15 October 2013

A Sleep Journey

It 1:00pm and the house is quiet. 

I like to just stop and absorb that comment for a moment. It has been so long since I've been able to celebrate peacefulness in my home. Let me take you on a little journey.

It started like this....

A little over eight years ago I gave birth to my beautiful first child. He was lovely and perfect and I'd read lots of books. I was going to respond to his every need, I was going to show him he was loved every moment, I was going to be the perfect parent..... And I did just that. 

I talked to him, I read him books, I played on the floor with him, I showed him the world, I left the tv turned off, I kept the snacks healthy, I jumped to his attention when he cried, I demand fed. Day and night. It was exhausting but I was full of energy and enthusiasm and a belief that I was doing it all right. 

Fast forward six years and I am now a busy mum with four children and a lot less energy than before. My kids are beautiful and good fun and well behaved. My first born has attention to detail, is an anxious child and a deep thinker. My second born is the most tough skinned, chilled out energy bunny I've ever met. My third child is a social butterfly and a performer with strong emotions. Number four is just a baby so the jury is out on her personality for the moment. The point is, its busy and the needs are varied and contrasting. But I still believe I can do it all. 

Then the sleep deprivation sets in. None of my kids have ever been "good" sleepers. Generally we didn't get full nights of sleep until around 18 months to 2 years. Around that age I have then added another baby to the mix and started all over again. I have spent six years ignoring those who tell me the only answer is to "let them cry it out" and I have believed in my every word. The difference is that now I am starting to cry it out. 

My fourth child turns out to be gorgeous. Of course. The whole family loves her to bits. She is funny and cute and has a great sense of humour already. She is cuddly and strong willed and plays beautifully by herself and with everyone else. We have the perfect family. Two boys at school, two girls at home. happy kids who eat well and appreciate their place in a big and loving family. The problem is that mum is slowly losing faith in herself and her family. I feel I have bitten off more than I can chew. I am tired and short tempered all the time. I am unable to enjoy the special moments. I am physically in pain a lot of the time with neck problems and exhaustion. I am loosing touch with my husband and we are arguing constantly. I am snapping at the kids and parenting in a way I never thought I would, nor wanted to. 

I have become unravelled because for six years I haven't slept. But I soldiered on. I stuck to my guns and stuck to my old routine. I fed her to sleep while it still worked. When she cried at night I jumped up and resettled her with a feed. I was so tired I couldn't remember what time the last feed was anyway, so the demand feeding worked well. Until it didn't. She had stopped feeding in the daytime and my nighttime feeds were no longer working. She would feed but no longer fall back asleep. I tried resettling in her bed but I was tired and she was sharing a room with her sister so I popped her in my bed, and she went back to sleep. So we co-slept part time, which was working well. Until it didn't. 

Then months are ticking by and now its been eight years without sleep.

Our little angel is still gorgeous, but she is tired and cranky all day. Just like mum. She has become clingy and cautious around others. She wants to be held all the time. The cuddly part is beautiful, but I am tired and in physical pain. Her sister is also cranky. Sharing a room I think they are waking each other a little. Something has to give.

In desperation I call a stop to the whole bed sharing thing. I can't cope with her in my bed anymore. I am not against co-sleeping: it works for many. I am not against attachment parenting: it works for many. I am still uncomfortable with letting children cry alone. But I am desperate.

The first night she wakes as usual around 1:00am and I try resettling in her own bed. Of course, she was expecting to be taken to my bed, so she cries. I am gentle, reassuring, but firm. She screams instead. After 5 mins I move her into the spare room, alone. The screaming goes on for about an hour, with many reassuring visits from me. That's it. The rest of the night she sleeps alone. I feel mean but at least we all get some sleep.

The second night I feel encouraged and decide to stick with it. She wakes sometime in the middle of the night and I commence the same process as before. The screams start quicker. She's onto me. I stick with it. And stick with it. And stick with it. Three hours she is awake, switching between crying, screaming, and being quiet just long enough for me to nod off. Three hours! I am a mess. I've lost faith in the whole project. But I don't give in and eventually she finishes off the night sleeping alone in the spare room.

Naturally the next day we are all miserable. I decide its not going to work. I resign myself to sleepless nights for a few more months.

Night three and we are all keen to sleep. She goes to bed happily. This is a surprise. I follow suit soon after in exhaustion. Around the usual time I hear crying but not from the usual spot. I pop out of bed and find her in the hallway, just past the nightlight. She has gotten herself up but frozen in the unexpected darkness. I pop her back in bed and await the screaming. At some point I fall back to sleep. Next time I wake it is morning. The screaming never came. She slept!!

Suddenly, she is a new child. Back to her old contented self. Happy and bubbly. And at nap time, she climbs into her own bed and lies down waiting for me to say goodnight!!! I am speechless.

Its been a week or so now. Sometimes she fusses at bedtime if she's had a good nap in the daytime. Most nights she sleeps all night in her own bed. A couple of times I've moved her to the spare room where she's resettled alone. Just like that.

I still don't believe in people who claim that you "have to let them cry it out". It works for some children. I am sure it would be detrimental for others. I do believe you have to do what you are comfortable with, and what works for you. And every now and then it pays to step back and assess what is actually working, and what your priorities are.

 For the moment, I am just enjoying feeling human again. I am not a perfect parent. I still lose patience and get over tired. I have, however, regained my confidence and my faith in myself. I can communicate more effectively with my husband. I'm happier and more energetic and loving the change! I'm pretty sure the kids are feeling the change too. 

