Thursday, May 07, 2020

Bedtime woes (and some poetry)

It is 11:35 and all my children are asleep in their beds (technically Alexander is back asleep in my bed after his first nightly waking), which might not seem like an accomplishment but which really is an accomplishment. I'm not actually sure what time the children went to sleep. Alexander fell asleep while I was reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to the kids. Zoë and Benjamin fell asleep sometime later. They've not been sleeping recently, which has been frustrating.

I remember my mom telling me about a set of cousins of hers that didn't have bedtimes. Like their parents would just let the kids go to bed whenever they wanted to, so sometimes they'd stay up super late (and be falling asleep in their dinner) and other times they'd go to bed a decent hour. But, like there was no real rule surrounding bedtime. And I kind of get that.

Like, what is the point of having and executing a bedtime routine when it doesn't lead to sleep because nothing leads to sleep because the children simply aren't going to sleep? I've often said, "you can lead a child to bed but you cannot make them sleep." It doesn't matter how many bedtime cues you give them certain children aren't going to sleep.

Here's a rundown of our bedtime routine:

Family prayer
Brush teeth
Songs/back rub
Bedtime prayers
More stories

They...don't sleep. They won't sleep. Alexander usually falls asleep during "more stories," when everyone is tucked into bed with the lights out, just listening to Mommy read. Benjamin and Zoë never fall asleep during "more stories." They stay up, sneaking in more reading time or playing time or other activities while I remind them over and over and over again that it's time to be quiet and still so our bodies can fall asleep. Eventually I ignore them and get on with my evening (like tonight I escaped to the basement to sew a few more face masks, which is why I don't know when they fell asleep).

Last night I was working at my computer when I heard the distinct scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch of a pencil being drawn across a paper. It was 11:30. I got up to find the source of the noise and found Zoë awake in bed with a pencil and notepad. Her reading lamp is too obvious, too bright, so she'd found a flashlight and had balanced it on her water bottle so the light was shining ever so stealthily onto her bed.

"Zoë," I said in a serious-mommy voice. "It is time for sleeping. Give me the pencil and paper...the flashlight, too. There we go. Now, it is sleeping time. Remember, to fall asleep you have to pretend to be asleep. Lie still, close your eyes, deep breaths, quiet your mind..."

She fell asleep soon after that, which led me to wonder if this was simply another classic sleep regression for her. Babies often experience sleep regressions in conjunction with gross motor skill milestones—rolling over, sitting, crawling, standing—because they are so fixated on acquiring these skills that they begin practicing them in their sleep. Perhaps Zoë couldn't sleep because she so desperately wants to be literate. Who knows?

Benjamin was up that night as well. He just wanted to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which I can't really blame him for).

But it wasn't even just that night. It's been somewhat of a struggle for several weeks now. I mean, bedtime is always a bit of a struggle at our house so when I say it's been a bit of a struggle I really mean that it's been a disaster. Like, the kids have been routinely staying up until 11:00 or later. Rachel and Miriam will be in their beds, fast asleep, and I'd still be reminding Benjamin and Zoë that now (midnight or whatever) is not the time to be doing any number of ridiculous things.

When I was explaining this current "regression" to my mom and sister on Sunday my mom joked that she still has Josie's pogo stick (Josie used to get up in the middle of the night, go into the storage room, and bounce on her pogo stick and it drove me insane but now I'm thinking a pogo stick is looking pretty good) and my sister suggested melatonin. We ordered some melatonin and I've just been looking at pogo sticks (Benjamin's birthday is coming up and we have a mighty big basement).

We also decided that (especially with summer break right around the corner) we could relax bedtime a little bit (more (I mean, we were never very hardcore about bedtime)) and see if that helped the kids fall asleep because goodness knows shooting for 8:30 wasn't helping anyone. So this evening Alexander fell asleep during "more stories" and then Zoë and Benjamin turned on their reading lamps for personal reading until 9:00.

