It’s 4:30 a.m.: do you know where your children are?


You know this Calvin & Hobbes comic panel, of course you do―it’s a cultural meme embedded on all of our memories: Calvin, climbing out of his bedroo
m window and racing over to a payphone. Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep, he dials. And, the punchine:

“Dad? It’s 3 a.m. in the morning. Do you know where I am?”

Flora loves this strip, and she reads and quotes this over and over again.

“Mom, you know I’m going to do this to you one day, right?” she says.

And stupidly, tears circle in my eyes, and I say, “Oh, baby. You’ll do worse. Much worse.” And she stares at me confused, because, after all, what we are sharing here is a joke, and I’m ruining it. But I finish it.

“You WON’T call me at 3 a.m. And I WON’T know where you are.”

She doesn’t get it, of course, nor, at age eight, should she. But this night, tonight―it is 4:30 a.m. and I know exactly where my children are. The elder two are asleep in their beds, and if I still my head and eliminate the creaking noises of the house, I hear their breathing.

The 3.5 year old is sitting on my head.

We’re in a prolonged “phasing out the nap” stage with the Ender, which on this day manifests itself by the boy not napping at all―and then crashing for the day at 6:45 p.m. I do the math as he falls asleep and figure if I’m lucky, very very lucky, he’ll sleep until 5 a.m.

When you’re the parent of a toddler-preschooler, 5 a.m. is almost morning. You can wake up for the day at 5 a.m. It sucks ass, and it means it’s a four-pot (coffee, ladies gentlemen, coffee) day. But you can do it.

Ender wakes up at 4:15 a.m. What a difference 45 minutes makes…

By 4:30 a.m., I give up trying to get him back to sleep. And I give up playing co-sleeping parents’ roulette. If you share your bed with the kids at least some of the time, you know what I’m talking about―which of you can take more of the rolling and poking and singing? Who’s going to break first and get up with the little dude? Neither of you is sleeping―but at least you’re both horizontal… and that’s almost like sleep…

I break. I take the Ender downstairs. Change his soaked night-time diaper. Wrap him up in blankets and give him milk, oranges, avocado and an iPad. Kiss him.

“I don’t want to be alone here!” he wails.

And were he child number one, his mother would sigh, and curl up on the couch beside him, and fade in and out of sleep for the next three hours, with Pinky-Doodle-Doo or another Nickleodeon-show blaring in the background, and the Ender occasionally asking for snacks, hugs, the moon.

But he is child number three, and I have two other children who’ll need me conscious when they wake up, plus plans for the day that require at least some of my brain to be working. So:

“You’re not alone. Mama and Daddy are right upstairs. I will leave the stairwell light on, and if you want to come back to bed, you climb up the stairs and very, very quietly climb into bed. Flora will be down very very soon, and then you won’t be alone down here.”

He acedes for he must. And I think―it’s 4:30 a.m., and I know where all my children are, and this is good. It doesn’t feel good, mind you, at this particular moment… and I look at the Ender, and I wonder if, when it’s 4:30 a.m., and I won’t know where he is, whether I will be able to sleep?

Probably not.


Maybe I’ll become a little more hardass over time.

It’s 5:27 a.m., and I know where all my children are. One of them is sitting on my head, singing, “Maaaaay-peeee-niis! My! Penis!” Quite quietly, actually, but still.

Sean loses the co-sleeping parents’ roulette. “Get off your Mom!” he howls, because he’s a good Daddy (and good Daddies, have I mentioned, are so hot?). And he drags the dudling, protesting and howling back, back downstairs.

When sleep comes, I dream that I don’t know where my children are at 4:30 a.m.


But when I wake up at 8:30 a.m., there is a tousled little redhead tucked under my arm, snoring the way only three-year-olds can snore.

I forgive him everything, instantly.

 (Photo credit (Sleep): Sean MacEntee)

13 thoughts on “It’s 4:30 a.m.: do you know where your children are?

  1. Oh how many nights have I been there now and only have two, but I am so with you on letting them do what they need to do and trying to go back to sleep. And that moment at the end is usually the type I have when all is said and done. Also very true about not knowing where they will be at 3:30 am when they are older, nor will we get a phone. So not looking forward to those days my friend!!

    • It’s really, really GOOD when it’s truly and totally over. But the transition period really sucks. We made it to 6 a.m. this morning, and Sean lost parent roulette first-round. Yes!

  2. Wonderful post! I can’t believe how my relationship to early mornings have changed since my son was born. And I always know where my almost 2 year old is: his crib! And I want to keep it that way for as long as possible. (No toddler beds for a very long time!) I have always been a morning person, but toddlers take the idea of early morning wakeups to a whole new level. My son slept until 7 a.m. this morning, and it was like a heavenly gift. (But of course I know that since he slept so much last night, he’s going to be a beast to get to nap, but I’ll worry about that in several hours…)

    • I’ve never been a morning person, and three children have not turned me into one. My mantra with each toddler has been “Sunrises are over-rated.” Honestly, if I never see another sunrise as long as I live, I will still have seen more than my desired quota…

    • It’s ironic, isn’t it? When the kids are out of the house and you can sleep all you want… you’re an old person who only needs 5 hours of sleep. Come on, universe. What the heck is that about?

  3. Our third kid has proved to be strangely independent. Our first rarely slept with us. Our second is still sneaking into our bed almost every night and now this third one (2 years old) wakes up in the middle of the night, heads downstairs by himself and watches episodes of Star Trek to deal with his insomnia. I almost feel shunned that he doesn’t want to come snuggle with us!

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