She squirms awake, fussing. Sleepy “I’m not ready to wake up” eyes meet mine and even though she’s upset that she can’t resettle herself the way she was trying, she laughs and smiles with relief to see me there and she knows just what to do to get back to sleep. I smile back and hold out my arms to her and she crawls over, wobbly and uncoordinated in that half awake way. She collapses into my arms with another giggle, sighs, and settles in to nurse. And when she is done she flops away from me, spreading out to starfish in the middle of our bed. If her daddy hadn’t already gone off to work she’d roll into him and he’d roll her over to her sidecarred crib and she’d squirm around and settle down into her space. Instead she spreads out next to me, her little mouth twitching into a smile in her sleep.
At six months I couldn’t move away from her when she was sleeping because any movement of mine would rouse her from the deepest sleep. She spent the first ten months of her life mostly seeming to move backwards and needing more and more support to sleep as she became more and more aware of the world. Then at eleven months she started in on learning all the things surrounding sleep. Slow and gentle. Peaceful and quiet.
Bedtime used to be nursing her to sleep. Then she’d fight nursing so we’d nurse and bounce. Then we’d nurse while bouncing. Sometimes around that six month mark, that nine month mark and that twelve month mark nothing would work and she’d need to be worn down to sleep, snug in her wrap. Milestones and growth spurts are hard on little ones, and teething too. Sometimes I’d feel like I was part of a baby-juggling circus act. Sometimes I’d feel so touched out and tired that it would take every ounce of my well-honed adult self soothing skills to calm my own rigid body as I bounced her in the dark and as she would. not. sleep.
Tomorrow she will be seventeen months old.
At bedtime now I say “Moo moo little girl, lay your head on my shoulder it’s time to sleep.” and she lays her head on my shoulder and we snuggle and I rub her back. If she fusses then we stand and we bounce and she melts into my body until she’s relaxed enough to try on her own, then she kicks her legs straight down and I lay her down in her sidecarred crib drowsy but awake. She’ll squirm around a bit with her eyes closed, yawn a few times and fall asleep.
This is how we do “drowsy but awake”. Now at almost seventeen months it works more and more. As a baby that never fit in her toolkit for sleep, but as a toddler it’s becoming one of her favorite tools, and one that she uses more and more in the middle of the night as well.
Last night she slept through, only clambering into my arms at 4:30. Her lithe little toddler body clambering over her daddy, making it obvious that she was not interested in snuggling with him at the moment. She stopped fussing as soon as she found me in the dark. I smiled in amusement at how relieved she was, how instantly she soothed when she knew that she was close. These moments in the dark when I’m not focused on anything else.. They’re when I feel her growth, see her progress. They’re when I can think back on how tiny she used to be, the long newborn nights. They’re when I can feel how big she’s grown. When I’m not distracted by anything, I can see the progress that she has made between the then and the now.
She nursed. Switched sides, nursed, and fell back to sleep. Not a fitful infant sleep, but that deep toddler sleep where you can pick their arms up and drop their arms back to their side and they don’t even move. Where you can kiss their sleeping nose and they twitch and resettle without waking. Her newborn sleep was like those wobbly attempts at holding her head up when she still really needed someone to support it. Now she sleeps like a toddler, needing some help to get there sometimes, but not needing to be supported through every moment.
Her progress isn’t hidden away in another room, it’s right here. I get to watch it, just as I got to watch her learn to crawl and just as I got to see some of her very first steps. I get to watch it just as I get to see her learn to say more words, learn to eat, learn to jump and to run. This sleep thing? It’s a milestone just like any other, and all those little steps along the way are things that I’m delighted to get to see.