Ava wakes at the crack of dawn. Ava has always woken at the crack of dawn. During the summer that is before 5am around here. Her first and second summer my husband and I took turns getting up with her, bleary eyed and a more than a bit grumpy. Her third summer, when she was 2 1/2 we split the difference. We got a tot clock and we'd set it for about 30-40 minutes after she woke up. She knew she couldn't leave her room until her clock turned yellow and that bought us an extra 30-45 minutes of sleep every day.
This summer she's been waking up just as early as always. She's older and more independent now though and I feel guilty locking her up in her room for over an hour after she wakes up. (I got used to the 7:05 wake up time we were able to get away with during the winter when it stays dark longer.) So we told her she could go downstairs and play quietly when she woke up but she can't wake anyone else up until her light turns yellow. If her light is blue, that means Mommy, Daddy, and Michael are sleeping.
Well, that worked when she was only waking up about half an hour before the alarm, but much longer than that and she'll sneak into our room wailing, "Mama! My light not turn yellow!!" Now, in a perfect parenthood world, I'd pop up happily whenever she wakes up and spend quality time with her, but I'm a night owl and I really wanted to try to hold on to sleeping in just a little. I had an idea...
I started setting out a bowl of dry cereal and some water by her computer before I go to bed. Now she knows that when she wakes up she can go downstairs and entertain herself and eat at the same time. It worked beautifully for a few days. My husband and I would wander down after our alarm went off and we leisurely got dressed/showered to find her happily eating Cheerios or Mini-wheats while playing educational software. That was pretty nice.
Then something even stranger started happening. My little early bird who has woken up with the dawn 99 out of 100 days for her entire life began sleeping in. She's slept till 7:45 for about five days straight (that was typed in a whisper to try to avoid the curse of saying such things out loud). My hopeful hypothesis is that now that she gets no attention for getting up early, she has no reason to get up when she surfaces with the light. Instead, perhaps, she has actually learned to roll back over and enjoy drifting back to sleep for one more cycle. Hmm. Slacker parenting = better sleep for my daughter. Who knew?