Thursday, August 30, 2012
My 2-year-old niece Madelyn has been coming to stay with us anywhere between 1 and 3 weekends a month. We love spending time with her - we actually fostered her for the first 6 months of her life (more on that later), so we have a bit of a special bond with her and cherish the time we get to spend with her now that she's full time at home with her mama. Her mama (my sister Jackie) went back to school this week and needed some help with childcare, so Maddie came to stay with us for a couple of nights. She's a co-sleeper, which (for those of you non-parents out there) means she doesn't sleep in her own bed, she sleeps with her mom. There are million arguments out there for and against this, and I really have very little judgment for co-sleeping or not co-sleeping. For the record, she co-sleeps because she doesn't have her own room, and because when she was a baby, she only would fall asleep while being held. It's kind of a slippery slope from there. Anyway - she co-sleeps, which means when she comes to stay with us, she sleeps in our bed with us. This was kind of cute (albeit nerve-wracking) when she was a baby, but she just turned 2 (!!) last week, so she's no longer a chubby little baby, and is instead now very much a kid, with long arms and long legs, feet suddenly too big for her body, and most importantly, strong, developing muscles. She sleeps in between us and doesn't like to be covered, so if the covers touch her while she's sleeping, she'll kick and kick until they are off. She'll also twist and contort her body into positions that can't possibly be comfortable, positions that involve the three of us forming a letter "H" on the bed. Needless to say, the only one out of the three of us that gets a good night sleep is Maddie. Gina and I are left to figure out how best to maximize the very small amount of space she leaves us on either side of the bed. The toddler rolls, flips, sits up, turns, shifts, fidgets all night, constantly needing to feel the body of someone next to her. We wake up cranky, she wakes up excited for the day. Finally, last night, we realized we can't all three sleep comfortably in the bed, so Gina volunteered to take the couch and give Maddie and I the bed. It's kind of a catch 22 - with the couch, you get to sleep by yourself, but it's not the most comfortable couch in the world, so you still might not get a good night's sleep. I thought for sure with just Maddie and I in the bed, we'd be fine and I'd get a great night's sleep. When we finally got Maddie to calm down enough to go to bed (at 11:30pm!), she got into bed without argument. Once I shut the light off, she took her pillow, set it on my stomach, slapped it a few times, and laid her head down, so that half of her body was on me and half of her body was on the bed. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep, and with a 27 pound kid leaning on me, it wasn't likely to happen quickly. I thought back to every night no one forced her to sleep on her own, every night that led us to this moment, where she can't sleep on her own in a bed. I thought how this was only going to get worse the older (and heavier) she got. When I knew she was sleeping, I carefully lifted her off of me and put her in her own space in the bed. She didn't argue - instead, she curled toward me, sighed contentedly, put her arm on my arm and, still sleeping, gently patted me with her chubby little hand. She slept nuzzled near me almost the entire night (except the part where she actually fell off the bed, which I knew would happen - she just whimpered and fell back asleep as soon as I picked her back up). I still didn't get a great night's sleep, but having this little kid smelling faintly of oatmeal shampoo so near me all night, feeling her little hand pat me almost like she was comforting me, and being able to feel her soft freshly-dry curls against my shoulder all night - it was better than any full night's sleep could ever be. I know there will come a day when she will no longer smile broadly and run to me when she sees me, where she will no longer reach for me to hug her, and no longer pat me gently with her hands. She won't always wrap her arms around my leg, and she definitely won't always sleep in bed with me when she sleeps over. When I look at her and think about all of these things, it's then that the sleep doesn't matter, and I'm just intoxicated in the intensity and beauty of now. Right. Now.