Out of the three basic baby needs: nappies, naps and nourishment, it's gotta be sleeping that feels the least predictable and the most fraught. Get it right, and your baby will be bubbling. Get it wrong, and either your baby will become an angry little troll when you want to play with them, or they'll want to play with you in the middle of the night, when you feel like the angry troll.
When they're hungry, despite some struggles with food, the solution is mostly simple, at least with Little Bear. You just provide him with milk, and if he's not too hungry, some solids first. Nappies are rarely a problem. So babies occasionally have poo explosions. But you just clean them, change them, chuck another load of clothes into the washing, clear up the poo marks on the floor where he was crawling before you realised what had happened, and you're all good.
But sleep... Until recently, Little Bear had been waking up around five or six times every night needing milk. If we ignore the first few weeks when the little mite would sleep anywhere anytime because he didn't know the difference between night and day, that's over 8 months of one of us having regular very interrupted sleep. The only way we coped with this was knowing that if it was our turn during the week, it was only five nights of not sleeping properly, before the other parent would take over on that wonderful Friday night. No longer do I look forward to the pub on Friday evenings, but a nice early night and 8 hours continuous sleep.
The thing is, I got used to waking up so regularly that it stopped bothering me. I'm ok with it, he seems happy during the day, why should I bother changing it? Well, Little Bear being sick a few weeks back deprived of my sleep-deprivation tolerance reserves, so we agree to try some sleep training. Amazingly, it worked the first time. Well, almost. He still wakes up for two feeds a night, but we tend to get a good 5 hours without him waking in-between so I'm happy as Larry. I still wake up every hour or two to check he's still alive due to the lack of crying, but all around better still. I am however waiting for this to breakdown, and for him to slip back into the frequent night wake-ups.
Napping is a whole lot less predictable. I've been trying to establish a routine for around 4 months now. That's what all the books say. That's what Google says. But it never works! When he's meant to sleep he's an excitable tickle monster. And when he needs to be awake, he's rubbing his eyes and approaching a melt-down.
There is a clear correlation between how much nap time he gets, and how happy he is. But I don't get to decide how long he naps.
Pappa: 'Please, Pappa wants to take you to play with your friends today and you need to nap for an hour before we go'
Or conversely there're the times when we need to leave at a certain time so Pappa plans the nap perfectly, but Little Bear decides we will continue to sleep (only when you don't want them to) well past his normal nap time to guarantee they're late.
The only certain way that I can still get him to sleep, is in the baby-carrier. Just like my first week on parental leave, although I've now learnt how I can wear it without breaking my back. Pop him in the carrier, blanket over his eyes whilst hopping like a fool, he starts babbling and the babbling slowly but surely turns into sleep. I then have to ignore all the judging parents who think I'm suffocating him because they just see the blanket on his face not my hand holding it up (I've even received a few comments like 'you know they have to breath right?' [sorry, I thought babies could cope without air, I'm only a dad after all]). But he's asleep, happy, and the overtired meltdown is avoided.
And if you miss the randomly baby-chosen nap time, you either get an overtired meltdown, where you as the parent are an asshole, whatever you do. Or are faced with a dilemma as the fall asleep in their high-chair or on the floor... Do I move them to a better sleeping place where they wont be rudely awoken by head butting the solid surface their resting on? Or do I leave them there knowing I don't want to be the asshole that wakes them up early and feels their wrath. Many parenting decisions can be made instantly by the one holding the baby, but if mamma is around, we'll always need a chat on what's best to do. You can imagine this is one of the more riveting conversations of the day.
Of course, if you can't get him to sleep in the afternoon at the right time (for us it's by 4:30pm) then you have to decide whether to cope with the tiredness whinging before an early bed-time at 6pm, or give him a late nap and expect him to be trying to crawl on to you lap by holding onto your leg-hair and throwing your dinner on the floor at 9pm during you precious 'us-time' when he should be sleeping.
But the days you get it right and he plays by the rules! Rare though they may be, are worth it. He's happy and giggly, your happy and not in need of four cups of coffee just to stay awake. It's these days (and the times when he's fast asleep) that you really get to enjoy parenting.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots