The stickiness of sticker charts
The kids seem to have kicked the night-waking habit, thanks to the siren song of sticker charts. And though seven hours of uninterrupted sleep is required for my basic sanity (who knew?), sticker charts have proved to be, well, sticky. Unlike my friend Sue’s daughters, who see the glossy stamp by their name as prize enough, Col and Rose are hustlers for rewards.
I wish “behavior modification” was as easy as it was for my 85 year old friend Alberta instructing her dog Chuck to “go lie down.” If stinky, arthritic Chuck tarried a nanosecond on the way to his bed, Alberta would hoist a rolled up newspaper threateningly above her head. And Chuck’s overgrown toenails would tap-tap across the linoleum as he limped a bit faster to his bed. And as much as it often feels like I’m spending the day with unruly canines (“leave it!” I’ll call to Col as he’s headed right for the unidentifiable puddle of muck), if I were going to stoop to the newspaper trick, I might as well just spray the kids with water bottles for their misdemeanors.
The tricky thing about sticker charts is the whole reward thing. I mean, isn’t it best if Col and Rose sweep up their ticker tape parade of paper shards from their recent “scissor work” for the pure joy of being helpful? And then there’s the nature of the rewards. Rose’s first 3 nights of staying in her bed all through the night netted her a smoothie from a local coffee shop. Turns out Dan treated himself and Col to a smoothie too, and well…$12 later, maybe not such a good idea. Or my snafu of promising the kids a ride on the Polar Express Train for ten stickers, when we actually bought the non-refundable, non-changeable tickets a month earlier, and my parents were scheduled to take the kids while Dan and I had a date, and we sort of needed them to get those ten stickers. Sticky.
But there’s this other shred of hope that they’re learning some self control, some delaying of gratification. I picture them waking in the night and weighing their options on the balance scale of their mind. The Polar Express train ride plummets one metal pan to the ground. And back to sleep they go.
Col recently told me this convoluted story about how sometimes he wakes in the night and goes out to the living room couch and has a little rest. “And then when I’m done with my couch nap, I turn on my light and go back to my room and play.” (Col, 4 years old, is completely unreliable. He told my parents that there was a birthday at his preschool and everyone got cake except him. This was after mentioning to them that the teachers hit him. “They hit everyone!” He relayed cheerfully. His clever grandparents called him on the fib and Col admitted “I just like to say things different sometimes.” God forbid he’s ever on the witness stand).
But then, last night at 2 am, lo and behold, I found his lean body all snaked out on the couch sleeping. And I suppose the temptation to wake us up in the night gets him as far as the living room, and then he thinks better of it and hops up for a “couch nap.” He’s like the reformed bank robber who still likes to wear the ski mask around the house on weekends.
But now that we’ve got night-waking licked (can you believe I said that? It’s like last night when we saw three fat raccoons hump-backing down our street and I said “why haven’t they found our chickens?” And Dan looks at me like: blasphemer!), we’re onto new, exciting issues here; namely the very early waking of a 2 ½ year old girl. What tugs her eyelids open at 5:00 am is a mystery of science, but she’s consistent. And so am I. I haul Rose back to bed, insert her back into her cave of blankets, pat her down in a way that I hope is soothing but may win me a contract with airport security. And at this point she and I both know that there will be no more sleeping.
I burrow back into my bed and place the pillow over my head in that precise location that shuts off my mind. Minutes later Rose is back by my bedside, wondering if “da sun is up,” which means free access to nursing. I scoop her up into our bed, all big-eyed, warm and fluffy like an owl chick puffed out in the night. She scritches around, her fleece covered limbs scratching my bare back in a not altogether unpleasant way. Dan groans, scoots away from us and annoyingly goes back to sleep. Rose snuffles around like a truffle-hunting piglet trying to push past layers of soil, and if she were a teenage boy she’d start chanting “Boobs! Boobs! Boobs!” But that little Rose, she plays her cards right and asks to “hold you hand Mama?”
And I replay the wise words of writer and Zen teacher, Karen Maezen Miller from her manifesto How to Make Childhood Last:
Let your children wake you up. Better yet, let them drag you out of bed. How much of your life – how much of their lives – do you spend in this ceaseless struggle to get more sleep? Give up already. I promise you, one day too soon the house will grow empty. Then sleep will once more evade. Seize the day! Seize the night! This divine mission to bring us into full awareness of our lives is the reason your child has come. So crack a lid and get this party started. If you could just once see the exhilarating potential they wake to every day, you’d know why children don’t want to waste a minute to slumber.
I love these words, and Karen’s inspiring book Momma Zen. But I also sort of want to ask Karen, “did you mean even at 5:00 am?”