Words. They are usually the stuff that fills my brain at 3 a.m., when the oblivion of sleep seems just a tad out of reach. Swirling around in a tumultuous flurry, words often swoop into my head like a buzzard aiming for its carrion. Only half the time, they miss the completion of a full thought and are merely nothing more that – words. Not productive thoughts. Just rattling. Noise. Distraction.
Such occurrences were rare and amusing once upon a time ago. Back in a time when nightly sleep was as constant as a Swiss watch, I remember the nonchalance that I used to possess about these bouts. I figured that a single bad night, and its chatter, was just a one-off. The next night would be better. The next night would be back to normal.
Fast forward ten years. There is a snoring husband down the hall. The sounds of a five-year old sleep-talking to her toys fills the next room. And me, well, I’m just laying in the bed near my infant son’s crib, hoping and praying for sleep. Attacking my insomnia from every position. Trying every trick. Hoping that something will work.
It doesn’t. My house is dark. Everyone in it is asleep. Except for me. And the worst part is the realization that this isn’t a one-off night. This is every night. This is my constant, because there is no normal. Not yet. Not for a while, anyway.
Can I blame someone for this? No. My husband has offered to sleep in the baby’s room and do the nightly feedings. He is sweet and means well, though it’s really an empty gesture due to the fact that our baby is exclusively breast-fed. Sure, I could pump milk into a bottle. And sure my baby would eat from said bottle. But, my boobs would never get the memo about this change in schedule. Nope, they would still wake me up at an inconceivable hour, hard, knotty, and causing unspeakable pain. Apparently my mind and body are in cahoots, conspiring against my need for sleep.
So, it’s just easier to stay put. Suck it up. Be a mom. And, I do. Each night, I lay quietly in my son’s bed while he sleeps soundly in his crib. For him, nighttime is great. His evening begins at 7:00 after a relaxing bath, baby massage and feeding. He is lucky. This kind of pampering would cost hundreds of dollars at a spa, but because he gets it every day, and because he has no sense of money, this luxury goes unnoticed. I, on the other hand, can hardly remember what a massage even feels like. I’m lucky to get out of the house for a fifteen-minute hair cut. Needless to say I would kill for such pampering. Or, if not kill, then possibly maim or scar.
After this heavenly bedtime ritual is complete, my boy goes down quietly and sleeps like a champion. A baby champion. A mere infant, his stretches of sleep are great. Some nights it’s six hours. Some nights it’s eight. Regardless, the days of his bi-hourly waking are gone. For now. Knock wood. However, I’m still not sleeping. WTF?!
My night begins around 9:00, when I leave my husband to watch The Daily Show by himself. Lucky. I would stick around for the show. I want to stay up, but I know I shouldn’t risk it. As surely as I stay up “late,” that will be the night my son cuts an early tooth or catches the sniffles from his sister. Then, instead of the four hours I hope to get, I will descend backwards into the hell of getting only one. No, it’s not worth it.
Instead of watching TV anymore, I sum every show up to their main idea. John Stewart’s funny. Vikings killed a bunch of folks. Someone will win American Idol but no one will buy their album. Done. TV watching complete. I pretend I’m not missing out, but sometimes I would like to sit and watch a full plot evolve. However, there’s no time for that. It’s either sleep or TV, and sleep is always the priority.
So, around 9:00 it’s my turn. My boobs are flaccid, my bladder is empty, my teeth are brushed. I’m ready. Carefully, like a ninja, I walk into my son’s room and, despite the door that just lightly grazes the carpet upon opening, I am able to enter quietly enough not to wake him. Tiptoeing, I charge for the bed and make it under the covers with relative ease. With my Tempur-pedic pillow under my head, I get into a good position and close my eyes.
The first stretch is easy. I fall to sleep in mere minutes. If the universe weren’t against me, I would remain in this almost comatose stupor of grand, deep sleep until the next decade. But, that’s not how the fates want my story to go. No. Those effing fates! They think it’s funny for my son to cry, out of nowhere and for no reason, at midnight. Not a real cry. One of those horrible phantom baby cries that erupt and disappear almost as quickly as a bad analogy. One WAAA and he’s back to sleep. I, however, am up for the count.
Midnight. I start to calculate in my head 9 to 10, 10 to 11, 11 to 12. SHIT! That’s only three hours of straight sleep. But, I need at least four to function. Come on! I thought this was going to be the night I finally got a five hour stretch! Ha! You brazen bitch, you really thought you were getting into a groove, didn’t you?!
So, I lay there. Thinking. Words pop into my head. Random words. I close my eyes and try to allow the ticking clock to drown out the words, but they don’t. Instead, I am met with a barrage of tasks I have yet to accomplish, PTA meetings I have yet to attend (yeah, right!), errands I have yet to run and failures I have yet to admit. And the words just don’t stop.
I look at the clock. It’s 12:45. If I fall asleep right now, I think, I can still get another hour or so before his usual 2 a.m. wakeup time. Okay. Sleep. I will myself into slumber. It doesn’t happen. 1:18. 1:32. 1:59. Finally, there is a dawn and I drift off for a moment. Literally. A moment. What the heck happened? I look at the clock. It’s 2:21 and my son is asleep, so why the hockey-sticks did I wake up? I feel my nightgown and it is soaked. My right breast is a swollen mountain of tissue peaking under the covers. It has doubled in size and sprung a leak. Oh, the joys of motherhood are truly endless! I run to the living room, quietly and still ninja-like, hoping to quickly pump the excess milk, relieve some of the pain, and head to bed for a little more sleep.
By 2:43 it’s back to bed. By 3:13 he is up. Little fucker! I guess that was a good stretch of sleep – for HIM – but I take a moment to mourn my hopes and dreams. Yes, he feeds, lays still in my arms, and retires to his crib for more rest and relaxation. And I, at 3:49, still have yet to get in a real stride. I squeeze my eyes shut. Nothing works. I try hard to sleep. Then I try even harder not to try hard to sleep. I try to be natural, to let things happen. Nothing happens. 3:52. Come on! 3:58. Do I have to pee? 4:07. Fine, let’s just pee and get it out of the way, already.
By 4:11, I’m furious. I want sleep worse than a junkie wants their next hit. I want it more than the British Empire wanted China. I want it even more than Justin Bieber wants to have talent. In fact, at this point, I don’t only want sleep. I need it. Because at this point I am turning into a monster. A zombie.
4:13. I cry into my blanket for a while. It doesn’t help, but it kills some time. 4:29. I settle down. Then it dawns on me that maybe I should stop watching the clock. 4:34. I contemplate what a good point it was, the whole not watching the clock thing. Of course, I don’t have the discipline to follow through. 4:37. More words enter my head. Suddenly I feel them swirling, tumbling, twisting into abstraction. Wait, I know this feeling. It’s the feeling of falling asleep. I know that it’s coming. I don’t want to spook it. So, I try again, really hard, not to try so hard. I don’t want to scare the feeling. I relax into it. I ignore the clock. I ignore my chores and other realities. Forget my boobs. Forget my bladder. Forget my failures. I let go. I truly give in.
The next thing I know, it’s 6:01. All I have to show is another goddamned hour plus of sleep, but I’ll take it. I get up and get my daughter ready for school. My life is on a loop. This is every day or my stinking, sleep-deprived existence. And just like every other day, the one thought that gets me through it is the idea that maybe tonight will be better. Maybe, just maybe, I will get five good hours. Or at very least, maybe my mind will give me some peace and quiet.
Yeah. And maybe someday there will be peace in the Middle East.