JOPLIN, Mo. —
At about 4:57 a.m., I was dreaming of a cottage in the mountains. There was a burbling stream fed by a distant waterfall, a group of songbirds hopping from overhanging limbs and a freshly baked pan of cinnamon rolls cooling under an open window. Everything was pastoral and peaceful and perfect.
Then at 4:59, a cry broke through the silence. Wisps of the lush, green dream floated away as I kicked my feet over the edge of the bed. At the nursery doorway, I heard my baby’s cry turn into a yawn. The yawn turned into a babble. The babble turned into a squeal.
And just like that, the boy’s day had begun. This wouldn’t be a problem if his day weren’t fundamentally tied to my own, and I certainly didn’t consider 5 a.m. to be an acceptable wake-up time. He’s been doing this more and more lately.
At almost 8 months old, it’s not like I can explain to him the downfalls of an early wake up. I can’t teach him how to read the digital clock and stay in bed until 7, like I’ve done with my older kids.
He’s so tired at that time of morning, though, that I know he shouldn’t be awake yet. I rock him in his bedroom, snuggling and quieting his protests while encouraging his yawns and dozes. He doesn’t want to be awake, but he can’t get back to sleep.
I’ve had the feeling that if I left him alone when he first wakes in the early morning hours, he might fall back asleep on his own. I tried it a few times, listening to him sing and talk and play in his crib for 30 or 40 minutes before the irritated cries began. When I rescued him from his bed, he was pulled up to the crib rail, bouncing on his knees and smiling at my entrance. The sunrise filtered around the curtains, lighting up his bedroom, diverting him from any chance of extra sleep.
There was another thing over which I had no control: the sunrise. I cursed its nosy intrusion and begged for cloudy mornings. Anything to get another hour or two of sleep before we officially began our days.
I was becoming desperate after a few weeks of sporadic 5 a.m. wake-up calls, when I discovered a hopeful, if nit-picky, solution. Despite my husband’s teasing laughter I went ahead with my plan. One night, before putting the baby to bed, I hung a dark blanket over his window to block the light from the curtain’s edges. Sure, it looked horrible, but it was just for nighttime. It was just to keep the baby asleep past sunrise. Just to save my mountain cottage dreams from abrupt endings.
Ugly or not, it worked. In fact, it’s worked so well that we’re now confronting a different problem. Our baby boy is sleeping so late in the mornings that he’s starting to lose interest in his morning nap. I’m beginning to wonder if I should wake him up after 13 hours of night sleep, simply to salvage his two naps per day.
The blanket on the window is a thing of beauty. It is aesthetically pleasing to none, but keeps the room dark enough in the mornings for the baby to babble contentedly for a few minutes before drifting off until a mother-approved wake-up time. I’ll endure any amount of teasing over my extreme measures if it will buy me some sleep.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife. blogspot.com.