Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Sometimes – maybe all of the time – a magic wand would be welcome. I’d love to wave it over my daughter and magically make her a better sleeper, a toddler who doesn’t wake up every time she wets her diaper – or, better yet, a toddler who doesn’t wet her diaper and therefore doesn’t wake herself up!

No straw, pencil, pen, stick, or skewer has done the trick, and Ollivander isn’t set up in a shop around the corner, so I’ve had to settle for persistence and patience – and it’s a good thing, because I’m going to need to cling to my patience for a long time: her nighttime waking isn’t changing. But her going-to-sleep pattern is.

In early January, my husband attended a conference, leaving our daughter and me home for the better part of a week. What better time, I thought, to try to switch up our nighttime routine? For months, the last thing she had before bed was mama milk, which really meant that I had to put her to bed. I relished the intimate one-on-one time with her, but it also tied me to the house in the evening and, inextricably, to her bedtime routine. While my husband was gone, however, I switched the order: “milk, books, night-night,” I began saying, trying to impress upon her the nature of the change.

As you might imagine, it wasn’t smooth; we all like our routines, and it’s hard to give up that comfort. It worked, though – even if the “night-night” part required enough back-patting, as she lay in her crib, to create an album full of percussion rhythms.

He came back from his conference, and the new plan was in effect. Sunday night went passably well. Monday night, not quite a week into our efforts, it all went horribly wrong. “Milk, books, night-night,” I chanted. This time, her daddy read the books and tried to put her down – to no avail. We patted her. We rocked her. I nursed her. She cried.  The crib? No good. The bed? No good. Each was, apparently, its own torture device; we must have had tacks and electric shock devices installed without my knowledge. At last, as a last resort, my husband drove her around. Being confined in her carseat is usually a useful, last-ditch tactic to get her to fall asleep. A nursing top-off upon return seals the deal, and she’s down for the count.

Or not.

After the drive, he brought her in, sleepy but not sleeping, and I nursed her. And nursed her. And nursed her. She was sleeping about as much as an Olympic runner is while waiting in the starting blocks. On the drive, she usually looks at the moon and dozes in its beatific presence. This time, she apparently commented on her surroundings: “Light….light….light….,” she said, as they drove past street light after street light. Finally, my husband says, he told her, “Close your eyes and go to sleep!” After a moment of toddler griping, she did. It didn’t last.

Back in the house, our fail-safe method having failed, we were at a loss. We tried lying down with her together, the whole family turning in for the night. That didn’t do it, either. It was nearly 11. It was after 11. WE were tired.  At 11:15, we left her in her crib. Oh, she cried! We lay on the couches, he with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I with The Big Year, and grimaced at each other over our books as her crying went on for five minutes….nearly ten minutes….longer than she may ever have cried at a time before in her whole life. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but I was beginning to feel a whole new sort of desperation. By fifteen minutes, she was quiet. She was asleep. I felt guilty but relieved. The last last resort worked.

We haven’t had to do that again. “Milk, books, night-night” is now a chant she’s taken up herself. If she asks for milk after reading, we remind her, and she’s mollified. If she stands up her crib as we pat her, calling for another book or, more likely, milk (“Mama moat!” it is, these days), “milk, books, night-night” reminds her to lie down. Now it is routine, and it’s one she can cling to herself. She is, again, comforted with the constancy – and I’m not the only one who can put her to bed.

Daddy and daughter read

“Milk, books, night-night,” she chanted one morning to herself, well before her naptime. I followed her instructions, and she fell asleep at 9, at least two hours earlier than usual. Immersed as we are in Harry Potter (he’s reading, I’m rereading), I wonder if there isn’t a bit of magic in the incantation. I think there must be.

I might not have a wand, but I did find the magic words.

Morning time, reading time, play time, going-for-a-walk time, visiting-the-tiger time, nap time, lunch time, Skype time, playing-with-the-cat time, dinner time, night time, middle-of-the-night time – she has words for every occasion.

Now, she even lets us know her desire to do things by referring to herself in the third person and announcing “MaWoo do!” She’s not confusing herself with her mama; for her, this “Ma” is with an “a” as in “apple.” She can do everything from scrub toilets to talk on the phone, if she is to be believed.

During meals, while we sit catty-corner, sometimes reading (right now, we’re part way through Kipling’s The Jungle Book, having read through some of the Mowgli bits which really are astonishingly unlike the Disney version), sometimes talking, she is usually able to hold up her end of the conversation. Well, I suppose she monologues more than she dialogues, but it’s still interactive. “Duck sad,” she often says, only “sad” comes out more like “dad,” but shorter and faster, as if she wants to hurry past the sadness. She signs one version of sadness, too, drawing her finger down her cheek from her eye, to show that he really was sad.  “That’s right,” I encourage. “Duck was sad.” Shaking her head sadly, she says, “Catch. Catch star.” She waits; we each have a role, and we have to play them out. Isn’t that how a conversation goes, though? “That’s right; he can’t catch the star.” Her turn again. She flaps her arms again and says, “Die.” By this she means “fly.” (In other scenarios, she might mean “side”; no flapping accompanies that.) “That’s right; the star flies away.”

