pitter pat, pitter pat, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, pitter pat, pitter pat.
Glancing at the clock I note it is 3:57 AM, a little later than usual.
In automatic response to the oh so familiar sound of little feet jumping to the floor and then making their way across the house to my room, I tuck my knees to open up “his spot” at the foot of our bed. It’s just what we do around here in the wee hours.
We didn’t exactly plan to share a bed with him for the long haul. It’s just that when he came home, 3 1/2 years and another adoption ago, we were both book and experience savvy on ways to promote bonding. With him, as with his three older siblings, we used bottles in the toddler age, wore them in carriers until our backs ached, practiced cocooning upon arrival home, and coslept with each of them until they gave signs that they were ready to move to their own bed. Co-sleeping with the older set ranged from one to five months.
But this little one? He’s been with us nearly 1300 nights now… and it took us about five of those to realize co-sleeping can be a full contact sport. Simply put, we share a bed with a tiny tornado. In that time there have been 20 or so nights that he was so exhausted that he slept the entire night in his own bed (in a room he shares with his older brother).
At this point I have dark circles accentuating the dark circles under my eyes. The days I nap with my youngest outnumber those that I don’t. I’m not sure I remember anymore what a night of uninterrupted sleep is like. I’ve discovered that my memory just isn’t what it used to be.
Interestingly enough, everyone has advice on how to keep him in his own room. Out of desperation I’ll even admit we’ve tried some of the reward based methods, like sticker charts, tattoos, and the lure of special treats with breakfast. And he wants to, he really does. Some nights he even holds my face in his hands, looks straight into my eyes and says that he’s going to do his very best that night.
But 9 out of 10 nights, he’s at the foot of my bed by 3:30.
I’ve been advised to let him cry it out, to take him back to his bed as many times as it takes, and even been told to put up a baby gate to keep him from leaving his room. Keep him in his room when he needs the simple power of reassuring touch? Um, no.
As much as I love my sleep, him coming to our room is simply something I’ve come to terms with. He, like my other four children, comes from “hard places”. For each child, the background plays out differently. Combine his heart history with the fact that I need both hands to count the number of times his surroundings and primary caretakers changed before he came to us at not quite three years of age and you have a little guy who needs extra reassurance that everything he’s come to know isn’t going to suddenly change again. Add vivid, troubling dreams to the equation and you’ve got a little guy who draws comfort from the power of touch in the wee hours of the night.
Crazy thing is, if you were to ask me, “What is the hardest thing about being an adoptive parent?” and “What is the most sacred thing about being an adoptive parent?”, I’d probably answer both with having a child who needs me through the night. I’m exhausted and yet being part of his redemption story is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.
And so when the pitterpat of familiar footsteps in the wee hours brings the following question and answer, I respond differently than I expected I would before my heart learned to listen to the need at hand.
“Did you have a scary dream?”
“No. (pause) I just didn’t have a grown up to hold me.”
Before I would have given a quick hug and sent the child back to his bed. But now I understand what it takes to fill his emotional tank and instead give the following reply.
“Snuggle in, little one.”
One day, all too soon, I’m going to miss this. That’s when I guess I will sleep again…
— photo by Tish Goff