Sleep and the slow journey to justice

You can read whatever, we're still crawling into bed with you later.

You can read until you pass out. Whatever. We’re both still crawling into bed with you later.

I’m a light sleeper. So one wee hour not so long ago, when pint-sized Colin stood at my bedside, he only had to softly clear his throat.

I opened my eyes.

Oh, hello little person.

Then I was wide awake. What the? The fact that this kid was here meant he had climbed from his crib and over the baby gate secured AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS. I pulled him into bed, dooming either or both his dad and I to a night of severely interrupted sleep unless somebody moved to the couch by morning. Our queen bed was big enough for two adults but not the addition of one toddler sleep gymnast.

Each of our boys started out life sleeping in our bedroom, eventually moving to their own room at three or four months old.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne night before our youngest had migrated to his own quarters, I heard his dad shuffling into the bathroom. There was a second of silence, then a crash. The baby screamed and started howling in his bassinet. I made it to the bathroom door in one leap.

“What the? You WOKE UP THE BABY,” I yelled at my poor husband, who was lying on the floor, having fainted after locking his knees like a groomsman at the alter. Never mind that he could have conked his head on the tub and died right there, he had robbed me of sleep.

Each kid, of course, eventually moved to his own room, and then from a crib to a regular bed.

But still for years, when the kids were little, we’d find ourselves with one or both of them in bed with us.

Sleeping with a baby or toddler is one of the sweetest things I know: drifting off with a warm little body cuddled up next to you, his hair smelling like chamomile baby shampoo…

… Followed by waking in the slow realization that you’re snoozing in a warm puddle because someone’s diaper leaked, or to a little foot jamming your nose into your skull.

Kids are hard on parents, not only because at some point during the day they might act on the impulse to start a fire in the living room, cut holes in couch cushions with scissors, or sneak a container full of slugs in the house. Then there’s this whole need for vigilance at night lest someone tumble down the stairs on his way to snuggle with mom and dad.

Still, I knew the day would come no one would be sneaking in bed for a midnight cuddle. I looked forward to a full night’s sleep, to a few full nights in a row, actually, but I also knew I would miss the little, warm body curled up next to me.

Today, we have no more toddlers to pull me out of sleep. If I’m awake at odd hours, it’s more likely because of a stray thought: who’s running point on the carpool this afternoon? When was the last time we changed the batteries in the fire alarm?

One recent morning I had given up trying to fall back to sleep and came across an internet article about a Duke University study showing women need more sleep than men, that we suffer more mentally and physically from sleep deprivation.

Huh.

The article doesn’t say how much more sleep we need, but I’m sure it’s more than I’ve been able to get on a consistent basis at any time over the past fifteen years.

Come to think of it, this lack of sleep thing is probably why the adult women I grew up with seemed so much grouchier when I was a kid than they do today. Probably has a lot to do with why I’m a complete crank most of the time now.

It was only a short time ago that our two boys and their habit of disrupting our nights were the reason I would have a regular melt down every day about mid afternoon when the coffee wore off. The Duke study shows lack of sleep makes mom grouchy. It’s science.

The days of nighttime visits are behind us. Teenagers and preteens need way more sleep, and never, ever seem to want to cuddle. But the nighttime interruptions continue. Not only am I likely to be jolted awake by early morning brain spin, I’m also likely to be kept up too late waiting for some young person to get home from a night out with friends.

But there are moments of sweet justice.

This weekend we sprung a surprise movie night on the kids. It had been a weekend jam-packed with disappointment: our fridge broke and needed to be replaced, and the resulting fridge shopping preempted a family trip to the ski hill.

Which is how we found ourselves at a conciliatory late screening of The Hobbit on a Sunday night, then home, crawling into bed around midnight.

Followed by a lot of grouching Monday before school.

“Didn’t get enough sleep,” my bleary-eyed fourteen year-old said, apparently robbed of his ability to form complete sentences by virtue of fewer than six hours of shut-eye.

“Can I stay home from school today?”

Nope. You must sally forth with enthusiasm and pep to face your day. I’m going to revel for a bit in this moment.

Then I’m going to take a nap.

*****

Vote for me before you go to bed every night. You’ll sleep better. I promise.

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