I have a recurring nightmare. It's 2 am and one of my kids will wake up during the night and no matter how much comfort I give them, no matter how much I plead and beg and then punish and threaten, they will not go back to bed.
The unfortunate thing is that I know what induces this nightmare. The grim reality that this actually may happen. The fact that I have two kids, one four-year-old girl and one thirteen-month-old boy, who just might get up around 2 am and never go back to sleep that night.
My daughter (age four) comes in sometimes, afraid. She's had a bad dream. She can't ever actually tell me the dream, but she claims she is so scared, she can't go back to sleep. So I'll let her into our bed, but then she'll just play around and not go back to sleep. I really can't stand sleeping in the same bed as another person--that person can't be touching me or breathing on me and I need to not be able to even hear them breathing in order for me to sleep. Yes, I'm that light of a sleeper. It's even better if the room I'm in can be pitch black. Back to my daughter. On these nights, it's not uncommon for me to send her back to bed, carry her back to bed, sing to her, tuck her in, etc., six to ten times before dawn finally arrives. I can't understand how on those nights, she doesn't seem to be very tired the next day. Or, even if she is, she still won't take a nap. I could sleep all day if someone would take over my responsibilities and let me.
At least she can be (somewhat) reasoned with. We can tell her that she will be punished beyond her nightmares if she doesn't go back to bed. We can convince her to try to think of happy things (rainbows, unicorns, chocolate ice cream) while she teeters off into dreamland again. On more than one occasion, those things work. We tell her to sing herself a song or say a prayer and she goes back to bed and doesn't come back. Granted, sometimes she climbs into bed with one of her older brothers, but as long as they don't care, I don't care. As long as the family is rested, fine.
A thirteen-month-old, however, cannot be reasoned with. He cannot even be shushed. At least when my daughter is in my bed and won't be quiet or stop playing, I can tell her to stop and she will, even if only for five minutes. I can even turn the TV on for her at low volume and she will watch and I can sleep. The baby, on the other hand, will wake up and cry. He can't tell us what's wrong. He can't be shushed unless we figure it out. Most of the time, we can't figure it out. Often, he'll wake up around 3 am and we can't get him to go back to sleep. Unlike his older sister, he cannot be calmed by television (at least not yet).
We've tried letting him cry. It's hard to listen to your baby cry on and off for two to three hours every night for seven months. Before about five months, we never let him cry, but since we tried letting him cry, it hasn't changed a thing, except keep us up and risk waking everyone else up (think, little girl with nightmares) too. It's a very grueling thing to have to listen to that. The worst part is when he stops for several minutes, sometimes up to twenty minutes, and then starts again. It puts me on edge pretty much all night long, knowing that there will not be silence in the house, that there will be crying. It's a predictable thing.
We have tried bringing him into bed with us at that point, but then he just plays around and talks to himself. It's virtually impossible to sleep when you have a 1-year-old next to you trying to climb over you and off the bed at 4 am. My biggest fear is that somehow we have trained him not to sleep and he will do this his entire early childhood.
That's my nightmare. Or that is my reality. They are one and the same thing right now.
Can I please go take a nap?