My older son has taken to sleeping on the couch instead of going to his bed. This is new. He’s been going to bed in his own bed for months, possibly a year, and now suddenly he doesn’t want to. He always has some reason why he can’t be in there but the reasons are always silly and he doesn’t truly believe them himself as evidenced by the smile he tries to conceal when delivering them. So my husband, the greatest pushover of all (I hear Whitney Houston singing The Greatest Love of All but with the words the greatest pushover of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall), has told him he can fall asleep on the couch in the living room with us. He gets snuggly under a blanket with another rolled up blanket as a pillow, and quietly listens as I type in the recliner next to him and dad snuffles and snorts trying not to openly guffaw while watching television on his tablet.
My younger son sleeps fitfully in our bed, waking often due to gas, and calling out. Sometimes he calls out enough that one of us has to go back and settle him back to sleep. Sometimes nothing will work but breastfeeding. Sometimes he goes four hours with not a single interruption and then the entire rest of the night is nonstop boob and crying and wriggling. This is our life right now. And it’s wonderful. It’s devoid of any proper sleep, it’s full of too many arms and legs in the bed and none of them still. It’s beautiful and frustrating and there’s no clear path forward.
Our youngest is currently mastering the art of feeding himself. It is a messy business. Most of his food ends up on the floor, on his face, on his chest. Very little food actually makes its way into his mouth or into his stomach. It’s a hilarious and wonderful exercise to observe. He’s so proud when the spoon goes from food to mouth with no unexpected destinations in between. So proud when he decides to stop it halfway to his mouth and touch the spoon with his other hand to sample a taste of from his finger, as if it might be different than off the spoon. And perhaps it is. Who am I to say.
These boys astound me every single day. The things they come up with on their own and together, the ways they have of making my heart race for their safety even as I try desperately to stop myself from yelling “be careful!” two of the most overused and completely worthless words in a parents vocabulary. And it’s only going to get worse, or better, depending on which side of the fence you’re on in all this. I can’t wait until their building forts and racing soapboxers and rock climbing and mountain bike riding and and and. I’m so excited for it.
The kids are so very much in the now. In the day to day. I find myself constantly in the future, reeling myself back in to the present. I can’t possibly know the future, I can’t possibly say how they’ll be, who they’ll be, and it doesn’t matter right this minute, because who they are right now is so fantastic and I keep missing it when I disappear into tomorrows. The only time in the past is in my dreams, and I wake up disoriented, grateful to be here now.
I don’t recall having a hard time falling asleep as a child. I don’t recall having a hard time staying asleep as a child. Yet I also recall battling insomnia for as long as ever. When the boys have difficulty I wonder if it’s genetic. Are they having insomnia now because of me? I do remember that waking up in the morning mostly meant eating cereal and watching tv. I do remember the rare occasions when I’d sneak into my moms bed in the morning instead of going for cereal. How I’d think, I’ll just lay here for a little while and then go eat breakfast, only to wake up an hour or more later.
I remember how much more comfortable her bed felt, although I can’t imagine our mattresses were that different. I remember how much warmer her bed was, although I’m sure my bed was just as warm before I left it. I remember how her arms around me were both too tight and perfect. I wonder if my boys feel any of this now. On mornings when my husband gets up with the young one, our early riser, and I stay in bed with the older one, an arm draped over his little chest. Does the older one wake up and think my arm is both too heavy and perfect? Does the older one wake up and purposely pretend to still be asleep just so I won’t move?
On mornings when I get up with young one and my husband and the older boy stay in bed, I have no idea what happens. Do they experience any of this early morning magic? I’ve never thought to ask. I’ll be up with the young one, reading books or playing with quiet toys, wondering if he’ll always be an early riser or if this is just part and parcel of his odd sleeping habits. Will I ever get to cuddle my young one in the morning, or do I need to hope he’ll always want cuddles at night as he’s falling asleep?
My husband used to worry that we’d never get our bed back if we started co-sleeping. I agreed. We would not co-sleep, unless it was with a sidecar. Our bed was for us, the adults. That all went out the window within hours of our oldest being born. We put him to sleep in the sidecar and went to sleep ourselves only to be woken a few hours later by his tiny but very serious cries. I quickly reached over, pulled him to me in the adults-only bed where he immediately quieted and went back to sleep. I did too. Ever since, the bed has been everyone’s bed.
And yet, our oldest has been sleeping in his bed for months, possibly a year. I’m not entirely sure when it happened. But he started going to sleep in his bed, and then mostly staying there all night. There’d be the occasional night when he’d turn up in our bed in the wee hours of the morning, before there was any light to speak of, when the Great Horned Owls were still hooting back and forth to each other outside our window. But there was definitely a time there when our bed was an adult-only bed again. It was brief, but it existed.
It was a bit of a sad time. It was wonderful to be able to do adult things in the adult bed again, don’t get me wrong, and it was wonderful to be able to stretch out and roll over without anyone demanding you roll back or crying that you’d took their blankie or or or. But it was also sad. The bed which had begun to feel much too small was suddenly enormous. The sweet soft snores were gone, replaced by the occasional snore from my husband. There was no tiny warm body pressed up against me, breathing softly and slowly and helping me find my own tired breath.
