Night terrors

Liam gets night terrors.  From time to time, he starts screaming in the middle of the night.  Sometimes he just screams, sometimes he cries, sometimes he calls out for us.  We rush in and find him, still asleep, but appearing to be in awful pain and torment.  He thrashes around, grabs at his legs, claws at his arms, wrings his hands.  To witness it, you’d be certain that he is at least in the throes of a terrible nightmare, and at worst, suffering an onslaught of pain from a horrible illness.

He is almost impossible to wake from this state.  Trying to pick him up intensifies his anguish.  Trying to hug or kiss him incites him to lash out violently.  Saying his name, turning on the lights, even clapping our hands, all serve no purpose except to upset him even more.  When we finally do wake him, he is still upset, but more at being rudely awoken in the middle of the night than anything else — he doesn’t remember being frightened or crying out.  Night terrors are apparently completely normal in a child of his age, and he most likely has no idea why, to his mind, his parents randomly wake him some nights full of stress and concern.  These night terrors can last 10-20 minutes (although it always feels like hours), but once it’s over, he is usually peacefully asleep again within minutes.

When this first started happening, we were terrified and overwhelmed.  We had a screaming, tormented toddler in the middle of the night with nothing we could do to fix him.  (We’ve since learned that it’s better NOT to wake him, so we don’t, but it goes against every instinct that I have.)  Of course, we went through all the normal parenting worries: is there something wrong with him, is he sick or suffering in some way, how do we help him???  And, honestly, the stress was amplified by the fact that we live in an apartment and we worry about whether we’re waking all of our neighbors when this happens.  Knowing that this is a developmentally normal thing (and that there’s nothing we can do about it) allays most of our fears.  But I still feel bad about what we’re inflicting on our neighbors.

We don’t have any idea how this affects our neighbors, because no one has ever said anything.  No one has ever asked us about it, or complained, but we can’t imagine that they haven’t noticed or that they don’t know which apartment it’s coming from (as an American family with small kids living in a country of exceptionally quiet people, we make more noise than the rest of our building’s residents combined).  Since I don’t know what anyone thinks about it (are they quietly seething or patiently understanding?) I worry.  I worry that they don’t understand, and one day the Austrian version of child services is going to show up and demand to know what torture we’re inflicting on our kid at 1 in the morning.  (And all of this is made worse in the summer months because no one here has air conditioning and everyone sleeps with their windows open.)

It’s another area where cultural norms are different, and it makes them hard to navigate.  I hope that my neighbors understand, or even better, that by some trick of architectural acoustics they aren’t particularly bothered by it.  But I wonder how I would ever even know what they think about it (and I wonder how Austrian parents would handle the same situation).

To wake, or not to wake

Here we are, nearly at the end of Benjamin’s second year of preschool, and I still don’t really have a strategy for mornings like this one.  In order to get B to school at his regular time (Dan usually takes him in if he needs to be there early), I have to be up by 7:15, so I can get the boys up by 7:30, so we can leave the house by 8:15 and arrive at school by 9:00.  Usually, this poses no problem, because the kids almost never sleep past 7:00 in the morning.  Before this morning, I can’t remember the last time I woke up to my alarm clock rather than my kids.  And that’s fine — we usually get up a bit early, have time to enjoy breakfast and the kids even get to play a bit before it’s time to get dressed and get out the door.

And then there are days like today, and I don’t know what to do.

Today, my alarm went off at 7:15, and I actually hit snooze (which I never do) so I didn’t get up until 7:20.  At 7:30, it was time to get the boys up, so I went into their room turned on the decorative star lights, left the door open and went in the kitchen to make coffee (which is pretty noisy).  On the very rare occasion that they’re still asleep at 7:30, this always does the trick — at least one of them wakes up, who then typically wakes the other one up, and we get up and go about our morning.

Not today, though.  All of my light turning on, door opening and coffee making yielded no response from the children.  Nothing.  I went in the living room to drink my coffee, and figured that at worst, we’d be a few minutes late to school.  At 7:45, I went back in, got their clothes for the day together (opened and closed drawers and such).  I wasn’t quiet about it.  Still, nothing.

Waking up sleeping children goes against pretty much all of my motherly instincts, so I wanted to let them sleep.  On the other hand, rushing groggy kids through a morning routine, only to be late, doesn’t sound like a good plan, either.  At 8:00, I finally gave in and went in to wake B.

He was not happy.  He was tired, he was crying, he wanted to be held (so that’s what I did).  Since he was so unhappy, and I was holding him, we still weren’t making any progress towards getting to school.  Liam still wasn’t up (even though B was making plenty of noise).  I vowed never to wake B up again to get him to school, unless it was really important (in the fall, he’ll be limited to how many absences he can have, but right now, it doesn’t matter too much).

