Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark

In the latest round of our ongoing game of musical beds, Rowan has spent the past few nights on an air mattress (yes, that air mattress) in our room, while Auntie Kathryn occupies the “blue” room he usually sleeps in.

It’s quite sweet, really, to peer over the side of the bed and see a small person, tucked up in the little nest we’ve created by the window. Twice now, he has climbed into our bed from his during the wee hours of the night, and — because I don’t seem able to sleep with his elbow in my solar plexus — I have decamped for the spare bed in what is currently Isaac’s room or gently but insistently escorted Rowan back into his own bed.

But not before reveling for at least a few moments in the glory of his almost-tiny body snuggled between the two of ours, the quiet intimacy of three bodies in the sleep-heavy night, lying under the blades of the slowly oscillating ceiling fan.

When Rowan was a newborn, a young baby, he loved the light fixture above our bed. He lay on his back between me and Rachel, cooing and kicking at the round white bulb. If we turned it on, his whole body wriggled in paroxysms of joy. He spent a lot of time in those early months lying between us, talking to the ceiling. But, back then, awash in a tsunami of sleep deprivation and consequent anxiety, I did not revel. I worried. I angsted. I fretted that we were doing everything wrong, that we were somehow harming him even as he lay happy next to me, that he would never sleep and that I wouldn’t, either. I wondered why all the other new parents I know didn’t seem to be slowly going insane, desperate with the knowledge that they had made a huge, irrevocable, mistake.

One early January morning, lying next to my nursing baby, Rachel spooning him from the other side, a tiny voice managed to work its way through the fretting. “You all look so beautiful,” it said, and for the first time I imagined what we must look like to the outside world: three tired bodies, two parents surrounding a breast-feeding child, warm under a nest of feather duvets and receiving blankets. And I realized in that moment that we did look beautiful, but that — more importantly — we also looked just fine, like we were handling things, like we were okay. Good, even. And I realized that, in fact, that all the other parents I saw with their babies must have had moments of sheer terror and desperation, too. Which, somehow, helped make things feel a bit less scary.

I hung onto that moment for a long time, reminding myself that we were okay. Which we were, all along, even if it took months more to relax into. Which is why, even as he wakes me from deep sleep, even as he jams his toes between my legs to warm them up and asks me to fetch him some water, I revel in my son’s — and now my sons’ — occasional presence in my bed. I revel that they can be there and it is at worst a mild disruption, not cause for despair. I revel in the heads heavy on my shoulder even as my arm falls asleep. And then I fall asleep, or I move them, or move me, and the night continues.

This morning at about 4 AM, I coughed, as quietly as I could, into my pillow.

“Mom!” came a voice from the side of our bed.


“You woke me up!”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

And it was.