He Holds the Whole World on His Back

The Sleep Turtle is our bedtime friend.

I started the world’s slowest sleep training routine several months ago. We’ve worked up to Sprout falling asleep in my arms without nursing or rocking. However, he would only do so after squirming and crying for a good 15 minutes. Listening to him cry and getting whacked in the arm and chest were both pretty painful.

About a week and a half ago, the idea came to me to let him play in his crib with the Sleep Turtle before sitting down with him. We had introduced the Sleep Turtle (a stuffed nightlight that projects stars on the ceiling) at the beginning of the sleep training as a transitory toy. However, I only let it play for a couple of minutes before putting it away and picking him up. With this new approach, I left him in his crib with the Turtle and sat down on the nearby chair. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t fall asleep on his own. Instead, he played with it for 10 minutes before he started to cry. But the real benefit came once I picked him up. While there was a bit of squirming and whining, he passed out in only a few minutes. It was clear that the turtle helped him calm his busy, ever-engaged mind and body. It’s been working well – with a few exceptions – ever since.

While there are versions of the same nightlight that use other animals, I find the Turtle a particularly appropriate choice. Several cosmologies, including Native American, Hindu, and Chinese traditions portray the universe as balanced on the back of a World Turtle. The idea of stars streaming out of the back of a turtle – even if they’re shifting between green, orange, and purple – is magical. Those stars transport the whole universe into your room, bringing something so distant close and intimate. 

In fact, sitting in that dark bedroom with him, it feels as if the whole universe is right there in that little space. As if only the whole world would be okay if only he’d fall sleep. These moments block everything else in my life out, that little bundle of needs demanding my full attention.

The World Turtle reminds me of the story of an old woman at an astronomy lecture. Afterwards, she told the lecturer that she believed the world rested on the back of a turtle, to which the scientist said, “What is the tortoise standing on?” In response, she states, “It’s turtles all the way down!” While most people use the phrase to refer to the infinite regress problem (“the chicken or the egg”), Real Live Preacher, one of my favorite bloggers ever, uses it to talk about faith. Faith is knowing that everything you do balances precariously on the back of a turtle and another turtle and another turtle – and that’s okay. He says, “Faith is measured breathing in the face of uncertainty. Faith is turning your heart to faithful living when your mind has reached the end of its rope. Faith is the choice you make when you face the darkness.” Parenting is the most uncertain, challenging, and sometimes dark thing I’ve ever done. I’ve needed more faith in myself and God as a mother than I’ve ever had in my life. I rely on faith in my skills even when I don’t feel like there’s proof. I rely on faith that I am doing the best I can. I rely on faith that love is really enough. The world may rest on the back of a turtle, but in parenthood, it’s love all the way down.

Goodnight, my Sleep Turtle. At bedtime, my son’s little world – and therefore mine – rests on your back.

6 thoughts on “He Holds the Whole World on His Back

  1. Pingback: This week in the Slacktiverse, February 23rd, 2014 | The Slacktiverse

  2. My favorite variant of the Old Woman at the Astronomy Lecture story is Terry Pratchett’s. Asked what the turtle is standing on, the response is, “Nothing. Turtles swim.”

  3. Pingback: Figment the Magic Sleep Dragon | We'll Eat You Up – We Love You So

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