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.
A Season of Change
by Sarah J. Heim
Napping. Historically in my house it was as crucial for me as getting a good night’s sleep. It was my break, as well as the gold star guarantee that my kid would be manageable for the duration of the day. If ever there was even the slightest threat of missing that window for my child to nap, it could send me into a panic of unusual proportions.
But if you’re an observant reader, you’ll notice I used the past tense in that second sentence. That’s because my baby, my 3.5-year-old son, is no longer napping. And I don’t mean in the nap-strike sort of way, where you know it’s just a phase, and he’ll surely tucker himself out enough eventually to go back to his old routines. Rather it’s in the I’m-pretty-sure-he-will-never-close-his-eyes-during-the-day-again sort of way. In the way only a parent can discern. I know it’s finished. Kaput. And, you know what? I’m totally okay with it.
This is odd because I was once such a fiercely committed dictator of naps. When my older son pulled a nap strike at just under two, I lay curled in the fetal position on my bed, eight months pregnant, in tears, and audibly prayed for him to fall asleep.
Around that time, I listened to other parents who were giving in to their children’s pleas (turned tantrums) and opting to let them stay up during the day rather than take on the fight. Not me. I was ready for battle, armor up, tactics running full steam through my head, soon to be implemented.
The first nap strike ended organically, with him asleep in his highchair, broccoli draped from his mouth, at 5:30 p.m. He had refused to nap for 11 days straight, and he proceeded to sleep through that night until 7 a.m. the next morning and return to his regular napping schedule that afternoon.
The second nap strike didn’t end the same way – with my baby utterly exhausted – and when it was clear that simply leaving him in bed chatting with himself and rearranging stuffed animals wasn’t going to work, I resorted to what can only be called the counting method, a subtle form of psychological warfare.
It went like this: if he lay down, I would count to 100, while sitting in a chair near the window in his room. In the early days, this worked very efficiently. He would be asleep by 90 seconds, 90 percent of the time. As the months passed, it took longer, but rarely did it exceed 300 seconds.
At one point a friend pointed out that this was like hypnotism, and expressed concern that our son would fall asleep in class whenever numbers were recited. It was a risk I was willing to take.
I fought hard because my older son needed his nap. If we tampered with his schedule, even in the slightest, all bets were off: there was no chance of a second nap (during the window when he took two naps), extra screaming would ensue in the afternoon, nighttime sleep would be turned upside down (hence the no-go on the trip to Sweden, for those of you who recall that essay).
Parenting two kids less than two years apart, I worked for months to get the boys on the same nap schedule and then, for nearly a year, I had them sleeping at the same time consistently during the day. Eureka! While they slept, I worked: doing phone interviews and writing freelance articles, grading essays, doing the dishes, reading US Weekly while reclined on the couch.
When my younger son threatened to give up his nap nearly a year ago, I knew the counting routine wasn’t going to be the solution. He was a different boy, of course. When we traveled to San Francisco last spring, he missed his nap every single one of the six days we were there, and emerged from the trip unscathed, returning to napping like a champ the day after we got home.
Instead of counting, I did what would have been unthinkable the first time around, and lay with him in his bed, methodically patting his back and singing, until his breathing shifted, he was conked out, and I was able to ungracefully extricate myself from the bedroom through a series of very awkward contortions.
This worked for a long time, maybe a year, and then, suddenly, it didn’t work anymore. No longer was he on the “nap list” at school and no longer was he willing to slip into sleep with me on patting patrol.
And I’m fine with it; dare I say I’m happy. It’s spring, the snow is melting, the creek is running, and I no longer have to be tethered to my laptop for the two hours in the afternoon when I used to feel compelled to work. My son is 3.5-years-old now – he’s fun, and spirited, and likes to do things with me (a trait, I have heard, will wane with age) and now we have a window of time built into our day to be together. This week we biked at the park, last week we meandered through the bulb show at the local Botanical Gardens, yesterday we played in the backyard, tomorrow I don’t know what we’ll do, but I know it will be fun.
And so, without any complaining, I bid a fond farewell to napping in our house. It was great while it lasted — but we’ve all grown-up a little, and now I’m ready to move on.
by Sarah J. Heim
Why is it that when you finally get a good night’s sleep after a stretch of challenging nights, you inevitably wake up feeling more exhausted? I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for this, and at some point I’ll research it, after I’ve found a supply of surplus energy hiding amid the cobwebs under the bed. But for now I’ll stick with two cups of coffee in the morning and two glasses of wine at night, and hope that keeps my motor running smooth for the next few days.
by Sarah J. Heim
My older son snores. Recently we returned to giving him a nasal spray in the evenings before bedtime. If I understand his doctor correctly, this helps to reduce the size of his adenoids, allowing him to breath in a less audible way while he sleeps.
