Many of you have been following this saga for a long time: my daughter has never been good at sleep. I tried all the tricks over these three years: everything I read, everything that was suggested, and everything I could dream up. Believe me, I tried it.
For the past year or so, the only thing that worked was lying in bed with her—often for an hour, sometimes two—until she fell asleep. Add naptime and bedtime routines onto this, and I would spend hours on hours, each and every day, chasing toddler sleep. It was not uncommon for me to spend upwards of an hour coaxing her to nap for 45 minutes. And this was an improvement! At least this way I could just relax and listen to an audio book, as opposed to nursing, rocking, or walking her in a stroller (as I’d done in years before). At least this way, she slept through the night (as long as I was in bed with her). Some evenings I could relax into my podcast as I put her down, but other days I felt restless, resentful, and defeated.
“It’s not fair!” I would think, knowing full-well that, no, parenting is not fair. “Other parents don’t have it like this,” knowing full-well that every single parent has their own worries, struggles, and shortcomings.
Rafal had taken to sleeping in Lydia’s bed (what we’d always called “the guest bed,” because she’d never once slept in it), while Lydia and I sprawled across the Master. By Lydia’s decree, bedtime was Mama’s job only, which meant I could never leave her with a sitter, or even with Rafal, during naptime/bedtime without major anxiety. The worst part was that she clung to me like a barnacle during the night: I could not leave the nest for any reason without triggering a meltdown. Don’t get me wrong, lying next to her sleeping body was a salve to my soul, and yet it was also a trap.
I started listening to Magic Lessons (a podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert) where she helps artists get unstuck. Across both seasons, there was a trend of mothers waking up at 4:30 am so they could have time to work before they had to care for others. I was angered by this, jealous and motivated, both. “4:30” became a beacon. It was something I needed to create. “You’re never going to find time,” Elizabeth tells us, “You’re going to have to make time.”
During this period, I was up to my eyeballs in ghostwriting work. Though I was still completing the same number of assignments each week, my editors were wanting deeper, more in-depth work. The same number of articles was taking twice as long. I was earning more money, but I was running out of hours. Forget about blogging or writing things that interested me. I was stressed out and stretched thin.
I decided to try the old “chair next to the bed” method of getting the kid to sleep, because I needed to try something. The first few nights involved tears and fighting, Lydia protesting, “Mama, please snuggle in the bed,” first adamantly, then sweetly, then desperately (my heart twisting in knots, but remaining firm). I sat in the chair for two hours each night during that first week. The next week I traded out the chair for a little toddler bed, in order to preserve my back. I would lie there cramped on a baby-sized mattress while my (then) 2-year-old had my queen-sized bed to herself. I would think, “Something is wrong with this picture,” shaking my head at the silliness of the scene.
We did this for several weeks. She was falling asleep better and faster. But I was still sneaking out of the room after she was asleep. She would still wake, worried and upset, if I didn’t come to bed within a few hours. She still wouldn’t let me out of bed in the morning.
Then she got sick. I don’t know if it was the flu, because we’d all gotten flu shots, but something nasty got into her. She had on-again-off-again cold-like symptoms that lasted for two weeks. During which time, she was irritable and cranky to a level that I’d never seen in her before. She must have been miserable, and I felt bad for her, but by the end of the week alone with her—after a week of tantrums and whining and irrational requests— I just snapped. I called Rafal crying. I couldn’t do it. I was screaming at her. I felt totally unhinged.
I needed help. I needed time.
Rafal immediately stepped up his Dad game, taking on childcare as soon as he got home so I could have some time to work. He took on bathtime and jammies and evening books. It was a huge help, but I still needed to take back the morning.
About a week before her 3rd birthday, I decided I was ready. On January 22, all through the day we talked about how she was a big girl and about how she could sleep in a big girl bed by herself. We rehearsed saying goodnight, and how Mommy would close the door, and Lydia would fall asleep. I took a nap with her in the big girl bed, just to get her used to it. Then that night, after bath, and jammies, and a story, and some snuggles in the rocking chair, I said goodnight. AND SHE WENT TO SLEEP. Around 3:00 am she woke up with a whimper. I went in, and patted her back, and she fell asleep again. That was the last time she has woken up during the night.
It’s been two weeks of Lydia sleeping in her own bed, in her own room, through the night. It’s been two weeks of “Goodnight! I love you!” and closing the door and walking away. It’s been two weeks of waking up early to do yoga and write. It’s been two weeks of morning coffee in peace.
It is straight up revolutionary.
It is quarter to 7 and she’s still asleep. I almost don’t know what to do. I have more time in the evenings to spend with Rafal, and I get to sleep in bed with him at night. I have time in the morning to work or workout or just get my head on straight. I am a better mom and a happier person because of it. And Lydia: she is so much happier too.
I still ask myself what went wrong with this whole sleep thing, like, was all of this my own fault? But I don’t want to dwell on that. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never known quite what I’m doing, and all the books and all the advice, well, they just don’t always work.
I am doing my best. I’m much better at asking for help. I’m open to trying new things. And the point right now is: she sleeps. For now, that’s more than enough.