Thursday, January 22, 2009

PILLOW DIPLOMACY: A Mom Learns How To Take Back Her Bed From The Kids—One Night At A Time


One of the things I don’t miss about being married is sharing my bed every night with another person. I think Lucy and Desi had the right idea: double beds. You can come visit me in mine, but you’ve got to sleep in your own.

I prefer sleeping alone because I know I have annoying sleep habits. Unless you are a soft downy pillow, I do not want to cuddle with you. My bed is piled high with comforters all year round, and I spend most of every night kicking them off and pulling them back up. I actually enjoy doing this, but many people find it irritating, or sweat-inducing, or both. If I irritate you, I don’t want you in bed with me. I am also not a fan of sleeping in a pool of someone else’s sweat, even if the getting sweaty part was kind of fun. Finally, because I am a chronic insomniac, when I finally do get to sleep, I like to stay that way. I protect my side of the bed as if there are distinct, legally enforceable boundaries, and I do not grant permanent easements. I have never had enough room in my New York City apartments for separate beds, but if I ever decide to get married again, I would consider it. I may even go for separate rooms.

I haven’t had to share my bed with another adult for quite some time, but my kids keep trying to move into the space my ex-husband left. At one point, kicking two crying children out of my bed was part of my nightly bedtime routine. My daughter now claims to be too old to want to sleep in my bed, but she has her tricks, like coming down for a “girl talk” at 11 p.m. and then being “too tired” to go back to her own bed. My son considers it his privilege to sleep in my bed whenever he is not feeling well. I know he is sick when he leaves his room and crawls into my bed, and he simply will not leave until he feels better. My daughter gets quite vexed when she finds out her little brother has slept in my bed, though for me, it is not a privilege, but a supreme irritant.

This was no more true than last night. Randy and I have been passing a cold back and forth for the better part of two weeks; just as he started getting better, I picked it up, and then when I was finally feeling well enough to go to the gym, I came home and found Randy lying in my bed with a 101.1 fever. I gave him Motrin, hoping it would drive the fever down and him out of my bed, but deep inside, I knew better.

“Mommy, can I sleep in your bed tonight?”

“No. You have to sleep in your own bed.”

“Okay,” he said, drawing the word out in that long, plaintive, whiny voice he develops when he isn’t feeling well. He left, but not for long.

“Mommy, I can’t stop thinking about what it will be like when I die!” he said when he returned. For dramatic effect, he was clutching the prayer blanket his grandmother gave him during our Thanksgiving visit.

I felt his forehead. “Randy, you’re not dying. You have a little bit of fever and a sore throat, is all.” But his words struck a nerve with me. The boy was talking about death.

“Can I just lay in your bed for a little while?”

“Fine,” I said. “Fifteen minutes.” I was on Facebook and e-mail, and fifteen minutes turned into an hour or more. By the time I looked back at my bed, he had fallen into a deep sleep. I didn’t want to have another discussion with him about death, so I decided to leave him there.

When I was ready to go to bed, I knew I had a problem. His fever was breaking, and he was sweating all over my sheets. Thankfully, he hadn’t peed on them as well, but he was lying diagonally across my bed, a significant amount of his lanky body on my side. When I moved him, he mumbled and moaned a bit, but didn’t fully wake up. Still, just as I shut off the computer monitor, I heard a little voice ask, “Mommy, when are you going to turn off the lights and come to bed?”

I frowned. Had someone replaced my son with some man I didn’t know I had? I had to remind myself that he’s seven. I answered civilly, “Mommy’s coming to bed right now, sweetie.”

When I got in bed next to him, he flipped over to face me, one outstretched arm poised for a hug or a cuddle. I acted quickly. Whenever one of my kids sleep in my bed, I enforce what I refer to as pillow diplomacy. I put a pillow between us as an impermeable boundary, and the penalty for repeated attempts to cross the boundary is eviction. I gently moved the outstretched arm to the other side of the pillow. The arm reappeared, and a random leg soon followed, but after a couple more gentle reminders, he got the message, and flipped back over, facing away from me.

But sometime around 4 a.m., the cat, who has taken to sleeping under my bed, started flipping out, as she normally does, in order to wake me so I will let her out to use her litter box. I got up, and was surprised to hear my son’s voice asking, “Where are you going?”

