Sleep training and the Garden Gnomes

We’ve now had three nights of sleep training, and I think we’re really making some headway. I’m not as regimented about the sleep training and I think some purists would be, but whatever I’m doing is working for both myself and Russ…so that’s all that really matters, I suppose.

On Night #2 (Tuesday night), I pretty much repeated the same sequence of events from Monday night. Dinner, bath and cuddly time (and a little playing with toys), then I nursed Russ one last time until he was nice and milk-drunk. Isn’t the best thing in the world a little milk-drunk baby? I love it. It’s pretty much the only instance in which you can use the words “baby” and “drunk” in the same sentence and have it be a positive thing. Then I laid him down – this time in the Pack n’ Play, for reasons I’ll discuss below – and waited to see how bad things would get. I’m pleased to report that, for whatever reason, it only took about 15 minutes from start to finish for him to go from ragingly pissed off to completely knocked out.

Now, why the Pack n’ Play, might you wonder? Here’s the thing, friends. I am insane. Not that I’ve been diagnosed or anything, but I’m not sure what else you would call it when an entire family of folks deals with ridiculously vivid, frightening night terrors. My mom, both brother, and especially my sister all have some sort of sleep “issue.” My sister has been known to hop out of bed and wander right out of the house and halfway down her 200-yard driveway towards the highway near her house – still completely unaware of what she’s doing. You could say I got it honest.

Not two months after Russ was born, they started getting really bad and much more frequent than they ever had. I might have spoken about them previously, but I have night terrors and also these things called Hypnopoptic AND Hypnogogic Hallucinations. I forget which one is which, but they’re hallucinations had in the moments just before falling completely asleep and just after waking. And they can get pretty darn freaky. Back in December, I swore that I saw a little evil garden gnome standing in the doorway and starting to come towards me. A garden gnome. Yeah, like the little Travelocity guy. Hat. Thick-rimmed glasses. A little evil smirk on his little pudgy face. That little dude might be cute on daytime TV, but when he shows up, uninvited, in the doorway of your bedroom at 1 am…not so cute then. Of course, these hallucinations often end up with me tossing and turning, poking Jonathan and asking him if he sees it, looking around for Russ in a panic, and – in the case of the garden gnome – letting out blood-curdling screams that send both Jonathan and Russ running for the hills. I felt as if I was glued to the bed, and I guess the terror just took over.

Of course, that’s just one of many regularly scheduled programs that my brain likes to run at really inconvenient hours of the night. One hallucination that has been an inexplicable standby for going on three years has been “the man in the flannel.” It’s a shadow of a man – a man whom, I believe, might be some subconscious representation of my Uncle Rick (who died in January 2006 of drug-related complications). He is tall, and I have never seen his face. He has Rick’s thin and bony build, and he wears a thick, red flannel shirt with big black buttons. On numerous occasions, I’ve looked up from a half-sleeping state to see this figure standing there and watching me. I know, right off the bat, that it isn’t real – but that just doesn’t comfort you much. As is the case with most all hypnogogic hallucinations, you just wait for the image to dissolve. The first time I saw Flannel Man was in late 2009, while staying at my parents’ lakehouse. He was very close to my side of the bed in that instance. I saw him once or twice more at the lakehouse, before he started visiting at my house. I notice that he shows up when I am especially stressed or excited by something going on in my life.

What’s really creepy is that in summer of 2010 – while I was pregnant and the Flannel Man was on somewhat of a hiatus from my sleep – my mom saw him during one of her dreams. She was upstairs at the lakehouse, woke up a little, looked up, and there he stood. Same jacket, same build. Who knows what that all means, but the Flannel Man has inspired more a few raised eyebrows over coffee as we recount the events of that night.

So I have been sleeping Russ in the Pack n’ Play while Jonathan is out of town, because that enables me to close off all the doors in the bedroom. The types of night terror/hallucinations I have are often prompted by the mind literally “filling in” a black space in the room – usually with lines, swirls, or images like spiders (all of which I have quite regularly), but sometimes with murderous garden yard ornaments and scary fishermen in grunge-rock-garb. So closing the bedroom door, the closet door, etc. is vital to helping my mind perceive the walls of my bedroom as one even, blank space – therefore giving the hallucinations less creative space on which to paint freaky imagery. Once Jonathan is back, I will be a little more comfortable putting Russ in the crib. That said, I think he is getting the main benefit of the sleep training, which is to help him learn to soothe himself to sleep and stay asleep for longer periods of time. We’ve definitely accomplished that.

Last night – night #3 – was another fairly successful one. He went down at 9:30 or so, since we were a little late starting to bedtime “ritual.” He took approximately six minutes to go from yelling and screaming to “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Not too shabby, I think. I did notice that he woke himself up farting twice last night, but it was nothing that hopping up and plugging the paci back in couldn’t fix. If that’s all I have to do, for now, I’m happy with it. Both times, he spit the paci out within seconds of my plugging it in, so I’m not really sure how that even helped him soothe himself back to sleep. Whatever the case, he didn’t wake up for an actual feeding until 4 am.

Tonight is the last night before Jonathan comes home, so I’m looking forward to showing off all my hard work when we put Russ down together tomorrow night. I knew going into it that sleep training by myself might be biting off a little more than I could chew (I honestly do not know how single moms do it), but it’s actually been pretty easy for me. I doubt this is indicative of what a lot of parents have to deal with, but I’ve really been able to get a routine going with Russ when it’s just the two of us. I hope this can continue once Jonathan is back from his trip. Next week, he has another week of training in Orlando, and Russ and I will be going to Conway and the lakehouse to spend time with family. That’s another reason why I did the Pack n’ Play this week – it’s what Russ will be sleeping in all next week, so he might as well get used to it.

So that’s the update on the sleep training saga. More to come later.

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