The Intimacy of Sleeping

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When I was a little girl, I hated to wake and find someone/anyone looking at me.  If I was home sick from school, I was uncomfortable if my mother peeked into my room to check on me.  I hated it if my parents would go out for an evening and come in my room to check on me late at night when they returned.  Waking to find someone looking at me, even in love and caring, was upsetting to me.  It made me feel vulnerable, weak, and helpless.  Sleep was private.  It was something I preferred to do alone, unbothered, and uninterrupted.

My wedding night was the first night I ever, ever shared a bed to sleep with anyone.  In our five years of dating prior to our marriage, we had never spent a single night together….ever.  Before you laugh, no, I was not a virgin.  The bed had been used for sex many, many times, but like a good girl, I always went back to my parents’ home for my night’s sleep.  On the night of our wedding, we went back to our apartment before leaving the next day for our honeymoon.  I don’t think I got a wink of sleep that night.  Here he was, this boy I had just married, and he was sleeping next to me.  It was so distracting to have another body in my bed.  I couldn’t relax enough to allow myself to sleep.  He made noises as he slept.  I didn’t want him to wake up first and see me sleeping!  What if he tried to kiss me, and I had morning breath?  All night, my mind raced.  I believe I was up, showered, and dressed before he was even awake.  🙂

In the early years of our marriage, we didn’t spend many nights in the same bed.  Maybe it was due to the fact that I grew up as an only child, but I needed complete quiet; I needed my “space” to be able to sleep.  In our early years, before the kids came along, we often started out in the same bed, but at some point in the night, T would leave and go into the guest bedroom to sleep.  We were a couple of twenty year old newlyweds who had separate bedrooms!  Believe it or not, but it was not a cause for alarm or strife for us.  So what if we didn’t sleep together?  We were happy with our arrangement.

Somewhere along the line, things changed.  Once the kids came along, more often than not, our bed became the family bed.  Our bed became a place not only for sexual intimacy, but a place of spiritual and familial intimacy, too.  T and I both loved the middle of the night newborn baby feedings.  Thankfully, all of our kids slept through the night at an early age, and we were able to treasure the first couple of months of middle of the night feedings.  T would bring the baby to the bed, and I would groggily breastfeed while he and I marveled at out new creation.  During those times, our bed felt like a magical island of warmth and happiness.  Often, we would snuggle the little one between us and drift back to sleep.

When our little surprise, Lola, came along ten years after we thought we were done with such things, we acknowledged the gift we were receiving to once again be able to have those special middle of the night experiences.  We kept her bassinet in our room to the point where we had to practically crunch her up to fit her inside the little bed.  When she was big enough to giggle and pull herself up over the side to look at Mommy and Daddy, we knew it was time to let go and allow her to have her own big girl bed.  Yet, I couldn’t let go completely.  Each afternoon, Lola and I would snuggle up on Mommy and Daddy’s bed for our afternoon nap.  I cherish the memories of afternoon naps with my sweaty little toddler. I was hooked.  I had finally become a communal sleeper.

Four kids, two adults, and three bedrooms has meant that T and I have had no choice but to learn to share the same space as we sleep.  Believe me, it hasn’t always been easy, but we eventually began to establish a routine of blankets, pillows, and limb placement that has become a comfort to us both.  My knee against his thigh, his hand around my ankle, my hand tucked under his shoulder.  We call it “sleep position.”

As the years have passed, I have become quite indifferent to being caught asleep.  T and I often fall asleep in the living room now and are roused by one of the kids telling us to head up to bed.  Our living room couch has a hypnotic quality, and I am quickly lulled to sleep whenever I plop down at the end of the day.  It isn’t uncommon for me to be found sleeping on that hypnotic couch, with a cat on top of me, and a kid draped across my legs.  Group sleeping has become my preferred mode of relaxation.  I dread the day when I may eventually find myself alone.  I don’t want “time to myself,” especially when it comes to sleeping time.

Last weekend, the boys were back home for a visit.  Luke, our history major, turned on a Revolutionary War documentary very late one night after returning home from visiting friends.  T and I sat up with him for a while just to chat and enjoy his company.  Eventually, T drifted off to bed, but I stayed on the couch with Luke.  I miss Luke when he’s away at school, and these quiet moments with my son are few and far between.  I can’t even begin to describe how much I cherish these visits and the rare moments when I can once again have my son all to myself.   My little boy with the big blue eyes is all grown up now and stands over a foot taller than me.  When I look at him, I can still see the sweet little boy who soaked in the world around him like a sponge.  He’s still does that.  He is my world-observer.

Eventually, I woke up, and we were still there on the couch.  It was 3:00 a.m.  He and I had fallen asleep shoulder to shoulder on the couch.  The documentary was over, and the TV was blank.  I sat there for a moment before I woke him up to go to bed.  I savored the moment and the intimacy of sleep.  Comfort and contentment washed over me.  It was a perfect moment, and I am thankful that I was able to recognize it as such.  In the moments just after awakening, I knew peace clear, deep down into my soul.  I felt love filling my entire body, and happiness, and pride, and all of the things that a mother feels knowing she has raised a fine, fine young man.

I woke him up and sent him on his way upstairs to bed while I padded around making sure that the house was secure for the night.  When I climbed into bed, T instinctively made room for me in “sleeping position.”  His hand went around my ankle, and my knee was up against his thigh.  I laid there marveling at the changes the years have brought, and I wondered if I would ever be able to sleep alone.

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