Here comes another fork in the road. I think these opportunities seem to come less and less as my life follows more and more conventional paths. As in I now earn what to me is a lot of money. People value my expertise. I value my expertise. This means I spend a lot more time working, albeit in a job I believe in, but nevertheless, it does mean I have less time for pondering life. Which is a pursuit I value highly. And yet, thankfully, cracks still appear from time to time which offer a detour to different territory.
This time around, the cracks were most likely facilitated by three years of chronic sleep deprivation and the resulting frustration of trying to ‘solve the problem’. I tried everything. I guarantee you could not have come up with a plan that I hadn’t tried. I ran it like a hard science experiment in the end, certain that with the right manipulation of variables, I could get my son the fuck to sleep at night. And I failed. Nothing worked. I’m beginning to see now that nothing worked because my mind was not able to operate outside of a bunch of accepted rules and regulations. Bedtime must happen at a reasonable hour. Children are not able to determine their own level of tiredness and given responsibility for this, will fail to adequately get themselves enough sleep. I cannot sleep next to my child all night as his slightest move stirs me and he moves. All. Fucking. Night.
Spurned on by a growing feeling that it was all so wrong, I just gave up. I don’t know what it was about that night that enabled me to become unstuck from that thinking, but ever since I’ve been following the rabbit hole to see where it takes us. It’s been a rocky fall, but outside of the confines of what I had always believed were solid rock truths, is a whole other world. I’m calling it De-schooling.
This means various things to various people and I’m only just hitching on to the term so I imagine my understanding of it has some ways to go. Right now, it’s the realization that my attempts to ‘solve’ the sleeping ‘problem’ were derailed by the fact that the solutions I was trying to come up with were coming from me, and as a product of a ‘schooled’ upbringing, I could only ever run and re-run the same options. And I’m not talking of ‘schooled’ here in the sense of the bricks and mortar building where I spent most of my childhood, but of the many many social norms I was schooled in outside of school hours.
I think I can think outside of the box, and largely I can….only I can’t actually implement these creative options because I’m not free of the box. Here’s an example. We tried co-sleeping before. We did room sharing for the first 16 months of our son’s life and we tried returning to it a couple of times during the subsequent years of very little sleep. I think one of the reasons it didn’t work is because none of us knew how to make it work. We were three people, trying to sleep separately, but together.
We knew that this was what families were supposed to do…but we’d had no preparation with how to actually do it. One of us sniffled, we all woke. You get the picture. Deschooling sleep in our house has meant not just changing where we sleep, but pulling apart our ideas about sleep. We are now all sleeping in the same room and each night, we learn to accommodate each other’s sleep and each night, it gets a little more wonderful.
This small crack in thinking has opened up other avenues of profound change. It’s got me thinking about who humans are and what we are capable of. I know I’m capable of deciding when I’m tired and choosing a reasonable time to sleep. Why is my son not capable of this? Maybe he is, but we’ve never believed that he was, and as a result, he’s lost that connection to monitoring his own sleep needs. Same with food. Or time spent on a screen. Or almost anything much you can think of.
The fear of course is that anarchy results from ‘no rules’. Firstly, is anarchy such a bad thing? What might come of anarchy? Feeling overtired is shitty but humans learn at their best from trial and error and given the opportunity, feeling shitty overtired is a pretty big incentive to getting some sleep next time. Why do we believe our small children can’t learn this lesson? Maybe they can. Maybe they just need to be given the opportunity to try.
Our job as parents is of course to guide children and I see this as meaning that we help them to listen to their body cues by winding down at night and seeing that other animals also rest at night. Through watching their parents be kind to each other. Through feeling what happens when they eat too much sweet stuff. But the rules that sit around these things seem to me to be counter productive.
As a nation, do we all sleep terribly and too little because we never learnt how to listen to our bodies and regulate our sleep needs as kids? Do we have problems with impulse control because we weren’t trusted to figure out this drive for ourselves? Are we a people riddled with problems because the imposed structures of our lives that dictate what we do and how we do it from cradle to grave work against our innate drives as humans to do for ourselves and each other in a way that sits right with our potential? All this is de-schooling. Breaking down the walls, one brick at a time.