posts tagged with 'bedtime'

dark for sleeping

Despite the fact that it's really warm again, there's one big way it's feeling wintery around here: light levels. A week and a half before the time change it's dark before too long after dinner, and dark well after it's time to wake up. It's a little frustrating from the point of getting things done outside. On the other hand, it's great for the sleeping! This evening the boys were all quiet in bed by 7:15, and Leah followed within an hour. I don't want to say anything to jinx it, but we may be ready to start chipping away at our gigantic summer sleep debt!

After we get back from the church retreat this weekend, that is.

"what did we do today, again?"

At bedtime I almost always ask the boys about their favorite part of the day. I like to pray thanksgivings with them, and it's nice to know what they might feel particularly thankful for. Of course, as I ask I'm pretty sure what I'm going to hear for an answer: "I don't know, what did we do today, again?" Coupled with the other frequent bedtime question—"what fun thing are we going to do tomorrow"—and it's enough to drive a parent to distraction.

In their defense, I must say it's not as bad as it sounds. In Harvey's case it's his natural caution about not wanting to answer any question wrong that's holding him back; what if he forgot something that he should have enjoyed?! But most likely he recalls it all. And Zion's always hard-pressed to name something he didn't love about our day. "Playing with our friends" is almost always his first answer, when he remembers anything; but then when I remind him of the other events of the day he cheerfully adds them to his list of favorites.

So really, there's plenty of gratefulness to go around... even when I have to dig deep to find it!

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bedtime assurance

Zion falls asleep during stories, and Lijah falls asleep nursing or listening to music, but most nights I need to leave Harvey's bedside while he's still awake—if for no other reason than my presence is too distracting to him to let him drift off. Not that he realizes that; lots of times he feels like he's wide awake, and expects to be so for some time. So every night—every night, he likes his routine—I tell him I'll check on him when I'm done with whatever evening chores I have in front of me. For the last six months or so he's asked how I'll know he's asleep, because he might just be closing his eyes for a second, and I tell him I'll know by his breathing. Which in actual fact is totally not necessary. I'll really know because I don't hear him complaining about something, because that boy can't stay in his bed at night for more than five minutes without finding some reason to call for us... unless he falls asleep in that time, as he does 19 evenings out of 20.

Actually, the above isn't totally true: I don't tell him I'll check on him, and I don't give him the answer about breathing. Anymore. I did for weeks, or maybe even months, but I'm not a patient enough parent to keep saying the same thing over and over again forever. And Harvey knows that, so he fills in my side of the conversation. Our current bedtime closing goes like this:

D: Goodnight, I love you.
H: What are you going to do out of my bed before you come check on me?
D: Put away the bikes, close up the chickens, see if Mama needs help with the cleaning. Maybe do some writing.
H: When you come check on me, How will you know I'm asleep? Will you listen to my breathing to see if I'm asleep?
D: Yes. Goodnight, I love you.

I think it works pretty well.

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to soothe a savage breast

For months Lijah was just in love with brass band music, and specifically the more uptempo tunes of the Youngblood Brass Band. Not so much lately, but when he was between six and twelve months all I needed to do was turn on "Brooklyn" and, no matter how much he had been fussing, he'd just relax into my shoulder and be asleep before the song was done. In the car it was "Pastime Paradise", which was also a favorite of the other two boys; sometimes we'd even start it before we tried to get him into his seat, since that sweet sousaphone beat made the buckling-up so much easier.

Why was that? Did he really like the songs so much they eclipsed all his other concerns and annoyances? Maybe, but I have a theory that there's something else involved—namely, that pre-verbal babies have a preternatural perception of body language. When they're freaking out it stresses their parents, and when the parents are stressed it adds to the baby's stress and makes it still harder for him to calm down. When you find something your baby likes it short-circuits that negative feedback loop. It was YBB for Lijah; for other babes the magic might be from being rocked a certain way, or hearing mama singing a particular song. But the important thing is that, having launched into the guaranteed-good calming process, the parent can feel like everything is under control and relax. Self-fulfilling prophecy, it works.

