Amie’s Own Bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(Amie “asleep” in Her Own Little Bed under her Thamm’s beautiful quilt)

Back in October last year, when we got Her Own Little Bed for Amie, I told myself in my blog entry about it that I should write about co-sleeping, quickly, “now that it’s over”.

I needn’t have worried. Amie did sleep through the night in it a couple of times, but it was more usual for her to wake up around midnight and climb into the Big Bed “right next door”. When she is ill we co-sleep exclusively, as she won’t even consider Her Own Little Bed, and on our recent trip to Singapore and India we co-slept throughout. Also her Thamm (Baba’s mom) got to enjoy a nap with her (can you spot her?)!

Thamm asleep with Amie (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

After weeks of jetlag and yet another cold, we reintroduced Her Own Little Bed, but we haven’t been able to reignite that love-at-first-sight enthusiasm – neither hers nor ours.

We all like sharing the Big Bed. Amie sleeps more and better there. As for us, it’s true, we sleep less, but we sleep better.

We discussed Amie’s sleeping arrangements before she was born. Our space is cramped, especially our bedroom. But putting her in another room was out of the question, especially since I wanted us to nurse. We had a co-sleeper (a crib that attaches, flush, to our bed) all set up, but bed-sharing was still under discussion.

DH was all for it. It was what he was used to: he co-slept with his parents until he was seven, and he has seen all the other Indian families do the same. But in my Belgian culture, co-sleeping isn’t self-evident at all. In fact, it’s considered weird (hippie-weird) and impractical. An aunt exclaimed: “Don’t do that, she’ll be in your bed forever!” My younger sister (whose eldest was 8 already) just laughed.

None of the Europeans I discussed this with were concerned with the baby’s health, which is what seems to be the big worry here in the States. The concern was more with the parents getting enough sleep and issues of privacy for both the parents and the child.

Believe me, those were also on my mind. I am a very, very light sleeper – the kind of sleeper who needs to stuff a ticking wristwatch under a couple of pillows. I was warned (not sufficiently) about the sleep-deprivation of new moms. Sleep was very important to me.

Amie asleep on Baba, 18 August 2005 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then I spent two sleepless nights giving birth to Amie! She came into the Big Bed the day she was born: even in the hospital she refused to sleep in that drafty and bright plastic box. Who wouldn’t! We soon realized our nights would be sleepless anyway, and that keeping her in the bed with us would be the easiest, for all of us.

At first I had to get up every three hours to nurse, and then she was right there – on my most exhausted nights I even dozed off while we nursed. She often slept on top of us: being so close to our heartbeats soothed her. Daytime naps she took in little sleeping nests on the sofa, or – when we had the time to take a nap too – on top of us.

Amie and Mama sleeping in chair (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie and Baba sleeping in sofa (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(The second pictures was almost made famous when the Belgian Public News wanted to use it as the anchor’s background for a report on “fathers as primary caregivers”! It is so typical: the laptop, the baby!)

When she got bigger, she napped in the Big Bed. We brought that down by putting the mattress straight on the ground, and we put a lot of pillows around her so she wouldn’t roll off.

Amie on bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

After we switched to one nursing a night, and even after she began sleeping through the night (only after her first birthday), she stayed in our bed.

Amie and Mama sleeping in bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I admit there have been nights when I cursed the arrangement – when she kept me awake for hours, content with that half-sleep during which she could continue to nurse, or simply fidgety. All in all we make two attempts to change the situation. We tried one of these contraptions:

Amie cosleeping in separation contaption (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It kept her in the bed between us, but created some “privacy”. But she was already to big for it, and kept waking up whenever she bumped against the wall. We discontinued it after three days.

We also tried to put the co-sleeper in use – up till then it was a glorified changing pad:

Amie in cosleeper (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

But she was waking up twice as much, and after several even more sleepless nights, we packed it up.

She still wakes me up: she rotates, fidgets, snores when she has a cold and kicks me in the face once in a while. I’m still as light a sleeper as I used to be, but now it takes me a second to go back to sleep after rearranging her little body.

And having that little body so close to me at night is very special, for her and me. There is instant comfort after nightmares and in times of physical discomfort. Throughout there is physical closeness that fosters emotional closeness, for the one awake and watching, and, I firmly believe, for the one asleep, warm and cozy in the nest.

