Sunday, March 22, 2009


The inevitable happened last night. Seconda learned how to climb out of the crib. If you’re a parent, this will strike a chord of terror in your heart. Or it should. If it doesn’t, it means that you have one of those super low-key children who, in the unlikely event that that they should ever climb out of a crib, would present no danger to themselves, others or your home, the kind of kid who after climbing out of the crib would probably just look through their Beatrix Potter collection until they felt sleepy, at which poiut they’d climb back in the crib or doze off on the cozy shag rug in their nursery. If you have this kind of child, curse you.

I, however, do not have a Stepford child, not even one. Both my children are what experts nowadays like to call “high spirited” which is to say totally unmanageable. Once they climb out of the crib, there is no turning back. The crib-jumping is more or less a declaration of war against David and I. Especially when it comes to the little one.

She’s fierce and wily. She is drawn to electrical outlets and stovetops like a bee to honey. And that’s to say nothing or her uncontrollable oral fixation. I am left in awe of the things she puts in her mouth, even at two years old. There’s the standard set of verboten items like Play-doh and pennies, little accessories belonging to Playmobil guys, small rubber balls included in 4 year-old party bags, handfuls of dirt, sand, lead pencils, and copious amounts of Colgate with whitener. But she also goes for the freaky shit too. Her favorite teething apparatus used to be tampons. If I left her alone for five minutes, that kid would go through a Costco-sized box of Tampax.

“What are you DOING>” I’d yell, “You know how expensive tampons are!”

Seconda gnaws through food packaging like a rat. She’ll just open the fridge, take out a hunk of Jarlsberg cheese and eat it right through the Saran Wrap. When we’re on line at Fairway and I’m busy loading our stuff onto the counter, she will take the opportunity to eat through the Perugina chocolate bars placed next to the cashier, aluminum foil and all. Lipstick, too, the more expensive the better -- you won’t find her devouring the Revlon Toast of New York, but oh, the Nars Hot Voodoo, how tasty! This is not the kind of child you want roaming around the home when you are sleeping. Which is why I had a minor crisis in faith last night when, after placing Seconda in her crib, I heard not the ear-splitting scream of agony I was accustomed to but rather the awful, unmistakable sound of little feet padding along the floor. I waited in the hallway to witness Sec blithely breezing out of her room, announcing, “No sleeping time. Let’s play games!”

“Oh my god,” I gasped. And then, “What are we gonna DO?”

My daughter thought this was just about the finest phrase she’d ever heard and began repeating it over and over again, “What we gonna DO? What we gonna DO, Mommy?”, while the house of cards that is my sanity collapsed entirely.

I will never forget the first time Primo climbed out of his crib. I was about four months pregnant with Seconda, and he was a year and a half old. He has always been a colossally shitty sleeper, and for that, I blame my parents one hundred percent. I like to blame them whenever possible, and usually it’s easy enough to do. See, David and I had read Weissbluth and understood the virtues of sleep training, so at four months, we got started. But a few days into it, my grandmother came over and when she heard the screaming emanating from the nursery, she went balls-out beserko.

“This is child abuse!” she shouted, “I’m gonna call da police!”

Two minutes later, it was, “I’m an old lady! I can’t take dis! I’m gonna have an attaco del cuore!”

And five minutes after that, “You say you love you baby and den you torture him like dis? You no love you baby!”

My father, a professional cardiologist and armchair psychologist, built a careful argument for how Primo would sustain permanent mental damage from the cry-it-out technique, damage which might result in a sociopath.

You will not be surprised to hear that after a week, just as we were making progress, we started to falter and never committed to it again.

Until I was five months pregnant with Seconda and was literally incapable of bouncing Primo on my shoulder for an hour, and then again throughout the night. We’d hit rock bottom and had no choice but to sleep train, which was a horror show. He would stand at the crib railing and scream “MOMMY NICOLE!!!!!!! DADDY DAVID!!!!!!” for - I am not shitting you – two hours straight while David and I huddled on the couch letting the cries lash us in penitence. Or, at least, I did. David just drank beer. Then, a few days into it, just as Primo was settling down without too much fuss, it happened. I put him down in his crib and a minute later he walked right up to me in the living room. I thought I was hallucinating. Then I understood what had happened and that there would be no stopping him, no training him, no sleeping ever again, no sleep, no sanity, no mercy. And I had the biggest meltdown of my life. Up to that point, I mean. That freak-out can’t hold a candle to what I can throw down now. But back then, it was like a 9 on the freak-out Richter scale. I’d never felt so incompetent, so helpless. I called David at work and cried for five minutes without speaking.

“What are we gonna DO?” I wailed when I recovered the power to talk.

Thankfully, David knew what to do. He went directly to Buy Buy Baby and purchased a crib tent. I banned my grandmother from the house and ignored my father’s continuous reminders that I was imprisoning my child and shirking my responsibility to teach him impulse control. I knew with certainty that If I didn’t lock him up, I’d have to lock myself up.

That crib tent saved my life. If I could manufacture bumper stickers I’d make one that said, “I brake for crib tents.” But it became somewhat inconvenient when we spent nights away from our place. We were so terrified about what would happen without the tent that we took it everywhere, and if you’ve assembled one of these things, you’ll understand how insane that is. It doesn’t simply pop into place like a little play tent or a Maclaren stroller. It’s a major production with several poles that must be fit together, Velcro straps that have to be placed properly around the crib railing and a huge amount of mesh netting – all of which we had to pack into our suitcase. With all this wear and tear, the damn thing ripped so I had to darn it, and believe you me, I was never meant to darn anything

So this time around, David has asked that we forgo the crib tent. He wants to kick this habit the old-fashioned way, by breaking the child’s will. Just putting her back in the crib every time she jumps out until she understands that we, the parents, are more powerful and surrenders.

“But we aren’t more powerful,” I whimpered, “It will never work.”

He asked nicely though, and my husband almost never asks to take the reins on parenting stuff. So I gave him three days.

Start the countdown.