For a brief time I became the king of the bedtime routine. And while my kingdom has now become an oligarchy, with Julie and I sharing duties and power in the realm of food and sleep, I learned valuable Dad lessons during my time on top. I also had what can only be explained as magic to help me along the way.
My reign as the bedtime routine king began in July while we were in Les Houches, France. This mountain chalet oasis, far from the smog, and the the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, eventually became the setting for our peak of exhaustion and parenting fatigue (thankfully, this time period still remains the pinnacle of baby-burnout we have yet to experience).
We lived in a one room studio with a loft bed. The place was super functional, clean, and modern. Paavo’s crib was below the loft bed. The kitchen was efficient and effective. And the balcony was huge with Mont Blanc towering majestically right out our back door. We felt like we had hit the jackpot, and thankfully so because we booked the place for fifty days, sight unseen.
And our studio chalet was awesome for a while. However, we quickly found that the loft bed wasn’t going to work because it creaked whenever we went up and down the ladder, and it squeaked whenever we so much as rolled over in bed. Plus, I sat up abruptly the first night and whacked my head on the ceiling. We set up a mattress on the floor and slept under the loft bed next to Paavo’s crib instead.
Further complicating our picturesque new life in the mountains was the fact that the seven hour time zone change from Mexico to France was wrecking havoc on Paavo’s sleep routine. While he didn’t (and still hasn’t slept through the night – six hours has been his current record for longest continuous sleeping), he was an expert at self-soothing and falling asleep quickly. We would put him into his travel bed after a quick and simple bedtime routine and within minutes, he would go to sleep all on his own, no fighting and no fussing.
Our Breaking Point
That all changed when we got to Europe. Five to ten minutes of rolling around in bed became thirty. Crying and fussing became part of the routine. Eventually, an hour or more from starting the bedtime routine to finally getting him to sleep was no longer uncommon. Sure, it was light until nearly 10:00pm each night. Sure, it was taking him a long time to adjust to the time zone change. Sure, we were all living in one room, forcing Julie and me to tip-toe around once he was asleep. But for some reason, we figured he would maintain his ability to self-soothe so that he could go to bed easily. That didn’t happen and after a couple weeks of this, along with a trial run of co-sleeping that didn’t solve any of our problems, we were both feeling worn down.
Julie was reading a book about baby sleep and it seemed that the only option remaining to us was some form of the “cry it out” method. And whether it was simply a gut feeling, or that the reasons we came up with were actually good reasons, we continued to not do the cry it out routine. That is when my magic hair powers presented themselves, providing us with another option.
Magic Hair and my Kingdom
It went against our self-soothing principles we’d followed to get Paavo to sleep in Mexico. It ran contrary to the advice in Julie’s sleep book she was rapidly devouring. It seemed like a poor long term solution to the hour long baby battle royales we were experiencing almost nightly. But it worked for a night. And then it worked again. It worked for his naps and it just kept working.
I would lay on our mattress on the floor right next to Paavo’s travel bed, which was also on the floor. Paavo would curl up beside me and clutch onto my ever-growing curly mop of a haircut. He would sometimes simply tug on it, and at other times he would actually suck on my hair (feels sort of gross and wrong now that I’m actually writing it down, but it worked!) He would do this for a few minutes, he would quiet down, and he would fall asleep. No crying, no fussing.
For the first few days we simply enjoyed the relief. But Julie had misgivings given that it didn’t seem like a long term solution. Plus, she doesn’t have my magic hair and she didn’t want Paavo pulling her hair out. I said that for the time being, until we came up with a better solution, that I would do all the bedtimes so we could keep this good thing going.
It was during this time, while laying next to Paavo in his crib that three principles which have since guided all of my parenting interactions emerged and quickly crystallized in my mind. Patience. Chill. Focus.
I’m a top-down thinker. I like deductive reasoning and I like to have my life guided by general principles to make decision making less messy and more efficient. Sure enough, as I became the primary Paavo-putter-to-bed parent for a couple months over the summer, principles needed to be developed in order to perform well and to keep my mind functioning somewhat normally.
Patience. Chill. Focus.
When I layed down to get Paavo to sleep, I was in it for the long run. I was ready for him to roll around. I was ready for him to resist. Whatever he did, I was going to adapt, plain and simple.
In order to maintain my patience, I needed to relax and chill out. Paavo is driven by emotion and that can make for challenging times. However, unlike Paavo, I have choice in how I respond to my emotions, and in order to stay patient so that I can make good choices to get him to sleep, I need to chill out and keep emotions that may detract from the goal at hand, out of it!
Lastly, I need to be all in. When I’m trying to get Paavo to sleep, I need to be thinking about and focused on only that. No thinking about what I’m doing next, no thinking about what is on my to-do list – Paavo is what is on my mind. Do this, and everything is easier.
The short term solution that keeps working
While we’ve made some adjustments, we are now both capable and wanting to lay with Paavo next to his crib at bedtime and when he wakes up at night. He’ll play with Julie’s face, and sometimes pull her hair. In fact, Paavo currently seems to be favoring Julie’s version of the nighttime crib snuggles as she’s stepped in for me when my patience has waned. But most of the time, he still lovingly holds onto my hair as he falls asleep. It chills him out, it’s become a bonding time for all of us, and we all love the closeness of bedtime.
And it has continued working except…when I wash my hair! In order to keep my curls from becoming a frizzy mop I seldom use shampoo. I rinse with water with every shower, but no shampoo. Strangely enough, that is how Paavo seems to like it too because when I wash it, he tends to be way less interested in our normal sleep routine. Weird yes, effective, you bet!
The moral of the story
Weird things work to get our kid to go to sleep at night. It seemed like a silly plan at first, but now we all love it. I have an excuse for not washing my hair often. And I got some foundational parenting insights that I think can be extended to many other areas of my life. For example, if I’m a grump and don’t use the “Patience, Chill, and Focus” mantra, I probably don’t treat my wonderful wife as well as I would want to treat her. If I don’t follow this mantra during mealtimes, I could see myself not seeing these times for the funny, ridiculous times that they can be. In short, everything in our house is better when we relax, chill out, focus on each other, and exhibit some patience. And having some magical curly hair to get the ball rolling is certainly a lucky find too!