A new chapter in the no-sleep saga


It’s rather unfortunate that when it comes to Evie, the no-sleep saga is a never ending story. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times we’ve “solved” her sleep issues. It’s quite clear that it’s something that’s never going to BE solved, it just is what it is at this point.

So once again we arrive at the point where Evie is waking everybody up in the house. Our room shares a wall with theirs, so we would frequently be awakened at 5 a.m. or so to singing filtering through the (very thin-seeming) wall. Worse than that, she would wake us up a million times per night, usually to tell us that she “had to go to the bathroom” or “needed to be tucked back in”. All of this was frustrating in the extreme, but we could live with it.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was poor Ollie. It’s one thing to wake us up, but he would literally cry in the morning asking to go back to sleep. The final straw was waking up one morning to him screaming at her to stop singing so he could get some sleep. Poor guy. We just realized that it wasn’t fair to him, and something had to be done.

So Evie is back where she started, downstairs in her own room.

Of course, she’s still terrified to be down there all by herself. The first night in particular was a rough one. The thing is, I know that she has a very vivid imagination, just like I did, and often terrifies herself, just as I did. So my heart just absolutely goes out to her when she’s crying and scared of the dark, and it’s really difficult for me to resist her pleas in a situation like that. But I knew it was the best thing for all of us.

And so it was. By the morning she was already over it, and Ollie has been sleeping like a rock. We’ve been waking him up in the morning, he’s been sleeping so well. And even then he doesn’t want to get up. Evie has broken the rules a few times and come upstairs to wake us up, but far less overall than she had been.

She’s still not exactly comfortable down there. Every night after I tuck her in, she pushes things in front of the door to block it. But there are perks to being down there as well. Now that she’s not going to bed with Ollie, we’re letting her stay up a little later to read in bed. She suddenly seems so much older now that she’s reading in bed, turning the light off herself, and then getting dressed before she comes upstairs in the morning.

I am a little disappointed that they won’t be sharing a room anymore. But I will drown my disappointment in 8 glorious hours of unbroken sleep tonight, and I suppose I’ll get over it.

The No-Sleep House

If there’s one thing that has defined our child-rearing experience, it’s sleep troubles. However, it has been so good for maybe 6 months, so I kind of thought we had it solved (by “we had it solved” I mean the kids grew up and grew out of it, not that we did anything in particular). Basically, we had a routine: the kids go to bed at about 7, and mostly fall asleep by 7:15, the kids get up at about 6 which is 30 minutes earlier than we allow them to actually get up, but manageable. Even when Ollie started skipping naps here and again, or if Evie was particularly tired from school, we would just try to get them in bed by 6:30 or so, so they could catch a little extra sleep.


It turns out that perhaps we were not so out of the woods as we would like to imagine. It turns out that the only reason the kids have been sleeping in to the glorious late hour of 6 a.m. is because it’s been *dark* until then for the last 6 months. It’s not dark at that time anymore, nor is it dark when they go to bed at 7 p.m. And it’s only going to get worse as we get into summer.

This is so, so obvious in retrospect that I’m cursing myself for a fool for even forgetting for a second that our 6 a.m. “late” mornings would end as soon as it was light earlier. Evie in particular has *never* been able to sleep when it’s light out. And, of course, this is further complicated by the fact that the two of them are sharing a room; this means there are now TWO chances that the sun will wake somebody up, who will wake the other immediately on pure principle. It also doesn’t help that one or the other is perpetually sick, which means hacking, sneezing, and most importantly, waking up. Loudly.

Of course, our room shares a wall with their room, which means when they’re up, we’re up. I lay and listen to them talking, or singing, or fighting, or coughing and just wish they’d be quiet for 15 more minutes. If they can’t sleep, couldn’t they at least just lie there, or play quietly, or look at books or something? But on the other hand, isn’t that why we put the two of them in the same room? It’s not like we can say, “Play together, but do not exceed this decibel level until the specified time.”

There’s nothing we can do about the sun. We have a blackout shade, and a good thing too, since that’s what allows us to get to 5:30 or so. They’re simply not getting enough sleep, and neither are we, which means everybody has raw nerves and zero patience.

Will this never be over?

The boy just wants to go to sleep

I feel like every time I write a post about Oliver, it is a compare and contrast with Evie. I guess that’s just how it goes for the second child (Rachael or Anna, care to comment?). But lately we have transitioned to Oliver falling asleep on his own, and it was night and day different than it was with Evie.

Currently, Oliver is sleeping in the travel crib in our room, as Sara is not quite ready to lose her overnight cuddle buddy to Evie. He is absolutely a joy at that time of the day. After he comes out of the bath and gets greased, he signs night-night to everyone and gives kisses, followed by blowing kisses. I take him into our bedroom and read him a few books, which he anticipates with such joy that he usually giggles uncontrollably. After we read a few books, I put him into his crib. He settles his lion in the crook of his arm and I cover him with his blanket. He also usually points furiously to his lion, because I used to always ask him where his lion was, so he got into the habit. Then we usually play a little peekaboo over the side of the crib, and I turn off the light.

