Max had been having nightmares nearly every night. At some point between midnight and 5am, he'd come running (literally, running) into my bed, curl up tight against me, his chest heaving, his cheeks wet with tears. Our night disrupted, sometimes for an hour or more as he resettled into sleep, we'd both wake groggy and cranky. In anticipation of the nightmare to come, bedtimes had become the worst parts of our days. His tears were starting earlier and earlier before tuck-in.
We had tried everything we could think of: we left his light on, piled his buddies all around him, shut his door tightly (at his request), talked about his worries while snuggling, validated his concerns while tickling his back, etc. Still, his tears started creeping back closer and closer to dinnertime, threatening to ruin our attempt at calm and pleasant Family Evenings.
Finally, we reached the bedtime of Desperation. I posted this photo and appealed for help from my Instagram family:
I'm looking for suggestions... This boy. Lately he's having big thoughts that lead to big worries and big fears, especially at bedtime. There have been tears each night at tuck-in about nightmares that haven't even occurred yet. We've done lots of talking and concern-validating, while diminishing fears...Lights are left on, buddies piled all around him, door shut tight per request. Tonight, while I tickled his back, I tried to help him meditate a bit on his breathing...visualizing love and happiness in on each intake of breath, exhaling love and happiness back out to the universe. Tears and Fears at bedtime is one of the saddest parts of parenting little kids....help me out, Instagram Fam. What else can we do? 😢😴😢😴😢
My people came through and I received lots of great suggestions--guided meditation, a protective ring of amulets and/or buddies around his room, more exercise during the day, "No More Monster Spray," Guatemalan Worry Dolls, extra night lights, a Good Dreams Fairy, etc. I was anxious to try everything at once...they all seemed like such promising ideas. I needed to take it slowly, though...one thing at a time.
The very next day, we made dreamcatchers.
We talked about how it would catch his bad dreams before they got to him. In the morning, we would shake it out and send the bad dreams away for good. He asked if it was "real." "Does it really catch them? Do dreams fly through the room before they get into my head?" I told him it was a symbol. Dreams don't fly through the room, but before bed each night, if you look at your dreamcatcher, it will remind you that you're in charge. Put the bad dreams in there so you have room in your head for the good dreams.
We talk a lot about having a Not My Problem Zone in our heads, too. When you hear something that has nothing to do with you and isn't in your power to solve, you can put it in your Not My Problem Zone, leaving room in your head for solving problems that are in your power to solve. For the kids, we use it keep them focused on their own business and not wrapped up with what their brother or sister or friend is doing. For me, it's helpful in letting me keep on living and raising my babies in this world that seems so terrible at times. ISIS? Not My Problem Zone. There are other brave people working on that one. Teacher Appreciation Week? Okay, cool. I'm on it.
We hung his dreamcatcher next to his bed (and one in Molly's room, too) and it seemed to help...for a night or two, then the tears started to creep back in. We tried a few of the other suggestions but nothing really seemed to stick...until Max came up with a solution on his own.
He asked Molly to move in.
For the past three weeks, Molly has been sleeping in a sleeping bag on Max's floor. One or both of them still winds up in our bed at some point in the middle of the night, but since that very first night of cohabitation, there have been No More Tears. None. Not one.
It was working so well, in fact, that we decided to make the move a permanent one.
And from this day henceforth, I shall curse the damned top bunk on Sheets Changing Day.
But the sweetness that is our new tear-free bedtime makes it all worth it.