Friday, January 30, 2015

The Cuddle Alarm

I was hesitant to write this post, fearful that putting the words out into the universe would send some kind of cosmic retribution and take their truth away from me. Or maybe that four consecutive years of sleep deprivation had simply left me in the throes of profound hallucinations. But other people have witnessed this phenomenon and affirmed it as a temporal experience, and it has been going on for several uninterrupted weeks, so I feel safe in stating to the world this simple fact: my child has slept through the night. Multiple times. Consecutive times. My child has slept through many consecutive nights.

First, some background.

My daughter has never slept soundly or sometimes at all. In infancy, she would wake to nurse every two hours without fail even long after the baby books (those lying, vindictive baby books) told me that she would sleep a solid six hours with a full stomach and peaceful, fluttering eyelashes. Lies. After she was weaned, she adopted some nighttime preferences. If these preferences were not met, she would protest with some truly awesome (with the original connotation of inspiring fear and trembling) tantrums that nothing would relieve. To avoid this, she required a nighttime routine of back rubbing and quiet shushing that could last up to an hour every night. When she was finally asleep (a state that could only be ascertained after three or four false positives), I'd complete the ritual by making the sign of the cross four times, crossing my fingers, and tiptoeing backwards out of the room while weaving a blanket of horseshoes and rabbit's feet before launching myself into my own bed and praying to every God and Goddess I had ever heard of for just two uninterrupted hours of sleep before she came crashing into the room demanding a repeat performance.

By the time she was two and a half, we had evolved into the "best" sleep we'd gotten in her life. This meant that we could leave her, awake but drowsy, in her own bed and go sit quietly in our own room until we went to sleep. Sometime around two or three in the morning she'd awake from a spot on my bedroom floor--having arrived there through some teleportation granted solely for my torture--and stand like a horror movie protagonist at eye level mumbling something unintelligible until I let her get in bed with me. Early on, I caved to these demands because I was too tired to protest, but I soon learned that meant I would get no sleep as I was stabbed by seven tiny hands in my rib cage and bruised by fourteen little feet to the temples (did I mention she grows extra limbs at night?) Instead, I'd send her back to her bed with much protest in order to repeat the entire conversation every hour until the alarm went off at six to go to work.

Then it was Christmas break, and I finally figured out what was going on. She wan't going to sleep in her room as she had so cleverly fooled us into believing. She was lying in her bed and waiting until the light went off in our room (our rooms are conjoined with a door between them). Since my usual 10pm bedtime crept back to midnight or 1am during break, this meant that she was getting virtually no sleep, and her daytime behavior was definitely worse for wear. She was so afraid of falling asleep and missing the chance to take advantage of my worn out defenses that she just refused to do it. No amount of lullabies, bedtime books, warm baths, veiled threats, or tears of desperation could sway her.

So I tried something new. I set an alarm and showed her the glowing numbers, explaining that it would go off twenty minutes before I had to get up and that she was welcome to then come get in bed and snuggle. Lo and behold, she went to sleep immediately and stayed in her own bed all night long. The alarm seldom wakes her, but it wakes me, so I go and tell her that it is cuddle time. Then she'll climb into my arms and I'll spend twenty minutes holding her in a dreamy half-sleep until I have to get up for the day. She gets the assurance that she won't miss this time that is so important to her, and that bit of confidence is enough to keep her from the mental and physical gymnastics she'd been committing to guarantee it before. Most importantly, we all sleep, and all is right with the world.

Photo: Diana Schnuth 

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