Zoë read a few books to herself and then, when I gave her a five-minute warning, she switched to a fairy tale anthology (unbeknownst to me (I mean, I knew she had switched books but she'd gone through at least five before that so it didn't feel like a big deal)) and then when she asked if she could "just finish this book" I said yes without checking on what she had. I don't know how many times my kids have pulled this very same thing on me; it's been many times. When she was several minutes past the 9:00 cutoff, I went in to check on her and found that tricky girl with that anthology and told her that she'd better finish it really quick because that was like sneaking in ten stories instead of one. She quickly flipped through the rest, just looking at the pictures instead of reading it.

Benjamin also needed extra time because he was on the last few chapters of Deathly Hallows and desperately wanted to finish it tonight. So we let him, the poor kid. He was rather devastated when he found out that spoiler: Fred died. "Now George will have to run Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes all on his own!" he wailed. End spoiler. He's excited to be finished, though, because now Rachel and Miriam have to let them play Lego with him. Rachel and Miriam have a fan-fiction Harry Potter Lego universe going on in the basement and have been too impatient to explain the backstories of all the characters to Benjamin (and didn't want to spoil the story for him), so they told him he could play Harry Potter Lego with them after he finished reading the series.

Rachel also told Benjamin she would lend him The Hunger Games after he finished the series and if he asked me, and I agreed to it because, honestly, I didn't think he'd get through Harry Potter quite this quickly. No one did. He's always been a good reader, since he started reading, but he's also been a bit of a reluctant reader.

I'm 100% convinced it was simply because he was uninterested in the material. His teacher last year was...great (she was all wrong for Benjamin's learning style but she was a lovely person)...but once he tested at the "goal" for the grade level she simply stopped testing him. He tested at the "goal" for the grade in, like, October, or something ridiculous, and she just left him at that level for the entire year. She refused to reassess him or offer him higher reading material and when I asked her about this she said that it was because while children are often capable of reading at a higher level they aren't capable of understanding what they're reading. So she just doesn't encourage it.

I was like, "Neat."

And we had to keep reading the stupid little readers she insisted on sending home with him (with instructions to read them a handful of times because repetition is good for literacy, which I have no doubt is true, but...); he hated it. I only ever had him read them once or twice. He always could answer the comprehension questions, didn't ever have to sound out any of the words. And he just hated it.

So we'd slog through his assigned reading as quickly as we could and then I'd let him read whatever he wanted because...hello! Children need to be challenged to grow. Unfortunately he...didn't ever want to read when given the option.

This year I've continued to mostly let him read whatever he wants, with a few assigned books on topics we studied, and his reading ability has gone through the roof. I think he associated reading with being bored because that had always been his experience in school.

This is a cat.
This is a dog.
Hello, cat.
Hello, dog.
Good bye, dog!
Run, cat, run!

Talk about a snooze fest!

Now, for Zoë (who is still just four (for a few weeks more)), that would be an appropriate book (it's not a book; I just wrote it), but it's far too simplistic a story for Benjamin at this point. Unfortunately, it was the only thing available to him because it's what his classrooms had been filled with, what he was sent home and assigned to read, the level he was allowed to check out at the school library. And he spent a lot of time reading in class because the rest of the work was so easy that he'd be left to kill time while his classmates worked, so his teacher would invite him to read, and...boring!

Young readers have a place, but once they are mastered I think children should be encouraged to read more, to challenge themselves, to unlock new ideas, new worlds. And that's what Benjamin has learned this year—that reading isn't boring; it's exciting, it's what you do when you're bored in order to get un-bored. So if I've taught him nothing else, at least he has that.

But I also know that I at least taught him how to tell time and multiply and divide. Oh, and he also knows a few good latin roots.

At dinner on Monday we were talking about Rachel's coffee cake and the last time she made it, which was a little over a year ago. We had invited one of our "ministering families" over for dinner and Rachel had made the coffee cake for dessert.

