My daughter's mobile music plays for a solid 20 minutes which, throughout the course of its existence, has both relieved and aggravated me depending on where we are in the bed routine when it stops. Tonight I'm pleased when it ends since she seems to have been asleep for most of the cricket and frog sounds. Nestled in her bed I lay beside her, my one leg hanging over the rail, head propped up by her stuffed ladybug, singing her our goodnight song and rubbing her temple. I begin to move and she turns on her stomach, pops up, grabs my neck, and says, "I snuggle Mommy!" Pinned and practically choking I reach up and restart the music, preparing for another 20 minutes in this position while I consider a new escape plan.
I wish I could've taped the look on my daugther's face the moment my husband and I revealed her toddler bed. With big smiles on our faces we watched as she inched away and then approached cautiously. We showed her how she could get in and out on her own, threw in her stuffed animals,and acted as excited as possible. She smiled slowly and then laughed, crawled in, and spent the next hour running from the bed to the living room. I watched her from the kitchen, feeling proud as she took her bowl of cheerios to bed and dangled her feet through the guard rail. I thought we had done it. That she would reward us for recognizing her love of sleeping in her Sesame Street fold out couch by giving her a "big girl" bed and she would in turn easily go to sleep.
That night we struggled with a new bed time ritual of reading numerous books, sitting in the bed, and singing songs. As the clock struck an oppressive 11p.m. she finally decided it was time to sleep. I closed her door, feeling like a bad mother and foolish for thinking this transition would be at all seamless as my head strong daugther lay with her pillow and blanket on the floor.
In the weeks that followed we tried a number of different things to get her to stay in her bed, least of all her bedroom. Storytime on the chair with Mommy. Storytime on the chair wtih Daddy while Mommy reads the story from the ottoman. Storytime on the chair with Mommy while Daddy lays in bed. Laying in bed with Daddy while Mommy sings the goodnight song from the chair. Laying on the floor with Daddy while Mommy sings the goodnight song from the bed. Without the confines of a crib, most of these scenarios ended in me jostling my fading husband from whatever post he was stationed as our daugther said, "Be right back" and went to the living room, leaving us to the sound of her mobile music and our mutual frustration.
Each night she'd fall asleep somewhere and then we would put her into bed. A lucky shopping find of Minnie Mouse sheets finally kept her interested in the bed long enough for one of us to climb in and spoon her. So now we have a new bedtime routine which consists of me laying down next to her, worrying about the weight capacity of the mattress that is clearly sinking in the middle.
Tonight is shaping up to be no different than the past few nights and yet being held down by my 23lb daughter somehow stifles my anger at this whole, far-from-easy process of getting her to sleep. After a few minutes with her tiny arm around me, I succumb to my sleepiness and the warmth of this odd cuddle. Just as my body goes limp the words of every sleep book, judgey parent, and doctor about creating negative behavior patterns remind me that "just this one time" can't exist in the world of parenting. If I lay with her for a while longer she is going to think I'll be here all the time and then that's going to create a vicious cycle of me and my husband taking turns sleeping in her bed. So I rub her hair and count to myself to stay awake. After a few minutes I realize I may really be trapped. I have only one free hand which is now fishing for my glasses that she made me take off, while the other is fast asleep under her pillow. I lay there trying not to sneeze as her wisps of hair tickle my nose and decide to close my eyes.
I wonder how many other mothers and fathers are around the world, currently in this same uncomfortable and awkward position. How many of us feel ridiculous and are cursing the manufacturers of the toddler bed, who clearly didn't think to make room for an adult body? How many of us are wondering why its so damn hard for someone to sleep in her bed, when sleeping in our bed is something we are thinking about all day long?
Her breathing gets heavier and I know its time to move. I grab onto one of the railing with my free hand and shimmy my way out from under her pillow. I curse every creak the bed makes as I try and lift myself up and out, the blood flowing slowly back to my tingling fingers. The door even creaks as I suck in my stomach to get through the sliver of space.
I close the door behind me and feel successful. Too tired to take care of the mess around me or pick up the dusty magazine I've been meaning to read, I crawl into bed. A half hour goes by and I'm still staring at the ceiling fan, unable to sleep. I think about all of the times my mother used to lay next to me in bed. I'd fall asleep feeling safe and sheltered by the warmth of her body, only to wake up hours later to the empty space next to me. Confused as to why she left when her cuddle promised a night of sweet and pleasant dreams.
I tip toe back to my daughter's room. She is quiet, her chest rising slowly as I watch from the crack in the door. I wonder how bad my back will hurt tomorrow if I crawl back into bed with her. Reluctantly I head to the bathroom, take an allergy pill and get back into to my bed. Noticing the cold air around me, I finally drift off to sleep.