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 đŸ˜´. Hopefully it will last for another night or two.

Photo by M. Ashby

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Theoretical parenting

As my daughter A transitions from toddler to kid, I realize how many milestones we are careening towards that involve a lot of concerted effort (read: struggle) on my part.

I recently filled out a form that asked what goals I have for my two-year-old in the next year. My list included: weaning, potty training, eating regular meals, loosening our attachment anxiety, and better sleep (always better sleep).

Seems like a lot. All of these tasks fall into a dangerous realm I call “theoretical parenting”. Theoretical parenting, like the Artist formerly known as Prince, is a trademark with no name. It involves a lot of reading and is the purposeful way I know to solve problems. It is the opposite of the take-it-as-it-comes parenting I prefer.

Babies don’t progress in any linear way; so I guess that makes them just like anyone else. Right after I wrote a parent’s prayer, A indeed started sleeping through the night. After three nights of unadulterated sleep I started talking nonsense about a second baby. Good thing A’s second set of molars started to grow in and she got us back on the crazy train right away. I am safely back in square coo-coo; happy to report that once again I feel gripped and very satisfied with our single-child household during most minutes of most days.

Theoretical parenting is handled by the logical part of the brain that also does math and applies for bank loans. After two years of broken sleep and under-use, this part of my brain has withered and died. The take-it-as-it-comes part, however, is thriving; which is why I can justify eating ice cream at any time of day and can’t make plans more than twelve hours out.

Theoretical parents read the books and execute, struggling through the emotional stress of cry-it-out sleep training to announce that their baby sleeps through the night two weeks later. I applaud your determination and I am glad you are well rested. You deserve it. Thank you for not gloating while I am in earshot.

So far, three molars have erupted in A’s mouth; the crowns are still over-laced with gruesome gum webs. It’s actually the fourth tooth, which has yet to cut its way to the surface, that has her waking me up six times a night.

Take-it-as-it-comes parents go with whatever seems natural in the moment and pray this sequence of decisions leads somewhere the family wants to go. Maybe we live in the moment and lack an end game; or maybe we prioritize cultivating a well-rounded adult over characteristics of an obedient child. Either way, I feel it’s best to justify my situation by making myself really, really happy with my situation whatever it happens to be.

For example, I get less sleep with A in my bed right now, but I wouldn’t trade those snuggles for the world. Because this round of teething feels like the end of her babyhood. I feel a little tortured (my nipples hurt for the first time since A was a newborn), but it’s ok because it’s all almost over, etc…

A smart friend, one who does not have kids, asked me a laundry list of questions related to weaning, sleeping, and potty training the other day; as if maybe I hadn’t noticed these tasks coming up on my dance card. “What’s yer plan?” she asked. At the moment, I couldn’t remember everything from the outline I’d written up. I told her about the molars; how they feel like enough right now. She seemed unimpressed.

What makes a theoretical parent?Does your head generally guide your heart? Do circumstances, like your need to care for other kids or wake up at 6 for work, push you to prioritize practicality over idealism? Are you better at following directions than me or more willing to postpone rewards than my husband? Are you and your spouse philosophically better aligned than we are? Are there any downsides to your choices?

Why a person ends up as a theoretical parent, or why not, seems to me a chicken-or-egg situation in which I am left seated squarely upon the two concepts; flapping my arms and clucking.

In short, I thought I would be a theoretical parent, but instead I am an take-it-as-it-comes parent. Therein lies the source of all of my inner conflict.

Ignored parenting tasks do eventually go away. Either desperation drives me to decisive action or the issue fades and becomes irrelevant. This is my “plan.” You laugh, but acceptance is a totally viable solution to most problems.

My take-it-as-it-comes methodology is not out of apathy: I always read the books. They’re interesting. But, truth be told, I only allocate the 15 minutes A spends in her nightly bath to reading them. While she scrub-a-dubs, I comb pages, desperate to glean the one useful sentence hidden in the next 250-page tome. It feels much like searching for buried pirate treasure indicated by a very long and sanctimonious map. If I manage to wade through the muck and mire to find that one glittering sentence, it will help; or rather, the vague shadow of it that hangs around our house for more than 48-hours will help. A little.

My aversion to theoretical parenting comes from not wanting to turn my kid into a problem. I have enough problems without making my two-year-old into one. So I don’t try to solve her, and she’s not a problem. See how that works?

