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.

A Day of Rest

A problem, how I made it a bigger problem, and the eventual solution:

This week was exhausting. Devastatingly, heart-disease-causing, soul-wrenchingly exhausting.

Something is shaking Butter awake at night, at least once an hour, and making him scream as though his head were being severed from his body with a rusty grapefruit spoon. Ear infection? Teething? Intense training by the CIA to see how I react to Guantanamo-levels of sleep deprivation? I don’t know. He’s often asleep as he starts yelling but wide awake and responsive when I talk to or touch him. I ask if he hurts, he says no. Blood-curdling scream. Do you want a cuddle? No. Wall-shaking scream. Do you need to pee? No. Neighbor-ending scream. I pat his back or cuddle him or get him up for a drink of water. He screams then cries then grabs my hair and pulls it, then kicks me until I explain the mechanics of loving mamas and their limits, then eventually gets so tired he falls asleep. For about half an hour.

It was so bad one night (perhaps Thursday?), so terrible and painful and awful because I couldn’t understand and couldn’t stop him and couldn’t get more than 15 minutes of sleep in a row without being blasted with the air raid siren in his adorable throat that at 4 a.m. I took him out of the bed (he comes into our bed around 1 a.m. most nights, but by 10 p.m. this week), put him on the floor, held him by the hand as we walked to the hallway, then shut the door behind him and let him scream in the hall while I stumbled back to bed.

Nice? No. Terrible? Yes. Feel more than free to judge if you have slept fewer than three hours a night, in short bursts punctuated by emergency-caliber adrenaline rushes. For a week. More sleep than that and you may unleash your judgement for my many other failings but shut yer piehole about the late night choices I made.

[Also? Pushing a screaming toddler out of my room because I was going to kill him otherwise? Totally woke older child and made him grouchy the next day. Just FYI when you’re considering horrible and heartless ways to nighttime parent a small, confused, helpless creature. I let it go on for about 15 seconds, but that was too long for everyone.]

I also tried sleeping on the couch at 2 a.m. one morning, but Butterbean cried so piteously about my departure, for so long while Spouse tried in vain to cuddle him, that I couldn’t sleep and returned to the lion’s den.

I’m 87% dead. How do I know it’s not 100%? I can still make coffee. How do I know it’s more than 75%? I can’t be bothered to work on my book.

So what? you ask. Big deal. Raising kids is exhausting and hard and mysterious and punctuated by phases of awful. We all know that. Those who don’t will find out. The diaper ads reveal only the copious amounts of cute brought to a household by a baby, moments of which are absolutely true, but the montage of which is doubtless gleaned from hours of regular baby stuff, which is one part cute, one part gross, one part infuriating, and one part heartbreaking.

So you know genuinely soul-sucking nights are normal. Me, too. Why blog it?

Because I learned something about myself this week.

I’m a raging asshole when tired.

Now, those who know me understand that the baseline of my unsavory personality characteristics is pretty low. To be a raging asshole is actually my default. And so, since becoming a mother, is being tired. I have two naturally wakeful kids and have not slept through the night in more than seven years. When Peanut started sleeping through the night at age 3.25, I was in heaven, skipping gloriously through my days, and got pregnant that week. Butter has still not slept through the night.

So I’m running on empty and I’m not nice.

But this week pushed me over a precipitous edge to a dark place. I yelled at my kids for every single thing they did. Fighting? Let me yell at you for that. Not listening? How about I yell at you. Asking for a lollypop? I have this riot act I will herewith read you at the top of my angry voice.

I was a cartoon of grouchy, impatient nastiness by Thursday. I took out on these delicious young people all my dissatisfaction with the week’s lowest moments.

So today I took today off. I’m getting a cold, borne I’m sure, of a week in which I slept twelve hours total. We had a full day of family activities planned…all delightful and full of people we enjoy.

But I knew it was today or never. Other times that I have been really sick, Spouse is often out of town. Or has the sort of work obligations he absolutely can’t back out of. Today was full of optional, awesome, fun not-obligations. So I told Spouse last night to prepare for a day of solo parenting. I told the kids this morning I would not be getting out of bed.

I’m sick. More honestly I’m sick and tired.

And for the first time in my life, I refuse to push through. I finished a triathlon with a stress fracture. I finished a client deadline and wound up with carpal tunnel syndrome. I finished both my degrees in minimal time with highest honors.

But I’m not going to a birthday party today.

Spouse made me soup. It was perfect. Peanut read to me. He was perfect. Butter sat on me and rolled all over me and tickled me and threw the cat at me. He’s two. Everything and nothing they do is perfect except when they grab you in big, sloppy, off-balance hugs.

I did not parent them. I loved them and enjoyed them and shooed them out of the room when I’d had enough and wanted a nap. But I did not parent them.

