When our little boy was just a couple of weeks old, he spent several days suffering from a stuffy nose. Neither suction nor saline drops were working, and no one was getting any sleep. One night, I realized that I would have to put my mouth around his little nose and suck out this boy's snot.
Was it gross? Yes, it was. In fact, in my sleep-addled state, it reminded me rather of the climactic scene from the movie Saw, when the hero saws off his own foot to break free of a shackle so he could save his family from a killer. Ah, the sacrifices we fathers must endure!
As you endure the toughest parts of parenthood -- the anguished days and sleepless nights -- perhaps your mind turns to the trials of Anna Karenina or Hester Prynne. Or you ponder the Biblical stories of Job, Abraham, or Mary Magdalene.
Me? I think about horror flicks.
Like most horror fans of the guilty-pleasure variety, I'm actually a bit squeamish. I decided early on to avoid a close-up view of our baby's emergence from the womb. When we were forced into a C-section, I held my wife's gaze in the operating room as the doctors mucked about down below. (Delivery, I soon discovered, is only the first parental experience that is both joyous and terrifying.)
Virtually all of the horrors of fatherhood for me soon coalesced around one issue: How to get our adorable baby boy to close his beautiful blue eyes and get a little goddamn sleep. First, we tried letting him doze in a bassinet by our bed, then in the bed itself. Soon we joined the ranks of the sleepless zombies--the classic, staggering Night of the Living Dead zombies, not the newfangled, sprinting 28 Days Later zombies, who I learned in the DVD were professional dancers in real life. (These lucky zombies presumably got plenty of sleep and exercise, which must have facilitated all that sprinting.)
Desperate for any solution that did not require hours of crying it out, we tracked down a "sleep consultant." My wife assumed this lady would take a gentle approach because she got good marks from a parents' group in Berkeley. And our therapist certainly had a sensitive manner, with her soft blue eyes, cascading hair and gentle voice. Even her name -- Angelique -- made her sound positively heaven-sent.
We were in for a surprise, however. Like the priests and psychics in every devil-baby movie since The Exorcist, this saintly soul carried a most disturbing message: We would have to exorcise the demon of sleeplessness by ignoring Jonah's cries.
Now, horror movies make it very clear that neglecting children is a VERY BAD IDEA. Give them a few years, and they are bound to extract vengeance. They slash and dismember their own parents (and anyone else stupid enough to approach their lair). They crawl out of television sets and turn your face into Silly Putty. They commit murder with their mind-power alone. Be gentle and loving to your children, these movies advise, or else.
But we were forced to turn a deaf ear to this message. We had to sleep, and so did our boy. As I listened to our sweet child weep and moan just down the hall, my mind turned to The Ring, in which a little girl kept by her evil mother at the bottom of a well turns evil herself. Certainly the image of the "ring" of light around the nursery door would be imprinted on our baby's mind forever, as he wreaked his vengeance!
To make it through the night, I kept in mind a scene in the Evil Deadin which a deadly poltergeist lures a guy into a basement by pleading -- in the voice of his girlfriend -- to be let out. Needless to say, going into the basement was also a VERY BAD IDEA. Similarly, I would have to ignore the pleas of my baby boy in that nursery.
Then, something happened. Over the course of a few nights, his crying diminished. And each night, he woke up the next morning as cheerful as ever. He had no apparent desire to slash us to pieces, or to set the crib on fire telekinetically.
Jonah's sleeping problems aren't conquered, but he's made progress. Sometimes he even crawls onto a little bed we've set up on the floor and rests his head. One day soon, I hope, he'll fall asleep all by himself. As he lies there, eyes closed and breathing regularly, I will stare at his angelic face and breathe a tremendous sigh of relief.
That's when his eyes fly open.