Sleepless in El Paso

When the stitches aren’t the only major story of the week, you know to send wine and fully vaccinated in-home masseuse, right? Yikes.

In the last week, we’ve intercepted four sleepwalking adventures. One was my middle kid, Archie, who I suppose has been sleepwalking for a couple years, but he rarely walks anywhere, so I never thought of his episodes as sleepwalking. He rolls out of bed and we just put him back in while he stares blankly and makes unintelligible sounds. He’s not awake, but he’s not asleep either. He’s sleepsitting, which is weird but maybe a little less concerning. Jackson has only recently started sleepwalking, and it was immediately identifiable because he was up and walking around but not responding to us.

The first time we heard him come out of his room we called out to him, but didn’t get a reply. I went to investigate and found him standing on the landing staring at nothing and pulling on his school uniform in the middle of the night. I tried to talk to him and he just grunted, so I pointed him in the direction of his bed and he returned without incident. A couple days later my husband found him standing in the bathroom fiddling with the faucet. Most recently, Dad found him headed towards our bedroom, and when confronted, he walked over and rested his head on my husband’s stomach before being coaxed back into bed. It’s kind of funny until you read about it online (as with most things you read about online).

Jackson has a lot of anxiety. If I say something like, “lets all go to sleep, tomorrow is a big day!” Archie will pass out immediately and Jackson will toss and turn and come out to talk to us with his voice shaking, miserable that he can’t sleep when I’ve told him it’s important that he rest. He’s had trouble like this for a few years, but in the year of the pandemic, things have gotten worse. We didn’t tell him everything, just enough to impress upon him the seriousness of COVID-19, while explaining that kids are usually completely fine if they catch it, but Mommy doesn’t have a “shield” to protect herself from germs, so we have to stay in the house most of the time. I told him I wasn’t worried because we were doing everything we could and staying safe, and we would get to spend so much more time having fun as a family. But even a rosy view of a pandemic is fraught with anxiety, of course.

He has also struggled with homeschool. If he thinks he’s falling behind, he’ll have a breakdown until he really is behind, at which point we shut off the camera and regroup before attempting to catch up on our own. Jackson has had three major panic attacks during school, and two were during tests. He can’t catch his breath while crying and shows clear feelings of despair and hopelessness, saying he’s going to fail and he just can’t do it. He is a pretty smart kid, but any big assignment or multi-step problem spins him out. I don’t think the school work is too advanced for the most part, but we had intended to hold him back until he was emotionally ready to handle big kid school work However, the district overruled our decision. He was born the day before the age cutoff and is the youngest person in his grade.

Last week, in between sleepwalking incidents, he developed four big canker sores in his mouth that are making it hard for him to eat. Guess what cause canker sores and sleep walking have in common? STRESS. Last week was also an end-of-quarter testing week. There are more tests this week, so my husband ordered a chime for the boys’ door that will ring in our room if they open it in the middle of the night to take a stroll. Unfortunately, it’s the same sound you hear when you walk into a convenience store, so it’s kind of like sleeping in 7-11. The boys woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off this morning and had some sort of argument that involved opening and shutting their door thirty times, which is what I imagine Free Slurpee Day sounds like at your local store. Awesome.

We do need the chime, though, because our bedrooms are on the second floor. When you’re sleepwalking you don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, so the kids could get up and walk around and accidentally fall down the stairs because they aren’t really looking in front of them, they’re staring into half-dreams. One common occurrence for sleepwalkers is mistakenly walking into the closet instead of the bathroom to relieve themselves, so it’s only a matter of time before that happens in our house.

We’ve implemented some of the internet advice, stretching out bedtime to a leisurely, low pressure pace and offering calming music while they fall asleep. We also make sure both kids go to the bathroom, because having a full bladder increases the chances of sleepwalking. Their room is also the warmest room in the house, so we’re keeping their fan on and making sure they are wearing the right level of clothing to maintain a comfortable temperature. From what I’ve read, if anything is bugging you, whether it’s emotional stress or uncomfortable pajamas, you are more likely to end up on your feet in the middle of the night. The internet also says they probably will grow out of it, but I’m betting the anxiety hangs around longer. Just about everyone in my family has anxiety in some form or another, so we’ll need to work on it his whole life, I’m afraid.

My husband asked, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time,” and we’ve been reminding Jackson of this whenever he starts to panic. “Just take a tiny bite,” we say. Write your name on the paper first, then the date. Okay, now pick a title. Alright, let’s read the question again. Before you write anything, what do you think? Tell me whatever you’re feeling. Let’s go from there. One step at a time, tiny bites until you’re finished.

I talk to myself much the same way. Each new phase has challenges, so we are way passed “this too shall pass” parenting. You never want to see your child consumed by fear and doubt, especially when you know he probably got it from you. We keep him as safe as we can, and take each new situation one hurdle at a time, until we’ve given him all the tools to feel confident each day.

One thought on “Sleepless in El Paso

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  1. You and Robby are doing everything right. It may not feel that way at times, but listening, observing and teaching will go a long way towards enabling your kids with the proper coping mechanisms.

    Liked by 1 person

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