Lightening McQueen, Dobbin the flying horse and other adventures
Bedtime can be a really stressful time in any family. In the early days after both of our children had come to live with us, we recognised how important this time of day could be.
I've talked a bit about the week during which we transferred our son from his foster home to our own (transition I and transition II). I've also told how we adapted bedtime stories to help our daughter settle in to unfamiliar surroundings when she became part of our family (then the owls called out).
Here's the story of how we used similar strategies for our son.
We spent our first full day as a family quietly. It was only a week since I had lost my Mum and snow still blanketed our garden. We made a snowman, created snow angels and had a snowball fight. We went for a short walk in the wintery countryside around our home and otherwise we settled in front of the fire, playing, reading stories and intermittently watching tv.
When it came to bedtime our son went to his new bed without complaint and settled down, exhausted. As he drifted to sleep our little boy asked J whether he would stroke his head.
"No one's ever done that for me before, I've always wanted someone to stroke my head when I went to sleep."
So J stroked his hair as he fell, quickly, asleep.
We were both terrified that first night. Although our bedroom was just next door we set up a baby monitor in order that we could hear him in case he awoke. We expected he would wake, would be confused and would be frightened as he found himself in an unfamiliar bed and bedroom. We wanted to make sure we were there as quickly as we could be, to limit the fear and to reassure him if that were to happen.
We tried to sleep, but couldn't. Listening in to his room on the baby monitor wasn't enough for J. He moved to sleep on the landing outside our son's bedroom, while I lay awake listening in on the baby monitor. We both slept fitfully, J much less comfortably than me.
The following morning our son didn't wake until almost 8am. He had slept soundly for almost thirteen hours. He came downstairs happy and raring to go. We got through that morning thanks to copious amounts of caffeine and in the afternoon took it in turns to have a nap to try and relieve our sleep deprived state.
Our son settled happily into our home. His slumber was disturbed by nightmares, but he was quickly and easily comforted and would go back to sleep happily.
We developed a bedtime routine quickly too. He loved to have his head stroked as he slipped off to sleep and before that he wanted a story. In common with our daughter the sounds of the countryside were alien to him. His life had been spent in very urban areas.
We are so lucky to live where we do. We are surrounded by woods on two sides and on the other two are paddocks which, from time to time, have horses grazing in them. At the time our son came to live with us there were horses in the fields over which his bedroom window looked. He was fascinated by his equine neighbours, watching them from the window when he awoke in the morning.
The idea of creating stories especially for our son occurred to me on his second night in our home. He was obsessed at the time with the film Cars, I've talked about how we used that to our advantage during the week of transition and afterwards here.
At the time our little boy was desperate to visit the desert 'where Lightening McQueen (the hero of the film) lives.'
I therefore developed a story for him about how, at night, Dobbin the magic horse, who lived in the field next door would come and call at his window. How our son would climb out and be taken on magic adventures to the desert to visit Lightening McQueen and his friends.
The stories were accompanied by models, of Lightening McQueen and also of a playmobil horse and boy that we had, fortunately, bought as part of small of selection of toys with which we had populated his bedroom.
In those early days, our son carried with him his own demons amongst which was a terror of being found by either his birth family or the first foster carer who had looked after him.
I therefore developed the story of the magic hedge. Our house is surrounded by a high holly hedge. The hedge, I told our son, was magic. It kept anyone who was bad or who could frighten him away.
All of this combined to create a narrative that helped our son feel safe and secure in his new home. The stories soothed him, they helped him make sense of his surroundings and most importantly, they were pertinent to him.
The only problem came as time went on, by necessity the stories became more detailed, more complex and longer. We started going to be earlier to fit them in. I had to think up new scenarios on a daily basis and, while J was the acknowledged better head stroker, he was rejected out of hand when he tried to replicate my stories. It was exhausting.
Thank goodness for the advent of the poo fairy! She saved my bacon in more ways that one. Her nightly story book delivery being one of them.
As his wish for someone to stroke his head had shown, there had been very little comfort offered to him before at bedtime. We showed by our actions and our stories that we cared about him, that we were interested in him and that we listened to him. All of that was a revelation for him and consequently had an effect far beyond the half an hour at the end of his day.