Over the last few weeks I’ve been practising magic. Not black magic. There were no chicken entrails, eyes of newt or tongues of bat involved at all, I promise. In fact, you could really argue that it’s psychology rather than magic – or what Terry Pratchett calls “headology”. But it certainly seems like magic.
Regular readers will know that we have issues with sleep in our house. By most people’s standards I think they could be called severe issues, but I am too sleep deprived to make an objective assessment of the wstfglzzzzzzz….snort. ahem. Sorry.
Our 3 year old, Jane, has had pretty bad reflux for most of her life, and reflux kids tend to be terrible sleepers. It makes sense – they’re used to having their sleep disturbed by regular incidents of extreme heartburn, so they wind up in a pattern of very light, easily disrupted sleep, even when their reflux is under control.
This means, among other things, that Jane has a habit of climbing into our bed in the middle of the night, as a means of coping with her distress. She is a wriggle beast of the highest order, so that usually means that our own sleep is massively disrupted for the rest of the night. In fact, my husband usually gives up when Jane joins us, and banishes himself to the couch.
Permanent sleep deprivation makes life incredibly difficult to manage – there’s a reason it’s used for torture. After months of regular night time invasions, I had tried everything – bribery, threats, and even begging. Eventually a light dawned on me and I asked her why she needed to come in to our bed, and the answer was illuminating: “Because otherwise I have dreams!”
Vivid, distressing dreams are another feature of many reflux kids’ lives. Of course, it wasn’t that she didn’t dream in our bed, but she felt more secure in dealing with the dreams. What we needed to do was give her that security in her own bed. She shares a room with her older sister, so it wasn’t the loneliness that was an issue – she just didn’t have the confidence to cope without her mum or dad.
One dream, one soul,
One prize, one goal,
One golden glance,
Of what should be.
In the grip of desperate inspiration, I made great ceremony of presenting her with my own personal teddy bear, Fred. I made much of his protective, reassuring qualities, and assured her that Fred would be there to look after her if she ever had a bad dream. I told her how he had looked after me wonderfully well for many years, so he was a very experienced and highly qualified bear.
Jane took it very seriously, and went to bed clutching Fred tightly. And then, miracle of miracles – she slept. Not only that night, but for many nights afterwards, she slept through. Those nights when she did wake, she didn’t come into our bed, and only needed a brief kiss-and-doona-restoration routine. It was magic.
(At first we exchanged bears. I was to sleep with Jane’s bear, Poogy, to look after me. Poogy was no good at dealing with dreams, I was told. But soon Fred wasn’t enough, and Poogy was apparently now well trained, so he went back to Jane’s bed. It seems I can add “experienced teddy bear trainer” to my resume.)
After a while, with a depressing inevitability, something triggered her reflux again and we were back to square one. Once we had banished the reflux monster, Fred and Poogy were no longer enough – they had stopped working (although I did not get Fred back, naturally). She wasn’t coming into our bed anymore, but she was crying a lot in the night, and calling us in to her room repeatedly. So this time I collected a bunch of lavender from a friend’s garden. (With permission, mind you. Stolen lavender would never work.).
Once again employing great ceremony, we made a lavender pouch together. We pulled the lavender leaves and flowers off the twigs, arranged them nicely on some soft fabric, and tied it up into a bundle. We talked with great enthusiasm about how good lavender was at chasing away bad dreams and bring good ones, and soothing people to sleep. It became her magic lavender pouch, and was indispensable.
Sure enough, that night she slept. This time I was prepared for the onset of a new reflux episode, and a soon as we were out the other side of it I produced a new bunch of lavender, and announced that we had to keep it fresh so that it would keep working.
It’s a kind of magic. One dream, one soul. One prize, one goal.
(One good night’s sleep)
I won’t pretend that Jane now sleeps perfectly. We still have more than our share of bad nights, given that she is nearly 4. But she is much happier in her own bed, and more confident of coping on her own. (As long as she has Fred, Poogy, and her magic lavender pouch to hand. And the favourite toy of the day. And the other favourite toy of the day. And possibly the moon in the right phase.)
It is a kind of magic. A way of working with her fears and building her a personalised toolkit for handling them. It’s a lesson I need to remember. To twist the words of Arthur C Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced parenting is indistinguishable from magic.” And magic is much better than screaming and sleep deprivation.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and devise a spell for getting my teddy bear back.