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Thursday, April 24, 2014

You Never Know What You're Gonna Get

My four little darlings have been bombarding me at every turn with their quirky little personalities. Sometimes I just laugh because this life cracks me up. My kids are so hilariously perfect in their imperfections.

The other night after a long day at school and then therapy, I took Ben to McDonald's for dinner. We were going to eat IN McDonald's too, not just go through the drive-thru! Ben was ecstatic. As we entered the restaurant, Ben's untied shoelace got stuck in the bottom of the metal doorframe thingy. He shrieked as loudly as an 11-year-old can "MY AGLET!! MY AGLET IS STUCK!!!" until I was able to successfully untangle his shoe from the door frame.

Thank you to the show Phineas and Ferb for teaching our family what an 'aglet' is.

As if that weren't enough embarrassment for one Mama, the drama continued to the burger. Ben ordered a plain Big Mac. He sat down. He got his burger. He peeled off the crackly paper. And got VERY loud and indignant because he had been given a plain double cheeseburger instead of a Big Mac. Which made the entire population of the restaurant turn to stare us down. Again. (Social skills and appropriate public behavior are still something we can work on.) 

Ben insisted that I right this wrong that had been committed against humanity. 

I personally don't know, and don't care, how a Big Mac differs from a double cheeseburger, but it was obviously life-or-death-important to my son. So I sheepishly went back to the counter and explained that my son's order was wrong and we needed to have it right. 

The McDonald's workers looked at me like I had three heads. But I calmly explained that apparently there was a bun missing between the burgers, or something, and therefore it was not what my son had ordered, and he needed a new burger.

Ben got his Big Mac, plain, with the bun where it should be, and we moved on with our night. Apparently the bun-to-burger ratio is extremely important in Ben's World.

Ella has realized that letters put together make words. So every time we're in the car, she spends pretty much the entire ride quizzing me on how to spell words. I feel like I'm back in my 8th grade spelling bee every time I enter a car with my daughter. (I won that spelling bee, by the way. It's my only claim to fame. I got to the District level, thank you very much. This was the year we came back from Africa for good, so just imagine a frumpy little missionary kid, standing up on stage, totally out of her element, and STILL winning! Want to know the word I lost on? avarice. I spelled it avErice. Duh! That was the end of my spelling bee run.)

We get in the car, I back out of the driveway, and it begins. 
"Mama. How do you spell 'red'?"
"Mama. How do you spell 'zebra'?"
"Mama. How do you spell 'TwinkletwinklelittlestarhowIwonderwhatyouare'?"

I just keep spelling for her. I love when little lightbulbs go off and you actually SEE your child learning right in front of your eyes. She's learning about words and reading and spelling! She's getting it! I will admit it's a bit hard to drive, spell, keep kids from fighting in the backseat, turn on the movie, hand out crackers, and stay sane behind the wheel, but somehow I make it work. 

Aidan. Dear, sweet Aidan. He is obsessive about this "Did you know" app he got on his phone. Wherever we go…
"Mom, did you know that you can lead a cow up stairs but not down stairs?"
"Mom, did you know that Shakespeare invented the words 'assassination' and 'puking'?"
"Mom, did you know cats spend 66% of their life asleep?" 
--what i wouldn't give to be a cat--
"Mom, did you know it takes 40 minutes to hard boil an ostrich egg?"
"Mom, did you know you're more likely to be killed by a champagne cork than a poisonous spider?"
"Mom, did you know 'rhythm' is the longest word without a vowel?"

and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on

And guess where this barrage of "did you know" happens the most? The car. That's right. I've got one kid giving me a spelling bee. One kid spouting out random facts I will never remember and never need to know and…then there's Jonah.

Jonah is into voices. He can do so many hilarious imitations, it's hysterical. Every time we get in the car, he does all his Muppet voices. Then his Sesame Street voices. Don't forget Popeye. And Bullwinkle. And President Obama. And Elmo. And many more. He always says "Give me another one, Mama!" You should hear his Swedish Chef impression. It would have you rolling on the floor. 

It's like a party in our car. If the kids aren't trying to kill each other with various junk they find on the car floor, I swear they're trying to kill me with an inundation of redundant, yet amusing, quizzing, facts, and impressions.

Life is like our family car ride. You never know what you're gonna get. 

Brilliant Sleep Doctor

We've completed about two weeks of having no set bedtime for the kiddos and collecting data about their sleep. It's been a rough adjustment for me, but the kids seem to be doing fine. Ella is often the last kid up at night, just putzing around, happy that she can still be awake. Jonah also stays up very late. Ella used to go to sleep, with the help of a little Melatonin, at about 7:30. Now she's averaging a falling-asleep-time of about 9pm. It's been tough having all the kids up during what used to be Alex and my grown up time. We've had to get creative about watching our grown up shows, having conversations about family schedules and logistics, and spending time together. I keep telling myself to give it time. Eventually we won't be in this bedtime limbo anymore and I'll have a better idea about who needs to go to bed and when.

