Maya has always been a fitful sleeper. She's not active enough during the day apparently. Though she was an average sleeper as a baby -- up a few times during the night -- she became more and more restless once she hit a year old.
After I split from her dad when she was about eight months old, I took to the habit of letting her sleep in bed with me. This was not the most text-book of approaches, but all alone I felt my maternal vigil had become heavier and more intense. I believed she needed my constant hovering, my endless reassuring whispers. Watching her cheeks bunched against the pillow, lips parted and reverberating from heavy breath, lashes long and still affirmed that she was it; my everything. At night, I relished in her soft nighttime snorts and sheet shuffling or if a tiny hand unconsciously made its way to my face. Soared, my heart did. Bad habits be damned.
After she hit a year old, she became a flopper. Wild arms clotheslined me in the dead of night, legs thrashed. I considered wearing a helmet to bed. Most mornings I'd awake to her body perpendicular to mine. Or intersected. Raising her alone was exhausting, but the nightly slumber wrestling that robbed me of sleep left me emotional and drained during the day. My job was very demanding, and most nights after I picked Maya up from daycare, it took everything I had to keep my eyes open while driving home. Once, in dead-locked traffic, I actually did nod off and slowly rolled forward tapping the car in front of me. I cried the rest of the drive home, embarrassed, spent.
A few nights I attempted to put Maya down in her crib only to lose more sleep. I slept more with the thrashing than I did with the hollering and crying and the running back and forth. By midnight, she'd always be back in my bed, cradled in my spoon and eventually hitting me upside the head with her wild night swings.
When Maya was a year and a half, I met Husband. This sent me scrambling to undo the habits I had created. I had not planned on sharing my bed again with a grown up. Not that I had staunchly drawn a line in the sand between men and me, it's just that the only relationship that was important was the one with Maya. I did not look beyond that, until I met Husband. He lived on the east coast when we met so I did not have to wrangle her into crib prison at first but it was in the back of my mind that this would have to happen eventually. The wind in fresh-love sails can be abruptly let out by a baby screaming. After six months of bi-coastal dating, Husband moved out to Cali and in with us. And the sleep stand offs with Maya began. This period lasted what seemed like an eternity. The rocking and singing and soothing and reasoning were hardly making an impact or a compelling reason for her to sleep alone. We were graciously given a "big girl" bed which is a mini version of a twin with a little gate to keep a kid from thudding to the floor. We made a huge deal about it. Maya was stoked about the bed, but still didn't want to spend the entire night in it. I could get her to sleep in it by laying my head on her pillow as I knelt on the floor beside her singing endless rounds of Fly Me to the Moon. But deep in the night, she would scream/cry from her big-girl bed. I would go to her room and say, "Maya, baby, back to sleep, ok? I'll see you in the morning." And she'd reasonably say, "Ok, Mami" Sniffle, sniffle, head back on pillow. As soon as I would get back to my bed, the scream/cry would begin again. Every night. Over and over. Nothing worked. Until one night, dead exhausted and desperate, I said, "Listen, you have two choices, sleep in your bed or stand in the corner and cry. You choose. I'm going to bed." She chose to cry in the corner. For about five minutes. Then there was silence and then we heard the sweet squeak of her big-girl bed.
At around three years old, Maya started to have night terrors. She would awake and inexplicably and inconsolably scream/cry until I completely woke her up, washed her face and talked her down. Her face would be bewildered and crazed. Like her eyes were open to another scene in her mind. At first I though they were just nightmares until I learned about night terrors. These occurred often. Other nights, she would awake because her feet and legs ached which we concluded were growing pains, but still at one in the morning I would rub her feet and legs and prop pillows under her knees to alleviate the pain. She outgrew the leg/feet aches, but the night terrors transformed into trippy sleepwalk/talking episodes. If we heard her murmur at night, we knew we were in for 10 minutes of crazy shit. We'd laugh, "Maya's trippin' again" and we'd take turns to calm her down, stop her from clawing at the closets, or poking at the mirror, or walking into the living room carrying all of her bedding, or wandering into our bathroom to huddle in the corner. She would cry-talk hysterically through the entire episode.
"Had to pass that gene down, didn't you?" Husband likes to say. Which refers to the severe sleep walking I did as a kid. I respond, "Uh, I wasn't all vocal and crazy like this. I was just trying to quietly escape." When I was six, my mother and I lived in a tiny town in England with my mother's boyfriend. I apparently wandered out of the flat and down the street. A policeman brought me back. When I was seven, my mother and I lived in a coastal village in Spain with another boyfriend. I walked out of the apartment, went down the elevator, walked the steps to the beach and looked at the ocean. I came back up the elevator just as I was starting to wake up. My mother's head was popped out of the apartment with her mouth wide open. I'll never forget that image of seeing her head only, her thick wavy hair swinging, her look of shock. That episode in Spain I remember well. I thought it was a dream, but I remember so clearly the dark and monochromatic steel-blue hue of the night and the ocean, looking at the water dotted with moonlight and then turning back. I have answered the beckon call of the Ocean forever, I suppose.
Maya, at almost eleven now, hardly has episodes anymore, but they are not gone entirely. When we hear her start, we can easily calm her down. It takes maybe two minutes now.
Last night I heard her murmur. I got up and went to her bed. She was starting to sit up and though her eyes were half open, she had a tremendous smile on her face. It was an expression she would have if I had told her we were going to Disneyland. It was excited and bright. It was gorgeous. I smoothed her hair and told her to lie down. She did snuggling her comforter, eyes closed, smiling. "Good night, baby, I love you." "I love you too, Mami," she whispered.