Back in January, I started a post about a bedtime ritual I was doing with my daughter.
I had been telling my 3-year-old daughter Moon Stories. She has a night light that shines constellations and the moon onto the ceiling. I would turn the light to make the moon travel in a circle around her ceiling. And I would say, “I am the moon, and every day, I travel all the way around the world.” Then I would make up stories of what the moon saw. Anything, really. Animals playing, kids on the beach, people riding horses. At the end, I would turn the light so the moon came down and kissed her. I always ended by saying, “Then the moon comes down and gives you a kiss and reminds you that no matter where you are and what adventures you take, when you look up at the moon in the sky, remember that mommy, daddy and your brother are looking at the same moon. And mommy loves you to the moon and back, and we are all connected by an invisible string.” She loved this and asked for it every night.
The invisible string is a reference to one of my very favourite children’s books, The Invisible Stringby Patrice Karst. The Moon Stories got my daughter interested in the moon and we checked out a bunch of library books about the moon. Our favourite was Many Moons by Remi Courgeon. We bought the book so we could keep reading it. It was a beautiful ritual.
For most of her life, my daughter has fallen asleep fairly easily. We were having cozy, snuggly bedtimes. But then something changed. I don’t know what or why. For the past several weeks, bedtimes have been so hard. I know that toddlers and preschoolers often become more aware of the process of falling asleep. It seems like maybe this happened, and she realized she was falling asleep and realized how to keep herself awake. She has also been in a more independence-seeking phase (ie. defiant!). Maybe she was exploring boundaries.
Bedtimes got progressively more difficult. I started to feel tense before we even started. I tried being strict, I tried focusing on relaxation techniques, I tried foot massages, I tried back rubs. I yelled. I apologized. She said, “I felt like I was in a dinosaur’s mouth.” We laughed. We made a repair. But I left her room feeling discouraged and bedraggled for a while.
Then, several nights ago, I remembered to soften myself. I remembered that limits and kindness and relaxation techniques all need to be rolled together. I shifted – not her. She wiggled and she got up. I told her to lie down. She refused. I told her to lie down. She said, “But you’re sitting up!” I said, softly but firmly, “I’m your mom, you’re my girl. It’s my job to help you go to sleep. I am going to be as kind and gentle as I can, and I’m going to help you lie down.” I made sure she was holding her special blanket, and I made sure she was as comfortable as possible. And I helped her lie down. She cried and said, “Don’t hold me!” I said, “I don’t want to hold you either.” I let go. I said, “I am your mom and I’m going to help you sleep.” She relaxed her body. I rubbed her back. She went to sleep.
The next night, she followed the same pattern. I repeated my line, softly but firmly, “I’m your mom, you’re my girl. It’s my job to help you go to sleep. I’m going to be as kind and gentle as I can, and I’m going to help you lie down.” Not much protest as I laid her down, let go, and rubbed her back. And now, we’re back to bedtimes that are going well. True disclaimer: we’ve had three good ones in a row. Here’s hoping it’s the new pattern. I don’t know what it was exactly that shifted things. I know that I had to shift first. Maybe she was reminded that she’s little and I take care of her. Maybe she found the limit and relaxed into it.
So we came full circle, like a moon through its phases. Sweet bedtime, wiggly bedtime, firm-limits bedtime, angry bedtime, stressful bedtime, kind-with-limits bedtime, smooth bedtime. That’s how it goes with everything. We move through phases. So may we all drink in the sweet and beautiful moments…and remember that the difficult ones will pass.
Photo by Tanya Hoover
Children’s books referenced in this post:
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Many Moons by Remi Courgeon