Sometimes – maybe all of the time – a magic wand would be welcome. I’d love to wave it over my daughter and magically make her a better sleeper, a toddler who doesn’t wake up every time she wets her diaper – or, better yet, a toddler who doesn’t wet her diaper and therefore doesn’t wake herself up!

No straw, pencil, pen, stick, or skewer has done the trick, and Ollivander isn’t set up in a shop around the corner, so I’ve had to settle for persistence and patience – and it’s a good thing, because I’m going to need to cling to my patience for a long time: her nighttime waking isn’t changing. But her going-to-sleep pattern is.

In early January, my husband attended a conference, leaving our daughter and me home for the better part of a week. What better time, I thought, to try to switch up our nighttime routine? For months, the last thing she had before bed was mama milk, which really meant that I had to put her to bed. I relished the intimate one-on-one time with her, but it also tied me to the house in the evening and, inextricably, to her bedtime routine. While my husband was gone, however, I switched the order: “milk, books, night-night,” I began saying, trying to impress upon her the nature of the change.

As you might imagine, it wasn’t smooth; we all like our routines, and it’s hard to give up that comfort. It worked, though – even if the “night-night” part required enough back-patting, as she lay in her crib, to create an album full of percussion rhythms.

He came back from his conference, and the new plan was in effect. Sunday night went passably well. Monday night, not quite a week into our efforts, it all went horribly wrong. “Milk, books, night-night,” I chanted. This time, her daddy read the books and tried to put her down – to no avail. We patted her. We rocked her. I nursed her. She cried.  The crib? No good. The bed? No good. Each was, apparently, its own torture device; we must have had tacks and electric shock devices installed without my knowledge. At last, as a last resort, my husband drove her around. Being confined in her carseat is usually a useful, last-ditch tactic to get her to fall asleep. A nursing top-off upon return seals the deal, and she’s down for the count.

Or not.

After the drive, he brought her in, sleepy but not sleeping, and I nursed her. And nursed her. And nursed her. She was sleeping about as much as an Olympic runner is while waiting in the starting blocks. On the drive, she usually looks at the moon and dozes in its beatific presence. This time, she apparently commented on her surroundings: “Light….light….light….,” she said, as they drove past street light after street light. Finally, my husband says, he told her, “Close your eyes and go to sleep!” After a moment of toddler griping, she did. It didn’t last.

Back in the house, our fail-safe method having failed, we were at a loss. We tried lying down with her together, the whole family turning in for the night. That didn’t do it, either. It was nearly 11. It was after 11. WE were tired.  At 11:15, we left her in her crib. Oh, she cried! We lay on the couches, he with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I with The Big Year, and grimaced at each other over our books as her crying went on for five minutes….nearly ten minutes….longer than she may ever have cried at a time before in her whole life. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but I was beginning to feel a whole new sort of desperation. By fifteen minutes, she was quiet. She was asleep. I felt guilty but relieved. The last last resort worked.

We haven’t had to do that again. “Milk, books, night-night” is now a chant she’s taken up herself. If she asks for milk after reading, we remind her, and she’s mollified. If she stands up her crib as we pat her, calling for another book or, more likely, milk (“Mama moat!” it is, these days), “milk, books, night-night” reminds her to lie down. Now it is routine, and it’s one she can cling to herself. She is, again, comforted with the constancy – and I’m not the only one who can put her to bed.

Daddy and daughter read

“Milk, books, night-night,” she chanted one morning to herself, well before her naptime. I followed her instructions, and she fell asleep at 9, at least two hours earlier than usual. Immersed as we are in Harry Potter (he’s reading, I’m rereading), I wonder if there isn’t a bit of magic in the incantation. I think there must be.

I might not have a wand, but I did find the magic words.