Nightmares made funny

Butterbean, at the ripe old age of Four, has dozens of nightmares a week. And like his mother, he talks in his sleep, so I hear the dialogue for a lot of his worst dreams.


It would seem, from circumstantial evidence around midnight, that his older brother and his preschool friends torment him, a lot, in his dreams. It would seem, from what he bellows at the imaginary aggressors in his dreams, that nobody gives him a turn.

And that he had it first.

And that people should just…NO!…just stop and…NO!…people should..NOOOOOOO!…just knock it off. Times infinity.

He had a lot of nightmares the other night. I stopped working to walk upstairs and comfort him at least a dozen times. I smoothed his hair. I adjusted his covers. I woke him to use the bathroom.

And he kept yelling at all the people wronging him and taking his toys and making him wait too long. Including me.

“Mommy! Mooooommmm? Stop it!” Out like a light and yelling at me for maligning him.

So I turned off the computer and put him in my bed. I brushed my teeth in the dark and climbed in. And the first few times he kicked and bellowed, I smoothed his hair and Shhhhhh’d him.

And within 20 minutes, he was laughing out loud in his sleep.

He giggled and curled in a ball and snuggled next to me.

And laughed some more.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

But I did for just one night what I won’t be able to do during the days: I stopped whatever he perceived as injustice. And I got him comfortable enough to laugh.

Would that it were that easy, through his life, to stop all the injustice, to get him everything he wants, and make him comfortable enough to laugh. I wouldn’t it I could, of course, but I really want to. That’s not my job. Life will be unfair, he will be left wanting, and many days he won’t have the space to giggle. But if I fix everything he’ll never be a fully functioning adult.

For now, though, I get some space, in the dark of the small numbers, to make everything better.

That is my superpower.

Obstacle Course

I want to be writing a post right now, but a dark cloud has settled over both children and they are taking turns waking and crying. There was only a half an hour during which they were both quiet today. It involved one taking a really late nap and the other building heroes and monsters.

So I summon up patience reserves and ask softly what they need. I don’t want them to need right now. I want to write. I put off what I want all day to do what they need, and now I want to write a blog post.

I want to be writing a chapter right now, but the house is a mess and the lunches aren’t made. I did a darned fine job making three nice meals and two snacks today.

But there are no milestones. There is no “done.” Relentless. It’s not back-breaking or war-torn or subsistence-level. But it’s relentless.

Now I summon up the will to tidy, clean, and slather protein goop onto bread for lunches tomorrow. I don’t want to think about other people’s food right now. I want to write. I’ve been putting it off all day, mindful of what my two small creatures need, and now I want to write a chapter.

I want to be reading a book right now, but I’m unfocused and can’t give the words the time they deserve. I try twice and give up. I hear another crying child, see a pile of clothes for the laundry, and smell leftovers waiting to be tucked into the fridge.

Now I try to summon the maturity to give up for the night. I don’t want to call it a day. I want to write and read and create and marvel and think. I put all of those aside today, promising myself “later” while I enjoyed the play and resented the battles and joined in the lives of other people. I’ve been answering requests for 22 hours. And now I want to be me.

The day started at midnight when the littlest one woke crying for water. He chases away my REM cycles every hour or so after the night is enumerated in single digits. The older one woke before dawn and started whistling the joyful chorus of those without front teeth. They both pushed hard all day, trying to fill every moment with fun and beauty and learning. I tried to keep up. And be responsible and tidy and mindful and nice. I tried to feed them and teach them what they need to know to be decent humans. I did a fine job considering how little I sleep each night and how mad I get when Elvis Costello tauntingly reminds me that every day he writes the book. Every day. The book I’m neither writing nor reading.

So if I quit and go to bed, Elvis Costello wins. And I can’t have that.

Consider the post written and the lunches done. Next: draft a chapter. Then: read one sentence and fall asleep.

Win-win-win-win. Take that, Elvis.

Eeyore by necessity

Sleep deprivation makes you cranky, fat, and dangerous.

It also makes you gloomy.

Take a look at this finding, reported in a New York Magazine feature that is, as far as I can tell, the same as the third chapter in Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman:

“Perhaps most fascinating, the emotional context of a memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine.” (p. 3 in the NYM article linked and p. 35 in the book)

Great. Fat, grumpy, and incapable of retaining joy.

I can’t wait to hang out with me, ‘cuz that’s a winning combination.

(On a related note, how do I not have a category titled “Holy Guacamole, I Need Sleep!”? My first didn’t sleep through the night until he was over Three. The second is not exactly on the fast track to quiet nights, with or without ear infections, teething, and gobs of physical exertion. So I filed this under everything except Yoga. I’m too tired for yoga.)

