Bedtime Bellyaches—by Jamie Levine

Starting from the night of May 18, 2007, when I became a mother, bedtime has not been easy. When the nurses brought Jayda to me the first night we spent together in the hospital, I nursed her, and she slept soundly curled up on my chest. However, I soon discovered that this was the only position in which she would sleep. Upon our return home, when I tried to put Jayda in her crib at bedtime, she screamed her head off in protest. So, for many months, I walked around Jayda’s crib at night, holding her in my arms, singing songs to her, and trying to lull her to sleep. Then, I slowly lowered her into her crib and prayed she wouldn’t wake up; more often than not she did wake up, and I had to scoop her up and start the ritual all over again. At some point, I simply ditched the step that involved Jayda’s crib, and after she fell asleep in my arms, lowered her onto my bed, instead. It was an easier transition, and because she wound up in my bed in the middle of the night while I was nursing her, anyway, I stuck with this routine. Thus, Jayda and I co-slept for almost 3-1/2 years.

When I began dating Library Guy, and began going out many nights a week, I decided it was time to transition Jayda into her own room—and her own “big girl” bed. Jayda enthusiastically picked out a Pepto-Bismol-pink-colored paint for the walls, and we decorated her new room together. When the time came for Jayda to sleep there—in her own bed—the transition went remarkably well. Each night, I read to Jayda in her bed, and lay down with her, and after she fell asleep, I crept away. She rarely noticed I was gone.

Several months ago, I tired of lying in bed with Jayda for too long (Jayda’s bedtime is the start of my work-time and I’m always anxious for my kid to fall asleep so I can get to my computer), and began leaving her when she was still drowsy, and not quite asleep; things went reasonably well, but that didn’t last long. Pretty soon, I was back to lying down with her until she was asleep. However, she would always fall asleep within 20 minutes or so—but only because I threatened her with leaving if she didn’t.

This past week, everything has changed. Four nights in a row, Jayda refused to go to sleep…and when I got up to go to my own room, she went crazy. She cried hysterically and begged me not to leave. The few times she actually nodded off before I left, she noticed me creeping out of her bed, and jumped up and screamed. And when I calmly told her she needed to go to sleep alone she insisted vehemently, “I can’t do it!” Then she claimed to have a bellyache and begged me to rub her belly. When I told her she’d created the bellyache from getting so upset, she got more upset. Once, she even stood up and peed in her pajama pants because she was so distressed. When I left Jayda’s room, she chased me into mine. And when I locked my door, she banged on it relentlessly and screamed so much I feared she’d lose her voice. And through it all, every time I tried to reason with her and ask her why she needed me in her bed all of a sudden, she had no answer.

One night, after Jayda had chased me into my room three times and refused to get back into her bed, unless I “rubbed her belly all night and slept with her,” I told her she’d lost her television privileges the next day. The following night she told me, “I won’t watch television tomorrow…just let me go to sleep with you.” Two nights ago, I finally lost it and screamed my head off. Then I threw myself onto her floor in defeat. Jayda responded to this by asking, “Mommy—can you stay there? On my floor? Then I’ll go to sleep.” Oy. She even offered to give up dessert the other night so she “wouldn’t have a bellyache”—but still wanted me to stay with her all night..

Part of me feels guilty. My little girl seems so content when she’s curled up in my arms in her bed. And she just wants to be with me—and to hug me—and what mom doesn’t want that? But I can’t go to bed at 7:30 every night, and I can’t share a bed with Jayda anymore. Aside from just the inconvenience of it, Jayda is a horrible person to sleep with—she kicks and moves around all night, and has a penchant for sleeping horizontally across the bed (and hence all over me).

Saturday night, I struck a deal with Jayda: I told her she could sleep in my bed with me all night long…but then she had to sleep in her bed by herself for the rest of the week. She agreed—and she was as happy as a kid in a candy store. She actually wanted to go up to bed early so she could spend more time in my bed with me. It was adorable…but a little disturbing, too. Where did this clinginess come from? And what’s going on with my kid? If anything, I’ve been MORE available to Jayda in the last few weeks—I’ve barely gone out at night, have spent every day after school doing things with her, and our Saturdays have been jam-packed with fun activities together. I even took her out to dinner Friday night for a special mommy-daughter meal…and we had a lovely night. So I can’t understand where these bedtime bellyaches are coming from. I’m losing sleep, myself, over them now…and just keep hoping they’ll soon be gone.