I had forgotten what a sacred and beautiful thing it is to go to sleep at a reasonable nighttime hour and then re-awaken at a reasonable morning hour. I’ve enjoyed this routine for at least a year now, and I confess I’d begun to take it for granted.
Until we moved Abby to the big girl bed. Now I’m remembering the trauma of her first months with us: putting her to bed and wondering how many hours we had until she cried again. Being forcefully awakened in the middle of a sleep cycle. Leaping out of bed in panic before I am even fully conscious. Waking up in a rocking chair, having no memory of why or when I left my own bed.
(It’s all a very unwelcome reminder of what lies before us in a few months.)
I’ve noticed that sitting up with a wakeful two year old bears a striking resemblance to sitting up with a wakeful two week old. I think this little chart represents a universal parental duty, and I hope that it will encourage and guide you in your own nocturnal vigils.
Minutes 1-30*: Optimism/Denial
A parent first enters the child’s room with no intention of staying long. She (or he) assumes an uncomfortable position: sitting in a rocking chair, crouching beside the child’s bed, etc. The parent is patient and sympathetic to the wakeful child, uttering soothing reassurances, singing soft lullabies, stroking distressed brows.
Minutes 30-90: Resignation
After it becomes clear that a quick rendition of “Hushabye, Baby” is not going to cut it, the parent settles in for a little longer stay. She (He) rearranges some pillows to sit against and resolves to use quiet time productively: praying through a mental list of missionaries and distant family members, thinking through meal plan for the upcoming week, or catching up on reading by the dim night light.
Hours 2-3: Depths of Despair
These hours are not pretty. The tired parent assumes the fetal position on the floor of the child’s room, occasionally dozing off into a restless and short-lived sleep. The devout prayers for missionaries give way to one repeated request: “Please God, make her go to sleep.” The mind of the parent becomes dark and hopeless. She (he) looks ahead to the next day with grim foreboding, and sincerely believes that (a) she will never experience restful sleep again and (b) her child is actually trying to kill her or destroy her sanity with Guantanamo-level psychological torment.
Hours 4+: Abandonment of principles
The parent calculates how many potential sleeping minutes remain before the alarm clock goes off. At this point she (he) will do anything for relief. These are the moments no one is proud of: climbing into the child’s bed to sleep (or bringing child to parents’ bed), turning on a video and laying with the child on the couch, or offering the child a drink of water laced with children’s Benadryl.
The good news is that the night always ends. The sun comes up, the child falls asleep, and Starbucks doesn’t charge that much for adding extra shots to any coffee drink.
*These times are approximate and may vary slightly depending on the temperament of the parent and the condition of the wakeful child.