To the outside observer, this conversation would seem apropos of nothing – and maybe it is. It doesn’t have a thing to do with her lunch of cottage cheese and pears, or leftover pizza and tomatoes, or a sandwich (with plenty of mayo, thanks to Daddy) and grapes. It’s certainly not related to The Jungle Book, not to Mowgli’s stories or those of Kotick the white seal, Toomai of the Elephants, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, or anyone else we’ve met so far. It is, however, very linked to her world – and WordWorld, which is really synonymous with TV for her. Her TV watching has included bits and pieces of other things but mostly this show. (Yes, I know the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages screen time for children under two, but we read and talk so much that it’s difficult to feel bad about watching an hour or less a week together.)

We watched WordWorld’s “The Christmas Star” episode several times during the holidays because it caught her fancy, and she’d talk about it, like she still does.  Duck tries to catch the Christmas star to give to his friend Frog, and he lassos it but it flies off, leaving him in a snowbank, and he’s sad – until his friends sneak the letters to him so he can make a star which he can then use to top the tree, making all of his WordFriends – and himself – happy.

WordWorld's "The Christmas Star," Episode 125 ("Episode")

I wish that she could consistently find that kind of calm and happiness at bedtime. Last Friday, her non-sleeping was in full effect. “Pat, Mama,” she must have said twenty times, as she asked me to pat her back as she lay in her crib. An hour and forty-five minutes later, she was no closer to sleeping than she had been before, and out of sheer frustration, I left her in her crib to cry because I felt near crying myself.

About two minutes later, I couldn’t take the sobbing anymore, either; it was far, far worse than her talking instead of sleeping, maddening though that was.

As I came back into the room, she stopped crying and stretched her arms out to me, her hero, her rescuer. Her heavy post-sob-breathing broke the quiet. Face wet and blotchy with tears, she looked up at me from her crib and hiccuped, “MaWoo dad.” She traced a finger down her cheek, then reached up for me with both arms. “Hole [hold], Mama.” As I picked her up, she said, “Hug,” and wrapped her arms around me.

Even as I comforted her, wrapping my arms around her as tightly as she wrapped her arms around me, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I felt protective and love-full and achy, knowing how sad she was – and it wasn’t just the tears that told me. SHE told me, in her own varied words and phrases. My marvel of a girl, whose brain was and is surely clicking and whirring like a perpetual motion machine, could find the words she needed, even in her time of tears. She needed me to comfort her, and I felt the warmth of her relief. In this scenario, however, I was both the arsonist and the firefighter, starting and extinguishing the blaze. I felt guilt on both sides, too: guilt for starting the conflagration, and guilt for getting credit for putting out what was my own doing. I kissed her wet face. What else could I do?

“Sorry,” I said as I held her close. Sometimes, that’s the only word we need.

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“Episode Descriptions.” WordWorld: Where Words Come Alive. WordWorld, 2010. Web. 8 January 2012.

Pop pop, noodle noodle, close your eyes,
Close your eyes right now, I say.

Pop pop, noodle noodle, close your eyes,
It’s time to sleep at end of day.

A new song was born at bedtime on Sunday night, sending her off into sleep on the first night of the new year. More minor than major, the tune got caught on some peg at the entrance to my brain, and it’s still hanging at the entryway. Whether I’m humming it audibly or it’s just swaying on its hook in my head, it’s stuck. (And how does it happen that a song can play in your head when there is no sound?)

She, too, at 20+ months, is finding that she is stuck. New Year’s Eve, she was up for at least an hour in the middle of the night, going through her lists, largely family names and body parts. New Year’s Day, as she was falling asleep, she added new items: we talked about rhyming recently, and I guess she’s processing the new information. Elbow, which she now says as “el-bow” and not just “bow” (just as armpit used to be “pit” and on New Year’s Day became “arm-pit”),  and Elmo, a character she knows from a plastic sippy cup at her grandmother Zee-Zee’s house, were her first rhyme. She said them herself. “Elmo,” we pointed out. “Elmo,” she repeated, then added, “Elbow.” Cue parental jubilation. Never has a Sesame Street character sounded so good to my ears. Then we added “cat” and “pat,” “pat” being one of her favorite words these days. On her instructions, we have to pat her, the cat, friends’ and families’ dogs, and sometimes each other. “Patty her,” she urges, regardless of gender.

When it’s time to sleep, her brain needs time to wind down (even I find her lists and repetition tiring; how must it feel to be her!). “Potty it,” she pleads. “Potty,” sounding like something between “pat,” “potty,” and “pout,” is her way of saying to pat her. As she lies in her crib,  I pat her and sing. She talks herself down. “Pit pot cat,” she chanted Sunday; “pit pot cat.” Maybe they aren’t quite rhymes for her yet, but they will be. Eventually, she sleeps.

I’m going the opposite way, from rhyming to not quite rhyming. Tonight, after following her instructions to cover her with her “bate” (blanket) and to “potty it,” she said, “pah noodle.” It might be her first song request. In the new singing of it, the last line has become, “It’s time to sleep my baby.” “Say” and “baby” may not exactly rhyme, but I like the song better now. There were no complaints from the crib, either; she’s learning early on that that language is a bit like a toy: something you can play with but must set aside if you ever want to sleep.

Her lists are quieted, and for now, she is, too.