For a while I would sing to him until he fell asleep, but he just kept going to bed easier and easier, until it got to the point that I would just lay there in the dark quietly (and possibly *ahem* fall asleep for a bit) until he fell asleep. Finally I kept saying to Sara, “I think I could just leave, and he wouldn’t mind. I think he would just go to sleep.”

So I started doing exactly that: after I get him settled with his lion and his blanket, I turn out the light, say goodnight and leave. For the first week or so, I was sure he was going to howl at some point, but he never really did. He just lays quietly until he goes to sleep.

Compare that to the completely depressed and defeated post I wrote a few years ago on the same topic, except regarding Evie. And the interesting thing is that Oliver is almost exactly the same age as Evie was when we moved her out, so even that is about the same. In some weird way, I feel like this sort of justifies all the trouble we went through with Evie’s sleep: all the trouble we went through WASN’T because we are awful parents! Kids are just different, and “conventional wisdom” doesn’t always work the same for every baby. That girl just doesn’t sleep! She still doesn’t, to this day.

Now it’s not completely resolved as of yet. He still wakes up occasionally in the night (at least once, usually when we come to bed, and sometimes that’s it), and our ultimate plan is to put him in his crib in Evie’s room. So we’re not there yet. But there’s not really any reason to think these things would be that difficult, based on what’s gone so far.

In addition to personality differences between the two of them, there’s probably an aspect of this that’s on us. It could be that we’re a lot more laid back about the whole thing, or maybe just too busy to spend much time worrying about it. But it’s a chicken and an egg kind of problem, because maybe the reason we’re so laid back about it now, is because he’s so laid back about it.

I really can’t tell you how relieved I am about how the whole thing is going down (before I jinxed it by writing this, of course).

The Opposite of Sleepwalking

Since the moment Evie was born, we have struggled to get her to sleep. This has been a long term, large scale war, not a single battle. Sometimes we’ll do something to get the upper hand, but something else always eventually comes up, putting us back to square one. Currently we are in the middle of just such an uprising. After a long lull, Evie has been getting up multiple times per night, either to get a drink of water, or to go to the bathroom.

This is usually just after she goes to bed or right before she is supposed to get up. She gets lonely and wants a little human contact, and she has realized that saying she has a potty emergency is an irrefutable excuse to get up. The problem is that Evie’s middle name is “you-give-me-an-inch-I’ll-take-a-mile”. After letting her go to the potty for a few days, it started to be more and more frequent, and earlier and earlier in the morning. So she would start waking up at 5, going potty, and then staying up singing at the top of her lungs until it is time to get up. I was starting to go crazy.

We re-instituted the potty tickets, which worked for a second or so, but then she quickly went back to her old ways. She would use the potty ticket the first time she wanted to get up (usually 10 seconds after going to bed), but then she would get up later saying she had to go again. The problem is, how do you not let her go to the potty? She always goes when you take her to the potty. She really does have to go. The only quibble is how bad she actually has to go. This is a nuance that cannot be explained to a 3 year old. “But daddy, I went pee pee and poo poo!” To her, that’s the end of it; she said she had to go, and she did. And quite frankly, if she says she has to go and then she does in fact go, who am I to say whether it was an emergency or not?

We even tried bribing her. For every night that she doesn’t use her potty ticket, she can have a dime towards her book orders (the big reward du jour). “I’ll get it tomorrow,” she says, handing me her ticket. If she could at least go by herself, she would lose interest in it, but she won’t go by herself. And it’s a little hard to avoid her when she comes in to go while I’m taking a shower in the morning.

The thing is, I know she doesn’t really need to go. Until recently she went all night, no problem, and didn’t even have to go first thing in the morning. So how do I let her go when she has to go, but somehow not “reward” her by giving her attention, to the point where she drops this and moves on?

The only other idea we have is to get out her old potty and leave it in her room, so she can go if she needs to, but doesn’t get to wake everybody up, etc. Maybe we’ll give that a try.


At this point, Oliver has pretty much just given up on sleeping. Maybe he has been turned into a vampire.

I guess we won’t know until he gets teeth.

Bigirl Bed

So Christmas came and went, and Evie got piles and piles of wonderful presents to play with. But the marquee present, the gift to end all gifts, was the big girl bed. If you asked her what she wanted for Christmas, or what she asked Santa for, there was only one answer (pronounced as one word in Evie-speak: “bigirl bed”).

We were away from the house for Christmas Eve, but Santa left a note saying there was “something big” waiting at the house in Chicago. Sure enough, when we got home, there was the brand new “office bedroom”, resplendent with a new bed, dresser and book shelves. “Everything turned brown!” she exclaimed, since her old furniture was white. It was everything Evie had hoped for and more. We took a video of it, but if you don’t spend a lot of time around her, you would probably think she wasn’t very excited about it. She’s a pretty low-key girl, so you have to know her to really see the things she’s doing that show she is excited. So you’ll have to take my word on it when I tell you that it was that quintessential childhood moment when you get everything you’ve always wanted.

