When I was a little girl, there was a streetlight outside of my bedroom. The city had the light on timer, turning it on each night at precisely 9 p.m. Most nights, when I complained about going to sleep, my father would tell me a story about the light. He called it the “Darth Vader light,” and when it went on, it meant Darth Vader was looking for kids who weren’t asleep, and when he found them, he bit off their limbs. So every night at bedtime, and all through the night, if I wasn’t asleep I would be under my covers hardly breathing.
When I got older and realized it was a lie, I felt Pops had gone overboard. Now, as a parent myself, I understand. At the end of our very long days when you desperately want your child to go to (and stay in) bed, its hard to pass up a technique so effective.
I don’t want to dishearten all the bleary-eyed first time moms out there who just got their babies to sleep through the night, but I wouldn’t raise your arms in victory just yet… I’d wait about a decade. I’m sure some of you don’t know what I’m talking about – your angels get through the night without a peep! But for each one of you, I know 5 others who sleep in their kids’ bed to eliminate the middle step of actually having to stand up.
Every study on the subject tells us that no one truly sleeps through the night. From infancy through adulthood, night waking between sleep cycles is completely normal. The problem is that when my kids wake up, they feel like chatting. Maybe they want to make sure I’m still there. Don’t worry kids, mommy won’t be going on vacation for at least another 5 years!
I get woken up at least once, if not several times a night most nights of the week for a number of ridiculous reasons. I’m not talking about relaxing on the couch watching Real Housewives when someone wants one last kiss at 10 p.m. I’m talking delirious, middle of the night REM cycle interruptions.
My daughter enjoys escorted trips to the bathroom, so when she’s gotta go, she wails. One of my sons likes giving vivid details of his bad dreams at 2 a.m. Sometimes one of my kids just needs me to hand him the water that’s next to him, or I need to fix their pillows, help them blow their noses, they see a light, they hear a noise, their toe itches or they just want me to know there’s a hole in their sock and ask what they should do. Recently one child woke me at 4 a.m. to tell me he was ready to watch “Frankenweenie.”
When my kids wake up, my body instinctively hurls itself out of bed and I run down the hall half asleep to figure out who’s crying. I probably move so fast less out of concern and more because of how jarring the yelling sounds at 3 a.m. Of course, in the rare event that it’s something serious, I’m compassionate. But over the years I’ve grown less tolerant as the reasons get sillier. Usually I say “you’re fine – go back to sleep,” but sometimes I yell “Oh come on” and other times I say a bad word.
Sometimes, there’s no crying, just a child standing in the doorway like an apparition, quietly saying “mom, mom, mom” until I realize it’s not part of my dream and I wake up. It’s less painful when they come to me since I can stay in bed, but I’m usually up for the next hour.
I’ve come to terms with my lack of sleep, knowing that at least here in the suburbs, I’m in pretty good company. And at the end of the day, I love those little people so much that no amount of sleep deprivation could make me stay mad. My children are the reason I wake up in the morning. I just have to accept that, for now, they’re also the reason I wake up all through the night!