The child has strict nap and sleep times these days, simply because he has a strenuous schedule with his swimming training and yes, if I'm to have him not go off into the land of nod while in a classroom situation, I need to get him to hit the pillow at regular timings, even if it does seem a little extreme. Ergo, it seemed appropriate that I kick off this column (ah, the smell of a freshly minted brand new sparkling column), with some wise ruminations about sleep and kids, because as we all know that sleep is something that gets most parents tearing out their hair in handfuls and running to the pediatrician to get solutions, not to mention going to Google baba to get solutions as to how to get their children to sleep at appropriate hours.
When the child was a little baby, he slept like clockwork, with a built in alarm that rang violently every couple of hours regardless of whether it was day or night. Consequently, for the first two years of his life, I was the living dead. As he grew and was, one traumatic night for us all, weaned off the bottle, his sleep improved. He slept for longer stretches, until one fine night, I actually had an entire night's sleep and awoke bouncy and energised and ready to carpe the diem instead of slinking around the premises like something the cat had dragged in being in final stages of rodent decay.
I have friends who successfully Ferberised their children as I stared on enviously as the infants learnt how to comfort themselves to sleep in a room alone, leaving Mom and Dad pretty much free to get up to some nooky. Our bedroom, on the flip, was the scene of natural contraception caused by a sleeping child, who was eventually shunted out of the crib to co-sleep with us in the bed, against all modern parenting precepts and co-slept with us till a couple of years ago, until he got shunted out of the parental bedroom and now sleeps in the same bedroom as his grandmother. Sigh. I'm hopeful he'll finally graduate to his own bed circa the time he enters college.
Co-sleeping with the child was just something that was convenient, given endless night feeds and diaper changes that the early years entailed and as the child grew and decided that sleeping in Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man starfish pose was the only way he could ensure himself a sound sleep, regardless of his progenitors confined to tiny slices of space on opposite ends of the bed, their backs turned towards him, cringing in anticipation of the inevitable firm kick that ensued from deep REM sleep, which once had the spouse leap up, in agony, clutching at parts of his anatomy that should never be the recipients of violent REM sleep-induced kicks. These small inconveniences apart, and the look of sheer joy on the face of the spouse, when the child was finally hustled out of the parental bed, co-sleeping with the child was perhaps to me the most natural way to sleep for years. It helped me, as cliched as it may sound, bond with the child. I could figure out when his breathing was irregular, if he was too warm, too cold, if he had sleep disturbances, I could check on his temperature constantly through the night (when he was feverish, given his predisposition to febrile convulsions) by just reaching out and touching his forehead. In fact, when he was little, the forehead to him, was not the forehead when asked to name parts of the face, but "Bukhaar hai?"
We learnt to sleep with a little arm holding us tight, with a leg thrown across us, with fingers that prised one's eyes open with pincer grip at the crack of dawn inevitably on weekends. I specifically, learnt the art of sleeping with one arm cramping up to log of wood status unwilling to move little head off it, even when bearer of said little head was snoring at unseemly decibel levels for one so little (yes, yes, cold, leading to open mouthed sleep and all that). When he was finally despatched to daadi's room circa age six, I spent a few sleepless nights unable to sleep thanks to the extra space in the bed, and the vaguely indescribable sense of loss that made a hole in my heart, knowing that this was a milestone. The child was growing up.
Now at nine, he has swimming practice every morning at the unearthly hour of 5.30 am, which mandates a wake up of five am. This in turn means he needs to be tucked in and snoring by 9 pm, if he has to get his eight hourly daily sleep quota. Initially getting him to doze off was proving a trifle difficult because he was used to the concept of sleeping whenever the fancy took him (yes, I've been a rather laidback mom in this area), but with tiredness and the lack of an afternoon nap, he goes off to sleep on his own, at the prescribed time and wakes up fresh and sparkly and ready to shave off seconds from his timings. I've come to conclude over the years that children, if allowed to sleep when they tire naturally, will drop off with nary a protest. Ergo, I did spend a lot of effort trying to get the child physically tired off so that he dropped off to sleep with no effort at the right time. I've also learnt that for some parents, a sense of routine, a winding down ritual helps. As for me, I have no lullaby, no routine set for the child, except change into PJs after dinner, brush teeth and kiss us goodnight. Oh wait. Perhaps that IS his routine?