Last night at 2:12 a.m., I was laying on my back in my daughter’s twin bed, my knees up to the ceiling. Her arm was around my neck, her monkey lovey affectionately placed across my face. I was wide awake — and so was she.
We’d been in a version of that position for 45 minutes. She had clearly had a bad dream and had woken me up at 1:30 a.m., crying, telling me she was never going to sleep again. After we spent an hour and a half lying awake together, I was starting to believe her.
As I laid there, trying to pretend I was asleep, I thought of all the other parents who were confronting the same middle-of-the-night challenges as I was. There must be thousands of moms and dads around the world trying to get their little ones to sleep, too, I thought. I did a little video montage in my head, imagining dark-roomed bedtime scenes across the globe — kids from Israel, Italy, China, Australia, and India, Sesame Street-style, speaking to their parents in different languages, but linked by the same common denominators: crying and wakefulness.
As soon as I walked away from my 4-year-old’s bed, she would burst into tears. I was afraid she would wake her brother, 3, who was sleeping in the bed next to her. I was also afraid her whimpers would escalate quickly into full-blown, inconsolable wailing. We were staying at a family member’s house and I didn’t want everyone to wake up. So I went closer, stroked her head, even laid down next to her until we got into the aforementioned position.
How was everyone else in the world handling this? Should I just let her scream it out, wake up her brother, and lock myself in my room while it all went down? Of course not. How could I? I tried everything. I tried waiting just outside the door and “peeking” in every minute or so. I tried leaving altogether but she followed me down the hall. I tried sitting on the floor next to her but she just sat straight up in her bed, too.
My 10-year-old daughter then wandered in, found me in this predicament, and asked if she could have my iPad to read books to help her fall back asleep.
“No way,” I said. “No devices!”
“But mom,” she said. “The only other book I can find in my room is a kids’ Haggadah.”
I scooted her out, empty-handed, perhaps to practice the Four Questions. Never mind that it’s January.
Eventually, my little one finally fell asleep. I waited to be 100 percent sure, monitoring her breathing, her eyes, her chest. I quietly extricated myself from her bed and tiptoed back into my room.
With a deep sigh of relief at 3:00 am, I climbed in bed next to my husband and snuggled up next to him, marveling at how well our bodies fit together, like puzzle pieces. But then, not a moment later, I noticed my room getting a little bit lighter and lighter. With dread, I turned around and saw my little one awake, illuminated, in the doorway.
“You were asleep!” I exclaimed. “I waited and waited!”
“Mommy, I don’t want to sleep,” she said.
I gave up. I let her crawl into my bed next to me, knowing it wasn’t what the books say to do. But I was defeated — I just couldn’t stay up anymore. I knew that in just a few hours, all the kids would be up, expecting happy mommy to play, get milk, and all the rest of it. Smushed in between my husband and my now peacefully dozing daughter, I tried to fall back asleep.
As luck would have it, I noticed the door opening slightly again, another body at the door. My 3-year-old son then came wandering in. So I got up to put him back to bed. Then he wanted me to stay with him, too.
Ahhh!!!! Too exhausted to function, I got into my daughter’s empty twin bed, next to his, and passed out, until my older daughter woke me up by 5:00 a.m. to ask to watch YouTube. No devices!!!
Next, her twin brother followed her in, holding a bloody tooth that had just fallen out. It was only 6:00 a.m. Goooooood morning, everyone!
Sometimes, during these long moments in the dark, I question my entire ability to parent. Am I the worst mom out there? Can everyone else’s kids just sleep — except for mine? What have I done so wrong to be in this situation? I’ve read every article, almost every book, and consulted experts. My most ardent night owls are my third and fourth kids — I should know better. But each evening stumps me and makes me doubt myself. Am I the only one?
Today, the kids are all happy and energetic as ever, playing hide-and-seek (“I’m in the closet hiding, now you go count!”) and throwing the football around. And I’m three cups of coffee into the day before noon, struggling to keep up.
I know these moments will end — and that one day I might even miss them. But now, as I endure these sleep-free nights, and the second hand of my watch tick ticks in my ear for hours on end, and various kids awake like caffeinated coyotes prowling in the night, I’m hoping the whole thing will end. Soon.
I’m not sure if my oldest daughter actually read that Haggadah last night in order to tempt herself to sleep. As for myself, the only four questions I’m asking this morning are when, when, when, when will they all sleep through the night?
We’re still an hour away from lunch — but for me, it feels like dinnertime already. If just one kid could sleep through the night, it would be enough. Dayenu!