the sleep consultant (a.k.a. in which my ego is bruised for the betterment of sleep-kind)

You know, this really should be all about him. But it is about me. In that way that parenthood is forcing a total re-evaluation of my ego, my personality, my (bad) habits. Holy cr*p. Life was so much easier when I was only responsible for myself.

And then blogging about parenthood just adds this other layer because what am I doing here? Talking to you? Myself? Trying to be funny? Trying to be right?

Am working over the concept of being right equals being alone as if it were written on silly putty and I can’t stop stretching it.

Am so uncomfortable with the ongoing realization that I don’t do well with criticism, critique, constructive advice, helpful hints that might suggest I need to, ummm… correct my course of action or behavior. I’m supposed to KNOW everything. I’m supposed to be the omniscient narrator. I’m supposed to read all the books and talk to everyone and do it better because I’ve synthesized all the information and discovered something new. And anyway, my kid is totally different, so whatever the “right” thing is, he’s the exception.


I fought the idea of paying someone to help us with Jonah’s sleep. Because A) We’re on the most ridiculously tight impossible budget and $500 is pretty eff-ing hard to find in all those eff-ing line eff-ing items. (I’d have to cancel my BlogHer ad membership to curse as much as I need to on this topic but then I’d lose that little check that buys me lunch once a quarter.)

And B) I should, and probably do, already know what I’m supposed to do. I just don’t do it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We went to a specialist because I suspected that although I have read many books, I haven’t read all of them, or even read all of each of the many books; in fact she might have something to say that I haven’t heard/read/known.

I called her because I realized I wanted an authority to tell me/us what to do next. I knew a lot of things, but I didn’t know what the FFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!! to do next. Not anymore. Not after captain-no-sleep has already been through, and responded or not to every single method I’ve ever heard of, and some I even made up, and still was fighting bedtime for HOURS.

She sounded nice on the phone. And yet, in the day or so leading up to our appointment, I kept imagining all the things I was going to get in trouble for.

I knew she’d bust us for not having blackout curtains. (And she did. Although she wasn’t concerned that we actually get curtains. Black plastic trash bags work fine, she said.)

I suspected I’d get in trouble for being so improvisational with mealtimes, locations, content.

I didn’t really get in trouble. She’s not that sort of person. But structure, especially around mealtimes and what types of food/drink he is consuming, turned out to be part of the solution.

What I didn’t expect to get busted for was our habit of giving Jonah choices. She pointed out to us that in discussing things like where we might go that day, in giving him so much agency (the other morning I had us in the car on our way to yoga and he cried and complained that he wanted to go home so I turned around and went back up the stairs) we were really creating a problem.

Choices are terrifying. Giving a child that much power is terrifying. Maybe she didn’t say terrifying. Scary? In any case, it was a real wake-up call. I/we had been enjoying so much that Jonah HAD opinions and could express them. So we just went with it. Which contributed to his ability to negotiate, beg, wheedle, change the course of bedtime to the point where he no longer had any reliable cues. One piece of the puzzle.

I had this idea that it was a gift I was giving him, this agency over his daily activities, over what he ate for meals and when, what he wore (choices, choices, choices). She also said that she believes he doesn’t know what he’s asking for when he asks for it. That children his age don’t have the ability to visualize the future.

I argued with her on that point. For a bit. But she may be right? Just because he says things like, “We should go to the Vivarium today,” doesn’t mean he’s actually visualizing us going to the Vivarium? He could just be saying the sentence because he likes putting sentences together. I’m not sure on this one but it made me think about how when he doesn’t want to do something, and I make him do it anyway, he’s usually fine. He probably would have been fine if I’d gone ahead and driven to yoga. Just because he can talk, doesn’t mean we have to take everything he says as solid gold.

But in any case, she didn’t say don’t give him any choices. From our discussion, I gather that there’s a balance and my job is to give him a sense of safety and comfort BY TAKING MANY OF THESE DECISIONS OUT OF HIS HANDS.

