Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Premature evacuation and the sleepy surrender

Dear Boy sleeps for 11-12 uninterrupted hours almost every night.

Don't hate me. I promise it's been hard work getting to this point and there have been plenty of tears (more mine than his) and a little bit of yelling (yeah, that's mostly me too).

What we do now isn't perfect but it works for us, more than any other method or technique that we tried (and boy we tried a few). We tried gentle methods and strict methods, quiet methods and noisy ones, natural ones and even the ones that go against every parenting bone in my body. We'd try them for weeks on end, and I'd keep annotated records and times in books and on worksheets to try to find patterns in our actions that led to more sleep.

More sleep, more sleep, more sleep. It's the holy grail.

What we do now is half a method. Okay, it's really not any kind of method, but I'll call it a halted camping out method or the immobile-chocked-up-on-cinder-blocks-mobile-home method.

The camping out method was recommended to us by our lovely, gentle maternal and child health nurse. It's also one of the government's preferred methods. Here's what they say:

'The idea behind camping out is to help children learn how to settle themselves to sleep, rather than parents feeding, patting or cuddling them to sleep.
  1. Place a bed or chair next to your baby’s cot.
  2. Lay or sit next to your baby and pat or stroke baby off to sleep.
  3. When your baby is asleep, you can leave the room.
  4. When your baby is used to falling asleep like this (usually three nights), sit or lie by the bed until baby falls asleep. Do not touch baby.
  5. When your baby is used to falling asleep like this (usually another three nights), move your chair or bed away from the cot a short distance (30-40 cm). Remain in the chair or bed until your baby falls asleep.
  6. Move your bed or chair gradually towards the doorway and out of baby’s room. This could take a period of 1-3 weeks.
  7. If your baby wakes overnight, return to the chair or bed (at the point you are up to with settling). Stay there until baby goes back to sleep.'

So essentially, you slowly but surely get the baby to settle themselves to sleep but aren't completely denying them your presence and comfort. You don't have to let them cry or scream themselves to sleep. Or sit outside the door crying yourself because they're crying and screaming themselves to sleep.

We made it about halfway out of the room.

Then the baby got sick.

And everything went out the window. He would sleep for 10 minutes then wake and scream and the only way for us all to sleep was to cuddle him to sleep. And it had to be a standing, jiggling cuddle.

We eventually got him back into his bed to fall asleep but we couldn't leave his side. He would only fall asleep if we were leaning into his cot, crowding over him, but he hated to be stroked or patted. Some nights I spent 40, 50, 60 minutes tucking in his sheets and blankets over and over again, crooning an off-key 'Greensleeves' until it was a buzz inside my mouth. Some nights I could lean with one arm through the bars and one arm over the side of the cot in such a way that neither limb went numb.

But if you left too early, if you made for a premature evacuation, he would scream. If the floorboard creaked, it'd pull him back awake like our own nightingale floor. If the kitchen light threw a too-bright streak across the wall when you opened the door, he would stir and whimper.

It was exhausting. So exhausting, one night I just lay down on the spare bed in his room and shh-ed occasionally. And he fell asleep. I crept from the room.

The next night, I lay straight down, stretched out and listened to him breathing for 20 minutes. When it was deep and even, I left. The floor creaked and my knee cracked and still he slept on. Not a single shh had passed my lips.

Some nights it takes ten minutes and some nights it takes much, much longer. He doesn't cry. He just breathes, rolls around, pulls at his sheets, giggles or chatters. Most nights it is just breathing. Then there is a little sigh, like the last vestiges of wakefulness leaving him. The sign of his surrender into sleep.

Surrendering myself has been much harder. The hour mark is about all I can take before my patience thins and snaps. This is usually the point in those few (but still too many) times where I've yelled or flung myself out the door and left him crying in my wake. Instead of growing ever more frustrated the longer he took, I was trying to take the time to breathe him in, to meditate, to mull over whatever issue is at the front of my mind, but it wasn't working. I am not a person who meditates. It makes me twitchy and irritable rather than serene.

I found my own solution, though - under a blanket to hide the glow of my mobile phone, playing endless games of Freecell. It is not my finest parenting by any means but it works. I haven't yelled at him in the dark of that room since. I haven't cried or wailed in frustration and neither has he. It also means I've got an 88% win rate - at Freecell, that is.

Lovely Husband has also taken on some of the sleepy time parenting. When he is home early enough, I give him the option of bath or bed and he chooses bed, almost every time. We've both fallen asleep in there.

Last night, Lovely Husband came out of the boy's room and suggested we start leaving earlier, while he's still awake. This of course, filled me with dread. Change, I fear change. Or at least I fear changing up the thing that works, sorta.

Tonight, Lovely Husband lay the boy down in his cot, sat on the bed for a minute or two and then informed him that he was leaving and would be back in five minutes to check on him. Not a peep. Five minutes later, fast asleep.

Tomorrow, who knows?

*That photo has nothing to do with sleep or sleep training. He's stabbing a knife into a jar of lemon and lime curd. Maybe I'm just showing off more of my awesome parenting skillz. Or maybe it's illustrative of how frustrated I was feeling when it was taking so long for him to fall asleep. Meh. I just think it's an awesome picture.

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