Thursday, August 2, 2012

Night Ninja

“Mmmm…Hi honey.  How was your night?”

“Pretty good.  Very busy all day though.”  Don pulls out his iPad and starts surfing the web, catching up on the Olympics and various other sports blogs.  “How was your day and night?”

I struggle to process the question through my still half asleep at 12:35pm brain. “It was good.  Good bedtime.  She fell asleep in my arms around 8pm so I think she’ll get a good nights rest finally.”

Don sputters out a few laughs, the tone if which jog me most of the way out of my sleep fog.

“What?  What’s so funny?”

Through his laughter he chuckles out “I just put her down to sleep for the third time.  She’s been up the last hour and half with me!”

“What?” I am truly stunned.  I usually have a good ear for our daughter’s night time roving’s, and last night I hadn’t even heard Don come home let alone our two year old up and gallivanting around the house.

“Yeah!  It was actually really nice.  She came down and found me while I was eating dinner.  Thanks for the salad by the way.  I was watching Breaking Bad and I looked up and saw her silhouette in the doorway.  It scared the shit out of me actually.  So I turned the TV off and she ate with me and we went outside and listened to the crickets and ate ice cream on the back deck.”

My brain was 98% awake at this point, but I still managed another “Wait…seriously?”


“Oh.  OK.  Cool?  Well…if she gets up again I’ll get her now.”


This is a conversation I had with my husband last night when he got into bed after working the 12:00pm until 10:00pm (or 10:00pm as it were) shift at the hospital.  Ninety minutes, three trips into Lucy’s room, half a bag of tortilla chips, a huge bowl of fresh corn salsa, and one episode of Breaking Bad later, Don and I finally went to sleep. 

For those of you who are parents and have dealt with the innumerable pitfalls and complications of your children’s sleep, this may be a familiar story.  For those of you without children, this may serve as an added layer of birth control and a hilarious anecdote you can mention to your other well rested, single friends at those fancy parties and bars you all go to (something like “Oh, the Zimmer’s small human is doing the drollest thing lately…she gets out of her room at night to scare her parents!”)

Don and I thought we had the sleep thing figured out.  Barring late nights with friends or travel, Lucy was an awesome sleeper.  Bedtime was fun and usually fast: brush teeth, read several stories, sing a couple of songs, lay her down and tuck her in with her bunny and her bindie, and sleep happened.  Magic.  She would sleep anywhere: in the car seat, the pack-n-play, on a bed.  Sometimes she even fell asleep in our arms, and then we would steal an extra few minutes, or twenty, just rocking her and marveling at the way her lashes fell against her chubby little cheek, or the feel of her little hand curled around a finger.  More magic.

Very adorable sleeper from an early age.
Car sleeper
 And then we moved.

And our daughter became a nighttime ninja.

After we moved into our new house, our daughter’s penchant for occasionally climbing out of her crib accelerated.  She had been sleeping in her pack-n-play for several nights and could climb out of it at will.  However, she would only climb out when she was done with her nap or when she got up in the morning after a usually reasonable amount of sleep.  So when we finally set up her crib, and she continued to climb out of it when she woke up and then climb back into it when she wanted to sleep, we thought she might be ready to take the crib rail off and try a big girl bed.

This was our first mistake.

Trying to transition Lucy to a big girl bed while she was getting used to a new house was a pretty amateur move on our part.  But we talked to her about it and trusted her when she said she wanted a big girl bed.  We wanted to respect her judgment, and give it a try.

This is the stuff they don’t tell you about in parenting books.  Oh they may mention sleep regressions that cause them to change habits, and developmental phases that limit their sleep, and drone at length about life changes causing separation anxiety.  But they do not talk about the gripping terror that wakes you in the middle of the night when you hear the faintest tinkling of bells. 

You sit up on bed, gasping for breath.  Sweet Jesus what is that noise?  You scan the room for evidence that your house is being taken over by reindeer.  You listen for the telltale sound of creaking that indicates that anything is moving.  After all, you now live in a 100 year old house.  Every floor and staircase creaks.  Every.  Single.  One.  Nothing can go undetected in your house as long as it walks on the floor.  Or so you thought.  Calmed by the hush that now lies over the house, you move to settle back into your pillow when the tinkling of bells sounds once again directly to your right.  The specter of your two year old in her ruffled zebra jammies standing in your doorway shaking her bunny blanket (the malicious source of said tinkling) causes you to have a coronary event (yes, this is accurate medical information.  My husband is a doctor.  No, I have not consulted him on this.)

