Bedtime rituals

I hear about parents who have these very prescriptive bedtime rituals. Apparently, the ritual, whatever it is, is important for imbuing the little people with comfort and trust… leading to a life of goodness, or at least a good night’s rest.

I mean, I suppose we have a ritual, of sorts. After dinner, play time, which could be a thousand things, followed by wind down time, generally watching a Baby Einstein video (a coworker a few years ago gave me a grocery bag full of them). Then we take the little guy upstairs, change his diaper, put on jammies, give him a warm bottle of milk and then gently try to coax him to sleep in his crib.

Not to discount the nightly lavender bath / baby yoga / story time, but I’m just so beat, I couldn’t imagine keeping that up every night. We’re basically trying to find the straight line between bottle of milk and sleep time for him and us.

We do all of the other ritual type things (okay, not the baby yoga, but I did give Frederick little massages when I was on leave), just not the same time every day. One of Frederick’s first words was “book.” Probably back in October, he’d wake up and stand up in his crib and point across the room at a stack of books and say, “buh!”  Or if I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor playing, he’ll come toddling over, book in hand, and sit in my lap, adjusting his position like I’m his personal Barcalounger. Then he’ll expectantly turn his head to look at me and again say, “buh” as he helps me open the book. It always makes me smile to be his personal Barcalounger.

Several night ago, it became very apparent that the whatever-it-takes approach was yielding significantly diminished returns. He was on to us. Meaning, he’d go down without too much of a fight the first time we put him down, but when he’d wake during the middle of the night (a phrase I use loosely, since that could mean 9 PM, 10 PM, 11 PM, midnight, 1 AM, 2 AM… you get the idea… whenever a neighbor slammed a car door or something caused little man to stir), it was quite a different story.

Frederick will allow us to pick him up, rock him, cuddle, sing, do all that stuff as he lounges in slumber in our arms. Over the shoulder or cradle-style. Snooze time. As soon as we’d use our ninja-like moves to navigate to the crib and sloooooowly begin to try to place him in there, his alarm that senses the breaking of the plane of the crib entrance goes off and he screams and stiffens. Or if we decide to still put him down, he’ll roll onto his back, still screaming, and angrily pound both his legs into the crib mattress. You’d think he’d get tired of this full-body protest after a while. But no.

All of this has me thinking that we need to look at our nighttime routine. Maybe not so much the initial routine, but the one we go to when we are dog tired and trying not to wake the entire house (blessedly, Henry’s years of sleeping with 20 or so other kids at nap time have enabled him to sleep through all of Frederick’s carrying on). It’s hard, though, because I really want the little guy to be well before I go digging through bins to find Dr. Ferber’s book.

So far, we’ve only been using a really weak version of Ferber that’s not very true to the book in many ways, most significantly being that our technique still involves cuddling. And usually when I do it, it doesn’t work so I end up needing assistance from my dear sleeping husband, who goes into Frederick’s room and emerges about three minutes later with only silence emanating from the cherub’s door. I like to tell myself it’s like opening a jelly jar: I ran it under the hot tap water and pounded on the counter to loosen it up, but it’s Frank who was able to come in and open the now-loosened cap. As long as it results in some sleep at night.

Which brings me back to the beginning, my contemplation of a good bedtime routine. Perhaps he’s waking because the routine may change and make him anxious? Or has he just figured out that he prefers being held and that crying will lead so mama or daddy coming and picking him up?  Or is he getting molars / having ear pain / cold / warm and desires comfort for those things? Aye yi yi. It’s mind-boggling and borderline paralyzing to think about the things you could be missing, the harm you could be causing.

I’m beginning to think the bedtime ritual is more about providing comfort and confidence for the big people.


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