Dana and I creep into Emmeline’s nursery every night to watch her sleep.
“I want to bring her in bed with us — just once,” Dana always says. “She just looks so peaceful.”
Sometimes we go into her room and our daughter is sleeping soundly, her thumb lodged in her mouth and her willowly frame flat against the crib rails. Other times we go in and her head is arched backward and her feet are sticking through the rails. Sometimes her head is jammed into a corner. Sometimes it joins her feet through the rails. Sometimes she’s on her knees, and sometimes she’s standing up — sleeping. The kid moves around every five seconds — her tiny, wiggly body at war with somnambulance.
It simply never occurred to us that she’d do the exact same thing in our bed.
“I think it would be just so sweet,” Dana whispers in the dark, as Emme lifts her sleepy head and rams it against the rails.
When I was very young, I used to wake up frightened in the middle of the night and slip quietly into my my older brother’s bed. Tom slept like a vampire, I always thought — his hands clasped tightly at his middle for the entire night. He never moved.
I took great pains not to wake up, fearing he’d just send me back to my own nightmares, but it was no use. Just as soon as I got comfortable, he would jar awake.
Tom always sighed. “Fine. Just don’t fucking move.”
And so I laid there as still as possible, feeling his warmth under the covers and drifting off peacefully to sleep. When I awoke, Tom was almost always gone, and my feet were almost always resting on his pillow — the covers strangled in the corner and my own pillows on the floor.
“Never again,” Tom would say.
But he was my last resort. For some reason, my parents refused to let me sleep with them and my other brother, Jeff, tossed too much in the night. And who could sleep with that disturbance?
When Emme saw the porta-crib, she cried and then she threw up. She does this whenever she’s frightened — a new and disturbing trait we hope she’ll grow out of before her first date.
It was our first night in Ashland, Ore., and Emme did not fancy sleeping somewhere other than her own room at home — 400 miles away. The last time we went on vacation, Emme was too young to do much but sleep most of the time, so we assumed this time away from her usual bed and her usual routine would be just as easy as the last time.
We. were. wrong.
Just like at home, we gave her a bath, read some books and offered a bottle before slipping out of her room. But it was no use. She saw the porta-crib and threw up. After going through the routine for a second time and having the same result, even if we stayed in the room with her, we gave up.
“I’ll just sleep with her,” Dana said, “I don’t know what else we could do?”
It was 7 p.m. Light peeked around the curtains and fell in glowing strips on the bed.
“Are you even tired?”
Dana sighed. “No.”
But Dana brought Emme into our bed anyway, and soon enough our child passed out.
“Just go,” Dana whispered, “We’ll be fine. No use both of us going to sleep at seven.”
A few hours later, I peered into the room. Emme burrowed her head into Dana’s armpit, kicking at her stomach, while Dana motioned frantically.
“Where the hell have you been?” she whispered, “I have to pee so bad I considered grabbing a diaper.”
I took Dana’s place in the bed, while Dana rifled through a chest of drawers in the hotel room.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Looking for a helmet.”
At 2 a.m., Emme’s head was at my knees. Her toe nails dug into my chest. Then she lifted her head, whirled around and rammed it into my groin.
We gave up whispering in the dark. It didn’t matter. We could have held a party and Emme wouldn’t have woken up. She was too busy spinning between us, kicking me in the teeth and flailing her arms at Dana’s back. At one point I managed to drift off for a minute, only to be awoken by the sound of Emme sucking violently on her thumb. Only, it wasn’t her thumb. It was my shoulder blade.
“Christ, child. Can’t you just sleep still?”
I wanted to move her to the porta-crib, but the thought of cleaning up vomit in the cold night was too much to take. And so I simply shifted her back to the middle of the bed, tucked Cozy Bear between her arms and wondered how often she would someday creep into our bed again, frightened awake by her own nightmares, and whether we would simply send her back to battle them alone.
A finger of starlight clawed through the curtains and traced Emme’s outline on the bed. Her arm curved at the elbow and though I couldn’t see her thumb, I knew exactly where it was. For a moment, it was peaceful. For a moment, it was everything we imagined it would be — the soft, gentle slumber of an angel. I leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek, feeling a warm sigh shudder through her thin frame.
“Good night sweet child.”
I kissed her again.
Then her arm jerked awake and punched me in the eye. She kicked Dana in the ribs and I knew both of us, struggling to sleep in the frozen dark, were thinking the same thing.
[UPDATE: There’s more about our brief co-sleeping adventures over at Babble.]