Category Archives: sleep

Parenting confession

Because Ms. Prufrock asked for it.

———————————– 

One of the best-kept secrets of parenting, something no one reveals to people considering having children, is that, no matter how well a child is sleep trained, the sleep deprivation does not end until the kids hit puberty.  Children are needy little buggers, and they are never so desperate for parental attention as they are at four in the morning.

Unfortunately, all our nocturnal woes were not resolved when the boys began to share a room.  There are good runs, days and weeks at a time when the kids are snoring by 8:04 PM and do not wake up until 7:16 AM.  We relish those stretches, because we have come to know they cannot last.  Someone will find a way to bust apart our slumber sooner or later.  In fact, the only way I can think of to ensure that I get a good night sleep each night is to move out of the house. 

There is a children’s book called Peace at Last about a Father Bear who roams the house one night looking for a quiet place to sleep.  Zachary loves it, which I find ironic, since he is the very disturbance I most want to escape.

I am OK with getting up to calm his nightmares, and I am there by his side if he finds himself covered in throw-up.  It is all the other reasons he seems to find for getting out of bed that I could do without.  Like the string of ten mornings when he woke up between four and five every morning and would not go back to sleep.

Oh, sure, the first reason was always valid, coughing or a need to urinate.  Of course, we provide him with a little potty right by his bed, so he really does not need to drag my sorry butt out of bed just to witness the undertaking, but it is hard to tell a three-year-old that you would prefer if he could hold off on nighttime training for a couple of decades.  I get up and I help him, a bit grumpily but with the understanding that this was the deal I signed on for all those many months when I wept to have a child.  If only the child would then go back to sleep.

During this particular run, he would lie in bed for forty-five minutes or so, waiting until Jacob and I had finally fallen back asleep, and then come trotting out for more water.  Or to pee again.  Or to tell us he did not want to go back to sleep.  Since I knew full-well exactly how tired he was, I finally came to the conclusion Zachary did not want to go back to sleep.  He was willing himself awake solely to torment his mother.

So, I started to get angry.  “Just use the potty in your room,” I grumbled.  “You do NOT need more water,” I groaned.  “Stop waking me up!” I snapped.  Like the proverbial man who put a snake in his pocket and then was surprised when he was bitten, I just could not get over my son’s ability to cut into my sleep time.

J is always calmer with nighttime wakings, mostly because he himself is not fully awake.  But there is also the cold, hard fact that I have never been particularly gracious towards people who wake me up.  Just ask my poor husband, who goes to elaborate measures to ensure that, no matter what he does, he cannot be accused of rousing me out of bed.

Those who awaken me are conducting an assault upon my person.  They are ripping into not just my time and my space, but my body.  Denying me sleep is intentional infliction of distress, even when it is unintentional.  I can usually remember that my children are just children the first night it happens.  But when Benjamin teethes for three nights, then Zachary goes through a run of four AM wakings, and then Benjamin has a nightmare, we are getting dangerously close to the two-week mark, and I can even begrudge the hugs I need to provide to remedy bad dreams.

“Just go back to sleep,” I find myself telling the toddler, as though he has any control over the situation.

Updates

Update one:

            This first one is sort of awkward, but if I can’t embarrass myself on my blog, where can I embarrass myself?  You know how I told you that Slouching Mom nominated me for the Blogitzer over at Blogger’s Choice Awards for my Coleridgesque writing style?  And, you know how I told you that you could vote for me?  Well, it turns out that they were having some technical difficulties with that particular nomination that day, and all but one of the votes disappeared.  Something to do with hanging chads, I think.  So, if you think you voted for me, you probably didn’t.  Here is that button again, in case you want to recast your vote for real.

My site was nominated for The Blogitzer! 

Update two:

            Remember how I told you J and I are on the wagon, totally cold turkey when it comes to sweets?  Well, it turns out that J was still climbing into the wagon when it started, tumbled out the back, and was left behind at the starting line.  I, however, have made it three weeks now.  I am hoping to get to New Year’s Day (with the one already-scheduled exception I had told you about).  I had a rather ugly withdrawal period, a good sign that I was more dependent upon sugar than I would have liked to have been.

            The good side is that saying “no” to sweets in December eliminates all the internal debating about this particular Christmas cookie and that specific chocolate cake.  The down side is that J and the boys made a gingerbread house yesterday, and doughnuts are a traditional Hanukkah food.  ‘Nuff said.

 

Update three:

            The boys are doing well sharing a room.  Benjamin is no longer waking up at six and tossing objects at Zachary while screaming at the top of his lungs in hopes of awakening him.  They are sleeping nicely until 7:00 (knock wood).  Even better, they then hang out in the room for awhile.  Zachary uses the potty that we keep in the room and they chat till I can haul my lazy ass out of bed.

