What do they dream about? Sometimes it’s not good. Billy used to wake up once or twice a night screaming, and would sometimes repeat over and over again “I want my mummy”, “I want my mummy”. I would hold his hand, rub his tummy, sooth his forehead and tell him that mummy was here, but we both knew it was the wrong mummy. There was little I could do to ease the pain and terror, only stay with him until it passed. Jo would complain of nightmares, but it was also clear that her dream life was vivid and generally more exciting than her waking life. When we tried to rouse her from sleep, often only three or four hours after finally crashing out after a night of hyperactivity, she would ask to “finish her dream” and that was it. There was little one could do until the sleep journeys had run their course. Whether it was lucid dreaming I’m not sure, but I suspect that much of it was. Maybe it still is. Both kids could sleep for Britain. The speed at which they determinedly become nocturnal is impressive. However tired at the end of a week of school, they will wait for that second-wind that allows them to carry on far into the night, gaming if permitted, but anything will do. We have tried turning off the Internet and hiding the router – that only works if you can find and confiscate phones and all electrical devices or they simply run up huge bills streaming data from their phones. It also means that we have no Internet access. Taking a mobile phone off a teenager is regarded as grounds for ringing child-line, so not something we do lightly. We have tried tripping the main fuse switch – that only works if you are prepared to guard it all night. We have resorted to taking lightbulbs out of their sockets. When Jo was younger this was a routine procedure, in fact for years we couldn’t have a light-bulb in her bedroom as it was a prime target for smashing, and light-bulb glass is sharp and shatters. Now I generally content myself with a rather weak, “Your really should get some sleep now, as you need to be up in the morning” at around 2 or 3am. To my surprise they sometime comply, but we often hear Billy moving around his room, directly above our own, much of the night. I lie there trying to work out from the sounds whether he is hiding or recovering a stache of ‘weed’ from the attic, or from or under the roof space. The peaceful days that follow a busy night are the plus-side of a nocturnal life-style. Tony and I can get on with work or chores while both children are flat-out for hours on end. I guess they are bored and just can’t see the point in getting up at the weekend or in the holidays. They don’t have many local friends and make little attempt to socialise. Perhaps life is so stressful that it is just their form of escape. I do worry about the likelihood of rickets when they don’t see daylight for days on end, and anticipate scurvy when they graze from the fridge and cupboards rather than eating healthy meals.
I met Tony at university. I vividly remember going round to his shared college flat at 10am, and being shocked to find him still in bed. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone in bed at that time unless they were ill. We always had animals as I grew up, and they required an early start. We might ride before school, walk the dog, let out the geese or just get up and on with the day, and I’m really not a morning person. I have never, ever, spent the day in bed unless very poorly, which is rare, and I hate eating when not seated at a kitchen or dining table. It all sounds very bourgeoise when put like that, but perhaps just a different generation (and dose of Scots Presbyterianism). One of the compromises that doesn’t sit easily with me is seeing the kids disappear up to their rooms with food, whether a cooked meal or packet of chocolate rolls or box of Pringles crips, on which they will binge – usually individually as they don’t do sharing. I did ask a speaker at an adoption conference what that was all about and they suggested continued binge-eating is a form of self-soothing, which makes sense.
Jo has been in bed all day – worn our from the stress of the gender clinic in London yesterday. I took her some chicken fingers with ketchup in bed at 9pm. I didn’t let on that one of the dogs had nicked her mince pie with brandy butter as she would probably retaliate (taking a swipe at the dog – not much empathy for animals I’m afraid). She will probably slowly gear herself up for a night of Netflix films on her iPad, and hopefully emerge a bit earlier tomorrow.
Here is the advice bit. Many adopted children have poor sleep patterns – something to do with the early wiring, rather than poor parenting on your part (or ours, as too many social workers and other ‘professionals’ have tried to persuade us). We spent years with good bed-time routines. These would start early and go on for hours, as Jo would become increasingly hyperactive the tireder she got, and they both found transition from day to night hard. Bed-time could last from two to three hours, say six to eight, or more often eight or nine hours, with Jo finally crashing out about two or three in the morning. We would do shifts. It was torture trying to get Jo to sleep until, finally, we were allowed to try melatonin. A social worker had mentioned it when she was seven or eight, but our GP and Jo’s paediatrician had no experience of it with children with FASD. It took another couple of years to get a prescription. The difference was quite miraculous. At last Jo could sleep when tired, and so could we. It was evident that her body couldn’t produce the melatonin it needed to fall asleep, nor the cortisol it needed to wake up again (and she couldn’t tolerate day-light, which didn’t help). We never cracked the waking up bit, but the sleeping is much improved. She stayed on melatonin for several years, gradually weaning herself off it at weekends, and by the age of 13 during the week as well. We never forced it on her, and wanted her to feel in control, which at last she did, able to sleep like everyone else. We found that many of the kids at her boarding school, most of whom have some sort of learning or behavioural difficulty, take melatonin, so there was no stigma attached to it. I felt like an ancient Persian or Vedic priest worshipping Soma, the plant-extract regarded as a deity. I don’t like giving or taking prescription drugs, but melatonin has probably improved the quality of our lives more than almost any other single thing I can think of (OK, HRT now comes a close second). Before melatonin the days were exhausting but nights never-ending, a form of torture. Holidays were a nightmare as we didn’t have locks on the doors or safe areas when away from home, and sleep-overs were impossible. We couldn’t go out or entertain as no babysitter could handle the kids and it took two adults whenever possible to control them. After melatonin we could at least aspire to some normality and much needed sleep, and Jo didn’t look quite so permanently exhausted. Our relationship with Jo also improved as we didn’t have to spend as much time trying to contain her destructive energy at night. At last we could enjoy the sparky, talented child inside the whirlwind.