My yoga teacher, like most yoga teachers, is always going on about how five minutes of savasana is equal to three hours of sleep. How they do that calculation I have no idea but this morning I could really do with an extra three hours of sleep. It’s been one of those weeks.
So I decided, screw it. Instead of spending another five minutes staring blankly at my screen trying to remember what I was working on, folding washing or throwing something in the slow cooker, I’m going to try it.
I opened my meditation app (which apparently needs to be updated because I haven’t used it in I hate to think how long) and set a timer for five minutes. I lay down on the ground, in the corpse position. It was quite easy, really – I kind of feel like a corpse most of the time anyway. I brought my attention to the tingling sensations of my muscles relaxing, the supportive feeling of the carpet beneath me. I made my mind body-shaped.
And each time my mind started to wander, I remembered the subtle threat in my yoga teacher’s tone when she explained how the magic five-minutes-for-three-hours-time-swap works – you have to really do savasana. Not just lay there thinking about whether or not the baby’s about to wake up, or if she’ll take a bottle later today, or the blog post you’re gonna write in a few minutes. So I took heed and let it all go, melting into the ground, bringing myself back to the present moment time and time again.
By the time the gong went off I was actually totally relaxed, tingly and floating. I slowly stretched my neck, turning my head from side to side and took a deep breath. Left was the baby’s change mat, so I probably rubbed my face on poo. Right was a distinct aroma of urine, and I was reminded that my toddler had an accident in that very spot a few weeks ago. Oops. Back to reality.
Do I feel like I had three hour’s sleep? Who knows. I can’t really remember what that feels like to be honest. But I do like to think my eyes are stinging a tiny bit less than they were earlier, and I might just lay on the floor and pretend to be dead for a few minutes tomorrow, too.
I’m 19 weeks now, and I’ve realized that the only way to get through this pregnancy without feeling like absolute crap all the time is to prioritize. If I want to get 8 hours sleep every night – which I do – I basically have no option but to give my family, my job and my health top priority. Everything else has to take a back seat.
The truth is, I learnt this lesson a while ago. That if I wanted to live a conscious, intentional life – which I do – I can’t do everything. I can’t even attempt it. I learnt that in order to make space for quality time with my son and my husband, there needs to be blank spaces in my schedule. Time to listen to each other, to prepare healthy food, to do what we feel like at a given time. Time to be.
This way of living doesn’t come naturally to me. My gut tells me to go go go, all the time. To fit in catching up with friends and seeing family and chatting on the phone and going out and making it to three yoga classes a week and however many hours my job demands. My motto was always “I can sleep when I’m dead.” And it was a lot of fun for a time there – but that time has passed. Maybe it’ll return one day, who knows, but this life we’re building now requires a calmer pace.
Back to now. To be honest, my life right now is pretty repetitive. Wake up around 6am, spend a couple of hours with my boys, head to work. Come home, couple of hours with GG, get him to bed. An hour with the husband before I crash if we’re lucky. Repeat until the weekend.
On the weekend there’s a bit more room to breathe. I can generally make it to a yoga class, maybe catch up with a friend, and fit in plenty of slow family time. I do everything I can to take afternoon naps, in the hopes that they’ll fuel me through that urge I have at 2pm every other day to curl up under my desk and take a long snooze.
I also started eating a bit of meat (for the first time in over 10 years), which has made a big difference to how I feel overall. As an ideological vegetarian I still struggle with this decision, but it’s the right one for me for now. I was totally exhausted and suffering from two-day long headaches before I tried out the meat and now I’m feeling so much better. Again, it’s a matter of conscious priorities.
There are things that I miss. Time with friends, relaxing with my husband at night and jogging to name a few. But there’s a special feeling building at the same time, an excitement, anticipation. And slowing things down a bit gives us a few extra moments to really be in it. To honor this in between time before the addition of the next member of our family.
Even if I’m passed out on the couch for a good chunk of it.