With the third kid I've come to the opinion that, for me at least, recorded music is the way to go. While I have plenty of philosophical reasons to prefer singing—and I sang a lot to Harvey—there's a problem with having to produce the magic yourself. Sometimes I'm too tired for good vocal production! With the right song cued up on my phone all I need to do is fumble it out of my pocked and push the button; poof, instant calm.

Now that Lijah's more of a rational being, the magic of "Brookyln" is diminished some. Once he started being able to think, "Oh hey wait, this is the sleepy song—must resist!", the system started to break down. Of course, he still loves music, and it's always easier to calm him when I have something playing. Now that I think about it, it's a fair trade-off: it takes two or three songs instead of half of one to get him to sleep, but I don't have that one driven so deeply into my brain that it rises every moment when I'm not thinking of something else. It's nice to hear a variety of tunes. And even when Lijah doesn't need the music, I've decided that I do. If I'm going to be rocking with him for who-knows-how-long since his nose is so stuffy he can't breathe lying down, I want something to mark the passage of time and keep me sane. I've spent nights up with him listening to the entirety of Counting Crows' first album and half of This Desert Life, and they're totally bearable; so much better than would be an hour and a half marked only by sniffing and the ticking of our three downstairs clocks.

So, future parents, I recommend recorded music. Sometimes it's magic, and even when it's not it helps a lot. Plus I have high hopes for these boys' musical sensibility as they mature; they've listened to a lot of good tunes!

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bedtime these days

Our bedtime routine is working pretty well these days. I thought of it because today it didn't, quite; I guess that made me pay attention. We haven't said much about bedtime since Lijah's been around, which is maybe surprising since there's some concern, I think, about having the third kid: now the parents are outnumbered! But for us going from one to two was actually trickier. As it is now, Harvey and Zion have pretty similar interests and schedules, so it's workable for one parent to put them both to bed at the same time.

What usually happens is that Lijah starts getting sleepy sometime around 6:00, and Leah takes him upstairs to nurse to sleep in the bed. He's fairly sensitive to noise when he's falling asleep, so I work to keep the boys quiet and contained in their after-dinner activities. When one or both of them seems tired—usually between 6:30 and 7:00, this time of year, we head upstairs for stories. That they both love books more than just about anything else is very convenient, since if there's any recalcitrance I only have to say that the window for story time will be closing shortly to get them going.

They each get one book "in the lap"—so called as a historical relic from when Harvey was the only audience; these days we're just all in a row on the edge of the beds—then I direct them to brush their teeth and pee. That last bit is the only trouble spot lately, since Zion isn't always (ever?) happy to be made to use the toilet on command, and the requirement is a new one for him. But we make it work. Then I read two more books "in the bed", lying in Zion's bed between the boys (their "beds" are a pair of mattresses on the floor, pushed right up against one another). The lights are off for the second round of stories; they're lit by headlamp. I limit the "lap" stories to shorter picture books, but the "bed" material can be longer; most nights Harvey asks for a portion of a chapter book (we're currently in the middle of The Four-Story Mistake).

After I finish reading I turn off the headlamp and assess the situation. Zion often falls asleep as he listens, or nearly so, but Harvey has only dropped off during a story a handful of times in his life. Sometimes he asks me to pray for him to have no scary dreams, something which used to be a ritual but now is pretty intermittent, and every once and a while he'll request a song; Zion also tends to want a song if he's still awake enough to speak. After I do those things—or just lie still for a minute or two, if there aren't any requests—I say goodnight and get up to go, letting anyone still awake know that I'll come back to check on them in a couple minutes.

Most of the time that's all it takes. We work the boys pretty hard most days, and even Harvey can't usually last more than 30 seconds after I stop talking to him. But on the rare occasion it doesn't work and we have open rebellion I do my best not to fight, while also not setting any precedents that'll possibly extend bedtime in the future. Today, for example, Harvey was too worked up to settle down to sleep, so ten minutes or so after I left him to go downstairs I heard him walking around up there. Investigating, I told him that I was cleaning the kitchen and he was welcome to come help me, or he could turn on his headlamp and look at a book in his bed, or anything he wanted. He sat at the top of the stairs for a while, then came down and started drawing in the playroom. When I finished cleaning and started turning off lights, he whined indistinctly for a while until I was able to get him to ask me for what he wanted, which was "help going to sleep". So we went up together and I petted his head for, oh, about a minute and a half until he fell asleep. That was a little past 8:00.

