This morning, I woke up with a fist in my face. Yesterday, it was a foot. As fists and feet go, they were pretty inoffensive – tiny, pink, soft, plump – and belong to my toddler son. Still, you’d think that after four years of broken sleep and feet to the face, first with my older son, and now with his younger brother, I might have grown weary of co-sleeping.
But now the time is growing ever closer where he’ll need his own bed – he used to sleep curled up in the crook of my elbow, but now army-crawls off to the centre of the bed to spread-eagle on his own – I’m actually starting to dread it. For three main reasons:
1. I’m mourning all the sleep I’ll lose during the transition.
Life with two kids under five is a bit relentless, and it doesn’t relent much at night, since my older son is a restless sleeper. Squeezed out of the marital bed by our growing toddler, my husband now sleeps in the spare room and gets up several times during the night to attend to our older son’s night-wakings. Somehow, despite this, both kids manage to spring out of bed just before 6am, while my husband and I lumber behind them and try to start our days.
I’m not looking forward to adding the stress of bed-transitions to our existing sleep-deficit. I moved my older son into his own room when he was two (like his brother, he heralded the end of co-sleeping by constantly wriggling away to sleep unencumbered), and while I managed to conceive a second child and undertook international travel during that time, all I really remember is an endless landing, where it is perpetually 3am, and I am zombie-shuffling between bedrooms, following the cries of a child, forever.
2. Sometimes I think my intuitive maternal instincts are my only parenting skill.
Co-sleeping isn’t for everyone, and personally I never meant to – but thanks to a traumatic birth and a large dollop of silent reflux, my older son simply couldn’t settle on his own. My husband and I quickly had to learn a new parenting vocabulary involving almost permanent babywearing, safe bedsharing, and dream-feeding during the night.
Unwittingly, I’d become an attachment parent – and I loved how well I took to it. I tend to be a walking disaster area (as this morning’s “tea-and-coffee-in-the-same-cup” extravaganza will show), and I rarely take well to anything. But here I was, calming this tiny puzzle of a boy no matter the crisis – a lost toy; a fever; the ineffable sadness of sharing at toddler group – using just my boobs, the warmth of my oxytocin-soaked hugs, and the familiar proximity of my heartbeat.
This stuff still works on my younger son, even though he’s about to turn two, but when it’s all over I’m going to have to start using my brain, and not my boobs, to parent, and I never feel my parenting (or, come to that, my brain – I refer you to the coffee-tea evidence I presented earlier) is up to the task.
3. I’ll miss his little face
It is such a lovely little face, and one that looks so serious when he asks for a hug. One day that face will grow stubble and acne and instead of asking for hugs it’ll just grunt at me, and stomp upstairs to watch industrial robot porn on the dark web, or whatever teenagers will do in the future.
I missed my older son when he transitioned into his own room – somehow my own bed felt cold and lonely without him in it, sleeping with his legs all tangled up in mine. I think it’s because I grew up in a family that showed bodily affection ― unofficial co-sleeping was the norm, and no grown-up in the household found themselves sitting anywhere without a child tucked into their side.
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to admire the squidginess of his wrists and his belly-dimples, and commit them to memory.”
I am not having any more kids, so I’m very aware that my younger son is my “last baby”. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to admire the squidginess of his wrists and his belly-dimples, and commit them to memory.
On the other hand…
It will be nice to become reacquainted with my husband. This part of parenting, when the kids are tiny and demanding, is so intense that we’re less a married couple and more colleagues passing in the break between shifts. Plus, not being joined at the hip to my younger son means I’ll have more time and space for the older one.
I’ll just have to create more opportunities for oxytocin-generating physical closeness with my kids. Movie nights, quiet book-reading, perhaps a larger sofa we can all fit onto; a family hammock in the garden where we can laze in the summer, all tangled up together, if we want to be, only awake. The end of co-sleeping doesn’t mean the end, necessarily: just the moving on to something new.
In the meantime, though, let me feel sad for a little while. Let me miss my sleeping son; the weight of his fluffy hot head on my arm; his midnight sighs and mumbles of “chocolate biscuit”; his tiny round toes tucked into the waistband of my pyjamas, and of course, his feet and fists in my face.