1. That time she decided beds were for suckers.
I did some really great parenting yesterday.
It was that kind of day, you know? The kind that starts out tough and just gets tougher; the sort of day that has potential to go, as Ian would say in British, “completely pear-shaped.” Not to mention that with a new job and the
mindbogglingly stressful and emotionally taxing somewhat time-consuming responsibilities that I’ve taken on at church battling my regular day-to-day tasks for ultimate supremacy, my time is at a premium and sleep a distant memory, so patience-wise, I’m not exactly at my best.
The kids were way overtired from the minute they woke up – as demonstrated by the fact that they were bickering, yelling, and at each other’s throats from the moment they rolled out of the wrong side of their beds.
Ben had a PD Day, and our plan was to drop Molly off at her school and then spend a special “Mommy and Ben morning” painting pottery at Crock-A-Doodle, but by 9:30 he was neck-deep in Meltdown #3 (“NO I WILL NOT HAVE MY
TALONS NAILS CLIPPED BEFORE WE GO YOU CAN’T MAKE ME NO NO NOOOOOOOOOO I WON’T I WON’T I WON’T!!!!”) and I was thinking, “This just ain’t going to end well.”
But I stayed calm. He yelled…and I stayed calm. He screamed…and I stayed calm. He flailed…and I still stayed calm. Finally he settled down enough to have his nails clipped, requested tickles to cheer him up, and then we left.
And that was Great Parenting Moment #1.
We painted at Crock-A-Doodle for almost two hours – long enough that we lost track of time and had a panicked race to finish so we could pick Molly up on time. We painted AMAZING masterpieces together – I wish I could go back in time and do it over and over again because it was the most incredible, wonderful bonding time I’ve had with Ben ever. (Pictures of the masterpieces will follow in a few days when we pick them up!)
There was no anxiety over perfectionism on either of our parts (a trait we both have in spades!) – just a fun, creative time together, sharing ideas, and complimenting each other’s work (“Mommy, I love your under the sea mug. I think it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever made. And I love my heart mug for daddy – It’s going to be so amazing.”) Ben has a tendency to be hypercritical of himself, especially when it comes to art, so to hear him so pleased with himself was wonderfully refreshing.
I guess that was Great Parenting Moment #2, though Ben deserves at least half the credit!
We picked Molly up, ate lunch, and then they went to play MarioKart. Soon the overtiredeness reared its ugly head again as they launched back into bicker-yell-grab-hysterics-yell-bicker mode. As it devolved into screaming with no apparent cause or solution I walked into the room and – again calmly – turned off the TV, took the controllers away, and marched them upstairs.
Usually at this point in a day like this, I would be overcome with frustration and, if not yelling, certainly close to it (you know the tone – gritted teeth and rapid-fire punctuation – “Get. Up. Stairs.”), and Ben and Molly know it. But this time I was still completely Zen. I wasn’t angry, just focused giving them both some space from each other and from me. And were they ever confused – you could tell that they were expecting some sort of lecture and punishment.
I put them in their rooms and spoke to them one at a time – “Are we having nap? Are we in time-out?” “You are having some quiet time. You need to stay in your room. You can look at books and read or play quietly. Don’t leave your room – don’t talk to Molly/Ben – don’t yell down and ask me if it’s done. I’ll come and get you when you’re finished.” And then I went back downstairs, feeling relieved – not because I wasn’t going to have to listen to them screeching, but because they both finally seemed to be having a breather and getting the quiet and space that they needed to settle down.
And that was Great Parenting Moment #3.
Later in the day, Molly wanted to watch Beauty and the Beast, and Ben objected strenuously. Again the tiredness came out (unfortunately the quiet time couldn’t quite solve that issue!) and he started yelling in rapid-fire bursts, “NO!” “I WON’T!” “I DON’T WANT TO!” His tantrum culminated in his approaching me and Molly, saying (seemingly calmly), “Can I tell you something?” and then screaming into my waiting ear, “IT’S TOO SCARY!”
Boy oh boy…on any other day, I would have Hit. The. Roof. He had deliberately set me up; my ears were ringing; and I was furious. How Dare He? But from somewhere deep inside a little voice said, “breathe,” and I did. And I looked my little boy in the eyes – eyes that looked shocked and scared, anticipating my reaction – and I said, “Ben, go and sit on the step, please.” And that was Great Parenting Moment #4.
I set up the movie for Molly, took a few deep breaths, and then went to talk to Ben. First we talked how I was upset because he had made me think he was just going to say something and then screamed, and it hurt both my ear and my feelings. And then we talked about the yelling and screaming in general and why he did it and how he was going to stop doing it. He said, “I do it when I’m FRUSTRATED.” I asked if he screams at school and he said no. I asked if he gets frustrated at school, and he said yes. I asked why, if he still gets frustrated at school, doesn’t he scream there, but he does at home.
He thought for a minute and then answered in that astoundingly astute Ben way
I guess it’s because at home I know you love me and you’ll keep loving me when I scream but at school they don’t have to.
And I hugged him harder than ever, and that was Great Parenting Moment #5.
I might not be the greatest parent in the world. But I have my moments. And I think they’re a little like that magic penny – the more of those moments I can make, and the more I recognize them and remember them, the more I can build on them. And the more Ben and Molly will come to expect them and appreciate them and one day have their own.
Do you find it hard to keep your temper when your kids are overtired? What do you do to keep from yelling? Do you remember to give yourself a pat on the back when you get it right?
When it comes to Team Pickles, babies, and sleep, our luck has been pretty even.
Actually, when it comes to EVERYTHING, our luck is pretty even. My friend Catherine once said of Ian and I that we have the most luck of anyone she’s ever met. The problem is that on any given day we have no idea if it’s going to be GOOD luck or BAD luck. One day we’re winning a top-of-the-line trampoline because of a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post and the next we’re burning down our apartment 6 days after our wedding (true story – I’ll post about that some other time).
But I digress.
Ben was an easy sleeper pretty much from day one. Like any newborn, he woke in the night to eat, but by about 4 months he was easily sleeping through. To make things even simpler, he would sleep anywhere and everywhere – in the car…in the stroller…in his highchair…in the middle of the floor if that was where he happened to be when he got tired, and he slept so soundly that I used to clip his nails while he napped.
When he was a toddler, his afternoon routine was lunch followed by a bottle in his highchair, after which he would immediately fall asleep and I would recline the highchair, turn off the kitchen light, and go down to the basement to work for a few hours while he napped.
Bedtime was just as easy – if we were the slightest bit late starting his bedtime routine, Ben would bring us a bottle, grab our hands and beg, “Bed? Bed now?”
Molly, on the other hand…Oh, my Molly-Monkey…Baby Molly was the complete polar opposite. Molly woke up frequently to feed, and the frequency increased rather than decreased with age. As a newborn, Molly would only sleep in her swing or in Ian or my arms. For her first three months, I slept on the futon in her room with her swaddled in the swing beside me. Every morning I would carry the swing downstairs to the family room so she could nap in it there, and then Ian would carry it back upstairs for the night. I perfected the art of transferring her seamlessly from my arms into the swing while it was rocking (the trick is to start rocking your arms to match the motion of the swing before you put her down, then slide your arms out from under). She slept fitfully, waking up at the slightest noise or change in atmosphere. The sounds of a sneeze used to send her into orbit.
If at this point you’re thinking something like, “OMG I wonder if she knows that babies aren’t supposed to sleep in swings I’d better comment and tell her that it’s not recommended,” please rest assured that I’ve had that same conversation with many a Public Health nurse and that I’m quite comfortable with the decisions I made.
Around 3 months, Molly (my future Olympic gymnast) discovered that she could, while tightly swaddled, somehow flip herself over onto her stomach and wriggle backwards out of the swing. The first time I heard a “thud” and found her on the floor in front of the empty swing grinning, I thought it was a fluke, but by the third I had to concede that the days of her sleeping safely in the swing were over.
She transitioned (unhappily) to the crib at night, waking about every half-hour to hour, and during the day would nap for a half-hour to an hour at a time, but only in my arms. My work productivity suffered significantly, but on the flip side I got really, really good at online euchre.
Finally we hit a breaking point around 7 months, which, probably not coincidentally, is also when my PPD starting hitting pretty hard. Molly wouldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time and had no predictable sleep schedule. I was a zombie and Ian wasn’t much better.
Completely at the end of my rope, I did what I always do in these situations, and I went to Chapters, sat on the floor in the “Parenting” section, and flipped through books until I found one I liked. The book I selected was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. As with most, if not all parenting books, this one has its supporters and its detractors, so all I can say is that without hyperbole, this book literally saved, if not my life, at least my sanity, marriage, and relationship with my children.
What I really like about the book (which we took to calling “The Book” – bolded and capitalized) was that Dr. Weissbluth does not offer a one-size-fits-all solution; instead he describes different infant temperaments and sleep problem and offers suggestions tailored to your needs.
Babies like Molly are described as suffering from extreme fussiness/colic. He notes that it he adds the “extreme fussiness” designation because not all of these babies experience the level of crying that would be deemed “colic”, but instead experience “an unsettled, agitated, wakeful state that would lead to crying if ignored by parents.” (p 142). This certainly described Molly as an infant!
