Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Bad Habit

A few nights ago, I went into my two and a half year old’s room and found her balanced on top of the crib railing in an effort to escape. She was afraid to drop back onto the mattress, and rightfully terrified to jump out of crib, so there she lay—like a tightrope walker in need of tummy time, prostrate on the side rail.

Except, unlike the likes of Philippe Petit, my daughter was screaming. I scooped her up and held her tight.

“Why do you do such dangerous things?” I thought.

But, this was Ava. If we hadn’t named her after my husband’s grandmother, “Danger” would be her middle name.

“Now, where will you sleep tonight?” I wondered, looking at my little mischief maker.

She didn’t want to be alone in her room, that was clear. She’d recently dropped her afternoon nap—who has time to sleep when there was fun to be had—and our evenings, especially between 1 and 3am were turning into regular negotiation sessions:

I offer: An hour of soothing, back rubbing, pep talks about her ability to go “night-night.”

She counters with screams, followed by shouts of “no, no, nooooooooo.”

“Want to sleep in our bed?”


End of negotiation.

But, it’s also been the end of life—and sleep--as we’ve known it.

Not getting enough sleep because someone, no matter how small, is preventing you from getting sleep is a serious problem. I’ve seen—although been too afraid to read---the studies about lack of sleep causing depression and weight gain, and I don’t need to read a study to know that it makes me grumpy and less able to concentrate. A year ago, after 18 months of problematic sleep for Ava, my husband and I turned to a wonderful pediatric nurse and sleep consultant, Meg Zweiback, who essentially gave us back our lives.

Ava slept.

I wrote.

But now, Ava doesn’t sleep.

On the night of her attempted crib escape, my husband was out of town. It was the first of what would be five days on my own with the kids and dog, which meant the days started at 5:30am and would not end until Ava went to sleep, whenever she did and wherever she might.

The rules of engagement were different with Daddy gone and she and I both knew it.

Where would she sleep? It wasn't 1am, it was not even 8pm.

“Do you want to sleep in Heidi’s room?” I asked.

It was perfectly acceptable to pass her off on her older sister, right?

We pulled the trundle out from under Heidi’s bed and she passed down a few baby dolls and her prized pink and white kitten.

If anyone could be an example of good sleep habits it was my five year old. I may have read Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, but it was she who put it into action, sleeping through the night at six months and never looking back.

Ava was delighted by the upgrade in accommodations and proud to be near her big sis. She pointed to Heidi’s bed and told me to lie down—something I was happy to do because it would give me the opportunity to observe.

Heidi eventually got quiet and fell into a deep-breathing slumber.

Ava sang musical notes—seven in succession, fed the kitty an imaginary bottle, talked to the dolls, and listened to the sound of her feet bounce against the fluffy mattress.

I ignored her; whispered to her; threatened a return to her crib; pleaded; soothed; and eventually, after more than an hour, I took her into my bedroom.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who had been a nanny for more than twenty years. The big secret of American life, she told me, was that everyone was sleeping with the kids in the same room. Those big houses with all those bedrooms? The fancy furniture?

Still, they were dragging mattresses into the mom and dad’s room and sleeping on the floor.

Ava was now in my bed. She snuggled into me as naturally as a kitten. She closed her eyes and within five minutes was breathing with the same rhythmic depth as her older sister.

How will I ever find time to write? How will I eat dinner? How will I take the dog out to pee? How will I clean up the mess downstairs? How will I get this child to sleep in her own bed?

I am not sure what others feel as they jump feet first into a bad habit—that moment when they know they’ve crossed a line into a true behavior and are not just visiting it from the sideline. Maybe a smoker knows when she buys her first pack on her own, or a nail biter knows it when he looks down at his fingers—but as a mother, I knew it when I looked at the clock and it was 8pm--not 1am or 3am-- and my daughter was in my bed.

That’s official.

And, maybe that’s what it took to make me realize this habit was unsustainable.

I had twenty-four hours to figure out what to do. Twenty-four hours to find an alternative to crib-jumping and my own bed. I thought about what I’d tell a sleep consultant. What did I think might be going on with Ava’s sleep? Was she afraid of being alone? Did she want to be closer to me?

Or, as with everything else, did she want to be just like her big sister?

I don’t recommend buying a toddler bed when your husband is out of town. You have to drag it into the house, up the steps, and then, worst of all, assemble it all on your own. The instructions say it requires two people and twenty minutes. I had three (two of them under the age of six) and it took almost two hours. I would rather give birth than assemble a toddler bed like that again—labor takes less time and someone brings you a tray of food when you’re done.

