I sat up in bed, not sure if I were dreaming or if I was really hearing the scream of “Mama!” from across the hall in our old farmhouse. I leaned back against my pillows and looked at the clock. 3:03 a.m. Of course it wasn’t a dream, it was what happened many-a-night about this time.

I waited a moment, hoping . . . praying . . . wishing the two-year-old would lay back down and go to sleep. As the screeching became louder and louder, my husband rolled over and said, “Again?” as I threw off the covers and walked across the creaky floor, following the worn carpet that led directly to her room.

I sighed as I picked her up and sat down in the very broken-in recliner, stooping over to gather a quilt to throw over the both of us. “I snuggle, Mama,” she said as she leaned into me. And so we began our nightly ritual.

I read all the books. She just won’t sleep.

I use a night light. She just won’t sleep.

I try white noise. She just won’t sleep.

I use essential oils. She just won’t sleep.

I try shorter naps. She just won’t sleep.

I try later bedtimes. She just won’t sleep.

I try cry it out. An hour and 45 minutes later . . . she just won’t sleep.

I spent months and months telling myself that I had failed my child, my family, and myself in raising up a tiny person who doesn’t sleep well at night. I wasted hours of time in researching the “cure all” solutions that surely would bring us both out of the relentless waking that was happening most nights. I became bitter about bedtime, and resentful in the mornings as I had to charge ahead with the day regardless of my exhaustion. And, I became jealous and envious of the mamas who seemed to have it so easy with “good sleepers”. For a good 18 months, I was my own harshest critic.

And then one night during an epic winter storm . . . she slept. I was sure it was a fluke.

And then one night during calving season when my husband and I ran out the door in shifts . . . she slept. I was sure it wasn’t going to last.

And then one summer night after a full day in the sunshine . . . she slept. Could this really be happening?

And just like that, as we steamed along toward her second birthday, for no particular reason at all . . . she slept. Some nights, and then most nights.

Now, she is a 25-month-old toddler who sleeps more often than not. She still wakes for no good reason, other than to call for her mama and snuggle. And as I sit and hold her while the night ticks away, I tell myself, “Sometimes they just won’t sleep.” 

Some like to tell you, “This too shall pass,” and offer well-intentioned advice. Dear mamas and papas, take this all with a grain of salt. For as true as it is that there are things you can do to help your child sleep, at the end of the day sometimes the only answer is, “Sometimes they just won’t sleep.” 

Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is a native Nebraskan, living on the ranch her ancestors homesteaded in 1878. She and her husband Matt, met at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and returned to the ranch in 2012 after working and living in Central Nebraska the past 12 years. They are parents to two daughters, Maggie and Lucy. Leah has an undergrad degree from UNL in Communication Studies, and a MA in Leadership from Bellevue University. Aside from her work at the ranch and opportunity to be a stay at home mom, she enjoys writing, photography, community involvement, spending time with friends and family and trying new recipes in her kitchen. Leah published her first children's book in 2011 titled "An Apple for Dapple" and enjoys traveling throughout the state to share her book with children and raise awareness about the importance Agriculture in Nebraska.