Although Kaspar sometimes sleeps soundly, this is consistently the rare exception to the rule. Our nights are generally interrupted by at least an hour of wakefulness, scratching, shifting about (Kaspar starts the night off in his own bed, and then the race is on before he wakes around midnight or 1 a.m. and ends up in ours). On other nights—like last night—we’re up for hours on end. It’s torture. He’s not scratching like he used to, though there’s some of that. Mostly, he’s just wide awake, singing Old McDonald at the top of his lungs, asking for bottles (I know we need to break this habit… and last night, as a start, I refused the boy his refills), and generally pushing us to the brink of exhaustion and insanity before we say and do things we regret (Kaspar can now say “Damnit” quite clearly. Whoops).
We’re trying to cope by taking turns on the night shift. Last night, Aaron left the bed at 3 and slept on a mat in the office. For all of our intentions of switching off, however, I get the shaft, because while Kaspar sometimes transitions seamlessly into our bed for a bottle before resuming his rest until morning, he’s guaranteed to wake up fully if I’m not fully involved in this process. If I had left the room last night, he’d probably never have gone back to sleep. As it happened, he continued his wakeful antics until 4:30-- singing and talking, then, right before falling asleep, beginning to scratch pretty aggressively—when I finally broke down and gave him a Benadryl. Western docs will tell you the stuff is utterly harmless (it was initially suggested to us that Kaspar take it 24/7), and that may be true, but given that it’s capable of bringing people back from near-anaphylactic attacks, there’s no denying it’s a powerful drug. And that’s what I used it for last night… To put my kid to sleep. The box admonishes this, but Kaspar has been legitimately flared-up in terms of the return of some eczema for about a week. That’s part of what was going on last night. But basically, by the time I went for the Benadryl, I was losing patience… and my mind… as I attempted to settle my son (sounding increasingly insistent in saying, “Go. To. SLEEP!”); it was a desperate measure.
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This recent turn for the worse on the sleep front is partially my fault. I’ve slacked off on cooking up and administering Kaspar’s Chinese herbs for the past couple of months. But now, as we make our way into winter—which is when things hit bottom for us a year ago-- I’m wondering if there might indeed be a seasonal component to this problem (Cedar pollen allergies are terrible for many Austin residents). I’ve also made an appointment with Kaspar’s TCM practitioner for this weekend; it’s been a while since his herbal formula was created, and it’s probably time we re-evaluated all of his symptoms, making any adjustments that could further improve our situation. I’ll obviously leave that part to the practitioner, but I’m optimistic about the results of getting back on the herbs in general. I’m kicking myself for laying off of them.
In the meantime, we’ve resumed working with our naturopath, who specializes in pediatrics, and are slowly attempting to address Kaspar’s underlying allergy situation. While somewhat ambiguous, everyone agrees that the root of this stuff lies in his wonked-out immune responses; his body thinks apples, for example, are a serious threat, and thus responds to his ingestion of them with a severe allergic reaction. Leveling those mis-fires, and the imbalances that create them, is the goal. How that’s done is something of a mystery to everyone, but both TCM and naturopathy propose certain strategies. We’re going at it from both sides. I also got a recommendation for a new Western allergist in town, someone who specializes in kids’ food allergies and is rumored to be on the cutting edge of this stuff. Although we had a bad experience with the allergist we saw last year, in the midst of our big emergency phase, I’m up for meeting with this guy and seeing what he thinks he might be able to do for Kaspar beyond band-aid solutions like steroids, which pose serious potential for harm. Kaspar’s flared up like this intermittently over the past year, and while it sucks (a lot), it doesn’t send me into a panic. I know how to reel it in: a super simple diet of steamed chicken and sweet potatoes, Chinese herbs, Florasone on the hot spots, and we’re back in business within a few days.
Beyond the flare, however, we still have a sleep issue. As I mentioned, a lot of this wakefulness is a habit, and—a lot of the time— itchy skin is not the problem (for which I am grateful beyond description). I suspect that because Kaspar did experience such inadequate sleep in his first year, he never really ‘learned’ to sleep properly. He certainly never learned to get himself to sleep, on his own. I wouldn’t have tried a Cry It Out approach to sleep even under normal circumstances, but even more moderate methods (sitting quietly by the bed as the baby fell asleep, etc.) weren’t possible when Kaspar was small. So here we are, spooning him in his own bed until he falls asleep at night, then hitting out laptops and freelance loads—and sometimes, if he keeps snoozing, hitting the sack outselves—until his bottle (or wet diaper) alarm goes off and we commence the graveyard shift.