Dr. Weissbluth’s overall theory is that most children are not getting as much sleep as they need, and the more overtired they get, the more difficulty they have falling asleep, compounding the issue by building an ever-increasing sleep debt.
For all infants (and really, all children) he recommends watching for “drowsy signs” (such as decreased activity, slower motions, quieter, calmer, yawning) to determine the optimal time to put them to bed. Actions such as fussing, rubbing eyes, and being irritable or cranky actually indicate overtiredness; if the infant is showing those signs, she is already overtired and will have more difficulty falling asleep.
For sleep-training a fussy/high-needs/colicky infant like Molly, he recommends the admittedly controversial “cry-it-out” method – putting her down in her crib when drowsy and then leaving her alone to fall asleep. “Cry-it-out” is not for everyone, but I was willing to give it a shot, since responding when she cried was clearly not the answer.
Dr. Weissbluth also makes a point that resonates with me given my educational background in psychology and behaviour management: The only thing that graduated crying methods such as Ferber’s (in which leave the infant for longer and longer periods of time before responding) teach the baby is that they have to continue crying for longer each night to get a response. You still eventually reach the point where you have to let your baby cry-it-out indefinitely; all you have done is prolonged the agony for both of you.
So Cry-It-Out it would be: We picked the night, and for the first time in her 7 months, I put Molly down at the first “drowsy signs,” much earlier than usual, still awake but calm, and left the room. She cried, and I cried, but I didn’t go back in, and 17 minutes later she fell asleep and slept through the night for the first time EVER.
The next morning she woke up in a fantastic mood, and bolstered by this initial success I put her down for three Dr. Weissbluth-recommended naps – a morning nap, an afternoon nap, and an early evening nap – the next day, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t fall asleep instantly and sleep for 2 hours each time.
Seventeen minutes, I tell you. Seventeen Dr. Weissbluth-approved minutes, and I had a different baby on my hands.
Molly remains a difficult sleeper, which will probably never change. Our paediatrician points at poor sleepers (*ahem* myself included) on both sides of the family and says we may have lucked out with Ben but we were pretty much guaranteed at least one terrible sleeper.
Any change to the routine derails her sleep habits. Travel is a nightmare – we can basically count on her being awake until after we fall asleep and eventually collapsing out of sheer exhaustion. When we went to Germany last year Ian and I took turns – every night one of us stayed with Molly while the other ate dinner with the grown-ups. If one of us didn’t stay upstairs with her, she would scream for hours, waking up Ben and her cousins.
After that 2 week trip it was another 6 weeks before we could get her to go to sleep without one of us sitting with her and at least another 6 weeks after that until things were completely back to “normal” – please clearly visualize those as mimed air-quotes, because Molly’s “normal” is anything but.
“Normal” sleep for Molly goes in cycles. She will go for a couple of months with no problems, then wake up crying one night, and if we go in to soothe her, she’ll wake up twice the next night…then 3 times…then 5….until we do a night or two of crying-it-out to “reset” her back to…again that funny little air-quoted word “normal.” But at least that normal is a far cry (so to speak) from what we experienced in her first year, and for that I am immeasurably thankful.
Of course, it can’t last, can it?
Molly had her first dentist appointment about a month back, and the dentist asked, “Does she suck her thumb, or a pacifier, or something?” “Yes…” I said sheepishly. (She’s my baby! She’s only 3!! She’s only allowed to have it in bed!!
I’M SHE’S NOT READY!!). “Hmmm…”
Dentist’s orders: The noonie’s* number’s up.
Ben finished with noonies when he was 2. We had a baby on the way and explained that noonies were for babies and we packed up all but one to “give” to a friend who had a newborn. A few weeks later Ben lost that last one and that was that (aside from the race to find the lost noonie before he did).
Molly seemed to take the news pretty well at the dentist’s office, but it turned out she was still processing it. When we talked about it that night, she made a compelling case for continued noonie use, asking, “But if I don’t have noonies anymore, then what will I put in my mouth when I’m sleeping? So I need to keep my noonies so I can have something to put in my mouth while I’m sleeping.”
I countered by telling her about the Noonie Fairy, who comes when you’re ready to be old enough for no noonies and takes your noonies to new babies and leaves a present in their place. Molly accepted my terms but proposed a deferred timeline. “Okay. We will tell the Noonie Fairy to come and get my noonies. But not yet,” and every bedtime since then has included the dialogue, “But the Noonie Fairy isn’t coming today, right? Because I don’t want no noonies yet.”
In retrospect, I probably should have just gone with the “bandaid-yanking-off” method the dentist suggested.
Back to last Friday night: Molly was standing in the bathroom, noonie-in-mouth, when I heard a soft “sploosh!” followed by a loud *GASP*. I glanced over to see Molly staring into the toilet bowl with a stricken expression, and faster than you can say, “OH GOD NO MONKEY DON’T PUT THAT BACK IN YOUR MOUTH!!” that was it – no more noonies.
