Something strange was happening in our house this week. Nobody slept. Everyone was cranky. We cried for no particular reason. We yelled our conversations. Our bodies ached and creaked. We glared at each other from across the room. We were all tired, aggressive, sad and confused. At one point, the child collapsed into a heap of tears on our laundry room floor when I told her she couldn’t draw with a Sharpie pen. I asked her why she was crying. “I just don’t know!” she wailed. We just didn’t know. We had no idea what was going on this week. If I were one of those people who looked to astrology for the answers, I’d say that Jupiter was in retrograde. Yes, a planet had to be in retrograde to cause this inexplicable upset in our home. Or maybe it was El Niño’s fault. I’ll blame El Niño. Whatever the cause of this week’s chaos, it led to a few absolutely absurd conversations with my child. A few examples for your amusement:
Hailey has suffered from night terrors since she was about two, and although they don’t happen frequently, they are scary and usually a sign that she is overtired or anxious about something. So whether it helps or not, my habit has been to remind her, right before she closes her eyes, to think of something beautiful before she drifts off. Occasionally, she’ll tell me of her pre-slumber thoughts — bunnies, kittens, the beach, swimming, Minnie Mouse, her Papa — but mostly she’ll just smile peacefully and roll over, and I say a silent prayer that nothing frightens her awake. Night terrors are unnerving for all involved — picture sleepwalking without the walking. The child seems awake, is often crying or screaming, sometimes is even having a full on conversation, is frightened, but is definitely not awake and will not wake if you try. Hailey’s night terrors have clustered around stressful events — moves, starting school, or changes in bedtime routines or mom or dad’s work schedules — but, thankfully, she’s having far fewer the older she gets.
Last night, though, we worried that they had returned. She had been asleep for a couple of hours and Josh and I were watching a movie in our room when we heard her talking really loudly. Wait, not talking, laughing. Hysterically. Cracking up, in fact. Was she asleep or did she sneak the iPad into her room and turn on something incredibly funny? We tiptoed into her room and found her sitting up in her bed, giggling with such pure happiness that Josh and I started laughing too. We inched closer to see if she was awake or asleep, and looking into her eyes we could tell she was still asleep (when she has a night terror her eyes are open as well, and she appears awake but dilated pupils give an unmistakable “lights are on but nobody’s home” look).
“Why are you laughing, silly?” Josh asked.
“Because of all the love,” she said.
Then she threw her legs in the air and giggled some more, finally settling back onto her pillow, all the while laughing and laughing, then closing her eyes and drifting back off with the hugest smile on her face.
We sat on her bed digesting that moment for about 20 minutes.
“That just made my whole world,” Josh said.
I just put my hand over my mouth and silently wept with pure joy.
I cried because it wasn’t terror that woke my daughter this time, it was happiness.
I cried because she was filled with such raw bliss on an unconscious level.
I cried because my daughter felt so loved and so much love.
I cried because all the love made her giddy.
I cried because, sitting in her dimly lit room, all pinks and purples, I had no worries or anxieties for the first time in years.
I cried because my daughter is fundamentally happy.
I cried because, someday, not long from now, the world will start to chip away at that fundamental happiness.
I cried because I so desperately want her to hold on to that joy for as long as possible.
I cried because of all the love.
As the mother of an almost 8-month old, I still like to follow the rule, “When baby sleeps, I sleep.” This rule was meant for parents of newborns I think, but since our baby has a touch of the night owl syndrome and likes to party at midnight, as soon as she shuts her eyes I put on my sweats and climb under the covers. Oh, who am I kidding? I was already wearing my sweats. This was the case a few days ago when Hailey started getting a little drowsy mid-afternoon. “Now’s my chance!” I thought. I quickly grabbed sleepy baby and cuddled under the comforter with her, gently soothing us both into slumbers-ville. I was sound asleep in two minutes. Hailey had other plans. Apparently, when mommy goes to sleep Hailey practices her cat burglar skills, which was when daddy walked in and caught Hailey scaling our bedroom wall. Boy does she look guilty in this photo!
“Hailey’s obviously tired. Why doesn’t she just go to sleep?” Josh asked me last night. I had never heard a more rational question in my life. She was very tired. We’re all very tired. Why oh why is no one sleeping in our house except the dogs?!
I feared we had turned Hailey into a cuddle monster who couldn’t fall asleep without mama’s or daddy’s arms wrapped solidly around her. For a while, Josh had the whole process down to a fine art: He gently placed the binky in Hailey’s mouth, rolled her over to face away from him, tucked one arm under his arm and held her hand with the other. It was in this little baby burrito that she nodded off to sleep for months. Then once she was solidly asleep, we’d transfer her to her crib and all three of us would enjoy a blissful slumber. People would always ask us, “Is she sleeping through the night?” and we would smugly advise them, “Oh, yes, she has been sleeping through the night since she was three months old.”
But like many over-confident parents that came before us, we had spoken too soon. Because, in November, Hailey got sick. And all hell broke loose. Since then she wants nothing to do with her crib. In fact, she screams the instant we put her down to sleep in it. And the once miraculous cuddle-to-sleep technique is losing its power. She wriggles and cries and tries to get away from mama and daddy. She would much prefer to be hurdling pillows and scaling our headboard at midnight. So the once gentle and soothing daddy cuddle has now morphed into a tense, modified sleeper hold that neither baby nor daddy are enjoying very much.
So what’s a sleep deprived family to do? Sleep training. It commences Thursday night. I’ve heard it’s hellish for parents and baby alike, but the hope is that she’ll be happily sleeping in her crib in a couple of weeks. Until then, mama and daddy will continue in their zombie-like stupor and Hailey will most likely continue crawling a blue streak around our bed in the wee hours of the night. Enjoy it while you can, Sweet Pea. Your party-time nights are numbered.