I’ve been a parent for almost four years now — not very long, I know, but even before I had a kid, I had firm ideas on the topic of bedtime and how my kid would sleep. Obviously, there is only so much you can control about how a baby sleeps. That first year, they go through phase after phase of sleep development and you feel a lot like a zombie for twelve months — at least. I don’t have a perfect sleep-training method either; I think different approaches work for different families and babies. But I did know that at some point, it would be important for our kid to be able to put themselves back to sleep. I didn’t know exactly when this day would come, and I didn’t try to push it this year since we moved and our toddler changed rooms and bathrooms right after potty training.
Over time, I’ve encouraged our son to go from waking me up if he had to potty, to going on his own and then getting back in bed. That started happening after a couple of months. Sometimes he still yells for me to come pull his covers back up or cries when he has a bad dream. When I hold him in my arms lately, I try to soak in the moment knowing he probably won’t fit in my arms much longer. But I also have been relishing getting more full nights of sleep lately; we all feel better when that happens, right? I’m proud of him for not yelling for me at 3am anymore, for staying in bed until his wake clock lights up, for going right to sleep after we do our bedtime routine and leave his room. I’m not so exhausted every day, and I don’t have the urge to crawl into bed at 8:30pm lately because I was up a couple of times the night before. I can actually stay awake long enough to clean up a little once he’s in bed, and then watch a show with my husband or read before bed without passing out.
But recently, I had stayed up a little later on a Friday night. The two nights prior, I had snuck back into my toddler’s room, creeping in to lean close and smell his warm little neck. Is this weird? My husband thought it was weird. Then on this Friday night, around 11pm, I heard a little sound on the monitor and thought, aha! He needs me! I knew he wasn’t out of that stage yet! Looking at the little monitor screen, I saw my son sitting up in bed, looking around his room. Here it comes, I thought. He’ll yell, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” in 3, 2, 1…but then the strangest thing happened. He quietly laid back down, pulled the covers back up, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep. Just like that.
You’re probably thinking, “What a relief! She must be so glad!” But y’all.
I sat there on my bed, holding the baby monitor, watching my little boy who is no longer a baby grow up before my very eyes. I honestly surprised myself by reacting this way because I am all about raising independent kids. But something about this moment felt very visceral and a little too much like reality hitting this mama in the face. Will he still cry or yell for me at some point in the future? Oh, for sure. Deep down, am I proud of him for doing what all kids do eventually and putting himself back to sleep? Of course. But you know what? For just a little while, I am going to let myself be sad about it. It’s not the first milestone and it certainly won’t be the last, but maybe if I let myself experience the emotions now, it won’t be so bad one day when he goes off to college or gets married. Although I’m still quite a few years away from that, so what do I know! All I really know is this: Son, I want you to grow up…but not really.