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Why I Let My Sick One-Year-Old Turn Our Bed Into A Cage Match

The following was syndicated from The Huffington Post as a part of The Daddy Diaries for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

There comes a time in every parent’s life when your child gets sick for the first time. One day he’s a shiny little angel. The next minute he’s got snot running down his nose and he starts to sound and look like Abe Vigoda.

Perhaps you aren’t old enough to recall Abe Vigoda. He played a rumpled old NYC cop on the 1970s-era sitcom, Barney Miller. His character was named Fish. Fish smoked many cigarettes, made the worst coffee in the world, and dealt with a lot of muggers.

When your kid is sick, it’s a lot like dealing with a mugger. Michelle and I just look at each other and scream, “Do whatever he wants — for God’s sake don’t argue!” Which is how Lev ended up sleeping not in his bedroom, nor in his crib, but once again, back in our bed, facing upside with his nose tucked near my butt.

I was like, “Bro. I ate beans and cabbage and flax seed for dinner. You’re kind of in my kill zone.”

And Lev was like, “First of all dad, I have a cold. I can’t smell anything. Second, get with the times: a lot of dudes like to sleep upside down with their noses buried in another man’s butt cheeks. It’s called making a Kanye Nest.”

Sleep training is a wonderful and extremely upsetting thing because it involves causing the person you love the most in this world to feel abandoned and cry for many nights in a row.

I’m not usually into anything that begins with the word Kanye. But since Lev was sick, and it appeared to sooth him to sleep cheek to cheek, fine. I thought back to when Lev was 3 days old and he was in the ICU because he had jaundice and was yellow and looked like one of the Simpsons. He was laying under a blue light inside a plastic incubator like John Travolta in Boy In The Bubble and looked like he was relaxing inside a tanning booth.

But these last few days, Lev’s been coughing in horrible fits, nobody is relaxed and we all look kind of yellow. Michelle took him to the doctor, who said not to worry, Lev will be okay. But there is a victim with a less optimistic prognosis: sleep training. That fragile little beast has taken a terrible beating.

Sleep training is a wonderful and extremely upsetting thing because it involves causing the person you love the most in this world to feel abandoned and cry for many nights in a row. All this was about as easy as running a marathon every day for 12 months while carrying a knapsack full of sand. Except sleep training is not like a running a marathon, because it’s 3 steps forward and then 2 steps backwards, a long slow process that’s not linear. You finally get your baby to sleep through the night and he gets a cold and suddenly you’re back to step one.

When I observe Lev napping during the day, he seems to be fairly still, but at night, once he gets into our bed, he is a tornado of non-stop kicking, farting, snoring, and yoga inversions.

At night he transforms into Twitchy Von Twitchenstein. Warning to his future girlfriends: he kicks like a donkey in his sleep. I have been kicked in the face, slapped in the nutsack, and repeatedly punched in the neck. Now he’s doing this Kanye thing. And then, just before the sun begins to appear like a terrible red bruise in the sky, finally, in a fit of exhaustion from sleep-beating me, Lev finally passes out draped across my throat, slowly crushing my windpipe while he dreams of fields filled with candy and unicorns.

It was almost like a dream. Except for that, I would have had to be sleeping.

But here’s the secret about the failure to sleep train — and all the other setbacks we experience as new dads: yes, there are the valleys of despair. The feeling of, ‘when will this ever end?’ But, even though I am falling apart like a person with actual leprosy, there is a not inconsiderable part of my mind that thinks, “This is all worth it.”

Because a few times a night, when Lev sits bolt upright in bed as though a terrifying clown has just entered the bedroom holding a butcher knife, I get to comfort him. And in the morning, when he wakes me up at an hour when even garbage men have not hit the snooze button, he smiles at me, and it’s like an incandescent pilot light has been lit inside my superior vena cava, which as all medical students know, is the second largest vein in the human body and runs directly into the heart.

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation also kills you, so this will have to stop.

Soon.

But in the meantime, I comfort myself by thinking, these are moments I will never get back. And I try to inhale and be as present as I can, so that in the future I will be able to remember these fragile, mad sleepless hours, when a small fragrant elf slept in my bed, and stole all the blankets. And I hope especially I will never forget the innocent smile on his face this morning when he literally went to the bathroom, by which I mean he made fudge while sitting on Michelle’s nose.

It was almost like a dream. Except for that, I would have had to be sleeping.

For the moment, there is no cure for the common cold. Except maybe love. And when you still want to hug your baby boy even though he smells like Abe Vigoda, you know you’re head over heels.

Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.