I once heard the author Antonya Nelson encourage the use of visual imagery to think about the shape of a story. I remember her describing the structure of scene and summary like a birthday cake. This very smart and lovely idea comes to me like little bits of French I remember, a fragment of a craft talk that made sense to me back then. Now, my brain is foggy and tired and it only makes me want to eat birthday cake.
But I thought of this the other night, as the Little Sous Chef put us through our paces late into the night. The story of baby sleep does not remind me of birthday cake (though I would demolish some cake because Mama is tired and carb-happy). This story could be shaped like the game board for Chutes and Ladders.
Here’s the thing: I think we tend to think of child development as a straight line. As they grow older, their age increases in a linear fashion. So we think that their developmental stages would too, right? Various apps and books tell us that at four, five, six months, they should be holding onto things, reaching for them, transferring toys from hand to hand. They should be growing up, doing new things, all in keeping with that linear progression.
What the apps and books don’t tell you is that with each new milestone, each new phase, each new ladder we get to on the board, there’s the potential for a chute that will seemingly take us back a few spaces. Maybe suddenly he won’t sleep in his crib. Maybe suddenly he won’t sleep at all. Two tired mamas take turns shushing and bouncing and rocking and swaying, and one tired mama nurses again and again, willing her breasts to let down, just one more time, to feel that warm crawling burn of milk being delivered to coax the baby to sleep.
You seem to be back at square one, dealing with a newborn. So you take to the Internet and you buy sleep sacks and obsess over the clock and move the cradle back to the bedside because if we’re back at square one, then we really have to be back, right here together, inches apart for the night.
And then it will pass – somehow, it passes, in some fashion – and the cradle goes back in the baby’s room, and those sleep sacks finally seem to work again, and waking every ninety minutes turns to two hours, and then three, until maybe you get a gift: a full night of sleep (like last night, glory be). Or not. That’s how Chutes and Ladders and Sleep Sacks works – go forward, go back, climb and slide. This week, he sleeps beside you all night; next week, he goes in his crib, and you’re ready to pull a Coyote Ugly and chew your own arm off rather than wake him by sliding it out from under him.
At the time of my writing, the Little Sous Chef is napping. I’m climbing up the ladder, quietly so as not to wake him. I’m leaving this note here to remind myself, when the floor drops out from under me and I fall on my butt and slide back a few paces that it’s called Chutes AND Ladders. There will be a way up again.
Now, mama, go get a little more coffee, and don’t forget to hydrate.