The really embarrassing part is I get that I was trying to parent around ever making him upset. I wanted him to like me. I wanted every day to be a party. I know there’s a whole renegade school of thought that says to never say “No” to kids (there’s a group of parents in the Bay Area anyway who are trying to live by this — or so I’ve heard — and I often think the renegades know more than the status quo people) and I was playing with that a bit as if that’s the right way, but mostly I was being the “yes” mom to serve my own insecurities. The first time I said “No” to him after our appointment with the SC, he laughed at me. I could hardly keep a straight face myself. It felt so foreign.

(I am imagining right now that SO MANY PEOPLE are reading this and nodding their heads at how wrongheaded I’ve been. I’m uncomfortable at being caught, and admitting it. And yet, I shall keep confessing…)

She did agree that my child is unusual in some of the ways he’s responded to our efforts at sleep training. She called him “adaptable” and called it a good thing — as you might imagine — and also named it as the cause for why everything we’ve done to help him sleep has only worked for about two months before falling apart again.

She said something else about him not knowing how to be tired. That basically all he knows is running us around until he crashes with exhaustion. Anything we *thought* was helping him fall asleep was probably just coincidental, but that he would similarly believe the coincidence was causal. Hence the weeks and weeks of HAND on his face, for example.

He is also unusual in that, although he’d developed a slew of crutches for falling asleep, of late he hasn’t developed a consistent night-waking problem, which she would have expected. We are lucky.

It was an intense almost-two-hours of discovery, discussion, revelation. At one point she said she wasn’t sure if we were really ready to make so many changes, all at once. Maybe we should just start with the curtains and the bottles.

No, I said. I can’t take it anymore. I want an action plan. NOW.

We received our prescription:

1. Cut down on bottles. He’s been drinking over 32 oz per day. She said to bring it down to 16-20, and to stop letting him walk around with them b/c it could contribute to unconscious eating later.

2. Blackout curtains/material over his windows.

3. Have breakfast in the high chair and sit with him, read to him. Have him drink the morning bottle in the high chair.

4. Don’t think of the entire evening as the bedtime routine. Reading books and having a bath are just part of how we spend our evening. Only the last 15 minutes is the routine (potty, songs, snuggles, crib).

5. Send me out at 6:30 p.m. every night to see a movie or hang out with friends while Scott does bedtime.

6. Have Scott sit in the room with Jonah while he protests, once he’s in the crib, but don’t get up or react. Just reassure him verbally at times, staying until he falls asleep.

7. Prepare Jonah for the new bedtime routine by telling a story, acted out with a family of stuffed animals.

8. Call her every morning to report in and receive tweaks if needed.

The woman is a genius.

First of all, Jonah loved the story. He giggled and nodded and ran around the room in circles at the part where the little boy puppy protests at being put in the crib. He totally got that it was about him.

Second of all, I have hardly taken ANY TIME AT ALL EVER since Jonah’s birth to really just go out. Just go. My birthday “spa day” was like training wheels for this week of me getting to go out at night on my own and do nothing responsible or important. She absolutely gave the assignment for me to see friends, go to movies. And I’ve been doing exactly that. It’s a revelation. I wasn’t ready to leave Jonah for most of his first 19 months on this earth, even with babysitters, family. It’s been hard for me to physically be away from him. And I haven’t wanted to leave Scott — that wouldn’t be fair. But truly, my burnout of late has been profound. This “homework” feels like Christmas.

We hung flannel bedsheets over the curtain railings, and ordered blackout curtains from Target. Coming soon.

He had 16oz of milk today, and one serving was in a mug at dinner instead of a bottle. Breakfast and afternoon snack and dinner were in his high chair. I hardly offered him any choices around food at all. He protested the lack of bottles quite a lot in the morning (he usually has four 4oz bottles before his midday nap). In the car, on the way to the park, he said “I. want. a. bah-tulll. You. have. wunnn. in. tha. baaagguh,” because he’d seen me pack it up before we left.

I gave him ice water in a sippy cup and a cheese snack in the stroller. He didn’t ask for the bottle again until music class (remember when he used to nurse through the entire class???). I told him he could have it when we got in the car, after class was over. He complained a bit more but then he was fine. Didn’t ask again until he was strapped into his seat. And of course I gave it to him then, as promised.

He ate so much more FOOD today than he ever has before. I realize I’d been totally lazy with the bottles — it was so much easier for me having him on a liquid diet, but really he should be eating more vegetables and meat and such. At least now he has molars so I’m not as worried about him chewing, and he’s more likely to want to; or so I tell myself.

