Just Add Sleep

I’ve been writing this blog for a whole year now (thanks for sticking with me!) and much of that time has been spent moaning about lack of sleep, for which I can only apologise. Well, I am hoping that particular subject may be something I can move on from soon. You see, we have had a bit of a breakthrough.

Sleep here has been a painful topic of late (see Scream O’Clock). Well, it has been painful for about 8 years actually. However, over the last month or so, we’ve actually been sleeping. I mean all three kids going to bed at a reasonable hour and rising at 7am or later. Yes, even our sleep resistant, early-rising Baby T has started to tow the line.

imageI don’t know exactly what triggered the change as we’ve tried a lot of things but I suspect it is simply that he has reached an age where waking up alone in bed is no longer scary and he finally really understands what his sleep training clock is all about.

It is also down to the fact that something snapped in me a few weeks back, after yet another 5am start and exhausting day. I decided some serious action was needed and it was time to be Nails Mummy. Don’t laugh. I can do that when I have to. I decreed a major early-rising crack-down for all three of them. It was a few weeks before Christmas, always a good time for bribery, so I said that they could all open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve, on the condition that they didn’t get out of bed before 7am at all for the next few weeks. Even one early start would be a fail. See? Nails.

To be honest, this crack-down was aimed entirely at my eldest, H. T had no clue what I was going on about and M rarely wakes before 7am anyway. H, however, has been getting up at 6am or earlier for as long as I can remember. He noisily goes for a wee, turning on the bathroom light and whirring extractor-fan, banging a few doors, before he trundles up and down stairs a couple of times to get things he has forgotten and then switches on the TV or tablet and entertains himself. So if our early-rising two-year-old wasn’t already awake and downstairs with one of us, he sure as hell was after all that.

Now I don’t know why I never considered this before but it finally occurred to me that if I stopped H getting up so early, he might not wake his little brother up. So I cracked down hard on H and, guess what? Things changed. Almost overnight. No more toddler screaming at 5am. T now gets out of bed when his clock changes at 7am and politely knocks on his bedroom door until we come and open it for him. The change could not be more dramatic.

As I said, I think some of this is down to T being a bit more grown up, but making H stay in bed has definitely helped a lot. And an added bonus is that H, who almost never wants to sit and read a book by himself, is waking up at 6 or 6:30 and quietly reading until 7am. Double-bloody-whammy of utter brilliance.

imageOK, so I know it sounds really bleedin’ obvious that stopping H’s early rising will help the baby sleep in, but there is something about prolonged sleep deprivation that simply saps all common sense out of your brain. It may be obvious to you but I was wading through the hell of it and had literally no idea what to try next. If one of those hideous Super Nanny types came into my house with her camera crew, she would have come up with that solution in five minutes and you would have all been sitting in front of your TVs nodding and agreeing with her, wondering why I had been so daft as to not consider that myself. Well, I was in the shit up to my eyeballs, and I couldn’t see over it. I was beyond being able to see solutions.

But we do have a solution at long last, it seems. I’m not going to be stupid enough to claim to have nailed it. We all know that things can change. But I am quietly hopeful. It is, after all, about time we had a break in the sleep department.

And oh, what a change it has made! My husband and I feel like we have rediscovered our inner kid. We found ourselves giggling and getting on like a house on fire this Christmas, like we did before we had kids, before lack of sleep turned us into zombies. Our relationship has become a little more fun again. We’ve feel like proper mates, partners in the crazy world of childrearing, rather than feeling like shift workers, taking it in turns to deal with horrible o’clock starts and moany, tired kids. It is so much easier to laugh off kid misdemeanours when you are not so tired that you want to cry.

So, after nearly 8 years, we are finally getting some sleep. And while it has done some amazing things to our world, I still seem to feel more tired than I’d hoped, which is a bit disappointing. I still have bags under my eyes and I still feel like I’ve been run over by a bus when T starts his morning knocking to drag me out of my cocoon. What is that all about? I’m getting more sleep than I have done in years but I’m still tired? Seriously? I really don’t get it. Maybe my body is still catching up on all the years of going without and I’ll wake up one day next month as fresh as a daisy and raring to go. I can but hope. Or maybe I just got old over the last 8 years and can’t take the pace of life any more. Maybe all that exhaustion has taken it’s toll permanently and this is just the new normal for me. Only time will tell.

The only downside of T sleeping better is that afternoon naps are well and truly a thing of the past. He clearly isn’t really ready to drop them entirely and he does a lot of falling asleep in random places at really inconvenient times, often waking up in a terrible mood. And no nap means no afternoon hour off, of course, but I’ll take it. It is worth it.

So, hopefully this is going to be the last update from me about sleep or lack thereof. At least for now. I intend to enjoy our new family sleep pattern for as long as it lasts. The world is a slightly brighter place. And considerably less blurry.

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Scream O’Clock

imageMy little T has a very special way of waking up. A special way of waking the whole house up, in fact. No getting up and playing happily in his room for him. Not even any sneaking out in the middle of the night or creeping into our room. Instead he treats us to an ear-piercing scream alarm every morning.

I know that night walking shenanigans can be very annoying, as can little, cold feet in your bed, kicking you in the ribs in the small hours. But I would give almost anything for a bit of early morning creeping and snuggling if it meant an end to the blood-curdling, tortured shrieks that we are treated to daily.

