Monday: “Q&A”

Today we have an interview with Patrick Allen, husband of Ashley Duckett Allen, who was interviewed here two weeks ago. With humor and compassion, Patrick acknowledges that the sleep issues with his younger child weigh heavier on his wife, but that it’s been no walk in the park for him either. He touches on problems we’ve all had as exhausted parents, like unsuspecting forgetfulness and the enhanced ability to procrastinate, but also conveys an unwavering optimism about his dual roles as a parent and a priest in the Episcopal Church. And, he’s not the first parent (nor do I think he’ll be the last) to mention the added challenges of having a dog that doesn’t sleep soundly with the setting of the sun. I hope you enjoy his witty replies:

It sounds like your second child has posed more of a challenge for the family when it comes to sleep. Can you walk me through a typical bedtime and overnight in your house these days?

Sure. In the divide-and-conquer pattern we’ve fallen in to, after supper I take charge of Lucy (our three-year-old) and Ashley takes Henry (eight months). In my mind, I’d like to have Lucy in the bathtub at 6:45 p.m. Of course, sometimes that’s a bit later, and sometimes, because bath time is fun, it’s a bit earlier. As needed, Henry gets plopped in the tub with Lucy and much splashing ensues.

Plucked from the murky depths, Lucy then begins the process of picking pajamas, which must be “beautiful,” and this is normally followed by picking clothes (also beautiful) for school the next day (the length and, from my point of view, tedium of this process makes it difficult to perform in the morning). Since Ashley and Lucy both have a dim view of my clothes-picking abilities, Ashley comes in and conducts those negotiations, usually in a spirit of mutuality, good will, and wholesome give-and-take, but occasionally with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Lucy’s part.

These tasks accomplished, there are kisses and hugs all around, and Ashley and Henry (whom Ashley has changed and prepared for the night) retire to our bedroom to nurse and go to sleep (we don’t have a comfortable chair in Henry’s room; I don’t know why). Lucy and I then read for a bit in her bed. After the stories, Lucy will then excuse herself to give Ashley and Henry another kiss and get “a tiny sip of water.” Back in bed, we say our prayers: Our Father, Hail Mary (sung to a setting of Lucy’s own spontaneous composition), general intercessions and thanksgivings (“bless all my cousins and my clothes…”).

After prayers and a little conversation on matters of topical interest, Lucy gets up to give Ashley and Henry another kiss, get another drink of water, and go to the potty. Then we may sing a song or two and say good night. While all of this is going on, Ashley is nursing Henry in our bed and looking at work stuff or playing “Draw Something” on her iPad. I try to get out of there by eight o’clock; then it’s downstairs to feed the dog, do the dishes, and straighten up a little. It normally takes Ashley a few attempts to disentangle herself from Henry, whom she usually leaves sleeping in our bed. We’ll do work and flip through the channels for a while, and are usually in bed by ten o’clock, Henry having been removed to his own bed. Before getting in bed, I usually pick Lucy up and take her to the potty one more time.

Henry wakes up for the first time between eleven o’clock and midnight, demanding to be nursed. One of the difficulties in all this is that overnight Henry requires Mama; he won’t take a bottle from me (which of course he is more than happy to do during the day) or let me rock him back to sleep. I can get him back to sleep if we go downstairs and I commit to being up for a while. So he ends up back in our bed and will awaken a few times more during the night for some quick nursing. He likes to sleep perpendicularly between us, head in my chest, feet in Ashley’s tummy. The co-sleeping has been the best way to so far to maximize sleep for both of us, but we need to embark on some more intentional sleep-training.

Of course, because of the nursing, this is all much harder on Ashley, but for me it’s like death by a thousand cuts, semi-waking throughout the night as Henry moves around or practices his head-butting technique, or waking because I’m afraid of rolling on top of him, and so on. Lucy almost always sleeps straight through until sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., when she comes in to our room and asks, “Is it morning time yet?”  I’m up at 6 a.m. and out the door most mornings a little before 7 a.m., except when Ashley has to be in early.

What is the craziest night of sleep that you can remember having with your children?

One of the consequences of a constant state of sleep deprivation is that I don’t remember much at all. While it’s all a bit hazy, there have been a few nights when our senescent and incontinent Labrador Retriever Idabelle has added some extra craziness to the mix. Her incontinence means that she is mostly banished to the outdoors. She is also terrified of thunderstorms and will run away, attempt to cross highways, and get lost if not confined. So there have been nights when I failed to anticipate a storm, and minutes after having fallen asleep, for the third or fourth time of the night, have been awakened by ominous rumblings from the sky. This has led to me walking up and down the street in my boxers at 3:30 in the morning in the thunder and lightning and rain, carrying a wet, smelly lab in my arms, and getting back in bed just in time for Henry to wake up again.

