Every time I get into bed at night I think of Roy Scheider. Not that way. I mean, yeah, he was hot — especially in All That Jazz. But I’m thinking of Jaws. You know when he’s out at sea with those two other guys, and he gets his first really good look at the shark and the enormity of just how fucked they are hits him full on. And then he says: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
I know what he means. We need a bigger bed.
When Stewart and I bought our stupidly expensive, ludicrously tall queen-size mattress with the six-inch pillow top, and the gorgeous cherry-wood sleigh bed frame to go with it, I certainly felt that even with the bed’s shortcomings (too soft for my back; so high that when I was pregnant, I needed a step ladder to climb into it), it would at least be big enough for two slender adults and three cats. Okay, so the cats are pretty huge for house cats, but still. There was plenty of room for all of us to pile in. And then came …
Ah, ah, ah … with this essay’s provocative title I bet you’re thinking (hoping maybe?) we seduced our nanny into a permanent ménage a tois. Nope. So sorry to disappoint. The third in our bed is our child. And now, I wish with all of my interior design-challenged heart, that we’d splurged on the California King. Perhaps someone with more Mom Miles under her high-waisted jeans than I have can explain why it is that kids insist on sleeping perpendicular to whoever else is in the bed with them. My kid roams the bed at night like some pint-sized Ferdinand Magellan and flip flops more than John Kerry campaigning for the White House. And for one so small — not quite 3 feet and under 30 pounds — he takes up waaaaay more than a third of the mattress, leaving Stewart and I pushed to the edges, clinging to the sides like some ancient cliff-dwellers.
(Is anyone else having co-sleeping issues? Share your comments below or email me.)
Honestly, I still can’t quite believe it, but somehow in the six months after Fletcher graduated from crib to big kid bed, our bed — the marital bed! — became the family bed. I know … I know. At best, you’re thinking we’re some kind of hippy-dippy ’60s-wannabe parents who went to Oberlin College and wear tie-dyed hemp clothing while making our own tofu and whistling Kumbayah all day. At worst, you’re thinking: You guys are wimps!!! Spineless wimps!!! Hint: I hate tie-dye. Which leaves …. Yes, I know! We are wimps!
Not in a bazillion years would I have ever thought I’d have a family bed. Growing up, I’d often crawl into my sister’s bed when I got the willies at night. But my parents’ bed? Absolutely off-limits. No kids allowed. Period. End of story. Might as well have been Area 51 for as close as I could get to it. I carried this bias into adulthood, in the same kind of knee-jerk way that even though I don’t keep kosher, I still can’t stomach eating a slab of ham or drinking milk with a burger. Once, back in my magazine days, when another staff editor casually mentioned that she had a family bed, my reaction to this revelation was immediate, visceral (and mercifully contained in interior monologue): Your kids sleep in the same bed with you and your husband? Gross! And then: How do you guys have sex?
So, you can see I was an unlikely candidate for group snoozing. After all, we weren’t nomads living in a yurt somewhere. We were three people living in a house with four bedrooms, for god’s sake. There was plenty of space to crash. And in the early days of Fletcher’s arrival I was adamant about the whole separate bed thing. During the long stretch of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. feedings, I kept Fletcher close, but terrified of the SIDS risk that comes with co-sleeping, always in his own little bassinet parked on my side of the bed. Even when we eventually moved him upstairs to his own room and his own crib — at 8 months, which was not soon enough for my husband and still too soon for me — he did okay on his own. Well, all right … he did okay after our steadfast nanny loaned us some backbone and helped us sleep train him. (Which, by the way, if you’ve never sleep-trained an infant yourself, it’s an agonizing process, known as Ferberizing, that requires nerves of titanium, ice water in your veins and construction-grade ear plugs to get through.) But after five days of steeling ourselves against Fletcher’s howls of abandonment, we were home free and sleeping soundly.
And then the whole megillah unraveled when we swapped his crib for his new “big kid” bed.
Naturally, the first night in the new bed went off without a hitch. That should have been my first clue that the situation was way too good to be true. Instead, I was lulled (naively I see now) into an utterly false sense of He loves his bed … This will be an easy transition! Uh-huh. How many ventures have been doomed by such gross under-estimations? Sure, Fletcher loved his new bed. In the daytime. When he could jump on it. Or off of it. He’d even nap peaceably in it. But at night, he wanted nothing to do with it. Once the novelty of the new bed wore off (about 24 hours after he got it), we found ourselves faced with a brand of toddler defiance that makes Daniel Craig look like a wuss. “Go ‘night, ‘night in Mommy and Daddy’s bed,” he’d insist.
Now here’s a bit of insight that I’ve gained through my anthropological study of toddlers, otherwise known as living with one. They may have the attention span of a Tsetse fly. But when they want something, then they’ve got the tenaciousness of a Jack Russell terrier, the lung capacity of an opera singer and the endless tears of Tammy Faye Bakker. And by the way, their ability to last you out rivals the decomp rate of a Twinkie. (Sure it’s easy to say Let ‘em cry it out when it’s not your kid wailing. When it is your kid wailing as if he’s Caesar to your Brutus, letting him cry it out is like being slowly filleted with long knives.) Even when I knew I was being played for a sap, I’d still crumble. And so that’s how we got sucked into taking turns laying down with Fletcher in his new bed until he fell asleep.
Of course, I could still pretty much count on being rousted from my bed nightly by the 2 a.m. cries of MOMMY! … MOMMY! MAAAAH-MEEEEE! That would be my cue to sleep-sprint up the stairs, scoop him up, and take him back downstairs to our bed. It was so predictable, I was practically on autopilot. But once potty training got under way, our nightly dance grew more complex. Now, there were trips to the bathroom to factor in. Diaper changes. Even wholesale switch-outs of sheets and pajamas. Sleep walking? Not anymore. I was double-espresso awake. And after the umpteenth week of fractured sleep, I was so dog tired I would have sold the kid to the gypsies for a solid 8. Like a Gitmo psych ops expert who deprives terror suspects of sleep in order to break them, Fletcher was wearing me down, down, down, down, down.
Now for those of you rolling your eyes and tsk-tsking at the gullible, newbie parents, I’m aware that we were cultivating a little Sleep Nazi. Our Munich came when Fletcher got sick and we let him, feverish and miserable, back into our bed to convalesce. The plan was to return him to his own bed after his recovery. But when that time came, he dug in. We gave him an inch, and he wanted Eastern Europe … aka our bed. And mounting our own resistance was turning bedtime into an escalating battle of wills.
Then at school, Fletcher’s teacher, Miss Evie, a sweet young gal with silky black hair and a spray of red stars tattooed up her neck, took me aside for a chat. Fletcher seemed weepy and out of sorts. He was hitting, kicking, acting out in ways that were completely uncharacteristic of the sweet-tempered child she’d come to know. Was anything going on at home? She asked in the way that one inquires if there’s been a death or a job loss. Were we, perhaps, beating him regularly? Her tone wasn’t exactly accusatory. But she let me know that whatever was going on at our house, it was spilling over into the classroom. And she’d taken note.
Now on top of exhausted, I was also concerned. Once upon a time when I was working on a magazine article, a children’s sleep specialist had shared with me that profound sleep loss in children is often mistaken for ADHD. In many cases, he told me, kids behaving badly were being doped up with Ritalin when probably all they needed was some more shut-eye. That gave me pause. With that in mind, as long as Fletcher was sleeping, was it really that important that he sleep in his own bed?
So I tried an experiment: That night when Fletcher made his nightly bid to sleep in our bed, I let him. And whaddya know? For the first time in I don’t know when, there was no 2 a.m. potty break; no Mommy! screams in the middle of the night. He slept like the proverbial baby. And so did we.
In the morning, he was in a great mood. And that afternoon, I got a thumbs up from Miss Evie.
After that, really, it was a no-brainer. To borrow from Robert Evans: the kid stays in the bed. When I confided to my friend Stephanie (who’s got two boys of her own) that I’d succumbed to this unorthodox sleep solution, she nodded, understandingly, but cautioned that whatever I was doing at this critical point, I’d just better be prepared to do it for a long, long, long, long time to come. She knows from when she speaks: For years, she slept with one child while her husband slept with the other. But, really, I don’t expect this situation to last all that long. At least not compared to the time it takes, say, water to carve out a canyon or for mountains to form. Meanwhile, it’s not lost on me that we all sleep better now that we’re sleeping together like nomads in a yurt.
And as for sex … well … thank goodness we’ve got three other bedrooms.