Lots of tears (mostly Molly’s), scuggles**, a long story about a dragon, a fairy, and princess named Molly who dropped her noonie in the toilet and learned that it’s okay to do things differently from the way you’ve always done them, and just maybe one verse of “No-more-noonie-day for Molly! No-more-noonie-day for Molly! No-more-noonie-day for Molly! ‘Cause she’s big enough for no more noonies!” to the tune of Happy Birthday followed before she finally fell asleep noonie-less.
In the morning, Ben and Molly awoke to find presents and notes from the Noonie Fairy (she was sorry to hear the news about Molly’s noonie/toilet tragedy and realized to her dismay that she had never celebrated Ben’s noonie-less-ness).
Molly was delighted, but Ben was suspicious and whispered, “Mommy, did the noonie fairy really bring this stuff? Are you sure it wasn’t you or daddy?” I whispered back (remarkably calmly, I thought), “Of course, bud…why do you ask?” to which Ben replied, “I just don’t know how a tiny fairy could possibly carry all these big things!”
*Noonie = pacifier. Don’t ask.
**Scuggles = snuggles + cuddles. Don’t ask.
How old were your kids when they gave up pacifiers? How did you do it?
Between having bad sleepers (Molly in particular) to begin with, an unfamiliar house, and a time change the last few nights have been rather long!
Night 1: You’d think that having had a total of about 8 hours sleep (Ben) and maybe 5 (Molly) between the flight and the car ride, they would have fallen asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow the first night but no such luck. After many hours of crying (Molly), playing (Ben), playing (Molly), switching the light on and off (Ben), snuggling together (both), they finally crashed at about midnight (Ben) and 2:00 AM Germany time (Molly). And then, thank goodness, slept through until 11:00 the next morning. Hopefully tonight will go a bit better! (That of course, was written a few days ago in a vain fit of wishful thinking…now on to reality!)
Night 2: We did our best to get back to our usual schedule and put Ben and Molly to bed at about 7:00 PM local time, and it worked! They both fell right to sleep! And then woke up again. And again. And again. Molly was up around 8:30 PM and cried…and cried…and cried…until about 11:00…then, having played that tactic out, she suddenly turned chatty: “Daddy! I didn’t brush my teethses! Daddy? I didn’t brush my teethses! Mommy! I never brushed my teethses!” No reaction. “Daddy! I have a poop! [not actually true] Daddy? There’s a poop in my diaper! Mommy? I have a poop!” Still nothing. And so on. Until 1:00. Ben slept beautifully for about 2 hours at a time, but every 2 hours he woke me up to ask if it was 6:00 yet (“NO!!”). He also finally crashed out around 1:00 and slept the rest of the night until Ian woke them both up at 9:00 AM to try to avoid a repeat. (He very kindly left me to sleep in until noon which was absolutely luxurious.)
Night 3: We got the daytime schedule back to normal with Molly having her afternoon nap and Ben having quiet time, then dinner at their usual time followed by bath and bed…and SUCCESS! Both kids fell asleep right away and slept right through until… ….9:00 PM when Molly awoke screaming. Another long night followed. Thank goodness Ben sleeps like a rock and Molly’s hours of screaming and crying did not pierce his veil of slumber. We tried putting her in a room by herself and Supernanny-ing her back to bed silently (“NOOOOO! NOOOOOOOO!! NOOOO!”), ignoring her (she pulled a Goldilocks and tried out every other bed in the house), and then watched How I Met Your Mother on the iPad and waited her out until she again crashed out at 2:00 AM.
Night 4: No nap for Molly today. She hit a wall at 5:30 and practically begged for bed, then fell right asleep. She woke up at 7:00 sobbing her heart out and we ignored her until we heard a furious shout of, “I WANT TO GO OUT GATE!!” (there is a gate at the top of the stairs) followed by the sound of the gate opening two small pairs of feet padding their way down. Molly was still furious at our treatment and Ben was disoriented and thought it was morning and cried bitterly on learning that it wasn’t. When I brought them back up the evidence informed me that Molly had climbed into bed with him, bringing her noonies, teddies, and duvet with her, and snuggled with him until he woke up. The new deal is that they are now in the room together and she can stay there as long as she lets him sleep (no crying or yelling). I’m not holding out much hope for it working since I’ve had to go in 4 times so far to remind her.
If it was only a matter of waiting her out until she falls asleep every night, we could trade off doing that and make it through this holiday relatively unscathed but unfortunately as of tomorrow other family members start arriving and we’re really hoping to be able to let them sleep undisturbed…