March 30, 2015 by Dadinator
It was 7:20pm as I walked down the stairs in a flabbergasted daze of disbelief.
Both kids were asleep. I’d done it.
Mum noticed me looking vacant. “So, are they down?” she asked
“Yes…….” I said in a kind of shocked staccato. I hadn’t suspected it would be this easy on the first night, but there it was. Within me there lurked a sense of foreboding. It was not over yet.
Let me fill you in.
A while ago we went to a Sleep School, We’ve been having major issues with our daughter and sleep, and we needed help. We got it and things have improved. We now have both kids in the one room. I settle the pair of them with a combination of reading, songs and rocking – and usually it doesn’t take too long. We also have a clear and consistent routine around bedtime that both kids enjoy, both kids have contributed too and both kids accept.
I get them off to bed, usually between 7:30 and 8pm and then The Mamanator and I relax.
For an hour or two. Then The Lass wakes up, usually wanting a breastfeed. She still feeds over-night, even at the age of 18 months. She also feeds more than once. I don’t know what her record is, but there are nights she’s up every 2 hours, and they aren’t uncommon. I try to settle her myself, take her out of the bed and walk. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t.
It’s not the feeding itself that’s an issue for us. She can feed to whatever age she wants really, but this night-time feeding is wearing us both out, especially my beloved Mamanator. It’s not sustainable, so we’re trying to change it because “When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep… and you’re never really awake.” (Fight Club)
Which brings me to Melbourne last Sunday night. I had taken the two kids to my mother’s house. It was just us, The Mamanator was back home in bed sleeping. I was nervous. Not Homer Simpson-in-charge-of-kids nervous, I’m not the “bumbling dad” type. In fact, I’m quite competent and capable of taking care of the kids. But I was nervous about what was going to happen when it was bed time and there was no “baboo” as The Lass calls it.
The night had run smoothly. The worst thing was when my daughter had tried to wreck bathtime with her poo, but I prevented it spoiling the bath by catching the turd before it hit the water (Classic Catch material). But we got through it. I did what I normally did. Put the kids in their PJs, gave them each a bottle of milk and read to them. The Lad drank his voraciously, The Lass wandered around the room as I read. Then it was time for bed. The Lad lay down, The Lass went in my arms and I started singing the usual songs. I used to go for variation and fun, but my experience has taught me this isn’t such a good idea at bedtime.
My songs are: The Thomas Theme song (damn you Thomas!) with my son’s special variations, I See the Moon, Hush Little Baby, Morning Town Ride and The Sleepy Body Song (by The Mudcakes). Bot kids are usually asleep after 3 of them, and I duck out. Tonight they were both asleep quickly. Even though by this stage The Lass hadn’t fed in 9 hours.
It was easy. A little too easy…. I knew she was going to wake up a few hours later, she always does, and that was where the challenge would arise.
It happened about 10pm. I think it was 10pm, my sense of time gets muddled… I was already in bed, reading, when I heard her stir. She sat up and I went to collect her and started to walk her around to settle her down again. I didn’t want her to wake her brother.
There was no breast to fall back on this time, so I did the things I do. I walked, I sung, I shhhhhhed, I spoke soothingly, I jiggled, I paced, I patted, I rubbed and I rocked. I probably also swore a few times. I offered water. She refused violently (but still said “No Thankyou!” so kudos to her for her manners), but later had a drink. I kept on walking. Mum was there too, she hadn’t gone to sleep yet, so she offered her own words, offered to take The Lass (who wouldn’t be detached from me), gave us a blanket and eventually retreated back to her own bed.
All the noise woke her brother. He asked for a cuddle. “You have to wait”… then he started to cry. I told him to try not to cry because it would make it harder for his The Lass to settle. He didn’t understand, for some reason and got worse, I let him climb into my bed and he waited for me.
As minutes wore on though I realised I had to see to The Lad. So The Lass was put down in her cot and she screamed. She kept on screaming as I held her brother closely and whispered to him. Once he settled I asked him if he’d be okay if I went back to The Lass. He said he was fine, so I returned to rocking as he fell back asleep.
And eventually she settled. Took nearly an hour and a half, but she settled. It took 3 or 4 false attempts to set her down, but she settled. It took a portion of my heart and soul, but she settled. I spent the night sandwiched between the two kids, but they were still, silent and sleeping. And cuddly. Very cuddly.
She woke twice more at 2am and 4am, but both times she settled relatively quickly and I was able to get back to sleep.
The next day she was fine. Turns out she hates trams, but aside from that she had a great day playing, looking at the tall buildings of the city and enjoying a lot of food. Even if some of it was ice-cream.
Inevitably the shadows grew long, we ate and eventually it was time for bed again. Night 2. I was dreading it, thinking it would run much worse than night 1. Again, dinner, bath (no poo this time, The Lass even told me so proudly), PJs, stories with a milk bottle and bed.
It took longer this time, but again the kids went down. But it was only 9:10 or so when she woke for the first time. Again I rocked her, cooed at her, walked up and down and up and down and up and down, whispered to her. This time, noticing her cough, I gave her something and I also let her finish her milk bottle (which she tucked into with gusto). And she settled.
In about 20 minutes.
And she went down in her cot.
The improvement was marked on the previous night, and I was sure that this meant she’d be up another 4-5 times at least. So I went to bed myself.
I awoke again in the dark. Had I heard something? Was she crying? But it was silent. So I lent over to look at the time.
That couldn’t possibly be right. If it was 4:45 that would mean that she….? Could she? How could? What?
It was 5:20 when she woke up. Ridiculously early, but I couldn’t have been happier. She’d slept.
So that’s it, right? Roll credits, drive into the sunset. With some kind of eighties guitar solo swelling in the background, Top Gun style.
Nope. It doesn’t work that way.
You don’t break through barriers and find suddenly everything changes. You don’t level up, as I have said in the past. Children do not follow a straight line trajectory in their lives. There are steps forward and back – perhaps it’s unhelpful to call them forward and back. There are regressions and relapses because children are constantly changing, they world around them is constantly changing and the sum of these infinite factors is also constantly changing.
But the night showed us that it CAN be done, and that’s a start. Of course the presence of The Mamanator will make it harder. She’ll demand feeds more vehemently and for longer is she knows those boobs are at hand. However, each of these little episodes shows us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that I can settle our daughter overnight, and that things can and will improve.
We don’t want her to sleep because she “should” sleep or because she’s “too old” to be doing this. We want her to sleep because it’s unsustainable for us to go on this way. Because it’s taking it’s toll on us, grinding us down and because it’s been almost 4 years since my wife’s slept properly. These two days have shown that it is at least possible to do. For now, that’s enough.