The Vale of Tears: From Babe to Adult – II

A year or so ago, I wrote a post on how my infant daughter’s crying sometimes provoked, in me, thoughts that seemed considerably weightier than those one might have imagined as being occasioned then. On Monday, a spell of night-time crying triggered a chain of reflection that felt similarly cosmic.

A little background: my daughter is quite well sleep-trained; she follows  a reasonably structured nap schedule at day-care and at home; her evening routine is pretty much set in stone–dinner, bath, bedtime reading, followed by sleep-time. She does not cry when we put her down for the night, and is only occasionally disturbed enough to call out to us by wailing. On those occasions, she soothes herself back to sleep quite soon. But: she is vulnerable to disruptions of these schedules, and can take a little while to get back to normal.

On Monday night, my wife and I found ourselves facing just such an occasion. We had traveled recently to California, where my daughter had come down a viral fever. The jet-lag, the illness, the disturbed sleep at night–these had all contributed to a radical perturbation of her sleeping hours and required a great deal of intervention from–and co-sleeping with–her mother. Over a week or two, our daughter’s sleeping routines slowly unraveled. As seemingly, did my wife’s equanimity, as she grew progressively more exhausted. Our daughter was now becoming dependent on the night-time feed, and on being comforted by her mother. Her alone; my ministrations were neither sought nor welcome. This condition persisted even after she had recovered from her illness; she liked the new set-up and cared little whether it kept her mother awake and depleted.

So, that night, we decided we would not visit our daughter when she called, and would try to get her back to her normal sleeping habits. We knew it was going to be hard; our daughter’s lungs are well-developed and she can belt out high-decibel wails without breaking a sweat.

Sometime after midnight, it began. The crying was piercing enough to begin with and all too quickly it became louder and more insistent, tinged with a distinctive irritation and pique: why am I not being picked up? Next door, in our bedroom, my wife and I lay awake, desperately riding out the storm. It did not abate; the cries grew louder, and then, most painfully, I heard sobs and whimpers. I thrust my face deeper into the pillow, trying to cover my ears, to blot out the shrieks and wails that were now progressively more desperate. As I began muttering about this ‘torture’ my wife reminded me of our decision, made earlier that night, to not go to her; she might even have asked me to ‘snap out of it.’

And as I tossed and turned, as I realized there was no relief forthcoming, it occurred to me my daughter’s crying and our situation seemed to instantiate some abstract facts about the human condition. My daughter was not going to be comforted that night;  my wife could not dare take the chance of perpetuating a system that was destroying everyone’s sleep and sanity; my daughter wanted only one kind of relief, her mother’s company and thus, would not be assuaged by my going to her; indeed, had I gone to her and tried to comfort her, she would have wailed even louder. There was no way out for her but through; and it was too, in some twisted way, a situation of her own making: had she ever indicated she would respond favorably to my cooing and rocking, I would have gone to her that night, over-riding my earlier determination to get her sleep-trained again.

It was, in short, the sort of gigantic clusterfuck that the universe seems to specialize in putting on for our benefit–just to remind us of the existence of the all too common no-win situation.

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