Governed by Clocks

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Robin Williams is credited with saying, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'” Last weekend’s “spring forward” time change here in the US was a major party pooper. We groaned at the prospect of a 23-hour day as we dutifully turned all our clocks forward an hour.

We’re a routine-bound household. Between my 40-hour work week, my husband’s much longer and less predictable hours — nights without a text or two from work between midnight and 5:00 am are a rarity — and our daughters’ school schedule, there’s not much wiggle room. We expect J and M to be under their covers at 8:00 pm precisely; “Eight zero zero” was the first time they learned to read on a digital clock. We don’t vary bedtime on weekends, staying up past 8:00 only for very special occasions, like the first night that the grandparents arrive for a visit.

The hour time change pushes the girls’ wakeup time from the horrendous 5:45 am to what our bodies tell us is the even uglier time of 4:45. On Friday and Saturday, we shifted lights out to 7:30 pm to prepare for the switch, but wakeup time on Monday morning was brutal. Poor M reported that there was “something wrong with [her] eyes,” as she struggled to start her day. J just wrapped her blankie around herself and stared at the floor as she waited for her brain to switch on.

Things weren’t much better for the girlies the rest of the week, and waking up wasn’t any easier for me. I may have hit the snooze button a time or 5 this morning.

The logic behind Daylight Saving makes some sense: get an extra hour of evening sunshine. The problem at our house, though, is that the morning is what sets the mood for the day. If we start our day grumpy, tired, and out of sorts, we’re not too likely to think much of the afternoon sun. In addition, we live in Texas, where summers get very hot, so Daylight Saving actually means less outdoor time at the end of the day.

When J and M were younger, I had an elaborate plan to adjust their bodies’ clocks, 15 minutes per day over 4 days. This year, we threw them in the deep end, and we’re all paying for it.

Good night. My clock says it’s bedtime even though my body doesn’t.

What are your feelings on Daylight Saving? Do you have any techniques for making the switch easier on your kids? Do they even notice?

Sadia, her husband and their 5-year-old twin girls live in El Paso, TX. He is a soldier, she a software geek, and they first graders.

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Sleepless Nights

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Madeleine and Riley just turned two last week. We had a wonderful celebration with family and friends at a local water park. By all accounts, M&R are happy, healthy, and gorgeous, and I’m thrilled and amazed that we have made it to the ripe old age of two with so few battle scars. Heck, we haven’t even had to take a trip to the ER yet! No stitches ever! (Do you hear the rapid-fire sound of me knocking on wood?)


Maddie and Riley can sing the ABCs, name all of their colors, and string together impressively long complete sentences. They tell jokes and invent games. They love their family and friends, being outdoors, blowing bubbles, and eating grapes. They go down slides, ride trikes, and splash in water.


Here’s what they don’t do: sleep through the night.


I had planned to write a post on toddler discipline today, but other people have done a great job of that already. Instead, my recent experience compels me to talk about the Dirty Little Secret of Toddlerhood. I hate to break it to you, but many of these delightful little imps don’t like to sleep. And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot you can do about it but suck it up and ride it out.


When Maddie and Riley were six months old—almost to the day—we “Ferberized.” Yes, yes, we did, and with nary a regret. And it worked great. Just like the books said it would, it took three nights for the kiddos to start sleeping from about 7:30 in the evening to sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 the next morning. Oh, sure, we had an occasional streak of early wakings and an occasional need for middle-of-the-night intervention, but for the most part, six months to eighteen months marked a blissful Golden Era of Sleep at our house.


Then all hell broke loose.


Starting at eighteen months—almost to the day—Riley’s sleep began to deteriorate. First he cried when he was put to bed. Then he cried in the middle of the night. Then he cried when he woke up. For the most part, none of this was a tragedy in that he was easily soothed by a quick pop-in and pat on the back. It was irritating and disruptful, but hardly tragic.


Now at the age of two—almost to the day—we have entered the era of Tragic. The screaming at bedtime has subsided thanks to a realization that Riley doesn’t want the door closed, he wants it cracked. Fine. No problem. What the open door does not solve is the middle of the night wakings. Riley wakes two to three times a night these days. When he wakes, he screams and cries at full bore. He doesn’t want me to touch him. He doesn’t want to lie down. He sounds scared and panicked. He is fully awake, so he is not having a night terror (although he could be having a bad dream). The only thing that gets him to go back to sleep is to have me lie down on the floor next to his bed and sleep there myself.


I’ve tried taking him into bed with me; that works OK, but between the fact that he kicks me, wiggles around, strokes my hair, and gets distracted by my close presence, it works better if I lie on the floor. Also, if I have Riley in bed with me and Maddie (who has remained a Toddler Sleep Gold Medalist, thank goodness) wakes up and sees that he is gone, she has a Total Freak Out, and then I’m Screwed. So I stay in their room. It takes Riley anywhere from five minutes to two hours to go back to sleep. Needless to say, it takes me about the same amount of time.


I have tried on a couple of occasions to do a repeat Ferberization, but it’s different this time. Riley’s not fussing, like he was when he was a baby. He’s screaming. He sounds desperate. I do not thing sleep training is child abuse, not by a long shot. Hell, I did it! But to hear your child screaming frantically and throwing himself at the bars of his crib (!) does start to feel like torture.