Amie and Baba sleeping in bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I can report one drawback: Amie can’t fall asleep by herself, for nap nor night. We need to stay with her – lie next to her, holding her – until her eyelashes are on her cheeks and she takes that one very deep and wet sigh. Then we can slip away to go on with our afternoon or evening. And sometimes it takes her a long time to get to sleep – 1 to 2 hours, especially at night. I suspect that her incapability to fall asleep on her own has to do with the co-sleeping. I doubt however that her taking so long has anything to do with it. We hope that as she becomes more open to rational suggestion and peer-pressure, she will understand that she needs to learn that skill as well.

Amie asleep in bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Is co-sleeping good for the parents? It depends on the parents. Is it good for the child? Opinions vary. There seems to be no conclusive evidence of danger to the baby, but there is plenty of unwarranted and misleading propaganda! Potential health-issues aside, it depends on the child. Some children do need that space to themselves. But as for Amie, I think it was and still is good for her.

Over the weekend Amie was presented with a wonderful gift from friends: their daughter’s old doll house. A real, wooden, doesn’t-fall-over-when-you-bump-it doll house! Complete with people and pets and furniture and even a garden for planting.

Amie and eight-year-old S who gave it to her (I plan to return it once Amie too has grown out of it) were setting it up together. Amie of course had a different idea of where things should go. For instance, there are six dolls, but only two beds, so why shouldn’t one sleep in the bath tub? (The old homemade doll house will be the guest quarters). Soon they found a balance and played together for hours.

But after S had gone, Amie changed one thing so that it fits the universe as she knows it:

Cosleeping dolls, January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Turns out Baba is just as much a softie as I am. When we went to bed after yesterday’s ordeal, I found Amie had finally fallen asleep in her own little bed. We lay there on our big bed for a minute or two, then I whispered: “I wish she were here with us…” He said, without hesitation: “You pick her up and I’ll get her pillow.” Soon we were all snuggled up together. Back to normal.

And today, this:

Amie playing Memory 7 January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She calls it “Membery” or “Rememory”. It’s the first and so far only board game Amie has played!

Someone gave it to us. I am not fond of Dora – I don’t like the art (call me a snob), and while reading a story to another child I found careless gaps in the plot, while it was supposed to teach logic! So I hid it.

Unfortunately, Amie’ discovered an episode of Dora on the plane to Singapore, and during that ride she must have watched it 20 times (curiously, she didn’t want the headphones). Not since then: not on tv or in books – I’ve managed to keep Dora away.

Of course Amie found the game in my “squirelly cupboard”, where I keep books and games that are too old for her still. She wanted to know what it was.

I told her: it’s a memory game. With Dora.

“Let’s play it!” she called.

I was skeptical about whether she would be interested in anything more than the cards, and if so, whether she would get frustrated because it is too difficult for it. But it was worth a try.

I told her the rules of the game – so simple: “Find the match and you get to keep the cards!” Then I taught her to point to each card in a pair, naming them (“Dora, Dora! Monkey, monkey! Chicken, chicken!) and then to take one last hard look before they are turned around. I ask her: “Ready?” She looks with burning concentration, then says: “Yes!”

First we played with 6 cards – 3 pairs in 2 rows. Way too easy! Soon I added a pair: 8 cards – 4 pairs in 2 rows… Well, you know the rules are that the youngest begins each game and that she loses her turn only if she makes a mistake. Let’s just say that in the end, she had nearly all the cards (of which there are 72) in her box.

Then she got careless – we had been playing nonstop for over 30 minutes – and didn’t get the match. She gladly let me take my turn, but when I found the match and wanted another turn, oh no!

Funny how they dazzle you with their intellectual skills, their fabulous memory, intense concentration and grownup language at the age of two… but they fall apart when such little things don’t go their way. It truly reveals how there are so many sides to a child’s development, not just if she knows her letters or can draw between the lines. As for the matters of the will, or emotional development, or character: aren’t they matters of experience, of maturity?

Amie has been around for a little over two years, how could I expect her to be mature about it? I gave her a big hug, let her take over again, and we decided that, for the time being, Amie has all the turns in Memory.

We love that creepy lullaby, “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby“. It’s featured on the O Brother Where Art Thou cd, where it’s sung by Alison Krauss, but I like Emmylou Harris’ rendition more. It’s easy to sing softly and quite monotonous and thus (one hopes) sleep-inducing. Amie requests for it to be sung every naptime and every night time.