            Sometimes evening is a little rocky.  If they are really tired, they exchange a few giggles just for the sake of keeping up appearances and then nod off to sleep.  If they are not tired?  Well, J went in last night after twenty minutes to inform them that simultaneously jumping on their beds while screaming does not qualify as going to sleep.

 

That’s all.  A more substantive post soon.

Together at last

Folks, I would love some comments on this topic.  Anything you have to chime in on any aspect of this post would interest me greatly.  I am thinking of writing an article on this, and I would love to gain some other perspectives.

————————————

Zachary has been having sleeping problems of late.  I’m not talking about the nightmares, which happen every now and then and send me stumbling to his room to comfort him.

Nor am I talking about the five AM trips to the toilet.  These began a few months ago because his brain is ready to nighttime train but his body and his courage are not quite there yet.  So, a year after he gave up daytime diapers, he still insists upon nighttime protection, despite the fact that he rarely wets and he wakes up when he needs to pee.  Unfortunately, that is all too often.  We have started lifting him to the potty a couple of hours after he falls asleep, in the hope that he will not then need to go again two hours before morning has officially been declared in the Rosenbaum house.  Sometimes this works, sometimes he wakes up to go again seven hours later.

This is OK.  Neither J nor I really care if he potty trains completely, other than the obvious hassle and environmental impact of unnecessary diapers.  (Those things can only be reused for so long, you know.)  We aren’t big fans of getting up to help him to the toilet, but it’s not too bad if he goes right back to sleep.

If he goes right back to sleep.

But he does not.  After four in the morning, if he wakes up, he dutifully gets back in bed, but every half hour to forty-five minutes, he re-emerges from his room.  He does not seem frightened, he is just out of his room.  He sits in the hallway at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to come out to him.  If we ignore him, he starts to whimper.  I suck at ignoring whimpering three-year-olds sitting in the dark.

We tried everything.  We tried sternness.  We tried gentleness.  We tried lights on.  We tried lights off.  We even tried reason (yes, yes, I know).

Because we are both incredibly intelligent people, it only took about three months of this before something dawned on me.  “Are you lonely in there?” I asked him.

“Yes.  I don’t like being alone in there.”  And why would he?  Benjamin gets to sleep in the room right next to ours.  Zachary is all the way down the hall.  His room may be bigger, it may be quieter, but it is lonely.

“Would you like to share a room with Benjamin?”

We did not grow up in households where the children shared rooms.  In suburban, middle-class homes in the 1980s, it was de rigueur to provide each child with his or her own room, provided one had the necessary child to bedroom ratio.  Since almost everyone we knew lived in a four or five bedroom house and had only two or three children, almost everyone we knew also had his or her own room.

“I never thought about having the boys share a room,” mused J.  He was not opposed; it just never occurred to him.  That, I suspect, has to do with the fact that we only know the family model in which we were raised – even me.  I obviously got that some things did not work right in my households of origin, but there are some ways of doing things that we never really think about when everyone we know does them.

Of course, sharing a bedroom with a sibling is actually a more common experience than not sharing one.  It is an absurd luxury to be able to afford enough space for each member of the family to have an entire room to himself.  Throughout the world, people share rooms and beds with siblings, grandparents, and cousins.  Until not that long ago (OK, a few centuries), people in Scotland voluntarily shared their homes with the livestock, under the theory that sheep are sort of like an organic heating system.

This is partly a class and geographical phenomenon, but even children of well-to-do architects bunked together in the 1960s.  Alice, you will recall, was the only person in the Brady household to have her own room.

It is not that we thought children are better off with their own room.  Emily Dickinson had her own room, and, while I will admit she penned some mighty fine poetry while holed up there for a few decades, that’s really not the life we want for our boys.  We just never thought about doing it any other way than one child/one bedroom.

Sometimes, we consciously reject the things with which we grew up.  After learning about the benefits of whole wheat bread, for example, I have a brown breadricepasta household.  However, most habits are benign, and there seems to be little purpose to seeing beyond them unless someone challenges them.  But, we get very easily closed into a box in which we do not understand the myriad options for living a life.

One Sunday, back when Melissa and I were still on speaking terms, I was up visiting her in Boston.  “I wonder why the streets are so empty,” she said.

“Church hasn’t gotten out yet,” I suggested.

“No one goes to church anymore,” she laughed.  She thought I was kidding.  I was living in North Carolina and Virginia.  Trust me – people still go to church and the roads really are emptier on Sunday until a bit before noon.

It is in raising children, more than any other aspect of our lives, that we find ourselves unconsciously adopting the norms of our childhoods unless we consciously think about changing them.  So, while we thought about the pros and cons of co-sleeping before (quickly) determining that it was not right for us, we never really thought about whether the boys would share a room when they got older.

