Things that cry in the night


As Katie started her umpteenth lap around the living room, someone said, "she'll sleep good tonight."

He was right, she did sleep good when she wound down enough to sleep, which was somewhere around midnight.

You know the law of perpetual motion? An object in motion remains in motion. That's true for kids, too. They feed off energy their own and that of adults. The more they have, the more they make. It's a nearly endless cycle that soft music, warm milk and infinite rocking won't end. In fact, short of tying them to their beds (I've never tried it, but that doesn't mean I've never thought it) there's not much you can do.

Katie woke at 11:30 p.m. the other night.

She wasn't sick.

She wasn't upset.

She wasn't tired. Not even close.

I rocked her. I laid on the floor with her and rubbed her back.

Nothing convinced her that sleeping would be more fun than running circles around the dimly-lit house.

She cuddled next to me for a minute and lulled me into believing the situation was temporary. Then she got up, covered me with her blankie, handed me her bottle and floated a kiss in my direction.

If I wanted to sleep, evidently I could. Katie said so.

After an hour-and-a-half, I did. I didn't mean to because I know how long Katie can be without direct supervision without something being spilled, broken or ruined and that's not long. If there was a secret eject button in the house, Katie's the kind of child who would find it. If there's a red pen anywhere, within reach or not, it will magically find its way into Katie's hands (and I mean magically. I've been over that house with a fine-tooth comb and put every red pen I could find out of reach and out of sight and she still shows up on occasion with a red-marked palm. The other day, the baby had a red stripe across the top of her head. Either Katie has super powers or the pens migrate.)

I awoke to the sound of two voices and saw Katie on her tiptoes next to the baby's bassinet sharing the bottle she already tried to use to lure me into a state of drowsy complacency.

Thank God the baby was too tired to join the fun.

Kids have their own ideas about sleep and parents fool themselves into believing those ideas are the same as their own.

Big mistake.

Parents fall into a world of sleep myths that no matter how many children, no matter how many long nights, no matter how many trips from the bed to the crib they have, they still cling to, if only because there's little else to cling to at 3 o'clock in the morning.

It's late. How late you can't tell. Either your eyes won't open all the way or someone stole your contacts in the night because the clock is just a big, red blob. You hear crying.

Myth #1 Just give her a minute and she'll fall back asleep.

Not only is that not gonna happen, the baby will cry, wait about five minutes (or until you've comfortably returned to dreamland) and start crying again. The "if she cries one more time I'll get up" is just denial. The minute you make that bargain, you've sealed your fate. She'll cry again just to test how many times you'll make the deal.

Myth #2 Outside forces will save you.

I lie in bed and visualize the baby surrounded by a calming blue/green light. When that doesn't work, which it usually doesn't, I speak directly to her angels and ask if they'll entertain her for awhile (like until at least 7 a.m.) Evidently, they believe that parenthood is an experience I shouldn't miss a single moment of, so they don't intervene.

Myth #3 Your spouse, who is pretending to sleep, will get up.

The only time my husband questions whether the baby is actually his is when there's a diaper that needs changed after midnight. We each lie there, waiting for the other to wake, each fake snoring louder than the other in the hope someone else will actually get out of bed. Occasionally I'll poke him and then pretend to be asleep. He's usually so groggy he doesn't know I'm the reason he's up. He'll either get dressed for work or start packing the diaper bag before he realizes all he needs to do is fill a bottle.

Myth #4 If she misses her nap, she'll fall asleep earlier and sleep through the night.

That just doesn't happen. Kids have their own schedules and just because they didn't sleep much the night before doesn't mean they'll sleep all day. Conversely, just because you keep them awake all day doesn't mean they'll sleep through the night. It's a lose-lose situation. Your best bet is to go with the flow and realize that time flies. There will be a time (I'm waiting anxiously that day) when you'll berate your teen-ager for doing nothing but sleeping then it's payback for all those early-morning wake-up calls.

Myth #5 They'll learn to sleep on their own.

There is a suggested method of training children to sleep that says let them cry. Show yourself occasionally, but don't pick them up or stimulate them in any way. Of course, you either need a heart of stone, miracle sleeping pills or a room in your neighbor's house to make that work. I can't do it. I've never been able to overcome my bleeding heart enough to go through with it.

In my pre-parenthood, morally-superior days, I said I'd never let my children become dependent on a bottle for sleep. Now that reality has hit, I'm more in a I'll-do-anything-including-but-not-limited-to-the-Mayan-chicken-feather-sleep-dance mode. Whatever it takes.

Katie finds it impossible to even contemplate sleep without her blankie, bottle and blue bear. The baby now only needs a bottle to forestall a 3 a.m. waking most times. I'm OK with that. When she's 16, we'll talk, but until then if that makes her tired, I'm all for it.

We have an established bedtime for the girls. That's our deadline, not theirs. If they hit it within an hour, we delude ourselves into thinking they hit the mark.

They rarely do.

The problem is when they fall asleep an hour before their "bedtime." Then we're stuck with unanswerable questions. Do we wake them now so they aren't wide awake at 11 o'clock? Or, do we let them sleep hoping they're down for the night?

Neither decision is ever correct.

And that's not a myth.

Assume the answer to every sleep-related question is just the opposite of what you think it is, knowing that the real answer is the opposite of everything you actually do.

Confusing? I know. Sleep on it.

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