Night-night horses

Last night around 10:30 pm, a small form catapulted into my bed. My back was turned, but six inches of mattress space remained, which A claimed for her own. Her battle cry: “Together!”

A has been transitioning into her own little bed. There have been growing pains. She recently started childcare and has held on to mama even a little more tightly this month than before. It’s most apparent at bedtime when my tired little squirrel thinks up more and more excuses why she should get to come back out and see me.

“Mama! Milk in a cup!”

Each time she toddles out I silently lead her back to bed and put her down. Until, that is, she pulls her trump card:

“Poop! Mama! Poopy diap!”

Ok. You got me.

I change her. Then she climbs the wall, stands on her head, takes any position other than “the right thing to do,” which is to lay down with her head on the pillow.

I’m starting to feel mad,” I say. “How do you feel?”

“Happy!” she says.”Gulagulagula Gulagulagula.”

Dear heart, how is it possible that you would rather be with mama, in any mood, than not with mama? How can you be happy while I am trying not to lose my $&@!?

Gulagulagula was part of A’s earliest vocabulary. I’ve heard this babble for a year but only recently realized its meaning. Oh yes. She says it when she’s happy to see me. Togethergethergethergether.

For a child who wants to sleep with mama (preferably wrapped around my neck), bedtime’s most desireable outcome is an extra hour (sometimes two) of undivided mama attention. It’s super fun. The infuriating part of putting A to bed is that other people can do it easily as long as I’m not around. Dad can do it. Grandma can do it. Our childcare provider, M, can do it.

Mom, of course, is wasting all of her ever-loving time. What do I wish I was doing? Sigh. Blogging. Reading. Resting. Talking to my husband. I heard (a few years ago) that I should see the HBO series Game of Thrones. Maybe someday.

For now, the blood vessel in my forehead will continue to bulge; because by this time my child, who lacked a sense of cause and effect to begin with, is over-tired and has completely lost her marbles.

Once the threads of the bedtime routine fabric start to unravel, there is no going back. I decided I needed an effective consequence for A’s getting out of bed so we can get her to sleep before it’s too late. On a recent trip back home A discovered these horses from my childhood:

In a flash of genius I tell her they are night-night horses, and they can only be played with in the little bed with her head on the pillow. Otherwise I take one away. Three chances; no more horses.

As you can see, they’re pretty cool and A really wanted to keep them. So it worked for like two nights.

What my plan lacked, obviously, was an end game. What happens when she’s lost all three horses? Mama has no choice but to go back in and wear A like a scarf.

I could blame myself for some of our badtime habits, but A came out of the chute this way. She spent her first night outside the womb in respiratory distress hooked up to the tubes and wires in the hospital’s mobile NICU bed. She breathed more regularly when my husband or I held her in our arms; so of course we spent all night with her. The second night she refused to sleep on her own so whole-heartedly that nurses offered to take shifts so I could sleep. I refused the help, unfortunately. After that, A pretty much had us pinned.

Baby A has a bad case of the mama’s (cue blues guitar solo), which means she gets extremely anxious at the prospect of not being with me; especially (???) for sleep. If she isn’t touching me, it’s as if I cease to be. Or something like that.

Clearly, something has to change. Perhaps a nice book could offer some advice? It seemed for a long time like if you didn’t cry-it-out (CIO) at five-months-old then there were no books. It’s as if the psychologists are saying, Sorry… Better luck with the next kid.

Then I read Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster W. Cline. I didn’t love it (or logic it?), but it has changed my parenting, which is huge.

The premise of the book is that obedience can be taught with choices instead of with fear tactics and threats. When behaviors arise, you give your kid the option to do the right thing or take a consequence.

Framed as a choice, and offered with empathy instead of anger, the child can’t really be mad at you about consequences. Smart.

When your child “chooses” the consequence, it’s given with empathy; as in, “I love to play with you. I’m sorry you can’t play nice right now because that means you have to take a time out.” The part I don’t like: it feels somewhat manipulative. The part I do like: It is non-threatening and so far seems to be effective.

So, here’s what I said:

“A, I love it when we’re together. But I need your help to make this a good night-night with no sillies and no crying. If we can’t solve it then we need to go to M’s house and ask her to put you to bed because I know you go to sleep really well with her. It’s your choice: help mom and solve sleep here or we have to get in the car. Your choice.”

She got really, really serious and went right to sleep 😴. Hopefully it will last for another night or two.

Photo by M. Ashby

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One thought on “Night-night horses

  1. I always love choices. I think that is the answer to so many situations. Rather than “What would you like to do?”, “Would you like to do A or B?” (both choices I could live with). Or “You look tired. Would you like to go to bed now or read one more book together first?”


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