When Benjamin was very little, he was a terrible sleeper. He would almost never take a nap unless we were holding him. He didn’t sleep in the car or in the stroller. And at night, he’d only sleep if you walked with him . . . constantly. Dan & I walked miles and hours around our apartment in the middle of the night. If we tried to sit down, he’d typically wake up and cry. Most nights, we’d walk with him for a few hours and then finally be able to ease him into his crib, only to be up again with him an hour or so later. We used to take turns, and we’d cap each “shift” at 3 hours — beyond that, we’d go and wake the other one up — earlier if we were starting to get frazzled (which was easy to do). Getting him down at bedtime was the worst.
As he got older, his periods of sleep got longer, and the duration of the walking got shorter, until we could just hold him until he went to sleep. We were able to gradually shift to putting him straight into his crib and rubbing his back, then just resting our hand on his back, then just standing by the crib, and finally just sitting in the chair in his room until he fell asleep. (I remember the first day that actually worked — it was one of my most favorite days as a parent so far.) As recently as a year ago, we had to stay in his room until he was completely asleep.
He doesn’t need that anymore. Shortly after Liam was born, he got used to falling asleep on his own at nap time, and that made for an easy transition to falling asleep on his own at bedtime. But, just because we like it, we still sit with him for a few minutes at bedtime — after story time, after we turn the lights out.
When he was younger, and adjusting to falling asleep on his own, we were very strict about no talking after lights out — we discouraged him from talking to us, and the only thing we’d say is, “I love you, it’s time for bed” if he tried to talk to us. But, now that he’s completely capable of falling asleep on his own, and he’s used to the idea, we’ve gotten a lot more flexible on that.
It’s really fun, and one of my favorite parts of the day. He asks really good questions as he’s getting ready for sleep, and he’s very open about his thoughts and his worries. It’s one of the few times during the day that he has our undivided attention — the other parent is putting Liam down, or Liam is already asleep, so there’s no competition or interruption. He talks about his favorite colors, or his favorite things about school. He asks if ghosts and monsters are real, and he tells me what he’ll do if he encounters a crocodile (he’s going to say, “Snap!” very loud to try to scare it before it can “snap” him — I’m trying to discourage this idea, just in case he ever DOES encounter a crocodile). He asks me how old he was when we lived in the United States and he talks about who we’ll see and what we’ll do when we go back. He lists everyone he loves, and all of his friends. He asked me tonight, “If the things in the dark are the same as the things in the light, why is the moon only at night?” and told me a joke, “Mommy, what does a chicken say? Quack!” which was followed by hysterical (and contagious) laughter.
After a while, he gets sleepy, or I do, and I tell him it’s time for him to go to sleep and for me to get ready to go to bed. And then he asks for “a hug, a kiss and a gentle squeeze”. Or sometimes a big squeeze. And sometimes, no kiss. And then he says, “I love you” and “good night” and “I’ll see you in the morning” and he blows me kisses. I love it, and I love him.