Sleep training for parents*

(*No-cry method)

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Incredible results in just two nights!

Step 1: Ditch the children.

Steven and I recently took a short vacation without the kids, our first since we became parents four years ago. Prior to this trip, with the exception of an overnight in the city when Theo was an infant, I had never been away from the children for more than a few hours at a time.

To help me feel more at ease with the separation, we decided to keep our getaway local-ish: the kids would stay with Steven’s mom and aunt in Ocala, Florida, and we would go to a resort in St. Pete Beach, just a two-hour drive away. We would be gone for three nights.

I anticipated the trip with equal parts excitement and dread.

It sounds ridiculous to fret about three child-free days on the beach, I know. I fantasize about leaving the children all the time, usually during the cursed hour between dinner and bedtime, when they are attempting to tear each other’s faces off. “I’m going to Mexico,” I text Steven, in between wiping Theo’s bottom and saving Nicholas from a nosedive off the couch. I imagine myself speeding down a dusty road in a convertible, wearing a silk headscarf and oversized sunglasses and smoking a cigarette.

When Steven and I left for St. Pete, we did so in a rented Kia minivan. I wore sunglasses smudged with the baby’s fingerprints and tried not to cry. It was hard to leave the little buggers, especially Theo, who could not imagine why he wasn’t invited.

“Because Mommy and Daddy like spending time with each other.”

“Why?”

“Because we love each other and we like hanging out together.”

“Why?”

“I mean, we love you, too, and we’re going to miss you so much. But sometimes grownups just spend time with other grownups, and sometimes – most of the time – they spend time with kids. We’ll be back very soon.”

He was not convinced.

Our hotel, the Don CeSar, was an enormous, sherbet-colored resort built in the late 1920s. Known as the “Pink Palace,” the hotel figuratively reeked of old-timey glamour and literally smelled like citrus, sandalwood, and linens washed in sunshine and love. The view from our balcony was a ridiculous cliché of beachy perfection: turquoise water, white sand, waving palm trees. A pair of plush bathrobes hung in the closet. I felt… anxious.

Step 2: Drink.

It’s like this: when using the bathroom alone is considered “me time,” it can be a real shock to the system to find yourself with nothing to do but relax. Alcohol helped. My first cocktail reduced the children to a fuzzy memory; the second one dissolved the self-abnegating mom instinct I seem to have developed over the last four years. (When our server brought a plate of oysters, part of me wanted to tell him, “That’s OK, sweetie, I’ll just nibble on some leftover grilled cheese crusts.”)

I persevered. I lounged by the pool and basked in the sun and canoodled with my husband. I read an ENTIRE BOOK. I thought of my kids fondly but briefly; like the children on Downton Abbey, they appeared for a few moments but were whisked away before they could become tiresome.

One thing I couldn’t do was sleep. Not the first night, anyway. I was wide awake at 5:30, which is when Steven gets up for work. At home I usually spend the hour between 5:30 and 6:30 snuggling with the dog, looking at my phone, and listening for the sounds of Theo stirring. If I happen to sleep through this hour, I wake to the sight of Theo’s face, inches from my own, silently staring at me. It scares the shit out of me every time.

Step 3: Spend an hour and a half letting a stranger put his hands all over your body while pan flute music plays in the background.

There was nothing to do but soldier on: I was off to a massage at the hotel spa, an experience I quite enjoyed once I got over my initial massage-related angst. First, there was the question of whether or not you are supposed to leave your underwear on (I did). Then there was the worry that the massage therapist would be too chatty (he wasn’t). And lastly there was the challenge of tuning out the New Agey music (difficult, especially when the playlist inexplicably got a little Schindler’s List-y, but I eventually triumphed).

Loosened up by the massage, I let go and gave in to glorious indolence. That night, I slept. Not like a baby, because babies sleep like crap. I slept like the old me, like a person who has not spent the last four years repeatedly getting jolted out of a sound sleep by tiny, screaming humans. I slept like the girl I once was, a kid who so hated leaving her warm bed on school mornings that she once complained about it in a letter to Santa Claus (not a great move, but as I recall he did not hold it against me). I slept right through morning beach yoga (Namaste, bitches!). I slept until 9 a.m., which is the non-parent equivalent of sleeping till noon.

And then, just as I was really getting into it, it was time to leave.

I won’t lie: I could not wait to see the kids. And, if I am to continue telling the truth, after about twenty minutes in their presence I started thinking about when we could get away again.

Step 4: Start planning your next vacation.

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