It’s two a.m. I’m standing in my bedroom and holding seven-month-old Kirby on my shoulder, swaying slightly. This is the fourth time he’s been up since I put him to bed at nine. Before I had kids, I wouldn’t have believed that you could fall asleep standing up — but here I am doing it. I hear someone singing a song, very softly. Irritatingly, they don’t seem to know all of the words.
Oh, right, that’s me.
Tired though I am, I just can’t put the little guy in his bed and let him cry. Who can blame him for wanting some nighttime cuddling? He’s descended from apes, after all, and ape babies are programmed to cling to their mamas. You just never see a mama ape peeling her young off her back and putting him down someplace else for the night — some mean predator might come eat him. Somewhere in Kirby’s little brain, he’s thinking that there might be a predator out there, so he doesn’t want to be put down. I know better, but I can’t tell him. So I pick him up when he cries, I let him clutch at me with his little ape-hands, I sing him endless songs. Even though he’s driving me up the freakin’ wall. Around four a.m., I start substituting some very bad words for the ones I don’t know.
There’s a lot of bed-hopping going on in our house. Baby Kirby’s crib is next to my bed, but it’s mostly just decorative. Big Girl Riley is in her own bed tonight, but Kennard isn’t in ours. He’s sleeping in Little Boy Ben’s room, catching a break from the wakeful Kirby. Of course, he’ll still have to deal with the wakeful Ben, who typically requires parental intervention at least once every night. Will it be a scary dream? A diaper containment failure? A sudden desire to find his backhoe? Who can tell?
I’m planning on sleeping with my husband tonight. But when I tuck Ben in bed, he looks at me with big tears filling his eyes, and says, “I don wanna be in my beddy, Mommy, I’m LONELY.” I hate it when he learns new words like “lonely” and uses them on me.
What am I going to say to him? “Well, Ben, Mama and Papa get to sleep together, and it’s very nice and cozy and we really like it a lot, but you — well, you have to sleep all alone. Nighty-night!” Sure, it’s appropriate for him to sleep alone in his own bed while I sleep with Kennard, but Ben’s only three. He gets lonely sometimes. Not every night, thank God, but sometimes. And I can’t stand the idea of him lying in his bed, alone and sad. I imagine him growing up, recalling his childhood:
Therapist: Ben, what can you tell me about your childhood?
Ben: It was ok, I guess, except for the nights. Actually, that’s pretty much all I remember — those long, horrible, lonely nights. [He begins sobbing]
So, I ask Kennard, “Can you take Kirby tonight? I’m gonna sleep with Ben.”
“Okay,” he says. He’s good about stuff like that.
I crawl in next to Ben and he presses up against me, a lot more knobbly and pokey than the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Baby. We fall asleep almost immediately.
One of the things I love about Riley is the way she goes to bed and stays there. Except when she doesn’t. At 11, she comes into Ben’s room and whispers, “I think there’s a mosquito in my room, Mommy.” She has a thing about mosquitoes — they totally freak her out. She won’t be able to sleep until I go check her room. I’m tempted to yell at her because I’m so tired, but instead I haul myself out of bed, squash the bug (a fly, it turns out), and crawl back in. Kennard brings Kirby to eat at midnight and again at four. (When Riley weaned herself at eight months, I cried for two weeks. When Ben weaned himself at eight months, I got over it in a couple of days. If Kirby weans himself at eight months, I’ll cackle wildly and make myself a double margarita to celebrate.)
Ben wakes up at three a.m., muttering something about the letter “W.” At 6:30, he pries open my eyelids and announces, “The sun’s awake, Mama!”
We go downstairs to the kitchen. Kennard’s already there, holding Kirby, looking haggard. We sit there drinking huge cups of coffee. Kennard tells me about a news story he read on the Internet that said that new parents lose an average of 20 IQ points after childbirth. “But I think it’s a joke,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say. “There’s no way we’ve lost only 20.”
Tonight, Riley has decided to sleep with Ben in his room, as she sometimes does. Earlier, she brushed his teeth, read him a book, rocked with him, and sang him a song. He was overjoyed. If he’d had a tail, he would have been chasing it in circles. Now they are snuggled up in bed together, a litter of two — no parents needed.
Kennard is on Kirby duty again and I’m alone in Riley’s room, trying to catch up on sleep. Riley’s pillow smells like watermelon shampoo, and there are about 15 stuffed animals in bed with me. It’s totally quiet. I fall asleep.
I wake up around two a.m., thinking I hear someone crying. I lie there, listening, but I don’t hear it again. Why is it so quiet? Why hasn’t Kennard brought Kirby in to nurse yet? Where is everybody?
They’re probably all dead. Maybe I should go check? No, if they’re dead, they’ll still be dead tomorrow, whereas if they’re sleeping and I wake them up I’ll wish I were dead.
The fire alarm flashes its little red light every 31 seconds.
What kind of person thinks her family is all dead, then doesn’t go check?
Finally, I go crawl in bed with Kennard, pausing briefly to listen to Kirby breathing in the crib next to our bed. Yep, still alive. I think about touching his cashmere hair, but I don’t. Instead I kiss Kennard’s shoulder and he says “Ungh.” Years of marriage have honed our marital communications to a razor-sharp edge.
I can’t keep this up forever. I’m so tired that every day seems like it has about six more hours of daylight than it should. But one of the nice things about having three kids is that I know things will get better, probably at about a year post-partum — I just have to hang on until then. The musical beds will (mostly) stop, and I know who I’ll end up with. I just wonder if we’ll have enough IQ points left to recognize each other.