A sleeping baby, like a kitten playing with a ball of wool, is one of those scenes that can make even the most hard-hearted among us smile. After a hard day for a parent, a child falling asleep can bring a little peace and relaxation for us even as we need to prepare for the next day or finish off some work we need to do before our own bedtimes.
My twins have very different bedtime routines and very different sleep habits. I started thinking about this during a meeting earlier this week when my daughter called me at her bedtime and after reading the latest post from smallbutkindamighty about Sleeping Strategies.
For a long time, both twins slept together in the same room. That came to an end when Daniel wouldn’t stay in his own crib. With my older daughter moving to a bedroom in the attic, it was possible for Rachel and Daniel to each have a bedroom. For many months following that separation, Daniel would usually take between 1 to 2 hours to fall asleep in his room. Often he would wake up in the middle of the night to play some.
Daniel’s bedtime now involves melatonin to get him to sleep. As smallbutkindamighty makes clear in her post, a large percentage of autistic kids experience sleep problems. Every parent trains their kids to sleep in a pattern that works for families, but asd kids often need more intervention to establish sleep patterns. Many parents in this situation make the choice like I did to use melatonin. For me, it was important that Daniel get to sleep and also important that the rest of us get sleep.
I am very aware that some of the issues about his sleep problems will still need to be addressed down the road.
I should point out that Daniel’s mother has very different experiences with him going to sleep and staying asleep. He very rarely wakes up during the night here. I thought before the kids and their mom moved it was traffic sounds in their neighbourhood that woke him up at night. Although they are now in a very rural setting, he still experiences frequent night awakenings and so the differences remain a mystery.
At bedtime for both twins for years I have sung a lullaby with the number of times I sing it increasing over the years. It’s been stable at 5 times for at least the couple of years.
That is identical for both Rachel and Daniel. So is what I say after that when I give them kisses and hugs and leave the room.
Rachel will often find ways to extend the bedtime routine after the songs. The latest addition has been to ask me to wind up a music box snow globe with a penguin inside. I had hidden the snow globe away for years fearing that it might get broken, but it has become a good way of measuring how long it takes Rachel to go to sleep. Usually I just have to wind it up completely once and she is asleep shortly after it stops. Often she is asleep before it runs down and that is about 4 minutes.
Since the move the bedtime ritual when they aren’t with me has changed a fair bit. Daniel doesn’t speak on the phone or listen very much and he is usually asleep when my commute is done.
Rachel goes to bed quite a while after Daniel, though, so talking to her at bedtime is able to continue. After the move, phone calls with Rachel were usually about how sad she was about the move. Standard, yet still very sad to hear.
One night she needed to call a couple of times and during one of them she asked me to sing our lullaby. Of course, she needed me to sing it 5 times. And after that we went back and forth with “I love you,” “sleep tight” and “dream big.”
That has been going on for about 3 months now. At about 8 o’clock every night that she isn’t here, I sing. The routine has become that Rachel will call, we’ll catch up a bit on her day and that seems to involve talking about the kitten, Squeak, quite a lot lately. Then she’ll ask for 5 songs. Sometimes she’ll lose count or sometimes she’ll insert silly words, but it is 5 songs, just like when she is here and just like our routine has been for such a long time.
Since this new routine has started, we haven’t missed many nights. Sometimes Rachel has fallen asleep early or I have been in a workshop or driving. Earlier this week, during that meeting I mentioned, I excused myself to sing 5 times. Other times, I find myself in places where I don’t think people expect to hear someone singing lullabies.
If anyone is listening in, they could also hear our 3-2-1 countdown which has become our way of cutting down on how long Rachel would stay on the phone to hear and say “I love you.”
Sleep routines are almost as important as the sleep itself.
Incidentally, the lullaby is from a movie that I watched often with my now-17 year old daughter and sang to her at bedtime: