I get the feeling that sleep is becoming a big problem for all of us.
We're bombarded from every direction with information about how to get a good night's sleep.
If you foster you don't need anyone to tell you that sleep (especially bedtime) is one of the biggest common issues among foster children, and when foster children have sleep problems, foster parents have sleep problems.
Here's what's been going on in our house over half-term.
We have a 12 year old who is basically anti-sleep. He has to wait until he is so completely ready to nod off that there isn't one single second of lying with his head on the pillow waiting for the sandman.
Our own children went to bed at the required time, although our youngest had insecurities and I ended up sleeping in the spare bedroom with him from age 7 until he was 12. He grew out of it well enough and looking back it was the right thing to do.
Can't do that with a foster child though.
So. You put your thinking cap on every evening, looking for solutions to what seems to be a massive problem. And to put it succinctly, there is no solution. It's easier to get a child to eat sprouts or go to the dentist than to get them to go to bed and wait patiently to go to sleep. You can't make someone go to sleep.
You try everything; the peaceful bedroom, the winding-down-of-the-day with no PC screens on anywhere, the milky drink, the 'plenty of exercise so they are ready for bed' thing. The bedtime story, the 'waking them up nice and early so they are ready for bed' thing. The reward thing 'if you have a nice early night every night during the week you can have a reward' (the requested reward is always the same thing; a late night).
You try staying upstairs once they are finally in bed so they don't feel isolated or left out. You try sleep tapes, the sounds of surf on a beach. You try peaceful night lights, you even think about those plug-in 'sleep inducing' frangrance gizmos. You try sitting at the foot of the bed yawning theatrically.
You change their bed so there's two thick blankets under the bottom sheet for extra comfort. You buy them a 'sleep pillow'. You let them build up their bed with extra pillows and cushions until it looks like a small fort.
You discuss different bedrooms 'maybe it woud be easier to go to sleep in a back bedroom?'. You discuss different beds 'maybe a wider bed, maybe bunk beds?'.
All the while the sleep problem appears unbeatable. You try paying no attention to the sleep probem, thinking that maybe by making an issue out of it you're encouraging more anxiety.
And then you figure you've literally tried everything. All you have left is where we spent this last half-term.
I don't know how you'd describe what we did, something like 'go with the flow'?
Or maybe 'whatever happens happens'.
The lad himself is a great kid. We have 'claimed' him according to our CAMHS councillor. (CAMHS = Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). He is as family as family can get with a foster child.
But. He is practically allergic to the concept of lying down and waiting to go to sleep.
We'd let him stay up until way past midnight last New Years Eve, and that simple thing alone made him as happy as we've ever seen him. He's had the occassional sleepover and one time was still whispering from under the duvet with his friends after midnight.
So, last weekend we let him stay up. It was the Sunday night, no school the next day. The little fellow has got big things going on in his head at the moment, things I'll maybe go into on another blog post sometime. Kind of private really, I'm sure you understand, much as I know you'd like to know, much as I'd like to share.
He'd become difficult, then angry then something worse than angry; he'd become despairing. You see this in some foster children don't you? A surrendering of all their energy and curiosity about the world. They kind of give up on life. He went silent on us. Didn't want to know. Started to withdraw from us.
Suffice to say that getting a so-called 'Good Night's Sleep' was the last of his worries, and the last of ours too. We decided we'd do whatever it took to make him feel a bit more safe and secure.
So on Sunday night he stayed up. Downstairs in his pyjamas and dressing gown. Me dressed.
Until nearly 2.00am.
He was using the family iPad to play a game (approved + parental controls on + quite an excellent game actually). I watched late night TV (rubbish actually, how do security guards stay sane?). He resisted quite a bit when I said it was time to go up, but he went, and was asleep in about 10-15 minutes. And next day, not at all tired, and quite content, maybe not exactly Mr Sunshine, but a germ of improvement.
Next night. Same thing.
Only now he wants to 'break his record'. This I get. He's starting to get hold of life again, exerting himself and testing out his anticipated adulthood and what have you.
Anyway; this time it's 3.30am, nearly. To be honest I'd had a five minute shuteye with my feet up on the sofa around 3.00am and when I startled awake there was no argument it was bedtime. Next morning he had a bit of a lie-in and then he's awake and alert and full of beans, wanted to go to the park to meet some school friends, they'd arranged it themselves using Skype. He played a mighty game of some sort of running around crossed with "It" crossed with a football free-for-all then running up and down the grassy bank then the Flying Fox. He ate a hearty tea and...
...fell asleep in the armchair just after 1.00am. I put a duvet over him and left him for a bit, to let the sleep take hold, then I gently shepherded him upstairs and he snuggled down and went to sleep again. Perfect.
Next night I hoped he'd forgotten about breaking records, but I knew in reality he'd want to go for it.
Cut a long story short;
It's now nearly 5.00am. I've just cooked him three sausages and I'm sat at the kitchen table with my 5th or 6th cup of tea and typing on my laptop. He's happy, happier than I've ever seen him. He keeps calling out and updating me on his game. He's just asked me if he can try a cup of tea, his first ever. I've made him a milky one with 2 sugars. He tried it and he's not keen, but everything means something with foster children.
Listen; he's just said "Can your son have some more sausages?" He's never said anything like that before.
I fired up the pan again and said, out of his line of vision;
"Tell you something funny. I got a nice feeling when you said 'Your son'."
He murmered "Mmmmmm" as if to say "It's my way of rewarding you for being kind" or maybe "Now that we know who's in charge round here I'm prepared to throw you a bone" or maybe "I love you". Dunno which. One for the CAMHS brigade.
Tell you the God's honest: it's times like this I simply LOVE fostering. There is nothing, NOTHING on earth quite like it.
He's just come to see me in the kitchen. Asked me if we could have a 'Holding Your Breathe' contest. We did it 5 times, he won 4-1 (I beat him the first time, then let him win the next 4). Then he explained to me that the reason he's good at holding his breathe is because he knows how to meditate. He sat cross-legged on the kitchen table and demonstrated meditating. Then he got up and showed me how he can jump and touch the top of the kitchen door.
He's on his way to better times. Would he have made his way back without the (very) late nights? Who knows.
Now he's found the Cellotape and is taping his mouth. We know why he does this from time to time. He's just mumbled through taped up lips;
"The good old days".
I know what he means by that. Like I said, he's got big things going on in his head at the moment.
He's removed the tape and is making me some toast.
Onwards and upwards.
I looking forward to:
1. Getting him back on UK time ready for school in a couple of days. That'll happen alright.
2. Discussing this bunch of news with my Blue Sky social worker, she's coming over for a visit on his first day back.
3. Going back to going to bed myself at around 10.30pm.
Mind, I have slept better this last week than I have for quite a while.