When Claire was very young I would spend long hours with her in front of the television set. This was mostly due to the fact I was trying to stay awake. Claire resisted a regular sleep schedule with a vengeance. No matter what I did she was not about to let anyone tell her when to sleep and when to get up. I would keep her awake a couple extra hours each night pushing her to go to bed at night when we did but this was to no avail. She would eventually slip into a, go to bed at six in the morning wake up at six at night, schedule.
And when she wanted to go to sleep you could hold her upside down, sprinkle water on her face play bagpipe music or any of a number of ingenious ideas I came up with to keep a baby awake for a few hours longer and it was all to no avail. She simply went to sleep and nothing would wake her till she decided it was time to get up, usually about the time everyone else wanted to go to sleep.
There were times when I tried the “just put her in the crib and let her cry method” but being a new father I was in no condition to allow my little baby daughter to cry for hours at a time, when the crying would not allow me to sleep anyway and once more it would wake up her mother who had just finished a night class and needed to get some sleep before she went back to the university to teach a class in the morning. In the process of me trying to find a natural way to get her on a regular schedule I spent many long nights trying to stay awake while she decided she could go 12 hours without a nap.
I would spend some time on the computer figuring out programs to tape during the day and night that I could watch. There was one show Law & Order that I only saw a couple of times but I really liked. Turns out there were tons of seasons, two spin-offs and ample opportunities to watch because no less than four networks on my cable carried the show. They also frequently ran 4-6 hours of L&O marathons that were perfect for the red-eyed daddy that needed something to occupy his mind.
The delirium I was in also allowed me to watch the same episodes in consecutive weeks because I didn’t really remember all of the episode anyway.
When I sensed Claire was a getting tired I would lay her on my chest and sing to her. I would slowly lower the TV volume till it was muted and just sing. Eventually I got her accustomed to falling asleep to the sound of my voice. This lead to a breakthrough that changed my life. I could sing her to sleep at 8:00 PM and she would stay asleep all night.
The songs I knew best were Irish songs. Learned from years sitting in the pub listening to my favorite balladeers and miles of hiking where a song was the only thing that made you forget your legs hurt or kept the stragglers with the pack.
You would think there are plenty of lullaby type songs, but I was not restricted to that, I would just pick a song, slow the tempo and sing it like a ballad. Some songs were naturally slow but would probably not be something you would think a child would fall asleep to. There was one particular song, “The band played waltzing Matilda,” about a soldier losing his legs in WW I. Very sad, very slow, and pretty long. In Claire’s first 2 years of life she probably fell asleep to that song more than any other.
I have heard people say what a mistake that was, letting her fall asleep every night in my arms would just make it so that was the only way she would fall asleep. So what? I cannot remember a time in my life I was happier and I never once felt it was a wasted effort. Even today at the age of five we have an evening ritual that involves, putting on our pjs, brushing our teeth, reading a book and singing three songs. Three songs is a compromise that took most of a year to make a standard and involves a wide range of music including the Dixie Chicks Godspeed, Chris DeBurgh’s This is for Rosanna, and Just a Word Away, Kenny Loggin’s House at Pooh Corner and of course Peter Yarrow’s Puff the Magic Dragon, but it is very seldom that two of the three songs are not Irish songs. Most of them traditional, When Irish Eyes are smiling, Irish Lullaby, and Mistral Boy being a favorite, Bob Reeder songs usually dominate with many he wrote himself and some he has made his own, The Auld country, The Whales, Carrickfergus, Go Lassie Go, Princess of Charlemagne, From Clare to Here, but even the Elders and Gaelic Storm have found their way into the repertoire.
On the night before her first day of school she fought bedtime less than usual, presumably over excitement of school the next day, and asked me to pick the songs. I started with Galway Girl, then did a very slow and very long version of Godspeed. She was almost asleep and whispered “Minstrel Boy.” By the time the Minstrel Boy had torn his chords asunder she was already drifting off. I kissed her goodnight as I had done a thousand times and tiptoed out the door. I stopped and watched her under her princess canopy and imagined how hollow my life would be without three songs every night. I walked down the stairs humming Waltzing Matilda and contemplating how many channels I could find Law and Order on at 8:00 PM.