If you asked me to pinpoint the single topic that has caused me the most stress as a mom over the past couple of years, I would have to go ahead and point an accusing finger at sleep.
It all started when I was in labor with Soren....for three days. I didn't sleep for two straight nights, and let me tell you, that does something to a person. Especially a wound up, slightly neurotic person like myself, whose brain responded to the sleep deprivation, not by sleeping, but rather by kicking into overdrive, counting frantically by 7s, 11s, or 18s, and refusing stubbornly to calm down enough to get some decent rest. Soren, being a newborn, was waking up at least every three hours at night to nurse, so my nights (and days) went something like this: get baby to sleep, lie awake in bed for 1 1/2 hours, sleep for 1 hour, wake up to feed baby for 45 minutes, lie awake in bed for 1 1/2 hours, sleep for 30 minutes, wake up to feed baby for 45 minutes, etc, etc, etc. It nearly drove me to the brink of madness, and I must say that I am DEEPLY grateful that we were living with my parents at the time, because they were there to shine light into my muddied, confused consciousness by taking the baby and making me sleep during the day. Otherwise I might have (completely) lost my mind.
But this is a digression. I meant to write about my children, who are horrible sleepers, and whose horrible sleeping causes me much angst. From the very beginning of their lives they have been awful sleepers: up at least every three hours for the first six months of their lives, refusing to sleep through the night until they were....until they were...okay, let's not lie: neither of them sleep through the night. Soren generally does okay, but he has nightmares a couple times a week that require mommy's comforting presence-- and Liam still thinks he's a newborn, waking up two or three times a night for a bottle.
This causes me some discomfort, for sure. But even worse, I worry about what it's doing to them. You see, in my desperation to find some rest for the whole family, I've done a lot of reading on sleep: Sears, Pantley, Weissbluth, Ferber, Babywise-- and while none of these books have succeeded in assisting my children in sleeping through the night (I'm telling you people, some children will scream all night long for weeks rather than giving up and falling asleep) some of them have scared the pants off me. Ol' Dr. Weissbluth, in particular, gassed on and on in his book about how sleep deprivation is the root of all childhood problems: behavioral issues, ADHD, academic problems, emotional issues, developmental delays. The man has done a lot of research on pediatric sleep and now has me thoroughly convinced that sleep plays an essential role in all aspects of a child's development.
So when I put Soren in his room for his nap and he spends two hours throwing things out the window and putting on every article of clothing that he owns, I worry. Especially when he emerges from his room with dark circles under his eyes and a penchant for throwing hurricane tantrums, I worry.
And when Liam, at age 16 months, is still waking up twice a night for a bottle and napping for only an hour or two during the day, I worry. Especially when he fusses all the day long for no reason and is barely army-crawling, I worry.
I know other parents who don't worry about sleep at all! Whose kids stay up with them until ten or eleven, who sleep in 'til nine, who don't always take naps, and who do just fine. Whose kids will sometimes just randomly fall asleep....sitting in the high chair, driving in the car, playing with toys.
My kids, on the other hand--if they don't fall asleep at eight, sleep through to seven, and get a decent nap during the day--are little wrecks. Liam gets all whiny and twitchy and tic-y; Soren behaves like the ill-begotten bastard child of Animal and the Tasmanian Devil. And heaven forbid either of them should just drift off on occasion because they were tired...oh no. They have to be carefully primed and prepped in order for sleep to occur. Because when my kids are tired, they don't slow down...they just get crazier and crazier. If we put them to bed too late, they have a tendency to stay up all night counting by 18s. (And by "counting by 18s," I mean screaming and/or grinding one's own feces into the carpet.)
So I worry constantly about sleep...if my kids are tired, if they're ready for a nap, if their behaviors and issues are rooted in chronic sleep deprivation. It's honestly an issue that makes me want to stop at two children. The very thought of dealing with this yet again makes me want to lie down and weep hot, bitter tears.