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I'm a Slave to My Daughter's Sleep Schedule

My in-laws invited us out to dinner, as they do most Saturdays. My husband looked at me expectantly, waiting for my verdict so he could text them back. I knew he wanted to go, but I balked. Of course I balked. And not just because I'm an introvert who would rather spend my evenings reading and avoiding other humans.

I balked because I knew that, by the time our orders had been taken and the garlic bread had been passed around, Em might already be yawning and rubbing her eyes. And by the time dinner was finally done, we would have already reached the outer edge of when we typically start her bedtime, and we'd still be a half hour from home.

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The first four or five months of Emily's life were lived in utter chaos. Even after cluster feeding and nursing were behind us, I still followed her cues in terms of when to have her nap and when to feed her. And since I couldn't yet predict when she'd want to eat or sleep, I was very cavalier about taking her to mommy & me yoga or walking her around the neighborhood or accepting the occasional invitation to go out to lunch.

Of course, I worried the entire time that I was Doing It Wrong. Did I need to put her on a sleep schedule? Was I destroying her chances at someday having a normal bedtime? How many naps per day should she be taking? Was I giving her too much milk? Too little?

But eventually, patterns began to emerge. I read up on sleep schedules and feeding habits and made a point of noticing when it was that she tended to get tired. I put her down in her crib instead of letting her pass out in her Pack 'n' Play or on her play mat. And when we began introducing purees, things became even more structured.

Have I created a monster? Am I still, somehow, Doing It Wrong? Or is it OK to be a slave to her sleep schedule at this stage of her life, if only so that we can both maintain our sanity?

A typical day now goes something like this:

* We both wake up sometime between 7 and 7:30 a.m. I feed her a puree and some formula for breakfast and then let her roll around on the floor while I make my way through all the small work tasks that don't require too much brain power. I guzzle four cups of coffee in quick succession.

* Sometime between 9:30 and 10, she goes down for her first nap of the day. I use this time as an opportunity to shower and perhaps do work that requires greater amounts of concentration.

* Her next meal comes at 12.

*Her afternoon nap happens between 1 and 2.

* She gets a snack around 3 or 4. Sometimes, she takes a third nap after this.

* Her dinner is at 5. Her bedtime routine (tub time, book, bottle and teeth brushing) is kicked off between 6:30 and 7:30 ... basically, whenever she starts to look sleepy.

Throughout all of this, I do work for multiple clients, do laundry, run errands, cook dinner, have several meltdowns, etc. Once she goes down at night, she's down until morning (because she is the best baby in the world, thank the heavens).

Since we've settled into this routine, life as a work-at-home mom has become a lot easier. But god forbid we ever deviate from this well-proven system. That's when the shit really hits the fan.

If she misses her early afternoon nap, she sobs inconsolably as soon as we arrive at her late-afternoon play date. If I drop her at my parents' house at around 6:30 p.m. so I can go to Toastmasters, she screams the entire time until her father arrives to pick her up at 7:30, because she refuses to sleep anywhere but in her own crib. If her father pushes one of her naps back by even a single half hour just so she can get one spin around the block with Grandma, they are not the ones to witness the eventual repercussions. No. They see only a happy baby, smiling in the sun, hair blowing in the breeze. I am the one who eventually pays for their transgressions, perhaps with a meltdown at a pre-scheduled social commitment, or with further trouble getting her back on schedule later in my work week.

Have I created a monster? Am I still, somehow, Doing It Wrong? Or is it OK to be a slave to her sleep schedule at this stage of her life, if only so that we can both maintain our sanity? I hate to be the killjoy all the time, but this routine works for us. For both of us. And it makes me angry when people don't respect that. Especially because they don't see how hard it can be for me as a work-at-home mom when she's thrown off her schedule.

The other week, against my better judgment, I told my husband he could accept that dinner invitation. And when we got to the restaurant, Em sat happily in her car seat ... for a time. After all, she's an easygoing baby, far more social than I am, as long as she's well-rested.

But then she wanted to be held. And while she played musical laps, she grabbed at plates and utensils and wine glasses. And at some point, we had to give her a bottle because it was getting late. And finally, she was full-on crying.

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"It's OK. She's not bothering anyone," said my in-laws.

Which may have been true. But I was only about five percent concerned with the dining experience of the people around me (it was a loud eatery and Em's crying was easily masked by the constant hum of background noise) and 95 percent concerned with the fact that Em was clearly overtired.

So I abandoned my wine and my linguine, packed Em back up into her car seat, and drove circles around the parking lot until my husband emerged from the restaurant and we could go home. By that point, Em was asleep in the back seat, and I was annoyed as hell.

Was I supposed to be enjoying myself at these dinners? Reveling in the fact that I had gotten the chance to eat out instead of staying in?

Sorry, y'all. I think I'll forego all that and just stick to the schedule.

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