sleep deprivation blues
8 December 1999
[disclaimer of sorts, in honor of truth and justice and the integrity of the journal form: this entry is an amalgam of five sucky nights, not an exact account of a specific night’s events]

Eleven p.m. and not only is he not asleep but he’s pushing my arm with his foot, tangling my hair in his fist and yanking, and then giggling and giving my nose a good hard tweak.

No, I’m not talking about Dan. Yes, I’m talking about Damian. My nineteen month old son who has decided sleep is for wimps.

<creak creak creak> Antique rocking chair, aging floorboards, turn of the century house. Rocking Daddy getting eons older by the minute. Creak sing creak sing creak sniffle sing cry.

"Can you try to nurse him again?"

Wordless, I hold my arms out. Settle a somewhat reluctant Damian onto the nursing pillow.

No thanks, kid, I’m not in the mood for a foot sandwich right now.

How are we going to get this little boy to sleep?

To Advil or not to Advil, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the kicks and punches of small restless ones or to take arms against a sea of troubles with a dose of drug, and by drugging end them. To sleep. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. Ah, to sleep...

Analysis required: reasons for restlessness. Input before action.

Ear infection? No fever, but still possible. He’s been sticking his fingers in his ears on and off all day. Then again, maybe he just figured out there are finger-sized holes in there.

Teething? God, the never ending tooth parade. Just when you think you’re done, another emerges from beneath the gum, a seething ocean of white pointy nosed sharks, these teeth. Evil evil things. Why do people need teeth, anyway?

But probably not teething. He’s not chewing everything in sight.

Growth spurt? I once asked our old pediatrician, "when are the standard growth spurts supposed to occur?" Hoping to be forewarned. As if I could somehow stockpile sleep to be used at some future date. He cracked up. "All the time. Never stops." Yeah, okay, laugh at my expense. I’m just a poor sleep-deprived parent.

Development spurt? Oh yes. Yes indeed. Or as Damian would say, "golly goody da." (Da means yes.) New words every day, plus a steady stream of gibberish. Why oh why do brain synapses firing in new patterns, filling blank space with imprint upon imprint, why does this mean no sleep? Can someone tell me that?

One a.m. He’s asleep. Finally asleep. Blessed blessed sleep. Arms windmilling, legs twitching, eyes popping open until the last possible moment as he struggled valiantly to stay awake. But this round goes to the Sandman by a hair.

Two a.m. Bolt awake. What’s that? On the monitor: sounds like "cat golly deedee." And then a snore.

I settle back into the warm comfort of a peaceful bed. For the moment.

Three a.m.
Blankets rustle, magnified by the sensitive monitor so it sounds like trees swaying in a heavy wind. I lie in bed, willing him to sleep longer, willing myself back to sleep.

Three fifteen a.m. Sniffles and whimpers from the monitor. I stand up, click the bedrail up into place. Shrug on my sweater, protection from the chill air. Forget to turn off the monitor. As I open the nursery door, I hear the feedback’s shrill keen like an echo of my state of mind. Gather my poor wakeful monkey into my arms. Please God, I promise to believe in you if you let him go back to sleep quickly and easily and stay asleep the rest of the night.

Not to worry. I don’t need to start going to temple anytime soon. As soon as we start the side-lying nursing-to-sleep ritual, he sticks his finger in my eye. Pulls the blanket over his head. Runs his hand over the mesh of the guard rail.

Maybe if I stay perfectly still, he’ll wear himself down and fall asleep?


Three forty five. Hoist him up onto my shoulder. Off to the rocking chair.

Creak creak creak. Dead weight on my shoulder, on my chest, on my abdomen, small toes that twitch on my leg. Small sharp toenails that dig into my thigh.

I wish I wish I wish I could give him to Dan; the sound of rocking might keep me awake but I’d be free of this burden, this responsibility for another person’s insomnia. This heavy weight on my body and inside my brain. Free just for a half hour. To lie alone in bed and dream-wake-drift. But I tried that, last night. Damian cried like his little heart was breaking. Separation anxiety is a bitch, especially at four a.m.

I resent him at this hour. I hate myself for it, I know he’s not having insomnia to spite me, but I envy all the childless people I know, envy them their eight hours uninterrupted sleep. I wish for a sleep potion from a powerful wizard. I wish I had one of those kids who sleep straight through from three months on. I wish my love for him were so pure I could take these things in stride. But I can’t. I just can’t. I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to sleep. Instead I rock.

As he eases into relaxation, I can feel the pressure building in my poor benighted bladder. Uncomfortable at the best of times, it objects strenuously to the twenty two pound weight of a toddler pressing down for half an hour. Finally I can’t stand it, I lurch up off the chair, pad into the bathroom with my symbiote son stirring in my arms. Knowing I’m probably damning myself to another wakeful hour.

Back in bed. Nursing to sleep? No, just nursing for comfort, for closeness. But I’ll take what I can get. Horizontal is something. I throw a t-shirt over my eyes to block the light from outside and hope Damian settles down. He spots the shirt, says "hat" and grabs it gleefully.


Up again, this time to sit in the living room. Maybe he’ll play and wear himself out. But no, he wants to snuggle, lie half-awake in my arms. I think he’s finally giving in to exhaustion.

Back to the rocking chair. Rock till you drop. Rock rock rock around the clock tonight.

The sky outside brightens and glows. Birds chirp. They’re awfully chipper for this hour. Must’ve gotten a good night’s sleep. Hmph.

I ease him into bed. He reaches for me, draws his body close against mine. Falls into slumber. Completely motionless.

For two hours, anyway. Dan gets up to go to work, sees a restless Damian directing traffic in his sleep. Arms pointing here, there, everywhere. He wakes up soon after. So of course I do too.

The morning consists of:

"Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want to go take a nap now? Let’s go to bed, Damian. Doesn’t that sound nice, a good long midmorning snooze?"

No luck. He wants to play in the sandbox, go for a walk, torment the kitty.

My legs ache, my stomach churns. My brain is on ice. There’s a noticeable delay between thought and action as my nervous system has to fire and then fire again to get my numb body to respond. Why isn’t he as tired as I am?

Two p.m. He stumbles on a doorstep, falls and scrapes his palms. Getting clumsy, a sure sign of imminent naptime. Thank god.

Two ten p.m. He nurses to sleep in a matter of minutes. I ease him into the crib, gently tuck a blanket around him, pad out of the room.

Back in my own bedroom. Alone. Completely alone. The sound of soft breaths on the monitor.

Blessed sleep awaits.

I snuggle into cool sheets and warm quilt, put that shirt over my eyes (echo of "hat" in my mind) and lie there.

Wide awake.


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