My Square Heart
I have an assignment for you: If you don’t already know, ask your parents where you slept as a small child.
My parents were/are great. My mom was nurturing incarnate. As was the norm, I slept in a bassinet followed by a crib followed by a twin bed. Other than the occasional hotel room blanket-stealing, pillow-whomping session with my sister, I slept alone until I began dating Thor at age 18.
Can I tell you a secret? I sleep better alone.
I can’t remember the last time I actually slept alone, mind you, (for the whole night, that is — Thor routinely gets up with both children in the morning while I blissfully sleep in) but I know it’s true.
Well, kind of true. My body definitely does better with room to sprawl, roll, and hog all the blankets. My mind craves the comfort of my family around me. And as mother to a five month old, I can assure you I am getting way more sleep with Platypup next to me in bed than anyone whose child is sleeping in a crib in another room. That is, unless you can sleep through pitiful yet earsplitting baby wails.
Thor’s parents are also great. His mom and my mom have a lot in common in terms of their approach to parenting. Thor slept in his parents’ bed for the first several years of his life.
Thor would prefer never to sleep alone. In fact, before Owlet, it was not unusual for me to wake to find myself snuggled right to my edge of the bed.
I would venture to say that humans were not meant to sleep alone. It’s warmer together, for one thing. And safer. Also, the sense of touch gets low-level activation all night long, and everyone knows (good) touch is a contributing factor in both physical and mental well-being.
I wish I were able to study all of the things that cross my mind. This would certainly be one of them — how does early sleep experience affect personality, happiness, future relationships, comfort in one’s own skin?
I was halfway through putting Owlet to sleep this evening when Platypup woke up. (Thor is working tonight, or he would’ve handled it.) Owlet had already nursed, talked about our day, and done some adorable snuggling. I handed her a few stuffed animals to hug and we discussed where I was going. I reminded her that she could call for me and I would come as soon as possible, but that I would be just in the other room putting Platypup back to sleep. She was surprisingly serene, and I left. I nursed Platypup and he quickly drifted off, leaving me free to lose a chunk of my life to the internet. Perhaps 45 minutes passed, Platypup was still asleep, and while I typically operate under a strict “never risk waking a sleeping child” policy, I decided to check on Owlet.
When I opened the door, she startled awake. I said, “It’s just me” and she mumbled in her drowsy toddler dialect, “mm thso happy.” I curled up next to her and gladly received her sleep-drenched arms around my neck. I can’t count the number of nights I’ve spent in that bed, on pins and needles, plotting all the things I would do when she was finally asleep enough for me to get up, striving valiantly to avoid resenting the time “lost.” But tonight I lingered gratefully, wrapped snugly in a warm, child-scented tangle of arms and hair.
Eventually the urge to escape overcame me and I slipped softly away in the delicate Tai Chi perfected by parents everywhere.
There’s a song I love: “Always,” by John Gorka. This is one of only two songs I have heard on the radio while driving and remembered strongly enough to purchase later. At first it’s just a bunch of hokey rhymes, but something about the juxtaposition of subject matter (loneliness) and musical depiction (calm, unconstrained guitar and voice at a tempo just enough to keep it moving) has kept it in my bag of favorites ever since. I get the same feeling tiptoeing away from my sleeping children that I get listening to this song. “A round world with a square heart” pretty much sums it up.
It’s the heady feeling of much-anticipated freedom coupled with the knowledge that what I am fleeing is that which I hold most dear.