Friday, March 28, 2008

Homeland Policy (part two)

Report on night number two of the closed-door policy: Noah went to bed last night just after 7:00. He woke briefly at 8:30. Matthew was working furiously on a job application in the office under Noah's bedroom, and when he telephoned a friend to request a reference, his voice carried through the ceiling. I held my breath as I heard Noah cry briefly, go to the door, and then returning to tumble back into bed. Total time awake, three minutes. He awoke next in the middle of the night, for seven minutes, and then slept again until 6:00 in the morning. I am filled with gratitude at his goodness. I am not yet relaxed about this whole thing, as evidenced by my complete attention to the total number of minutes he is alone and awake in his bedroom, but I creep toward adjusting.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Domestic Policy and (En)treaties

The prolific musician Paul Simon released a greatest hits collection in 1988 called "Negotiations and Love Songs" and yesterday I woke thinking how apt and wry a title this is becoming for my newest experiences of Noah's toddlerhood. Parenting Noah in the last several weeks has brought me the farthest out of my comfort zone as I've been to date. I'm sure this is just the beginning, but it has been a hard realization after so many truly blessed months of feeling like a competent mother.

Noah is 20 months old, and exploring his world as much he possibly can. This includes strengthening his independence, while of course continuing to be very dependent. A situation none of us would find easy or fun, and yet it has startled Matthew and I at moments to see Noah asserting so LOUDLY and ADAMANTLY about how he doesn't want us to pull off his shirt before bathtime, or doesn't want us to touch the tower of blocks, or any number of things that we've coasted along doing forever until now. It's not about rhyme or reason, and largely causes us to smile a lot and offer empathetic support for Noah finding his way while we try to stay out of the way. Except, of course, for the point of this blog - the real rub. Noah's sleep has been really disrupted, for nights on end, more than ever in his life. Therefore, so has ours.

Our history with sleep involves co-sleeping with Noah until he was 16 months old, when he then moved to a single mattress bed on the floor of our room for two months, and then in January moved down the hall into his own room. He's never slept in a crib. Once he'd really settled into his room, I weaned him from breastfeeding at night, and then weaned him from having me lie down and/or sleep with him, which brings us to where we have been for some weeks now - I have continued to respond to his wakeful cries in the night by going and sitting by him on the bed until he falls asleep, and then would creep back to my own bed. A few weeks ago we hit a plateau as this "I want...Can I get?" phase started and it started to be five times a night that he would call for me. Then he wouldn't fall asleep deeply enough so I could get out his door before he woke and cried for me again. Then he was getting out of bed and padding down the hall to get me several times a night.

While I've had tired nights before, and actually Noah has never slept all the way through a night, what was excruciating about this was that as a parent I had arrived at the edge of a new cliff. Each transition before I had been able to help Noah make by remaining physically close to him. Looking back I don't know whether this was more comforting to him or me. As Matthew and I gathered information and talked in the last two days to come up with a new plan together to help Noah get better sleep and stay in his room at night, it became clear that he would not be able to enter a process of disorganization and then problem-solving to learn to comfort himself if I (or Matthew) was always there to do the job for him. And the fact that all three of us were now sleeping poorly despite my dogged response to Noah's cries was telling us that change was again upon us. So Matthew and I wrangled and struggled and talked and finally agreed that we would do the most scary thing we've had to do so far with Noah: shut his bedroom door.

To type that, it seems very inocuous compared to the strong negative connotations both Matthew and I had with doing this. Neither of us are proponents of the "cry it out" method and we know that our tolerance for Noah's crying, discomfort, and distress is pretty low. We both feared traumatizing him by withdrawing from him and containing him in his room. But we finally agreed that we could talk with him about this plan, would place a new nightlight in the room, offer a lovey to him that he could use or not use, and would try it. A child development specialist we rely on for assistance had offered in a phone call yesterday afternoon that we could try 15 minutes of waiting after Noah wakes in the night, and Matthew and I agreed that we could tolerate this much distress on Noah's part, but not much more more. We enjoyed a bath, putting on pajamas, reading books, and I nursed Noah down to sleep. Matthew and I went downstairs to watch a little t.v. and try to unwind, both basically thinking that the night ahead could be pure hell.

Noah woke around the time he usually does in the night - the clock said 11:59. I tensed and both Matthew and I were immediately completely alert and listening. Interestingly, Noah called for Matthew first, an unusual thing for him. Since I had done most of the talking at bedtime about the plan, I think Noah knew that I wasn't going to come tonight. He usually knows when I mean business. So he called for Matthew for about 30 seconds. Then he called for me. Then he called for the cat. "Cat! Caaaaat!" At this time Matthew said "He's so smart." We could hear Noah thinking, trying to figure out what to do. Then he started knocking on his door really loudly. He rattled the doorknob. Matthew and I held hands and listened. Four minutes had passed. Noah started to cry hard, and then quickly began to gag and choke, a really painful thing to hear as any parent knows who has a child who has this secondary response to an unwanted event. A few times when Noah has cried really hard for a long time he has done this. It's AWFUL. Matthew and I had agreed beforehand that if he did that for more than 30 seconds, then Matthew would go in and comfort Noah and try to calm him down and get out of the room again as quickly as possible. Noah stopped and it got quiet for a minute. Matthew said, "He's thinking." I had enough room in my brain to notice how different Matthew and I were responding. I was lying there stiff as a board warding off thoughts that I am a terrible mother, and he was a sports announcer giving an empathetic play-by-play of our son's words and deeds. "He's on his bed," he said next, with some amount of wonder in his voice. It had been six minutes. Noah went back to the door and started really yelling loudly for me. He did this for about another six or seven minutes and unbelievably, 14 minutes from his first cry, we heard him go to his bed. "He's going to safety," said Matthew. At exactly 15 minutes Noah was silent, asleep. I got up and turned up the monitor to hear Noah breathing for a minute, and then got back in bed. Matthew and I debriefed for a few minutes, and went back to sleep. Noah didn't wake again until 6:00 a.m.

