The five-year-old comes screaming into our bedroom three to five nights a week. She’s been doing it for what seems like a few years now. It’s become hard to measure the length of the phases that our kids go through.
With four so close in age we’re generally experiencing multiple phases simultaneously: scared to go to the bathroom alone, needs to be snuggled for a half hour before falling asleep, will only eat pancakes without chocolate chips, will only eat pancakes with chocolate chips, will only eat chocolate chips. You get it.
This one is interesting, because it wakes us up abruptly (and by “interesting” I mean shockingly able to impart irreparable harm to our sleep cycle and psychologic well-being).
The screaming is both physical and verbal.
First we feel and hear the clomp of her feet hitting the floor from down the hallway, followed by her bedroom door flying open with a creak, a bang, and another creak after the bang, just before the pitter pat of her tiny “acro-jazz,” tap/hip hop feet scurrying across the wood corridor, preceding the blunt force slamming of her palms into our bedroom door, it flying open, another creek, another bang, frantic shouting and crying through uncontrollable hyperventilation, projectile tears and drool spraying forward and outward in all directions, all accompanied by inaudible expressions of what can only be described as terror, and finally, the compelling why through hard sniffling, “A LADY BUG IS IN MY BED!”
Then, she leaps into my arms (I sleep on the door side), crashes hard and instantly, settles directly into the snoring pattern employed by my great uncle Marv sleeping in his armchair at holiday parties and family gatherings (this man could crush walnuts with his bare hands – of course my 35 lb daughter sounds just like him when she snores), additional drool, and the occasional emission of various bodily gasses. Lastly, as I catch my breath and adjust to suit, she demands plainly and without opening an eye, “Go get my water.”
She demonstrated no regard for our wellbeing in these moments. Five-year-olds.
Interestingly, after the initial trauma I find this phase sweet and endearing. I wouldn’t miss it. Actually, I suspect I will miss it when it’s gone.
That said, my job is to help her become independent. I’m supposed to be guiding her toward courage and an ability to regulate those emotions, even in the middle of the night, and even when lady bugs attack.
It’s hard to see our impact because growth takes so much darn time, and ours is mixed in with the impact of the many others we entrust her care to (grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches, etc.). I did see it one day recently, though, and it was really cool. She taught me (as she does so often).
This time she came sauntering instead of screaming. No clomps or bangs or slams, only a few slow creaks. No shouts. No projectile tears or flying drool.
On this night she simply crept in, slid into bed, gave me kiss on the forehead and said, “I didn’t run or scream, Daddy,” followed by, “I just took a few breaths.”
That’s my girl. She’s awesome. Truly.
Even if we can’t do it every time, even if we struggle mightily, I think we should just take a few breaths thought fears and intense struggles as much as possible, especially when the kids we serve are watching. It feels good and we’re all better off for it. At the very least, it can’t hurt.
In it together for the kids.
Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.