Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why we broke the rules and let my toddler give up his big boy bed...for the second time.

Milo in his crib in happier times
First sighting of the big boy bed

There are lots of rules in the parenting bible.  Some are unspoken (if you formula feed, you will compulsively explain why breastfeeding was impossible in all conversations for at least five years) and some are quite clear (put them to sleep on their backs in a crib with no blankets until at least a year, so help you God) and all of them have been broken by our family in one way or another.  One of the rules I never pictured myself breaking is "don't give in."  We gave in in a big way on the big boy bed, and it was the best thing we could have done.

I have two sons under two.  When we found out our family was growing, Milo was only 6 months old, and in an effort to control when I felt like our lives were spiraling, I made Decisions.  I had A Plan.  I knew how things would work.  We would break Milo of his overnight feeding before the new baby came.  We would move both boys into the larger bedroom and create A Nursery with A Theme.  And within three months of Elliott coming home, Milo would be in a toddler bed and Elliott would get the crib.  Spoiler alert- none of these went as smoothly as I hoped, and when it was time for Milo to give up his crib, it was a disaster.

Try #1:
Our first try was in March, when Milo was about 17 months old.  Milo had twice jumped out of the crib and we decided there was nothing else to do but take him out.  We laid his crib mattress on the floor and talked it up like a sleepover, but no amount of convincing could make him actually lay his head down.  We were forced to have him sleep in the pack 'n' play, which was at least escape-proof, but he screamed bloody murder.  In desperation we checked the crib and realized we could lower it one more notch.  That was the first time we returned to the crib.

Try #2:
Two months later, I was ready to try again.  We had been letting Elliott fall asleep on our bed until we went to sleep. I was worried that he was getting big enough to wiggle off the bed when weren't in the room (probably legitimate) and that he would have psychological problems from being forced to sleep in a portable bed for the first 4 months of his life (probably not legitimate).  In the boy's room, we set up a big boy bed, raised up the crib mattress, and thrust the family into fresh sleeping hell.

Milo was mildly amused by the bed in his room until bedtime, when he realized he was supposed to STAY THERE and SLEEP.  With coaxing and books and Buzz Lightyear tucked next to him, he gave it a shot, but I think the real fear set in after he fell asleep and fell right out.  After that, even a wall of pillows and lots of forehead stroking from Mama and Daddy couldn't help; the bed was associated with panic. The second night, when his bath was over and it was time to pick out books, he started hyperventilating.  By the third night, anything after dinner was a cause for panicked screaming.  Our peaceful bedtime routine, in place and tearless since Milo was one month old, was a fight every step of the way.  I would have to hold the door shut when I left until he gave up tugging the doorknob and sobbed himself to sleep on the bed, but that wasn't even the hard part.  The hardest thing was when we were reading, at the end of every book, Milo would turn the last page and burst into anxious tears, shaking and clinging to my neck.  He knew that when the last book was over, it was time for bed.  I've let Milo cry it out plenty of times before and he didn't just seem stubborn or irritated.  He seemed scared.

Once he was down, it wasn't over.  He would get up 5 or 6 times a night.  Elliott picked this exact moment in life to be very disturbed by the sound of his brother crying.  We had to move Elliott into a little bouncy chair next to our bed so Milo would be less likely to wake him.  Milo figured out how to climb into our bed, but never got the hang of actually sleeping with us, so from 3:30 on, we were getting pointer fingers shoved in our faces ("EYE!") or listening to desperate screaming if we tried to take him back.  We tried sleeping next to him on the floor.  We tried a trip to the store to buy special sheets.  We tried letting him bring books and toys to bed.  We tried holding the door shut.  We tried getting him exhausted.  I set up my laptop and let him watch Toy Story while eating chocolate cookies under the covers so bed would feel like a special place. It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon and he cried (cookies, Woody, and all) unless I laid next to him on the floor.

We were walking zombies.  It felt like the first few days home with a newborn again.  Milo's nap schedule at day care was thrown completely off.  If I kept him home for the day, he would get no nap at all.  The height of embarrassment was a speech therapy home session where, in his exhaustion, he shrieked, tantrumed, threw two toys that hit his brother, bit the backs of his own hands, then ran and found his paci and monkey, all while the early childhood professional sort of blinked at him, gently reassuring us that this wasn't the first craziness she had seen.  But it was our kid, our craziness, and we were both embarrassed.  She gave us some more tips for being strong and making bedtime work.  We pushed forward.

Then, this weekend, my parents were visiting from Florida, and after seeing our exhaustion, Milo's anxiety, and the general mood of the family, my mom said, "Maybe he's not ready.  Why can't you put him back in the crib?"  My husband said, "Aren't we not supposed to do that?" summing up exactly my thoughts of, "He has to be ready, I had a plan, and I've talked about this on Facebook, and everyone said don't give in, and the early childhood professional thinks this should work, so I don't think he can go back in the crib, no."  And mom said again, just as gently, as the end to the conversation, "He might just not be ready."  And it clicked.  We had kicked around the idea of going backwards.  My husband pointed out that Elliott, the entire reason we started the process in the first place, was sleeping in a too-small chair on the floor, so clearly the plan wasn't rolling out like we thought.  I think I was just too tired to be stubborn anymore.  That night we dropped the mattress down in the crib.

At bedtime, when Milo was starting to ramp up his anxiety, we asked, "Would you like to sleep in your crib?"  He grinned and said, "yeshyeshyesh!"  The mood of the family instantly changed; we were all so much more relieved that I had even expected.  For the past three days, bedtime has been a lovely affair.  The bed is still up, but entering the bedroom doesn't bring panicky tears.  In fact, our bedtime stories are read snuggled up on the bed before switching to the crib for sleep.  My goodnight song doesn't make Milo sob.  We don't spend our grown-up time holding our breath and analyzing sounds down the hall, and we're getting more rest.  Yeah, Elliott is still in a pack 'n' play in our bedroom, but he seems to be fine, even safer than before because I don't have to wait for Milo to be conked to put Elliott in his bed.  Our nights and mornings and days are much, much better.

We'll try other sleeping arrangements as time goes on.  Eventually we'll have Elliott in the room with his brother.  Eventually, Milo will happily sleep in his big boy bed.  Eventually, we'll probably have them in bunks and maybe we'll grow this family even more.  But for now, we're accepting that we tried something that we weren't ready for, and no matter what other mamas or family members or professionals say, going backwards was what was best for us, and we're all happier because of it.

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