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Sleepless in Ottawa

2008-02-13 - 12:33 p.m.

I have a confession to make: I am almost clueless about infant and toddler sleep.

You’d think that I’d be an expert on kids that are, oh, say, up to two years and half-a-month old. Or at least on what makes my two-years-and-half-a-month old kid tick. After all, I’ve been there from day one, spending a LOT of time with her.

But the fact is, she STILL needs either J or I to put her to bed and stay with her until she falls asleep. This means that, around 8:00 pm, we start the routine of brushing teeth, changing to a fresh diaper, donning pyjamas, and settling in with a few books, the last one of which is always Good Night Moon. Then we turn off the light, maybe cuddle for a little while, then move to the floor beside her mattress… and wait. And wait. And by the time we can be reasonably sure that she’s asleep and we won’t disturb her when we leave it’s at least 9:30, often more like 10:00.

To provide a more complete picture: Grommet sleeps on a mattress on the floor and has since we moved to the new house in October. The transition went well, at least partly because we were in a new environment, and also, I’m betting, because she has spent so many nights sleeping with us that she wasn’t particularly attached to her crib anyway. We moved her because she was starting to be able to climb out of the crib and, like I said, it seemed like an opportune time.

You should also know that we are not usually in physical contact with her while she falls asleep and, in fact, I’ve been moving slowly (as in “glacial pace of a few inches a night”) further away from her at night during the “falling asleep” period. I’m probably about 3 feet from her mattress at this point, lying my pregnant ass down on a body pillow, back to her. However, she sometimes gets up and plunks herself down on the floor next to me, or even just comes around and crouches where she can watch my face, whereupon I quietly pick her up, remind her that she has to stay put, and re-deposit her on her bed.

No, starting the routine earlier doesn’t help. She still falls asleep at roughly the same time, regardless.

Nap time is actually even worse because the only way we can get her to spontaneously fall asleep is in the car or stroller, and once in a blue moon she’ll fall asleep on us when we sit in the rocking chair holding her. If that doesn’t work and we simply can’t drive or walk her around, she just doesn’t nap. No, her daycare provider doesn’t have to do any of this. She tells her it’s nap time and puts her down, and she falls asleep. Clearly she’s capable of falling asleep on her own, we just have no idea how to trigger it at home. And we’ve tried, only to be defeated by the howls that don’t seem to stop, frustration, and lack of sleep for everyone.

Nor can she seem to fall asleep in our bed with us at nap time or at bedtime, something kind of unexpected from a kid that spent a lot of time co-sleeping with us – she tosses and turns and wriggles and squirms until we are driven to distraction. At least the latest method of being near her in her room, but without touching her, means that we’re not constantly poked and kicked.

The fact is, it takes her at least 45 minutes to an hour to settle down, from the last goodnight spoken until she is finally still and nods off. -- Ever since she was a baby she seemed to have this need to physically move around before she could relax (I think this was from about 4-6 months onward), and when she did settle down it was from the bottom up: first her legs would stop thrashing, then her torso and arms. – and honestly? It’s getting to be a bit much and kind of worrisome given the looming arrival of an-attention-needing infant. We simply won’t have 1 ½ to 2 hours to put Grommet to bed every night. Even if this wasn’t the case, and at the risk of sounding selfish, we’re really getting kind of tired of the whole thing. I read about other parents whose kids go to bed around 6:30 or 7:00 pm and then the adults have the evening to spend together or doing their own, grown-up activities. One of us has to spend literally the entire evening almost every evening just putting our kid to bed. J starts work so early that it’s often me, but I’ve gotta tell ya, by the time Grommet finally goes to sleep it’s often past my own bedtime.

I won’t say no progress has been made in the last little while. Those several inches of increased separation at night are encouraging, as is the fact that I am lately rarely driven to grind out through clenched teeth, “Stop moving, lie still and go to SLEEP!” which was the only way for a long time to get her to settle down. But as I get bigger and bigger, and it becomes less and less comfortable to lie on her floor (even with the carpeting and body pillow) for 45+ minutes, I have to wonder: will I ever get out the door? Will I EVER be able to say goodnight and then actually leave the room before she nods off? And the topic of how long she stays in her own bed is one I’ll leave for another day. (Hint: I think she’s stayed the whole night by herself less than 5 times ever. People stop asking “is your baby is sleeping through the night?” by about a year, because they presume that ALL babies are by then. At over 2, we still couldn’t answer “yes” to this question.)

We’ve done the things I’ve read about: established a routine; tried to make sure she feels secure and knows that we’re not far away if she needs us; we tried changing bedtimes to an earlier hour; we even tried to let her cry until she fell asleep a couple of times – result: she NEVER stopped crying and fell asleep – anything else? What is the magic ingredient we’re missing? And how, for the love of God, do we try to avoid the next one being the exact same way, without (and I think this is key) compromising our basic child-raising beliefs? We don’t want to have our kids crying for hours on end just to get them to sleep, and we love the physical bonding of snuggling in bed together (how long will this last, really, before they want nothing to do with holding our hands or hugging us?) – we just don’t want our kids to be completely dependant on it in order to be able to fall asleep. Is that too much to ask?

To be honest, we wouldn’t care about this so much if it weren’t for the fact that the new baby is coming. It’s an added concern when we look at trying to get Grommet to sleep when she stays over with her grandparents. We need help! I’ve done reading and so far no problem description or proffered solution has caused that proverbial light bulb to go off over my head. But we can’t be the only ones in this situation. Can we?

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