I couldn’t turn off my alarm when it went off this morning. Because I wasn’t in my bed.
I was in someone else’s bed, snuggled up next to a cute little lady. Only hours before, she had been calling out my name before we both drifted back to sleep, exhausted.
Now, if this was a blog post from my twenties or thirties, I’d be about to delve into some NSFW kiss-and-telling to rank up there with the other Tony Kelly on Amazon.
But I’m in my forties now. And the adorable female I was sharing a tiny twin-size bed with was my four-year-old daughter. And as such, the only thing unsuitable for work on this particular day is my tired ass, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, hoping desperately that my contorted back remembers how to get out of this rolly chair, if and when the time comes that I have to, I don’t know, teach. Or move.
Because here we are in Sleep Training, Part IV. Although to divide it into parts is a bit of a misnomer. It implies we’ve only gone through four rounds of this shit, as opposed to a continuous on-again, off-again cycle of disappointment and failure. It’s definitely not Episode IV, because there is no New Hope in sight. Maybe we should use the Harry Potter nomenclature and call it Year IV. Because there’s a Goblet of Fire in my lower back right now. And if this is still going on in three more years, there will be a Deathly Hollow.
There was a point in time that my daughter could fall asleep on a dime and sleep through the night without a peep. Gosh, I miss opium. When she was six-months old, all I had to do was put on Joe Cocker’s “You are so Beautiful,” and she was out before the two minutes, forty-one seconds was up. Wife and I thought we were hot shit. Parents who had older children were shocked and amazed at how fast and simple our whole process was.
Pride cometh, and all of that.
In the ensuing three-and-a-half years, we’ve been through it all. Child sleeping in her own crib, child sleeping in her own bed, child sleeping in our bed, parent sleeping on the floor, parent sleeping on the couch, child sleeping out on curb. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I’m sure every parent whose gone through this whole process has wished that was an option. Maybe not the front curb. We don’t want to throw our kids away. But is the backyard out of the question? We can call it camping! Grown-up camping! Without Mommy and Daddy!
But no, our kid is relentless. The Only Child Syndrome is strong with this one, but never moreso than between bed time and the next morning. She’s starting to be able to occupy herself during the daytime. Wife and I can occasionally walk away long enough to take one dish out of the dishwasher before being summoned back to look at how good she’s coloring in the lines this time!
Even the bedtime routine’s gotten more autonomous. Everything up until the actual sleeping part is totally in her wheelhouse. She doesn’t fight the nightly process of bathroom, teeth, and pajamas. .There are even some nights she can accomplish these Herculean tasks in less than a half-hour. Usually it’s closer to an hour. Some nights it’s two hour and, holy crap, I guess I should’ve set the coffee maker before coming upstairs, because it’s now past MY bedtime and trudging back downstairs is going to take just about every ounce of adulthood I can muster.
Is putting cocaine in the coffee maker a good idea or a bad idea?
It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or cocaine or sewer swill, cause the coffee-maker is only getting set if I can get out of my daughter’s bed in the first place. Because bedtime requires both parents’ participation. One of us must read a certain number of books to her. Usually there’s one or two “awake books,” and then however many “asleep books” it takes to finally accomplish said objective. All the while, the non-reading parent must snuggle her. We must get into her bed and lie next to her, tuck her under her blanket (approximately seventy times, as she will need to adjust herself continuously), maybe rub her back.
Or at the very least just lie there and try to outlast her. It’s tough. She still enjoys hearing “Hit the Ball, Duck” for the fifteen-hundredth time. Me, I’ve heard it so many times that I’m rooting for the Duck instead of the Frog now.
Oh, and now she wants water. The over/under for the number of water stops is also set at three-point-five per night. I bet the MGM Grand is just rolling in the dough from all the fools who thought the parents’ defense would hold strong.
And now the process starts over. Oh, we might SAY the next book is still an asleep book, but nobody actually believes that. It’s like those old read-along books: You will know it is time to turn the page, when you hear your parents say, “Close your eyes, Miss.”
But this bedtime routine isn’t what gives my back palpitations. Even if it’s 9:30 by the time she’s down, and even if I go directly from her bed to my bed, I can still get seven hours of sleep and deal with the coffee in the morning.
What really fucks with my life is the middle of the night. “Mommy, mommy,” or “Daddy, daddy” is not really what you want to hear at two o’clock in the morning, or three o’clock, or hell, 10:30 PM. It doesn’t really matter who she’s calling for. Whoever hears her first desperately tries to make it to her bedroom before the other one hears and wakes up. No use having TWO sleep-deprived adults in the morning. And we even manage to split the duties somewhat fairly, in that the one who didn’t sleep last night is dead to the world tonight, so the other one is the one likely to be awoken this time.
That was one of the wedding vows, right?
Once we get to our daughter’s room, we’re faced with a dilemma. A choose-your-own-adventure, if you will. There are a few options we do with our daughter.
Option A: Patiently sit or stand next to daughter’s bed, or scoop her up and walk her thirty-plus pounds of dead weight around her room, patting her back and shushing her back to sleep.
Option B: Bring her back to our bed or crawl into bed with her.
I know, with one-hundred percent certainty, which option is the correct option. Whether from a proper parenting standpoint or a psychological development standpoint or a behavioral economics perspective, choosing Option B makes child more likely to repeat her action in the future. Especially if I repeat the positive reinforcement tomorrow and the next night.
And yet… It’s two o’fucking clock in the morning and I’m fucking tired. So move over, junior.
Sometimes I can outlast her. I can put a calming hand on her back while standing or sitting next to her bed. She’s got a little stool I can sit on. But if I fall asleep while on the stool, my back will be even worse than if I’m lying next to her. And sometimes I can lie down next to her for a few minutes until she nods back to sleep, and then extricate myself back to my own bed. But most of the time I’m passed out before my head hits the mattress. The tiny, rock hard mattress designed for a thirty-plus pound four-year old.