But of course the original lyrics are too depressing.  It is, after all, a Depression Era song by a father to his baby, whose mother has left.  At the end the baby is implored to “Come and lay your bones on the alabaster stones”.

The line “Your mama’s gone away and your daddy’s gonna stay” would just freak Amie out. Also “You and me and the devil makes three”, however clever (it just rolls off the tongue!) is rather problematic. I can imagine Amie asking one day: “Who is the devil, Mama?” My first impulse would be to say: “A very, very bad man”. But then of course there would be a “very, very bad man” in her lullaby, evening after evening…

So I adapt some of the lyrics… you’ll see which ones. I leave the line “She’s long gone with her red shoes on” in because it seems to intrigue Amie a lot. She sometimes adapts it herself to “She’s long gone with the squeaky shoes on”, because she used to have red shoes that squeaked each time she put a foot down.

Here’s our own version of “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby”:

You’re sweet little babe
You’re sweet little babe
We’re all here so no need to fear
You are my chunky-monkey baby

Go to sleep you little babe
Go to sleep you little babe
You and me and Baba makes three
You are my happy-snappy baby

Don’t you weep pretty babe
Don’t you weep pretty babe
She’s long gone with her red shoes on
You are my tired-wired baby

Go to sleep you little babe
Go to sleep you little babe
Come and lay your head on your big girl bed
And be my ever-lovin’ baby

Go to sleep you little babe
Go to sleep you little babe
Everybody’s gonna yawn then sleep till dawn
You are my billy-belly baby

Go to sleep you little babe
Go to sleep you little babe
Sure does seem like a sweet sweety dream
You are my sleepy-peepy baby

Amie in her own bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I haven’t slept two nights in a row now. It’s like back in the newborn days, with one difference: Amie sleeps. But I don’t. What’s going on?

For over two years now we have been cosleepers (“sharers of the family bed”). Many time I have thought of writing a co-sleeping entry or article about how I love it, and how it is a privilege and a joy for all three of us. It is however such a complex, and emotional issue, that I never found the words for it.

Now, if I don’t hurry and write something about our it, I might never do so, because…

On Saturday we bought Amie a bed.

Well, a mattress, really, crib-sized, since an actual bed – even the smallest one – wouldn’t fit into our bedroom.

We had been talking about it, but not at all insisting. On occasion we asked Amie: “Do you want your own bed?”, like this or that friends of hers. She always said no, and we always let it go.

But on Saturday morning DH said: let’s go and have a look, it can’t hurt to have a look. So we drove to IKEA and roamed around the baby-toddler’s bed section. It was a propitious moment, because Amie got to witness at least two other girls, “much” older than she (5 and 6?), enthusiastically try out all the beds, voice their opinions and dreams, and choose one.

After her nap, we set up the mattress next to our own bed. We made a big deal about the sheet and the box with the books and the pillows and the blanket, and she was so excited.

“I am going to sleep in my own bed!” she kept insisting. “I have a big girl bed now.” “I am a big girl. I little bit big and a little bit small!”

Throughout the day she visits her bed – “I want to go see my own bed”. She sits down on it to read a book to her bear, or pretends to sleep  – “I woked up!” - or straightens the blanket.

We told her: “You can sleep in your own bed. And if ever you want to sleep in the big bed with Mama and Baba, that’s ok too.” We want her to know that.

But she’s all for it! She slept in it, that very evening! DH lay down next to her – it’s tiny but quite comfortable – and she went to sleep as usual. She even slept till 5 am, without waking up at all. Then I lay down next to her for 15 minutes and she was off again, till we got up.

Last night was a different story: a night terror and the fact that she had refused to take a nap in the afternoon ruined her night. When she woke up for the third time I didn’t get down but just patted her from my vantage point above her. She scootched over and patted the space next to her and said:

“Mama come down lie next to me. This is a big bed for you to sleep in too.”

I explained I wanted to sleep in my own bed, just like her. She was probably too tired to insist and went back to sleep.

But I haven’t slept at all. Our bed seems too big. There’s something missing. I keep expecting her to wake up, and she’s not within finger’s reach – she is within arm’s reach, but comparatively that is about ten times as far away than she’s used to. Than I’m used to.

Maybe writing about why I miss sharing our bed, now that it’s over - and why I think it’s a good idea right now, as long as she’s up for it – will help me sort out what I want to say about the issue…