Somewhere in the world there is a still-traumatized man who had the bad luck of delivering a package to me when Anna – at that time the world’s worst sleeper – had finally gone down for her afternoon nap. She was four months old and at the cusp of real sleep when a UPS man rang the doorbell to have me sign for my neighbor’s package. Anna startled awake and began to scream.
“You put her back to sleep,” I hissed at the unfortunate soul.
He tried to lob the ball back in my court. “Some people put a sign on the door that says ‘Sleeping Baby – Do Not Ring Doorbell.’”
I wasn’t buying it. I told him that if he sees a stroller on someone’s property, never ring the doorbell in the middle of the day. He muttered that he was sorry and slunk away. Anna was still crying at an unnaturally high pitch, and I had to start “the process” all over again to get her back to sleep.
I’ve heard incredible stories about children falling asleep in their car seats and transferring to their cribs without making a peep. Children who ball up their sweet little fists to rub their eyes and promptly drift off into a midday nap for three hours. What did the mothers of these children eat during their pregnancies? My children were, to put it mildly, sleep-challenged. I never had the heart to let them cry themselves to sleep, and so I was in turn very cranky with sleep-deprivation.
In our early parenthood, Ken was a stalwart follower of Dr. Ferber – the baby sleep doctor. He began the one step forward, two steps back approach of letting our children cry it out, checking on them every 15 minutes until they fell asleep in a puddle of tears and aggravation. This is popularly known as “Ferberizing” your baby. But children are wily opponents, and when Ken was away on business, they knew they had me exactly where they wanted me. They went right back to starring in their bedtime soap operas with me as the hapless stage manager.
The novelist Adam Mansbach perfectly captured the frustration and exhaustion of dog tired parents in his wildly successful children’s book parody Go the F*** to Sleep. It all started with Mansbach’s insomniac 2 year-old daughter. An exhausted Mansbach jokingly posted on his Facebook wall “look out for my forthcoming children’s book Go the F*** to Sleep.”
The reaction to the posting was so positive that Mansbach played around with some verses for his still imaginary book and shared them on his Facebook wall. The book soon took shape, and he asked his friend Ricardo Cortés to illustrate the book. The result was primary colored, tranquil illustrations paired with the rhythms and quiet words of a classic children’s book. Only don’t read this book to your children. Here’s a sampling of the treacly verse punctuated with attitude as sharp as barbed wire:
The eagles who soar through the sky at rest And the creatures who crawl, run and creep. I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bull s***. Stop lying. Lie the f*** down my darling and sleep.
Before the book was published, it went viral amidst a flutter of tweets from a reading that Mansbach gave in Philadelphia. Soon after, booksellers received a PDF file of the book from the ecstatic Brooklyn-based publisher, Akashic Books. The book was forwarded until it landed in inboxes of folks who had never met a bookseller.
Go the F*** to Sleep soared to the top of Amazon’s general best-selling list. The buzz around the book was so deafening that the publisher moved up the just in time for Father’s Day last year. Film rights have been acquired, the book is to be translated into more than 12 languages, and there is an audiobook version read by the actor Samuel L. Jackson.
When I first came upon Mansbach’s book I filed it away as a column idea and moved on to final exams with Anna. Lo and behold, there was an excerpt from Mansbach’s fine literary novel, The End of the Jews, on Anna’s Biblical literature test. The book is the complicated story of three generations of one Jewish family and was lauded as “beautiful and heartbreaking and brilliant.” The passage on Anna’s test was a deep slice of life from a portrait of a marriage, remarkable for its bruising realism and painful resonance. A wife misreads her husband’s social cues, and he tortures her for days with the silent treatment. Anna’s task was to explicate the consequences of speaking up to an emotionally abusive husband versus taking the easy way out and ignoring him until his bad mood passed through like a storm cloud.
Mansbach is a smart, versatile writer. His work is remarkable for the way he understands the beguiling, frail and ugly humanity of his characters. So yes, my child, Go the F*** to Sleep. Your parents will recognize Mansbach’s vulnerable humanity as wise and sad and funny and introspective because that’s what a good writer can do in any genre.