Eighteen months is a common time for toddlers to have sleep problems. (Read here about the eighteen-month sleep regression.) I thought things would be better, not worse, at age two. I know I’m still an optimist because every night I think, “This is the night we’ll turn the corner.” So far, no dice. But, as has been pointed out to me before, no kids go off to college sleeping with their parents, so at some point, this behavior will change, right? Right? Please say yes, because I’m coming apart at the seams.


I feel like I spend all my waking hours (correction: my ZOMBIE-LIKE waking hours) thinking about this. I turn the problem around and around in my head. I feel like I’m being soft by not sleep training. I feel like I’m being a monster when I do. I find a host of reasons that Riley could be having so much trouble sleeping: bad dreams, a developmental leap, fructose malabsorption, gas, you name it. I feel like I’ve tried every possible solution to get him to soothe himself, then I feel like the reason nothing works is because I’ve been inconsistent.


Ultimately, here’s what I’ve decided based on a lot of reading and asking for advice from friends, colleagues, and other HDYDI moms: Riley misses me. My sweet, sensitive boy is having separation anxiety. His longest sentence to date, uttered a few weeks ago, around the time all of this started, is “Riley no like it Mama go away friends.” Maddie and Riley spent the day with my mom and stepdad yesterday as our daycare is closed for a week’s vacation this week. Riley was sad to see me leave in the morning, and never have I been showered with more kisses and hugs than I have when I returned yesterday afternoon. “Mama came back!” he triumphantly announced multiple times. He’s been extra-needy during the day, so there’s no reason that he would not be extra needy at night. And if, in fact, separation anxiety is what’s at play, then the best thing I can do is give him the reassurance and love he needs. Which means that I need to get an aerobed for the floor. 


It’s so hard, especially as a single parent, to give and give and give all day and then suddenly be called upon to give and give and give all night. Night used to be my time. Suddenly, I have to share that time with Riley. I love the fact that I can soothe my boy, but I wish that I could share that duty with someone else, and I wish that sometimes there was someone soothing me, too. Conventional wisdom in my situation with Riley would be that if it’s me who Riley wants to see, send in my partner instead. After a few times of that, Riley might give up and decide that sleep is better than not getting who he wants to see. But I don’t have anyone else to send in. So I go in myself, reminding myself as I go that this is just a phase. It’s all just a phase.


Evidently, co-sleeping peaks worldwide between the ages of two and five because co-sleeping is easier than fighting with your toddler all night long. And according to Elizabeth Pantley, author of the No-Cry Sleep Solution, approximately 50% of kids wake up at least once a night even after the age of two. So I know I’m not alone. But it sure feels like I’m alone a lot of the time as I think that many parents are embarrassed to admit that their toddler has sleep issues.


For those of you whose toddlers sleep well, I am grateful but envious. For those of you who are struggling with sleepless toddlers, you have all of my empathy. For those of you looking for solutions—I am supposed to tell you how I do it, after all!—I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer this time around except a safe place to talk about what your kids’ sleep issues are, what’s worked for you, and what hasn’t. Today, that’s how I do it: by sharing with you and hopefully learning from you as well.

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Sleep has been on my mind lately, namely because I haven’t been getting any. I used to think that when my twin boys reached a certain age, sleep would again return to the blissful stage it was when I was child-free. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be case. Our challenge right now is that the boys start out in their own beds but find their way to our bed. But that’s whole ‘nother story, which I blogged about over here.

The baby sleep stage with two babies (or more) is a challenge, to put it mildly. I found it best to work out a tag-team system with my husband, just as CarrieinAK said in her post earlier this week. My favorite part about this stage is all the inane questions from people without multiples like: Do they wake each other up? (Goodness no! That piercing wail that wakes me from a dead sleep? The other baby sleeps right through it!)

So at risk of stating the obvious, even though that’s sometimes exactly what we all need to restore the sanity, here’s some advice for getting some shut-eye:

1. Baths help. They calm kids down. They signal that the end of the day is near. As exhausted as you are after a full day, and maybe you have already given those kids several baths already depending on how many explosive diaper moments you have had, try doing a bath.

2. Play some music. We have a CD player in our boys’ bedroom that has played the SAME CD for the last four and a half years. God forbid that thing ever gets broken. The music is part of the signal to our guys that it’s time to relax and go to sleep. This is in contrast to whenever we are out of town, where I find the only thing that knocks them out for sleep is to wear them out physically.

3. Establish a routine. For older kids (2 and up), it helps to establish a routine. We do a bath, medicine, teeth, books, then lights out. My guys know what’s next, so it helps to keep us going. It doesn’t mean it cuts down on the whining, but at least they know what’s next.

4. Limit the drinks within an hour of bedtime. This is for the older kids again and especially important when you’re working on potty-training. Less liquid in their little bodies means they won’t be up and down quite as much.

5. Don’t listen to anyone. Not even me. Don’t let ANYONE make you feel guilty for doing what works when it comes to getting some sleep. Some families like to sleep in one big bed. Some families have strict lines that cannot be crossed about who sleeps where. You have to do what works for you, your marriage and your kids (and probably in that order).

My husband and I agreed when the boys came home from the NICU to do what works until it stopped working – and then we would try something else. They slept with us for a few months, then they slept in a single crib, then they slept in separate cribs, then they slept in separate rooms, then back to the same room. There were sleepless nights and nights we all slept like logs. And everything in between.

One last piece of advice: don’t ever think, “Okay, we’ve got this thing down. No sweat.” That’s the exact moment when everything will change. Trust me.

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