The advice you get as a first-time parent is mind boggling. When to feed, how to feed, diapers to use, wipes to use, how to hold baby, swaddle baby, what to do with baby when baby is upset, how to handle colic, burping, what laundry soap is the best for sensitive baby skin, it goes on and on. But the advice on how to sleep, how to get baby to sleep, came in like an avalanche. I was buried under the sheer amount of thoughts and opinions on sleep.
In the end, when Sprout was tiny, and hubs was back in Iraq, she slept with me. I know that’s breaking one of the rules of deployment, and many parenting rules. But there was something comforting about sleeping next to her, my hand resting on her tummy, feeling it move up and down with each breath she took. She was the only tangible, physical reminder of Hubs. The weight of her head on my shoulder, the feel of her tiny fingers curled around mine, that was all I had left; until he came back home. We repeated this ritual, sleeping curled up tightly together, her head on my shoulder, during his second deployment.
He came back, and we set about putting us back together. It seemed natural, as we learned to be a family, for her to sleep with us. We had a routine, put her in her own bed at night, and typically in the early morning, when she needed to be changed and fed, she would come to bed with us. Some nights she was in bed with us the entire night, some nights she was in her own bed the entire night, and some nights, half-asleep I would nestle her into our bed, and we would sleep.
Once I openly admitted that yes, she slept with us, the advice really started to pile on. She’ll never sleep by herself, you’ll put a strain on you and Hubs, you need some alone time, she has to learn how to self-soothe and put herself back to sleep, on and on. Some days I felt my friends and family had all turned into broken records. I had my doubts, when Sprout was up for the umpteenth-thousandth time, when I was tired beyond all measure, I wondered if they might be right. Maybe I was screwing up my child.
But in the early morning hours, when the smell of baby shampoo and conditioner drifts to me, and a pair of over-large feet are propped on my stomach, I believe, I know… We got this right.
Night time is our time to bond, to come together as a family, to spend a few hours just with each other, not arguing, not talking, not teaching or playing. Just being around each other. Sprout is what the professionals call a strong-willed child. I have many terms for it, stubborn, fierce, independent, GIANT PAIN IN MY ASS; and the end of the day, when we need to rest and recharge, there is no better way to make peace than sharing a bed. The nights where I run my fingers through her curly hair until she relaxes and falls asleep, are the nights where we make peace, after a day of battles and negotiations. Almost always, after a particularly trying day, when she ends up sleeping with me, she whispers she’s sorry, and drops a kiss on my cheek when she climbs into bed with me. And I whisper the same back.
When Pudge came along, for a few nights I slept on the couch, giving up the bed to Sprout and Hubs. Sprout inevitably found her way to the couch, and one night I said to hell with it. I slept for a few hours with a newborn on my chest, and my oldest snuggled beside me. And in that hazy time of no-sleep and cracked, bleeding nipples, and post-partum crazy hormones, I relaxed. I tried, after that, to keep Sprout in her bed, and Pudge in hers, and it just didn’t work. I’m too tired to tuck one child into bed, only to do the same for the other an hour later.
More often than not, Sprout sleeps next to Hubs, Pudge sleeps snuggled with me, and I dream of a king sized bed. All to myself. The times I get the bed to myself though, I cannot sleep. If Hubs is working nights and the girls are both in their own beds, my bed is too empty, too cold, and I am restless. I find myself snuggling first Pudge into bed with me, enjoying time with my chubby baby, and then lifting the covers when Sprout stumbles in, making more room for her. In that moment, the world shrinks down to my room, to the warm bodies that snuggle against me, and the smell of baby shampoo, and milk breath.
The time of diapers and bottles, reading books before beds, stuffed lovies and “Mama I need you” is small. The season of small children is the fastest season of life I have known. It’s passing by so quickly it makes my heart hurt. I find myself sniffling back tears as I realize Sprout’s face is free of baby fat, that Pudge no longer has that newborn look, but has filled out and is a chubby baby. The best time of this season right now, is for me, night time, when the world is quiet, the bed is warm, and my babies are sleeping beside me.