Now, for our part, there were two big concerns going into this: 1) would we lose our hard won gains with sleeping, and 2) would it be okay with her on a different floor of the house.

It turns out, there was no need to worry at all!

From the very first night, she slept perfectly and peacefully, waiting to get out of bed in the morning until we come down and get her out. She doesn’t set a toe outside of her bed until morning. In retrospect, this kind of makes some sense, since she already had the ability to climb out of her crib, but she doesn’t. Also, she doesn’t like to go downstairs by herself due to “scary monsters”, but she has no qualms whatsoever once she is actually in her room. What a relief (especially after hearing some other parents’ horror stories)!

Because we were worried about her downstairs by herself, and in particular worried that we wouldn’t hear her, we finally broke down and bought a baby monitor. It’s kind of funny to buy one at this point, since she’s quite old. We didn’t tell her about it, and she hasn’t noticed it, so we’d like to keep it that way to avoid the dreaded “toddler-monitor-summons”.

Now, I thought I mentioned this on the blog, but I couldn’t find it. When we went to Seattle, we were sleeping in the same room as her. Since we couldn’t really go anywhere while she was sleeping, and we couldn’t have any lights on in the room or anything, we mostly just ended up going to bed when she did. This is where we learned that for the first 20 minutes or so, when we always thought she went right to sleep, she really whispers to her stuffed-animal friends. I don’t know what she tells them, but she’s sure telling them something. The monitor confirms that she seems to do this pretty much every night. I still can’t hear more than the occasional word, but it sounds very interesting!

One last thing, on a lighter note. Evie got some lotion for Christmas, (“Just like mommy and daddy!”) but she wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. Sara asked her what she thought it was.

Evie took a long look at the package and exclaimed, “It keeps away bees!” If that’s what she thought it was, she sure was excited about receiving bee repellent.

A ghostly wakeup

There is a new weapon in the war against Evie waking up too early. We have finally resorted to the supernatural.

Evie has always had trouble staying asleep, some of which has been documented here. Through various tricks and subterfuge, we have sometimes managed to make her sleep in later (by later, I mean 5:30 or 6), but just when we start to congratulate ourselves on our success, she will start a push to get up earlier and earlier. It was in the middle of one such push, that we decided something new had to be done.

The problem is that Evie (and all toddlers) love routines. Everything that happens to her, she tries to incorporate it into a routine. Sometimes this can be used to our advantage, like the routine we use to get ready for bed, and sometimes it hurts us. In this case, her preferred routine was to wake up at about 5, and then have me come in to tell her it was too early. Then we repeated this at 5:40, 5:50, etc. until Sara came in to get her up around 6. She loved to talk about how daddy came in and told her to go back to sleep. And as time went on, the wake ups became earlier, more frequent, and she became more reluctant to go back to sleep.

I started trying to explain to Evie about the clock, and how she can’t get up until the first number is 6. She seemed interested, but I think it was a little much. It was hard to know that the first number was the important one, and the other numbers didn’t matter in this case. Also, Sara pointed out that she wouldn’t be able to understand that 5 is too early, but if she woke up and it was 7, that was okay. So Sara had found some toddler alarm clocks online that you can set to display an icon, such as a sun, when it was okay to wake up, or a moon if it was too soon.

Rather than spending money and buying some specialized clock, we realized we could make do with what we had. We used an extra light timer we had lying around, and we hooked that up to a set of ghost lights that we had hung in her room as a Halloween decoration.

I can’t begin to tell you how fantastically this has worked. She has been sleeping in (or at least staying quiet in her crib, which amounts to the same thing as far as I’m concerned) until 6:30 every day for almost two weeks! And she’s so excited for the ghost lights to come on. The first day, by the time we got into her room, she was literally jumping up and down and pointing at the ghost lights in glee, yelling, “Mommy! Daddy! The ghost lights came on! They said boo and I woke up!”

And this is despite the fact that Sara and I continue to botch the job as much as humanly possible. On the first day, when success was the most important, we accidentally set the time wrong, so that the lights came on like 45 minutes later than they should have. This meant she was yelling for us to come in and we were cringing in our room, trying to decide if we should go in or wait. After that, it took a couple more days before we managed to get the timing right. The timer is not digital, and there is a lot of ambiguity about the time it is displaying.

All in all though, it has been amazing. It has probably been one of the single most effective tools we have used to keep her in bed until a reasonable time. And now that we have the system in place, we are able to adjust her schedule by subtly adjusting the timer over the course of a few days, without her noticing. This is how we moved her from 6 to 6:30, and also how we managed to control the time change without disrupting her sleeping schedule.

The downside is that we’re stuck with ghost lights in her room for the foreseeable future. But maybe someday we can find some other kind of fun light to switch off to.