Cry it out, Baby

Lesson seven: Do what’s hard now to make it better in the long run

My cousin, Marie, asked me today whether I had written a post on “cry it out”, the method of teaching babies to comfort themselves and *phew* sleep through the night. She has a friend who is fried and exhausted and willing to try anything.

Well, first, I was so tickled that someone actually thought of my blog as a resource, even if I have known that person since the day she was born (so she is obligated to read it and like it). 🙂

Marie and Rae, mid - 80's
Marie and Rae, mid – 80’s
Rae and Marie, 2010? 2011?
Rae and Marie, 2010? 2011?

Second, I was uncomfortable with the idea of recommending this method to another parent. There is much debate over this controversial issue and I am not an authority and have done very little research. (I did read the article linked above, though).  All I can do it talk about my own experience.  I am not going onto the web and promoting that this is right for every baby and every family.

When I was exhausted, sleepless, stressed and crying for no reason in the middle of my workday (I went back to teaching when Maya Bell was four months old), a dear friend and colleague told me of her experience and now, I am telling it to you.

I will say, that I think I remember that this method has no effect on babies younger than six months, though my pediatrician didn’t see a problem with “practicing” it when Bell was five months old-ish. This was also
about the time we were transitioning Maya from sleeping in our room to her very own crib in her very own room.

There are specific how-to guides out there, but here is what we did:

We went through the every-day bedtime routine:

  • bath time around 5:30pm
  • singing and rocking and nursing/bottle around 6pm
  • put her down, hit the “whale” option on the Sleep Sheep noise machine (Maya never seemed to like the ocean waves as much as I wanted her to), and started the mobile
  • Then she cried.
  • After about 3 minutes, one of us would go in there, pick her up, sing “You Are My Sunshine” (but without the sad part in the 2nd stanza and taking out the 4th stanza completely)
  • Put her back down, and she would cry again.
  • This time, wait 5 minutes. Go back in, another hug, some brief crooning (have I mentioned that it’s probably my singing that was making her cry in the first place?), put her back down.
  • Rinse and repeat, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 15, 20 – upping the span of minutes until you go in again each time.
  • Around round 3 or 4, I had to stand on the back porch so I couldn’t hear her. Often crying myself.
  • If I remember correctly, the longest this went on was about an hour.  Maybe an hour and a half.
  • When you are ready to give in, give it one more round – that’s usually when she finally would fall asleep

It was really difficult for about four days. Then, just like a snap, she slept.


I would wake her again just before I would go to bed – usually around 11pm or so – and nurse/give a bottle one last time.  From there, she would sleep straight through til 6:30-7am.

We all changed for the better.  A well rested mommy is a better mommy – there’s no debate about that one. The article linked above says that after a cry-it-out session, there are still stress hormones in the baby’s saliva.  That may be true, but in my, ahem, professional scientific opinion (not), that is a short lived symptom, because – and again, I can only speak from our personal experience – Maya stopped crying for more than a couple of minutes at bedtime.  She no longer created the stress hormones from the crying because she was no longer crying.

She was just sleeping. And like a champ!

She will be 2 next month.  And she is still an awesome sleeper.  There has been some recent night waking, but that is a whole new phase of being-almost-two and is its own e-mail chain in my baby/mommy circle.  Maybe that will be another post.  But for the last year and a half, Maya has slept about 12 hours a night. Hallelujah.

A well rested kiddo
A well rested kiddo

And now, our bedtime routine looks an awful lot like the one from back then, only much shorter:

  • 5:30 dinner time
  • 6:00 bath time
  • 6:30 read books, have some warm milk (we are currently switching from bottle to sippy cup here. Next step, move milk to dinner time and try the routine without the step, but we’re not quite there yet – that and potty training are on the docket for summertime, when Mommy (or Bob, as Maya calls me, short for Baba – she doesn’t say ‘M’s) isn’t teaching teenagers all day)
  • Brush teeth
  • In bed by 7.  Still listening to the whales.
  • 95% of the time, she sleeps on through until 7:30 0r 8am.  There is not even a peep or whimper out of her when we put her down now.  Not at all.

Again, I am just telling our own story here – no advocating or promoting of any particular school of thought – but this is was happened with us, and it’s been very nice.

The first time Auntie Marie met Maya
The first time Auntie Marie met Maya

Now if anyone has any tips on how to get her to say Mama, I’d love to hear it!

Lessons and Themes

Lesson Six: Find yourself through the stories

I think in themes.  It’s a hazard (benefit?) of my literary analysis training and day to day routine with students.  I cannot hear, read, watch or see anything without finding the theme of the incident, story, piece, etc.

When we are in elementary school, we are taught that the theme is the moral of the story.  This is not incorrect, and when students are stuck, I direct them to start again at this basic step.  But now, in my advanced literature classes (sounds fancy, right? Well, remember, it’s still only high school!), we talk about theme in terms of the universal human truth. The thing about the story that relates to being human.  The underlying current of understanding and connection. It leads to discussions about archetype and culture and basic humanity.  Theme is the language of my every day work life.

