Sleep No More

July 13, 2006 at 12:10 pm (Uncategorized)

My two-year-old son Andrew does many things exceptionally well. He has the vocabulary of a four-year old, can walk a mile or more, has flown to Asia and back with nary a peep, and eats lentils with curry and other foods not typically favored by his age group. He doesn’t mind taking baths or playing by himself. He is kind to the cat and genuinely tries to be helpful around the house. Yesterday he vacuumed the kitchen floor and unloaded the silverware from the dishwasher. He is even mostly potty-trained.

He does not sleep, however.

Perhaps I should be more specific. Andrew does not easily fall asleep, nor does he typically stay asleep through the night. This can be frustrating on the best of days, but especially so when I am feeling moody and depressed and want nothing more than to mope in bed, read the People magazine I lifted from the doctor’s, and turn in early. It is on these nights – and last night was one of them – that I am reminded of how truly stubborn my son is. This is nothing new. Ever since his infancy, Jay has parodied Macbeth when describing his son: “Sleep no more: Andrew doth murder sleep.” I don’t know about Andrew murdering sleep per say, but his sleep habits (or lack thereof) doth put me in a murderous frame of mind.

Let me give you a peek into life after 8:00 PM in our household. After dinner, Andrew gets to putter around the house and play with his approximately nine million matchbox cars. Then we herd him to a bath, wheedle with him to leave the bath after a good forty minutes, chase him around his bedroom, and force him into pyjamas. He has a final cup of milk, brushes his teeth (which means licking all the strawberry toothpaste off of the toothbrush and then demanding we brush his tongue, of all things), and at last hops into bed. Then we commence reading time. Andrew loves books. He has also advanced to the point of wanting stories with a plot and a conclusion, which means we can’t just skim a couple of picture books and be done. No, we read Paddington Bear, Babar, Madeline, Frog and Toad. We’re talking long stories, so we cut him off after two or three. He whines for more. “No, it’s sleep time,” we say, and turn off the light. Now the fun really begins.

It is now between 9:30 and 10:00. “Read me one more story,” Andrew says about a dozen times. We’ve learned in the child-rearing advice books that it’s important to calmly give the same response to late-night requests such as these. “No, it’s sleep time. The day is done. Go to sleep. We have a busy day tomorrow.” Finally he figures out he’s not going to get another story, and begins to strategize other ways to get out of bed. “I have to go pee,” he says. This one always wins him a trip to the bathroom the first time. He squeezes out a couple of drops of urine, and we return to bed. Two minutes later, a small voice pipes up in the gloom of his night-light- illuminated room. “I have to go pee again.” We take a deep breath. “No, sweetie. You just went.” He cries and whines. He’s tired, after all, so he’s cranky and volatile. Eventually, he forgets about his bladder and moves on to his bowels. “I have to go poop,” he proclaims. This also nets him one get-out-of bed-free card. Off we go to his little potty, where he sits for a few minutes and pouts that we won’t read him a story while he tries to use the bathroom. He never actually poops on these trips. Back to bed we go. “I have to go poop again,” comes the little voice. We go through a brief sob-fest about denying him access to the bathroom, and then things quiet down. His breathing grows steadier and begins to rasp in the back of throat. “Ahhh,” we think. “We got him.” The second that thought zips down our neural pathways, Andrew says clearly and loudly, “I’m thirsty. I want a drink.” And so it goes.

Last night, Andrew finally fell asleep around 11:30. This is late even for him and we were convinced he would sleep through the night. Not so. Around 4:00, he awoke from a bad dream and screamed, “Daddy, Daddy. Mommy, Mommy,” until Jay went to him in his bed and soothed him. For the next hour, he did this panicked yelling every fifteen minutes, before eventually drifting off until around 6:00, when he padded into our room, said “Hello,” in the brightest voice imaginable, hopped into our bed, chatted for a while and then slept until our babysitter, Andrea, arrived.

I honestly don’t want advice. We’ve tried every bit of folk wisdom and scientific conditioning method passed our ways. We’ve read books, and listened to friends. We’ve endured the incredibly obnoxious people who tell us, “Well, my little pookie slept through the night from the day we brought him home from the hospital.” We’ve ignored Andrew and let him cry and scream and pound on the door. He’s pounded for three hours. (Did I mention he is stubborn?) We’ve let him fall asleep on the floor. We’ve bought him special sheets and new stuffed animals to ward off scary thoughts. We’ve limited his fluid intake. We’ve tried putting him to bed earlier and later. We’ve made his room brighter and dimmer. We’ve played soft music. We’ve run the fan for background white noise. And the little man will simply not go gentle into that good night.

When he finally drifted off (for the first time) last night, I came back to our bed and began to tell Jay what a terrible mother I am for raising a boy that will not sleep. I imagined Andrew in middle school bellowing, “I have to go poop” at four in the morning while his father and I hover outside his room, clucking like concerned chickens that he has a math test the next day. I saw him in high school creeping into our bed and asking for a cup of milk. See, I tend to extrapolate situations to their worst possible conclusion. It’s truly a gift I have. But then Jay reminded me of all the things Andrew does so stunningly well. “It’s just who he is,” Jay told me. “He’ll learn when he’s ready.” Sage advice.

The funny thing is that in all the fretting about Andrew’s sleeplessness and stubbornness, I forgot to be depressed. I forgot about sarcoidosis and mortality and my prednisone hump and focused instead on the beautiful little boy who has graced us with his presence, but not with his sleep. My new better mood has persisted into the day. It’s as if my brain remembered that I have important things to worry about, and that the other stuff – the chronic illness and its retinue of woes – won’t respond to brooding or problem-solving. It’s better to focus on someone small and cute and very much awake in the dark. I appreciate all the concerned and thoughtful messages people have passed my way in the last couple of days in response to my darker entries. Your kindness holds me up. But really, I am all right. Tired, but hanging in there.

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