11/19/2014 12:41 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

Sleep Training: Crossing Dante's Fifth Circle


It's been four months. Four months of sleeping in a sleeping bag on the living room floor. My wife right next to me, on the cushions off the sofa. Our son has our bedroom. All of it. He's 13 months old.

There's a beautiful bed in there -- for us, I mean -- with a special mattress that aligns with our bodies. And he has a crib, a crib that takes up, oh, you know, 12 cubic feet. But we're sleep training him. At least we were. That was almost 12 weeks ago, and it worked beautifully. Really. Like apples in an orchard. After two days, the 11 p.m. feedings stopped. He was a tad more adamant about the 2 a.m. top up. But another four more days or so and he was sleeping like, well, a baby... until just after 5.

The first night was horrific. An hour and fifteen minutes of tonsil-sapping howling. Every 10 minutes, I'd go down to the bedroom, following the method to the letter: a hand gently placed on his chest, followed by, "It's OK. Mama and Papa love you. Go back to sleep. You're OK." Tip-toe out the door. Head back upstairs. Lie down. Go through the news website on the iPhone and actually have the time to read a couple of news pieces rather than vaguely scanning headlines. Wait 10 minutes. Go back down. Repeat. Seven times. You're supposed to wait five more minutes each time. But that's hard when your kid sounds like a demented otter is chewing through his nose. So, it's every 10 minutes. But it works. Like magic. Like I said, within a week, he's out pretty much from 7 a.m. through until 5:15 p.m. or so. Which I'll take every time. He takes a four -ounce bottle just after 5 p.m. and goes back down until 7 p.m.. Wonderful.

So, where's the problem? Why are the two of us, still, three-and-a-half months later, in sleeping bags on the living room floor? Why is there an impending sense of sharks off the starboard motor? Our bedtime, that's why. And trying to take back the ground given. At 10:30 p.m. we try sneaking in, like cartoon mice on their hind legs going after the Christmas presents. This, after we've brushed our teeth upstairs, checked the door, unplugged all the appliances. He doesn't even let us make it to the bed. He's up immediately. Eager. Trying to stand up in his crib, his little head banging against the rails because he can't get his legs to coordinate inside his sleep-sack. We didn't make a sound, I swear. Like field mice not shaking in the grass and all that. Not even to the bed. Like, he smells us. And, then, as we reverse maneuver, the screaming. The otter is back. And we're back upstairs. We tried again two nights later. Tried going in at different times, during different sleep cycles. Waited a week. No change. He's utterly steadfast.

So, the living room becomes the bedroom. Clothes and underwear on the back of chairs, jewelry and makeup on the kitchen counter. We can't put him in our daughter's room. She's not ready for him. Not until we can get him sleeping well past 6 p.m.. Have you seen an 8-year-old on interrupted sleep? Picture whippets on cocaine chasing a balloon around a bowling alley. Now make the bowling alley one lane and add neighbors. Unsustainable. So, he gets the bedroom. My dad used to tell me about a '70s TV show called The Prisoner where there would be things like disembodied beach balls bouncing down an empty, wind-scattered beach. So every night, we roll out the sleeping bags, set the alarm clocks, unplug the appliances and watch the beach balls methodically bouncing by.

And we'll keep watching them until we can get our baby sleeping until 7 a.m., when our 8-year-old needs to be up anyway for school. Which can't be too long in the distance, right? Maybe at 14 months. So, 10, maybe 11 more weeks. Cake walk.