Stay With Me
We have been through various sleep phases with OB. There's been the non-sleeping phase, the crying for hours inexplicably phase, the night terrors phase, the new-found freedom of the big-boy bed phase. Most recently, we've had the "Stay with me" phase.
I have found this latest phase one of the most annoying. We have a pretty elaborate bedtime routine, carefully crafted for wind-down, together time and general all-round good preparation for a pleasant night for the whole family. It takes a minimum of forty minutes from when we start to put the pyjamas on to turning the lights out and saying goodnight. OB has had plenty of input into the whole setup which includes cuddling in front of a chosen DVD with a hot milky drink, not one but two stories (one from a book, one made up inexpertly by me and, strangely, always featuring Mickey Mouse as the protagonist), a song and our prayers.
So, at the point where I say goodnight and leave the room brimful with anticipation of a precious two hours of me time to relax or get vital things done, the words "Stay with me Mummy" are almost perfectly designed to get my teeth gnashing in frustration.
What do you mean, "Stay with me"? Haven't I been with you all day? Haven't I just spent half an hour lying on your bed with you talking through the day, telling stories, singing songs and cuddling you? How much 'staying' do you actually need?!
This went on for weeks, with OB's pleas eliciting various responses from me, ranging from empathy to yelling. Any attempt to leave the room would be immediately followed by him leaping out of bed and running to the stair gate at his room door which I had resorted to some weeks before to prevent him appearing downstairs minutes after he'd gone to bed, sometimes as many as ten times in an evening. There he would stand holding his blanket and teddy and crying most heart-rendingly (or most annoyingly, depending on my various moods at the end of each long day).
I get that an onlooker might observe that OB clearly needs me, that he's suffering from some sort of distress or anxiety, that I need to respond therapeutically and calmly, but honestly, sometimes all that doesn't cut it when you're exhausted, when piles of laundry need to be dealt with, when other people are making demands on your time and you've saved all these things until the evening so they don't steal my time with my son when he's actually supposed to be awake.
Because no matter how many cute poems I read on the internet about how housework can wait and so on and so on, the truth is that not everything can wait. The truth is that OB isn't the only person in the world and I need space in my day to get other things done. I do these things after he's in bed so that during the day he gets my attention.
And sometimes I just really need to have a couple of hours without the incessant chatter and neediness of OB to remember that I am actually a person, to recharge a little, maybe to watch Call The Midwife with a massive bar of chocolate so that when the morning comes and I am woken by OB leaping onto my bed and yelling about how it's morning again, I can smile and be glad to see him and face the day ahead with a can-do attitude.
Eventually the point came where I was at a loss, and I was starting to resent all the time I spent on our lovely bedtime routine. What is the point of all that when at the end of it, it isn't enough? I might as well just shove his pyjamas on and plonk him straight in bed if I'm going to be subjected to hours of crying and pleading anyway.
And then Baby Girl came, and, whether I wanted to or not, I simply couldn't stay with OB any more. I have made it a rule that, as far as possible, OB's needs will come first at bedtime. I try to get Baby Girl all sorted out before we begin our bedtime routine so that OB can have that time with me without having to share me at all. But I can't leave her forever - newborn babies don't really understand routines.
So, after a couple of difficult nights, I finally responded to OB's plaintive request with, "I can't stay with you right now because I need to check on the baby. Wait for me and I'll come back and check on you in two minutes." To my utter surprise, he meekly lay back down in his bed and went completely quiet. I couldn't believe it. I came downstairs to see where Baby Girl was up to and, sure enough, she needed feeding.
So, back up I went and explained to OB that Baby Girl needed feeding and after I'd done that, I'd be back to check on him again. And again, he was completely fine with it. When I went up the next time, he was fast asleep.
And this is how our bedtimes have gone for the past three weeks. Yes I have to go back upstairs to check on OB every night but usually only once and even then, sometimes he's already asleep. A few days after we started doing this I clicked on a link on Twitter and found an article by Colby Pearce detailing almost this exact method for encouraging children to sleep in their own beds.
Well, all I can say is that, so far, it has worked a treat for us, and I have rediscovered the pleasure of our lovely cuddly bedtimes.
This post has been linked with The Adoption Social's 'The Things We Do' linky, sharing the little ideas and tips we have for getting through our days.