As if the internet needed more confused parents babbling about their children’s sleep habits.
But I can’t help myself. Despite having previously established that I am not a sleep trainer or any sort of expert on the matter – far from it – every time we have a breakthrough with GG’s sleep I feel the urge to shout it from the rooftops.
Lucky me, I have a blog. My own proverbial rooftop.
Up until this week, we’ve been sitting with GG as he falls asleep. Getting to the point where we weren’t touching him at all seemed like enough of a victory for now, plus we both work full-time and took a certain enjoyment (most of the time!) from those sweet moments before he drifts off.
Now that he’s started speaking (full paragraphs in two languages, no less), bed-time was turning into a 45-minute lecture, two-year-old style. Hilarious and cute but not so relaxing or conducive to sleep.
Added to that was the knowledge in the back of my mind that in a few months time there’s gonna be another little guy or gal in the picture, and I don’t want bedtime to turn into more of a madhouse than it needs to be.
So we decided it was time for GG to start going to sleep by himself. In a rare still moment I told him what was going to be different that night. Daddy would read him two stories, tuck him into bed, and then say goodnight and leave the room. If he needed us we’d be right outside the door. And he was like *shrug* ok. Whatever you guys think is best.
Bedtime comes along and what do you know – he went to sleep by himself without a smidge of resistance, and woke up happy as anything 11 hours later. The last few nights have been variations on the same – he sometimes calls out a few times for reassurance but ultimately the kid is cool with his new bedtime routine.
So had we been wasting our time for past few months? Sitting with him when he could have been doing it himself? I don’t think so. Just like every other time we’ve made a change and it’s gone smoothly, I feel like this came at just the right time. I believe that the resistance that GG showed when we tried to work with a sleep trainer when he was seven months old was him saying that he wasn’t ready.
And perhaps more importantly – neither were we. A smooth, intentional behavior change when it comes to parenting has two sides – theirs and ours. Whenever I’m totally at peace with what I’m asking GG to do, he reads that straight away and feels comfortable with the change.
Bottom line – you’ve just gotta own it. And I’m so freaking proud of both of us right now! Sweet dreams.
I guess we haven’t always had the perfect relationship, maybe we never will. But I want you to know – I think you’re pretty awesome. This is a love letter.
Thank you for understanding when you weren’t my top priority and soldiering on regardless. I know I haven’t always treated you as best as I could, and yet you’ve held up pretty damn well. Thank you for being so forgiving.
Thank you for functioning on so little sleep. I know all those late nights I kept you up partying and chatting and breastfeeding can’t have been easy on you. They were important to me and oh so fun but I’m getting it now – we’ve gotta sleep. I’m on it, promise.
Thank you for sensual pleasures. Hugs, chocolate, orgasms and massages would be nothing without you.
You have many admirable functions, but lately my highest honor goes to the reproductive system. That is some seriously amazing work you do there. Thank you for growing our beautiful son, seemingly out of nowhere, and for birthing him so gracefully. Kudos too on bouncing back after our recent hard times. I can’t wait to see what wonders you have in store for us in that department.
Also – nice tits. Seriously. I knew we had a nice rack before but the last two years of breastfeeding have made me understand the true beauty of boobies. Not every woman has the smooth run we’ve had (no pun intended) – I don’t take it for granted.
Thank you for coming to yoga classes with me all these years, twisting and jumping and stretching and balancing. The practice we’ve built through all our extremes – big, smaller, fit, not-so-much, tired, energized and everything in between – is a testament to what we can do when we work together.
Which brings me to breathing. Thank you for inhaling and exhaling, no matter what. Even when I was convinced as a kid that I didn’t breathe. Even when I made it hard for you by smoking for all those years. On top of the oxygen and whatnot, this constant flow is a source of awakening for me. Always there, always available to bring me back to the present moment.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to find the point where I end and you begin. It’s a fuzzy line, I know. Often I forget it exists altogether, and I get myself all confused thinking that I’m you or that you’re me. And so instead of appreciating how I would be nothing without you, I get bummed out about stretch marks and a few extra kilos and some bags under my eyes. I promise to work on that, for all of the reasons above.
