Following in my footsteps…friend, artist, lifelong learner…and insomniac By Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston
Parenting my older daughter is such a joy! While whining presents itself as an occasional annoyance, a trait I would expect from any child her age, almost all her other traits are positive in nature. As a baby, as soon as her little individual personality began to show, I nicknamed her “My Little Buddy”, mostly because she seemed to be interested in anything and everything I was doing. It was just the two of us most days; I didn’t have help scheduled much of the time as I hadn’t reached the point in my disability when taking her out was too painful and cumbersome. So everywhere I went, she was right by my side. She followed me throughout the house on the days I was able to do a good bit of housework. Sometimes she even had chores as a toddler, and the list of chores she can do has grown as she’s grown. And on the days I couldn’t move as well, the entire day was dedicated to fun activities together in the living room. Anyone visiting would walk in to find happy Mama with happy Baby, both of us greatly enjoying the company of the other…myself on the couch while she danced to music on kids’ shows, her laying under her baby gym while I sat beside her, or Mama resting on the couch while Baby played right beneath. She was so responsible at a young age with art supplies, that she and I enjoyed crayons, markers and Play-Doh without any of the worries I would have with other young toddlers. There was no eating, no grinding them into the carpet…just hours upon hours of enjoyment. And I do mean literally hours…as soon as this child found out how much fun arts and crafts were, she would work on the first project with whatever assistance she needed from me and then eagerly ask for the next project…and the next…until we ran out of time or supplies. As she got a taste of each and every one of my interests, that’s how it went…her little eager and excited personality hungered for chances to learn new skills and enjoy life with anyone who was willing to share with her and teach her what she wanted to know. Crafts, cooking, candy making, reading, drawing and coloring…these are only a handful of the many interests she’s developed during the time she’s spent with me. And so “My Little Buddy” is following in my footsteps and has turned into quite the little five-year-old mini-me version of myself…someone I really like and enjoy spending time with…a good friend, a very creative artist, an excited student and possibly a lifelong learner…
…and now it seems, a severe insomniac.
The time now is 11:30 p.m. My goals to blog after the girls’ bedtime have been pushed back again and again this evening mostly because tonight has shown the MOST visits from her in a single night that I’ve had in the last week! I counted eight times out of her bedroom. They started with visits to the bathroom, a common occurrence we go through every night and something we can’t question or forbid because of the health problems she’s having that can affect her potty “routine”. Then come the visits that bother me the most, the ones that you start to see frustration and confusion building up within both of us. My husband has to be up for work very early, so I’m the one who handles this every single night. Both of us deal with insomnia ourselves because of the chronic pain conditions we have, so there are nights he’s still up and will occasionally chime in some helpful advice. But most nights it’s just me. It really does break my heart…her baby sister has nights every now and then when she’s up too and you can hear both the girls singing, playing, fooling around in their bedroom down the hall. But most of the time, she’s sleeping soundly through my many visits to their bedroom, as I do my best to help get her older sister to sleep at a reasonable hour. My insomniac daughter has been up as late as past midnight, not a time she sees often, but it’s been known to happen. Every time that happens I’m grateful to not have BOTH of them wide awake!
How does one approach a problem like this, especially when she herself can’t find ways to fight her own battle with insomnia? I try to remind myself of how frustrating it must be for somebody her age. Adults tend to sometimes keep themselves up longer, or even all night, because they let their frustration about not sleeping get so out of control that they can’t shut their mind off or keep from repeatedly checking the alarm clock and counting the hours until it’s set to wake them. So how would my daughter be getting through this night after night, sitting in a dark bedroom with her sister sleeping soundly and the knowledge that not only should she be doing the same, but she’s also supposed to be quiet so as to not wake her sister. I shared some information about insomnia with her; that was the first step. She now knows the term and some tips to try. I’m not sure if this is good or bad because now instead of just complaints that she can’t sleep, I regularly deal with requests for warm milk, a light snack, or books and a flashlight for her bedroom. She understands why I ask her more questions about what pajamas she wants to choose or if she needs covers that night as well as why I now turn off the television much earlier. I’ve even stopped allowing dessert at dinnertime except on special occasions. We limit the children to sweets only once a day on most days, so now those treats are to be at lunch as dessert or in the afternoon. A few times I hurt so badly for her that I let her stay in the living room with me for a bit…I felt like she must feel like she’s being punished being made to sit back there in that dark room by herself with nothing to do buy be bored out of her mind. At least as adults, I thought to myself, we are allowed to get ourselves out of bed and grab a book or magazine or something to try to tire out our mind. When that approach didn’t do much, I worried I was more a part of the problem than the solution. So we revamped the rules a bit…she was to try the same things we had tried before if she thought they were helping but with as little time away from her bedroom as possible.
I continue to seek answers so I can help her with this ongoing, growing problem. Tonight I rewrote the rules again. Neither child is allowed to use the bathroom without my knowledge. Before tonight, she would come into the living room and tell me she needed to use the potty. This exposed her to more time in front of the television and extra conversation time with me, both moments that I was sure had to be stimulating that little mind of hers. And I will selfishly add, this time is the only time each day that I can find a few hours to possibly watch the television shows I enjoy – shows not always appropriate for five-year-old eyes. So it was stressful to continuously be on the lookout for hours on end to make sure she didn’t catch a glimpse of something that would cause another problem for us to tackle – nightmares. One problem at a time please! I can usually hear their bedroom door open and close, especially because I keep the television volume as low as possible. But it wasn’t enough on a few occasions to prevent her from surprising me with an unexpected visit after I thought she was secure in her bed and on her way to Dreamland. So tonight she was told that rather than coming all the way down the hall for each bathroom visit, she was to stand in the doorway, announce to me that she needed to go potty, use the bathroom and then repeat that announcement when she returned to her bedroom. It seemed to be worked well, saving a few minutes of stimulation and the added reward of extra time with Mommy. Whether this will prove to be successful in the days to come, I don’t yet know.
As I continue to research ways to help her fall asleep more easily, I wonder if there will be more answers for my own insomnia. My daughters have walked alongside me on this journey with fibromyalgia from the start of their young lives. My condition started with my first pregnancy, so this is the only Mommy they’ve ever known. I have worried the past five years away fearing that one day they would find themselves dealing with the pain and fatigue that I have to battle every day…I had no idea that other problems like insomnia would be in issue and especially at such a young age. The most important effort I can make is to remain understanding and supportive, two qualities I find most helpful in others when it comes to my fibromyalgia and its symptoms. But I had until my late thirties to grow into the person who was strong enough to meet this head on. She’s only five. It’s a parenting problem I didn’t expect to encounter so early into parenting, but since it’s here, I will approach it as I do all things in their childhoods…with love, respect and creativity. We’ll just keep trying any tip we come across until we find something that works!
For both of us.