There was another night a few months ago when Lucy fell victim to a terrible stomach virus that was going around. She started vomiting about five in the afternoon and kept it up till about three in the morning. Ashley had Henry, who was particularly wakeful, and I was on the floor next to Lucy trying to comfort her and doing HazMat duty. It was too terrible to write about in any detail. The next day was my day off and of course Lucy stayed home with me. Needless to say, she awoke at 6:30 a.m. feeling completely rested and refreshed and ready to play hard all day. I, of course, was completely wiped.

How does being overtired during the day affect your ability to get work done? Do you have any tricks for dealing with this?

I do often feel fatigued, which exacerbates some of my already negative tendencies, especially procrastination. Writing, as you know, takes a particular kind of mental energy, as does long-form reading, and both become difficult to accomplish when I’m tired. And, of course, the other part of my work is people, and it becomes very easy just to sit in my office idly clicking across the internet ethers rather than seeking out parishioners (I’m a priest). I don’t have any great tricks, but I do try to set deadlines for myself and sometimes try to schedule the day in such a way that some natural and energizing breaks are included – mainly getting outside. We are fortunate in that two of our major hospitals are just a couple blocks from our parish, so sometimes I can plan to do a couple hours of sermon preparation in the morning, and then walk up to the hospital to make some visits, and/or have lunch with my wife who works there. It helps to get outside and walk, and I’m glad to have a good excuse.

How has having a child who doesn’t sleep like the proverbial baby impacted, if at all, how you feel about having more children?

I don’t have some ideal lifestyle that I want our family to fit into, but rather the other way around. I want us to be faithful to whatever God is calling us to, and I know that if that includes more children, God will equip us for that. Now, obviously, we have some control over whether or not more children come along, but Henry hasn’t turned me off babies; he’s a sweet, happy little boy. We are definitely on the older end of the childbearing curve (I’m 43; Ashley is much younger in every way), and I do worry about economic and “logistical” factors (two working parents, resorting to daycare, etc.), but I find a deep joy in my family. I’m really tired, but really happy.

Is there any sleep device that is part of your kids’ sleep routine that you couldn’t live without? If so, what is it? And why?

On the advice of friends, we’ve used a noise machine with Lucy from the beginning. I’m not sure what, if any, effect it has with her. There was a time when she liked me to set it to the music function, and for close to a year we had ritualized conversation after I said “goodnight” and turned it on: “Who is playing this song, Dada?”; “That’s Mr. Brahms, sweetie”; and so on. It was a key part of the routine, but lately she wants the setting with the light rain and distant thunder.  The entire bedtime routine with Lucy described above is highly ritualized – not in a pathological, OCD way, but more as a kind of game we play together. Lately, she loves her little children’s story/picture Bible. Lucy also has a “blankie” that’s essential for bedtime. Other than riding in the car, I don’t believe Henry has ever fallen asleep without a bottle or his Mama.

Spring Break!

Sleep Dreams is taking the week off for Spring Break 2012 — please stop by next week to catch up on your sleep (-related content).

Friday: “Roundup”

The blog Naps Happen, which was featured on The Huffington Post last week, gave me a real sense of how excellent Wordless Wednesday could be on Sleep Dreams. These photos are truly tremendous (child asleep in high chair with bottle still held to mouth), hilarious (child asleep in football helmet), and sometimes borderline unbelievable (child asleep draped over the arm of couch or child asleep in laundry basket). I can guarantee you’ll get a laugh out of scanning through these 75, and counting, images of sleeping children. Enjoy.

Thursday: “Essay”

Last week I wrote a post on how my younger son has given up his nap — and on how easy it has been for me to embrace this shift. I finished the essay, left my office, ran a couple errands, and went to his school to pick him up. The note from his teacher was, as always, tucked into the top of his cubby. I pulled it out and gave it a quick scan. In the upper left corner was the “no nap list” and my son’s name was mysteriously missing. He had a sub that day, so I assumed there must have been some mistake. I found the sub, and asked her if, indeed, the “no nap list” was accurate. “Why yes!” she replied. “He napped hard, maybe for two hours.” How often this happens in parenting, and particularly when related to sleep, that you think you have conquered something, or solved the issue, or moved on, and your child is right there tugging at your sweater, wrapping his body around your calf, reminding you that you are not in control. You never were. You’re just along for the ride.

Wednesday: “Wordless”

Not on the Same Nap Schedule