Monday, February 23, 2009

Sleep and Growing Up

I feel like I have been focused on sleep for nearly 12 straight years. I am not proud of that and it doesn't feel like that long focus has gotten me anything at all. It began when I was pregnant with Noah. Sleep was hard to come by and I worked hard on getting comfortable so I could rest a bit here and there. Thrilled to be expecting, I did not complain. I knew I wanted to be healthy and well and strong, so effort was spent on finding a way to get the rest I needed. To this day though, I remember that whenever I prepared myself for rest, that sweet little baby would come fully awake and begin his nightly Yoga practice, stretching and moving and holding his pose.

Noah finally born, I no longer focused as much on my sleep as his... knowing full well that finding a way to rest my baby would lead to greater rest for me. Right about the time we were certain that Noah could fall asleep nicely on his own... and right about the time we were sure we were brilliant parents able to teach our first born how to peacefully sleep through the night, I began to feel a little queasy. Sure enough, just 18 months after we first faced the sleep issue, we were met with an adorable, energetic bundle of boy that would teach us EVERY night how very little we knew. Where Noah was all about the wonder in every newborn moment, Benjamin was overflowing with joy. Much to our dismay however, that joy was found right around 2:00 AM when our sweet, little smiley boy would gurgle and coo and begin to fuss until we peeked up over the crib. Seeing how powerful his voice had become, his face would light up and spill forth his precious, toothless grin. Fun as he was, he did not sleep through the night til he was 2 years old. We worked and tried and nothing mattered. Sleep ruled our world... or better put, the NEED for sleep ruled our world.

Completely exhausted, we held at two children for a good long while. They shared a room, Noah and Benjamin, and Mark and I would tiptoe down the darkened hallway sometimes and eavesdrop on the conversations of preschool brothers only a year and a half apart. When they were really little, those bedtime conversations consisted of language lessons by Professor Noah.

"Benjim," he would begin, "Say light!"
"La!" Benjamin would shout with glee.
"Good job, Benjim! Now say bed!"
"Good job!"

These sweet early conversations turned into secrets shared in small voices full of innocence and dreams.

"Benjamin, tell me again about the time you saw Santa's sleigh..."

And maybe we were still sleepy but there was something amazing about listening in on the beginning of a friendship that will live past us.

Years went by and Josiah was born. Benjamin was 4 and Noah was 5 and Josiah LOVED to sleep. We felt again that we knew a little something, which of course we know now is a dangerous train of thought. There is something about a baby that sleeps that makes it easy to think about adding another to the mix. So, off we went to China to bring home the daughter we knew God had planned for us... the daughter we had prepared for since before Noah's birth.

We placed our baby girl in the crib her brothers used... but the bedding this time was pink. The bed however was used in a whole new way by Elizabeth and we found we were back to living with a child who did not sleep. Elizabeth's reasons for sleeplessness were very different than Benjamin's and we could see on her face, and hear in her cry, a history of loss that predated us. We struggled to help this newest little one to find a way to rest her body and rest her mind and find healing and peace in the only place she was ever meant to be. It took three years. And by the time we helped her through it, we were mighty tired again.

Over the years, we have learned a lot of things... the first and most important is that each little one is different and will sleep in his or her own way. I need to meet them there. It was a lesson hard won because we mistakenly believed that once we learned how to help a child sleep, we could use that lesson more than once. Silly us. : )

We are in a new place now and I find myself wishing there was a book to read that would help us adjust to what life and sleep look like now. With our boys all sharing a room (yes all three of them...), we have had to strike a balance between late night brotherly chats and their true need for rest. Making a change from one strict bedtime to a staggered plan helped a lot to work that through. Bedtime took longer but our children began to fall asleep at reasonable times. It looked like this:

Elizabeth 7:30
Josiah 8:00
Benjamin 8:30
Noah 9:00

In theory, one boy would be asleep before another one climbed in to an adjoining bunk. Turns out it was possible but not probable... One slow poke would throw it all off and back we were to sleepy boys in the morning after a long, late night chat. And those bedtimes kept getting pushed back. Before long, we realized that telling a nine year old boy (who doesn't need much sleep anyway) that his bedtime is 8:30 leads to a boy who starts to get ready at 8:30 and goes to bed at 9:00... after time spent cracking up his brothers with his one man show, he was clearing 9:45 before actually dozing off. Not good.

And then there was a new challenge... and one I did not see coming. At the end of the day... the ever lengthening day... I was absolutely exhausted. When the boys were really little and everyone went to bed at 8:00, Mark and I had the whole night ahead of us to talk and relax and watch a favorite show. We most recently found ourselves playing sleep police until way too late and by the time all is quiet upstairs, we are too tired to form intelligible words.

I have been focused on searching for sleep for almost twelve long years. I have learned a lot but realize now that I still do not know enough. But I know this... the set up we have is not working and I am too tired. So tonight, we held a family meeting to revisit this well-beaten dead horse.

"We need to talk about bedtime..." we began.

They rolled their eyes and prepared their rebuttals but I have an ace in my pocket they sometimes forget. I am the momma. He is the daddy. Together, we have a big job... to do what is right for all of them... and for both of us. We need more sleep. Tonight, we will get it.

So, what are we going to do? Plan ahead. Be clear. Read before sleep. Bedtime routines will no longer start at the given bedtime. Instead, we will start 45 minutes earlier, much to the dismay of my oldest tween. Take a shower, hug, kiss, pray... then climb into that bed and read. Lights out at your given time. Earlier downtime for Mark and I... in theory, anyway.

I am constantly amazed by how many things we must learn along the way. This parenting job is full of joys and full of struggles and full of issues that arise without warning or preparation. I had no way of knowing that raising tweens would leave me with 16 straight hours of hands on parenting each and every day. I had no idea how tired it would make me. But in a family meeting tonight, with babies gathered 'round, I listened to my 11 year old say, "But I just want some special time with you... time for a game... time to talk...". I am reminded again that some things are more important than sleep... like the smile of your baby in the middle of the night... like a preteen boy slipping his hand into mine and asking to play a round of Scrabble. We continue to look for the balance... what we need and what we want... what they need and what they want... and by the time we find it, we will be standing side by side, waving good-bye.

May we all have the wisdom to seek that balance, sleep when we can, and still pull out the Scrabble board when we are lucky enough to be asked for one quick game. Someday, I will be rested... but the house will be too quiet. Sleepy or not, I need to be in it tonight. Busy or not, frustrated or not, the joy of their laughter, the stories they share, the family history being woven right now is worth it all. And yet, so very easy to miss...


Anonymous said...

Oh Nadia--Great post. I've had 14 years of working on bedtimes. The worst was after I got home with Mollie. I was very, very seriously sleep deprived for about 1 1/2 years. Luckily for us (and my at that time 44 year old self) Steffi was easier. She DID wake up at 5:00 in the morning for several years, but if we had her in a room by herself, she didn't wake anyone up (which is why she slept in a playpen we moved from room to room until she was about 4!). We finally went to two bedtimes, one for the 7 and 5 year olds --around 7:30-8, and another for the 11 and 13 year old--around 9. I read to each set before bed. Now Chris and I have to work on getting to bed ourselves on time!

Anonymous said...

Can I say yet again you have a gift, please write a book!
Love ya, Liz

Lisa Marz said...

Awesome post! As mother of 4 boys from 13 to 1, we ourselves have gone through many different bedtime scenarios and sleeping arrangements. When you find one that works, then something changes in the family dynamics that has you starting all over again! Love reading your posts!