My parenting is guided by intentional philosophies, but I rarely try to achieve any specific outcome. No dolphins are learning to jump through hoops at my house, but send them over and they may very well become self-regulating, confident, and likable dolphins.

As soon as A sleeps again I’ll start on that list. Promise. I will get her to fall asleep in her own bed. She will poop on a potty chair. I will find a way to leave her at day care. I will eat lots of sage and dry up the ne-ne for good. Sorry in advance to my upstairs neighbors. Hopefully her screaming will only last a few days.

Milestones, and accompanying parenting challenges, are unavoidable. The saving grace is that things are always changing. This makes kids hard, but also interesting. There’s the rub.

Whether we try to fix our kids or not, they’re going to grow. Maybe, in some ways, I can shape my daughter into an adult I’ll be proud of. In other ways, she’s bound to become the person she is becoming no matter what I do. What a relief.

The only real say any of us has in the trenches is in how we feel. I think people become theoretical parents when having a plan helps them to feel better. If the plan doesn’t help how we feel, then we take it as it comes. Hopefully we also enjoy the ride.

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Sleep through the night: A parent’s prayer

Parenting is either painful or funny. Sometimes it’s both. I prefer to address the hard things with demure side-long glances, rather than the head-in stare of a predator. That way, if I fail to bring the problem down, I can deny that I ever noticed it in the first place.

Sleep, for example, is not something I talk about very often. Mostly because I don’t think there’s any hope for me at this point, and I don’t care to hear what I’ve done wrong from all of you who did it better.

What time should a one-year-old go to bed? How might someone night-wean? Sleep problems continue to unfold like a not-so-fun house of mirrors. Just when you think you’ve got it, a new twist reveals itself (curses canines!).

I recently read that only 5% of two-year-olds wake their parents multiple times a night. My daughter goes to sleep at 9 and wakes me at 11:00, 12:30, 2:30, and 5:30. The words slept through the night have never passed my lips. The worst part is I find it damn near impossible to fall asleep again once I’ve been woken up three times so insomnia usually has me by the throat from 2:30 to 5:30.

I don’t know why most kids persist in night waking (It is maladaptive to kill your parents!), but my daughter has a bad case of the mamas. She wakes me every couple of hours just to make sure I’m still there.

The good news is, she wont be two for another couple of weeks; so we are not like you, you zombified suckers.

At this point you should ask if my child sleeps in a crib and anticipate that she doesn’t. Baby A came into our bed during her first sleep regression and has been there ever since. I had reasons: It was October and she seemed cold in her little bed. An old shoulder injury meant I often dropped her in the last inch as I put her back in and it woke her up. I was exhausted and she just slept better in our bed.

Co-sleeping has its advantages. For many months she never cried at night and I barely woke up to nurse. Travel was a breeze, and all was well for a long time. I arranged her such that I was not worried about rolling over onto her, still, my husband and I never intended to share our bed, and it’s taken me a long time to get behind this thing. Now, I’ll admit, she wakes up more than I’d like, and I’m poking my eyeballs out a little bit.

I can see the look on your face that says, “Ooh, i had no idea… you really have to do something about that.” Like what? A is well past the luggage phase of babyhood. She has words. Since escaping the pack-n-play at 20 months she has been an exclusive bed sleeper; I can’t lock her in bed and throw away the key.

Parenting feels a lot like wandering down a dirt road through thick fog. There are many forks in this road, and you don’t see opportunities to turn until they are right on top of you. Choices must be made, almost constantly, but without any information about what lies ahead. If there is one option that makes any sense at all then you take it. Most days we are all just trying to put one foot in front of the other and stay on the path. In a way, there is very little choice at all.

Nobody knows where any of these roads lead. Like a choose your own adventure novel, every moment in parenting is tied to some previous nutty decision; tho which it was is impossible to say. Only when you are very far from the fork in the road do you understand anything about the benefits or consequences of the path you chose.

So we take the bad with the good and tell ourselves that none of the other forks would have been better; just different. Or maybe there was a better path, but which? And when? And why wasn’t it indicated by a glittery, be-dazzled sign? At times you will fear that you made a mistake; but the only thing to do is dig in your heels, re-commit to your former self, and carry on. There is definitely no turning back.