03 September 2011

The need to write

In a journalistic manner - I just need to let the words take over for a while. Its in there somewhere; my need to write. I just bottle it up, hide it away, unsure of what to do with it. As the walls close in on me at home, perhaps the words can help me escape.

The walls are most certainly closing in. Looking back, I haven't written in here since last time I was overwhelmed by the addition of a new family member. With four little angels now under our roof, our very small roof, life is rather full. Its not my hands that are full - as everyone keeps telling me - it is my life. The hours are full, the spaces are full, the emotions are full, and everything in between.

Moving back to our little "cottage" in Melbourne didn't help. Our house is definitely a "home", complete with special memories, quirks and spaces that are quaint and "earthy". An odd word to describe an house yes. We don't have a dirt floor! Its just that this house feels so real. There is nothing pretentious or extravagant. There is no room to put away the regular, practical parts of life, out of the eyeline. Its all there in your face. Somehow, that's what makes it feel so perfect. I wouldn't hide all that in a bigger home. Simply spread it out some more.

The walls are closing in because the kids are bouncing off them. Thankfully those walls are in need of a paint, and the floors are in need of repair. When the kids bounce, the marks cannot be identified amongst the marks of previous bounces, from their lives and from those that bounced before. I am grateful for this, because when there is nowhere else to bounce, the walls provide some freedom. It would be impossible to live in this space with so many people if it were pristine. I don't hide from the words "don't" or "no", but I can't face a day that is saturated with them.

The noises are closing in on me too. The chaos of four kids can be its beauty, but the constant noise level is exhausting. It doesn't help that we all have loud voices. Mix that with "normal" baby screaming and "normal" toddler dramatic reactions to life and "normal" four year old passion for his own voice and "normal" prep boys' need to unwind and express pent up emotion at the end of the school day. Yes. The decibels add up very quickly.

How did we come to put ourselves in such a cramped and intense space? Would we do things differently with the bonus of hindsight?

Along with noise and exhaustion comes warmth and cosiness. Its hard work. But its rewarding. And the spaces intensify that too.

12 February 2011

Sweet valentine

Valentines day is a difficult Canadian custom for me to get my head around.

Our first February in Canada:

 I get a list from our preschool teacher with all the kids' names, just prior to the big day. I think that's a lovely thing to have, and pop it on the magnet board next to my computer.

Valentines Day comes around, my 3 year old comes home ecstatic because he has received a Valentines card from every other child in his class! The penny drops... so that's what the list is for. But hang on a sec, isn't Valentines a lovers thing, for hopeful teens and husband under pressure? No, this will "follow him right through elementary school" his dear teacher informs me.

We did thank you cards that year. He wrote a big "thank you" and we made photocopies and handed them out the next school day.

The next year we were on the game. Did some painted heart stamps on paper and wrote the kids names. Luckily it was a small group. Its a lot of work for a 4 year old.

This year I've got two in "school".

My preschooler didn't want to make 20 cards. So he made one for the class to share. Bless. He came home with about 18 cards, plus chocolates. They also had a party with lots of cakes and other sugary items. So I still don't get it. A lot of the cards were store purchased and the parents had written names on them and helped their preschooler put them in all the kids' purpose made valentines bags.

We've had a bit more prep time for our kindy boy. This is his 3rd Valentines Day experience in Canada. His teacher told me she is still grasping the idea as well but she figured "if its a way for the kids to show their gratitude for each other then its a nice thing". So with the 15 photocopied cards we got from the teacher, kindy-boy carefully wrote all the kids's names and signed his own. Then he thought of a personal "I love you because..." message to write for every kid! I scribed for him. Thankfully he once again in a small class. A lot of work. But a beautiful activity to partake in. To be able to think of something nice to say about 15 other kids is truly a gift.

So if we are going to encourage (make) the kids celebrate Valentines Day.... please, lets make it meaningful.

01 June 2010

my favourite gadget

Yes. Its a push mower.
I have always loved mowing the lawn. Beats washing dishes anyway. Thing is with the kids about its not that easily accomplished. With such a small yard, we decided a push mower would do the job. The bonus came when I realised I can do this with the kids about. It doesn't flick sticks and rocks with the same force as a motor mower. It is not so noisy that their voices are drowned out. I don't have to turn it off when I need to race off after bubs. And the kids can "help" me push.
It doesn't do a perfect job. I'm not so taken with immaculate lawns anyway. Our neighbour is not so impressed.....

a box of knights

Our knight collection needed a place to play. Correction, we had a cardboard box, and a some time to kill.

First I cut the box.
Then they painted.
Then they cut out pictures from the knight catalogue.
Finally we stuck and coated them on with modge-podge.

Its more than just a fun craft project. They spend ages studying the pictures, talking about the knights and their horses. It is used as a castle and a horse stable. Also, it doubles as a storage box for said horses and knights. I don't think we could have gotten better mileage out of a castle from the toy shop.

technical apologies

I have no idea what has happened to some of my pictures here. Perhaps because I nabbed them from other sites they have not been faithful to me.

rice sack name game

I found this idea on another blog somewhere a few months ago. Apologies to the blogger, I cannot remember where I found it.
I have made one each for my little tribe. One rice sack for each letter of their name. Each set has a different fabric on the back so they can easily find their letters. Now they can practice putting their name together in the correct order.
The best bit is, we have been making up all sorts of great games with our new sacks. The latest game was a throwing one. You throw the sacks into a bucket or box. Then you collect all the sacks that went in and arrange them to make an interesting word. A great challenge for my 5 year old who is learning to read, for my 3 year old who is learning his letters and for little bubs who thought just enjoyed cheering and collecting the sacks and getting in the middle of the game. Priceless.