Today Ella and I met with our friend, the Sleep Doctor, again. He looked at the data I have collected about how much Ella sleeps, and told me she's "about one standard deviation away from the norm at this age." And that "this is not pathological." In English, that means she IS in fact a short sleeper, which is normal for her and not a bad thing, and that it is not a sleep disorder. This is just how she is wired. She is sleeping less, sleeping better, and quite happy about it all. She has confidence in being a good sleeper now. Or at least that's what we're working towards.

I love the Sleep Doctor. He is amazing brilliant and validating of my Mama Instincts. Basically everything I said I think we should be doing with Ella, he said yes. Science backs you up. Do that. Don't listen to all the crazies out there who are telling you you are wrong and nuts, because you follow your instincts because you. are. right. 

Ha. Take that, world. The Sleep Doctor backs me up, and he's a DOCTOR. To all my Mama friends out there who are doing 'different' or 'interesting' or 'weird' things to help their kids get the best sleep they can, follow your instincts, the Sleep Doctor says. You're right. Everyone else is bonkers.

The Doctor said if Ella sleeps every night in our room, she will not become more clingy, in fact she will become less clingy. She will have confidence that we are always there for her, sleep will be comfortable because she has what she wants most in the world--Mama and Daddy. The Doctor said that at some point, independently, Ella will decide she'd rather sleep in her own bed. And then I'll be crying because I'll miss her snuggly little self next to me in my bed.

I said it seems sort of pointless to move Ella to her own bed after she falls asleep, because she's just going to be right back in our bed at some point during the night anyway. The brilliant Doctor said I am right. Why not let Ella just stay in our room and not have to run, in a panic, in the middle of the night, in to find us every single night? The Doctor said I need to follow my instincts.

When parenting conundrums come up, I always think about the African Mamas I grew up watching. They carried their babies on their backs, snug against their warmth, everywhere, every day. Those babies never have to learn to "not be so clingy." They don't have anxiety about their Mamas leaving them because the Mamas never leave. If the Mama leaves, so does the baby, on her back! What a gift to be able to give your child- that constant security. Why is it in our culture that we place such a value on independence? Why is it bad that my toddler wants me all day and all night? Why is it bad that she wants to feel her Mama's warmth, her Mama's love, all day and all night? Why does our society frown on things like sleeping next to your children, or picking them up a lot, or whether they cry when you drop them off somewhere? I think my children have my African-blood-by-osmosis flowing in their veins. I think they were born knowing that we were supposed to be more closely connected than our society views as appropriate. I should have carried them all on my back for years, wherever I went. 

(I wonder how African Mamas of twins carry them…)

So Miss Ella and I came home from the Sleep Doctor's office and began a hunt for what sort of device she can sleep in next to our bed. The Doctor suggested having a separate bed for Ella right next to our bed, because eventually she's going to get longer, and she's going to sleep perpendicular to the grownups in the bed, and that's just annoying. So to have a small barrier to signal that "this is my bed" and "this is Mama's bed" but we're still so close we can touch would be ideal. We found a little cot on sale, and of course it's pink. Perfect. It's ordered and we'll see how this all goes. At this point in my sleep-deprived life, I really don't care who sleeps where, as long as everyone sleeps at some point.

Now about the "one standard deviation away from the norm." Ella needs less sleep than most kids her age. She does not have insomnia or other sleep disorders. She just couldn't stay asleep as long as we expected her to, given what pediatricians and others had told us. The Doctor said that when we start seeing her get sleepy, we can encourage her to go to her bed and we can read books or snuggle or whatever. He told her that Mama can't just hold her and rock her to sleep every single night. She can stay up as late as she needs to, but Mama may have things to do. So she can stay upstairs with "the brothers" (as she calls them), or play by herself, or things like that. Ella's smart and quick. She was smart enough to argue with me about how "HE said I could stay up as late as I want!!!" and the Doctor knew today that Ella would be listening to him saying Mama can't always rock you to sleep all evening. When it's bedtime, yes, that's a perfect way to fall asleep. But while little Miss Ella is boppin' around all night, flitting to music and having tea parties and zipping around playing Chase The Dog, Mama needs to do some other Mama-y things.

The boys all demanded to have their sleepy meds back. They don't like the feeling of not being able to fall asleep. They like a schedule, a routine. They find comfort in feeling that sleep will come when it's supposed to.

So tomorrow we'll start a new sleep chapter in this house. Tonight at 9:30, after reading two books in her bed, sweet Ella fell asleep without any resistance or arguing or hesitation. She will be in our room at some point tonight, but right now she is fast asleep in her own cozy bed. 

Boy, parenting is a ride, isn't it? A crazy, trippy, unexpected, swervey ride. I never know what's around the next corner. I'm learning, over and over and over again, that the best thing to do is listen and follow my instincts. Listen and follow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

We're Not Sleepy!

Ella and I met with the pediatric behavioral sleep doctor this week. I was prepared to hear some things that I didn't want to. Things I'd heard before, over and over, from doctors, friends, neighbors, strangers…things we've tried and things that have failed. But I went in with an open mind, willing to hear what this new doctor had to say about how to help my daughter sleep.

