Most mornings I wake to the sound of my husband tiptoeing off to the shower. I still have fifteen minutes until I need to help get the kids ready for school. It’s quiet. Peaceful. I can unstick the sleep gobs that glue my tired eyes closed in my own time.
But lately, my nine-year-old son shatters those precious moments. He climbs in bed with me at 6:30 and begins chirping away like a baby bird. “Mom, why is it so light out?” “Mom, do you think we’ll have soccer practice tonight?” “Mom, did the Flyers win?” “Mom, I found out what phlegm means in my Harry Potter book and it’s not what you said.”
His early mornings mean one of two things: he’s either excited or worried. And this phase won’t end until his mind is put at ease.
This is not how I like to wake up in the morning, and it brings back memories, evil memories of days that always began way too early after nights with many interruptions.
He’s never been much of a sleeper. I didn’t know kids even came that way.
The most common advice I got before having my son was, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sure, I thought. I will let the house be messy. Dishes can sit in the sink. Laundry doesn’t need to be folded right away. And babies sleep so much anyway, I’ll be able to sleep and still get those things done, right?
I was a stupid new mother.
My son slept. Only when we held him. But we had to bounce him. And we could only do that while standing. God forbid we try to sit down. Those first few weeks with him were torture and I sat in bleary-eyed delirium during my shifts with him in the wee hours of the night wondering what the hell I had done to deserve such punishment. When I did sleep, I’d dream that I was holding him and wake in a sweaty panic that I had dropped him.
Sleep through the night at three months? That was the first parenting myth I believed, a mere dream that sparked, fizzled, and smoked for over a year. Just when my husband and I thought we had nailed it, something else always put a kink in our slumber: teething, a cold, a change in temperature, a fly on the wall, a piece of lint, who freaking knew.
When he was a toddler and threw his babies out of the crib in the middle of the night, it was a top-secret mission to return them to him without being seen. I would army-crawl in through a sea of stuffed animals, toss the missing baby into the crib, and back out of there at top speed. If my son popped his head up, panicked thoughts raced through my mind as I lie splayed on his floor. “I’ve been spotted. Get out. Abort the mission! Abort the mission!” If I was too far in, my only choice was to lie still and try to blend in with the stuffed animals or hide half under the crib. Sometimes I was stuck there for what seemed like hours until he ducked his head down again.
I’d get tired of those G.I. Joe missions late at night, and I wasn’t into playing peek-a-boo no matter how cute he was.
Once my son got into a regular bed, we’d wake to see him run past our room. My husband found him helping himself to a midnight snack from the fridge.
For an eternal stretch, it seemed like my husband slept on my son’s floor more than he slept in our bed. It was better than constantly being poked in the face and getting up half the night.
It took seven years for my son to let us sleep in peace, for him to realize that just because he was awake didn’t mean he had to wake up the rest of us. He finally learned that he could pick up a book and read while we slept in…until 7.
But now, every time he goes through one of his phases of early mornings, my brain starts ticking. I hear the thud of his feet hit the floor when it’s still dark out. Is it the birds chirping? An upcoming test at school? Excitement over a visit from his grandparent? Or something more? Troubled over something going on at school? After a few days, I figure it out. I don’t like for my son to be worried. I even lose a little sleep over it.