This morning, 9:00 AM, text message to Hubby:
Txt msg: Mr. Sensitive is SOOO going to summer camp! Or being put up for adoption! ARGH!!!
Mr. Sensitive is four years old. In a month he will be five. “Four” and “Five” have become the new F-words in my life.
A while ago I was talking to Carolyn, an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) about which ages were the most challenging. Now, Carolyn is a truly competent professional, she works for a government-run Ontario Early Years Centre, she tracks data, develops programs, plans initiatives and was pregnant with her second child when we had this conversation. She is, in short, superwoman.
I was saying the sleep deprivation of the newborn stage isn’t so bad, if you can nap when the baby naps or at least have a partner take on one night feeding. Even if the baby has one bottle of formula or pumped breast milk a day, it gives the mom a break. (Hubby does the midnight feeding, I am happy to do 4 am – that is the benefit of a night owl-morning bird relationship, but I digress.) Carolyn agreed. We both have fond memories of cuddling sleeping babies (those warm, fuzzy memories overshadow colic, mood swings and painful sleep deprivation).
We talked about the ‘Terrible Twos” – really, they weren’t so bad. Sure, Mr. Sensitive had a few tantrums, but he his language exploded at that time so he wasn’t overly frustrated. Tantrums were reduced when we removed any food dyes and nitrates from his diet and made sure he had enough sleep. Carolyn has known Mr. Sensitive since he was 8 weeks old, and watched him grow up in her centre. As a veteran of toddler programming and Mr. Sensitive, she agreed the twos weren’t so bad.
“It isn’t the ‘Terrible Twos’ you have to watch out for, it’s the ‘Terrible Threes’” she cautioned. I agreed, there’s something about a child’s development as they turn three that makes them more challenging to deal with. This was certainly the case for Mr. Sensitive. His language and thinking skills were more advanced than a two-year old, but his emotions were still like a two year old. He was bright, articulate and intense. Add the emotional regulation of a two-year old and cue the tantrums. And again, by dealing with all Mr. Sensitive’s physical triggers (nitrates, food dyes, sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst) we got through it.
Sleep is such a challenge for Mr. Sensitive. He’s now on melatonin to help him fall asleep and stay asleep. Chronic exhaustion triggers so many meltdowns and the sub-meltdown, whiny angst-laden state that Mr. Sensitive is famous for. As a baby, toddler and preschooler he was always a poor sleeper. Behaviour problems could be traced to sleep deprivation. I need to remind myself that: sleep is still a challenge. Even today. Or, especially today. (I’ll get that one shortly.)
Shortly after Mr. Sensitive turned three he started to stutter. He never stuttered before.
It happened while I was reading a bedtime story to him. He pointed to a picture, “Wh-Wh-Wh-Wh-at’s thaaaaat?” I was shocked.
“Can you say that again?” I asked.
Hubby tried, “Can you say, ‘What’s that?”
“Stop! Try it again,” Hubby interrupted Mr. Sensitive. (This is what you are NOT supposed to do if someone is stuttering).
The next day in the pediatrician’s office we learned about Developmental Stuttering. Basically, the child’s ideas are too big for their words. So the child struggles to put words to their ideas, and stutters.
Mr. Sensitive stuttered his way through his third year. We noticed it became more pronounced when he was tired. It makes sense; his muscles for speech are affected by fatigue.
At our next pediatrician’s appointment we talked about how Mr. Sensitive is a poor sleeper (at that point he was averaging about 4-6 hours of sleep a night). Our doctor recommended melatonin. We were reluctant to give him a ‘drug’ to help him sleep. (It’s actually a natural substance produced by your body. But still, we were worried.)
A few more months of sleep deprivation, stuttering and tantrums later we finally try it. Carefully following the doctor’s dosage, we give Mr. Sensitive a dissolving tablet. He swallowed it, and was fast asleep in 25 minutes.
Hubby and I were shocked. Horrified, we checked his vital signs. Mr. Sensitive was snoring. We woke him up, and he was grumpy, groggy and fell back asleep. Hubby and I took turns staying up all night watching Mr. Sensitive sleep. We’d wake him up every now and then. Mr. Sensitive would complain sleepily and then fall fast asleep.
12 hours later, Hubby and I were bleary-eyed with exhaustion. Mr. Sensitive woke up, yawned and stretched, after 12 solid hours of sleep, completely refreshed. He announced, “I’m hungry!”
He has not stuttered since.
Talk about the effects of sleep deprivation – his words were stuck on a loop that he could not fully express.
Back to my friend, Carolyn, and our chat about developmental stages and their related challenges. Carolyn knows more about child development theory and practice than I could ever hope to. We are in her office. She leans forward, her voice dropping to a whisper, “You know what the worst stage is? F*cking fours!”
Which leads to today.
I need to say our lives have taken on a new kind of busy lately, I’m teaching night school twice a week, so Hubby is in charge of bedtime routines. Mr. Sensitive is not happy that I’m working. He whines, “Why do you always have to work?”
This morning I kept Mr. Sensitive home from school so we could spend time together and go to a special event at our readiness centre. The event started at 10 am. He woke up at 6:30 am. Sleepily he curled up on the sofa and watched cartoons. I raced through the morning routine of making breakfast for everyone, preparing a pasta salad for the potluck at the centre, and getting everyone dressed.
In the meantime Mr. Sensitive started to wake up. I corralled the dogs and put them in their kennel and put the baby down for a quick nap. Mr. Sensitive let the dogs out of the kennel. I put them back, admonishing him for doing such a thing. He let them out again. I put them back. I was getting angry, we had 15 minutes to be at the event and I still was wearing pajamas.
Mr. Sensitive then dragged out a vacuum cleaner and parcel buggy, loaded laundry on his new ‘vehicle’ and tried driving through our hallway. The guinea pigs were given a shower. Toys thrown everywhere. Baskets of books dumped and forgotten. Chocolate milk on the floor. And he let the dogs out. Again.
I lost it. I yelled and yelled. I put him in a time out. He cried and cried.
I managed to get everyone out the door and to the readiness centre (so what if the baby wasn’t wearing pants, it’s warm out).
I was still furious about the morning. Every time I tried to do something to get out he’d do something to un-do it.
Mr. Sensitive could tell me what he was supposed to do. “If you say wait by the door, I need to wait by the door.” He knew it.
I think of the stutter. Words stuck on a loop, repeating, over and over. Exacerbated by sleep deprivation.
What’s been happening lately? Mr. Sensitive is worried about me working, and he has not been eating or sleeping well.
Was his behaviour stuck on a loop this morning? (And he let the dogs out, again.)
Was anxiety driving him to throw up road blocks to stop us from leaving? (In the past he’s run away from us to avoid leaving our home. He’s also grabbed the stroller and screamed at me, trying to stop us from leaving.)
Was he just hungry? (At the potluck he ate three plates of food for lunch and then had afternoon snack.)
Was he just being a kid?