Kaspar’s not a stellar napper either— you’re shocked, right? — but while he was home for nap time during the holiday break from childcare, I initiated a new routine in which I read him a story, turned on his music, and rubbed his back—or sat quietly on the edge of the bed—until he fell asleep. During the break, and during the day, I had all the time and patience in the world for this, so although the first few days didn’t exactly go smoothly (he just played and played and played and played in bed until he passed out), he ultimately caught on and went for it. Now, we’re sticking with this routine at bedtime, consistently. Aaron and I switch off every other night, and Kaspar’s cooperating with both of us in terms of this new routine. But come the middle of the night, when parental patience runs short and Kaspar gets his scratch and/or sing-along on, this new routine doesn’t work. Yet. If I don’t go to him when he wakes up, he’ll cry out for me in bed, waking up all the more. If I try sitting in his room with him, he’ll drift off (eventually… while I force myself not to), but wake up the second I make a move for the door. We’ve tried to tough it out before and just get over this speed-bump, assuming he’ll eventually adjust and learn to sleep in his own bed ALL night, but we’re tired, and, more often than not, Kaspar winds up in between us in our bed, doing his scratching/sing-along thing.
Aaron’s an extremely patient person, far more so than I am, by day. But at night, I’ve always held out longer, so I end up doing the bulk of babyman duties. This is the cause of some tension between us—tension in the night because Aaron starts to lose his shit, and tension in the day because we’re both very tired, and I resent that I never get a turn to leave the room for the office, couch, or whatever (at this point, I’d be happy to sleep on the tiled bathroom floor). Given that the lack of sleep makes things hard enough, I finally came to the conclusion that marital tension on top of it just makes things worse, and isn’t worth it in the end. Kaspar probably wouldn’t stand for my leaving the room even if I were to try. So I told Aaron this morning that a) Kaspar has to learn to sleep in his bed (co-sleeping’s awesome and all, but our current version involves too little sleeping, point blank), and b) I will accept the reality that I’m gonna be tortured through this process, no matter what, and it doesn’t make sense for us to try to share the load if we end up with bigger problems because of it. My proposed plan was to (calmly, peacefully) enforce the nap- and-bedtime routine in the middle of the night, refusing to bring Kaspar to our bed—even if he and I are up all night in this process—for as many nights as it takes before this becomes routine and easy for him. Then, I’ll address the late-night bottle habit (don’t know how yet). Then, hopefully, Kaspar will just stay asleep until morning.
Aaron, for his part, understood my thinking, but insisted that he still thinks it makes the most sense for us to alternate nights in this endeavor. I agree that this makes sense theoretically, but only if we can both pound the proverbial pavement during our respective shifts, without getting pissed. We’ll give it a shot, anyway. I need my sleep, too.
This is, by far, our most frustrating parenting challenge—aside from the scary and serious food allergies themselves, but that’s a different kind of challenge altogether—and I’m really hoping we can pull off Kaspar’s night-time re-wiring, and soon. People have been asking us since Kaspar was born whether we plan to have another baby, and when. In the beginning, when Kaspar was a little baby himself, we thought they were crazy (because they were), because one baby is a lot of work, and we weren’t ready. We weren’t even ready to talk about it. Kaspar’s not a baby anymore, though, and we do talk about perhaps introducing a sibling into the picture (most likely through international adoption), but then we wake up (“wake up”) from a night like last night, and remember that we’re still sleeping (“sleeping”) like there’s a newborn in the house. And then we’re not ready again.
So here’s hoping our plan works, and we’re all sleeping like normal human beings within a couple of weeks. I’m gonna get Kaspar’s flare calmed down, get the herbs going, and burn the midnight back-rubbing oil like a champ, and hope-hope-hope Kaspar catches on and starts sleeping through the night by the time he turns two.
Am I crazy to think this is possible? Have any of you managed similar challenges (with or without the scratching component)? How do you teach a person how to sleep, instead of staying up for four-hour stretches in the very early morning? The suggestions box is OPEN. Ideas?