For the first four months I did what all the books said to do, and put him down in his bassinet drowsy, but still awake, so he could finish that fall into slumber on his own. At four months, he suddenly decided he hated this plan, and began to scream if I put him down awake. No biggie: I rocked or nursed him to sleep. He was still so tiny! I never considered anything else.
At eight months he went through that terrible phase where they immediately start to cry if you even think about putting them in the crib. Fortunately, I knew it was a phase, and repeated: this is only a phase, it will pass, this is only a phase, it will pass, as I held his sleeping body in my arms, night after night, dancing closer and closer to the crib, praying for better luck each time around.
We tried a modified version of cry-it-out soon after that, that went: we will do anything at all to comfort you, except remove you from that crib. Sing to you? Sure. Read? Yep. Hold your little hand through the wooden rails? Okay, then. But you ain't getting sprung from that there prison, kid. It worked, until the next bout of teething. There's nothing like that one, specific cry in the night that says: THIS HURTS SO BAD, MAMA! MAKE IT STOP, PLEASE? to make you toss all your hard work to the wind, and leap back to square one faster than you can snatch a screaming infant from a drop-side crib. Breastfeeding was the only thing that ever helped with teething pain, and I gave in again and again, with every new tooth.
Eventually, through a series of bedtime experiments, we got to where he would go peacefully into his crib each night and put himself to bed. He seldom wakes in the night, and even less frequently requires our assistance to get back to sleep when he does. He sleeps about 12 hours every night, and 2 to 3 each afternoon. We're a little locked in to our routine around here (if we miss that 1:30pm deadline, fuggedaboutit, day ruined, over, done, out), but on the whole, we consider ourselves lucky.
I do the bedtime routine most nights: bath, teeth brushed, diaper and jammies, books and lullabies, into bed, goodnight. Then I come out to the living room and collapse on the couch. Lately, although he goes willingly into his crib, sometimes even telling me: I want bed, and then seeming to drift into slumber for 15 or 20 silent minutes afterward, he's suddenly struck with the need for comfort and begins to sob.
I go back in, scoop him up and hug him to my chest, rock side to side with the rhythm of whatever song drifts through the air, instrumental, from the lullaby CD we keep playing in the background of his bedroom when we put him down at night. He says: Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, twirling my hair between his pudgy fingers. And I say: Mommy's here, Mommy's here, as I gently caress the soft down of his hair on the back of his head. Then I lay him back down, soft as a prayer, and surround him with Elephant, Bunny and Bear. Bear will keep you safe, I tell him. Bunny's here too, nice and soft, feel Bunny's fur. And here's Elephant: your favorite! Elephant will snuggle you. The animals gather round to give kisses, and promises that they will stay, in my stead, and keep him comfort, and he rolls onto his side and tilts his head back at a certain angle, which I know means he'll be okay.
And no matter how tired I am by the end of the day, no matter how inviting the movie waiting for me on DVD in the next room over, how shiny and new the novel I just picked up from the library looks resting like a gem on the throw pillow on the couch, no matter the genius of the blog post dancing in my head and itching to escape from my fingers onto the keyboard, I'm always so grateful to be a mom in that moment. Standing in the dusk in my baby's bedroom. Just me and Elephant and Bunny and Bear, our little quartet, banishing the bedtime blues.
But mostly me. I'm not trying to brag here, but I don't think the rest of those guys could do it without me.