In the early weeks of my third child’s life, I woke up one afternoon on the sofa and realized I’d fallen asleep with the baby on my chest. How funny. Good thing I didn’t drop my arms or roll in an inopportune direction, I thought. She looks fine. Boy, am I groggy. I wonder what time it is?
Then the realization: where are the kids? My other two children were gone. I didn’t panic at first; I like to think that I’m not a panic-prone person. So calm! So grounded! Plus, our house isn’t that big. I toured the rooms. No kids. I peered into the backyard. My heart rate rose. I continued to call for them. Finally I trotted out the front door to our busy street where vehicles regularly violate the 35-mph speed limit. My son and daughter were out there at the property line, chatting with our elderly neighbor, a man named Bud.
Bud didn’t seem too concerned that a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old were just cruising alone out front. In fact, the three of them were content. I couldn’t help but murmur out an explanation — oh you know how it is. Tired with the new baby! Haha! Just another day! Good talking to you, Bud!
My oldest child was in kindergarten, which in those days was on a quaint half-day schedule. My middle child dabbled in preschool a few hours a week. Most of our waking hours, therefore, were the four of us together while my husband worked full time. It was a festival of she-fatigue, mom-exhaustion, this-job-never-ends reality.
Every mom knows a few seeming truths about life with children: you don’t sleep. Toddlers, who will one day have to be dragged out of bed to get to school on time, greet the dawn with booming readiness for mischief and a list of urgent needs. No amount of clever negotiation, pitiful pleading or outright bribing will get an out-of-bed toddler to nod with understanding and cozy back against the pillow.
Gastrointestinal illness always hits children after 10:00pm. That tell-tale sound of a retching kid in the other room always interrupts the darkness, never a quiet afternoon when the child in question jogs mercifully to the bathroom. It’s always high drama in the night hours, the washing machine loaded at 1:00am.
Here’s a secret no one reads in those child care books you lovingly review while waiting for a child’s birth: teenagers rob you of sleep too. At midnight, you’re either lying in bed trying to figure out if that’s pot smoking you can smell from the basement, or you’re not even pretending to sleep while you wait for a teenager behind the wheel to return home. And then there’s the morning activities. In the modern teen’s over-scheduled life, activities do not respect any sort of “weekend mornings are sacred” credo. It’s a cross-town basketball game that starts at 8:00am or a band outing with the bus leaving before dawn. The alarm clock rarely rests.
Finally, for parents of children with special needs, one just decides that sleep is overrated and to hell with it. There will be time to sleep in the nursing home, right? My diabetic child’s continuous blood glucose monitor, although a welcome addition to her care, alerts me at night regularly. There are spans when I’m anticipating a trend in her glucose and have to let the minutes tick by to address whatever happens. Often, my predictions are wrong anyway. After years of the monitor waking me, I became desensitized to it. I had to change the settings from a mere beep to an over-the-top blast.
I’m up! I’m awake! I’m awake. All that thoughtful guidance about the proper lights, the right temperature, and the ideal time frame to govern our bedtime habits is often superseded by that job some of us have with ruthlessly long hours: parenthood. Just as we have to schedule play dates for young children and we have to schedule phone calls to catch up with friends, we may also need to schedule sleep. That means time alone for a nap on a weekend afternoon. That means delegating, delegating, delegating (Honey, it’s your turn to drop off at cross country practice!). And that means time away for the “momcation”. Although that momcation bed, in stone cold silence, will probably find one wide awake at first light, at least it’s on Mom’s terms. As research continues to inform us of the benefits of sleep, it’s time the iconic over-tired mom gets an assist. One mug can only hold so much coffee, after all, and Bud isn’t always around to stall curious kids.
Originally published at medium.com