I should note that she’s not just a sleep consultant but rather a parenting/childrearing consultant on whatever issues arise and so in our appointment she’d gone over his eating habits and I see the changes there as all part of what is going to help him sleep, not to mention potentially have a better relationship with food (knock wood).

I mean it’s not as if Scott or I has any food issues… or like, spaces out in front of the TV while scarfing down dinner (looks at ceiling, twiddles thumbs).

And so, as far as bedtime has gone? The first night, Scott reported that Jonah stood in the crib and yelled for an hour and a half. Wheedled, cried, demanded every delay tactic in the book, sometimes on a loop like a broken record, just repeating demands over and over. At the end, worn out, he finally laid down and fell asleep.

Tonight, while I was out watching Moon by myself (I figured if I’m going to a movie alone, why not see a movie about a guy who is alone? — it was great, BTW) Scott did the heavy lifting again. He reports that the protests were not as energetic tonight, that the boy actually laid quietly in the crib for a bit, and was probably asleep about 15 minutes later, though Jonah woke up when Scott got up to leave so he had to return to the chair and stay a while longer until he was sure the boy was totally out.

We’re in awe.

The thing is, the one thing I’d never heard of or read about, was the idea that one of us could sit in the room while he was crying/complaining.

And the reason why she had me leave the house is that she understood that he would need to know for sure that I wasn’t there — that he would ask for me once Scott wasn’t giving in to the pleading. It helped for him to know that I was physically out of the house. It helped me to not be around during the screaming pleading. And as already discussed, man, have I needed a break.

Gold stars, all around.

She’s not having us address the naps yet. She suggested we just go ahead and drive him to sleep — or at least try, at the same time every day, around 11:30. She also said, given that he wakes at 6 no matter what time he goes to sleep, that she thought our “old” bedtime of 7pm was a good one. So we’re going with that for now.

That’s the report. I pray I don’t jinx it now that I’ve written about it.

Of course there will be ups and downs, adjustments. We’re only 36 hours into some major rearrangements to our day, our psyches.

We’ll see what happens…

14 comments for “the sleep consultant (a.k.a. in which my ego is bruised for the betterment of sleep-kind)

  1. July 15, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I have two no sleep boys. It’s funny you mention just sitting in the chair while Jonah complains about having to go to sleep, because lately I’ve been laying on the floor in the same room while my youngest just rolls around fighting sleep in his.

    It’s been working for us so far. Dumb luck I guess. He started taking over an hour to fall asleep this way, and then 45 minutes, and then 30, and now sometimes he asks to go into his bed on his own and falls asleep even though we leave the room. His daddy and I alternate this routine, but I have noticed it works best with him. The rocking definitely isn’t doing it anymore. Now my only major problem is keeping him in his bed all night. Inevitably he crawls in our bed in the middle of the night. If I put him back in his bed, he shows up an hour or two later. I am just too tired to do it more than once. Thanks for sharing the helpful tips you learned.

    NoMasNinos’s last blog post..Na-na-na-na-na-na-na…Batman and Super Emotions

  2. July 16, 2009 at 1:50 am

    “You have one in the bag” made me laugh out loud. They watch our every move, don’t they? Hilarious.

    Good work, Julie. Keep it up.

    Leila Abu-Saba’s last blog post..Qifa Nabki Suggests: Iran coverage

  3. July 16, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Sounds like a good start!

    One of my college professors used to say that God had allotted us each a specific number of times we needed to hear the word “no” in our lives, and we could either hear most of them when we were kids or have to hear them when we were adults. I’ve always thought there was a lot of wisdom in that statement. We even tell our kids that jail is “timeout” for adults who didn’t get put there enough when they were little.

    Of course, that professor was also the one with a habit of using his past class rosters for dating material (found that one out first hand, the semester after I had his class). Apparently, he didn’t get enough “no’s” as a kid. LOL.

    Katie’s last blog post..Update on My Father-in-Law

  4. Leanne
    July 16, 2009 at 7:16 am

    I may be nodding my head, but it’s because I can relate, if not to actual experiences, then to what you’re feeling. How I always want to be right, have the right answer, have my kids like me (though I know for certain there are times when my son doesn’t — he’s told me so and I’ve found I can get over it — he’s just trying to push my buttons). “Parenthood is forcing a total re-evaluation of my ego, my personality, my (bad) habits.” Gulp, yes. Me, too.