Here in London, I have few English friends.  It would be awfully lonely if it weren’t for the French people all over the neighborhood.  French people who, like us, never thought of doing things differently until they got here.  “It is a good idea,” one mother said to me, “this bathing children after supper.”  In France, they do it before.  That’s just what they do.  Never occurred to them to try it another way; never occurred to them people might bathe their children after they finished covering themselves in cheese sauce, rather than before.

It did, however, occur to them that young children might like to share a room with one another.  This is why it finally occurred to me.  So, on Thanksgiving day, we combined two bedrooms into one.  The tiny one next to our room.

The kids are sleeping less, not more.  They spend a lot of time talking to each other, although how Zachary understands what Benjamin is telling him is beyond me.  I am hoping that this calms down, because are they ever happier this way.

Last night, J asked Zach if he likes sharing a room with his brother.  “Yes,” answered my pre-schooler.  “It is much better than the big, hairy monkey in my room.”

Well, I guess that explains why he kept running out.

Instead of learning to dance

 

J and I thought about taking dance lessons before our wedding.  We were living in different states most of the week, but we figured we could squeeze in an hour during the three days we did spend together.  We are, after all, rather ungainly dancers. 

.

We decided, however, to forgo dancing lessons and make fools of ourselves on our wedding night.  If we had one hour a week to devote to preparing for our wedding, we were going to spend it in pre-marital counseling, not in learning the cha-cha.  I do not mean the meetings we had with the rabbi, during which we mostly discussed how to avoid offending my side of the family at the ceremony.  Nor do I mean the type of counseling friends have gotten from their clergy people, advising them on the sanctity of the union they were about to enter.  I mean honest-to-goodness, every-week-for-four-months, warts-and-all counseling.  With a trained therapist. 

“Why bother?” an older friend asked me.  “Your arguments will all be about two things throughout your marriage.  You’ll argue about the kids, but mostly you’ll argue about money.”

Well, here we are, seven years in, and I can tell you, we rarely argue about money.  We’re way too tired.  If we’re going to argue, it’s going to be about something far more basic.

We argue about sleep. 

J travels a lot, and his internal clock is so whacked out he’s never quite sure what time zone he’s in.  I, on the other hand, have become a much lighter sleeper since having kids.  This is a recipe for a lot of disrupted slumbers.

It is true – there are fortunate souls out there who can function on very little sleep.  I have always envied people who are fresh as a daisy after six hours.  How much more they must accomplish each day with those extra hours on the vertical.  I am not one of those people.  I need nine hours a night.

I can get by on eight, but if you really want me to be my charming, sweet-as-pie self, leave me uninterrupted from 9:30 till 6:30, at which time I will leap out of bed, ready to jog five miles or deconstruct Victorian sentences.  Needless to say, night after night of only six or seven core hours leaves me twisted in funny shapes.

I suspect we are not the only couple with slumber-related disputes.  While some folks may need less sleep or may be more able to doze right on through one another’s tossing and turning, I do think there must be other couples out there who every now and then find themselves arguing because of sleep.  Stumbling languidly into the kitchen on Thursday mornings, there must be others who, while arguing over the coffee maker or the phone bill know that, deep down, they are snipping at each other because they are just plain tired.

“The baby kept me up for two hours last night, but he slept right through it.”

She got in an hour after I went to bed and turned on the hall light.”

“I can never sleep after eating his lamb and curried cous cous.”

You cannot get angry at the baby, you cannot admonish the hall light, and you cannot take back the extra serving of cous cous.  The only thing to do is turn on the other adult in the house.  It will not make you less tired, but at least you’ll have someone to blame.

I have to say, I think nothing will solve our sleep-deprivation until the boys are adolescents who actually want to sleep later than we do.  We will probably continue to have the grumpy mornings and exhausted evenings that lead to spats over emptying the dishwasher.  But, we learned something in those four months of counseling.  We may not have learned how not to disagree (and, if you’ve figured that one out, shoot me a quick email, please), but we have learned how to sit down together and search for solutions.

We have come across a few, not the least of which is ensuring each of us gets a good nap at least once a weekend.  Another is occasionally sleeping in separate rooms when too many sleepless nights have piled on top of one another, making a stack in peril of toppling over and burying us in our own exhaustion.  A futon for a living room chair may not be elegant, but it can be a very practical way to create a spare room.  These things help.

What helps even more – from my side at least – is a little monologue I have in my head.  “He’s just as tired as you are.  You are both being grumpy because you are exhausted.  And the boys are learning to treat people disrespectfully whenever they aren’t feeling up to snuff.”  This speech only blocks about half the snippy things on their way out of my mouth, but at least it stops some of them.  And we both keep working on it.

If there’s one thing we learned in pre-marital counseling, it is that a good relationship is a continual process, not a state of being.