Children have no problem sleeping.
Remembering back, sleeping toward early afternoon was tolerated by our parents as we entered our pre-teen years.
As a young adult entering the responsibilities of the working world, you can enjoy sleeping off the previous night’s rowdiness with no guilt and comforted by the thought that you deserve the time under the sheets.
You partied hard, as we once boasted, and recovery time is essential. Waking up shortly before noon was ok, the norm even among our peers.
And then parenthood arrives.
Everyone is initially overjoyed by the new arrival — as they should be. In fact I still remember how my extended family created my wife and I as we pulled up into my aunt’s driveway. I then remember how it seemed as if I was pushed aside as my relatives clammered to see the new arrival. I felt as if my job was definitely done as they pulled him from the car and took him into the house — well ahead of me who gathered all the assorted bags and paraphernalia that accompanies a first child wherever they go.
We had done the deed. And a bit more.
My wife put in some serious time, effort and illness into the production.
I as the father spent serious time slaving away before the stove making the infamous Saucy Meatball recipe in hopes of fulfilling my wife’s cravings. Yes, I liked them too… but maybe not every week, every Thursday in fact, and sometimes twice a week.
BUT… no complaining is allowed, in all sincerity, because I did little of the human producing. My crucial responsibility in the production of this little person long since passed.
And when my son and later daughter arrived, there was much to celebrate.
They were cute. They fit into the crook of my arm and I immediately realized the degree of dependence they had on me. They even smelled good.
And the poop was amazing. At first.
My first days of parenthood were entirely fueled by adrenaline. And then it hit me.
I may never get enough sleep… ever again.
With the passing of time I understand that this thinking was a bit illogical. But not those first few months… the fear was real. I was generally worried.
Every two hours there would be rumblings in our home. There was feeding, rocking, diaper changing, walking, refrigerator opening, creaks from the wooden floors and stairway, raising up from the warm bed and returning to it with cold feet and tired eyes. The newness of parenthood had not yet passed.
We had been reminded constantly of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) during pre-birth classes, and night-time was not the relaxing time it once was. We were very aware that the “sleepy time” hours were not without danger. We even bought the sensor that reassuring ticked at regular intervals confirming that his heart was beating — another new sound.
Two more hours… just two more hours of sleep… please God. The promises of doing all good, forever… were made, and not silently in prayer, but out loud… for all to hear.
It was a scary time. One day I walked into my good friend’s office and a look of worry crossed his face. “Are you ok? You look like hell.” He was right. I, however, was so tired that I failed to see the sickly image looking back at me from the mirror in the morning. Pale and haggard. I cared little about image, little about food and even less about what used to bring joy to my pre-parenthood life. I cared only about my bed and the time I would be allowed to be with it… in it.
I had in fact been beaten by this tiny human. He had arrived a mere weeks prior. And he knew only four things — hunger, wet diapers, being tired, and an odd sensation that scared him — burps. Should one of these occur he made it known to all, at any time. My son had complete control over two adults. He now owned our time and determined our sanity. We had no power. Would this go on till he turned 18?
In our wisdom we placed his crib in the next room to our bedroom. Before you think us uncaring, the bassinet did stay in our room for what we decided upon to be adequate time — four weeks. In celebration we then placed his little body in the nursery so that sleep might return in larger concurrent increments for us all. What novices we were.
We did all you would expect from new parents. His nursery had furry fish, stars and even a large purple moon hanging from the ceiling. There were protective, soft, adorable borders on the interior of his crib. There were enough burp cloths and blankets to keep our washing machine busy. The walls were painted colors found only in nurseries — vivid blue and yellow. There was a changing table for all the essentials needed at any hour — day or night.
We were unsuccessful.
I heard him move at night. I heard this sound through the wall. I heard this sound in the midst of slumber. There would not be sleep. And then it happened. I remember like it was last night.
He learned to roll over. This reassured us because now maybe if there was a breathing problem, he could move himself to correct the problem. Too much heavy sleepwear because of anxious parents? Blanket covering his face during the night? He could fix it himself now. Ahhh… we could relax. Another novice move.
The piercing alarm shattered the still night… the alarm that warned that his heart had stopped… which of course it hadn’t. In the process of rolling over, the sensor beneath the mattress no longer detected a heartbeat. This fact did not register as an option.
I clearly remember launching myself from sleep and across the bed. Over my groggy wife. Like Bo Duke crossing the hood of The General in the television series Dukes of Hazzard. But without the fun and adventure.
Many years later coupled with a daughter of ten years, that fear of no sleep has somewhat subsided. Well to be honest, the fear still resides deep within me but I now know that there may indeed be a time when I will awake comforted. Not from the cry of the alarm clock, but I will greet the world rested and anxious to start the day — writing this sounds like a joke told to the uninformed.
And so I share with friends and others… I can’t wait till they want to sleep in. I will be the parent that we all remember. The one that clapped their hands as they woke us up on weekend mornings to rake the leaves. Or like my father who was determined to “warm up” the chainsaw at an early 7 a.m. and then ask me to help… no, tell me to get up and help him stack firewood. I think I finally understand.
Revenge is sweet.
I will bide my time and wait another few years for my teenage children to desire sleep. I will wait patiently. And when that time comes… I am told by those that have already endured teenage children… let them sleep. I’m guessing that they may be right as I will surely be sleeping too.
Except now I can’t sleep in even when my children decide to do so. Please God… just two more hours…