Somehow, and I don’t know how, I got every piece where it was supposed to go. Tonight, when I brought Ava and Heidi up to bed, Ava took a look at her new bed and hopped right in.

“Ava’s bed,” she said, pulling the covers up.

“Time for a bath,” I said.

“Ava’s bed,” she said, pretending to sleep.

I got her jammies and decided we’d forgo the bath. So, she’d sleep with yogurt in her hair and not having brushed her teeth. If she wanted to stay in her toddler bed, who was I to argue?

I hummed “Hush little baby don’t say a word...” and she fell asleep.

The door creaked as I left her bedroom and she woke up.

I hummed again. She fell asleep.

Before I exited, Heidi knocked on the door and Ava woke up.

I hummed again. She fell asleep.

The dog barked and Ava woke up.

I hummed again. She fell asleep.

I tip toed out of her room and Ava woke up.

I hummed and hummed and almost cried and she finally fell asleep.

I left her room and went to kiss Heidi on the forehead just as a small airplane soared overhead.

I waited. Ava was quiet.

Sleep. It may have taken an hour, but this was progress.

I have to confess that I got something else besides the toddler bed today. Anyone who read my post on the Disney Princess Power/Invasion might remember my feelings about the franchise—and my general, although far from categorical, limit on the number of Disney royals I invite into our house.

What can I say?

When it comes to kicking this habit, I didn't think I could take any chances.

Big and little sister are proud of the toddler bed.
 If Ava sleeps, she can have all the princesses she wants in that room.
Even if that means I just traded one bad habit for another.....


Anonymous said...

Oh those moments when you know you're starting a bad habit! It's so funny, because right in the middle, you DO have a second of clarity and realize that you're making A Mistake.

My husband and I always went by the adage "pay now or pay later". With our firstborn, it was simple. We had the time - I wasn't working, the energy - I wasn't working, and the motivation - I wasn't working.

I know exactly where I went wrong with my wee one. It was when she was four months old and I was back at work. She was having a hard time sleeping and I was so very, very tired. I took her out of her crib, lay down on the spare bed in her room and nursed her to sleep.

I'm still nursing her to sleep at night and she's 15 months old. I just tell myself that she's only little once. :D

Tim Morrissey said...

A very touching post, tenderly written, about a nearly universal parenting issue.

Anonymous said...

Joanna, our 24 year old daughter, had similar sleep/nighttime issues. She now sleeps on her own on the other side of the country. And I miss her.
You did good, LBM. You found your compromise and it's working for you.

Lunch Box Mom said...

Mandy--I hear you on the nuring at 15 months. I did the same, but with my first born, I was eventually replaced by a juice box (talk about one bad habit for another!).
And, Momchick Patty--you did well! And, a good reminder that someday I will miss my little problem sleeper being so close by. Your Joanna sounds like she grew into a strong and independent woman--no surprise there.
Tim--as always, thank you for putting it in context of the universal and I think of your post about your daughter heading off to NY--and the phases of letting go...

parenting ad absurdum said...

Oh, Lunch Box Mom!! What a great post - it's really all about compromise and acceptance, isn't it?? You're managing beautifully.

And "danger" is my first name...literally. My parents named me "Peryl" - for Peril. Go figure.

lovely to meet you!

Teresa Eliason said...

Great post! My 2 1/2 year old is getting very close to the toddler bed too and I'm just hoping she holds on to the crib until after Christmas.

Last night I had to let my 4 year old scream and cry for 10 minutes before he fell asleep because I wasn't letting him into our bed where he wanted to be. I just didn't dare to let him fall asleep in our bed because I didn't want to look at the clock like you and mark the beginning of the habit!

Kari said...

Awesome!!! Don't worry about the princesses - we all have the same bad habit. And although they (the princesses) irritate us so very much, it makes them so very happy!! And hopefully, very sleepy.

Kristi said...

Mandyland, you and I must have both read The Baby Whisperer, because my husband and I also have the saying, "Pay now or pay later." Or, another good one is "Start as you intend to go."

Sarah, I feel for you and your sleep deprivation. There's a reason it's used as torture! Thank goodness for Disney princesses, huh? I also am a HUGE fan of the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It's a parenting bible and I still refer to it two kids into the process.

Carrie Goldman said...

Aw, Sarah, I empathize greatly! We are trying to sleep train Cleo these days and I am so tempted to just let her stay in my bed, but I know I can't! Hang in there through all the iterations of sleep training!