One day not that long ago I was at my doctor’s office for a physical. She’s a wonderful, earthy woman with gray pigtails who practices both Eastern and Western medicine, and she’s always doing something kooky to me on our visits—using divining rods to test my energy field or sitting me down under green lights to restore my electromagnetic balance. Sometimes I have to gently tell her, “Yes, I do feel more relaxed but I still have a 110 fever and am covered in weeping sores. May I please have some antibiotics?”
On this particular visit she had asked a colleague run a biorhythmic diagnostic test on me using some sort of magical glove that transmits electric signals to different parts of your body and then interprets your body’s response. The theory being that if the glove sends a signal to your pancreas, and there’s radio silence on the other end, it could mean that there’s an issue. Like, you’re dying. Or you’re dead. Or you’re totally fine and your pancreas is just being an asshole!
My hand was in the magic glove because I had told my doctor that I had low energy, and after about 20 minutes her colleague came back with a diagnosis that confirmed my worst suspicions:
“You’re a mother in your late ‘30s who doesn’t get enough sleep.”
The miracle of science! I left that visit with knowledge I already possessed and $135 of holistic medicine that was worthless. Because there is no Chinese herb on the planet that can stop an entitled toddler from waking you up at night.
I live in a fortress of sleeplessness, and it is a fortress of my own making. I could’ve let my kids cry it out. I could’ve stopped them from ever climbing into our bed. But when you have multiples, you carry the guilt of feeling like each of your children was gypped of the long, uninterrupted stretches of one-on-one bonding time they deserved. So when one of my sons calls to me or wanders into our bedroom in the middle of the night, I see it as an opportunity to give him that one-on-one time. And truth be told, I kind of love it.
That’s not entirely true. I do not love the whining and the demands for water and the tossing and turning until I am pushed to the outer six inches of the bed. I do not love the jagged toenails digging into my calves and the cranky child that wakes up in a bad mood after you have given him everything.
As terrible as the experience always is, co-sleeping begins so nicely. You lie there in the moonlight with your baby, his fuzzy head tucked into your chest. You breathe in his smell and try to imprint the moment on your memory because you know it is fleeting and this beautiful child is only temporary and will be replaced by an older, uglier version one day. And you feel pretty grateful that you get this time together, even if it means it’ll take you an hour to get back to sleep.
That’s the first time they wake you up. By the second or third time, your child is no longer a slumbering angel. He has become most foul. The long-lashed, curly-haired, chubby-cheeked cherub you brought to bed now appears as his true self—a diabolical creature jettisoned from the bowels of Hades to destroy you. He. Must. Be. Ended.
But you don’t end him, of course. You sigh and nestle into your six inches of bed space and try to catch some zzz’s.
And then the second child starts whining.
So you pull that awful thing into bed, forcing your husband to move his adult male body into six inches of space. Then everyone tosses and turns and shreds each other’s calves with their toenails all over again.
As soon as you’ve drifted back to sleep—the deeply unrestful kind of sleep you get when your body is dangling off a cliff—you suddenly feel a presence. You open your eyes to see a figure standing before you in the dark.
It is yet another hideous gargoyle.
“Mommy” it hisses, waving its talons at you.
In the morning, you wake up in your sons’ bedroom. You roll over to find your husband snoozing in the next bed over. All three of your children are sound asleep in the room across the hall. Your Room. This is when it dawns on you that an important war was waged last night and you lost.
I don’t know what the long-term effects of co-sleeping are. I can’t see myself lying on my deathbed, regretting all the snuggle time I got. But then again, I’ll probably never get to have a nice, comfortable deathbed. Because my children will steal it from me.
Look, I question our parenting techniques all the time. I wonder if every time we give in we are eroding their respect for authority. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if these kids have any regard for us at all.
We read them books at night and we tuck them into their comfy beds with the tigers on the sheets and we sing them songs from “Tangled” and rub their backs. We tell them we love them and sometimes they reciprocate and sometimes they tell us they love “Cyborg” or “Chewbacca” or “that dinosaur movie” instead.
It’s hard to know if the extra care and patience and one-on-one time means as much to them as you think it does, or should.
All I know is this. The other night I came home, opened the mail, and discovered that we were not getting the tax refund we expected this year. It’s not a big deal in the long run, but it was a bit of a shock. All of a sudden I saw the vacations and home projects and fabulous summer wardrobes I had planned slip down the drain. It hit me hard, and I stood in our kitchen, covering my face with my hands, and let myself cry a little.
Then one of the gargoyles, who turned out to be an angel after all, walked up to me and wrapped his arms around my legs.
“I’m sorry, Mommy,” he said. “It’s OK.”
Who needs sleep when you have that?