Whispers in the dark

So you want few sleepless nights as a newly minted parent?

Dream on. Though there are people today fancily calling themselves Baby Whisperers — whose expert job it is to sell you a step-by-step plan to make your babe rest — get real. The wakefulness is natural. Running to professional “sleep coaches” to teach you trigger contrived sleep responses is not.

Sleep is baby’s second food, the prenatal classes tutor us. Yes. But a restless infant is equally to be expected for some months. No amount of demand feeds, nappy changes or soothing tunes can gull or lull. That little being is born to be a night owl, napping longer stretches through the day and wanting entertainment thereafter. No baby comes with fully formed circadian rhythms, so where’s the question of being able to tell dawn from dusk?

What to do about the unsleeping infant snafu? Deal with it. Humour thrown in when possible helps. Though both my toddlers snoozed nightlong reasonably early, they were no bundles of joy until they did. Bathing, massaging, tiring them out to tumble into a cosy cot worked naught. We stroked their fingers, tickled their toes and purred gooey baby talk into those shell-pink ears to no avail.

Then we stopped fighting. And began listening, looking and — more than anything else — playing. The clues are always there waiting to be found. Breathe calm, watch well and a sixth sense kicks in to make one instinctively learn every child’s basic pattern and penchant. My husband and I discovered each of our kids’ in funny ways. Lightening up, we saw the quirky sense of the firstborn who slept soundest after settling in bed with a stack of photo albums kept within reach. Chuckling as he spotted family and friends in the pictures, he’d rock and clap hands with delight before dozing off with a big beam on his face.

If he was visually driven to drift into sleep, his sister was a fan of the spoken word. Stories were her soporific treat. Not too different from most kids, right? Ah, but daughter dearest was hung up on very specific bedtime banter. She often asked us to assume the voice of an adored hero. “Say it like Ringo” she would beg as I tried to interest her in falling asleep with a “railway story”. Sharing her older brother’s passion for train sets, she enjoyed the Beatle famously narrate the Thomas the Tank Engine videos. There I was at the game, bizarre as it felt impersonating Mr Starr as storyteller!

My own childhood bedtime ritual was unusual, yet easily picked up by the parents. Mum worried I’d soon be diagnosed with deafness, as dad parked my pram bang beside a pile of LPs where I slipped into slumber to the boom of classical music ringing in my ears. He recommended this loud bedtime routine far and wide. Boasting descriptions of how the “Merry Widow” Waltz unfailingly saw his baby girl’s eyes scrunch shut within a minute of its opening bars.

Turn tough luck to good luck. Because finally there’s nothing to top that picture of pure innocence: the sight of a sleeping baby. How best do you manage to get that wide pair of eyes to close?

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at:

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