Big Mother is Watching You

As my child crests the two year mark, much of the gear I considered essential to his early days of life is collecting dust in the basement. The Rock n Play, once one of the first non-human things I would rescue in a fire (after the wedding album, but before the cat), is now wrapped in a garbage bag and wedged between a stack of broken suitcases and a combo TV/VCR. The car-seat canopy and Bjorn are packed away in a plastic bin, the Ergo has been lying on the floor of my station wagon for months, and even the BOB Revolution spends more time in the car port experimenting with new types of mold growth than treating a neighborhood arts festival like a monster truck rally. Yet one device has remained in consistent use since C was about 10 weeks old, shepherding us through growth spurts and illnesses and nap regressions like our own personal Eckhart Tolle of childhood sleep—our Motorola Digital Baby Monitor 3.5 Video MBP36.

Back in the days of yore when little Gen X’ers ran in packs through their cul-de-sacs, playing on trampolines, accepting candy from strangers, preparing their own genetically modified, high-fructose-corn-syrup-based dinners in the microwave and putting themselves to bed after Arsenio, parents didn’t have wireless video monitors with infrared screens and two-way microphones to assess whether their babies were asleep. At best they had primitive one-way walkie-talkies, which made up for what they lacked in features with impressive range, allowing parents to maintain a watchful ear over their offspring while getting uproariously drunk on their neighbor’s back deck. Nowadays, however, a parent without a video monitor might as well be family-bedding in a yurt in Montana five hundred miles from the nearest Trader Joe’s. At its heart, the video monitor is truly the foundation for modern parenting. After all, if you do not begin keeping tabs on how many times your infant rolls from back to front between midnight and 6AM now, how will you ever have the energy and lack of boundaries to secretly rewrite his college admissions essays for him when he’s eighteen?

Despite my own inclination to want to raise my children in an airbrushed version of the 1980s (yes to playing outdoors ‘til the sun goes down, no to neon Jams and trickle-down economics), I found that using a video monitor has helped me foster my son’s good sleeping habits and thus overall independence. My husband and I were never pushed to the necessary point of sleep-deprived delirium to implement a true Cry-It-Out method of sleep training, however we did start letting our son “fuss it out” beginning around 12 weeks of age, once we had established a consistent bedtime routine. Having the video monitor helped me determine whether he was truly red-faced crying like he’d been laid down to rest beside an active volcano or whether he was just rolling around squawking and griping like my great-uncle watching the 2008 Democratic presidential debates. The former required immediate intervention, a figurative hitting of the re-set button, whereas the latter meant that he was on track to be asleep within five minutes and it was time to unscrew the wine. As a frazzled first-time parent with the ability to spiral into a black hole of guilt for putting my beloved firstborn in his bouncer seat on the bathroom floor so I could pee lest he feel the slightest twinge of abandonment, the visual confirmation that fussing and whining was simply a part of his self-soothing mechanism provided tremendous comfort until the wine could take effect.

Additional features also contribute to the video monitor’s overall utility. Most of them now have night vision, so you can see whether your baby’s eyes are open or not, which is helpful when they begin to exhibit that adorable habit of “sleep-crying” at 90-minute intervals throughout the night at around 4 months of age (this is part of the dreadful 4-month sleep regression, and it too shall pass). The two-way microphone has been an invaluable contribution to scaring the crap out of my toddler every time he starts to climb out of his crib during naptime, even if it does guarantee that one day he’ll be telling his therapist about the omniscient, disembodied voice that ruled over his childhood and always seemed to have old episodes of Friday Night Lights playing in the background.

As all parents will learn, infant and toddler sleep is not a one-and-done kind of deal. Brag all you want about your six week-old sleeping 12 hours a night, but unless you have sold your soul to the Devil (and I wouldn’t blame you, and send me his email address if you have it), you are likely to encounter a few hiccups over the next few years, and by hiccups I mean that government mandated form of parental torture known as daylight savings time. Sleep habits evolve, regressions occur, new problems arise. Our parents’ generation may have gotten by just fine not knowing if that weird gurgling noise they heard coming from the baby’s room was the peaceful coo of their sleeping cherub or the onset of another round of rotavirus, but they were also allowed to drink martinis while breastfeeding and paid their teenage baby-sitters $1.50 an hour, so you know, we deserve our breaks where we can get them.

*As for specific video monitor brands, I don’t have any glowing recommendations. The 2013 version of the Motorola has crappy battery life and the power cord has become really loose at the point of connection with the receiver and thus falls out all the time and is impossible to reconnect in the dark, but it has survived over two years of being tossed about by a small child (and occasionally a grown adult who is exasperated by her infant son’s gift of six straight nights of “reverse cycling” to thank her for going back to work), so I should probably give it some credit. Let me know if you have an amazing video monitor you recommend, and then send it to me along with a second camera for the upcoming new addition and I promise to write a glowing review.

Written by: Kathleen

Without a video monitor, we never would have known that our child sleeps sitting up like an old man on the subway.

Without a video monitor, we never would have known that our child sleeps sitting up like an old man on the subway.