Mattie Rose was up in the night again last night.
When she first came to our home, my husband and I would wake up in the night with her standing at the foot of our bed like something out of Poltergeist. Like many children who have faced trauma, Mattie has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She is a tightly wound spring most days, and it takes a long time for her to unwind. We've asked her to lay quietly in her bed if she can't sleep or wakes in the night, and for the most part she does. We can tell she is trying. But some nights she just can't lay still. I will hear her thumping around upstairs hours after bedtime.
If Mattie were an only child, this might not be such a big deal to me. But Mattie usually involves one or more of her siblings in her nighttime escapades, and generally wakes up a couple more while she's prowling around.
She's pretty sneaky.
I turn down the TV and listen for a minute to confirm my suspicions that Mattie is singing/playing/yelling/crying/running water in the bathroom/knocking on bedroom doors/flipping lights off and on/writing on something with a sharpie marker. I creep up the stairs and tip-toe down the hall, pausing to listen and zero in on her location.
I step on a Lego, but muffle my own cries of pain.
I'm too close to compromise my ambush now.
I hobble the rest of the way down the hallway, then spring into action. Quick as lightning, I open the bathroom door. She's a deer in the headlights. My almost-5-year-old is seated on the bathroom floor putting Suave Volumizing Conditioner on her legs like lotion.
Conditioner drips through her fingers onto the linoleum floor.
I snatch a towel from the towel rack and one of the anchors pulls out of the drywall. I'm muttering something about stud finders while hastily mopping up Mattie and the conditioner. I make sure to keep my angry/disappointed face on so she knows I mean business. I take her downstairs and make her sit in the time-out chair. Time-out isn't her consequence, but we don't spank* Mattie, and I can't send her back to bed because I'm convinced she will get up again, and I can't think of something reasonable because I'm more angry than I should be about the situation.
I'm furious. It's dumb. This is not that big of a deal.
And... the towel bar thing is really my fault.
After about 10 minutes, my angry/disappointed face has faded and I know I need to do something about the prekindergartner in the time-out chair. But I can't think of a darn thing. No consequence I can think of makes sense.
Then I remember- my goal is not to punish her, my goal is to get her to sleep.
My bedroom is dark, cool and quiet. Mattie and I settle into an ancient rocking chair that we inherited from my husband's family. It squeaks. It smells like old people and Waco. I love that about it. It's exactly how a rocking chair should be.
For forty minutes I rock Mattie.
For forty minutes her little hands keep a vice-like hold on my shoulders.
It's now 4 hours past her bedtime. Her eyes are closed, but I can tell from her rigid body and breathing that she is not asleep. Finally she releases a little sigh. 50 minutes. An hour. Her shoulders start to fall and her hands loosen a little. I bury my nose in the part of her hair. I trace the outline of her tiny hand with my finger. I feel her heartbeat on my chest.
It takes an hour and fifteen minutes to rock her to sleep.
Mission accomplished. She's peacefully sleeping on a pallet on my floor. Now I'm the one who can't sleep. I'm laying in bed, replaying recent weeks in my mind and giving my parenting skills some much needed self-evaluation. In so many situations I find myself being reactive, instead proactive. I'm going to work on that. I'm going to focus less of my energy on "catching" my kids doing wrong, and more energy setting them up for success. I'm going to give "do-overs" when my children disobey.
And I'm going to rock Mattie to sleep more often.
* We don't spank Mattie. This is not a judgement on parents who spank (unless you're using physical discipline with foster children. Not ok). With our older bio kids this was our go-to consequence. But we've grown since then. We've spent years trying to fill our "parenting tool box" with other methods. And they work.