On Sleep

“There is only one thing people like that is good for them; a good night’s sleep”
Edgar Watson Howe (American Editor, Novelist and Essayist)

The dreams edge in on my consciousness and I’m drifting quickly. Then the grunts and squeak of the spring on the Amby pull me back. I glance at the clock. God, it’s only 11:34. We only turned out the light an hour ago. I pull Banana to me for a feed. Her eyes remain closed while she nurses and then she nods off again simply and as solidly as only a baby can. Me, on the other hand, roll from side to side trying to find that just-out-of-reach unconscious state in a sea of exhaustion.

The night rolls on like this. Grunt, feed, tuck back into bed, grunt, feed, tuck back into bed. 11:34, 2:14, 3:47. After a while, the display of digital numbers blend together. I’m fuzzy-minded, teary, and aching with a desire for sleep. I forget which breast Banana fed on last and then don’t care – as long as she gets something and is quiet so that I can close my eyes…

Some nights the squeak of our bed and floorboards stir The Bear. She calls out. MJ rises to take her to the bathroom or sing her a song to entice her back to sleep.

Around 5:30, I pull Banana into bed with us. I can no longer feed her sitting up. I lie on my side and pray for just a few more minutes. Then she falls asleep, cuddled up so close to me that I’m afraid she’ll suffocate. I pull away and she nuzzles closer. Soon, I’m at the edge of the bed. Legs cramp in a desire to freeze movement for fear of waking her, while I desperately want to shift positions. Then it doesn’t matter anyway, I hear The Bear call out. This means that the whole house is awake. The clock reads 5:54 and I’m beginning my day. We haven’t set the alarm in just over four years.

Hot tea nudges me into daylight hours. A cup of coffee takes the edge off. But the birthday blower that The Bear seems to have affixed to her mouth irritates every bone in my body. I muster all the strength I have to stifle my annoyance, to not shout at her and tell her to ‘shut-up.’ It’s not her fault.

Sleep tempts and tugs at me the entire day. And then it’s 8:00 p.m. The time when the house hovers between noise and silence, transitions from a world of family to the world of adults. We could go to bed. But sleep competes with time to catch-up, to have an uninterrupted conversation, to have a glass of wine. Then, I could read, surf the net, call my sister, pay the bills, do the dishes. Eventually, we coax each other upstairs. We need sleep.

Before we go to sleep, MJ always says, “see you in the morning.” I snicker at his optimism and reply, “see you in an hour.”

I know that this will soon pass. One day I’ll be able to sleep in again on a Saturday. But I can’t help wonder if grandparents take naps, not because they are getting older, but because they are still catching up on their sleep after having children.

The Idle Parent Manifesto states, “We lie in bed for as long as possible.” I couldn’t agree more. I only wish that the ‘possible’ could be opened just a bit wider in our home. Hodgkinson includes a chapter on sleep in The Idle Parent. He talks about how we devalue sleep as a culture. He urges parents to take up the pleasurable activity of sleep as much as possible. In short, a well-rested parent is a rational and enjoyable parent.

Here are his tips:
– go to bed early
– lie in bed (kick your kids out of your room to fend for themselves in the morning; it builds resourcefulness)
– take a nap (even if you’re not at home, nap in your office or car)
– take a sleep holiday (get a babysitter or drop the kids off at the grandparents and then go to bed)
– put a mattress on the floor by your bed so that if the children come into bed with you, you can always drop onto the bed beside you.

Hodgkinson encourages parents to make sleep a priority. Don’t stress about routines, bedroom boundaries or concern over co-sleeping. Do what works for you and your family so that you get optimal sleep. Sleep will ultimately make you a better parent.

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