    Glad you have a plan. Glad you are getting some time to yourself. We all could use a little more of that. Ups and downs… yep.

    “I. want. a. bah-tulll. You. have. wunnn. in. tha. baaagguh,” Jonah, you are precious.

  5. July 16, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Oh, I really hope this continues to work so well — it sounds like money WELL spent.

  6. July 16, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Yes, piercing insight: parenthood makes us confront ourselves even more than intimate relationship does. I have probably cleaned up my act in six different ways that I wasn’t willing to before, just because of those parenting challenges. You know, being consistent, polite, kindly and patient… ak.

    Leila Abu-Saba’s last blog post..Qifa Nabki Suggests: Iran coverage

  7. eva
    July 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    That must have been a difficult post to write. Admitting one was “wrong” or maybe “could have done things differently” is sucky, but how wonderful that you’ve gotten such thorough advice and support.

    I’d always read about Jonah’s choices with awe, because Megan really is so so very far behind that…it NEVER occurred to me that this could be stressful for him or that he could be responding to respond. Sorry you had to learn this one the hard way, but it’s definitely been instructive to me, even though we have totally different kids!

    Let us know how the next week or so goes and enjoy your nights out:)

    eva’s last blog post..1 Week Later

  8. July 17, 2009 at 4:55 am

    I agree with Eva, this must have been a difficult post for you to write and kudos for having the guts to talk about this on your blog and share it with us.

    To be honest, I agree with your consultant. It’s not a good idea to give your children so much choice, while parents don’t know everything and often make mistakes, I do believe that parents are in a much better position. I am not for one moment suggesting that parents should override anything and everything their kids want but be judicious in not giving in to the child’s every whim and fancy and like everything else in life strike a balance.

    Good luck and again thanks for talking about this.

  9. July 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I am glad that you have found a solution. I hope things continue to go well. No parent is perfect even though we would all like to be. Good Luck.

  10. Lisa
    July 17, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    OMG. Thank you. I tried sitting in the room tonight. Not talking to DS or even looking at him (Actually was listening to my ipod so I would be as bothered by the screaming) and he cried/fussed for 20 minutes before going to sleep. As opposed to an hour of screaming before one of us caved or an hour rocking/soothing/cajoling. It’s only one day but…

  11. Nana
    July 17, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Glory be! This woman is worth her weight in gold. I hope it all works out.

    The “choices” thing is my fault. Did you get a red bike or a blue bike? I can’t remember.

    There is no shame in admitting you are faliable. Admitting that only proves how strong you are!

  12. July 17, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Choices – well you offer them strategically. “Do you want red bike or blue bike” is a terrific choice to offer. “Do you want a bike or a Mercedes?” not so much. I think it’s good for kids to know that they just don’t have a choice on some issues.

    “It’s time for bed. Do you want to read Make Way for Ducklings, or Winnie the POoh?”

    Also I do believe in a judicious amount of “because I’m the mommy, that’s why.” and later on when they’re more prone to logic and argumentation (I have a budding lawyer in the house) there’s “this is my house, and there are certain things we will do. When you are grown up and live in your own house, you can choose to do it differently.” Basic rules of respect and table manners fall under this category.

    “Because you want your friends to think you are a nice boy when you eat at their house. You want to eat politely so they’ll invite you back again.” For 8 year olds. Two year olds, not appropriate.

  13. July 19, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Julie, you are awesome and I love you.

    Elina’s last blog post..Marvelous Little Sounds

  14. July 19, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I had to laugh about the name of your blog. When I was pregnant, I could hardy imagine what I would do with myself at home for six whole weeks! I thought I’d be bored out of my mind. So I started a quilt. Well, you know what happened then. The baby was born and I was busy (or sleeping) every minute. I finished the quilt when he was three.

    Anyway, on to the sleep issue. My mom taught me about the routine thing, and it can really be a lifesaver. As the kids got older some things changed, like they read to themselves instead of parents reading to them, but the routine still exists. When a kid is sick or stressed, the familiar routine helps them wind back down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *