Modern living is not for the meek. It is not for the weak. And it makes you damn tired.
Just the other night I had a startling revelation: I’ve become my mother. Or at least the pithy magnets featuring a retro-50’s housewife exclaiming that epiphany in a scandalized thought bubble. The realization jerked me awake, although how I could sleep through the blare of the TV in a room with lights on full-blast was beyond me. It was 8:32 p.m., and the good news was I knew where my child was — in bed, next to me, watching the aforementioned loud television. The bad news was, it was 8:32, and I was sound asleep.
As I dozed back off, I could see my much younger self, peering at a curious, slack-jawed person, snoring softly in a brightly lit room with a similar television cranking full blast. In my mind’s eye, I rolled my eyes. What was with my mom? I had just finished homework and was ready to settle in to some prime time viewing action, and she was already asleep. Didn’t being older mean you could stay up later? After all, it was only 8:32….
I never gave sleep much thought until it was routinely denied to me. In my case, the guerillas who ripped my precious rest away were babies; for others it might be dogs, work, or your own body protesting being in a supine position for an extended period of time. Or a combo platter of all of the above. My ugly initiation to the Land of Un-nod was with my first child; although he wasn’t colicky, he was hungry and up every few hours without fail for the first six months of his life. I liken that experience to being a POW; sleep deprivation is torture 101. And how the babies have mastered the art! Pictures of me from my kids’ early years say it all; a woman I met at a “mom’s night out” once commented that with the dark circles under my eyes and my sallow skin, I must be Middle Eastern, right? This was around 9/11, shortly after the birth of my daughter. I’d have been pissed at her narrow-minded inference, if I weren’t so bloody tired.
As the years marched on, the fast clip was enough to make any soldier weep, but I carried on, my children and all their gear literally on my back, working by day and spending the nights with one eye open. As a kid, I was a crappy sleeper myself, with an OCD routine that included 17 closet checks, an eternally lit lamp on my bed stand, two night lights (one on standby if the first went out), and a hall light on at all times. Still, I have clear memories of bleating, “Mama, are you awake?” about a thousand times until my bleary-eyed mother staggered into my room, muttering, “No, I’m not awake,” and either falling into my bed or, on rare occasions, scooping me up and taking me into hers. I don’t ever remember my dad waking up, but I was told that he worked, so she was in charge of the night shift.
Since then, bras have been burned and so I naïvely believed my husband would do equal time on night duty. But much to my dismay, nothing wakes the guy up, especially not a whimpering child. This doesn’t mean he hasn’t done some of the heavy nighttime lifting over the years, but 9 times out of 10, it was me who found herself sleeping in a fetal position at the end of the bed like a dog, while the rest of them slept peacefully in my spot.
Like the overweight person who keeps a closet full of size 2 jeans, I have come to fetishize all those things that symbolize sleep. When we bought a new bed, I demanded it be a California king with a super-deluxe pillowtop. I spend hours browsing the linen section in local bedding stores, fondling 500-thread-count Italian sheets. And when my spinning instructor mentioned that a $200 pillow changed her life and it would be the only thing she’d save if her house were on fire, I literally ran home to scour the internet to find the holy pillow grail. And don’t let me see a herd of sheep; all I’ll do is start counting and turn the last one into lamb chops when I realize that I’m still awake.
Nowadays, the sleepless nights are pretty much a thing of the past — for my kids. Their work here is done: I have been broken. And my ability to catch some z’s only gets worse as their social lives improve. In yet another of life’s cruel ironies, the sleep rug is about to be whipped out from under me once again. My friends with high schoolers have cautioned me to stock up on toothpicks now, I’m gonna need ’em. That, and a Red Bull at around 7:00 p.m. to make it through the long night ahead.
And so my mantra has become, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Oddly enough, that reminds me that my beautiful life is something well worth being wide awake for, to experience and enjoy.
Still, if you see a lump in your side of the bed, don’t pull the covers off. I’m not dead yet, but boy could I use a nap!
Now, enjoy the theme song of exhausted women everywhere — Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles), singing “I’m Tired”