Co-sleeping pushes Nathan Graziano to the couch. Is it sour grapes or true love?
On any given night at my house, the following scenario may be played out—sometimes meticulously and other times following this broad outline.
After dinner and dishes with the family, I’ll retreat to my small corner of the universe, a spot in the bedroom I share with my wife where I’ve wedged a desk and an old computer. For an hour or so, I’ll tinker with words, stories or poems or pieces like the one I’m writing now. Then I’ll then go downstairs and watch the Red Sox game, curse at the television, perhaps grade some papers if I’m so inspired.
Meanwhile, my wife and kids will go to bed, and I’ll doze off on the couch to the soporific rhythms of a baseball game. Around midnight, I’ll wake and sluggishly stumble up the stairs to my bedroom, undress in the dark, and attempt to slip into bed.
But I can’t. There’s already a dude sleeping in my spot.
The dude is my 8 year-old son sprawled out beside his mother, his small mouth open as he enjoys his slumber on my side of the bed.
“Shit,” I’ll mutter as I make my way back, blanket in hand, to the couch.
My wife and I never would have guessed that our experiment in co-sleeping could come to this, and it is something that we no longer talk about in the company of friends. Our son’s refusal to sleep in his own bed is something that makes us feel inadequate as parents. And it is something that makes me, as the father, feel small and impotent.
Before we had our daughter, who is two years older than our son, we researched the concept of co-sleeping, and the experiment worked brilliantly the first time. My wife was able to nurse both our children without getting up, it promoted a closeness we still share with kids, and thankfully, SIDS was averted. And before she turned two-years old, my daughter effortlessly made the move into her own bed.
My son, however, remains strung to his mother, which makes an air-tight case for Freud’s antiquated theories. Now he’s eight years old, we are no longer sleeping with a baby between us.
While we’ve talked to his pediatrician and read up on possible solutions, it boils down to the same singular suggestion: we need to be consistent and keep putting him back in his bed. But we both have to wake up early for work; and in this long and anguished war of attrition, the boy inexhaustibly keeps coming back to our bed, pushing me to the couch.
Meanwhile, I have pinned the problem on myself. I’m the father, and I should take care of the situation, lay down the law and tell the boy, “No more.”
But I don’t. I’ve never been good at being The Heavy.
It is not unusual for sons to grow up with a healthy fear of their fathers, and I don’t believe this is a particularly bad thing. For many boys, they learn to respect authority through fearing their father’s wrath.
I can remember being a small boy, wringing my hands and watching the clock after screwing up, after my mother told me to go to my room and wait until my father got home from work.
My parents didn’t believe in corporal punishment—and nor do my wife and I—but I remember the wait for my father to get home as interminable, believing against all logic that my father might finally smack me for being a jackass.
Without having to say a word or raise his voice, my father was The Heavy. For me, this isn’t the case.
In my house, my wife is the heavy, and I don’t believe my son has any fear—much less a healthy fear—of me as his father and an authority figure. Even when I raise my voice, it always reeks of fraudulence, like a politician’s smile. It takes on the sound of a parody, and my son and I both know this.
To top it off, I’m useless with tools, only recently learned to put air in a tire, and I write poetry—not exactly making me The Dirty Harry of dads. The chances of forcing my son into sleeping in his own bed in the near-future are slim. The best I can muster is to tease the boy by calling him Oedipus, a reference that he doesn’t get and certainly doesn’t bother him.
Consequently, I’m on the couch—tongue-in-cheek and dick-in-hand. Although in the course of the past five years I have slept in a racecar bed, then the top bunk, I actually prefer the couch and dim buzz of the ballgame in the background.
But even if I were The Heavy, The Enforcer, the King of the Castle; even if I were to scare the boy out of the bed I should be sharing with my wife with a show of might; even if my son were to have a healthy fear of his father, it still doesn’t equate to care and love.
And when I make the futile trip up the stairs and into my bedroom and find my son in his SpongeBob pajamas, nestled beside my wife, who is curled up in a pair of yoga pants and one of my old t-shirts, I need to remind myself to brush off my annoyance because I love him.
You have to love a dude to let him steal your spot in your bed next to your wife. And in spite of my passivity, I know it won’t go on forever.
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Image credit: Michael Guntsche/Flickr