Even when Dylan stopped waking up at night to cry lustily every few hours — a stage I thought was never, ever going to end, by the way — he was what you might call a difficult sleeper. It wasn’t until he was maybe three years old that I could be reasonably certain he’d sleep through the night, and even then it was sort of a crapshoot. Even now, actually. He’s almost five, and he often wakes up late at night with a sort of confused, blurry sound of increasing frustration, and when you go in there to see what’s the matter, he can’t say. I once overheard him talking to Riley about a dream he’d had, which he described, darkly, as “I was going swimming but I had all my clothes on,” so I suspect he’s still having bad dreams on a regular basis. Thankfully, they aren’t the utterly awful-looking night terrors they used to be (a toddler having a night terror is a deeply fucked up thing to observe, as I’m sure some of you know first-hand), and he certainly doesn’t seem bothered by them, but his wake ups happen frequently enough that I lie there, every night, with one ear humming like an amateur radio antenna.
Have you read Catherine Newman’s Waiting for Birdy? I really cannot recommend it enough, without maybe grasping the front of your shirt, yanking you close, and hissing in your face that EVERY WORD OF IT IS TRUTH AND BEAUTY AND JESUS JUST READ IT, but anyway, I particularly love this line of hers about sleep:
Nothing can prepare you for the Sleep of the Parents. If sleep is an ocean, then I used to sleep on the floor of it, a sunken thing among the catfish, bubbles blooping from my dreaming mouth towards the surface. Now I sleep in a little rowboat. In a thunderstorm, during a war, with cannons going off all night long. And also sharks.
God, yes. Sleep seems to have changed forever and ever for me, even though my children are no longer tiny diapered poop-monsters constantly going off like squalling alarm clocks. I jerk and twitch at every sound, despite the earplugs I so dutifully squish into place each evening before turning off my light. Dylan’s occasional dream-murmurs, a gunshot-loud cough from Riley: I float all night from huh? to whew, back and forth in Catherine’s rowboat.
The kids have spent the last two nights with their grandparents, and it’s been a wonderful little break to jump in the car and see a movie (we went to Django Unchained one night and Life of Pi the next, and I loved them both) or go out for dinner or simply relax in the living room without hearing two demented hooligans racing back and forth making that awful GI Joe laser sound, somehow even more annoying than the more sibilant gun noises (pzzzew pzzzew pzzzew!), but maybe the best part has been the sleep. The peaceful, startle-free, guarantee of it.
So, tell me, parents of older kids. Does the roiling war-torn Sleep of the Parents ever change? Or is that the forever of it: the nightly business of ear-craning, breath-checking, and jolting-awake-at-3-AM-because-someone-cleared-their-throat?