Monday, August 6, 2012

She's Not Tired! But I Am.

We're in that funny transition time, where the three year old of the house doesn't want to nap anymore, but dozes off at odd times. Like 5:00 pm just before dinner is ready. Sleep is sneaky; it comes as we read a story together, or watch a movie. We let her sleep for a bit but it's starting to interfere with our bedtime routines.

Daddy does the bedtime routine in this house. After I put in a 10 hour day without breaks, I read the bedtime stories while he gets them a snack, then he piggybacks them up the stairs. Teeth flossed and brushed, using the toilet, then everyone snuggles in. Robin tells them a story from when he was a little boy, then sings them the old Yorkshire song his mother sang to him: “There was an old woman and she had a little pig, Mmmmm, fed him on clover, wasn’t very big, Mmmm”. I can hear his voice through the ceiling, and settle in with my knitting (on a good night) or start washing dishes (on a normal night).

He makes every effort to be here for this routine, but occasionally his schedule as a musician takes him away from home before bedtime.

I’m not sure what came first. Did the kids start goofing off and being uncooperative every time I put them to bed so that he took over that routine? Or do they goof off because I don’t usually do it?

I follow the same ritual he does: story/snack, teeth, pee, into bed, story from my childhood, song. I kiss them all hopefully, and quietly leave the room.

The room is peaceful. The windows are covered, a fan blows on low, the nightlight creates a narrow bridge of light over the bed. Handmade quilts cover the beds, and the floor is clear of obstacles that might trip a wandering sleeper. 

Twenty minutes pass peacefully, then she starts.

I want Mooooommmmmmeeeeeeee. And repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat until I hear the door click open, small feet pad down the hall, and Jude’s voice whining, "I can’t TAKE this CRYING anymore!!"

I encourage him to tell her how her crying is affecting his sleep, and to let her know that I won’t be coming upstairs. I know when he has delivered this message because the crying just gets louder.

I KNOW there is nothing wrong with her. She is good and tired, is warm and comfortable, has a full tummy and the company of her siblings. This is an ancient power struggle, and she chooses to wage it with me every single time daddy goes out and leaves me on my own with the bedtime routine.

Many ideas for plans of action float through my brain, most of them involving wine and cigarettes. But alas, escaping to the front porch is not an option at this point, as I'm six months pregnant.

Jude finally creeps into my bed, and eventually I hear the door open as Margot’s yelling gets louder. She comes to the top of the stairs. I don’t WANT to sleep in my bed. I’m not TIRED!! When her feet start down the steps I decide that I’ll be damned if I let her set foot on the downstairs floor.

I gently carry her back up as she flails and kicks, insisting that she does NOT want to sleep in her bed and that she is NOT tired. I bring her into the sun porch which spans the front of our house. It offers a comprehensive view of the farm. I talk gently as she cries and yells, telling her about the angels that live in those pink clouds over there. I tell her that they're wondering why Margot Joy is still awake, and why she insists on crying so loudly. Doesn’t she know that the butterflies, trees, fairies, berries, and all living things are trying to go to sleep? 

At the mention of fairies, the crying abates. I tell her that we can’t see them, but beneath the tansy, hollyhocks, and golden rod growing just below us, the mama fairies are tucking their babies into their flower beds. Could she maybe sing a lullaby to them? After a few deep breaths to calm her sobs, she starts to sing “Twinko, twinko, witto staw”…

When I tell her that I just heard a fairy snoring, she smiles. 

But, alas, as soon as she feels my weight shift to make the move for her room, she starts up with renewed vigour. I get her into her bed, insisting that she needs to stay there now, and of course Violet wakes up. I step out of their room for a moment, to a rising cacophony of shrieks and complaints. At this point I feel as if putting a pillow over someone’s face (theirs? My husband’s? My own?) would take care of things nicely. But it’s only a fleeting thought, because Margot is banging on the bedroom door, reminding me hysterically that she is NOT tired and she does not WANT to sleep in her own bed (as if I could ever forget).

I swoop in and lift Violet from the bed, and carry her to my room where she gets in with Jude. Margot beats at my bedroom door, but I remind her that she has to sleep in her bed. This is a first; since birth, she has shared a room, and I always make sure she has a bed mate no matter where we sleep. But at age 3 and having strong verbal and reasoning skills, I want her to get the idea that her screaming has caused this isolation; Jude and Violet want to sleep and can’t because of her noise.

I step out for a moment, to gather my wits again, and call my mother quickly for backup support. As we chat and I swear a lot (it just helps me vent), I hear the crying abate, and eventually all is quiet.

