My five-year-old son is going through a tough phase of intense fears, especially at nighttime. For the past two months, he has been coming into our bedroom at least three times a night, sometimes as many as ten, saying he had a nightmare. Most of the time, we don’t think he has even been to sleep yet, so by “nightmare” he means scary thoughts.
The phase has been hard on all of us. Anyone who has had a newborn baby who doesn’t sleep through the night can relate to the difficulty of functioning in a sleep-deprived state. My husband is transitioning into a new career, so he has had a lot of studying to do while still working his full-time job. I’m working two part-time jobs and homeschooling our three boys, so the days require a lot of planning, focus, and energy.
Needless to say, we’ve been drinking a lot of coffee.
Chad and I decided when our oldest son was a baby that although we are very nurturing, we didn’t want to be a co-sleeping family. I would stay (mostly) at home with the boys during their preschool years, and they would get tons of love and affection throughout the day. I would nurse them and snuggle them, and we’d read to them on the couch day and night. But at nighttime, our bedroom would remain our bedroom.
That worked fine for the kid who slept for ten-hour stretches since he was a month old, but not so much for this restless, creative boy whose imagination takes him for some wild rides in the dark.
For a while, we tried snuggling him to sleep, or having my husband hang out in his room and read until he dozed off, but the kid has radar. You make one move toward exiting the premises, and his green eyeballs pop wide open as he wraps his arms tightly around your neck, or locks you in an inescapable leg hug. The other problem with this method is that he wakes frequently, so even if you do escape, you have maybe an hour before he’s whisper-yelling in your face at the bedside:
MOOOOM? ARE YOU AWAKE? I HAD A NIGHTMARE.
I joke, but I was the exact same way when I was a kid. Night times were terrifying for me. I had a vivid imagination and hated being the only one awake in the house. I was in tune with the spiritual world in a way I knew was different from others, and I hated turning off the light at night. It was even worse for me because my parents’ bedroom was downstairs, whereas my son’s door frame is literally a foot from ours.
My husband says he was fearful in the night as a child as well, so it’s not without empathy and compassion that we deal with these circumstances, or, more importantly, with our son’s heart.
Last night, we were desperate for sleep after returning home from a Thanksgiving road trip (think 700 miles in one day with three young boys and a puppy). I tucked in our oldest then dozed off in bed as Chad read in the little boys’ room, but when I woke this morning, my five-year-old was asleep on a stack of giant floor cushions in the two-foot space between my side of the bed and the window. He was almost as high as my bed, sleeping soundly with his moon nightlight on my nightstand.
I stared at him for a minute or two, watching him breath rhythmically, arms wrapped around his spotted cow and bunny rabbit. His long lashes rested on his cheeks, and the sliver of light from the streetlight fell across his smooth upper arm. I pulled the fleece blanket up to his chin and rested my cupped hand across his ear and head for a moment before scooting down to the end of the bed to try escaping undetected.
The doorway of our room is opposite from where I sleep, and as I walked around the foot of the bed, I found two more obstacles to step over – a golden puppy curled up in a ball with his head resting on my slippers, and my three-year-old sprawled across a bean bag on the floor beside my husband. When I reached the doorway, I turned back and actually giggled at the scene – our tiny, cozy bedroom filled to the brim with pillows, blankets, cushions, beanbags, stuffed animals and these boys I love so dearly who just want to be together in our waking and sleeping.
Maybe co-sleeping wasn’t part of the plan when my husband and I were young parents, but by now we know that parenthood is one big revision of plans.
All of life is, really.
I doubt these boys will want to sleep with mom and dad forever, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy the soft blue glow of a moon nightlight across my son’s forehead and the sweet sounds of four of my loves breathing softly in my bedroom.
And I’m going to be really careful stepping around in the dark.
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