We’re moving to our first home in a few days. And let me tell you what I’m MOST excited about. More than becoming first-time homeowners, way beyond being able to decorate and remodel as we see fit, even more so than having a place to call our own and make a stable home for our children to grow up in, what I am most excited about is the prospect of finally, FINALLY having a good night’s sleep. Because instead of my husband’s serene face or warm embrace, THIS is what I wake up to in the morning:
I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over 4 years. Lila has kept me awake since even before she was born. From the prolonged “morning” sickness (which was worse at night), the intense heartburn (and yes, she had a head full of hair), the round ligament pain that had me sleeping upright in bed propped on a back pillow from like month 4, and the nonstop kicking, poking, and prodding around in my uterus at all times of the night, she has never, ever let me sleep.
4 years later, nothing has changed.
We thought we did all the right things. In the early days I kept her close by in a bassinet but I always put her down and didn’t hold her for naps. She went straight from the bassinet to the crib. But it was never without a struggle. She would cry and stir and wriggle endlessly. She would never just sleep soundly unless we were in the room with her. We wouldn’t take her out of her crib, but there were many nights in which one of us would sleep in the guest bed in the nursery so that we could all get some rest. It’s as if she just needed to know we were nearby and then she could eventually settle herself down and snooze even though she wasn’t in the bed with us. But now….
Once Matthew booted her from the crib and she went straight to her twin bed, it’s been all but impossible to keep her out of ours. You know how everyone says just let them cry themselves to sleep? Yeah, well, they haven’t met Lila. It worked with Matthew. We did all the exact same things with him and he’s had no problem sleeping on his own. Indeed, there were some nights he fussed and cried when we laid him down, but sure enough, two minutes later he would be asleep. Well, not Lila. Two hours later she would still be howling. Two and a half hours later, unfazed and unrattled, we would go right on to bed. And eight hours later we would wake up to find her snuggled sweetly on my pillow.
We’ve threatened, we’ve reasoned. we’ve pleaded, we’ve cajoled…we’ve bribed?? I prefer to think of it as positive reinforcement: Look Lila, a bright colorful sticker chart! Sleep in your bed all week and you’ll get a brand new toy! But yeah, that didn’t work either, anyway. It started off promising! The first night she did get up and come to our room and I took her right back. She was so exhausted that night that she actually did stay in bed. And she was so pleased with the enormous praise and accolades that we bestowed upon her the next day and she even made a big production of her own, calling all 20 family members to proudly announce her achievement that we just knew we had struck gold. But at some point during the 2nd night she came in our room again, as well as on nights 3-5, and then at week’s end still had the gall to ask for her toy.
“But Lila!” I exclaimed. “You didn’t earn a new toy because you didn’t sleep in your room!”
“I did the first day!”
“You have to do it every day!” I reminded her.
“Well, I really did try Mommy.” She came and buried her face in my neck and went on to explain “I think it’s because I’m still so little. I think when I’m five and all grown up, it won’t be so hard.”
We’ve asked what would help make this transition easier for her and she’s given us plenty of ideas, nearly all of which we have attempted to employ. We’ve tried to make her room The Most Fun Place on the Planet. We’ve removed her butterfly themed nursery decor and replaced with “big girl” bedding of her choosing (Hello Kitty). She has a collection of books that a library could be jealous of, her dollhouse, play kitchen, dress up box, and other typical preschooler adornments. And in addition, as a “Nighttime Prepper”, she has arranged a projector nightlight, a lullaby machine, and a small army of stuffed animals surrounding the bed’s perimeter “to protect her”.
She loves her room, plays in it all day long all by herself, and willingly takes naps in there. But come night-time, it’s as if all of a sudden the room is a dungeon. We’ve been firm in telling her there are no such things as monsters and have read to her all the leading Kids Lit on this subject. She enjoys the story-time and acknowledges there are no monsters in the rooms of the characters, but insists they most definitely are still in her room. We weren’t able to convince her otherwise so we caved and gave her “monster spray” so she could feel in control and get rid of them on her own. She loves the spray bottle but apparently her spray isn’t Extra Strength as she continues to return to our room because “the monsters came back”.
So then we made a pallet for her on our floor and told her if she absolutely needed to come in our room then she could but she can only lay on the pallet and may not get on the bed. And now she comes in to the foot of the bed and whimpers like a small puppy, imploring me to hold her hand or to let her get in so that the monsters don’t eat her.
Really, I don’t even think she believes in monsters herself. That’s just her ploy. The bottom line is that she just likes being close to us. She loves to snuggle. She likes to stroke my cheek and pat my back as she goes to sleep. In the middle of the night she will lean over and kiss my head or actually tap me awake and say “Mommy I love you” before turning over and immediately falling back to sleep. Most bed-sharing parents are familiar with their child “heat-seeking” them out and following them all over the bed no matter how many times you push them over. But this child takes it a step further and physically aligns herself on my back and nestles her face on the back of my neck to sleep, just like a little koala or monkey baby!
At the root of it all is a loving child that truly thrives on tactile affection. And that’s not such a bad thing. I don’t mind showering her with all the kisses and hugs that she needs, and to be honest, I actually enjoy the feeling of her little arms wrapping around my neck and the lullabies we sing to each other before drifting off. But frankly, I’m just tired of her jacking my pillow from me at night. I don’t even like sharing blankets with the Hubs, let alone with her. She’s now plenty old enough to understand and respect boundaries, and this is an important one that she must learn.
I know this is getting ridiculous. Her departure from our room is long overdue. We’ve had so many life/work changes going lately that truthfully, we did just let this fall to the wayside. But also, in our small defense, I think a large part of the problem may be the enormous and clangorous air conditioning unit directly on the outside wall by her bed. It is quite loud. I’ve slept in her room before and it’s woken me up repeatedly and Hubs has made the same observation, so it stands to reason that this may be a big part of why it is so difficult for her to sleep soundly in there. But come next week, when her room will finally be far above and away from any other such unit of commotion, this will no longer be a valid excuse. And so now the time has come!
She loves stickers so we are thinking of trying the sticker chart and earned prize route again. This plan might have some legs to it so long as Hubs and I keep up our part as well and continue to return her to her room when she comes in, no matter how exhausted we are. And on the nights when she sneaks past us like a member of a covert CIA mission and we don’t actually even know she’s there until the morning, well then I guess she will have won for that night, but she most certainly will not get her sticker and will therefore be ineligible for her new toy. And we will continue this process for however long it takes for her to accept it (or for her to give up!).
We’ve already been trying to speak to her and prepare her for this change. She knows we are moving to a new house soon and that when we do she is absolutely, unequivocally, by no means whatsoever, no matter how much she cries and begs, allowed to sleep in Daddy’s and Mommy’s new room. So far she has not exhibited any signs of distress or concern. In fact, when we bring it up, she interrupts us and says “I know, I know, I have to sleep in my own room. You’ve already told me this lots of times.” And so for that, I tell her again just for good measure. She continues to say ok, that she understands, and that she is ready.
But she also isn’t five yet. So I guess we will see.