat, he was treated to ungrateful I WANT MOMMY howling.

We did what most calm, rational parents do on such occasions, and started yelling at each other. I eventually decided that the best thing for me would be a shower and a walk in town, so I left the boys to fend for themselves. I came back to find le Petit fast asleep in my husband's arms.

My mother- and father-in-law arrived that afternoon. When we described our painful night, my mother-in-law exclaimed, "Oh, the poor thing!" with grandmotherly concern. "Poor thing him? Poor thing his poor parents!" responded my husband.

It was with much apprehension that I put le Petit to bed at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve. I'd made my mother-in-law promise to keep the meal on schedule even if I didn't appear. To add to our chagrin, le Petit's cousin, a baby girl born a couple weeks before him this summer, spent dinner dozing in her bassinet and sucking on her pacifier.

The same circus ensued as the night before, but this time I had the moral support of both my husband and my mother-in-law. We tromped up to the attic one after the other to comfort le Petit when he woke up and to discuss strategy amongst ourselves. By the third wake up, we were all at a loss. Le Petit was in my arms, eyes open, wide awake and looking at us as if to say, "You're all here. Where's the party?"

Minutes before, my husband and I sat at the dinner table and endured everyone's advice as my mother-in-law sat upstairs with a screaming le Petit.

"Let him cry, he needs to learn," came from my childless brother-in-law (he'll learn for himself soon enough, bless him!)

"Bring him down here, he must be scared upstairs by himself," came from the mother of the pacifier-chomping cousin.

"Calm down, it's your stress he's reacting to," added my husband's aunt.

Everyone kept adding their helpful advice and observations all at once until my husband simply exploded.

"Shut up, everyone," he screamed, in an outburst impressive even by the cacophonous standards of his family. "Don't you see, he's not like that one?" He motioned to the baby in the bassinet. "His sleep is disturbed, and that's it, if we screw it up it'll be back to the way it was back at the beginning, so we do NOT want to experiment now! Understood?"

Everyone stopped talking for a second, shocked. I felt I needed to explain, so I gently added, "The one thing that we can't really hear right now is advice, no matter how well-intentioned."

We both fled upstairs. Le Petit calmed down in my arms, to suddenly become a content, alert baby with no intention of falling asleep.

"I'll put him in the Moby," I suggested weakly. "It's the only way to make it through the evening." We hadn't even started the salad yet. There were three more courses, then we'd open presents; it would be impossible to finish it all in thirty-minute chunks.

Le Petit grinned at everyone once we came down the stairs as if to say, "You see? I got the better of them once again!" No one could resist grinning back, no matter how much my husband and my mother-in-law begged everyone to ignore him so that he could sleep. Sleep? Le Petit was too busy craning his neck to take in all the action. Quickly judging our cause lost, I took him out of the Moby and let him sit on my lap and le Petit became the life of the party.

He smiled at Dad and Grandpa from across the table. He showed off his two teeth and drooled into my napkin. He didn't complain a second, and was calmer and happier than I'd ever seen him past nine o'clock in his entire life. Sometime between the cheese course and dessert someone shouted out a Merry Christmas. When we at last got around to opening presents, it was well past midnight.

Le Petit cared not at all that it was way beyond his bedtime: the first present offered was for him, and he tore into the wrapping paper with gusto. He needed a little direction to open it, and I'm not sure he understood that the present was inside and wasn't the wrapping paper itself. No matter. Once we pried the bits of crumpled paper from his fists and showed him the prize, a luminescent rubber ducky with colored LEDs, it went into his mouth as well.

"It would have been a shame for him to miss this," admitted my mother-in-law, and my husband and I agreed.

At one o'clock we stumbled back up to our bedroom, still apprehensive about getting le Petit to sleep. Lucky for us, all the excitement had thoroughly tired him out, and he fell asleep almost immediately and stayed asleep for the rest of the night.

We all woke up the next day jolly and well rested.

And a most merry Christmas was had by all, indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a good night's sleep! There's NOTHING like it. I'm so glad you guys brought him down to be with everyone. I'm sure he just didn't want to be isolated in a strange place. I remember so well not wanted to mess up Saffi's routine after reading how important it was to get her to sleep well. But it ended up not mattering at all! After a while I came to the conclusion that food, activity, company, outings, didn't really affect her sleep; it seems to be nothing but maturity and time that fixes these things.