My children’s beds are made of lava. Not real, molten lava. Worse. My kids’ beds are made of a special kind of lava that is activated right about when they reach 6 months old. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bassinet mattress, a pack-n-play, or a crib.
Every night, after every feeding, it’s the same: I nurse Baby K (or, three years ago, Baby N) and he turns his head, half asleep, to signal a full belly. I prop him, muscles semi-flexed and eyes still blinking sleepily at me, on my chest and rub his little back until he plucks his binky out of his mouth, his weight goes dead and his breathing slows in the pattern that tells me he’s sleeping. And then I wait a little longer, until he’s in that sleep where babies don’t even twitch when you move them. When he’s there, completely limp and lost in sleep, I inch him over the edge of the pack-n-play. I ease him toward the bottom. He stays in the dead-sleep. I relax my own tension a little so nothing could possibly cause him to startle awake.
Then, bam. The second ONE STITCH on his sleeper touches the mattress, the lava is activated. He screams bloody freaking murder. And if you have never heard Baby K scream, well, I guess you don’t know what an angry pterodactyl sounds like. It’s piercing. I will be partially deaf by the time he learns how to express himself via talking instead. Letting him cry it out is not really an option unless I want the neighbors to call the police.
Now before you go thinking I should try putting him down “drowsy but awake” so he doesn’t have separation anxiety when he wakes up and I’m not there, I’ve read those articles, too. And it worked really well for the first six months. We thought we’d gotten lucky with this baby, that maybe the “bed is hot lava” syndrome had ended with N. Some nights, I even put Baby K down and he goes to sleep with just a little reassuring back rub, and I think I’ve dodged the bullet. I sneak out of the room, and sometimes he even stays asleep! I get to watch a little TV or write a little post or bake my day’s worth of arguing with a three-year-old into some brownies. But in the two hundred sixty-some nights Baby K has been alive, not once has he slept longer than a three hour stretch. Not once.
Now that the bassinet’s secret lava system is in full swing, I am lucky to get one shot at putting him down and having him go to sleep. This is exhausting. Living your life in three hour bursts is a mess, and not the sexy hot mess kind in any way. The pterodactyl scream jolts me out of my bed like the lava pit has spread, and when Baby K actually is asleep, I spend far too long laying tensed in my bed because if I move a muscle/breathe too loud/sneeze or stretch it might wake him back up. So you see, we have really relaxing nights over here.
The one thing holding my sanity together through this all? Selective memory. I look back at N’s infancy and can’t remember any of the horrid details of sleep deprivation. All I remember is that I got to spend a hell of a lot of time snuggling with him because with me was the only place he would sleep. I can only assume in a couple more years, if I’ve survived the lava, the prehistoric shrieking, and the completely unfair lack of sleep, I’ll forget this round, too. And, hell, by then I might even want another one!