I can't roll over - there isn't room - so I try to crane my neck to the right. My head won't move properly, and I realize the cat is curled up around the top of my head, monopolizing most of the pillow. Pressed up to my side is Finn - blanket stuffed in his mouth - his arms and legs flung out like a starfish. Next to him is Greta, sleeping in what we affectionately call the "running man" position: on her side, arms bent, and one leg kicked forward, one back, like an open pair of scissors. My husband is but a distant bump on the far side of the bed - he has scored the comforter (my kids always kick their covers off) and is wrapped up in it like a mummy. He is perched dangerously on the far edge of the bed - one false move and he would be on the floor. I go to stretch my legs - I have lost feeling in my feet - and am met with a loud "hrumph" from the dog splayed along the entire foot of the bed.
I realize there are five heartbeats in our bed. Five living creatures.
"THAT. IS. IT!!!" I bellow, hoping to jar everyone awake. Finn doesn't flinch, Greta rolls over, and my husband pulls the comforter around him tighter.
I grab the pillow out from under the cat - he just slides happily off onto the mattress, barely stirring - and stomp into the kids' room. I curl up alone on Greta's twin bed, and settle grumpily back to sleep.
I wake up an hour later with a kid pressed against me on both sides, and the cat curled up by my neck. My husband and the dog are snoozing away on the king sized bed.
Too tired to fight, too tired to move, I lie awake in the twin with my sleeping children and try to come up with a plan.
The thing is, the whole situation is our fault. We broke the number one rule of parenting -Consistency.
When Finn graduated from his crib into a toddler bed, the kids decided they wanted to sleep in the same room together, even though they didn't have to. We thought this was cute, knew it wouldn't last forever, so we set up his toddler bed in her room.
Greta and Finn soon took to sleeping in her twin bed together. One kid would toss, or turn, and wake the other one up, prompting the woken-up kid to climb into our bed instead. Most of the time were were so zonked out we didn't even notice. Eventually, the other kid would wake up, see they were alone, and follow suit. Which is how I would find myself - two or three times a week - relegated to the far corner of my bed, shivering and resentful.
But we didn't stop it - we were too damn tired. Then, when I'd wake up angry and cold, I felt too guilty to make a big thing of it during the night, and would resolve to deal with it the next day. The next days came and went. Important sidebar: I have nothing against co-sleeping. I realize the whole sleeping thing is kind of a loaded issue. I think whatever works for the kids and parents is just great - but what we had here was a situation that clearly wasn't working.
So, as I've learned over the past couple of years - nothing changes if nothing changes. The other night I decided something had to change - be a catalyst to get us on the right track again. And I think we may have found it:
They can be in the same room, even kind of in the same bed. They are excited by the idea of bunk beds (instead of, say, two boring old twin beds). We told them to keep the bunk beds, they have to stay in their bed all night. We added a belt and suspenders around this by copying an idea a good friend of mine came up with: Gold Coins. You know, those plastic coins in the pirate section of the party store? Every night they sleep in their own bed all night, they get a gold coin. If they don't, we take a gold coin away. When they get to three coins, they get a small treat. When they get to 10 coins, they can cash them in for toy that is $10 or under.
So far, so good. Finn does get up during the night and come into our room to ask for water, or help going potty, or to tell me about a dream. But each time he goes right back into his room, saying "I going to get a gold coin, right?"
I don't care if it is bribery, or wrong on some level. The kids feel like they are earning something - working towards a goal. And I am rested. Hopefully, we will only have to keep this up for a few cycles before they get the idea. But even if it goes on for a while, it is totally worth it.
Although, every genius idea has a pitfall. I just went upstairs to check on them, and I found this:
The Running Man and the Starfish, together again.
Maybe I'll just give the gold coins to the dog and the cat and hope for the best.