(Also? Go read Nurture Shock. There are chapters on praise, sleep, race, lying, gifted programs, siblings, teenagers, self-control, social skills, and language; all compelling, well written, clear, thoroughly researched and revelatory.) I’ll leave the superlatives to the cover matter, but suffice it to say I will finish it before I finish The Pale King. That’s huge, given how little reading time I have and how much I want to read DFW’s final novel. Go get it. Library, local bookstore, friend…I don’t care. Read. This. Book.)


At the risk of having everything go downhill again, I have to say it is GLORIOUS to finally have a kid who sleeps through the night most of the time. He started having regular 10 hour nights at 27 months, but it was only 3 or 4 nights a week. Now, a year later, after having a taste but never getting into a rhythm, at 3.3, it’s 5 or 6 nights a week. He still talks and yells a lot in his sleep, but it doesn’t seem to wake him anymore. So I go back to sleep quickly. And I have to say, I’m much nicer, happier, and less stressed. My temper is more controlled and I have a lot more patience…this must be why other parents like their kids. And like parenting. And actually consider having another (let’s not go that far…)

That’s all. I’m coming out firmly in favor of sleep. I really like it. And I’m all universe-thankingly happy that there’s more of it in our house.

Wee hours

Yesterday was a really tough day for Peanut, and though he’s been sleeping much better…wait, I need to address that:

Attention sleepless moms: don’t let the books and the advice fool you. Some kids just don’t sleep until they’re two or three. No matter what you do. They’re just too mentally or physically active to stay asleep. And abandoning them at night just sends mixed messages but doesn’t “fix” them. [Please don’t email me to tell me how to get my kid to sleep. And please don’t email to tell me cry-it-out isn’t cruel. It is. And I do know how tired you are and I do know why you felt you had to try. I’m not judging your desperation, I’m just not going to use your method. I’ve read every book and talked to everyone who has an opinion, story, or child. Most books don’t address our situation. And my child goes to bed easily, happily, lovingly. He falls asleep by himself because he always has and prefers it that way, but he can’t stay asleep more than 3 hours at a time. Not his fault. Not habit (and don’t you think that if habit was a successful way to wake up that alarms would be obsolete? Not sleeping is not your child’s fault. I know you don’t want to hear that you may not sleep for a while. But you might now. At one point I asked my pediatrician to swear on his life that he didn’t have any eight-year-old patients who didn’t sleep through the night. He promised. I was desperate, desperate, painfully desperate for 18 months, then hysterical for 6 months, then resigned for six months. And at 2 1/2, there it was. A full night. And another. And another.

In other cultures, parents don’t expect kids to sleep until two or three. What’s hard here is that they’re “supposed to” and, therefore, either they or we are failures if nights are regularly, if not frequently, interrupted. I mean, I know Americans have some good reasons to think they’re awesome, but do you really think you’re so awesome you give birth to superhumans who sleep better than the rest of the planet? Come on.

My resignation to my fate doesn’t mean I haven’t almost lost my mind to sleep deprivation. But I know lots of really good parents with really good kids who didn’t all sleep through the night until three years had passed. And I’m surrounded by parents who made it through and parents who are struggling to get there, and we’re in it together. Except at 3 a.m. Because nothing is lonelier than caring for a wailing child at 3 a.m. Don’t care who you are, it’s tough to feel that alone.)

Back to the story.

Though he’s been sleeping better lately, yesterday was really hard for him, so nighttime was hard. The day was filled with sharing (his current nightmare of choice) and playdates and hitting (he’s getting it back now and doesn’t like it) and infrequent snacks (the child is more calorie-dependent than even his mother, and that’s saying a lot) and a timeout; so he was just guaranteed a difficult night. He tossed and turned, he yelled in his sleep (mostly, “No share! No share no hit!”), he woke every few hours. He needed help a few times, including one justifiable need for the potty. It was dark, I was half asleep but carried him silently to the bathroom, helped him, and redressed him. He went right back to sleep. Three hours later he called me through the monitor:

“Mommy! Underpants! Mommy, underpants! Mommy. Underpaaaaaants.”

I’m irritated, thinking we’re having a “I need to choose another pair” moment as we do in daytime. In the light of day that nonsense is fine with me. Control what goes in your own pants. Fine. At night? No way.

So I go to him and he says “P*nis stuck.”(“I’m sure it is,” I think, “since you never leave it alone. Probably caught it in the waistband, didn’t you?”) I lift the waistband and let gravity work its magic.

“There you go, Mommy fixed it.”

“Mommy no fix it. P*nis stuck.”

“Okay, stand up. I’ll try again.” I reach to help him up and get a handful of cheek. Nude.

I had put both his legs into one leg hole during his late night peebreak. He’d slept three hours hanging out the side of his unders.

Nice work, ma.

I fixed my error and asked, “Is that better?”

“Yeah.” Lies down, sleeps.

When do they learn to walk down the hall to take care of that themselves? Probably before he regularly sleeps through the night, right?