Monday, May 11, 2009


Since I went back to work (in the fall of 2007), the sleep arrangements in my house have deteriorated badly, and I have not had the wherewithal to turn the tide. Little Man's dad used to put him to bed: after reading a few books together in his dimly-lit room and singing a few songs, Little Man's dad would place him gently in his crib, pat his back a few times, and leave the room. Little Man would sing sleepily to himself for a little while, maybe hold a brief, one-sided conversation with himself on possible breakfast foods or doggie escapades, and then go quiet. No problem. We were blessed (after a period of utter sleep hell in his infancy, during which no one in the family got more than 4 hours of sleep in any 24-hour period, we felt we had earned the right to this bliss).

Then I went back to work, and Little Man went to daycare. And got sick. And got sick again. And got sick some more. And coughed all night, feverish, crying because his throat hurt, his stomach hurt, he hated the coughing, he was too hot. Etc., etc., etc. We were still nursing then, only minimally (usually once a day at bedtime), but we ramped it up again, because it helped with the coughing and sore throat. I finally took him to bed with me, during the worst of it, because I had to get up and remember how to teach the next day.
Then he got better, and we tried to get him back to the old ways. But he had seen a glimpse of paradise, and he wasn't going to let it go that easily. I can sleep with Mama? really? why would I stop doing that?

And so on and so on. We worked on it, we stopped working on it, there was strep throat, there was weaning, we worked on it, finally ending up with a pattern of my lying down with him in his now-big-boy bed, reading bedtime books and telling a long, serial story we make up together about Sally-the-Cow and her many and varied animal friends (living in some kind of throwback commune on a mountaintop), and I lay with him until he's asleep. At various points, that would be the end of it and I would eventually be able to retreat to my own bed/life; at other points, he would wake up at some point and call for me and I would have to repeat the process until he slept again. For weeks I might fall asleep in his bed before he does, and wake up groggily at 2 a.m. to stumble into my own bed, only to find that I can't sleep (because I had slept from 8:00 to 2:00!) and end up downstairs, reading. Until he would wake up and call for me again, and I would go up to him and lay with him until he fell asleep again.

Drag. Double drag. If I had to go out at night, Little Man refused to even think about going to bed until I returned. Daddy would NOT do. Daddy doesn't have the right voice for bedtime reading, Daddy doesn't know the Sally story saga, Daddy takes up too much room when he lies in bed with me. So I would come home after a dinner out with my friends, to find Daddy and Little Man both asleep sprawled on the couch, all lights on, everyone still in their clothes. Rebelling against any changes in sleep management. All alert to any possibility of going back to the old ways of independent sleep. Vigilantly defending his post.

And the thing is, I get it. Really -- it's nice to fall asleep with your arm tossed around a loved one, a foot leaning against a knee, a butt cozying up to a stomach. I can't reconcile this: I need to sleep in my own bed, with my own husband, vacationing from parenthood for a few precious hours. I myself don't particularly want to sleep alone, and I am an adult. Not four, unclear on the existence of robbers and/or bad guys, negotiating the pull towards independence and the desire always to stay a baby, cuddled in mama's arms. (I mean, you know, on a good day I'm not.) Why shouldn't he prefer co-sleeping to isolation in his own room, away from the family that makes him feel safe?

It's not that I hate it myself. There are times, curled up like spoons with my small son, his hot little bare feet resting on my bent knees, my arm around his waist, my face leaned up against the hair on the back of his head, when I feel as happy and cozy as a blind newborn kitten, surrounded by siblings and nuzzled up against her mama cat's belly. He will say, sleepily, in those moments: "Mama, I love you." "Mama, you're my best friend." "Mama, you're the best best best best best best best mom in the wholewideworld." Or there's the night we had a long sleepy conversation about my extended family, and his dad's, and the grandparents and great-grandparents and what were all their names and where did they live? He was thrilled to find out that my aunt was his great-aunt: "She is my aunt and your aunt too?" he asked delightedly. Anything that means we are the same, related, connected forever, makes him happy. And the tales of our family's interconnectedness made me feel happy too, unconscious for a moment of the factors which separate, divide us in conflict or disagreement. We both fell asleep content that night. Still, the fact remains that this system is not a good long-term plan.

This post is too long already, but the upshot is, I think we may have fixed it, via a surprising ally. More in next post. I will miss the weird intimacy, but I think it may be over, or on the road to being over. And since it's appropriate and right that it be over, I will reserve my ambivalence on the subject to this blog, and celebrate with my husband and son our new independence.


Nowheymama said...

Bedtime with little ones is like musical beds, isn't it?

Kath said...

Em still wants me to sleep with her (In her bed, in her room though) when she feels sick or when she's had a bad day. When she and Mad were little, it was rare for me and Smith to wake up in our own beds without some lttle body wedged between us. Now when Em says, Mommy can you sleep with me tonight? all I can think is that in 6 speedy years she'll be in college.

Little Girl Big Glasses said...

Love your redesign!

daydreamymama said...