Given that my son is only seven, I must conclude that males are genetically programmed to ask this question whenever a woman gets out of a bed they are sharing. It never fails. You get up to go to the bathroom, or to get a glass of water, or, in the worst cases, to go look in the mirror and ask yourself what the hell you were thinking and how you’re going to get this fool to leave, and there he is all of a sudden, asking you “where are you going?” I’ve never understood the purpose of the question. In the middle of the night, how many options could there be? It has to be a male thing, because if a man gets up in the middle of the night, I don’t care where he’s going. And he may not have a spot in the bed when he returns.

I decided not to blast my 7-year-old son with all of my marital and pre-marital baggage over that question. Instead, I let the cat out. He was insistent when I returned. “Where did you go?”

“To let the cat out, sweetie.”

“Oh.” And just like that, he went back to sleep.

That was it for me and him, however. At least for now. Pillow diplomacy had worked, but there had to be some penalty for his having asked one of my least-favorite questions. Randy spent much of the day Sunday lying in my bed, still spiking a slight fever. When night fell, however, I wasn’t playing around.

“Get out,” I said, and threw the covers back.

“Mommy,” he whined.

“Nope. Gotta sleep in your own bed tonight.” I felt his forehead and cheeks. The Motrin, coupled with plenty of rest and lots of liquids, had helped. I took his temperature and gave him one final dose of Motrin to be certain. “Okay, guy. See you in the morning.”

He didn’t protest. Cami lingered on in my room instead, typing a paper on the computer until past 11 p.m. I heard “I’m sooo tired!” a number of times, but I wasn’t having it two nights in a row. Finally, I had enough. “That’s it for you,” I said. “You can’t be up doing homework this late at night. Go to bed.”

She grumbled, head hanging down, but she left. I even booted the cat to nix the 4 a.m. litter box call. Monday’s a vacation day, and I hope to get a nap in after the kids go to school—provided Randy is well enough to go. If he’s still spiking a low-grade fever, I’ll have to keep him home, but as long as he’s going to ask me “where are you going?,” he’s not entitled to pillow diplomacy. He can be sick in his own bed.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Carolyn Edgar is a corporate attorney based in New York City. As you can tell, the single mom of two really likes her bed.

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  1. Oh I can so relate to those shared bedtime moments! Thanks for the laughs.

  2. that story brings back SOOO many memories. Way to go for sticking to your guns! Now go let the cat back in.

  3. Memories... My youngest two kept asking for a stepdad, but I couldn't get them out of my bed. I kept asking them where was he going to sleep?

    They hadn't given any thought to the fact that he would replace them in my bed.

  4. I don't mind sharing my bed with my hubby (after 15 years of marriage we've figured out a workable sleep routine for us), but I absolutely HATE sharing my bed with the kids. Knobby elbows knocking me in the head all night long...sweaty legs draped over mine...weird snores and grunts coming from their sweet little mouths. Drives me nuts! They all know that they better be one sick cookie to come down to my bed now! :)

  5. LOL. Yes. We must set up boundaries in all aspects of our lives...and stick to them. Mama's can be SO accomodating.....

  6. I really enjoyed this story. It is definitely making want to make sure my 5-month old sleeps in his own bed from now. My 13-year old knows better. But on some nights I do wake up to him at the foot of our bed, because he had a nightmare.

  7. I second this emotion. What I hate more than anything is when I let him sleep in my bed...and he pees in it...which means on me. Yep, we're still there. Deal breaker, right?

  8. ROFL!! That was hilarious! I felt like she let me actually peek into her life! That story was so colorful! Plus, now I don't feel so bad for being so gangster about my space on the bed either! Thanks for the treat, MyBrownHomie!

  9. This story made me smile. And it brought back some sweet memories...not of kids climbing in bed with me. But of Sunday mornings..heading over to my parents house. They were usually early risers. But they knew how much my three little ones just loved jumping up on the bed and cuddling with gramps and they would lollygag in bed until we arrived Sunday morning...and my three would whoop and run into their room and climb on the bed...and spend an hour or so telling my parents about their week. It was a beautiful thing.


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