“Brooks, I said it’s bedtime! Now go into your room right this second, do your yoga, take deep breaths and relax so that you can fall asleep! I said right now!”
Even as I said it, I knew it was too loud, too angry, and somewhat absurd, but I was racing down frustration street, a one-way thoroughfare with too few stop signs.
We’ve been working on Brooks’s ability to sleep independently since, well, since always — he has been scampering into our “big bed” pretty much ever since he could scamper. And even before that, before he was diagnosed, when we tried to “Ferberize” him in his crib, he brought us to our knees. Brooks apparently hadn’t read the part of the book that said if you let him cry it out, by the third or fourth night he’d learn to go to sleep by himself. When he was still screaming/crying after two hours on night number seven, we came to our senses and threw away the book.
Sleep issues have rarely topped our priority list. When Brooks was very young and coping with 25 to 30 hours of therapy a week, we were only too happy to provide a little extra support in the form of an overnight snuggle. And as he got older, bedtime stayed on the back burner because there was always something more important: he needed to learn how to talk and how to tolerate loud sounds and how to be in the same room with other kids. But we couldn’t completely ignore this nighttime problem because a third smaller person in bed (who is, in fact, getting bigger) was not a sustainable environment for a sustainable marriage. At some point, Brooks had to learn to sleep alone.
While it never took top billing, we always “sort of” worked on sleep. We segued from lying down in bed with him until he fell asleep to sitting up in his bed reading a book with a flashlight. Then, we transitioned to reading a book just outside his door, but still within his sight (he would crane his neck if we ventured too far). Finally, he’s okay with us leaving him on his own only if we check in on him every few minutes to cheerlead his efforts. And when we try to make any further progress these days, we are met with real tears, lump-in-his-throat protestations that he doesn’t know how to fall asleep by himself, and pointing to scary things like monsters or aliens in his closet (thank you, DreamWorks).
Last week, I decided it was time to push the envelope. I asked Brooks during dinner if he could think of any ideas that would help him go to sleep by himself. He was very open to the conversation, but responded with a polite: “No, Mommy, I don’t have any ideas.” So I offered up a few: doing yoga to relax, or maybe sleeping with one of his bears. I really sold these scenarios with a lot of animated descriptions of exactly how they would work, and Brooks listened intently. When I was done, he said: “Mommy, do you have any other ideas?”
I finally strong-armed him into three minutes of yoga, staying in bed with him for another three minutes, and then giving him a Magic Kiss (the same one my Dad used to give me) and letting him fall asleep on his own. Miraculously, this has been working for the past four nights (fingers and toes crossed, everyone). We’ve compromised on making it a joint yoga session instead of solo, and he’s come out of bed once because a noise scared him, but otherwise it’s been flawless.
For better or worse, it seems that we’re moving from carefully planned interventions by teams of therapists to our own imperfect off-the-cuff attempts at changing behaviors that we’re simply too desperate to take for another day (or night).
Brooks is getting more independent and trying new things. And so are we.