The other night, my husband and I had a whopper of a fight. Our worst by far, and even in our few years together, that is saying quite a bit. I had lain awake in the wee hours of the morning piecing together the straw that would break not only the camel’s back, but his mother’s as well. You see, our beautiful brown-eyed six-month old has been sharing my breasts (not too much sharing really) and our marital bed for the last, well, six months. In the beginning, he was quite a bit smaller and frankly, a bit of a novelty. Little coochie coo pudgy pookanoo sucking and snuggling. Yes, well, he’s all that and more now; twelve pounds more to be exact. And, in addition to sucking and snuggling, he’s snoring and grunting and squirming and kicking. Kill Bill-Jackie Chan-type kicking. Did I mention the breastfeeding? So, there I was, in those wee hours, cursing my lot, and my back, as I flipped back from one side to the other to accommodate my little angel. Finally, I sat up and bellowed “I just can’t f@*en take this anymore!!!!!”
And that’s when my husband and I decided to Ferberize.
No, it’s not a Jane Fonda routine and what I don’t know about “the Ferber method” could fill a book (Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems probably) but my basic grasp of the concept is that parents should let their child “cry it out” during nighttime wakings, periodically checking and comforting the child, but NOT picking him or her up! The first night we tried it, our little pudgy poo cried for approximately 25 minutes and then went off to la la land. Phew. The next night was the night hubbie and I said some pretty mean stuff to each other, as babe screamed, every hour, on the hour.
I love my husband more than anything. I mean, don’t make me choose between him and my two sons if there is a bus bearing down on them, but I love him A LOT. Why did we spew venom at each other? First, that Ferber stuff is hard, harder than watching Troy, and hard stuff requires one make an effort. Not swearing at your spouse requires work. I once told a friend of mine that when I got grumpy with my ten- or forty-year-old it was emotional laziness on my part; it was simply me not mustering the energy to think of a better approach or to take a deep breath. I just react; I react because it’s easy. She responded that that was much too harsh an assessment, that we are doing our best, that we’re all trying.
Try is one of those great duplicitous words of the English lexicon. It can be both, or either, “to make an effort to do something that may be difficult” or “to experiment with an action that might be a solution to your problem”. We often use it after we have failed to do that difficult thing or find the fix, as in: I tried not to pick him up while he was bawling his eyes out and I tried burying my head in the pillow to muffle his screams. The progressive form often elicits a snide quip: I am trying!...Yes, you certainly are (trying my patience, that is) Trying not only sounds like tiring, it looks like it. Invariably, at the end of every failure, not only are we sick and tired, we always say we tried. At least the British give it a go.
Certain self-help gurus and “life coaches” say there is no try, only do. But try shouldn’t be relegated to the losers’ corner. The lie of try is the problem. Bulletin: we are not really trying. Most of the time we are making as little effort as possible. I am not so lame that most everything I try I fail at. I am either making a conscious effort to stop trying or I didn’t really try in the first place. Take my man Ferber. I wasn’t so married to his theory to begin with. Did I try? Not so much. Did I fail? No, I just stopped trying. If I’m truly honest with myself, I swore at my husband because I was tired, but not because I tried to do something different, like laugh, or eat a bowl of ice cream. Ditto with my parenting shortcomings. I need to exert myself. Do you remember hearing that it requires more muscles to frown than smile? Well, apparently, that is not strictly true. Some now say it takes 12 muscles to smile, 11 to frown. Splitting hairs perhaps, but energy is not only summoned by your muscles. Just try to smile next time you are really pissed off (and not an insincere one…although a fake smile costs you only two puny muscles). The mental energy required to switch tracks will exhaust you.
I often complain that my fellow joggers never smile or wave back at me. My husband suggested that perhaps they’re real runners and their energy is otherwise directed to the physical task at hand, whereas I’m just a weekend Pollyanna with a goofy gait and grin. Not so. I run hard; I push my limits every run. I really exert myself. I try hard. Raising my hand, smiling, and grunting good morning almost kills me, but it seems an important gesture. It should almost kill me to be kinder to my loved ones when everything goes pear-shaped too.
Crying babies are hard to take. Raising a family can be very trying. Nobody’s perfect, but I sure try.