The Great Escape
We started another round of sleep training with Elliott this past weekend. Elliott routinely abandons his bed in the middle of the night for more luxurious accomodations next to his daddy. Now I admit, the last time we tried to break this habit I caved in like a sandcastle under a tsunami wave. No matter how many times I carried the boy back to his bed it amounted to nothing more than the first leg of a round trip vacation, accomodations included. I'd put him in his room and close the door (back before he could reach the doorknob) and he would scream and pound on the hinged blockade until even the door was begging for me to bring him back to bed. So I did.
Many months have passed since those days. And what seemed like the simplest way to maximizing sleep for all of us has turned into a nightmare, literally. I believe everyone in the house has been sleeping more but me, at least as far as Elliott's influence goes. I have been hugged and tugged and kicked nightly into a state of sleep deprivation that is nothing short of a winter hibernation's cure away. Only I'm unwilling to wait for snow to fly; it's time to go on the offensive.
We set Friday as the official start of operation "sleep in your own bed." It put a bit of a damper on the traditional Friday evening Cici's pizza trip. It felt more like a family gathered for an inmate's final meal on death row the day of his execution. Only in this case, the inmate was the only one unaware of the execution. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. There were stickers after all - the sure cure for every child development challenge. Katie had done an illusionary job of convincing Elliott that skipping out on bedtime dates with daddy was a small price to pay for a paper lion whose backside was coated in glue. A lion that would forever mark his first night sleeping alone on a homemade refrigerator calendar titled Elliott's Sleep Chart.
I didn't have high hopes for the sticker method but I supported it nonetheless. I think it is wise, though, to have back-up plans. Mine was a large gate. I knew Elliott could open the door now and just in case he wasn't totally sold on conforming in the name of stickers, I thought imprisonment would be a good plan B. Boy was I wrong.
Elliott went down to bed as usual. And as usual, he showed up at my bedside shortly after midnight ready to climb in. I escorted him back to his room, tucked him back in, and encouraged him to stay there: "remember the stickers." Five minutes later I heard the creak of the door that is ever present in my nightmares. I met him halfway along the path from his door to my bedside and again showed him back to his room. But this time I put up the gate; it was time for the big artillery.
I made my way back to bed to the screams of Elliott's protests. He had obviously spent very little time behind bars before. The situation had escalated. He began to pound on the gate and from a distance you could tell an escape attempt was underway. I smiled at the thought of his futility. I had barely quit smiling when the house went quiet and I transitioned into a victory celebration. And then there he was - standing next to my bedside with that look of contentment he gets just before he climbs up next to me and smothers me with tugs, kicks and hugs.
"How did you get out of there?" I asked, with the same frustration the warden had in the Shawshank Redemption when he got word that Andy was gone. I walked him back to his room, put him back in bed, and then investigated the scene. The bottom corner of the gate had been kicked out leaving an opening just big enough for an escaping toddler to crawl through. I reconstructed the gate. In less than five minutes, it was obvious that either I knew nothing about security gates, or Elliott's objections to sleeping in his own bed were stronger than my ability to keep him there. At this point, I was unwilling to accept the latter. I thought about offering him bigger stickers, but instead settled on the Plan C I developed somewhere between tossing aside that worthless gate and walking Elliott back to his bed.
I was standing in the hallway outside his closed door when Katie joined me at the scene. At first she seemed stunned at the sight of me standing there with a bundle of rope and a pair of scissors. If she were to be honest, she would admit that for at least a moment she wondered if I was going to tie Elliott to his bed. If I were to be honest, I would shamefully admit the thought crossed my mind. Instead, I tied one end of the rope to Elliott's doorknob and the other to the laundry room door directly across from it. Elliott's next attempt to open his door would be met with a tethered resistance capable of holding off up to 300 pounds of pressure. His will was about to be tested.
Test it he did. After several minutes of energy draining effort to pull the door open, Elliott realized he had met his physical match. He then turned the crisis into psychological warfare.
"Daddy, I need to sit on the potty," was his first cry. Of course, surely they won't deprive me of my needs just to dictate which bed they want me to sleep in.
Then came "Mommy, come see me please." Oh how pitiful, the cry of a prisoner begging for just one visit from his mama.
Then came the final plea, the one that let me know we had been victorious in at least the battle. "Daddy, it's daylight now." (I had told him he could get up when the sun came up). And although it was 3AM and the sun was still hanging out somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I knew we had reached his final cry. Moments later he called out for me to come cover him up, followed by complete silence that lasted until the sun finally arrived.
I think he slept on the floor that night. He offered a small taste of the same resistance Saturday night, maybe fifteen minutes worth. But the last two nights, he has gotten out of his bed but quickly ran back when he heard me coming and went back to sleep for the night. And Oh, the last two mornings he has received stickers. I guess the sticker method really does work.
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