Sleep. That bastard has eluded us since day one. Actually, since day negative 40 something, because lord knows you can’t sleep comfortably when you’re pregnant and huge and keep getting leg cramps and have to pee all night long and then you trip over the dog every time you get up.

Max went from being a newborn who didn’t sleep, to being a toddler who didn’t sleep, to being a 2 1/2 year old who….suddenly, miraculously, thankfully SLEPT.  Not naps (that would be asking way too much), but nights. Finally, finally finally finally he would sleep from 8:30 ish pm to 7:30 ish am. It would still take him at least an hour to wind down every night. And by “wind down”, I mean somersault/catapult/roll/fly/wiggle across his bed. While singing/laughing/shouting/whispering and carrying on elaborate conversations in the dark with his stuffed animal friends. With either Sean or I in the room, sitting with him making sure he didn’t break his neck on the tenth time he rolled directly into the wall.  But finally, finally finally finally he would fall asleep.

Suddenly we had our nights back.  We could watch Modern Family.  We could actually talk to each other.  We weren’t living on the edge, tiptoeing around the living room, hearts pounding because any.single.given.moment (or every 45 minutes) he was going to wake up.  That lasted for about 6 months.  Long enough for me to take a deep breath, and decide that the worst was truly over.  Long enough for me to tell Sean “It’s totally fine when you take long business trips.  Nights are a breeze now!”.  Long enough for me to start devoting more time to this blog, and my freelance writing.  Long enough for me to feel confident that preschool wasn’t going to chew him up and spit him out at the end of the day, because he was so well-rested.  Long enough for us to actually consider trying to have another baby, because we didn’t feel like we wanted to kill ourselves every morning at 5:30 am.

Long enough for me to feel very entitled and very righteous about bragging that “My kid totally sleeps through the night”!  Because god damn, I had EARNED that right.  It was finally, finally finally finally my turn to look a sleep-deprived parent in the eye and ask sweetly “Well, have you tried a bedtime routine?”

And then it all went to shit.

Big time shit.

Max is waking up again.  All night long.  And I’m pretty sure, OK I’m mostly sure, that this is not reflux or belly related.  Because he’s old enough to talk about it when he wakes up at an ungodly hour, and when he does, he says:

“Mommy, I scared!  The ABCD’s!  They scare me!”

“What ABCD’s honey?  Where do you see them?”

“In my woom!  Wight here!  They come out of the heater!”

“What??  What do they  do when they come out of the heater?”

“They DANCE Mommy!!”

The kid is having nightmares about the fucking alphabet.

At first I was so angry with myself.  Why did I let him watch Transformers with his big buddies?  Was it the movie that Sean took him to?  Until he started telling me that it was the flippin’ “ABCD’S”!  I can not protect him from the alphabet.  It’s everywhere.

So we tried EVERYTHING.  I know that there are two very different philosophies on nightmares.  We tried both.  First we tried the “ABCD’S aren’t scary, honey.  They’re silly.  They are not coming out of your heater.  You’re thinking about them in your mind, but they’re not real.  Scaries don’t exist.  They’re not real.  Mommy and Daddy are here to keep you safe.” philosophy.  Didn’t work.  So then we tried the “Let’s look in the heater with our flashlight.  See?  NO scaries.  Let’s put all of your stuffed animals around the heater so that if the ABCD’s try to come out, your stuffies will say GET OUT ABCD’s, and they’ll go away.” philosophy.  Didn’t work.

So we bought a nightlight that plays soft music.  We let Max choose the music.  We told him that it was a “safety light” that helped to keep him safe.  “When you wake up in the night time, if the safety light is on, it means it’s time to stay in bed.”  He’s not waking up screaming about the ABCD’s any more, but he’s waking up at 11, and 1:45 am, and 3:30 am and whimpering “Mommy, get in my bed!”.

It’s like he used to wake up and realize he was in bed, and go back to sleep.  Now he wakes up, and has learned that he needs one of us there with him.  I asked him about this yesterday.  “What happens when you wake up in the night-night time?”

“I call to my Mommy and I call to my Daddy and you come and get me.  Then you go night-night in my bed.”  With a smirk smile.  But even when I am sleeping in his room with him (and I’m not against co-sleeping, we’ve done it off and on for the last few years), he still wakes up and can’t settle back down for a while.  And I know he CAN do it.  He HAS done it, and he HAS been comfortable and confident and perfectly fine in his room by himself, until now.

I’m putting this out into the Internet Yonder because I am desperate, folks.  I need some ideas.  But keep this in mind before you answer:

1.  We practice attachment parenting.  Which means that we are totally against leaving him alone if he needs us.  We are happy to go to him, but what in hell can we say/do to break this behavior pattern of him jumping out of bed every few hours?

