Folks, I would love some comments on this topic. Anything you have to chime in on any aspect of this post would interest me greatly. I am thinking of writing an article on this, and I would love to gain some other perspectives.
Zachary has been having sleeping problems of late. I’m not talking about the nightmares, which happen every now and then and send me stumbling to his room to comfort him.
Nor am I talking about the five AM trips to the toilet. These began a few months ago because his brain is ready to nighttime train but his body and his courage are not quite there yet. So, a year after he gave up daytime diapers, he still insists upon nighttime protection, despite the fact that he rarely wets and he wakes up when he needs to pee. Unfortunately, that is all too often. We have started lifting him to the potty a couple of hours after he falls asleep, in the hope that he will not then need to go again two hours before morning has officially been declared in the Rosenbaum house. Sometimes this works, sometimes he wakes up to go again seven hours later.
This is OK. Neither J nor I really care if he potty trains completely, other than the obvious hassle and environmental impact of unnecessary diapers. (Those things can only be reused for so long, you know.) We aren’t big fans of getting up to help him to the toilet, but it’s not too bad if he goes right back to sleep.
If he goes right back to sleep.
But he does not. After four in the morning, if he wakes up, he dutifully gets back in bed, but every half hour to forty-five minutes, he re-emerges from his room. He does not seem frightened, he is just out of his room. He sits in the hallway at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to come out to him. If we ignore him, he starts to whimper. I suck at ignoring whimpering three-year-olds sitting in the dark.
We tried everything. We tried sternness. We tried gentleness. We tried lights on. We tried lights off. We even tried reason (yes, yes, I know).
Because we are both incredibly intelligent people, it only took about three months of this before something dawned on me. “Are you lonely in there?” I asked him.
“Yes. I don’t like being alone in there.” And why would he? Benjamin gets to sleep in the room right next to ours. Zachary is all the way down the hall. His room may be bigger, it may be quieter, but it is lonely.
“Would you like to share a room with Benjamin?”
We did not grow up in households where the children shared rooms. In suburban, middle-class homes in the 1980s, it was de rigueur to provide each child with his or her own room, provided one had the necessary child to bedroom ratio. Since almost everyone we knew lived in a four or five bedroom house and had only two or three children, almost everyone we knew also had his or her own room.
“I never thought about having the boys share a room,” mused J. He was not opposed; it just never occurred to him. That, I suspect, has to do with the fact that we only know the family model in which we were raised – even me. I obviously got that some things did not work right in my households of origin, but there are some ways of doing things that we never really think about when everyone we know does them.
Of course, sharing a bedroom with a sibling is actually a more common experience than not sharing one. It is an absurd luxury to be able to afford enough space for each member of the family to have an entire room to himself. Throughout the world, people share rooms and beds with siblings, grandparents, and cousins. Until not that long ago (OK, a few centuries), people in Scotland voluntarily shared their homes with the livestock, under the theory that sheep are sort of like an organic heating system.
This is partly a class and geographical phenomenon, but even children of well-to-do architects bunked together in the 1960s. Alice, you will recall, was the only person in the Brady household to have her own room.
It is not that we thought children are better off with their own room. Emily Dickinson had her own room, and, while I will admit she penned some mighty fine poetry while holed up there for a few decades, that’s really not the life we want for our boys. We just never thought about doing it any other way than one child/one bedroom.
Sometimes, we consciously reject the things with which we grew up. After learning about the benefits of whole wheat bread, for example, I have a brown breadricepasta household. However, most habits are benign, and there seems to be little purpose to seeing beyond them unless someone challenges them. But, we get very easily closed into a box in which we do not understand the myriad options for living a life.
One Sunday, back when Melissa and I were still on speaking terms, I was up visiting her in Boston. “I wonder why the streets are so empty,” she said.
“Church hasn’t gotten out yet,” I suggested.
“No one goes to church anymore,” she laughed. She thought I was kidding. I was living in North Carolina and Virginia. Trust me – people still go to church and the roads really are emptier on Sunday until a bit before noon.
It is in raising children, more than any other aspect of our lives, that we find ourselves unconsciously adopting the norms of our childhoods unless we consciously think about changing them. So, while we thought about the pros and cons of co-sleeping before (quickly) determining that it was not right for us, we never really thought about whether the boys would share a room when they got older.
Here in London, I have few English friends. It would be awfully lonely if it weren’t for the French people all over the neighborhood. French people who, like us, never thought of doing things differently until they got here. “It is a good idea,” one mother said to me, “this bathing children after supper.” In France, they do it before. That’s just what they do. Never occurred to them to try it another way; never occurred to them people might bathe their children after they finished covering themselves in cheese sauce, rather than before.
It did, however, occur to them that young children might like to share a room with one another. This is why it finally occurred to me. So, on Thanksgiving day, we combined two bedrooms into one. The tiny one next to our room.
The kids are sleeping less, not more. They spend a lot of time talking to each other, although how Zachary understands what Benjamin is telling him is beyond me. I am hoping that this calms down, because are they ever happier this way.
Last night, J asked Zach if he likes sharing a room with his brother. “Yes,” answered my pre-schooler. “It is much better than the big, hairy monkey in my room.”
Well, I guess that explains why he kept running out.