First, a little back story:
Every Wednesday, Sophia and I drive two hours north so that she can go to my mother’s nursery school. It’s a win-win-win situation. I get a little time to work, Sophia gets a stellar pre-school education, and my mother gets nachas [Yiddish: pride/extreme joy from one’s children or grandchildren]. On these nights we sleep over. I crash out in a twin bed of steel, and Sophia sleeps in a used pack n’ play next door. For months this situation has served us well…
Fast forward to a few weeks ago:
Outside my door, I hear the pitter patter of little feet scampering towards the living room. Then Sophie’s voice rings out, “Where is everybody?” I check my watch. 6:10. Eighty minutes before I must get up. Fifty minutes before Sophie usually gets up. I rub my face vigorously, and step out into the hallway. My mother’s boyfriend is out there as well, in a t-shirt and boxers, looking stunned.
“Oh, did you get her out of the crib?” I ask, hopefully. This is a highly plausible scenario, given that he adores Sophia, is a light sleeper, and would go to her in a minute if she cried out.
“No...,” he said, “I was wondering if you did.”
The awful truth dawned on us simultaneously, as we turned to face the scene of the crime. Sophia had climbed out of the pack n’ play. Life as we knew it was over.
“Sophia, come here.” I called to her.
“No! I want to read a book on the couch.”
“Come here first,” I insisted. She skipped over. “Sophia, how did you get out of bed?” Sophia was all too happy to demonstrate. I put her back in the pack n’ play. Like an Olympic gymnast, she grabbed a hold of the side and vaulted over the thin netted wall that separated her from her freedom.
“Oh crap.” (Did I just say that out loud?)
“I jumped out!” she told us, proudly.
“I can see that,” I muttered. Fear rushed in. All the stories I heard about my friends’ children haunted me. The one who learned to open the door and climb into his parents’ bed. The one who climbed out of his crib, fell to the floor and hit his head. The one who appeared at the top of the stairs, crying, after her parents attempted to put her to sleep.
Some call it the jack-in-the-box syndrome. The child learns to climb out of his/her crib. No longer imprisoned, the child can torture his/her parents all night long—refusing to stay down, making unwelcome appearances, and engaging in a battle of stamina that no sleep-deprived parent can win.
I’ve heard of the parents who move their child to a toddler bed too soon. Because the child has always relied on the concrete boundaries of a crib and does not yet understand (or honor) the invisible “boundaries” of a bed, there’s nothing to keep the child inside. Mayhem ensues.
I am all for captivity. I still strap Sophia into a high chair (similarly, she won’t stay seated in a “big” chair, and it’s hard enough to feed her when she’s immobilized). And I love love love the crib. I have no problem keeping her in there until she’s at least three. In the morning, when Sophia wakes, she sings and talks to her army of stuffed animals while I attempt to squeeze in another few minutes of sleep. I finally drag myself out of bed when she starts screaming, “Mommy, where ARE you?” And not a moment sooner.
But now, with Sophia out of the crib, I have to get up. My mother’s house is rife with danger: a sharp-edged glass coffee table; scissors left casually on a desk; bleach under the kitchen sink; medication samples strewn about the bathroom. And my daughter, who has given herself the moniker “Curious Sophia,” is not to be trusted.
It sucks. But at least she generally sleeps until about seven. It could be worse.
Fast forward to last week:
I put Sophia down for her nap when we get back from nursery school, as I always do. Generally Sophia, lies down in her crib, sticks her thumb in her mouth and instantly goes to sleep. Oh, she doesn’t sleep long. She only needs about an hour to recharge and then she’s good for another five hours. But for those blissful 60 minutes I can run, make a phone call, go to the bathroom. Think.
But this time, just as I’ve finished putting on my running tights, the door pops open and Sophia makes a beeline for the bookshelf. “Read THIS one.”
Oh crap. “Sophia. It’s time for your nap.” I tell her.
“No! I’m not tired!” she protests.
I know that fighting her will only activate her further. I cut a deal. “How about we read that book in the rocking chair, and then you lie down for a nap?” She looks at me sideways. “Okay.”
We read the book, and I say, “It’s time for you to go to sleep.” She protests. I put her down. Sing a song as I back out of the room and wait. Within a few minutes, I watch in horror as the door knob turns. She’s back.
This time we read two books on the couch. I settle her in the pack n’ play, sing a song, and wait.
She’s out again.
I confer with my mother. “What would you do if you were home?” she asks.
“I’d put her in her crib and let her scream it out. She needs to nap.”
I try a fourth time. Maybe she knew I meant business or maybe she was just exhausted, but this time she stayed down.
When Sophia doesn’t get at least 13 (cumulative) hours of sleep, she is miserable: aternately giddy and tearful, cranky and manic. Any demands send her over the edge. If she was routinely like this, I'd seek professional help.
So, looking back, I have to wonder how many children I assessed and treated were suffering, not from behavioral disorders, but from sleep deprivation. How many might have looked like different kids with earlier bedtimes, regular naps uninterrupted slumber? Why didn’t I ever ask about sleep? Could it be that parenting is making me a better psychologist? Not the other way around.
It seems so obvious to me now: sleep is essential to health. And I’m going to make sure Sophia gets it.
Even if I have to buy another crib for my mother’s.