Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Baby Nuthouse: to sleep, perchance to stay asleep

The other day, I was talking to a friend about her dog, who has been waking her up in the wee hours, barking. Each time, fearing a mess on the floor, she takes him outside. Then, he wants to play.

In many ways, kids and dogs are not so different, and I shared my own experiences about how quickly a habit is formed. If a baby happens to wake up at 2 a.m., and then gets to play or cuddle with Mommy or Daddy, then the next night she might just happen to wake up at 2 a.m. again. It seems that after just two times, you’re stuck with a new middle-of-the-night routine.

So, I gave her my best advice. Put in ear plugs, and let him bark, and don’t let him out until morning. Of course, I won’t have to clean up the mess if it turns out he can’t wait, so easy for me to say, right? But, as I pointed out, she can’t keep waking up every single night forever. And her pup is unlikely to break the habit on his own.

As is usually the way of the universe, that very night after I confidently dispensed my sage advice, my 2-year-old daughter woke up in the wee hours. I let her cry for a while, but she didn’t let up. Her cries became increasingly louder and more insistent. Finally, when she began hysterically repeating “WHERE ARE YOU MOMMY? WHERE ARE YOU MOMMY?” I dragged myself out of bed and went to get her.

When I picked her up, she clung to me with such force that I simply walked back to my bed and cuddled up with her.

The following night, at around the same time, surprise! She woke up again. This time she skipped all the useless proceedings and went straight to hysterical. I instinctively leapt out of bed, surmising that she must be under attack by a pack of coyotes. But when I got to her room, there were no coyotes. There she was, standing in her crib, still crying, her hands raised, waiting for me to whisk her away.

I think my problem (besides that I am a sucker) is the speaking thing.

When babies are little, we can interpret their cries according to our own beliefs, emotions, and experience.

With my firstborn, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” meant: “He is so sad and lonely. He feels abandoned. The world is so large and confusing and he needs someone to hold him while he falls asleep.”

For my third child, the very same “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” now could be interpreted as: “She’s so tired. She just needs to fall asleep.”

But then, they start talking, and we are no longer free to translate their cries into whatever seems to be working at the time. It starts with “Mama” or “Dada.” Then they reach the toddler stage and start coming up with these phrases, such as the aforementioned “Where are you, Mommy?” Another favorite of mine is, “Mommy, I want you!”

Someday this stage will pass. Someday I won’t wake up at 4:30 a.m. with three children who all insist on sleeping right next to me. We’ll move on to other issues and other challenges.

Meanwhile, I’ll just try to break this early morning waking habit. But if I don’t want to be affected by my little girl’s increasingly coherent pleadings, I think I better spend the night somewhere else.

1 comment:

Meaghan said...

If you discover a solution to this problem (which also plagues my happy, sleep-deprived home) please share.

And if you decide to sleep somewhere else, let me know if you have a free couch.

P.S. Coyotes: funny.