Friday, January 19, 2007

Throwing Down with The Bambina

You'll notice I'm posting this at an hour my father would have called "very un-Protestant." Well, I'm writing it at 4am; when it posts, I have learned, is a crapshoot.

Anyhoo. All of us at Chez Haggis need some sleep. Like, now. Bambina is now officially 2 and 1/2 and is a dream child in every way. Seriously. She's smart, she's funny, she's cute, she's sweet. She doesn't throw a ton of tantrums and is generally a model toddler, except for those random times at the store when I have to take her out kicking and screaming and all the while wondering if I look like I'm abducting her. So she's great.

Except for the sleep thing. She's so great in every other way that it was inevitable that her toddler-ness would have to express itself--writ large--one way or another. Sleeping has become that thing. I know it's a normal stage of her development, but it's killing the sleep habits of the household in a huge, ugly way.

Now, there are all manner and number of theories on how parents and children should sleep, learn to sleep, get to sleep, go back to sleep, where to sleep, how to sleep...You get the picture. It's only slightly less controversial and mom-listserv flame-worthy than the Circumcision Debate, Breast Feeding Debate and Do Vaccinations Cause Autism Debate. In other words, there are so many ways here in upper-middle class mommyland where you can be branded a Terrible Mother for following one sleep theory over another. So at the risk of flaming, I'll share the story of why I've been too tired to blog after doing my work during the day.

When we first brought Bambina home she was a newborn to us, even though she was 9 months old. Every time she cried, we went to her. Every single time. She needed to know and believe that every single cry she made would be answered, attended to, and comforted. It was hell on earth walking around on 2 hours of sleep, but I don't regret it for a minute, any more than any new mom doesn't regret responding to her 3 week old's cries. Then, as I may have posted at the time, the transition occurred around 12 weeks home. The transition from "I'm testing you; I need you; Will you come?" to "I get rewarded for staying awake."

Something had to be done, because I was barely functioning, and so was she. It was a really tough decision to make, to wonder if I was harming her sense of belonging, blah blah. Until I read a book called "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child." The book basically said the following: Children need to learn good sleep habits so that they can learn during the daytime and be healthy. If YOU are sleep-deprived as a result of multiple nighttime wakings, then your child is too, and that is not good. You owe it to your child to teach her good sleep habits, and there is no better time than now. It basically said that once you have ensured that your child is physically and emotionally okay at the time, it's okay to let them cry a little bit so they can learn to get themselves to sleep. (Yeah, basic common sense you could get and appreciate from your mom if only she'd put a Ph.D after her name and put the advice between two book covers...)

So we started it.
First night: one hour of crying. Mostly mine.
Bambina drifted off to a peaceful sleep in her crib. I sat up for a few more hours feeling like a jerk.
Second night: 8 minutes of crying. Peaceful slumber.
Third night: Kisses, hugs, rustle, rustle, sleep. All night.
And so it continued for 18 months.

Until this one.

At first it began with, "me scary mama! curtains move! me not like that. It make me scary!" I had put that plastic stuff over the windows to keep drafts out, so it would sometimes undulate and move her curtains, thereby freaking her out. It was clear from the sound of her crying that she was genuinely frightened. So we took down the curtains, removed the plastic, and did a solid heavy-duty weatherstripping job so well that we'll be lucky to get them open in the spring.

Problem solved!
Or not.

When that didn't help, we got books from the library, such as "Llama Llama Red Pajama" all about a little llama who wonders if he's all alone once his mama goes downstairs. It has a line spoken by his mama after she runs upstairs to see why he's shouting for her: "Llama Mama's always near, even if she's not right here," which helped a little bit to explain why I don't sit in her room till she falls asleep.

Then, it became, "mama sit with me one minute," which obviously I did...for many minutes, following the "Ferber method" of weaning your kid off your immediate presence over a period of nights, each night sitting further and further away from the bed until you are in the hallway. We made it through two nights of that until it became clear that my presence (although silent and in the low light) was only exacerbating the issue. It wasn't saying, "mama's here; I'm fine." It was saying, "Mama's here! Something to focus on rather than sleep!"

I had initially gone with Ferber because I was perhaps somewhat dreading a return to letting her cry, especially when I wasn't certain it wasn't fear-related. But after the curtains came down, etc, the "scared crying" stopped. It became the foot-stomping, how dare you tell me when it's bedtime tantrum crying. Believe me, for those of you wondering, the difference is easily discerned between "Mama, me scary" and "MAMA! NOW! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! NOW MAMA COME UP!{stomp stomp stomp, door slam}."

We tried a bunch of other things, like rewards for being quiet at night, letting her fall asleep in The Mama Bed, all things that, looking back, pretty much exacerbated the issue of who controls bedtime at Chez Haggis. My belief was, "I'm the Mama and I'm telling you it's bedtime. You don't have to sleep right away, but you do have to be quiet and in your room." My actions, however, were saying, "but you control it if you make enough noise."

So last night was Go Time. It just had to be done. I called the neighbors on both sides of our rowhouse to a)apologize for what we were all about to live through, b) assure them that no child was being harmed on the premises, and c) to invite them over for dinner and drinks at some point when our child would go to bed sans ear-piercing shrieks of anger. To their credit, they were lovely about it, assuring us they could barely hear it (an obvious lie since I'm certain it set off every security alarm within a 10 mile radius).


Last night's duration? 55 minutes. 55 very UGLY minutes. Stomping, slamming, blood-curdling screaming. Followed by total silence as she fell asleep in her own bed, under her covers, with The Boys (her loveys) at her side.

Me? I fell asleep at midnight while on the line to my PTSD counselor, AA sponsor, and the 1-800-Mommy-Crisis line. I got my three or so hours until 3:30 when Bambina cried out for me. I went in, pulled up her blankets, kissed her, told her it was still night time, and watched her go right back to sleep within 6 seconds.

Me? I was up. Feeling exhausted. Feeling like I did the right thing last night. But basically just up for the day. I started to feel annoyed and then I thought: everything happens for a reason, and this means I'm supposed to get up, drink some coffee in my "Behind Every Successful New Parent is a Substantial Amount of Coffee" mug, and actually post something to this blog.

Unfortunately for you, it's the ramblings of a sleep-deprived, guilty-feeling mother. But at least it's something non-smutty to read before you click to

Bom Dia!


Raine said...

My parents taught me to sleep by threatening copious amounts of backhanding if I ever kicked up a ruckus.

Fortunately, I was the quiet kid who slept easily. My older brother on the other hand...

E said...

Night Two duration: 35 minutes.
Do I hear 15?!!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever watched Supernanny? That woman has techniques to tame circus-freak level sleep problems. It's like she's a witch or something (or someone with lots of experience, perhaps...) :)

Good luck with your throw-down!