From an email written to a friend at 2:46 a.m.:
Pregnancy insomnia is bad enough as it is, but when it’s instead a battle of wills with a 5-year-old who is smart enough to fake scared up to the point that he actually makes himself scared and now the whole damn family is awake – and this on the night before Willem’s dissertation proposal thing, so he’s already more than revved up – it’s even less cool. And since Emily is awake, she wants to help, but her version of help is to list off all of the things he shouldn’t be scared about, which is really only giving him new ideas… I’d haul off on a swearing rant but somehow I doubt that would send them off to sleep any faster.
Sigh. Jacob has developed a habit – not out of true fear or illness or need, just out of boredom and comfort, I think, but it has become carved in stone and nightly – of coming into our bedroom during the night. I’m sleeping sounder than usual because of the pregnancy, and he has learned to be extremely quiet and stealthy with it all, so I don’t even wake up anymore when he comes in. Sometime later, I wake up to a fuzzy head in my armpit, and after a short time of lying there awake I bundle him up and back to bed. Some nights, it’s a one-time thing, other nights it’s a three-show gig, and eventually I wear down and just let him stay so I can get some sleep.
He doesn’t cry, or raise his voice, or act scared or sick or upset in any way; just very matter-of-fact, he wants to be with me in my bed and so he comes in. I have absolutely no problem with the occasional nocturnal visit, and in fact I know that a huge portion of this is my own fault, residual from the depression. Some nights, OK, many, many nights, I would lie awake and aching and miserable, not wanting to awaken Willem but desperately wishing for some form of human contact. I couldn’t – or, at least, didn’t want to – put my misery into words, and I didn’t want to burden Willem any more than he already was, so when Jacob would come in looking to snuggle, it was vastly more relief than inconvenience. Even then, I knew that we are not a cosleeping-till-you’re-12 sort of family, and that eventually I would get better, and that if I let this become a habit then none of us would get consistent sleep, so I made sure to trek him back to his bed after five or ten minutes of snuggling. My goal was to show him that it was OK to come in as long as he went back without a big fuss, and that goal was met.
But once I started crawling out from under my rock, and then when we moved and I realized we’d be adding to the population of the house, and Willem became more and more concerned about the school year and the need for everyone to sleep more, we agreed that it was important for Jacob to stay in his own bed at least most of the time. We talked about it with him, and he agreed to stay in his bed on weeknights, and in turn I would let him come in on weekends, and if he came in after 4:00 I’d let him stay until morning.
This is all well and good during the daytime, and he does agree to it… but at night, every night, he’s back in with us again.
I asked him what he thought would help him stay in bed at night, and he thought maybe a really big stuffed animal would help him settle and feel safe. Great, so off we go, and we came home with a huge stuffed St. Bernard, named Black, who is very floppy and soft and snuggly and, so far, completely useless.
So I’m at a loss. Last night, before bed, both Willem and I talked with Jacob about how it was really important that we all get a good night’s sleep tonight. We’ve already talked about how our bodies need sleep, and how it hurts my back if I can’t roll over at night (which happens when there are three in the bed), and last night we added in that tomorrow is a big day for Daddy – he’s giving his presentation for his dissertation proposal, a big deal all around – and so it was extra-important that we all sleep.
In he came again, no idea what time, but Willem woke up at 2:00 and saw him there. Tried getting him back to bed, and for whatever reason Jacob decided to argue and resist, which quickly escalated into Jacob crying loudly and waking everyone in the apartment, perhaps the neighborhood. He wasn’t scared when he came in, I’m sure of this, but as he sat there in bed he came up with scary images and ideas, and revved himself up, and now, an hour later, he’s still wide awake in there. Willem’s pissed, I’m frustrated, Emily’s enjoying a certain caretaker-big-sister status which I would love to encourage almost any other hour of the day.
I’m sure the next step is to try a sticker chart, because duct taping him to the bed or drugging him feel a little extreme. I feel all kinds of mixed emotions over it; there’s guilt because I know the role I played in creating this habit, and I’m the grownup and he’s the kid, and now everyone is suffering from it. There’s frustration because I know damn well he’s not scared or sick when he comes in, that it’s just a simple habit and a preference, but the harder we push for him to stay in his own bed the harder he casts about for excuses… and once he starts saying he’s scared, he has a fertile enough imagination to actually get himself there. So he might start off in a lying/faking mode, but within short order he’s truly scared and the whole thing could have been avoided. I’m feeling stuck in the middle, because Willem has consistently resisted Jacob’s presence in our room but allowed it because he knew it made me feel better. My back hurts – it always does but at night I’m usually able to sleep it off, and not so now. I’m attacking my own parenting skills.