I creep down the stairs, but before my foot hits the bottom step, she starts again. Between hysterical gasps and sobs, she comes to the top of the stairs to once again remind me that she…is…not…yawwwn…tired!! I know by the jaw-cracker of a yawn that she is unaware now of how tired she is.

I get her back into bed and assure her that as long as she stops crying, I’ll sit with her. In 10 minutes, she is fast asleep. My bum is numb, my sciatic nerve is aching, it’s 9:30 pm and I still haven’t washed the dishes.

Where is that pillow? Oh, right. My bed is full of kids that I’m afraid to move for fear of waking their tyrant of a little sister. I write a quick note to my husband: Bedtime from hell. I'm bagged but managed not to kill anyone. Therefore, the dishes will wait till tomorrow. J and V in our bed; gonna try to carry them into their own room so I can sleep. Open to ideas on how to make bedtime easier when you go out. S

The next morning, she greets me with tousled head, bright eyes, crumpled nightie. She doesn't mention the night before. And I don't either. We forgive each other our transgressions as an exhausted mama and an exhausted three year old. It's over now. We'll try again sometime soon.


  1. Oh mama, I totally get it. S doesn't want to nap either and ends up cat napping at 4:30. Then she wants to go to bed at 9:30 but not without us in the room. And then she wake up at 5:45 comes to our room waking up the baby in the process. So I go to sleep without rest and get up before my brain is ready. I'm not sure what to do either.... I look forward to see what others who have come to the other side say.

  2. I'm sorry, Stephanie, but I got stuck on the floss their teeth part. Wow - flossing teeth knocks you into superstar league for me.

  3. This post. I feel this way so thoroughly some nights. I think you captured so well the way parenting takes over everything and how you have no other choice but to keep at it. You also capture the beauty of divide and conquer parenting ;) In our house I read the story, take Shira to their room to nurse before bed, and then I'm done. Matt handles Alyce's snack and show before bed, teeth, and tucking her in bed an hour later.

  4. Hugs to you for this - the honesty of the story, and for living through this many times...I've been there too...

  5. I hear you sister. My wee lassie plays all these games too, and when you combine it with her 9 year old sister's insomnia/reading obsession, we have for some frustrating nights around here too. I'm always open to suggestions, but for now I just take it one night at a time! Hang in there. Eventually they figure out that sleep is good...

  6. Elena, your comment cracked me up. Their teeth only get flossed on the very rare nights that I put them to bed, which is why I'm vigilant about it...about once a month! :)
    Sleep has been one of the things we did really well (we feel), in that our kids go to bed happily every night, and sleep right through...they're very well-rested, generally. I think this is why I get more rattled by not-so-good bedtimes, and that it's kind of personal...only happens when I put them to bed!!

  7. And this is the exact scenario that inspired the best selling "children's" book: Go The F&*K to Sleep!!" It is hell when it is like this.

  8. Stephanie, The flossing thing is what I get nailed for every dentist appt. The hygenist sits me down, puts a gentle hand on my shoulder and says, "We need to talk. About flossing." I always feel that I am one step away from being reported to CAS for daring to have so many children and not being able to floss as many teeth as I have managed to produce.
    Re. bedtime. We do bedtime well - all fall asleep well and sleep wonderfully. That said, two fall asleep almost immediately, two are still in the baby stage and two are sometimes up til 10pm. Of the final two, the 4.5yr old counts as one. This bugs my mom but I have realised after 10 years of parenting that I can't change them, I can't force sleep but I can keep them in their bedrooms and out of my sacred space signaled by 7:30pm on the clock.

  9. You are an amazing parent. You know that. I'm not sure if you're soliciting advice here, but we did one thing with Joseph that really helped his problem of getting out of bed. We made a sign together called "Joseph's Bedtime Steps"
    Step 1: Joseph stays in bed.
    Step 2: Joseph lies quietly.
    Step 3: Joseph closes his eyes.
    Step 4: Joseph goes to sleep.
    Step 5: If Joseph does all his steps, in the morning he gets a treat and a sticker!
    The last thing we did before I left the room for the night was read his steps to him.
    We had made the sign together, drawn a picture of Joseph in his bed, a picture of treats and decorated it with stickers. (Of course the reward can be anything of value)
    It worked like a charm. If we heard him out of bed, we'd say loudly "I hope Joseph is in his bed doing his steps so he can get his treat and sticker in the morning!" and we'd hear pitter patter back to bed.
    That said, he never sreamed like Margot, so it wasn't as bad to start with.


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