"Baby" Caye has taken another leap forward into toddlerhood. Less than two weeks ago, she quite unexpectedly began sleeping big kid style - no more crib.
I had long hoped she might continue in the crib until age 3 or so (brother Kitch, at 3.5, would quite happily still use a crib at night - and he does use one for nap time - he seems to rest well there, and enjoys the safety and coziness of it). I suppose I anticipated that the freedom of being out of the box might lead to nap-time, and possibly night-time, difficulties, and was not eager to test it out. Caye has consistently napped 2-2.5 hours daily, which works for me!
(Although, as is my tendency, I have read about crib-free sleeping philosophies, and felt there was likely something to it...but since Caye had spent a year in a crib when we met her, we just continued with what was familiar to her at the time).
Two weeks ago, Caye suddenly started protesting bed time. As well, she had been waking in the night with greater distress to be with me, and would not settle in her room again for the rest of the night after waking. In so many ways, I was quite happy to co-sleep (and/or let her use the crib in our room), but for a few issues we couldn't seem to resolve. First, she would stay awake for 2-3 hours at a time - unhappy in her room and on her own, and happy with me in my bed...but awake either way. Second, Geoff wakes early for work, and the commotion of he and the dogs getting up and leaving our room would sometimes wake Caye if she was in bed with us. Finally, I am often up for bathroom breaks in the night, and Caye had taken to sleeping on top of me, which of course led to more waking when I tried to slink out from under her. Add other factors such as the occasional little boy wandering in with a night-time crisis (more waking), and having her in our room was proving to be complicated.
One night, I went to Caye when she woke up around midnight (early for her). We had just decided that we would try to keep her in her room - even if that meant staying with her for quite a while, to see if she would gradually settle faster by not changing environments and not having the option to head elsewhere. The first night of this experiment had resulted in me sleeping on the floor for a couple of hours, and her waking when I tried to sneak out. This second night, I was debating what to do, turned around in the pitch black for an instant while Caye screamed from her crib, and then heard a thud. Sure enough, after feeling around by the crib, I found her on the floor. She was fine, but quite upset at this point, so I took her to bed with me again.
Needless to say, we were nervous about having her in the crib from that point forward. We were also nervous about having her sleep "free"...but had no real choice (not about to get into tents, etc. - I think she would have liked that confinement less than the crib, and she is nearly old enough to figure her way out of that, too). We tentatively put her down for her first and second nights, with protests, and efforts to run after us. There was some banging on the door for a few minutes...but then, nothing. The protests stopped after two evenings (and remember, she had started defying bed-time a few nights prior to being free). Her first nap went without a hitch. Caye has slept through the night five times in the past 1.5 weeks. When Geoff goes to her on the nights she does wake, she takes a bottle, then settles back to sleep - no 2-3 hour periods of wakefulness, and far less distress altogether. I have even heard her playing in her room after waking in the morning on one or two occasions, rather than crying for me the moment she opens her eyes.
Today, I put the boys down for their rests before Caye. Expecting to have her at my heels, waiting for me, I went to her room when I didn't see her nearby, and found her quietly lying on her mattress with her blanket over her and her head on her little pillow. She said "good-night" to me when I came in, so I kissed her, and left the room.
Now, we are wondering if this could have worked months ago, with proper safety measures. Perhaps not...but we are starting to be thankful she took that dive (while also being very thankful she was not injured), otherwise we would likely have kept her penned up for months longer, not thinking of the possible advantages of going crib-free. Caye had never shown any interest in climbing out (despite being a climber in general), and it had not occurred to us to do an experiment like this. I don't know if she simply feels more in control, being able to get out of bed on her own, if having access to her books and stuffed animals helps her stay occupied (although I had previously tried leaving a couple of toys and books in the crib), or if some other factors are at play. I have observed that she stays awake for a while during rest time, playing (and we have found her with empty bookshelves a couple of times), and will acknowledge that her night-time sleep might have been positively impacted by a shorter nap (although I have always believed in letting her nap as long as her body "chooses").
Whatever the reason, or reasons, nearly two weeks into our necessary experiment, it seems safe to say that having no crib for a bed is working out very well indeed. Just this week, Caye reached 22 months, and she continues to demonstrate new skills and developmental progress on a daily basis. I suppose that a child who has officially begun using 4 and 5-word sentences, who can now carry on a few lines of dialogue in reciprocal conversation, who can fetch me items upon request, and who provided some actual assistance packing Christmas ornaments, may just be old enough to sleep in freedom.