If you follow the blog, you know one thing: we love to blog about sleep. Specifically, lack of sleep. More specifically, the horrible sleeping habits of our children and their direct correlation to our own lack of sleep. Mommas, after caring for my niece last week, I totally feel you! I get it! I’ve experienced the bedtime breakdown that, up until now, was elusive from me and saved for only Mom and Dad. It’s like I’ve been initiated (read: hazed) into your secret, bleary-eyed, coffee-fueled club. Thank you for having me, I hope my stay here is brief.
In weeks past, I’d mastered the bedtime routine. Dinner? Check. Bath? Done. Story time? No need! Nora was rubbing her eyes and ready for bed. A little lullaby music, some noise machine, and a dim, ambient room and we are both ready for some bedtime snuggles.
I love spending those few (yes, I said few) moments with my niece as she falls asleep. I get a smile and a kiss goodnight, meant only for me. I get to hold her, with her head on my shoulder, until she gets sleepy enough to fall asleep in her crib. She wraps one arm around me, while the other often plays sleepily with my hair or earlobe. It’s so cute. It’s our little moment. Then, when the lullaby music stops, I put her in her crib and she goes to sleep. Sometimes she cries a bit, sometimes she just rolls over and closes her eyes for the night. But rarely does the whole routine ever take more than fifteen minutes from the time the lights go out. I’ll emerge from her room, practically fist-pumping my way down the stairs: “I am the Baby Whisperer!” Sometimes my sister is already home to comment on how fast my niece went down, sometimes I just give myself a silent pat on the back. No matter, that kid is asleep!
To cut to the chase with my story: the other night, while watching my niece, she would. not. go. to. bed. We had started dinnertime early, due to the schedule change from daylight savings. My sister had already left for work, but my brother-in-law was still home, grabbing a quick dinner with us. Thank goodness he was still there. Nora was cranky and clingy and wanted nothing to do with me. Only Mom or Dad would do! She didn’t want to eat dinner, she refused to play, she screamed her head off through her bath, and she certainly was not interested in going to bed. Before leaving the house, my sister said I could lure Nora upstairs into her bedtime routine by telling her we were going to take a “B-A-T-H with the B-U-B-B-L-E-S,” as if fully saying these magic words would have Nora leaping up the stairs and into the tub. I found myself frantically trying to cast the spell, “Nora, want to play with the bubbles? Bubbles? BUBBLES!!” She didn’t care. I felt helpless, utterly helpless. Nora clung to my brother-in-law the whole time. He was supposed to be leaving the house, too, but how could he? Nothing Auntie could do would make the situation better. By some twist of fate, my sister had decided to end her practice early and was on her way home anyways. She was able to take over, and bedtime was saved, at least in the eyes of my niece. Nora: 1. Auntie: Zilch.
Okay, okay, so I got off easy on this one. I wasn’t really up all night with a sleepless baby. But I now understand the frustration that comes with a child who will not sleep. The helplessness, the desperation. It truly is awful! I hated that feeling, not being able to comfort or take care of my niece when I was supposed to be the caretaker. Maybe it would have been different if somehow my brother-in-law had been able to sneak out of the house. I might have had a mini-meltdown on my hands afterwards, but I probably could have distracted her with a toy, some Play With Me Sesame, or a trip O-U-T-S-I-D-E (no, my sister is not raising a dog, my niece just gets really, really excited over certain things). I hated not feeling in control of the situation—should we begin the psychoanalyzing now?—and not knowing what to do to make it right. The Baby Whisperer was definitively silenced by a screaming, defiant baby. My superhero status has been revoked.
What is this Auntie, like so many of you, to do? The only thing we can—we try our best. It’s that simple. Some days—and nights—are easy; many are not. But we are the parents and caretakers, and it’s up to us to figure it out and make our way. There’s comfort in knowing that my niece wakes up each morning and is happy-go-lucky Nora, oblivious to the disastrous, her-life-is-over bedtime routine that her parents or I forced her through the night before. Each day is a new day, for us and for our kids.
Tomorrow night, I’ll try again. I’ll brave the bedtime routine with my niece, potential meltdown and all. Because, in the end, those extra, sleepy snuggles I get are totally worth it all.