Enough time has passed, enough sleep has accumulated, that I can tell this story now. The story begins in December of 2016 with my husband watching our 5 kids. Whenever my husband has the kids with him, even just a few of the kids, people will comment on how great it is that he can care for the kids. His kids. My husband is a grown man with a job coaching young men. He has an MBA. He certainly can handle caring for his own children. He’s an incredible dad. If we are being completely honest he’s way more fun than me. Our kids are so fortunate to have him as their dad. But I do think the sheer numbers game gets intimidating, and that was especially true when we added a nursing baby to the mix.
I was blissfully enjoying the logistics meeting filling us in on dress code for travel and daily itinerary. I love schedules and routines, but I was also in a room with all adults, and no one needed me to grab them a snack or help them go potty. It was heavenly. Less than an hour later I was standing in the parking lot chatting for a few extra minutes with our Offensive Coordinator’s wife when I got a panick-filled text message. “How much longer???” So I wrapped it up and started driving and called my husband to see what horrible disaster he needed my help with. He answered the phone. “I think I made a big mistake.” Oh dear.
I hurried in the front door and it seemed things had mostly calmed down, so Nick explained that they had decided to watch a Christmas movie to pass the time. He wanted to find something new, so he flipped through Netflix and found The Christmas Dragon. He patiently explained that the cover of the movie in the Netflix menu was mostly animated, but the movie was not…at this point I knew we were in trouble. He went on to tell me that the opening scene had dragons destroying a village, which my husband was okay with because “there was no gore. The people were just eviscerated.” Now it is important for you to know our oldest child was 9 (and had often left the room during stressful episodes of Curious George.) The other kids were 7, 5, 3, and 1. Any sort of dragon is sketchy. Any non-animated dragon is a no-no.
But it turns out that the story followed one of Santa’s elves who left the North Pole and the farther away from Santa’s village he got, the more evil he became as he lost the magic of Christmas. My very expressive 3-year-old, BooBoo, looked at me with her wild eyes and said “Mama! His eyeballs turned black!” WHAT! IN! THE! WORLD! Nick felt confident turning the movie off at that point. I’m honestly not sure if that was better, because for us there was no happy ending for Christmas Dragon. There was just a black-eyed demon elf.
Now Grace (BooBoo) had trouble sleeping before the Christmas Dragon incident. Will still was getting up to nurse at night (I need no opinions on this. He was my last baby. He’s 3 now, and he sleeps beautifully, Thank you!) So I was used to being awoken by some baby cries at night. But that night…Oh the vision of that night will stay with me always.
It was around 11:30. I was SOUND asleep. I heard a bedroom door slam open and a thunderous stamping coming toward our room. Our bedroom door FLEW open and slammed into the wall followed by a blood-curdling scream. There stood my beautiful blond 3-year-old girl. Her bedhead standing straight up, in her Christmas Princess nightgown her face filled with terror SCREAMING her head off. It began with a nightmare. But it became day after day of no nap, night after night of hour-long night terrors. It is worth mentioning here that my girl is strong. I joke that she will be an MMA fighter someday. I’m only half-joking. Her legs are rocked up. Her strength did not work to my favor over the following months.
For those of you lucky folks unfamiliar with a night terror, they go something like this: in a cycle of deep sleep the child’s body awakens (we’ve discovered it’s often a need to use the restroom) but the child does not wake up. Instead they are trapped somewhere in a dream. Our oldest had them. She would cry a bit, we would watch her and try to keep her settled, and then she would fall back to sleep. Our oldest son had them. His were completely physical. A little crying, but lots of kicking his feet against his mattress or silent sleepwalking. I mostly just made sure he didn’t get hurt and carry him back to bed; a few minutes later he would fall back to sleep. Grace’s terrors were next level. She was already a screamer (a trait we later learned stems from sensory over-stimulation…when it was too hot, or too loud, or just “too”) but her night terror screams were enough to make MY throat hurt. They were unending.
And here’s where those strong legs come into play: she would kick her feet against the ground (she always got out of bed, unlike the other two) and she would try to hide from whatever was scaring her. So she would be backed into a corner between her bed and her dresser, or standing in the bathroom between the toilet and the vanity, and kicking so hard I thought she was going to break her foot. She would be screaming “No! Get away! Get away!” as she looked off into the distance at whatever nightmare Elf was coming for her. She would yell “Mommy! Mommy!” even though I was standing right beside her. I would say her name. I would offer her a glass of water. I would carry her to the bathroom to go potty. (We tried all of the ideas our pediatrician had. Sometimes they worked; usually they didn’t.) And then something would click. Sometimes after 10 minutes. Sometimes after an hour. And she would snuggle into my arms and rest her head. I would lay her down and she would fall right back to sleep. Sometimes there was one in the night. Sometimes 3 or 4. She remembered nothing the next day.
We did this for a full year. There were streaks were she would go for days without a terror…and then her schedule would be thrown off and she’d have a terror. One always led to sleep deprivation, which led to another, and another, and we would string weeks together when we barely slept. She finally had a moment at preschool where her lack of sleep caught up with her and she screamed. She was mortified that she had a meltdown in front of her beloved teachers. My friend Julie had recently bought a weighted blanket because she had read about them helping with a whole series of sleep related struggles. She offered it to me as we got ready to leave for our second bowl trip. I knew I couldn’t do 5 kids in a hotel room with night terrors again.
The first day of the trip I covered Grace in the blanket and laid beside her at noon while her little brother napped. She fell asleep almost immediately and slept for 3 hours. She slept again that night…all night long. Despite our routine being a mess, despite being away from home, despite the excitement of the bowl trip, she kept sleeping. I got on Amazon before we left the hotel and her new blanket was waiting for us when we got home. It was the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.
I do think it’s a little funny that this adventure all began with a Christmas movie. We certainly learned that the movie had nothing to do with the night terrors. Although that first nightmare was 100% caused by the Christmas Dragon. And I am releaved that it was on my husband’s watch and not mine. But I am so grateful because finding this piece of the puzzle, the weighted blanket magic, brought sanity to our lives. It brought us sleep, and it lifted that parental shame that we had both done something wrong. We hadn’t. She just needed something more. And to be fair, only one of us showed her the Christmas Dragon.