T is two years and a few months old now and has been in a big-boy bed for quite a while, so it is well within his power to climb out when he wakes. He has a room full of toys and books he could entertain himself with, or he could walk out of the open door and come to find us. But he hasn’t quite grasped any of that yet. As soon as he wakes, he screams blue murder, as if he has been stung by a wasp.

This beautiful noise kicks in the minute T wakes each day, at any time from 5am. Every single frickin’ day. It also happens when he wakes from his afternoon nap. I’m not talking a bit of tired, grumpy grizzling. My boy means business and he really goes for it.

Being woken at 5-something is always painful but being woken by a screaming banshee is particularly demoralising. He shuts up the minute I pick up his ever-increasing bulk and either bundle him into my bed for half an hour of fidgeting, or lug him downstairs for his milk. But it is such a horrible way to welcome the day and it is beginning to take it’s toll on both me and my man. Not to mention the poor neighbours.

imageT is generally pretty cheerful during waking hours so this morning scream-fest is rather puzzling. The other two certainly didn’t do it at this age, but T is determined to be a mould-breaker, keeping his poor, tired parents on the back foot. Why would a smiley kid who loves his bed and gets happily tucked in at sleep time suddenly wake and feel the need to bellow like his world has fallen apart?

I’ve been unsure where to go with it, how to try to break the habit before it breaks us. Two-and-a-half isn’t that far away now. Reasoning has kicked in over many things, and yet still the horrendous mornings go on, our ears ringing with his screams. We are just desperate to make it stop.

T has an incredibly good understanding of so many things now. He listens and communicates brilliantly. He grasps meaning and reasoning. Much as I love the recent developments in his ability to understand and communicate, it has made the morning screaming even more irritating somehow. I blunder into his room half-asleep at 5:30am and look down at my son in his bed – his face beetroot red from the yelling, arms up begging me for a carry – and I can’t help feeling really, really pissed off with him.

After all, we’ve had months on end of this. And I can’t believe that a clever little communicator like him doesn’t understand when I tell him not to scream every morning. There is no way he can honestly feel that distraught to be alone when he wakes, when he knows for a fact that I am just across the landing.

I can have little chats with T these days, to relay instructions and explain good behaviour versus bad. He sits there and nods and I absolutely know that he gets it. When M throws a flid and gets banished to her room, T says “nor-tee, go a bed-oom”. When he gets given a time out himself and I tell him off he says “nor-tee, no more skeeming”, to show that he knows screaming his tiny face off isn’t acceptable behaviour.  See? He bloody gets it! Yet still it continues. Every fucking morning.

I’ve been trying a new tactic this last week or so. T is a total cuddle-monkey and loves nothing better than to be wrapped around my neck like a scarf, squeezing the life out of me. He seems to equate screaming in the morning with getting picked up and being carried downstairs. So I thought I’d attempt to wean him off being scooped up, encouraging him to get up by himself. I’m trying to force a new morning pattern onto him that is a bit less hideous. We’ve been getting desperate so it seemed worth a try, although I didn’t hold out much hope.

I think the cuddle factor is a major part of the problem, if I’m honest. With my previous toddlers, I had a good incentive to phase out the endless carrying as I was pretty heavily pregnant by the time they were T’s age. There has been no such pressure this time and T, by far my most cuddly of tots, has taken full advantage of the fact. Not only does this play havoc with my back but it allows T to keep behaving like a baby, always begging for carries, refusing to do things for himself. In some things he is fiercely independent, but why walk when you can simultaneously have a bear hug and be airlifted from place to place?

Well, no more. For the last week, I’ve been making my cuddle monster get out of bed by himself when the scream-up begins and either leading him into my room for cuddles in bed or making him walk downstairs. And if he won’t do it himself, he has to stay there.

imageThere has been a hell of a lot of resistance to this new routine, waking the whole house up as he loudly complains. But this morning was a bit of a breakthrough. The minute the screaming began, I got up, stood in my bedroom doorway and called him to me, telling him to get out of bed and join me. And he only bloody did it. He shut up immediately, rolled out of bed, toddled over and clambered into bed with me. Not only that but he then fell asleep in my arms until 7am! OK, so I didn’t sleep again but at least I was still warm in bed, not sat downstairs, too tired to focus, trying to keep an exhausted toddler from waking up the whole house.

My husband was sleeping downstairs last night after a bout of insomnia. He woke at 7:15am to the sound of me and the boys having breakfast (M is the only sensible sleeper in the house and was still tucked up in bed). Bleary eyed, the old man stumbled out of his pit saying “What the hell is going on?” He was genuinely deeply confused to be rising so late. It is so very long since he had a night where he wasn’t ripped from sleep by wailing that he was totally disorientated. We were all running late as a result, without that extra couple of hours to get ourselves ready, but it was a small price to pay. T also refused his afternoon nap as he wasn’t totally exhausted for once, but I can live with that in exchange for brighter mornings.

I dare say this morning was a one off but I’m hoping it means some sort of progress because I’m not sure how much longer we can all cope with the the daily scream-fest. If nothing changes, the only other option is investing in some expensive earplugs and soundproofing T’s room with old egg boxes.

We’ll be eating a lot of omelettes this week, just in case.

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