My child is 5 years, 4 months and 9 days old and I am still almost as tired as I was when he was an infant.
I was always a good sleeper according to my mother. She said she used to have to poke me to make sure I was still alive because I slept all the time. I don’t really ever remember giving her a hard time about going to bed. I mean, I’m sure that I did, because I’m human and was a kid, but mostly I recall welcoming the opportunity to get in bed, snuggle up with Blankie and my dolls, and rest for the night. I played hard, I wanted my down time. I’m still that way.
My older brother was a sleep disaster. Mom said he used to be in his crib and would scream if she didn’t pat his back. She said she’d sleep that way, one arm in the crib, always patting. She said that when she found out she was pregnant again, she had only one prayer: that this new child would sleep. Because if it didn’t, she would kill it. I guess we can all be thankful for how things turned out.
I never really understood children not being able to sleep. I thought my brother was atypical. But then my son was born.
The first two weeks were great, sort of. He slept the number of hours he was supposed to before I had to wake him to feed him. He was born pretty small (6lbs, 3oz) but then he lost weight and was jaundiced. So I was supposed to feed him every 3 hours around the clock to make him appear less Simpson-y. When he wasn’t eating, he slept. It was fine.
But then, just like that, it wasn’t fine. This child just would not stay asleep. Too young to self-soothe, he would cry all the time. All of it. All. Unless I held him. I was trying so hard to be a good attachment parenting mom and so I held him. 10 minutes in his crib, he’d be awake. Then I’d hold him more. Repeat. Endlessly.
I used to joke that the sound of someone sneezing 3 houses away would wake him up. Or the sound of my head hitting my pillow. Or the sound of my upper and lower eyelashes touching each other. Except I wasn’t joking because somehow this kid knew when I was about to fall asleep and he’d wake up. And cry.
It got to the point where I was up most of the night, swaying, rocking, bouncing, patting and jostling him into slumber. The song I sang the most was the theme to the TV show Weeds:
Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.
Over and over again, rhythmically patting his back. Pacing and jumping up and down the hallway. Wondering why, WHY won’t this child just go to sleep.
And then he’d finally fall asleep and rather than risk putting him in his crib and having him wake up in 10 minutes, he’d come to my bed and sleep in my arms. At least we got sleep.
We tried to let him cry it out when he was about 9 months. 30 minutes in I couldn’t do it. We tried again at 12 months, figuring maybe we just gave in too soon. We were going to see it through, he’d know what’s what and he’d go to sleep. 3 hours of screaming later, we gave up.
I finally bought a very expensive online sleep program, followed it and it worked for getting him to sleep at first, but he never learned to stay asleep.
At 16 months, we finally were able to start putting him in his bed and he’d stay there until midnight.
Eventually, at 3 and a half when we moved to our new home (new home, new room, new bed, new rules!), he started sleeping through the night by himself.
He has always been early to bed, early to rise, mostly out of necessity. I’m a firm believer in sleep begets sleep, so if he was going to wake up at 4am as a toddler, you better believe he was going to bed by 6pm. I don’t care if it is the middle of summer and his room faces west and the setting sun is streaming straight at him. You cannot be up for 14 hours at 18 months old. Mommy will go insane.
Things are better now. Much. He mostly goes to sleep without trouble and he sleeps until about 5:30 most days, which I can tolerate (barely). But the nights when he’s up until nearly 9pm, whining in his bed for me to hold his hand because he’s trying to sleep and “it’s just not working,” I want to scream. I want to cry. I am tired and I do not want to stand there. All I can think to say is that “it’s not working because you’re still talking.”
Even on the nights he sleeps through, we still sometimes battle night terrors when he’s overtired or is stressed. He calls for me in the night. Usually he needs a re-tuck or to find a stuffed animal or his blankie. Once it was to tell me how tired he was.
I expected to be sleep deprived by a newborn. I never thought I’d still be this tired 5 years later. Slowly but surely things are getting better and I am sleeping more. And I know that everyone says don’t wish these fleeting days away because they will go so fast. I know that’s all true and someday I will miss getting to hold my boy’s hand and watching his eyes close for the night.
However, though I may at some point miss these precious moments, I assure you that I will handle it well because I will, finally, be well rested once again. I hope.