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Nineteen Months

Dear Persephone,

Since I see you every day I sometimes don’t notice the incremental changes. You still just look so tiny to me, and even after carrying you for blocks, you still seem so light. But I know you’re growing, because you can now open the top drawers in the kitchen, which you couldn’t do a month ago. You can even snatch things off the counter top if they’re sitting right on the edge.

You’re finally developing some fear. That may not sound like a good thing, but I guess it’s healthy. The fearlessness of a toddler can be quite terrifying to a parent. You get scared sometimes of loud noises like thunder. And you’re kind of frightened — but also kind of intrigued — by the stuffed LSU tigers at the grocery store. I’ll admit they are quite fierce looking.

You’re pretty conversant in various animal sounds. When asked what a tiger (or lion) says, you reply with the world’s cutest roar, lifting your hands in a claw-like gesture. We’ve also taught you to show your defiance to the big cats in the words of Ludwig Bemelmans:

To the tiger in the zoo,
Madeline just said, “Poo poo!”

Your fascination with tigers and lions is outmatched by your obsession with owls. You’ve learned to say the word, owl, and you love to look at pictures of owls in your books, and you get very excited when you see an owl anywhere. Perhaps you’ll be an owl this Hallowe’en if we can get a costume together.

The latest word you’ve learned is boy. Your mother thinks that’s a sign of trouble ahead.

You still love to read, and to have books read to you.


But the real story of the past month regards your sleep habits.

You never slept through the night in the first year and a half of your life. There was a good long period where you slept each night in your crib for a while, but you would usually wake at some point and end up spending the rest of the night in our bed. After our summer travels, things got even wackier, and you were soon spending all night, every night, in our bed. Sometimes you had some pretty disturbed sleep — confusional arousals, I think they’re called. Lately you were doing better, only waking once or twice in the night and wanting a feeding from your mother, who mostly slept on the couch to minimize this. Still, we were all feeling rather sleep-deprived.

Then our real estate agent handed me a book which (dare I say it?) seems to have changed our lives. That book has the rather uninspired title of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, by Dr. Richard Ferber. I gather he is somewhat famous for this.

There is a practical method outlined in this book. I also appreciated the theoretical backdrop that makes sense of it all. It was interesting to learn about sleep, in adults and children. Once you understand some of the basics of the sleep cycle, Ferber’s method seems perfectly logical. We all wake partially several times throughout the night, and we usually fall right back to sleep without waking fully. These partial wakings have a survival value; we use them to check that everything’s alright. So it’s important for a child to learn to fall asleep in the same circumstances she will experience when waking during the night. In other words, it’s important to establish the proper sleep associations.

Our problem was we had never let you learn to fall asleep on your own. We always put you to sleep, usually with a bottle and rocking and so forth. We put you in your crib, or our bed, only when you were fully asleep. We didn’t know any other way to do it. If you woke up in the crib all alone, it was a bit of a shock, since you went to sleep under entirely different circumstances, so you would wake more fully by reflex, or so the theory goes.

Over the past two and a half weeks, we’ve learned a whole new way of doing things. We’ve established a set routine of bedtime rituals so you know what to expect. The core of the Ferber’s method involves progressive waiting — simply checking back with you for progressively longer periods until you fall asleep. The first couple nights were rough. You cried for a while. It was hard to leave you crying in your crib, even for a few minutes at a time. But we did it.

Once you fell asleep, you slept through the night for the very first time in your life. Since then you’ve continued to sleep through the night more than half the time. So I would say it’s been phenomenally successful. After about a week, we hit a rough patch, but now things seem to have stabilized. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and cry; I go into your room and comfort you and start the progressive waiting technique. Usually you get back to sleep pretty quickly, and I don’t even have to check back a second time.

As for me, I wasn’t sleeping so well at first, as I would lie in bed and strain my ears wondering if any random noise I heard was you waking up. But I’m learning too. I think we are all sleeping better these days.

Sleep Chart

Yes, I’ve been keeping a little chart of your sleep as per Ferber’s recommendation. What can I say? Your father’s a wannabe science nerd. It actually has been very helpful in seeing the patterns that emerge and not just relying on memory.

Just a week ago you were showing some mild anxieties around bedtime. I’d tell you that it was time for bed, and you’d protest a bit, saying “no,” maybe even crying a little. But we kept at it, and now you’ve to have gotten over that. In fact you actually seem to look forward to going to bed when you’re tired. You point to your crib and smile at me. You don’t cry when I put you in the crib. You lie down and go to sleep.

You’ve been showing less and less interest in the bottle I feed you just before bedtime, often pushing it away after consuming very little. So last night we did away with the bottle entirely, and you went to sleep as usual. Another milestone.

The remaining problem is that you tend to wake up a little too early. You’re capable of a good eleven hours’ sleep, which is the average amount for a child your age, but you sometimes wake up after about nine hours. That means you’re missing out on that last patch of deep sleep just before you wake up. But this morning (after being woken up at 5:20 a.m. by the garbage truck) you slept until 7:00 a.m., so maybe this will sort itself out eventually.

This letter’s already pretty long, but there’s one more thing I have to add: You are simply a joy to be around. Your mother and I are so happy to have you in our lives. We love you to pieces.

Published inFamilyLetters to Persephone


  1. moe moe

    I love that letter. You are a great Dad. She will treasure it!

  2. This is a very precious letter. When she is old enough to read it it will mean so much to her. As she ages, it will mean even more.

  3. Sally Sally

    I love reading about life in the flood zone. Congratulations on this particular milestone. We left books in Ben’s and Clancy’s beds for company upon waking. They continue to fall asleep with books. And, what sorts of books need replacing on Christy’s bookcase?

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