It’s been so lovely with the younger one in the bed and also so exhausting. We’re so close and so far from the time when the two boys can sleep together in their own bed. I eagerly await it, push for it, and also don’t quite know how I’m going to fall asleep when it happens. Will my insomnia become worse? Spiraling out of control? Will I end up sneaking into their bed to sleep with them? Doubtful, but possible. Will my poor husband end up unable to move because his wife has decided that if she just slides up against him once he falls asleep she’ll be able to fall asleep too?
I look over at my older kiddo, who should be fast asleep by now, he’s been laying there quietly long enough, his breathing getting deeper and slower. But no, he’s wide awake. He seems to realize the futility of sleep and has just recently begun to pull his legs up out of the blanket and inspect his toes. His bear lies quietly face-down beside him, one leg hanging off the couch. Bear, the sleep talisman that seems to have lost its mojo. Toes inspected, my boy rolls to his side, clutches bear around the neck, and continues to move his toes. It may not appear that he’s trying to sleep but he is. I was the same way. Watching him it comes back to me.
I’d been having such a hard time falling asleep that I’d created little rituals, much like OCD people do, perhaps I’m more OCD than I’d like to admit, but I digress. I’d been having such a hard time falling asleep that I’d latched on to old stories of me sleeping: “you’d put the silk part of the edge of a blanket between your index and ring fingers and rub your fingers back and forth.” So I began doing that every night, muscle memory perhaps would enable me to fall asleep. I noticed my feet were always cold. So I began incorporating a slight foot shuffle under the covers, creating a little foot nook alcove of heated sheets. I’d get the sheets warm in that little circle and then place my feet just so in the middle. Now I wasn’t allowed to move my feet or they’d get cold again. This probably helped me fall asleep because it forced me not to move. I didn’t realize it at the time of course, I just thought foot shuffling was the magic counterspell to insomnia.
As an adult I’ve read so much about sleep and insomnia that it’s a bit staggering that I could still suffer from it. How is it possible to know so much about a subject and still not be able to fix the problem? If I were an automechanic and I’d spent all this time learning how to fix an engine and still couldn’t do it, I’d be pretty pissed. And so I am. I am pretty pissed. It’s amazing how frustrating it is to stare at a clock or remove the clock so you won’t keep staring at it only to stare at the ceiling, or the backs of your eyelids. It’s positively maddening to heed the advice that if you can’t sleep you need to get out of bed because laying there only makes it worse, and you end up out of bed all night now not only getting zero sleep but also getting zero rest. For any of you struggling with sleep, I encourage you to ignore the “get out of bed” advice: even if you’re not sleeping, you’re resting and this is super important in so many ways especially when you’re sleep deprived.
I’ve tried all the tonics and sprays and bedroom modifications. I’ve tried all the teas and meditations and exercises. I’ve tried everything and some things work some of the time and some things work other times and some things never work at all. What’s amazing to me is that people always seem to think it’s a choice, like I’ve somehow chosen not to sleep. “I don’t know why you don’t just go take a nap,” my husband will say when it’s roughly 1pm on a day when I’ve literally had zero hours of sleep the night before and I’m struggling to survive the day. I have no response to that.
My older son is now sitting up, laying down backwards, moving his legs, playing with the dry skin on his lips. “I just can’t sleep,” he says, when questioned, “I just want to sit up.” But that’s not the deal. The deal is he can stay out here on the couch as long as he’s laying down and quiet. I’m trying to stay out of it. Apparently dad has decided that ignoring him is the answer. The boy sits up, looks at me out of the corner of his eyes, catches me looking at him. Shit.
“I think the deal is that you have to be quiet and you have to lay down, if you’re going to stay out here,” I say.
“But, I’m thiiiiiiiirsty,” he replies, “I want my water.”
I say nothing. His dad says nothing. He slides off the couch and goes in search of his water. He finds it and comes back in the room taking large, gulping slurps of water, clearly his thirst was intense. He probably could have died from dehydration and we wouldn’t have noticed. Sigh. Seeing what else he can get away with he now stands in front of the couch, leaning against it, rather than laying back down.
“What are you doing?” dad asks.
“I want to sit up,” the boy says.
“You’re not going to sit on my lap,” dad says, mishearing, “you can lay on the couch or go to your bed.”
The boy decides to go to his bed…maybe. He has at least taken the corner out of the living room but he’s not heading down the hall.
“I want someone to sleep with me five minutes,” he says.
The thing is, is he suffering from insomnia too? Is it my fault? Should I go lay with him five minutes if it means he’ll relax enough to fall asleep? Perhaps I can teach him to make a warm space for his feet and then hold them there? My poor little man. I know how it feels to want sleep, to desperately need sleep, to be so deprived of sleep that you’re literally seeing and hearing things that don’t exist. I’m so grateful he’s nowhere near that. I’m so grateful this is all probably just normal kid boundary testing. Still. Maybe I’ll just go lay with him for five minutes….
~~~That’s one hour~~~