I am not a sleep trainer – far from it – but I have learnt a few things about babies and sleep over the past two years. While there are no hard and fast rules, these are five things I’ve found to be true:
1. Sleep begets sleep
It’s true for me and it’s true for my kid. When I’m tired I get hyper, and it’s much harder for me to wind down for sleep. And then when I do manage to drift off, my sleep quality tends to be terrible.
Surprise surpise – babies and toddlers are people too! When GG goes to bed too late, he’s more likely to wake through the night, have trouble getting back to sleep, and get up for the day at some ungodly hour like 4am.
2. Boundaries are not punishments
This is a hard one for me, but it’s crucial. Firm boundaries on important issues (such as sleep, safety and violence) make kids feel safe. Of course when I put it like this it sounds like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t always feel so straightforward to me.
Take the last few weeks for example: there’s been a lot going on in our household. GG is about to turn two and going through like a billion developmental milestones all at one time and probably cutting four molars as well, plus we just moved him from a cot to a bed. His dad is finishing up one job and about to start a new one. I lost another pregnancy last month. The weather has turned decidedly wintery, it’s cold season at daycare… etc. There are a million and one reasons for GG’s sleep to suffer, and suffer it did. We’ve had a string of terrible nights, from serious bedtime resistance to three-hour wake ups in the middle of the night.
At first, to be honest, I mainly used my heart to deal with the issue. We cuddled in his bed, I sang whatever song he requested a million times, I let him sleep on my chest. I figured he was getting sick or teething or reacting to my emotional turmoil.
But it didn’t help. Instead, what I did was exacerbate the situation. And instead of a few days of bad sleep, we ended up with a couple of weeks.
No one is at their best after a couple of weeks of dodgy sleep.
After a few heated arguements on the topic and a chat with a wise friend, I realized something that I already knew but evidently needed to re-learn: toddlers need boundaries. Like, about as much as they need food and love and comfort. For whatever reason, GG was feeling out of control, and what he need was for me to help him reign in it.
So why was this hard for me? In my sleep-deprived mind, it felt like being more strict would be like punishing him for having a hard time – which is not my parenting style at all. In fact, the opposite was true. By reinstating his previous routine (set bedtime, falling asleep by himself with me sitting next to the bed, staying in bed if he wakes up during the night, set “morning” time etc), I was helping him find solid ground.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. Shit changes ALL THE TIME
This is an essential truth of life, a fact of our existence, but I feel like it’s especially true for kids. Just when we parents feel like we’ve got it all under control… bam! New phase.
And that’s okay – it’s a good thing. It means they’re learning and growing and developing. Our job as parents, as guides for these little people who are but new to earthly ways, is to stay consistent. To show them that yes, things change, but there’s always something you can hang on to. Me and your dad. We’ve got it under control (most of the time). So even though you’re feeling sick or you’re confused about something or you had a weird day, bedtime will still be the same.
4. You’re not gonna change the kid
This is really important. GG is very much his own person. He has personality traits that we noticed on Day One that are still strong today, and I’m guessing they’ll stay with him throughout his life. My job as his mama is to help him work with what he’s got, and find ways to be the best little dude he can possibly be.
So, when it comes to sleep – I’ve accepted that I’m not going to change him into the kid who runs to his bed at naptime, sleeps for 14 hours when he’s sick or drifts off while we’re reading a book. I’m not that person either, and though I’ve learnt to appreciate sleep, I’d still pretty much always rather be hanging out and having fun than “wasting time” sleeping.
What I can do for him is help implement good habits and positive associations around sleep. Ultimately, the rest is on him.
