Our eight year old is holding a saw. And she is jubilant. A faint haze and the smell of fresh- cut pine hangs in the bedroom and four piles of sawdust lie on the floor like little Mayan pyramids. “We’ve finally figured out what to do with the bunk beds!” she exalts. To her right, the bunk beds sit, carefully severed, top bunk from bottom.
Kathy and I have led a co-sleeping family from the moment our midwife said “go”. That is to say, after we had been prepared with a few reasonable precautions, all of our little ones have spent the sleeping hours of their entire lives curled in the nook of one armpit or another, feet flopped over someone else’s stomach, the tangled mess of five squirmy bodies negotiating the space.
Ok, not all of us are squirmy.
Despite what the coroner’s office would have you believe, there are many scientific studies that confirm the benefits of co-sleeping: deeper, more peaceful sleep, more stable heart beat and body temperature, and a four-fold decrease in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Dr. Sears writes, “Co-sleeping babies grow up with higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school, and are more comfortable with affection.” Most of all, though, is that our kids indicate time and again that they enjoy sleeping together as a family unit. In their minds, it simply makes the most sense.
Although we believe there to be strong reasons to co-sleep, it’s been an ongoing challenge to get it right. Sleeping like sardines and being whacked by the flailing three year old (again) is enough to make anyone lose their grip on reality. It’s taken an ongoing dialogue between family members and some thinking outside of the box to see this journey through. One mattress morphed into two, side by side. Sleeping positions relative to one another shift and change, and shift again.
We even brought some new bunk beds into the room in case anyone wanted their own separate bed, where they could flail ’til their hearts were content. Instead, it became a great play structure over which the kids could drape blankets and create secret tunnels and rooms. Even bedrooms! But only during playtime.
The thing about listening carefully to our young people is that we try valiantly (and sometimes unsuccessfully) to come to the table without knowing the answer beforehand, and prepared to integrate the worldview of our kids in ways that are not perfunctory. It is humbling to shrink my parental footprint to the point at which my own legitimate needs sit alongside the legitimate needs of each family member, regardless of their age.
Since our eldest has so elegantly severed the bunk beds, I figure I ought to name the little sawdust temples sitting at each bedpost before sweeping them away. In the far corner, the Temple of Everyone Does It This Way. A few feet away, the Temple of The Way Things Need To Be. To my left, the Temple of The Way Things Should Be and last but certainly not least, the Temple of I’m The Parent And What I Say Goes.
Of course, if you throw the proverbial pebble into the pond, the ripples spread outwards in all directions. Power sharing has more potential consequences than negotiating a family bed. In our family it means that the young people take charge of the direction of their learning. It means that their bodies are their own, to clothe, to style, to select a gender identity and expression that feels right. It means that we all come together in family council meetings to figure out, however imperfectly, the ways in which we can best function together as a group.
As the two new beds slide into place on either side of the queen bed and the room becomes wall to wall mattresses, I experience a sense of grace. Grace that the world has been re-shaped in a way that I had not imagined.