The light was coming in the window, and Matthew and I went and got Noah when we heard him stir. On his bed with him was a book, a diaper, the container of diaper wipes, and his sippy cup of water. The things he'd take to a deserted island if stranded. I felt, well, like we'd all made it through alive. So great was my fear, my wanting to do the right thing for Noah.

I can't say that I slept well last night, from listening so hard, but I learned my own lessons, distinct ones from Noah's. First, what felt so intensely like a parenting issue, negotiation, and decision, was so much really a developmental issue for Noah. It's his job to ask for what he wants and what he knows, and to work to gain control of his own little life. It doesn't mean he always gets what he wants, because new things become appropriate as he grows. Second, while the goal was to give Noah the opportunity to learn a new skill, he was teaching us at least as much. Creating space for opportunity is not abandonment or brokenness. A hard one for me to remember, as this is a vulnerability I've long lived with. Finally, I am so blessed to learn that all those earlier months and moments of giving him love and space to be himself are mattering already, because he has the support to use what he has inside him to step off his own little cliff and find - amazing! The net is right there for him. What more could a mother want for her child than this - resourcefulness and strength.

It's this mix of having to take the lead, make the rules, have control, use force, guide and shape, give up, nudge and allow, and let go. This impossible mix that had us pleading with Noah two days ago, and making a plan as his parents the next. On this day I feel so blessed that my deepest belief has proved out that with the closing of his bedroom door, a host of new bridges are built.

Monday, March 24, 2008

While My Baby Gently Weeps

Matthew and I continue to say that Noah is an old soul. He seems to express deep emotions that are years beyond his years. Matthew and I have thought for a very long time how amazing it is that he would sit on the floor in front of our shelf of photo albums, pull them out, flip through for a long time, and then would begin weeping. Not the frustrated cry, not the angry cry, not the "I want something right now" cry, but weeping. We would hear him sniffle, and then he'd drop his head, and then he would cry big sad tears. Weeping with the sweet sentimentality that I thought we were imbued with only when we get older.

Last week he had another reason to weep. He's been missing his "Dadn" while he is away at work. At first, the only love object that got this special pronounciation was our cat, Sidney, who for some time was referred to as "Catncatncatncat." Now he has taken on another completely different pronounciation that is kind of a Snagglepuss-with-Long-Island-dialect, "Cyaaaaat. Cyaaaaat. Cyaaaaat." Anyway, last week, "Dada" became "Dadn," which Matthew takes to mean that Noah truly loves him now in some way he didn't before. So anyway, one day after bathtime in the morning, Noah took the largest of the rubber ducks in the tub and proclaimed it "Dadn." Then he carried the duck around with him all day, and wept on it. He would play with me for a while, or we would read, and then he would hold up his "Dadn" duck while making the baby sign for "Daddy" at the same time, and big crocodile tears would roll down his cheeks. I'd hold him tight and tell him I miss Daddy too, and this would prompt Noah to open his mouth wide and wail with the saddest sobs I've ever heard. I would nurse him and he'd have to stop nursing to cry and sob. I've never seen anything like this. Much of my young life I worked as a personal caregiver and watched over many babies who never revealed this absolutely sweet heartbreaking behavior.

We called Daddy at work on both of these days, and Noah would listen intently while Matthew talked to him, and then would burble and chat himself whenever Matthew paused. He would do well for a while after the call, and then would weep again. Those two nights he also wanted Matthew to sleep in bed with him in the middle of the night, a huge first. Usually, if Daddy tries to help out at night he is met with arms pushing him away and screams for "Mamaaaaa! Mamaaaaa!" But on these nights Matthew got into bed with him and held him tightly and slept beside him. I prayed that Noah didn't know something tragic that I don't, because he acted like Matthew was going away forever, or had been gone forever.

After those two days, there was another sea change. As many people have said, there is no getting comfortable with any certain stage, and even calling behaviors a stage seems ridiculous when it's only two days of said behaviors, but he was back to our light-hearted love of a son. He was happy, didn't mention Matthew much when he wasn't around, and slept wonderfully and happily again at night with only a few wakeful moments.

It's a mystery, this parenting thing. While I can probably count on my two hands the times I've actually panicked because of either being afraid for his safety and well-being, or because I absolutely didn't know what to do, many more times do I watch in wonder like a student looking at an admired teacher, and do what I can, amazed when things make a difference to him, or when he shifts gears seemingly effortlessly, from joyful to bereft, or from pain to peace. He is moved by tides and waters deeper than I can see. And when he shows us his tender heart so plainly there is no more sweet and sad song out there.