I have been ridiculously lucky to have the easiest baby ever to put to sleep. For the first 6 months of his life he just fell asleep while I nursed him, whether I wanted him to or not and no matter what time of day it was.
In later months, I would put him to bed at 8pm and he would fall asleep on his own, waking 2-3 times during the night. At those times I would nurse him back to sleep, and the only problems came when I was trying to train him into falling asleep on his own, without nursing. The two sides of me were fighting it out inside: get him trained so I could sleep at night, or continue the routine until he moved into a different in his own time, naturally. I ultimately went with the latter, if only because--given that we were sharing a room--ignoring his cries for me were easier said than done.
One thing I can say has been true since day one is that I never needed to stay with him in order for him to fall asleep. I was relieved about this, because I've heard of parents exhausting themselves trying every tool in the arsenal trying to get their kids to sleep, only to find it impossible unless they stayed right there in bed with them, talking them down of the ledge.
Every night (no matter what time I put him down, and it varies from 8:30 - 9:30 or so) and nearly every nap time, I can just give him hugs and kisses, lay him down in his crib with all his stuffed homies, say goodnight, and walk on out the door without a word of protest from him. This is true no matter what is going on outside the room in terms of noise (the washing machine and dryer are right outside our bedroom, and my Mom and I are both likely to be doing laundry late at night) or where we are (during our recent road trip we slept in 4 different places, and he slept well in all of them without any assistance from me).
So imagine my surprise when, 5 minutes after putting him down to sleep in my friend's Nicole and Raul's son Zach's room (Zach is out of town and Nicole and I planned a weekend of sleepovers so our kids could play for three days in a row without us having to drive all over the place three days in a row), I heard his desperate sobs coming from the back of the house. I walked in to find him clinging to the teddy bear I'd lent him for the night from Maya's collection, which was already damp from his tears, as was his twisted up, sad little face.
This is the absolute most heartbreaking moment for a parent: to see your child scared and wondering where you are. Uhh, it makes me want to cry just thinking about it. Nicole was in a room near Zach's when Monkey'd started crying, and she assured me he'd only just started when I heard him, but that made me even sadder, to think he'd been sitting there *quietly* crying and I couldn't hear him. Awwwwwwww :(
I lay there with him for a long time, rubbing his back and reassuring him, until he was calm again. I was going to leave the room, but I got one step away from the bed before he started whimpering again. I'm guessing he just was truly confused by the new setting and in need of my presence to feel secure. It makes perfect sense; I'm just not used to it, coming from him.
Today's New Activity: Witnessing the Awake-to-Asleep Transformation
I decided I'd hang out for the long haul, and I knew it wouldn't be long. He was tired, overtired even (which I think was contributing to his different behavior) and his eyelids already clearly heavy. I laid my head next to the pillow and watched as they got heavier with every blink, slower to re-open again and never reaching their full, wide awake state. I listened as his breathing became slower and more even. And I stayed there with him as the wound-up energy of a playful evening gave way to the quiet, deep sleep of toddler dreams.
It was a beautiful thing to see. It made me wish I hadn't been so excited about his ability to put himself to sleep at night and more insistent on being there for this magical, peaceful moment. I always assumed that my presence would be the thing to keep him awake. But I think that, when he moves out of his crib and into a toddler bed, I'm going to make a habit of being there with him for these moments from time to time. To be there as my son fell to sleep was to know for absolute certain that all was well, in his world and all of the world we shared together.