Co-Sleeping, Forever And Ever

by Catherine Newman
Originally Published: 
A young girl co-sleeping in a black and white photo

My kids have returned to our bedroom to sleep, 15 and 12 years after their births, which is funny, because when our firstborn was a newborn, my husband and I lay around reading the Searses’ Attachment Parenting Book out loud to each other, snickering. We were tired, but still.

As a side note or maybe even a photo caption, in the section on sleep, the Searses had thought to reassure their readers that children rarely chose to continue co-sleeping beyond their 6th birthday. “Oh my god!” we laughed and laughed. “What if Ben’s still in our bed when he’s 6!His future childhood was a total abstraction, on the one hand; time passed so weirdly that maybe in 20 years it would be the next afternoon. And, on the other hand, the Searses were just so effing weird. There was a drawing—or maybe just a description that lodged itself vividly in my mind—of all eight Sears offspring camped out in the master bedroom on various beds and futons and mats. Suckers.

And I loved co-sleeping! It was not because it represents any inherent rightness in the world, but just because I loved it, though not unambivalently. There was the the milky groping, the moonlit baby face and, later, the moonlit toddler face and also another moonlit baby face smiling manically at me in the night; the crib pulled up to the bed with one side taken down, then another little bed put up on stilts to match the height; everyone in a tumble of clean cotton pajamas and fragrant scalp. Also, I was tired for years and years, I should say, redundantly.

What happened was that we kind of became the Searses without really noticing. The babies nursed too much and too often. Everybody’s bedtime ritual involved a days-long marathon of face wiping and reading this book and this book and this book, the special goodnight music on and then lying there like a Resusci Anne CPR training mannequin while people suckled and patted me and rubbed my hair between their fingers, held hanks of it in their hands while they drifted into dreaming, and I was so happy and bored and exhausted and overflowing with gratitude that I fell into the kind of best-of-times/worst-of-times beery coma that defined 8 p.m. to midnight during that very long phase of my life.

Sometimes, with a headlamp on, I read parenting books that made me feel doomed. Clearly, the children would never sleep unassisted or alone, and I would be stuck beneath them, a shriveled old woman, while they snored their way into middle age. We watched my brother’s baby once overnight, and when I asked about the bedtime routine, he said, “Oh! No routine. Just put him in his crib and turn out the light.” What the…? He might as well have been speaking Ork. I watched from the doorway as this tiny person simply closed his eyes and fell asleep, and I wept with envy and confusion. How the…?

I’m only mentioning this now because I see on places like Facebook and The Huffington Post that, amazingly, people are still having babies and toddlers! New people are having new babies, just like we did way back when. They are still wrestling with sleep issues and choices and what it means to do this or that rather than this or that other thing, and mostly, they’re tired and want to feel like it’s all okay, which it is. It must be, given that even my two infamously terrible sleepers are now—yes, naysayers of yore—both excellent, independent sleepers, fully capable of self-soothing, or whatever you call it when their legs are a hundred feet long.

But now they’re both back, and it was the best summer of my life. We are the Searses for sure. Putatively, they’re only here for the free air-conditioning, although the truth is that nobody leaves even on the many cool nights when it’s not switched on. We’ve always kept a small futon on our bedroom floor— “The Crouton,” it’s called, for the fevered or nightmarish or the person watching too many horror movies who suddenly has kind of a The Shining feeling about his own room—and now we’ve dragged in another mattress too. The room is like a tent, blankets and pillows everywhere, the cat prancing around, rolling around on top of everybody, books and headlamps and notebooks and pens scattered everywhere. It’s like camping, or like a slumber party that goes on forever. We watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 and stay up into the wee hours.

I fall asleep to the sounds of my husband and son chuckling to Parks and Recreation with their headphones on, my daughter snoring softly. And I think: We could have deprived ourselves of this. We could have done the thing that someone else thought we should have been doing, rather than lived the way that maximized our collective happiness. Sure, it will be fall very soon, and the party will end, as parties do. We will return the blankets and pillows and children to their rooms and sleep alone again, just us in the big bed, which isn’t so bad, not really. But I will have to creep around in the dark again to get what I’m after, which is what I can see now, without even leaving my bed: the moonlit faces, the moonlit beauty of these enormous children with their chests rising and falling, rising and falling, because I am the luckiest person in the world.

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