Sleep has always been one of my most cherished things.
When Finn was born my wife and I decided to invite him into our bed and try co-sleeping. This was to be a temporary arrangement until Finn had adjusted to the outside world, and I was happy to share tender moments with my gurgling and cooing son.
Of course, there were times that my peaceful slumber was disturbed, my consciousness rapidly and unhappily restored by the earsplitting howls of an upset newborn. A heart cracking sound. I would feed him from a bottle, or prop him up for my wife; and once finished I would resettle him in the crook of my elbow-pit, so that I could lie flat and rock him back to sleep.
My waking state, in which I perpetually found I had foggy brain, began to resemble that of my unconsciousness; at times I was unsure of the texture of the space around me. But I heard that this was common, and mollified by the constantly repeated phrase of parents the world over; “it’s just a phase”, I waited for things to change.
Our attempts to move him to a crib were quickly aborted, his bloodcurdling screams always brought us back into his room, and him back into our comforting arms. Other parents informed us that they had children that would cry until they turned blue-or even worse-until they threw up, and that this phase would pass if you were persistent. Late at night my wife and I would exchange glances, but neither of us were willing to volunteer, and once coerced, follow-through with the excruciating ordeal of trying to let Finn put himself to sleep. We soon gave up.
At fourteen months we moved Finn into his own bed, and other than a handful-literally less than ten and probably less than five- brilliant nights in my own bed, I had essentially moved in with him. Fortunately it was a double bed.
At bedtime I always read him four or five stories, any less and I’m dealing with a tossing and turning child; sheets and blankets churning around in his restlessness-and if I try to retreat from his kinetic energy, he will wail. So after the books I lie down with him, until he’s petered out and drifted off into unconsciousness. Most nights I don’t mind. Despite the ear pulling and skin picking, it is nice to be wrapped up so close to my son; breathing in the milky odor of my toddler. I often fall asleep myself, and accomplish this without the half hour-or hour-of mental gymnastics I endure in my own bed when it is time for me to call it a night. On my own mattress I somehow can’t avoid going through the checklist of things to do in life-nothing too abstract or fantastical to avoid stressing about-often tying myself into knots before passing out. When snuggled up next to him though, I focus on his needs, I’m distracted from my own imaginary schemes, and I slip away into unconsciousness.
I always re-surface an hour or two later with a start, rare is the time when I’m able to remain asleep with him through the night; I realize that I have some more things to attend to before I can commit myself to slumber. Glancing over at Finn I assess his needs; a warmer blanket, a pillow, an adjustment; but mostly I just observe the calmness of the moment.
Re-emerging from my child’s room I find my wife, and spend some time with her before she packs it in; and then I steal down the steps to the basement to write. Sometimes I only get a sentence off, sometimes a paragraph, but it always feels necessary to carve out some time for this practice-alone with myself.
At midnight or shortly after I hear the wail, Finn’s beckoning screams that wake up the whole house; forcing me to return to his room, and lie back down with him. I plan to pre-empt them, and sneak back into his bed at the appropriate hour before he starts his cacophonous call, but more often than not, I am too wrapped up in my writing.
All it takes is my presence to soothe him, occasionally he laughs and tells me what he has been dreaming about, and then he returns to sleep. I’m left knowing that it is too late to get back to the keyboard-he will soon be awake for the day and need me. And I’ll need whatever time is left for my own rest, so that I can keep up with him when the morning breaks.
I lie prone on his bed contemplating; trying not to fret over the banalities of existence. And with Finn in my arms this is made more simple, for although at times he creates a lot of stress, it is at moments like this that he-by example-shows me the importance to relax. And now I have something new to cherish.
PS: A good friend told me about the book Go the F*$% to Sleep, and YouTubing Samuel L Jackson reading it is something that brings me an immense amount of perverse pleasure. If nothing else, it reminds me that there are others experiencing the same amount of agony as I am, with certain bundles of joy.