How long it really takes a kid to sleep alone
1:28 a.m. Every couple of hours, Jack (2 weeks) cries. My wife feeds him, then hands him to me to change his diaper. It’s an equitable division of labor, but I wish I could sleep.
2:15 a.m. Jack (1 month) is sleeping between me and my wife because this way she can nurse while she dozes. I’m happy, but so tired. He’s on his back, and there are no pillows or blankets around him, but I’m wide-awake, thinking about SIDS. He’s like a little hot-water bottle. His breath is sweet and milky against my face.
10 p.m. I’m lying on a tiny crib mattress on the floor next to the crib. We’re trying to get Jack (9 months) to sleep through the night. His mother and I take turns lying next to him on the floor and holding his hand through the slats. I miss my wife.
1:36 a.m. Jack (12 months) is sleeping in between us, again. Lying next to his crib didn’t work — Jack kept crying, waking both of us. This way, we all get some sleep.
4:27 a.m. I’m wide-awake because Jack (15 months) kicked me in the groin. I have to get up to drive my wife to New York, then turn around and drive back home with Jack, all on about three hours of sleep. I decide that while his mother is gone, I will Ferberize him.
9:13 p.m. Jack (15 months and a day) is in his crib, crying, crying, crying.
10:11 p.m. Jack (15 months and a week) is in his crib, alone and asleep. Ferberizing worked. Suddenly I have a great idea — let’s have another baby! But this would require that my wife and I stay awake for longer than ten seconds once our heads hit the pillows.
12:02 a.m. In bed with my wife, I’m feeling romantic, but then Jack (18 months) cries out. He has a fever. We give him kids’ Motrin and bring him back into bed with us. He’s burning up.
11:21 p.m. Jack (18 months and a week) is no longer sick, but now he’s back in our bed, every night. It’s once again the only way he’ll go down.
7 a.m. I realize that for the first time, Jack (22 months) has finally slept through the night. Now we have to get him out of diapers and back in his own room.
11:41 p.m. We are lying in an H formation. Jack (2 years) is nestled into his mother’s chest, perpendicular to us, with his feet lodged against my throat, trying to push me off the bed. Freud was right about Oedipus.
4:25 a.m. Jack (3 years) has kickedthe covers off me again and I wake up, shivering. I pull the covers up. He kicks them off. I pull them up. He kicks them off. I go downstairs, turn on the TV, and fall asleep on the couch.
2:15 p.m. I’m sound asleep, dreaming. Unfortunately, I’m at work. Tomorrow is Jack’s fourth birthday. Last night in bed, he said, “Hey, why do I have to sleep in the middle?”
7:30 p.m. I am lying in the new twin bed we bought Jack (4 1/4 years), to show him how it works. We made a big deal of it, his very own Big Boy Bed, and we let him pick out the dinosaur sheets and the dinosaur comforter. All is ready.
12:05 a.m. I’m in this big empty bed, alone. We told Jack that on his fifth birthday he’d have to sleep in his own bed, because that’s what big boys do, and he agreed. He wants very much to be a big boy. On his birthday, my wife lay down with him at 8:30 and fell sound asleep.
5:02 a.m. I get up and peek in on Jack (5 1/2). He’s been sleeping alone in his room for almost a month now. I get back into bed with my wife and snuggle up next to her. At least I think it’s her — it’s been a while. She feels good against my skin, but now I miss Jack. I miss getting kicked in the throat. I miss getting the covers pulled off of me. Where’s my little boy? How did he grow up so fast?
9:42 p.m. Hearing a noise, my wife and I go upstairs to check on Jack (6). He says he was having a bad dream. We lie down with him, three of us in a twin bed. It’s crowded, but if we brought him into our bed again, we’d never get him out. His breath is still sweet and milky on my cheek. How could this not be okay? This is my family.
Pete Nelson has written for Esquire and Outside magazines.