Most mornings, after I get up at 6:30 and wake the boys, prod Jake to get ready, make breakfast for John, and close the door behind the three of them, I go back to bed for an early morning nap. I try not to feel guilty about this, because I work hard all day long, and while my work day might start later than some people’s, it also goes on longer (for example, I was drafting motions and writing client letters after 11 last night).
Still, I probably would stay up and try to get an early start on the day if it weren’t for one thing, or I should say one person: Lorelei. My five-year-old baby still sleeps with us, and the temptation of getting back into a warm bed for another hour or so with a cuddly little person is too hard to resist most days.
Parenting is an inexact science–or art–at best, but one area I feel sure I have mastered after five children is the issue of “sleep training.” Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems was all the rage when my first was a baby, and I “Ferberized” her and her little brothers. It worked–for awhile. But I remember many, many nights standing by Emily’s crib, counting the minutes until I thought it was safe to sneak out the door; and many, many other nights of lying on the floor next to her bed and then actually crawling out of the room. With Jake, it was getting up and down and up and down to head to his room to nurse him, only to fall asleep where I sat; both Teddy and Jake came into bed with us in the middle of the night for years. And always there was a sense that I just HAD to get them to sleep through the night in their own beds!
But why, really? When William was born, he slept in his cradle occasionally, but mostly he was in bed with me. When he was two, I put the mattress from his crib (which we set up but never once used) on the floor next to our bed, and he started sleeping on it. Eventually I moved the mattress to his room and began nursing him to sleep there. Sometimes he would call for me in the night, but he never once left his room to come to ours. By the age of four, he slept all night, every night, in his own room. It had all been peaceful and stress-free.
Lorelei didn’t have a room of her own, let alone a crib, as an infant. She has always slept with us. She has a room now with her own mattress, and if I want to lie there with her until she falls asleep she will sleep there until she wakes to use the bathroom, when she comes to us. But most of the time I don’t bother. After a stressful, busy day, I like that I can still give her this time, can fill her emotional tank and mine with some nighttime cuddles.
As for going back to bed in the morning, here’s the reason I quiet that critical, guilt-inducing inner voice and do it more often than not: I remember when Teddy, now a 210-lb. 15-year-old football player, was a roly-poly five-year-old, still asleep in my bed when his big brother and sister left for school. I remember how often I forced myself to resist the pull to go back and join him so I could do something very important like dishes or laundry. I remind myself that ten years from now there will still be laundry and dishes and letters to write, but there will not be a cuddly child lying in my bed.
And then I go back to sleep.
Postscript: Lorelei continued to spend a lot of nights in bed with us for many more years. She’s 12 now and sleeps in her own room.