2.  We won’t let him cry it out.

3.  We already do a proper bedtime routine (bath, snack/drink, books, cuddles, brush teeth, night-night song).  He has plenty of activity during the day…..


He’s not too hot or too cold. He has a special lovey in his bed. Ten thousand of them actually. We have a noise/sound machine on.

My mom suggested that we help him to come up with a self-soothing routine at night. Along the lines of “When you wake up and it’s still dark out, you can find your teddy and get snuggly under your blankie again.” I love that idea, and will try it tonight. But I need some back-ups. Have I mentioned I’m exhausted? And that I feel better with a few Plan C’s?

So gimme the goods. What has worked for your toddler?? What keeps your ABCD’s in the heater?  And by all means, if they “dance”, please let me know!


9 Replies to “The Dancing ABCD’s”

  1. We have sleeping issues with both girls – especially the 5 year old. They both sing in bed when they get scared. Emmeline sings the ABC’s at full volume and we have a funny dance that goes along with it. Maybe that will work for you to turn it into a fun ABC/Twinkle Twinkle mashup? You too can enjoy PreSchool Musical in your home! Good luck…my massive bags under my eyes and I feel for you.

    1. Tracy, that’s actually a GREAT idea! I will definitely try to do some happy ABC songs….show that damn alphabet who’s boss! 😉

  2. Maybe it’s just a phase that you have to ride out? Just a thought. If you can handle just dealing with it for a while. There’s never been much I could do to affect change in my kids’ sleeping irregularities. I might be able to nudge here or there, but mostly I just tried to sleep where I could and know that it will get better eventually. Good luck!

  3. I got nothin’ on this one, seriously. Zaid is 3 in September. He goes to bed around 8:30/9 and rarely gets up before 7:30 (although it does still happen occasionally). He hasn’t asked to come in bed with us in a long time, though. Usually, a sip of water and his blanket make whatever ABCDish thing all better. I’m hoping like hell your mom’s suggestion works or that someone else comes up with something creative. I can’t say that I specifically started out attachment parenting but that’s kind of where it’s wound up. I can’t let him cry it out (oh! Z is harder to go down at times, especially if his sisters are still awake and being so loud I want to scream shut the fuck up or I’ll put him in there with you to hit you with board books and then nobody’s getting any sleep). This is where it’s a hard kind of thing with AP — you know you’ll go to him BUT you don’t necessarily want to teach him that you’ll go to him (expect you to come). At the same time, you want him to know you’ll come comfort him, but at 3 they can be so manipulative and crafty without necessarily knowing that’s what they are doing, that they’ll get you to come in there b/c they know you will. I stopped making sense.

    1. The hitting his sisters with the board books part made me laugh out loud 🙂 You win. Trying to wrangle more than one child at a time at bedtime would completely kick my ass. And the part about AP and wanting them to know you’ll come get them but not wanting to have to go get them….YES. Practicing AP alternately makes me feel superior, and like a complete fool 😉

  4. I’m still a rookie myself (and I will let A cry from time to time to put himself to sleep when I know it’s not belly or teeth related, it’s just being stubborn/he’s over tired) so maybe I’m not the best resource/suggestion for you. That being said, I was thinking – what if you did your mom’s suggestion, but then in the middle of the night, if he wakes up and calls for you, don’t sleep in his bed? Go to him, tell him remember what we talked about earlier? When you wake..blah, blah, blah… show him what to do, tuck him in again, what ever…but then ultimately leave him to try and put himself back to sleep. You might have a couple of very LONG nights of going back and forth (because I am not a big enough rookie to think he’d say OK! and do it the first shot…or even the 5th for that matter) but it might work after a few nights of the same routine. And you might have a better chance of him actually doing it on his own, if he doesn’t want to have you sleeping right next to him too.

    Just a thought. Like I said, rookie over here. 🙂 I hope something works for you soon, because not getting sleep is just brutal!

  5. J, YOU my dear are not a rookie 🙂 Totally agree with you about not getting in his bed and calmly putting him back in…trying that now! And I love your special nightlight idea that you texted me, especially since the one I bought him lights up the damn room like a Christmas tree! Hoping your sweet guy is sleeping better!

  6. My nighttime dilemma has been a little different – EVERY night I would wake up and my 4 year old will be sleeping in my bed with me (I didn’t hear him sneak in, so I have no idea if he was there for 3 minutes or 3 hours). The weird thing is that he’s not scared or anything, he just wants to snuggle. (Awwww! and he’s so stinking cute!) Finally, last week I gave in to bribery (mom of the year, yes I am). I told him that for every morning that he wakes up in HIS bed, I will give him one small candy (like a tootsie roll). It seems to have worked – and the best news is that he has forgotten about the candy and was only paid-out once!

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