For two years and two months, Claire has been snuggled, held, and rocked to sleep. For 19 months of that time, Etta was rocked or bounced to sleep, herself. This could take up to an hour. Sometimes it got annoying– especially after a tough day, sometimes I didn’t feel like the long ordeal. Sometimes, like just last week, my husband and I would talk about maybe it being time to do some sort of sleep training, something anyone who has ever had kids has had strangers recommend, but something I had always resisted. And I resisted because the annoyance was only a rare sometimes. Mostly? Mostly I loved the snuggly ritual of helping my sweet small ones transition from awake to sleep, feeling them grow heavy in my arms, hearing their breaths grow longer, watching their eyelids close. Mostly because I know I’m not allowed to birth any more babies, I felt no need to rush one of the last vestiges of my only babyhood away. I figured eventually, they wouldn’t need me to rock them to sleep, and that when that day arrived, they’d let me know.
And they did. Etta’s been ready for a smoother, shorter bedtime for a while now. Ever since we broke down the cribs and transitioned them into toddler beds, she’s been happy to go down awake and settle herself for naps and bedtime. She literally asks us to go “nigh nigh.” Claire never did fully take to the whole going down awake but drowsy thing. But this week, I’m not exactly sure why, I just had this gut feeling that Claire might be ready too. We’d taken a preliminary step a week prior, still snuggling her to sleep, but no longer going back in to settle her if she protested after we transferred to her bed and walked out. For the most part, that step was working– she would cry a little when transitioned into her bed as I walked out of the room, but she always got back to sleep within five minutes or so. But then, on a recent solo bedtime night, both girls seemed so tired and so relaxed and so ready to sleep, I just thought, instead of my usual method of leaving Etta to chill in the den while I snuggled Claire to sleep and then bringing Etta in, why not try putting both sleepy girls into bed with their loveys and sippies of water and walk out? So, we read a big pile of books, and that’s what I did.
And they fell asleep.
I put two awake two year olds into their beds in their shared room, and they just fell asleep. The first night, I felt like The King of The World. The second night, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it keeps happening.
In response to one of my triumphant tweets in the vein of “holy crap, this new bedtime routine is working,” a friend replied “don’t you just love it when kids level up?”
And you know, she hit the nail on the head. That’s what this feels like. If my kids were video game superheroes, they just gained a new level of power. It’s huge, and yet like everything else with them, perfectly mundane. We didn’t really see it coming. We didn’t plan it ahead of time. It just happened quietly, one night, when I had a feeling and let them show me they were ready.
Of course, in that perplexing paradox of parenthood, I am at once elated and nostalgic. My days of rocking my babies to sleep are now over, for the most part, unless we have a regression or sickness. And I’m sure I will complain one day when we have a rough night and there’s a lot of rocking involved– and I reserve that right. But for now, me and all my complicated, conflicting feelings will both enjoy the heck out of a smoother evening routine and thank the heavens I stayed true to my instincts and kept rocking as long as I did. I can now treasure the memories as I spend an extra few minutes basking in the post-bedtime quiet.
*Note: I never want to be the jerk offering sleep advice. Every kid is different. Etta was a terrible sleeper as an infant and turned into a great sleeper as a toddler. Claire was a great sleeper as an infant, and has been more difficult as a toddler. Your kids are different, and they are yours. You know them best, and you do what’s best. Whether that’s sleep training or co-sleeping or anything else. I firmly believe that kids sleep how they sleep, and there’s little blame or credit we can take for it. I know we’re all doing the best we can.