Teacher Rae
Teacher Rae

And I tend to apply it to the “real” world as well.  I have a narrative mind that turns each and every situation into a fictional story – which means that it must have been built with all of the nuts, bolts, stylistic choices and literary tools and devices authors use. I do not give enough credit to random coincidence or purposeless happenings.  Some might call it a faith in a higher power – some puppet master/story writer of our fates – that everything happens for a reason, but it really could just be my English teacher default 11th-grade-lit-analysis brain setting.

Whatever it is, I like it.  I feel better thinking that there is a lesson or purpose behind everything and that my life has some significant meaning.  (Students of mine will be very familiar with this vernacular of mine: significant moments, meaning, universal human truth…)

I recently read that a “successful blog” should have a theme.  And I have struggled with this – I do not want to have a separate blogs each  for my education musings,  my mommy blogging, and yet another for  my writing practice. Maybe those are genres, categories, not themes, but still – what is my theme here?

I started off my posts with “Lessons” and I kind of trailed off from that because it seemed a little kitschy, but it is the truth of my perspective and how my brain works.  I am writing this blog to make my own life lessons apparent to myself.

think haiku

To teach myself how to look, notice, appreciate, be grateful.

write haiku

To teach myself to write regularly.

So whether my readership is just me or if there are countless of you out there, that is my purpose here.  You may notice motifs arise and threads of themes begin to weave from post to post, whether they are tagged parenting or teaching, and my aim is to make that more purposeful.

Truth be told, this is a challenging time for me.  I am grabbing my story by the reigns and making purposeful notes to change it.  Don’t get me wrong: I have everything I need to be happy – the most wonderful family,  a good job, great friends, a sturdy home – and I am happy, but I am also unsettled and uncomfortable. I am at a crossroads (is it my age? The mid-30s?) and I am going to write until this path is clear.

Who is Rae?
Who is Rae?

Thank you for all of your support and guidance, friends, readers, universe, story writer in the sky. I am looking closely at the beautiful things in my life and I am listening and I am writing.

So, theme?  Universal human truth?

How about self-discovery?



One must know oneself to be happy. This is my bildungsroman* (just started a little later in life than Scout Finch or Holden Caulfield).

*German, a novel about the main character’s moral, psychological, or spiritual growth.

The Body Changes

My dog, my sister, my mom, and me, 2007.
My dog, my sister, my mom, and me, 2007.

I was in the best shape of my life when I met my husband 7 years ago.  (So was he.)

Sean's birthday at the Durham Bulls baseball park.
Sean’s birthday at the Durham Bulls baseball park.

I was working like 60 hours a week, left at 6, stopped by the gym on the way home, also stopped by this Vietnamese place that sold me already-prepped-and-cooked tofu, put that on a salad, had one glass of wine while watching tv, and went to bed.  And started it all over again at 5:30am the next morning.

We had a long distance relationship for the first year and a half we were together: he was in NC while I was in Arlington, VA. It was a solitary life privilege.  My time was completely mine, and I am still proud of myself for using it like I did.

I definitely used pregnancy as an excuse to eat as much ice cream as I possibly could.  One of the nurses at the Birth Center (Women’s Birth and Wellness – they were awesome!) told me that if I kept it up, I’d have a big-headed-baby.  I was irked by this at the time, but she was right: Bell came into this world solid and tough at 9 lbs, 3 oz.

Pregnant belly = ice cream table
Pregnant belly = ice cream table

And it was cool when breastfeeding burned a million-billion calories per day, but then I kept up this “splurging” on bread and caramel habit well after the kid had moved on to PB&Js and apple slices. More than that though, I stopped my habit of making exercise a regular part of my day.

I am BRILLIANT at justifications.  And at credible, logical excuses. And at procrastination.

But my girl will be two next month and our routine is a pretty rockin’ dance these days – we know the steps by heart.  It’s time to admit that I don’t feel as good as I could.  As I should.

There are some hard things going on right now: stressful work; messy, un-renovated house; nasty, rude neighbors; figuring out what to eat for dinner (okay, now I’m being melodramatic, but when it’s 5pm and we’re trying to figure out what to eat, it feels pretty hard) and it is my full-body inclination to go straight for the wine glass and put my feet up – celebrate the relaxation of the end of the day.  I deserve to stop for a minute, right?

But tonight, I worked out.  I do this sporadically, but the struggle is consistency.  So I am putting it in print and in public: I feel better about myself after I work out.  I feel motivated.  About EVERYTHING.  I am happy.  I am excited.  I am optimistic. I am confident. I am in love.  I am thrilled.  I am beautiful. I am productive. I am proud.

I mean, wine does no wrong in my eyes, but it does not give me a high like that. (Why can’t I remember that the next day when it’s time to work out again?)

And you know the last time I wrote?  It was the last time I worked out (it’s been a while).  I can give a little credit to all the snow days – they equal more free time and less time outdoors. But really, after a workout, I take a shower, and my wheels turn and my fingers itch – I am ready to do all those things that make me a better me.

So, from here on, this physical story is changing.  And I hope it’s the domino that pushes some others as well.