Our kids are not awesome sleepers. Lijah wakes up four to six times per night, and its a rare night where I don't have to go in to settle Zion down at least once. But at least—and this is a great relief to me—they mostly don't fight sleeping. Lijah wants cuddles and nursing, and he get them, and Zion mostly just needs reminders that it's sleepy time and he should be lying down. He actually likes sleeping, which very gratifying to his parents; we're big fans too!

I don't know how other folks do with bedtimes; our culture seems to say that we should just put kids in their rooms and tell them to sleep—starting weeks after birth!—but there's also an industry of authors catering to solving sleep problems in the young. If you ask me, getting your kids to sleep isn't something you can "get right": all kids are different, and what works one month might not even work with the same kid the next month. But when I can relax about it things seem to go better. And I'm feeling pretty relaxed these days, so life is good!

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summer sleeping

I'm having some trouble getting enough sleep these days, and it's not the kids' fault! Well, not entirely their fault anyways; I can't acquit them entirely! But the real culprit is the sun.

Sure, the later sunset is wonderful, and we're very much enjoying hanging out in the yard or riding bikes in the street after supper these last couple weeks. But since outside is so much more fun than in, the boys have lost the motivation for starting bedtime that let us get them in bed by 6:30 some winter evenings. Stories aren't enough to compete with warm evening breezes! Now I do need to stress that they aren't putting up a fuss over bedtime—they come in eventually, and do all the usual things without any untoward complaining—but the whole process is slower than it would be in the dark.

And actually, that isn't a problem by itself. To be honest, half the trouble is my fault: I don't want to come in any more than they do! And when they're playing happily there's a lot less motivation to get them moving towards bed than when they're feuding over the remains of their toys after a day stuck inside. They don't actually have a set bedtime (I promised a year or two ago to write a post about that; someday I will) so the time creep would be fine, all things being equal.

What's not equal, though, is that the sun is also more present in the morning. The main effect this has is to make the chickens wake up earlier, which makes me wake up earlier, because I've inadvertently trained them to make lots of noise in the morning when they want to be let out to scratch and peck in the yard (can't let them wake up the neighbors!). Again, this by itself would be fine. I love the early-morning hours: nothing makes me happier than wandering in the dewy garden as the first rays of the sun strike the top of the pea trellis.

But, as you can imagine, between those two lovely signs of summer lies an ever-shrinking pool of sleep. I can survive it for a little while, but eventually the lack starts to tell and my mental acuity begins to fade. And I'm tough—how much worse is it when the boys' sleep time is similarly squeezed?! Harvey wasn't asleep before 8:30 last night and then he woke up by quarter to six, which is far from enough sleep for a growing boy! At least he stays asleep all night; Zion, though he does manage to stay abed a little longer in the mornings, compounds his lack of sleep by waking himself up for big chunks of the middle of the night.

So today—following an afternoon where they weren't good for anything but watching an hour of shows on the iPad—we got them to bed early. Well, by 7:30 at least, which is early for summer: I didn't need the headlamp to read their stories. Now all I have to do is follow their good example myself, and my enjoyment of the summer season will be yet fuller. Too bad there's all this blogging to do...

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late nights

This time last year we were totally in tune with nature's rhythms, going to bed with sun and feeling very wholesome. Not so much lately. Partly because it's been so hot the last few days, the later part of the evening—when it finally cools down—feels too nice to waste on sleeping. After putting the boys to bed this evening (at around 9:00) I made scones and Leah made a batch of cookies, as well as finishing up her latest basket. It's so wonderful to have it cool enough that we feel like we can light the oven without dying!—77°F at 10:15 as I type these words.

We also have a house-guest staying with us, which contributes to our disinclination to be done with any particular day. Got to stay up and be social! It's all very nice, as long as my body holds out—too many 6-hour nights in a row is not good for us. But so far so good.

