Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sleep, sweet sleep

I awoke abruptly yesterday morning when a lovely dream suddenly went bad. I lay in bed shaking, and the alarm went off long before I could get back to sleep. Or rather it clicked as if it would go off; it's been broken for two months now, the victim of one too many child-induced accidents. I priced a new clock when I went Christmas shopping, but opted to buy a noisy alarm for Big Guy, instead. And since that one actually works to rouse him -- a heroic feat, which only cold technology has the patience and perseverance to achieve -- I am content with a faint click to rouse myself.

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When I was a kid I read a book in which the main character, an orphan in World War II Europe, had trained himself to wake up at will. If he needed to leave on a spy mission at 4am, he simply told himself to wake up at 3:30. This fascinated me, because I wondered if it was truly possible, and because of the sheer power of mind over body it represented. I've never felt a pressing need to develop this skill myself, but it's nice to imagine it exists.

However, becoming a mother did interesting things to my ability to wake up for hitherto-unfathomable reasons. Who knew it was possible to hear a child tossing and turning several rooms away? Who knew one could wake up at the pitter-pat of feet coming down the hall, knowing which child it was? Who knew one could be so attuned to the sounds of a sleeping child's gurgly tummy that one awakens in time to get a bowl in front of the child's head before the stomach bug does its stuff?

This miraculous ability has diminished as my children have gotten older and are better able to fend for themselves. Nowadays my eyelids flutter open only when someone is standing by my bed saying, for the third time, "My tummy doesn't feel well!"... and instead of getting up I mutter, "Find a bowl."  If there's an Independence Day, surely there's an Independence Night as well.

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Sleep is a fine thing. Nowadays bad sleep leaves me wondering how I made it through having an infant five times. A night of two of bad sleep for a child leaves me wondering why Andrew never followed through on the idea to invent Flintstone's Kiddy Chloroform. Behavior and self-control tank when sleep is not good.

Over the years we've developed quite an inventory of sleep techniques, ranging from putting on classical music to Jim Weiss story CDs to deep breathing/relaxation exercises. Sometimes none of it works, and I let the sleepless child lie on the floor next to my bed for comfort.

When the children were younger we kept a crib mattress under our bed to pull out for times when someone needed to sleep nearby. It got a lot of use during tummy bug times. It got a lot of use during nightmares. The huge advantage was that the child could lie down and hold my hand, and I didn't have to deal with little knees in my kidneys or with getting out of bed. The mattress is gone now -- no one fits on it any more -- and so if someone wants to be near me they really have to want it, because it means sleeping on the hardwood floor.

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The alarm went click at 5:20 this morning and I lay there for a minute, trying to calculate how long I could drowse without falling back into deep sleep. I decided it wasn't worth it. When I got up, Little Guy was standing, confused, at the end of  the hall. I hadn't heard him get up. He'd had a bad dream.

I wrapped him in my arms on the sofa, with his Fuzzy Wuzzy wrapped around us. He told me his dream, which had something to do with BeyBlade tops and the veterinarian store. After a bit he said, "I think I'll go back to sleep now". I put him down and started my usual morning routine, ten happy minutes late. There aren't many years left when he'll be small enough to hold that way, and I'm grateful my boy still wants me to do it.

Holding a child at 5:30 a.m.is not the kind of thing one is grateful for -- except in concept -- when the nights are routinely filled with interruptions. It's good to be able to see the bright side of the moon.


  1. I actually like the night-time visits, knees in kidneys and all. Partly, I guess, because I know they'll come to an end, and I want to hang on to the little-boy moments while they still come.

  2. If you ask my wife, she'll say she developed that same "night-time ear" while I developed the ability to sleep right through it all.

    Her getting out of bed is what would usually wake me.