I think compared to many families we’ve had fewer issues concerning bedtime. I didn’t have a lot of choice when my husband was deployed both times about establishing some sweet routine with stories, etc. I had too much to do and I was too exhausted all the time, so I simply got my kids trained early to put themselves to bed. We read, we cuddle, we do all kinds of nice together things, but we tend to do them before bedtime. Bedtime here consists of us saying, “Go to bed.” And they go upstairs and get undressed and brush their teeth and go to bed.
My girls have always been very happy in their own beds. Even when they are sick or there is some reason for them to come snuggle up on my bed for a while, they tend to want to go back to their own space to finally sleep. When they were small I never let them cry in their cribs or their beds because I wanted where they sleep to always feel like a safe, comforting place to be. I don’t know if that really worked or if the outcome I was hoping for was just a coincidence, but here we are.
For Quinn it’s always been a different story. He was born during the first deployment and I don’t think remembered his dad very well when he returned from the second. My son is attached to me in a way that straddles the line between charming and overwhelming. When his dad was gone, Quinn wanted to sleep in my bed. There was room and I didn’t mind. But he would still sleep in my bed every night if he could, even though now with his dad home there really isn’t room. We started moving him after he fell asleep to his bunk bed, and that worked for a bit. However, he’s lonely in his own room so we got him a little mattress for the floor of his sisters’ room. The girls are not thrilled with it, but they let it slide because they know it makes him happy. He loves being part of the action as they all giggle past lights out, and he was good there. For many months with this arrangement I was able to say that all my kids stayed in their own beds at night.
But the amazing thing about raising children is the lack of absolutes. You may think this kid is a good eater, or that one is fearless, or the next one is fine sleeping in his own bed at night, but wait a day. Everything can change and then you have a whole new list of habits and preferences to deal with and that becomes the new normal.
So right before Quinn’s tonsillectomy he was having trouble sleeping and started showing up in our room at night. He couldn’t sleep and he wanted to curl up with me. It was hard to refuse so I didn’t try, but it’s hard to even describe how our quality of sleep has suffered.
The worst nights are when the dog is in the bed, too. Because at first I’d have Ian trying to sleep on one side, Quinn on the other, and the dog sort of flopped on top of me or between my knees or wedged somewhere odd. That whole arrangement makes me claustrophobic. Especially since Ian, Quinn, and the dog all have a habit when they are unconscious of filling any gaps around me. If I shift, they shift with me to remain in contact with my body. It reminds me of something I read a long time ago about how people buried in sand end up crushed and suffocated because when they exhale and create a gap the sand fills it in and leaves less space to inhale each time. Quinn is like a sweet-cheeked mound of sand next to me in the bed. Sometimes we make Quinn sleep in the middle, and that helps somewhat because I have an escape route that way, but it’s still not great.
After Quinn came home from the hospital he was extra needy about wanting to snuggle with me at night, and really, a sick kid kind of trumps everything. So there have been many awkward nights around here, because even though now he’s better he doesn’t understand why he can’t stick with this new habit. And somewhere between midnight and five in the morning Quinn winds up in our bed. When we can, we wait for him to pass out and we move him back to the girls’ room, but when you’re exhausted there are many nights it just seems easier to stick it out.
When it’s too much, either Ian or I flee. Usually to the couch downstairs.
The added twist to all of this lately is that I’ve been really sick this past week. Ian’s consultations with Dr. Internet seem to conclude it’s acute bronchitis, but I’m on the upswing. I’ve been through an unholy amount of kleenex and have been coughing like mad but I’m finally feeling stronger and should feel like myself again soon. Quinn and Mona have been coughing a little bit, and Aden has had a cough for about a month but otherwise they all seem fine.
The hilarious thing about all the coughing (because you take humor where you can find it when you are sleep deprived and sick) is that it worries the dog. Chipper is like some nervous hypochondriac, and anytime someone coughs he gets up and leaves. So at night he’s been up every few minutes trying to settle into a cough free zone. He’ll start off in our room until I cough, then he’ll trot down the hall and curl up on his dog bed in the kids’ room until Aden coughs, then he return to us. The other night it got so bad Chipper decided to give up on family togetherness completely and took up sleeping on the couch. Which works great until I end up down there if Quinn’s in suffocate mommy mode. The dog looked so devastated the other night when I showed up in the living room with my pillow I thought me might muster the ability to speak just so he could say, “Nooo!”
The winning night of uncomfortable sleep improv was when I fought my way out of the heap of Ian/Quinn/dog madness and tried curling up with Aden. She was vaguely awake and I asked if she’d mind and she looked happy to have me, so I put my pillow at the end of her bed and hugged her feet for a while. After a few minutes Mona realized I was there and started to come over too, because boy didn’t that sound like fun to all pile into Aden’s twin bed for a sleepover. I told her I’d snuggle up on her bed next time (even though Mona’s tightly tucked system of many covers seems almost as claustrophobia inducing as my overcrowded bed). This worked for maybe an hour when I gave up and headed for the couch again, which I really don’t like because it does nasty things to my shoulder for some reason.
So there’s that. We’ve been at this for so many weeks now that it feels routine but I’m so tired of it! Or just tired.
Last night when Quinn appeared in our doorway right at bedtime I was able to say no. At 2:00 a.m. I admit to not being able to think clearly about reasonable parenting ideas, but Quinn was trying to shift things into a newer even less fun routine and I had to send him back down the hall. He looked so hurt I could barely stand it, and when he curled up on his little mattress he started to cry. But I let him cry. I have never been a ‘cry it out’ mom, and I certainly never expected to have to employ that strategy with a five-year-old, but every day (and every night) can bring something new in this parenting game.
Quinn still ended up in my bed around 4:00 a.m. but it wasn’t bad. Every time I had a terrible coughing fit he put his little arm around me. I was sick enough that I don’t think I had much chance of sleeping anyway, and it was nice to feel adored even in my least appealing moments.
But I’m looking forward to a day in the near future when I can take breathing for granted again, and if I’m very lucky, get back to a routine that involves everyone sleeping in their own designated spots. Lofty goals, I know. Martin Luther King Jr may have had a world-changing dream, but I just want to catch enough sleep to have any old dream at all. (Even that one where you show up at school and you’re naked or don’t remember what your classes are. Sounds awesome about now.)