What he said made a whole lot of sense, and goes against everything Alex and I, and most other parents I know, have ever done when it comes to our kids and sleep.

The doctor taught me a lot about sleep. He said everything we're doing is fine, but isn't going to work for our kids. Every person on Earth needs a different amount of sleep in order to feel rested, and you can't say that because my child is x years old, she needs x many hours of sleep. The pediatricians mean well, but haven't studied sleep the way this doctor has, and what they have told me for 11 1/2 years is not right. 

Alex needs about 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night in order to function well and feel pretty rested. I need about 8 1/2 or 9. (The last time I got that much sleep was in college, but it doesn't change the fact that that is how much sleep my body really needs to feel rested) The doctor said his theory is that our four children are "short sleepers." They don't need as much sleep as we are expecting them to get. This is why Aidan and Ella gave up naps before age 2. This is why all four kids are terrible sleepers- they have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. There is nothing wrong with them, they just don't need as much sleep as the pediatrician told us they should need.

So. The doctor has a multi-faceted plan to help Ella have better sleep at night. I'm taking his plan and applying it to the boys too, because I think we can wean them off their sleepy medicine and just change our family's schedule and have all the kids be successful sleepers. Eventually.

The first thing we needed to do was have Ella pick out a flashlight. Whenever she comes to our bedroom during the night, she needs to have this with her. If she forgets it in her room, she has to go back and get it. There are some other things we have to do too, to make coming to see us at nighttime a little more not-so-fun. But Ella is always welcome to come to us if she needs us. This alleviates her anxiety. 

The doctor also said to talk with each of our kids and see if there is anything in their rooms that freaks them out at night, and then get rid of that thing. I've already done this, so I knew there wouldn't be any big surprises in this department. But what completely cracked me up was when I asked Aidan if anything in his room freaked him out at night that we should take out, he replied "Ella." Silly boy.

The other big thing we have to do is, at least temporarily, forget about bedtime. We have to find out how much sleep each child needs. They all have to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Moving back bedtime does not mean that they will sleep later. Moving back bedtime means they will have a sort of "power sleep"- their time in bed will be shorter and their quality of sleep will be more intense and better. Their bodies will adjust and, hopefully, stop waking during the night. 

So we took away the tiny dose of Melatonin that helps Ella fall asleep by around 7:30. We just let her stay up as long as she wanted to. We wanted to see what time her body naturally wants to go to sleep. The doctor talked with Ella about the plan too, and boy did she listen. So last night when all four kids were up during the time Alex and I usually get to have grown up time and finally do what we want to do, and Mama wasn't too happy because I also had a migraine, I muttered several times "I'm not so sure about this 'fantastic' new plan." With her hands on her sassy little hips, Ella piped up "HE said I can stay up as LATE as I want!" 

yep. he sure did. thanks a lot mr. "doctor." 

This week I cut the boys' sleepy meds in half. I explained to the family what we're going to be doing. We agreed it would be a little weird for a while. And there have to be rules so that Daddy and I can still watch grownup shows and hang out by ourselves. But there won't be pressure to go to bed for a while, until we figure out how much sleep each body really needs. Everyone whooped and hurrayed and thought this was a super idea. (Everyone except Tired Mama.)

Aidan has been falling asleep around 8:30 instead of 7. Ben is groggy by 8:30 but feels he should make full use of his new freedom and stay up as late as he can. By 9, he is tired and grumpy. He said he didn't like the new way of going to bed 'whenever'. I laughed and said he can go to sleep earlier, he just chose not to! Jonah usually goes into his room at 9, and relaxes by himself--awesome. He also told me he didn't like this new way of doing things. Getting used to change takes a little time.

Little Miss Ella just keeps puttering around, every night, while her brothers fall, one by one, to sleep. She's been going to sleep anytime between 8:45 and 9:45. Waking once during the night, and then waking around 5:30 or 6am. Not too bad. We're tracking her sleep so we have data to bring to the doctor in a couple weeks. Then we'll move on to more steps in the plan.

When I'm presented with something that someone I trust says will help my kids, I jump right on board. As long as I trust that person. Sometimes I have trusted doctors and they have been wrong. But I'm choosing to wholeheartedly trust this sleep doctor, do what he says, and see what happens. We've done a lot of 'interesting' and 'unique' things on our Special Needs Path, but this sleep thing is probably one of the more uncomfortable ones for me. On the one hand, it gives our family freedom. Freedom to relax, be together without the pressure of getting everything done and everyone to bed by a certain time. I like that. 

But on the other hand, Alex and I have spent 11 years doing bedtime a certain way, so it's hard to do something so totally new. When you start your parenthood journey by having multiples, you quickly learn if you are a Schedule Mama or not. For many things, I'm an easy-peasy-flowy Mama. We go with the flow, no structure. But for other things, like bedtime, I'm a Schedule Mama. And I hate letting the control of the schedule go.

But I will do my best because this doctor, who I am deciding to trust, tells me this will work to make my kiddos happier and healthier and less anxious and better sleepers. So I leapt on board. We'll see how the Sleep Journey goes. Hopefully this doctor will be right.