As the morning sun seeps through the blinds, I wake to feet pushed into my back. Not just two feet, as you might expect if you share a bed with a partner, but four feet. Four, little, bone-hard, cold feet that seem to know where all of the most tender spots are around my spine.
I wince and roll over to find my boys sleeping beside each other, perpendicular to me, their heads to the edge of the bed. Their faces are sweet and placid but I’m in no mood for adoration. At one point, I would have found my wife sleeping beside me. I have no idea where she is now. The bunk bed in the kid’s room? The living room couch? The creaky bed in the guest room? Who knows.
The only thing clear to me (and my weary head and my aching back) at 7:30 a.m. is that my wife was a better bedfellow than my kids and that I need to get them back under their own sheets as soon as possible.
Why were my boys in my bed in the first place? Well, my wife and I have long been trying to figure out how to make sure that everyone in the family receives the most sleep possible. It all started years ago when our first child was a baby and we spent an inordinate amount of time researching the best sleep training methods. But despite finding a way to get our kids to sleep we’ve struggled in getting them to stay asleep, and stay put, as they’ve grown older.
So why not just let them in, we reasoned. Wouldn’t that solve some of the problems? After all, it would keep them from wandering in to wake us up weeping for cuddles and favors. Plus, there are very many parents who swear by co-sleeping, claiming that it not only helps everyone sleep better but increases the emotional connection that children have with them. That all sounds super nice. What could possibly go wrong?
We hit our first snag when, nearly through the first night, we came to the realization that our queen bed was simply too small for four people, even if two of those people were little. Our initial arrangement had my wife and I acting like bookends on either side of the bed with the boys between us. That lasted a hot second until the brothers began fighting.
“Hey! Personal space!” the 7-year-old said.
“My brudder took my pillow!” the 5-year-old retorted.
So we separated them. The new arrangement was child, parent, child, parent. But we are restless sleepers and before dawn, the 7-year-old found the floor with a thump.
Our new plan, then, was to bring a cot into our room. The thought was that being in the room would still be effective to eliminate night wanderings, but there would be more room in the bed for comfort. And thankfully the boys were happy to trade off.
With three in the bed, things were much better. For me, at least. After the second night, I woke refreshed, having slept soundly through the night. My wife had not. She sat up slowly, groaning, claiming her sleep had been fitful and uncomfortable. Still, we agreed to continue our experiment. Perhaps the trouble with her sleep had been something she ate.
The following morning, I found her in the bottom bunk of the kid’s bed. I’d woken up having discovered one child beside me and way more room than expected. For her part, once she’d made the shift, she reported sleeping much better. I regarded her skeptically.
“We don’t have to keep doing this,” I told her. She assured me she was fine and the experiment should keep going.
That night, I felt her leave as I was drifting off. I thought she’d come back. She didn’t. That night she’d happily snoozed in the guest room. Again, I confronted her. Again she brushed away my concerns. And, again, that night, she barely waited after the lights were off to sneak away.
The children, sensing the void she’d left in the big bed, began replacing her. With enough room, they could slip in beside one another and not fuss. Meanwhile, I was increasingly prone to their tossing and turning.
Am I better rested? Decidedly not. Am I more emotionally bonded to my children? I don’t think so. Besides, what cost is bonding if it means the loss of my wife beside me as I snooze?
I guess, in the end, the choice is clear. Our bed is the one place where my wife and I can be close without our children. It is a sanctuary. It’s a place where I can reach out and feel the sweet assurance of her body beside me. I get why our kids want to be there. But a week has shown me that it’s not their place.
They’re going back to bed on their own. If they want to cuddle, maybe they should start getting along and cuddle each other.