For the past 3 weeks, Masi has really been struggling to go to sleep. And when I talk about Masi struggling, I don’t mean that he just lies in his bed and plays with his fingers and can’t doze off – I mean he jumps out of bed and slams the door repeatedly, he pulls the curtains down, he opens his cupboard and flings all his clothes around the floor, he jumps on his sister while she is trying to sleep, most of the time yelling and screaming and kicking, hitting and fighting us when we try and calm him down.
Most of the parents (and others) reading this would probably say he needs a good spanking, or a firm speaking to, or some “incentivising”, or positive attention or some distraction, or many of the other ways we deal with children who have mutated into monster mode…most of the parents reading this also didn’t drink all the way through pregnancy, and so don’t really realise that most of the things which have worked with our other two children simply do not work with Masi…
We have always fought talking about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome with regard to Mas because we hate the boxing and limiting of children which comes along with this and similar labels. But a few weeks ago, in desperation, I started looking things up about behavioural issues, diagnosis, treatment methods etc because “normal” parenting methods weren’t working and we want to be as compassionate and wise as we can in parenting each of our kids.
One of the things I read with regard to helping with behaviour was “don’t try harder, try different” – as in, don’t keep just trying harder with the normal methods, try and find new, creative ways to come at the issue. The problem with new and creative things is that they are not generally things you know about or have tried (because we have tried SO MANY THINGS!).
Monday night this week was dreadful! Lucien had gone out, Thulani had one of his “once in every 3 years” mutations into horrible, disgusting, “who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-my-son?” behaviour and Masi would not calm down. After holding him in a body lock (helpful because it isn’t sore unless he struggles, but boy is he strong!), lying with him, asking him repeatedly and calmly to come down from standing on his head and to lie still, massaging him, doing deep-sensory stimulation, etc, etc for an hour and a half, he heard Lucien arrive home and ran downstairs, and I promptly burst into tears. So, poor Lucien arrived home to an 8-year old still awake and a sobbing, curled-up-in-a-ball wife!
The thing is, I had prayed and prayed for creativity, telling God that He had made Masi, He knew how to calm him down, that I was THROWING myself on Him for wisdom and creativity (as the One who put all creativity into us in the first place)…and I felt utterly abandoned. I am still not sure why Monday night happened the way it did, but I know and trust that God has longer and wider wisdom than I think I needed that night.
On Tuesday, after some time of tackling Masi, getting him into bed, half succeeding in the standing on the head thing (or the stopping of it), I prayed and asked God for the strategy for that night. As I started doing some stretching and relaxing exercises with him, I had the words of Psalm 23 come to mind, and so I used it as a visualisation exercise for Masi – painting the picture of a stream tripping over rocks, a beautifully warm (but not hot) day, long green grass (with no insects) – lying down in it, hearing the stream, hearing the birds in the trees close by…..and he was snoring by the time I moved on to the birds further away…shew!
The next night, asking for something similar, I ended up with a picture of him floating on his back in a warm ocean with waves rocking him…this didn’t get him to sleep, but it calmed him enough that he fell asleep about 15 minutes later.
The next night was a picture of an orange octopus and so I started talking about that (Masi loves anything orange and is intensely interested in anything wildlife related, and he quietened immediately). We talked about how strong octopuses can be, but then that they can also go totally squishy to get themselves into spaces and how he (as the octopus) found a space under a rock, away from danger, with warm sand underneath, where he could make his body go squishy to get in and then relax and sleep. I kept asking God to supply more images as the visualisation went on, and ended up pretty much praying Psalm 104 in 8-year-old, octopus-related language…and Masi was snoring again.
Last night was rather difficult. Masi had pushed Lucien down the stairs (a very scary moment) and was acting very violently. By this time, I had started to enjoy the partnering experience I was having with God and felt OK to tell Lucien to step aside and that I had the peace and strength for it. Masi was really physical (it is quite scary how strong he is – especially when he doesn’t realise the consequences of his actions) and so, after having to tackle him and pull him back onto the bed (declaring to him and to any other players in the game that the battle was already won, it was just a matter of time before he/they realised it), I had him caged in a body-lock, kicking and screaming. All the previous nights, he had calmed down relatively well first and then I had started with the picture stories.
Last night, as I lay hoping he wouldn’t get his elbow in my face, God put the opening words of that famous song, “If you like to talk to tomatoes…” into my head. Absurd as it may seem to launch into Veggie Tales at a moment like this, I started…and, by the time I reached “tomatoes” he had stopped screaming, he lay still and, much as I thought it was all a trick to con me into letting my guard down so he could jump out of bed, he didn’t budge again! When I had finished a medley of the Bunny song, the Hairbrush song and the Cheeseburger song, he turned over, pulled the duvet over him and said it would be nice if I carried on singing, and dropped off to sleep.
Last night I had also declared to those other players, as well as Lucien, that that was the last time Masi would struggle like that. As part of walking that out, today I went and asked a homeopath for something which might help calm him down when he was a bit wild. I am glad that I have it, and I gave him some, but suspect I didn’t have to use it. Tonight Masi got into bed (after a quick, calm and friendly distraction from him jumping on my bed) and lay still while I asked God for His next plan – and then I talked to Masi about being a fluffy eagle chick, well fed, and curling up under the shadow of his mommy-eagle’s wing…went on to pray bits of Isaiah 40 (the famous “rise up on wings as eagles” bits as well as the shepherd gathering lambs up in His arms and gently leading those with young), just praising God for who and how He is…and left a sleeping boy 10 minutes later.
Much as I would never wish these 3 weeks back again (there are other nights I have not described and would love to forget), I have totally loved being reminded of my absolute dependence on God and His incredible faithfulness in loving, speaking to, holding and parenting us.
An afterthought: in case anyone thinks that we had never tried singing, visualisation etc – everything which worked then, we had tried before. The trick comes down to this: God knitted Masi together in his birth mom’s womb, He knows Masi in and out and knew the exact time and the place for which that dratted Veggie Tales song was written! It’s kind of like putting our nets out on the other side of the boat – we’re really just asked to do the same thing as we have always done again, but this time with the God of all creation letting us in on “the know”…
First blogged at From The Outer Limb and reproduced here with permission – check out Wendy’s blog for more challenging and encouraging writing…