And that’s when I got really uncertain — should I wake Liam?  Go through the same unhappiness from him?  Should I just let B skip a day of school?  Maybe Dan could come home and take B in to school?  But wasn’t that kind of silly?  Probably, Liam would be up in a few minutes, anyway.  I knew that this was not a life-changing decision — we would all be ok whatever I decided, but I couldn’t let go of my angst about making the right choice.  I became completely stuck.  At this point, we were going to be late no matter what.  B was unhappy.  Liam was obviously tired.  It was raining and windy out.  I went back & forth in my head, again and again, and couldn’t figure out what to do.  I felt paralyzed.  B kept saying he wanted to stay home.  He also kept saying how much he likes school.  I had no clue what the right decision was.

By 8:45, I’d gotten Benjamin dressed for school, but Liam *still* wasn’t up.  I gave up.  I decided to keep B home for the day.  I went back in their room, turned off the lights, closed the bedroom door, and let Liam sleep a bit longer.

I have no idea why I got so stuck over such a (relatively) small decision.  I don’t know why I became so paralyzed about doing the “right” thing — really, whatever decision I made, there would be positives and negatives, and none of them earth-shattering.  But I just couldn’t make a choice.  Sitting here, hours later, thinking about it, it seems so silly.  As it was, we had a fine day.  Liam slept until 10:00 (which is pretty shocking — he must have really needed the sleep) and we had a nice day at home.

Tomorrow, B will go to school.  He only has 15 days left this year, and I don’t want him to miss out on anything fun.  Starting in July, both boys will be home with me each day, so they can get up whenever they want . . . which will, of course, probably mean 6:00 every morning.  (Why doesn’t this “sleep until 10:00” thing ever happen on a Sunday when we have nowhere to go?!?)

Liam’s nap

Is it possible, little one, that there will come a time when you don’t know how special you are?  Your open mouth, your tightly curled fingers, your little body snuggled up against me.  Here, while you sleep in my arms, is a perfect moment.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  I love to feel your soft breath and see your eyelids flutter while you sleep.  My sweet baby.  I am awed and grateful to have been given the responsibility of being your mother.  When you are awake, you embrace life so thoroughly — running, laughing, cuddling, smiling, demanding what you need.  And as you sleep, you are so content.  You are such a happy child, and so comfortable and confident in who you are.

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Waking the baby

I laugh when I read information about how much little kids and babies are “supposed” to sleep.  My children never got those memos.  When he was a baby, Benjamin hardly ever slept for more than 2 or 3 hours in a row.  He’d sleep for a few hours at night, and then he’d get up, I’d feed him, and Dan & I would take turns walking with him for an hour or two (or more) until he finally went to sleep, and then he got up 2 or 3 hours later and we did it all again.  This isn’t abnormal for a newborn’s first few months, but this went on through and beyond his first birthday (and it had gotten old well before that).  He started sleeping through the night reliably sometime between 18 months and 2 years, but he didn’t nap for more than 20 minutes at a time until this past spring, after we moved here.  Now, he’s a sleeping champ — sleeps about 9 hours at night, and another hour or two (sometimes more!) during the early afternoon.

Liam is an excellent nighttime sleeper, and has been since he was about 4 months old.  He often needs to have his pacifier replaced a few times per night, but other than that, he very rarely wakes all the way up and almost never needs to be fed or cuddled with at night (and I don’t think we’ve ever walked him to sleep).  However, he takes after his big brother when it comes to naps.  As a newborn, he was a great napper — he would sleep 2-3 hours each morning.  It was nice, when he first came home, because it gave me an opportunity to spend a few uninterrupted hours with Benjamin every day, which helped to ease the transition from only child to big brother.  But, since we’ve been here, he’s been off naps completely.  Most days, he doesn’t take a nap at all.  At all.  Not once.  All day long.  If he does nap, it’s maybe 20 minutes long, and only if I hold him.  And then, it’s likely that Benjamin will wake him up “by accident” (or occasionally, actually accidentally).  The rare occassions when I can get him down for 10 or 20 minutes during the day are a thrill and a relief — I love my babies, but getting a few minutes of a break is lovely.

Three weeks ago, I started taking German class three days a week.  I’ve tweaked the schedule to figure out the best time to leave the house, and generally settled on starting to get everyone ready about 9:45 in the morning.  This past week, Liam has decided to drift off into a deep nap at 9:30.  But just on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  This Friday, I actually had to wake him up in order to get out of the house in time to make it to class.

My class is over in about 10 days, but shortly after that, Benjamin starts preschool.  Here’s hoping that Liam’s new nap habit can survive the changes, and that he doesn’t take to napping right when I need to leave to pick B up from school.  Nothing is worse than having to wake a napping baby, except having to wake one that doesn’t usually nap.