5. Lastly, every time I write a post about sleep, everything goes to shit
Seriously, it’s like this blog has super-powers. Every time we go through a rough patch and then I decide I’ve cracked the code and should share my infinite wisdom with you fine peoples, something changes and we’re back to Square One. At which point I’ll just need to come back and read point three above I suppose.
Our 2-year-old has been having a tough week. He’s happy one minute and irritable the next. Picky with food. Super opinionated about everything. And of course his sleep is suffering too – which in our house translates to extreme bedtime resistance and hours of screaming between the highly questionable hours of midnight and 4am.
Lots of fun for the parents.
Luckily, both of us are certified google doctors so we’ve gone through everything. Could he have an ear infection? Or worms? Maybe he’s teething again? But apart from disturbed sleep, none of the symptoms fit.
Yesterday during an intense medical research session (read: Google search) I found a couple of articles on the “2 year sleep regression.” These made more sense: basically new separation anxiety, nighttime fears and lengthened wake-times all join together to screw up toddlers’ sleep for a little while. Satisfied with my diagnosis, I sent the links over to my husband.
“So?” he asked later, ever the Mr. Fix-it, “How do we fix it? What do we do?”
“Nothing,” I replied. “We just keep doing what we’ve always done, we stay consistent, and it’ll pass.”
All of this frantic searching for something wrong, something to fix, something to do had made me miss the point. With the exception of when there’s something really wrong – in which case we usually know right away – our job is to show our kids that everything’s okay. That even if they’re having a hard time, acting out, testing boundaries – we’re still here. We’ve got it. They can lose their shit and throw everything on the floor we’ll still be grounded, calm and in charge. We’ll know what to do.
With this renewed strength I had a chat with GG before bedtime. Summarized the tough week we’ve had. Explained the routine anew. Prepared him for every step. And what do you know – bedtime was a breeze and he slept for 11 hours straight.
So much of this game is about how we handle it – rather than the details. When we stop letting the little things ruffle us, the big things are so much easier.
The thing is – I haven’t slept that much since having a baby almost a year ago. And sometimes mindfulness is just too much for my poor, exhausted brain. There are moments that I’m so damn sleep deprived that I’m decidedly unmindful – or should it be mindless? Two examples from the past week:
Unmindful Episode #1: I took the car to work last week, as it was raining and I was picking up Gadi from daycare. I left the office, got into the elevator, pressed the button for the parking lot downstairs, and played with my phone while waiting for the lift to descend to the car park. It didn’t. Instead, the lights went off, and I was left alone in a pitch black metal box. I started to panic. My heart rate rose, I started to think about how long I might be stuck there, who I should call, whether I had cell phone reception. I reached my hand out in the dark towards the buttons, and suddenly the lights came back on. And it was then that I realized. I had pushed 1, the level of my office, rather than -1, the parking. Duh. What actually happened: I stood in a stationary lift so long the lights turned off.
Unmindful Episode #2: While the baby and the husband napped this afternoon, I made two batches of Anzac buscuits. Super pleased with myself, I decided to have a coffee and sample the goods. I got a mug, put a pod in the machine, pressed the button, and heard the coffee start to pour as I put a couple of cookies on a little plate, all the while commending myself for being so brilliantly domestic. I took my mug and my cookies to the couch… only to find the mug completely empty. Where was my coffee? Steaming away in the drip tray of the coffee machine, of course. I forgot to put the mug under the spout.
Guess I should have taken a nap with the boys, huh?
Which brings us to my point – I am not getting enough sleep. Over six months ago I wrote a smug post about how Gadi started sleeping through the night – a rookie mistake. He hasn’t slept more than five hours straight since. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it yet either, who knows, but now we’re ready for a change. I can’t just sit around waiting for the next elevator terror or empty coffee mug shock. Tonight we’re starting with Dr. Jay Gordon’s super gentle night weaning plan. I told Gadi all about it before he went to sleep tonight, and I’m convinced it’s the right time. The plan is for Gadi to be getting (at least) 7 hours straight sleep – and a more mindful mama – in time for his first birthday next week.