And I don’t plan to. Not at all today. Eat nothing but cookies if that’s what your father proposes. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your joy. Brush teeth or not. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your overall well-being. If When you fight you find solutions or let your father help you. I’m sick. I’m tired. There’s no benefit to any of us if I engage in that nonsense.

I will not tell you how or what to do. Because until I recharge my dangerously depleted batteries, nothing I say is of much use to you.

I learned this week that I have nothing to offer when I’m depleted. And this was a hard-won and stark reminder that I must refill the tanks or I must shut my mouth and let them run around like wild hooligans. Because there is nothing to be gained by hanging on by my fingernails and then bringing them down with me.

So. Who wants to eat ice cream in bed with their totally abdicating mother?

[Note: I vowed not to get out of bed, but the second they left the house I cleaned out my closet, reorganized the garage sale pile, cooked dinner, read a chapter of a nonfiction book, paid the bills, did the dishes, watered the plants, and organized the photo files so I can make this year’s photo albums online. All with a horrible headache and a sore throat. I’m really bad at this relaxing thing. But I’m proud that I at least said I would. Baby steps.]

Please, please learn to talk

Butter at 19 months has about 10 spoken words and maybe 75 ASL signs. So I generally have some idea what he’s saying. Some.

But the past three nights he’s cried in his sleep, off and on, from 11-12, then awoke, screaming at midnight. And nothing consoles him. He cries loud enough to wake Peanut, who really needs sleep lately. It’s not pain, I know from the cry and from his answers to questions.

Nothing I do gets Butter back to sleep. Quiet supportive presence? Nope. Cuddling and rocking? No. Bringing him to bed with me? Nothing but screaming and climbing and flopping around. Being close is my default during the day because of a de-light-ful separation anxiety phase.

nothing works until 2am when he gets tired of being incoherent.

And as always, he’s up at 4am to scream and wake his brother unless I nurse him and put him back down. And then he’s up for good at 6am.

We’re all dragging around here.

No ear infection. No teething. No freaking idea what this baby needs. But I really really hope he learns to say it soon so we can all sleep.

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.)

Freaking exhausted

“What are the odds,” people said. “Of course the second one will sleep.”

Oh, dear Aphrodite, I’m tired.

Peanut didn’t sleep well. As a newborn he work the typical every two hours. He extended his longest sleep to three, four, five, even six hours until he started teething. Some nights we was up, screaming in pain, several times an hour. I’d comfort him to sleep, and he’d wake three minutes later. When not teething he woke every three hours. For three years and two months.

Of course that won’t happen again.

When Peanut was a newborn, other moms commiserated. Then they dropped like flies as their children started sleeping longer.

“Yeah, it was hard, but six months is much better.” So I hung on until six months. Six teeth, no sleep.

“Once he turned a year he magically slept.” So I hung on until one year. Thirteen teeth, no sleep.

“Wean him at night and he’ll sleep.” I didn’t believe it, but at eighteen months was losing my mind and probably clinically depressed so I night weaned. Twenty teeth, solid food, no sleep.

His first pediatrician told me to read a couple of studies that offered stats and findings about how some kids are just not sleepers. And that all kids reach adult sleep patterns by age three or four. I made him promise there were no seven year olds in his practice who woke frequently. He promised. So I hung on past age two.

Peanut’s second pediatrician said her daughter was the same, and that after age two you can reason with a waker, and explain how other family members need sleep and they need to pull up the covers, close their eyes, and go back to sleep as long as it’s dark. I hung on past age three.

With no fanfare, warning, rhyme, or reason, he slept through the night at three years two months. For four months his nightmares woke him but he didn’t need help back to sleep. Now the nightmares leave him screaming in his sleep but he doesn’t usually wake.

“Of course the second one will sleep. What are you, cursed?”

Butter woke every two hours as a newborn. Then extended his longest sleep to three, four, five, six, seven hours. And then he got ear infections. He went to every hour waking. Then two hours, now three hours. After I promised to worship the goddesses of nighttime he went six hours. For a week.

And now we’re back to every three hours.

Some kids are not made to sleep well until their sleep cycles mature. They’re not waking out of habit or to manipulate or because their parents aren’t doing the “right” things. If you think that, in the words of William Goldman, “feel free to flee.” My cousins woke every three hours for three years. My nieces wake about that (they’re almost two). Peanut woke that often. My friend’s daughter woke that often. My pediatrician’s daughter woke that often. My friends’ son is still waking that often.

But I don’t want to wake that often.

I don’t really want to talk logistics. Both boys go to sleep easily, wide awake, in their own beds. This is not a nurse-to-sleep issue or a rocking issue, though if it were, I’ve read the book to address it. About half the time I can get Butter back to sleep with a pat on the back, so it’s not a nurse to sleep issue (though if it were, I’ve read the book to address it). If it was any of those, and you felt the need to judge, you may back away from the computer, bend over, and kiss my ass . I have no time for people who sleep judging my desperation. And if the words “cry it out” are dancing around in your brain, keep ’em to yourself.

