I may have a husband and three children, but I do more sleeping around now than I ever did as a single person. Moreover, after all these years of sleeping around -- on thresholds trying to get infants to sleep, on floors beneath cribs trying to monitor abnormal breathing sounds, on a tiny sliver of a single bed beside a sprawling toddler who's teething and fitful, across the foot of the bed in order to secure a space of my own, on futons, on unframed mattresses on the floor, on living room couches -- I have learned a thing or two about what feels good and what doesn't. Because it's been my nature to remain on duty all through the night for the last eight years (admonish me, pity me, admire me: I've heard it all), I have suffered my fair share of bad night's sleeps in ridiculously inhospitable locations.
So have my kids. With them I have shared good nights and bad nights. They are there at all stages of the night. Sometimes one (or more) may start off in our bed. Sometimes one (or more) patters over in the middle of the night. Sometimes I bring a baby in so that I can stop getting out of bed. Often they are there in the morning as we rouse ourselves for the day. Most often my husband is there, too, unless it feels too crowded, too hot or too airless. These days we are separated by a tender 5-year-old, not quite ready to take on the challenge of suffering nightmares all by himself. To accommodate all of these needs, all of this neediness, we have a king-size bed. By day and by most of the night, I have my fill of skin. But if I so choose, I can sleep through the night and not feel anybody's flesh.
When skin-to-skin contact is not what you're after, the quality of your bedding becomes ever more important. Here is a multi-seasonal, personally guaranteed guide to skin-to-bed contact.
First, invest in the best mattress and box spring you can afford, really thick ones with lots of high-tech springs and quilted pads and foam and sturdy support. (My husband and I had to face the unflattering fact of our inability to sleep comfortably on a futon, of waking up sore and crabby for months, nay, years, on a variety of futons.)
Second, get yourself a cervical pillow by calling Seventh Generation (1-800-869-3446, Item No. 08-0065, for $95) or your local chiropractor (mine cost $35 from a masseuse). This pillow is shaped to support your neck, while allowing your head to lie down in a valley. Use it to sleep on either your back or your side. (Sleeping on the stomach strains the lower back.)
Then call up the Company Store (1-800-285-3696) and order a thick lamb's wool mattress pad, one light summer-weight, all-cotton comforter and one heavy, winter-weight comforter. Order a heavy flannel fitted sheet. Order an all-cotton flannel comforter cover that will match your winter sheet. Then phone Schweitzer, the New York linens retailer (1-800-LLINENS) and order an Egyptian cotton fitted sheet and pillowcase, the finest grade they've got. This will be for summertime. When it arrives, wash it a few times.
This is how your bed will be made: In summertime, lamb's wool, Schweitzer fitted sheet and pillowcases, light cotton duvet. In wintertime, lamb's wool, flannel fitted sheet and pillowcases, flannel-covered heavy comforter.
One final injunction: In order to enjoy your bedding, in order to experience it as I mean you to, you must sleep naked. Imagine yourself exhausted, maybe bathed, and slipping between the cool, buttery softness of the Schweitzer sheet (stretched taut over the wool) and the puffy lightness of the summer comforter. Or in winter, warm from a shower, you dive into a veritable body muff of flannel. A nighttime paradise that leaves no hospital corners, counterpanes or bedspreads to fuss with in the morning: One flick of the comforter and you're done.
The costs of pampering yourself bedding-wise, I must add, are twofold: the increased difficulty of dragging yourself out of bed for the sake of the children and the increased appeal (for them) of your bed. For these side effects I offer no solution, but simply direct you to another source. (See Parents as Keepers, Vol. III, No. 937, "Ten Easy Steps to Getting Baby (And You!) to Sleep Through the Night in His Own Bed So That You Can Feel Like Sort of a Normal Person Again." See also, in the same issue, "Ninety-seven Easy Steps to Creating a Family Bed So That You Can Forge Lasting Bonds of Trust With Baby (and Big Sister, Too!")
Whatever you decide, it always boils down to the same thing: Just make your bed and lie in it.