Mama Madison: Nighttime dilemmas

From the Ferber method to "Go the F**k to Sleep"

Unless you've been on some sort of media fast for the past month or so, chances are you've heard the buzz surrounding Adam Mansbach's expletive-ridden faux-bedtime story, Go The F**k To Sleep. This genre-busting parody was originally intended for an October 2011 release date. But it became an Internet sensation this past spring as a PDF version was leaked to the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of exhausted parents across the nation.

Within the month, GTFTS had reached #1 on Amazon in pre-sales, prompting the publishing company to move the book's release date up to last week. And it's huge. An audio version featuring the voice talents of the master-of-the-f-bomb Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction and Snakes on a Plane, anyone?) has just been released. And the 31-page book has been supposedly optioned for (an R-rated and very short?) film by Fox 2000 .

The book, which is sure to be the novelty baby shower gift of the summer, has certainly raised interesting concerns about Internet piracy. It has also raised hackles over the appropriateness of profanity in a book whose cover could be easily be mistaken for Good Night Moon by your average 3-year-old. Some of the most interesting on-line discussions I've encountered have been about what the popularity of such a jaded book says about contemporary parenting culture.

But feel as you may about the book, Mansbach has clearly hit a nerve as well as the jackpot. Sleep (or lack thereof), both theirs, and ours, is a major struggle for parents.

From the moment he came home from the hospital, my oldest son had absolutely no interest in shuteye. Call it "healthy lungs," call it colic (my husband was dying for a "diagnosis"), or call it a nightmare, he wouldn't sleep for more than 45 minutes at a stretch, ever. Many of my slightly-better-rested mom-friends swore by the tactics of Chicago pediatrician and self-proclaimed sleep superhero, Dr. Marc Weissbluth. His book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, they claimed, was sure to teach me everything I needed to know about how to get my new baby to sleep peacefully--both during naps and through the night.

I read the book, not once, not twice, but three times. My husband read it a handful of times as well. I even read it to the baby hoping it might get him to drift off, even for a little. The good doctor's advice was pretty simple. We just needed to let our infant son "cry it out"--essentially let him scream bloody murder until he was so exhausted he'd have no other choice than to fall asleep.

Both my husband and I were staunchly committed going into that first night of "sleep training." Weissbluth promised that if we could just bear two to three nights of fuss, our little guy would be sleeping like, well, a baby, by day four. It is possible the technique works---we gave in long before we could find out. After two hours of straight shrieking, our son ended up in our bed that night. And every successive night for the next two years.

Still scarred from our earlier experience, we didn't even consider any formal "training" for son #2 until his first birthday. This time we opted for the Ferbermethod -- a kinder, gentler version of Weissbluth. Now, the rules said, instead of letting him fuss on his own until he gave in to sleep, we could at least visit our baby in his agony.

It went something like this: put him in his crib and listen to him cry for 10 minutes. Then, go into his room, stroke his back for a minute or two and tell him reassuring words ("don't worry, mama's here") and leave. Then repeat.

It was a continuous cycle of cry, soothing words, and cry again that went on for hours, despite the recommended increasing intervals of "cry time." Soon Ferber became yet another "F" word in our house---and son #2 ended up in our bed (at least son # 1 was out of it by now).

Our third child, a daughter, slept well from day one. But only in her car seat, never the crib. At her eight-week check-up I was relieved that our sympathetic pediatrician gave this alterna-bed his blessing. I'll be honest, even if he had told me that letting her sleep for so many hours in the curled up position that infant car seats induce would permanently stunt her growth, I'm not confident I would have done anything different. Finally sleeping through the night was just too great a gift to toy with it.

Our infant sleep issues morphed into the toddler "Jack-in-the-Box" sleep issue immortalized in Mansbach's book. But by the time each of them hit age three, things got better. And stayed better for quite some time.

But I have some potentially bad news for parents (are you listening, Mr. Mansbach?) who think that once they've won their pre-school sleep battles that they've actually won the war.

My oldest is now 14, goes out with friends and stays up way later than I do.

I am thinking about writing my own book.

I plan to call it, "It's Past G$d D#%n Ten, You Better Get Your A$% Home Soon, I Want To Go The F**k To Sleep."

Any ideas on who should do the audio book?

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