My friends fall into two categories: people whose children wake often at night, and everyone else. The difference, I’m convinced, is not childfree vs. parent. It’s families of any stripe who sleep vs. those who don’t.

I don’t begrudge people who sleep and whose children sleep. Mazel tov, I say, and many more great nights to you. But I also want to cry with self pity and sleep deprivation.

I’d really just like to rest.

Really, really want to rest.

A plea for sleep

Dear goddess of babies who wake every two hours:
Thank you for passing my child off to the next goddess. I appreciate your care in those first weeks. I don’t miss you. I’m sure you understand.

Dear goddess of babies who wake every three hours:
We’ve spent a lot of time and effort with my children, oh goddess. My first child was in your care for three-plus years before you handed him over to the goddess of children who sleep all night. So I’m thinking you need a break. You’ve had responsibility for my second child for nigh on five months, and I’d like to ask that you relinquish him to the goddess next door. I know he visited with the goddess of babies who wake every five hours a few times last month, and you can see he did fine there. Your extra care and nurturing should be for newer babies who need the extra milk. Bring him next door, please.

Dear goddess of babies who wake every four hours:
Please don’t be home when your neighbor, Three Hours, comes knocking.

Dear goddess of babies who wake every five hours:
I’m calling on you, oh goddess because your wonderful, growth-inspiring nurturing is just what my son needs. Keep your eye out for Three Hours and greet her if Four Hours isn’t home. Please accept the care of my dear baby. Please watch over him and let him sleep, uninterrupted, for five hours twice a night. Help him grow and develop in whatever ways are right for him.

Unless you’re caring for too many wonderful babies. Then pass him on to the goddess of children who sleep all night. I won’t tell Three Hours, who seems to have taken a shine to my whole family. He’ll be fine with All Night and I’ll be over the moon. False idols, nothing, I’ll create a whole shrine to you.

We’re paying our kid to sleep through the night

Well, really, we’re offering our kid stickers to sleep through the night. We’ll see what happens. We gave him three stickers tonight and told him that each time he calls us and we have to come in, we’re taking a sticker back to bed with us. Whatever’s left in the morning he can keep. Whatever we take away gets back onto his bookshelf to try again the next night.

Because seriously, this shit has to stop.

For the record, when he’s scared from a nightmare or cold or hurt, I’m happy to go to him. It’s my job. It’s called parenting. No, we didn’t co-sleep. Couldn’t do it. Variety of reasons. Be gentle with me. I know what follows is not nice. But we’ve tried everything except letting him cry, and I’m hoping bribery is slightly better long-term.

And I know paying him to sleep is totally against our parenting ideas. A child who wakes at night and really needs help, we say, is a child who gets our help. We’ve tried just letting it go. We’ve tried the pediatrician-recommended straight talk express: “Your body needs sleep, mommy’s body needs sleep, daddy’s body needs sleep. When you call for us at nighttime for a cuddle, you wake us up and we don’t get much sleep. If we don’t get much sleep, we get cranky. You don’t like us cranky, so let us sleep. Cuddle your doll and don’t call us.” Didn’t work. He tried hard. But he can’t help waking. He can, however, control whether he calls us or not.

Yeah, well, last night there were seven times between 3am and 4:30am when he NEEDED his socks pulled up and NEEDED his tucked-in covers more tucked in and NEEDED to find a place to put his tissue. So needed them so much that he called out, then called out, then cried, then sobbed. So I told him, each time that he cried enough to convince me he was awake and genuinely sad, and I got out of bed and onto freaking crutches in the wee hours, that he did not need me for those things, and that he was old enough to do it himself. From his doorway I refused to help. Bad parenting awards can be sent to 123 Years I Haven’t Slept, NotNiceParentville, Crappy Parentland, 01234.

And so help me, the seventh time I went in, when he, fifteen minutes after visit number six to his doorway, asked, then begged, then cried, then sobbed that he needed his socks pulled up again, I yelled at him that if he woke me again he’d have to sleep in the yard. He cried. “I don’t want to sleep in the yard.” He’s two and a half. I’m not nice. I’m going to parenting hell. You don’t threaten your kid with sleeping in the yard. That’s not attachment, that’s disordered. I don’t want to yell. But he is capable of sleeping through the night. He’s done it before. He’s just pushing my buttons, and I’m out of patience. I haven’t slept in three years.

Hence the sticker bribe.

I don’t know what else to do. When he was tiny this was expected. When he was wordless, it was still normal, if hard. Now he’s big enough to do most things on his own, if not well. We respect him all his waking hours, but have lost the will to live from 10pm to 5am.

So we’re paying him to leave us alone at night. I’ll let you know how it goes.