I can assure you, it is not before 3 years old.
Valiantly, the Prohaska family has canned our plans for a spring break camping trip to the beach, opting instead to stay home and replace the carpet. Funny what a couple of kids do to your sense of what’s essential… and your budget.
Valiantly, Craig has spent the last few days installing a tidy new laminate floor in the girls’ bedroom. Which has meant the girls have had no bedroom. Which has meant our bedroom, and, specifically, our bed, has been overrun by two small children who double as sheet-twisting, appendage-flailing whirligigs, come nightfall.
I used to pride myself on being a champion of “the family bed.” Sleeping together with your kids is, hypothetically, good for everyone; a natural, instinctual custom, deeply fusing the family bond subliminally. I still believe this, on a theoretical level. In practice, however, bed-sharing is hell.
9 p.m.: I calmly express my desire for Elle to stop slamming her legs up and down against the mattress.
9:02: I calmly tell Elle that if she’s going to sleep in my bed, she’s going to have to follow my rules, which include maintaining stillness and silence. And not waking up her sister, For Goodness’ Sake.
9:03: I become conscious of the reality that stillness and silence is not a part of a 3-year-old’s bedtime repertoire. And that waking up a sleeping baby sister is exactly what a 3-year-old hopes to achieve with repeated leg-slams against the mattress. She accomplishes this goal.
There was a time when cuddling up against a sleeping child was my idea of heaven. There is just something enchanting about being in sync with a baby’s butterfly breath, or falling asleep touching knees with a toddler. If only those babies and toddlers would stay put, like normal, perpendicular-sleeping adults.
9:35: Elle is asleep. But now Emme is not. I try to pretend like I’m asleep, but it’s hard when a small child is pulling your hair like it's grass being ripped out of the lawn. Exuding an aura of rest and relaxation all the while, I endure this until Emme becomes bored. But instead of laying down her sleepy head, she then launches her next offensive: Scrambling across the bed’s sleeping (and pretending to sleep) bodies like a crazed gerbil.
9:45: I decide this isn’t working. I get out of bed, walk and bounce Emme around the room until she decides to give up the fight and fall asleep.
Children are small. If you set a small child in the middle of a large sofa, she doesn't appear to take up that much space. Something strange happens when you set a small child on an average-sized bed, however. They expand like those sponge animals that “hatch” out of their little capsule eggs when placed in warm water. To crawl into my bed, I must first arrange my 3-year-old’s sprawled-out appendages into some kind of order, then position the oversized package that is my 10-month-old into some zone of safety where she will neither be suffocated by a pillow nor receive a kick to the mouth from her older sister. I then make myself as small as possible, testing my balance as half of me hangs off the edge of the bed. This is how I remain, until I receive a heel to the mid-back.
I roll over, rearranging the knot that is my snoozing children, and attempt sleep again. Until a flailing arm smacks me in the Adam’s apple.
It's going to be a long night.
In how many positions, besides straight up and down, can a human child slumber? I decide it is incalculable, at around 3 a.m. when I awake to Elle find stretched crosswise between the sheet-covered mounds of her father and me, as comfortable as if she were lounging in a hammock in the backyard.
I imagine the hammock in the backyard, probably still frosty with the remnants of the last snowstorm, to be a more inviting place to spend the rest of my night. But I resist the urge to dig the 0° sleeping bag out of the closet and retire to the freezing cold, since my absence would mean one-half of the sleep cage that is my bed would be left without its human guardrail, leaving my children in danger of catapulting themselves onto the floor.
When we finally emerge from the tousled family bed the next morning, I know from the bleary-eyed look on my husband’s face that the night of “sleep-bonding” with our children was as enjoyable for him as it was for me.
I’ve never seen Craig work as diligently to finish a chore like re-flooring our children’s bedroom, thus returning our family’s bed assignments to normal, as he did that day.