This is strange for us, as parents, because we are used to hearing him sleep. And now he is no longer making any noise. It’s quiet on the monitor while we watch our television in the basement. It’s silent when I stand in his doorway before I turn in for the night.
This lack of sound is, of course, a good thing. It is possible that his sleep was being disrupted by his snoring, though he showed none of the tell-tale signs of not sleeping well at night – grogginess, difficulty focusing, short fuse – during the day.
But the reality was that it didn’t sound good. So we fixed it.
You’d think I’d be thrilled. My son no longer sounds like a 65-year-old man when he sleeps. He no longer sounds like a rattling box of rocks every time he slowly inhales and then exhales. He is silent.
It reminds me of when he was a baby and he’d sleep longer than the three hour stretch he’d perfected the week before, and I’d wake up in a sweat, peer over the edge of the pack n’ play next to our bed and put my ear down close to his sweet lips to listen for a sound. I’d watch for a small movement, a twitch. I’d gently poke his swaddled hip. Sometimes I would wake him up.
And now it’s happening again. I stood at his door last night, straining to hear any noise at all and erase the irrational thoughts racing through my head. I went to his bedside and pulled back the tent covering his lofted bed. I reached my head over as close as I could to his face and listened. I pried back the covers and put a hand on his five-year-old chest, feeling for the natural rise and fall of his breath.
Sleep is so lovely, so peaceful, and yet, when it is so eerily quiet, it can also be so scary.
To the Beat of My Own Drum
by Caitlin Shaw Henig
Every night, in my house we do a simple “Night Night” routine. After dinner, I send my two boys, Cody (almost two) and Jacob (four), to the bath. I sing “Bath time, bath time,” to the tune of “The Backpack Song,” from “Dora the Explorer,” and most nights they slip off with Daddy while I do the dishes.
Once they are dried, my husband, Josh, usually takes Cody, and I take Jacob. Cody gets diapered, jammied up, and armed with some “Wah-wah” and a binky, and off to sleep he goes. Jacob likes to pick out his own jammies, needs help with his pull-up and shirt, but likes to put his bottoms on all by himself: “Tag in the back!”
Sometimes we have stories, sometimes we don’t, but each and every night, Jacob says to whichever parent tucks him in, “Willyoulaydownwithme???” And every time he asks me, I say yes.
Our days start and end in chaos. We often are up around six, by our own alarm clock or the toddler cock a doodle doo that climbs into our bed for some pre-dawn kicking and flailing. Once we are up, we are off and running, doing the two-working-parent dance of showering-diaper-changing-lunch-making-dressing madness.
We get home between five and five-thirty, and we are off again, trying to get everyone fed, cleaned and ready for bed by seven(ish). Some days, the only moment of stillness that I have with Jacob is when we snuggle down together in his bed. Sometimes we have a kissing fest: stolen kisses (which are then returned by hand to the kissee), cheek kisses, butterfly kisses, nosy-nose kisses (formerly known as “Eskimo” kisses). Sometimes we have tickle fights. Sometimes we are quietly breathing together, sometimes we talk. Sometimes he tells me about school, the games he plays, who he plays with, or times when he’s been excluded from play and how that makes him sad. In the dark, laying still, it is our time to connect and relax together.
I don’t know what the parenting books would have to say about this; I’m sure several MDs and PhDs would frown upon it and advise letting your kid learn to fall asleep on his own. Maybe they wouldn’t; I haven’t researched it and am not interested in having any experts weigh in.
The advice that I give to every one of my friends when they have their first baby is the best thing that I’ve learned from being a parent: You and you alone know your baby better than anyone, and every day your child is teaching you how to parent him/her.
Doctors and books and experts are all fabulous resources, but they are not there day in and day out with YOUR kid. They don’t know the body language that you learn to pick up on, the numerous subtle tics that tell you if your kid is happy, sad, hungry, or tired.
As an over thinker with an anxious constitution, I didn’t expect to be this secure as a parent. But for some reason, I have a core belief that no matter how many mistakes I make, however my kids turn out, I know that I am doing the best that I can and that I am a good parent. Any time I feel off balance or question myself, I always come back to that anchoring thought. And if snuggling my son to sleep is wrong, I don’t want to be right!
Caitlin Shaw Henig works in the green energy sector and lives with her husband and two sons in Northern California. She writes about living and parenting with ADHD at www.mymonkeybrain.com