Swiftly and silently you steal from the bed so as to not wake your still slumbering spouse (seriously, how the hell does he not hear these things?) and you spirit your daughter back to her room.  A little rocking in the rocking chair, a softly hummed tune, and you put her back into her crib.  You tuck yourself back into your bed, and are, God be praised, back asleep within five minutes.  Until something touches your face.  In your sleep addled state you can’t think rationally, and, heart racing, eyes still closed, you contemplate all of the hideous things that could be touching you right now.  The ghosts of people who died in your hundred year old house.  The gun of the murdering psychopath who could have stolen into your house.  A spider.  You slowly open your eyes, dreading the sight that will greet you, and it is worse than even you could have imagined.

The grinning face of your toddler, her hand upon your cheek.  In the next moment she says that phrase that incites more terror in you than any Saw movie could ever hope to stimulate.

“Mama!  I’m awake!”

"Mama!  I'm awake!"

The time is 4:15am.

You gently shush her as you once more steal from bed and spirit her back to her own room just down the hall.  While rocking her in her chair you explain to her that it is night time, and that we sleep in our own beds and cribs at night.  You point out her nightlight, Gus the Firefly, who will go off when the sun comes up and it is time to get out of bed.  You rationalize with her that mommies and daddies need sleep to, and if she wakes up at night and wants to play she can do so in her crib or her room with her many toys and books.  She looks at you, nods in understanding, and promises to stay in her room tonight.  You tuck her into her crib with her bunny, bindie, otter, teddy bear, two blankets and two baby dolls, and kiss her goodnight. 

“Goodnight mama,” she whispers back.

That seemed very convincing.  You are sure the rest of your night will go as planned: you, in a cocoon of blankets, drifting blissfully in and out of REM sleep, waking up refreshed and ready to face the day in another 2-4 hours.

Just as you are about to slip back into sleep, it happens again.  The tinkling of bells.  It is a cruel irony that such a seeming innocent sound can be enough to send your heart rate through the roof and pump adrenaline through your veins.  The ninja is out again.

"Mama!  You found me!"
This scenario has played out many times over the last four weeks in our house.  Some nights are still restful.  Lu falls asleep in my arms, Don and I snuggle into bed (either together or separately, depending on what shift he is working) and I wake up 8 hours later.  On a perfect day, I wake up rested at 6am and have a few hours to myself to write or catch up on some business with a cup of coffee.  On another kind of perfect day I wake up rested at 8am as Lucy comes into our room, climbs into bed with us, and snuggles for a while before we all go downstairs for coffee and breakfast.  The ninja is dormant, the night peaceful.

Dormant ninja in its crib.
Some nights are filled with the presence of the ninja.  Don or I get up four or six times with her, finding her in our room, right next to our bed, or bedded down with her rabbit shaped pillow and blankets on the floor somewhere.  We try rocking her back to sleep, pulling out the favorite lullabies and tunes.  We try just putting her directly back in her crib, to discourage her coming out just for the fun of having us rock her back to sleep.  We try talking to her, or not talking to her at all.  When she said she got up because she was frightened of monsters we got her a nightlight to stand sentinel against the dark, and she named it Gus the Firefly after one of her favorite stories.  Sometimes, if she doesn’t come get us, we just let her lay down somewhere and sleep the rest of the night in our closet or on the landing.

Ninja in its nest on the floor of our closet.
Evidence of another ninja nest on the floor outside of our bedroom door.

Regardless of the presence of the ninja I think Don and both try hard to appreciate that every night we have as a family is to be cherished.  Sometimes that feeling of gratitude is hard to hold onto after the sixth trip carrying an irate toddler, two blankets, and a huge rabbit pillow back into her room, but only for a short while.  I don’t know if it is Lucy herself, or the imprint the loss of Riley and our experiences in Haiti have left on our hearts, but amidst the thoughts of “Dear God, how am I going to make it tomorrow on only 4 hours of sleep?” some variation of another thought always sneaks through.

Thank you, God, for this stolen moment.  Thank you for this little sneaky baby, that she loves us enough to seek us out at all hours.  Thank you for this chance to show her that we love her and that we stand with her against everything that walks in the dark.  Thank you for every request for water, ice cream, or watermelon at 3am.  Thank you for every tantrum and snore and hand reaching up to pat my cheek.  Thank you that we have a roof over our heads to shelter our family, and a bed in which to place this little ninja.  Thank you for all the ways we are blessed.


  1. Love, Love, Love, Love. I laughed, and I cried, and then I laughed again. You're an amazing writer and now having a tiny daughter of my own, you make me excited for all the moments to come....even the night ninja moments :)

  2. Aw Crystal, love this. Such cute pictures too. Although please don't scare me now that we've FINALLY got our nighttime routine nailed...for now...da, da, DAAA!!!