In the previous incarnations of this particular struggle, we started bring her back to our bed. She was smaller then, so plopping her down on the queen mattress in between the two of us was more feasible. Sure, she would do the Exorcist-style spin around like a fucking whirling dervish, but again, she was small, so wife and I could still sleep clinging to our respective edges of the bed and be none the worse for the wear. I mean except for the whole bruised kidney thing from where the
demon child sweet blessing of my life had practiced her soccer skills all night long.
But then we get the creep. What’s the creep? Well, one night the whole rigmarole starts at 3:00 am, then the next night she’s calling for us at 2:00, then 1:00. Before we’ve really had a chance to put the kibosh on it, she wants a quick snuggle on our bed before she goes to her bed. Then she wants to fall asleep on our bed before we take her over to her bed. The next thing you know, we’re in for three months of what the helicopter set call co-sleeping before we start the whole process over again with another week’s worth of sleepless nights, followed by maybe three weeks of solid sleep, and then the 3:00 AM wake-up calls start anew.
That’s why we’re trying to sleep in her bed these days. It might make for one cranky parent in the morning, but hey, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that you’ll wake up without bruised kidneys on any particular morning. But man, it’s a grind.
Our child has also figured out a neat little trick. She knows how to sneak in our bed without our knowledge. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and DOESN’T call for one of us, or if (let’s be honest, more likely), she calls for us and we don’t hear her because it’s in the middle-of-the-fucking-night and we’re a-fucking-sleep, then she just comes into our room and climbs into our bed. At certain points, she’s come to my wife’s side or my side and nudges us softly. We do that half wake-up thing, say “yeah, yeah” to some unasked question, then do a scoop-roll and plop her in the middle. But sometimes we have enough presence of mind to get out of bed and escort her back to her own room, followed by one of the various routines, and we’re back to square one.
But my child, like any evolving organism, adapts. So now, when she toddles over to our bedroom in the middle of the night, and faced with maybe a thirty-percent chance that she’ll be rebuffed, she has decided to circumvent the obstacle. To go around. Or rather, over. She climbs over the endboard of our bed, right there in the middle, and then, stealthy as a thief, she sneaks in between us and goes right to sleep. Hell, half the time she’s able to bring her blanket with her.
“I don’t remember hearing her calling us,” I remark in the morning.
“Neither do I, ” my wife responds.
“Wait, you didn’t get her?”
We both look at our daughter, exhibiting a look that is somewhere between shame and pride. The cat who ate the canary, but holy shit, guys, you shoulda fucking seen the size of that canary.
One time I caught her doing the climb-over maneuver. A subtle disturbance in the force, my bleary eyes open just a slit to see a forty-inch night terror hovering, momentarily on the precipice of the bed beyond my feet. I rub my eyes, like I’m William Shatner in a Twilight Zone episode. But the gremlin is still there. She pauses, knowing she’s been caught red-handed. I just shrug and go back to sleep, completely un-surprised when I find my precious little treasure between me and my wife, kicking me in the kidney, come morning.
Which brings us to Episode IV. Year IV. Our latest round of stalemated trench warfare against the night. Just like the generals in World War I, we look at what hasn’t worked in the past and make some subtle adjustments before starting our new offensive. And just like the generals in World War I, we know with alarming certainty that, when it’s all said and done, the result will be the same as every failed offensive before. The best laid plans of mice and men. Our iron youth facing the maw of the enemy. Waves of soldiers falling across no-man’s land.
We changed our tactics from the crib to the toddler bed. Nope. When we upgraded the next time, we spent weeks getting her super excited about her beg girl bed. Ownership! Growing! Big Girl Stuff! Nope, nada, not having it. So happy we spent the day getting all that shit up the stairs and put together.
And then, all of a sudden, one night she wanted to try it. What was the magic change? Mermaid sheets! Who knew? Fuck your autonomy and ownership bullshit. Give me some magical fucking creatures, right the fuck now.
Mom and I were elated, but suspicious as to how much this would last. So we assured her that one of us would sleep with her each night. The books and the websites say this is an effective transition and should only last for a few weeks. Either that, or they’re trying to come with a sales pitch for the sequel. “Hey, Parents, now that you’ve transitioned your kids into their own bed, find out how to get yourself out of there!” Release date: 2025.
And honestly, it’s not as bad as it was at the beginning. For the first week or two, one of us would lie down beside her and be trapped there for the night. You even think about sit up and that sleeping child senses the disturbance in the force, and whines out in the night. “No, Mommy/Daddy, don’t go.”
Then we started being able to lie there for about ten minutes after she lost consciousness and then remove ourselves from the situation. Assuming the parent in question managed to outlast the child by ten minutes. Wife almost always fails in that regard, but I make it at least sixty to seventy percent of the time. And on the off-chance this whole process is finished with enough time for me to make my lunch and set coffee for the next day, then who knows, I might even be able to have some adult time to watch some adult television or listen to some adult music or update my adult blog. Who knows?
Seriously, who knows? Because I sure don’t.
Most nights, I barely have enough energy to get myself over to my bed. The bed I can now enjoy without Mike Tyson’s Knock-Out playing “body blow, body blow, body blow,” all night long. I mean, I can set the coffee in the morning, right? And do we have any leftovers I can nuke at work? Because I’ve got to get me some sleep.
Gotta sleep when we can. After all, we’re on borrowed time. Now that child is asleep, the countdown is on until that desperate cry comes wailing through the midnight darkness…
“MOMMY! DADDY! CAN SOMEONE COME SNUGGLE ME PLEASE?!?”
Ugh. How soon till college?