When Emery was a mere 3 or 4 months old, friends would share the horrors of children who had terrible sleep habits. Bedtime routines that lasted hours, kids wandering the house at night, awake for the day at 5 a.m. To them, these stories weren’t terrifying – they were life. But they horrified me. The prospect of waking up multiple times every night to deal with a child who should be physically, mentally and emotionally capable of securing a full eight 90-minute sleep cycles sounded like torture. I stared at these tired mommas and couldn’t fathom how they were feeling and their tired eyes and weary shoulders described more than their words ever could. In those moments, I was certain there was no worse fate than a child who doesn’t sleep.
Emery has always been a fantastic sleeper. She was essentially sleeping through the night at 4 months and woke only once for a 5 a.m. snack before hitting the crib sheets for another few hours. We never had to teach her to sleep. The girl was just born to do it. Thirteen hours at night, 2 hours in the afternoon. Clearly, my awesome parenting skills were being rewarded.
Sleep was a priority. If we missed the window of opportunity for a nap or bed time, all hell broke loose. Overtired and overstimulated, we could guarantee an evening of tantrums and tears before sleep finally arrived. Bedtime was sacred and we declined many evening activities to ensure our golden-haired tyrant was in bed by 7 p.m. She went down without fuss. A book, song, prayer, kiss, lights out. And never another peep until 7:30 a.m.
When Blair came along, things changed a bit. The bedtime routine got a bit more complicated and longer and featured a stuffed animal roll call. Emery always noticed when one was missing, sending the parent who drew the shorter straw on a 15 minute search for the “right” teddy bear (the one with the scarf, not a hat) while the other sang four more rounds of This Little Light of Mine. Blair never slept so by comparison, Emery’s new demands were tolerable.
Slowly and steadily, like a frog being boiled, things deteriorated.
We traded the pacifier for a cup of water which requires multiple refills on a good night. Potty training led to mid-night bathroom breaks, courtesy of the aforementioned cup. And then she started being afraid of the dark, so we got a nightlight. And with her room lit light a department store, she was now able to wander about throughout the night. Just reading books and doing puzzles like it was 3 p.m. – not 3 a.m. And since she was already awake, she may as well take a stroll out to the living room to see what Lucy is up to at such a fine hour.
Then she began noticing that Josh gets up for work around 4:50. So Emery started getting up at 4:50. You know, so they could drink their morning joe together and catch up on the news.
This is what my nightmares are made of. If I only got to sleep long enough to have nightmares.
When you’re child doesn’t sleep, you aren’t just tired. It sucks the life out of you. You feel physically ill. You completely understand why sleep deprivation is used to break prisoners of war. And there is no end in sight. Logically, you know that eventually it will end. Maybe in a few weeks, maybe when they head off to college. But in the moment, there is nothing – short of a terminal illness or your coffee pot breaking – worse than looking ahead at a night of not sleeping.
Emery’s sleep has been the constant that I can count on. Em is a difficult child – and I say that from the very bottom of my overflowing heart. She has more energy than anyone I have ever met and everyone loves to tell me the same. Regardless of how intense or high energy she can be, I’ve always been able to bank on her sleeping well. Until now. There is no rest for the weary and no chance to decompress. And when a child who is easily influenced by her moods and feelings is running on 9 hours of sleep total… Well, it’s not a great result.
I tried the Ok to Wake clock, which terrified her. I tried a reward chart with moderate success. I tried a child lock on her door knob. I tried flat out bribery. I tired yelling. I tried begging. I tried threatening.
Her explanation? She’s lonely. And just not tired.
So in the morning, I told her she could come and sleep with me after her Daddy leaves for work – but she had to stay in her bed all night long. So at 4:55 a.m., she climbs into my bed. And for the next hour she fidgets, twitches, tosses, hums and asks to have her back scratched. The most restful hour of the night, clearly.
She asked to share a room with her younger sister. She promised-promised-promised that would resolve her nocturnal wanderings and begged her Daddy to move her big bed into Blair’s room.
It lasted 27 hours. To Em’s credit, she’s ready. Blair is not. She found the whole thing equally exciting and unnerving and spent the majority of the night alternating between giggles and screams. Girl hates change. And the next morning began at 5:50 a.m. with not one, but two little girls ready to start the day. It ended with a certain child’s mattress being drug back to her respective bedroom while I screamed threats and promises.
I’m in survival mode. I’m throwing all my best parenting tricks at this almost 4 year old and admitting defeat. Every morning, she’s greeted by two books and her Ipod Touch waiting on the couch to entertain her until 6:15. Because I simply cannot hang.
I’ve become that defeated mother with dead eyes and a short temper. I’m the one who texts you at 7 a.m. because I’m already awake and had my morning coffee. I know that Little Einsteins comes on at 6 a.m., followed by Chuggington and then Octonauts. My husband has learned to have the coffee ready to brew when he leaves in the morning. Realistically, he could actually brew it and it would still be warm when I stumble to the kitchen 20 minutes after he’s gone but desperate mothers don’t get to be picky.
Oh, and Blair? Still not sleeping through the night. It’s party central over here.
So if you have a child that sleeps, hug them. Give them candy. Maybe even a pony.
And then buy an exhausted Mother a cup of coffee. Or a bottle wine. Maybe both.