What I learned this morning is that have far too many renegade alarm clocks in our house. We bought them. They owe their loyalty to us. But at the hands of one adorable and precocious little boy who touches and dismantles everything he can…all of these alarm clocks formed a sort of mutiny, with my son at the helm.
It all started when we felt compelled to purchase said alarm clocks. I was desperate. Tired. Not thinking clearly. I plead temporary insanity.
There’s something in the modern parenting vernacular called “sleep training,” which is either encouraged or considered tyrannical, hateful parenting. If trying to get your baby to sleep at night isn’t hard enough…the idea that you can get them to sleep like perfect little robots has many parents, like myself, feeling like sleep-deprived failures from the moment we bring our newborns home. Each time my son’s sleeping patterns changed, which means he wasn’t sleeping like some book said he should, I called my mother and begged her to tell me what I was doing wrong. Her response was often to assure me that I had tried everything and this was just part of motherhood.
Until kids leave the nest and are literally sleeping somewhere else, their sleep issues are our sleep issues. They are either waking throughout the night because they are nursing or pooping or sick or they just feel like being awake; they are waking up before civilized people wake just because they can; they are stalling bedtime to the point you become a ball of rage; or, in the later years, they are over-sleeping and/or sneaking out while you are sleeping. Have I covered all the possible variations of this insidious problem?
My son’s transition to his toddler bed from the crib was nothing short of parent torture. I realize for some people, it goes fabulously well. *Please share your “it was surprisingly easy” stories here with your casual “I guess we just have this parenting thing down and you are a hot mess” innocent/judge-y tone. Wait. No don’t. No one wants to hear them.*
Our experience was nothing short of a hair-pulling disaster. In our defense, it wasn’t good timing for anyone. Thus, we spent fourteen days in this painful purgatory until our son finally accepted his new sleeping arrangements, after which his new wake time (also my new wake time) became 5 am. Because in taking a few steps forward in the sleep struggle with your children, you must also take a few steps back. It is an unwritten rule.
This is when I found out that no matter how late I put him to bed, he would wake up early. And since he was obviously too old to stay in his crib safely (thus the transition) and too young to entertain himself in his room until a more godly hour…there was nothing I could do but wake up in the crack before the crack of dawn. And, let me tell you, for a not-so-morning person like me, the crack before the crack…is a dark, dark place.
After several months of that, I found myself on Amazon, searching for alarm clocks that would help sleep-train my child to stay in his bed until a more appropriate hour. I realize, by this point, several people are already judging me for some parenting error I’ve made in the sleep department. Fine. Judge away. I am too tired to care.
We purchased several alarm clocks in succession, each for its special feature–the ability to change colors, show bunnies sleeping and playing, project pictures of the earth and moon on the ceiling, or rock babies while reading them a bedtime story and juggling. *Just kidding. I made up that last one.* With each purchase, I prayed just one of them would liberate us from mornings that began in the dark crack.
After many attempts and fails, we reverted back to the simplicity of a simple sound machine alarm clock. He started sleeping until 6:15 or 6:30 and could be coached to stay in bed (or just in his room) until 7 (which was a miracle). I had a month or so with mornings that could begin with a shower and brief devotion…or just a few extra moments of sleep. And it was beautiful. We gratefully put all other alarm clocks out of commission, overlooking the possibility they would one day rise up against us.
Until…this fateful morning…
Apparently while I was doing something ordinary and innocent like folding laundry or brushing my teeth yesterday, my child entertained himself by discovering these retired clocks, pushing their buttons and arranging them throughout our bedroom. This morning around 4 am, our little human alarm clock resumed his latest nighttime habit, climbing into our bed at an unspecified time while we are dead asleep. I think he has located the moment of least resistance.
The crawling in bed with us, I admit, has been the least irritating sleep habit yet. I love the crinkly sound his night-time pull-up makes when he climbs our impossibly high bed…and the way he squirms between us, lays his head on a pillow and falls back to sleep as if he belongs there.
My husband remains largely unaffected, since my son, hot from his fleece footy pajamas, always finds his way against my back with one leg or arm tossed over me. Last night, I allowed myself to fall back into a fitful sleep, too tired to move or care. Then at 5:30, when the clinging and squirming finally became too much, I moved him back to his own room.
I had barely drifted off again when Sam’s alarm sang good morning at 5:45. He rose for his shower, while I rolled over to enjoy a bed entirely to myself. That’s when the first renegade alarm rang out. It came from the direction of my son’s room…at 6:00 am. NOOOOOOOOO!!!! He’s STILL SLEEPING!!! I yelled in my head. Because yelling out loud that early and before coffee is nearly impossible for me. I catapulted myself out of bed and made it halfway to the door when, by some miracle, the alarm stopped. My husband was in the shower. My son was in his bed. This was clearly a merciful act of God. I waited on pins and needles for any whines or cries. Nothing. I sighed with relief and tip-toed back to sleep.
Then, about 30 minutes later, another rebel alarm clock sounded loudly. This one was in my room and close to my head, planted on my bedside table. At least it was in arms reached. I grabbed it angrily and fumbled in the darkness, pushing every button until it stopped screaming at me. Then I threw it under my covers and mumbled, “If you go off again, I will kill you.”
Five or so minutes later, it did go off again…this time muffled. I assaulted it a dozen times until it was quiet.
In protest of the extra alarms, I decided I would squeeze in every last bit of sleep I could this morning simply because these clocks were all insisting I wake.
At 7:10, my son reappeared in my room and showered me with kisses, which is truly better than any alarm. As we got ready for the day, another alarm went off…his newest space rocket alarm clock, which he had placed on our dresser. Seriously. No more alarm clocks. Ever.
It remains a mystery to me how my son managed to accidentally set three separate alarms within a two-hour window…in the morning. Like why not accidentally set at least one alarm for 3:30 pm?
That’s the thing about kids. It’s not that they are conspiring against you…though sometimes they might be. They are just born doing things that are inconvenient to parents. We can’t program them like, well, alarm clocks. They wake when they want. They want what they want. And they have that lethal combination of limitless energy and very little impulse control. We do what we can to create boundaries and teach them things like patience and independence. But they remain, well, kids.
Just like becoming a parent didn’t make me a morning person, it didn’t automatically make me an expert either. I think in this information age, those of us who are driven to succeed read and research and apply all our knowledge in an effort to fix every parenting dilemma with calm, concise precision. But kids don’t let you do that. They are WILD CARDS.
I fail and more often than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I don’t respond well or I take the wrong approach. But other times I fail to get the results I want because my child isn’t ready or he’s sick or tired or my expectations are too high. What I do know, aside from the too many alarm clock thing I mentioned earlier, is that being a parent teaches me how far I am from the humble, patient, overall virtuous person I thought I was.
Yet the blessings of parenthood make all these difficult personal lessons more bearable.
I don’t know why the universe turned every alarm clock we own viciously against me this morning. And if it is a sign I need to get up earlier, I will woefully defy that to my grave. Because being a mom makes me TIRED. And on the cusp of having another newborn, I am squeezing in those last few minutes of early morning sleep as long as I can. (And praying my next child is a little easier in the sleep department. Yeh, I know, good luck with that.)
God bless parents everywhere. They have a tough and glorious gig. Take heart. Worst case scenario, you can sleep when you are dead.
For more laughs about parenting, kids and sleep, watch this clip of Jim Gaffigan. This clip showed up on a friend’s Facebook page after I wrote this post…and it was right on point! Wait until the end for his bit about children and sleeping. It is HILARIOUS.
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