It's 1 a.m. Suddenly, the bedroom door bangs open and the small, sturdy figure of my 5-year-old daughter stands framed in the doorway. She hesitates a moment, as if not quite sure where her sleepy feet have led her. Then, like a heat-seeking missile homing in on its target, she launches herself across the room and burrows into our bed. Again. Moriah has been making her way to our room every night for more than a year now. The youngest of my three children, she used to be our model sleeper. Then one night, something scary jarred her awake. I foolishly brought her into bed with us to console her, and that was our undoing.
For the next several months, she told us she couldn't stay in her room because "the neighbor's dogs outside might come through my wall." Then she was worried about monsters. Now she cuts to the chase: "I don't want to be alone."
When I was growing up, my mother and father had no problem making their bed off-limits to us kids. Today, most parents I know can't keep their kids out. Some simply endure the kicks and elbow jabs. Some play nightly musical beds. One couple I know gave up and moved all of the family's mattresses onto the floor of their room.
Maybe this is just a reflection of the permissive parenting in San Francisco, where I live -- at least that's what a friend in Iowa tells me. In her circle, moms and dads tuck their kids in, kiss them good-night, and everyone stays put until morning.
It's not as if either my husband or I ever intended to have a family bed. We scoffed at the notion that a family bed was "natural"; poverty, not preference, is what squeezes families together at night in many less-developed parts of the world, we decided. Much as I like cuddling with my kids, I also like my space. Indeed, some nights, our queen-size mattress barely feels big enough for two.
Over and over during the past year, we've hatched schemes to eject Moriah. We tried having her share a room downstairs with one of her older brothers. Still, she woke in the wee hours and padded back to us. Next plan: taking turns in her room in a sleeping bag on the floor. Sore shoulders and backs brought an end to that idea. Then we made a cozy nest of pads and pillows on the floor of our room, so Moriah could be near us, though not actually in our bed. But once I lay down, she flung herself across my legs and began wailing, "I want to be with Mommy!" The only way I could get her to settle down was by holding tightly onto her sweaty little hand. By morning, I couldn't bend my elbow.