To Bed

Mar 4 2011

Lately, we’ve been playing a rousing rendition of “I Can’t Sleep” at our house.

This is the second most irritating nighttime game on the face of the planet.

The first most irritating nighttime game on the planet is “My Baby Won’t Stop Crying.”  Of course, we don’t play that game anymore because we don’t have babies.  Lack of babies doesn’t make me less sympathetic for the sleep deprived among you, though.

I’m like a combat veteran with post-traumatic my-baby-won’t-ever-sleep-’til-the-end-of-the-world syndrome.

I wake up in night sweats thinking I hear a baby crying.

I will feel your exhaustion in a dark part of my mind forever.

This is getting scary fast.  Shaking myself out of it…

Reset.

Start over.

…aaannnnddd, we’re back.

Lately, we’ve been playing a rousing rendition of “I Can’t Sleep” at our house.

I had no fewer than three children get up out of their beddy-byes last night to inform me that they couldn’t sleep.

Um, too bad.

I don’t care, kids.

I put you to bed once.  I’m not doing it again.  If I have to put every kid to bed twice, that’s TEN times at our house.  Five times too many.

I’m a tired mommy.  Cranky, cranky.  The time after you’re in bed is the only time I have to breathe all day, and I don’t need a play-by-play of your ability to sleep.

You can’t force a kid to sleep.  It’s not possible using any legal means of which I’m aware.  And believe me, if there was a magically safe way to make kids sleep, I would have discovered it and made millions off of it by now.

Of course, when the hundreds of children came to me to tell me they couldn’t sleep, what I meant to say in my kind mommy voice was:

“Oh, honey.  I’m so sorry you can’t sleep.  You don’t have to fall asleep.  Falling asleep isn’t a requirement, but staying in your bed is a requirement.  Back to bed with you, darling.”

That would’ve gotten my point across nicely.  But what I actually said was:

“Well, kid, I didn’t put you to sleep. I put you to bed. I don’t ask that you sleep. I don’t, in fact, care whether you sleep.  I care that you stay in your bed, which if you recall, Is. Where. I. Put. You.

Then I muttered under my breath, “Arghacommafrufrulaxinggetyourreartobed.”  Or something along those lines.  Nope – it doesn’t make any sense until the end, but somehow my kids got the point.

Unfortunately, I ran into a barrier last night with this, my usually successful approach.

Last night, not so successful.  At least, not with one of the children.

My fifth kid is logical.

He’s thoughtful.

He’s rational and clear-headed.

My first four children didn’t prepare me for Cael, to be quite honest.  They’re more the “fly off the handle” types… fiery, spirited and emotional.  More like their mother.

After my “away to bed with you” speech, Cael went back to bed crying.  He just kept saying over and over, “I can’t fall asleep!  I can’t fall asleep!”

I waited it out a bit, thinking obstinately, “Sorry, kid.  I’ve been a mom for quite a while now.  I’ve heard other kids before you try to get out of bedtime with the I can’t sleep method.  Didn’t work for them.  Not gonna work for you.”

But Cael seemed really distraught, and I was uneasy.

Here’s my very best parenting advice… trust your gut.  You know your kids better than anyone else does.  Certainly better than parenting books do.

Parenting books would’ve told me to stick to my guns.  Be consistent.  Tell the kid to stay in bed.

Instead, I trusted my gut.  (I didn’t used to trust my gut.  That was a painful bit o’ time there, I tell you.)

I went to talk to my distraught kid.

During our conversation, Cael revealed to me the source of his distress.

We’ve had a lot of conversations lately about how to stay healthy.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Sleep.

Sleep is when your body repairs its muscles.  Healthy food and exercise followed by a full night of sleep are how you become strong and smart.

Lack of sleep is one way you could get sick.

I’ve used these conversations to get my kids to go to bed willingly.  By “get,” I suppose I mean “manipulate,” but “get” is so much friendlier.

Either way, it works, and they don’t push for later bedtimes very often.

Cael wants to be strong and smart.  What I didn’t realize was that he’d gotten himself into a logical loop.  He went to bed on time.  He had trouble getting to sleep.  He knows that sleep is important.  He stressed himself out.  What if he couldn’t sleep the whole night?  What if he got sick?  What if he never becomes strong and smart?

Oh, sweet kid.  How well I understand the nighttime insecurities.  He’s only 4, and I’m 37, and I do the same thing.

What if I can’t go to sleep?  What if I never sleep again?  What if I get sick, and what if I’m weak and stupid?  What if I’m a bad mom?  What if I die in a fiery car crash?  What if one of my kids gets hurt?  Nighttime sucks.

I have a firm personal rule.  Never make any decisions after dark.  I’m just not rational enough once the sun goes down.  After dark is the time I’m most likely to chop off all my hair, quit my job, and move to Antarctica.  Or worse, paint my bedroom.

So, instead of my nighttime mantra… get thee to bed!… I sat on Cael’s bed and rubbed his back.  I assured him that sleep would claim him eventually.  I promised him he’d be strong and smart.  I was present to him in his distress, and in doing so, I soothed not just my child, but also myself.

Live and learn, yes?

There’s a time and a place for hard and fast rules.  And there’s a time to relax them.

With my baby fast asleep, I put his mommy to bed.  I assured myself that sleep would claim me eventually.  I promised myself that someday, if I keep listening to my kids and my gut, I’ll be strong and smart.  I allowed the Divine to be present and to soothe.  And I made no decisions about painting my bedroom.