"And Zoë pulled out a doozy of an ice breaker," I recalled.

"She did," Andrew chuckled, remembering.

"What?" the kids all chorused. "What did she say?"

"Just her fascination with m-o-r-t," Andrew hinted.

"Oh," Miriam and Rachel said, understanding.

"M-O-R-T," Benjamin muttered to himself. "Mort? Death! Her fascination with death?"

"Yes," Andrew reluctantly acknowledged, knowing that now we'd have to have yet another conversation about death at the dinner table (my bad).

"Death?" Zoë said. "Grandma died."

"We know," everyone said.

Zoë talks about death all the time, still. She introduces herself to people saying, "My name is Zoë, my birthday is in May, and my grandma is dead." It always makes people falter a bit. It's clearly an issue Zoë is still working her way through. I'd blame her sleep problems on that (because they've been going on at least that long) but that wouldn't quite be fair (because they've been going on a lot longer than that). We'll keep working at it.

In the meantime, I'm not-so-secretly thrilled that I have a child so intent on learning how to write (it's been a while since I've had an avid learning-to-write writer in the house). So I wrote a poem about what she was writing in her notebook last night.

There Shall Be a Record Kept Among You

Zoë's book, she carefully scrawled,
Page after page after page.

Not being sure how to write
Being a record of my people

Not being sure how to write
I give an account of my proceedings

Not being sure how to write
It must needs be that I write a little

Not being sure how to write.

Nevertheless, having been taught
Somewhat in the language of her mother
She wrote and she wrote and she wrote—
Hidden away under her covers,
By the illicit glow of flashlight:

Zoë's book. 
Zoë's book.
Zoë's book.

The call to write is a strong one. And when you have it, you can't fight it (and, oh, how I hope she has it). I am a grown up now, so I can stay up writing until 1:00 in the morning and no one questions me. Soon I will head downstairs to urge Andrew to go to bed (he is busy getting his class materials finalized for the start of term on Monday) but first I might tell you a bit about the new normal, which is not so normal, and if I'm lucky I will write another quick poem that has been bouncing around in my brain this afternoon.

Despite our ever-growing numbers of COVID-19 patients and our steady stream of deaths, our society is "reopening" so that life can get back to, uh, "normal." This makes sense to me in some parts of the world. A friend in Finland, for example, just reported that her children will be returning to school for the last couple weeks of the year. That sounds downright scary to me.

But, Finland has only 5,573 cases (and 252 deaths (45 deaths per million)) and their curve has not only flattened. Georgia has double the population of Finland (give or take) but has 30,739 cases of COVID-19 (what is that—5 or 6 times the number of Finland's cases?) and 1,327 deaths (again(129 deaths per million)). Granted, we are not going back to school but I'm still nervous about people hankering for things to "reopen" and return to "normal." I don't think "normal" is a thing that will exist for quite some time.

Miriam is, however, returning to organ lessons. We talked with her teacher at length about it. She's going to spread her lessons out so pupils won't be coming and going, to give her time to sanitize after/before each student (further, Miriam is her only organ student so there won't be as many dirty fingers tickling those specific ivories). She will be wearing a mask the whole time and her students will be wearing masks as well. But her family rather needs her to begin teaching again after taking such a long, unplanned-for hiatus. Which I totally understand.

Still, breaking any sort of stay-at-home effort worries me. And it doesn't feel normal to have your ten year old ask you to help her find a mask that fits before leaving the house. Or to have your ten year old talk about how she's going to wait to shower until after her organ lesson so she can get rid of any germs lingering on her skin or clothing before interacting with the family. Nothing about that is normal...and we are.


We're ready to open up,
To get back to work.
We need to move along.
There will be more death, but
There are more important things than living.
We need to get back to normal.

Now where's my mask?

And with that I will go nag Andrew about going to bed. I don't know why my kids are such night owls, honestly...

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