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sin and bedtime

When Harvey was a little guy, Leah read a Christian parenting book that suggested, among other things, that keeping your child up past his bedtime was a sin. We hadn't thought of that, but since we didn't have any other ideas it kind of stuck in our minds—Leah's especially. Parenting advice does that; "insider knowledge" in general does that. When you haven't thought about something before, some bit of an idea can get in past your critical filters and become part of your decision-making, even though you never really rationally evaluated the claim. Well, it's safe to say that we've now fully evaluated the bedtime argument and we think it's wrong.

I can't recall precisely, but I imagine the author's thought was that kids are important—more important than social engagements or whatnot. Which is true enough, as far as it goes, and certainly when our boys are breaking down for lack of sleep we'll get em home: that's just basic self-preservation. But there are other things to consider too, like making them feel like they can make decisions for themselves, and letting them participate in activities that stretch a little later than they'd usually be awake.

So the last three nights (to say nothing of countless other nights over the past two-plus years) we've done things that this parenting book would never have approved of. Wednesday Zion went to bed early, but Harvey wanted to stay up late and watch us playing a board game with a friend, and we let him—until he said he was tired and was ready for bed. Yesterday we enjoyed dinner at the food pantry and a visit to the playground and library, and walked home after dark, at around 7:30; both boys fell asleep in the stroller. Today we were out at our church small-group, a very kid-friendly environment, until 8:30 or so.

I value a good night's sleep. Lord knows I wish I had more of them myself. But I also value spending time with friends and having fun adventures, and I want the kids to see that those things are worthwhile. More, I want them to be able to be part of things that I like if they want to. We might not be telling them that they're the most important thing in the world—or rather, that their sleep is—and that we're going to stop everything we're doing to get them to bed on time, but I hope that we are telling them that they're important enough to be part of the activities that we do as a family, and important enough that we trust them to make decisions about how soon they need to sleep. I don't think there's any sin in that.

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another lifestyle experiment

Mama and Harvey reading by the light of the headlamp

better than cursing the darkness

My family indulges me wonderfully. The other day, I announced with no preamble that I thought we should stop using electric lights in the evening. "OK," they said—or Leah said, at least. The other two failed to grasp the import of the change in policy.

Why on earth would I think such a thing? I'm not quite sure. I know that Cornell University sleep researcher James Maas suggests that the light bulb was among the more destructive inventions of the 20th century for what it's done to people's sleep, and it's certainly nice to be more in tune with the natural cycle of the day. It's especially important for Harvey, now that he doesn't have a set bedtime (of which more anon).

Of course, it's kind of cheating to be typing by the light of the computer—the house has been dark for a good half hour now. We're using flashlights too, as necessary (see above photo). But computers and flashlights are only a marginally acceptable solutions when compared to the thoughtless convenience of overhead lighting, so even when we do stay up past dark—which we've been doing—we feel that we should be going to bed.

Or I do, at least. Maybe Leah just feels annoyed at not being able to see anything really well. But as I said, she indulges me wonderfully and hasn't mentioned it. How lucky I am. And soon I'll be well-rested too!

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at the dying of the day

Last night we started thinking about going to bed at maybe quarter past seven. Today circumstances have conspired to keep us up somewhat later, but while Leah claims to still have energy to burn I've definitely been ready for a nap since 8:00 at the latest. What can I say: it's dark by then! I take my inspiration from the chickens, who make sure they're up on their roost while they can still see what they're doing, and are sound asleep by full dark. That's the way to be.

I went out to the store about an hour ago—those circumstances again—and I was kind of amazed everything was still open. Twenty of nine! Who on earth is up and about at that hour? Not many Whole Foods shoppers, but apparently enough to make the late closing worthwhile; it's like a whole parallel world I know nothing about.

You might say it isn't that long since I was complaining that there isn't anything to do after 10:00, when just about everything around here is shuttered for the night, but it was long: some 15 years since I roamed the darkened streets of Lexington as an energetic young teenager. More to the point, 15 years and a couple of kids. Plus we're farmers now. Those chickens may go to sleep early, but they're up with the sun! Oh wait, I have to get up like 45 minutes before the sun puts in any kind of appearance these days, don't I. Who knew chickens had it so good?!

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