Creatures in the night
I know when Col and Rose are surly teens I’ll long for the days when “night-waking” lit the mental marquee of scary movies playing in my life. Maybe then, when the kids are fibbing about smoking cigarettes in my car (which would follow a long tradition on my side of the family) it’ll seem quaint that my biggest parenting issue was once a set of polyester-covered feet scritching into our room at 3:00 AM; and then again at 3:30 AM and then at 4:00 AM as well.
But right now this night-waking thing, (which both children have taken up – so it’s like we have newborn twins!) feels a bit like I’ve been spending the night at Guantanamo while the CIA tests new strategies.
Getting to sleep is no problem. The children are both very cooperative about bedtime (after naturally, the bedtime snack, books, snuggle, nursing for Rose, lullaby, a drink of water, and some other new items Col is trying to cement into the routine, like this one: hugging me fiercely, chokingly, around the neck and whispering “try and leave Mama”).
Dan and I too, are good at falling asleep. In fact, we’re so tired from our respective 12-hour days (he works 4 ten-hour days with a 45 minute commute each way), that by 8:00 PM all we want to do is lie on the floor and guzzle beer with our eyes closed. Meanwhile Col (who’s as refreshed as a just opened can of Mountain Dew from his 2-hour midday nap) is looking at his field guide to birds, his brain a tangle of questions. “Is this an avocet? Oh, okay, is this an avocet? I’m going to call this one a woodpecker-cardinal! Do you like that idea Daddy? Do you? Daddy?” Poor Dan, whose alarm beeps him awake at 5:45 AM; the other night I caught him peeing sitting down. “I just can’t stand anymore,” he mumbled defeated, while Col chirped “is this one the avocet?”
We have no idea what nudges the children awake in the black, silent heart of the night. Any child that appears by our bedside clutching an armful of “nighttime friends” before 6:00 AM gets whisked back to bed with nothing more than a whispery reminder that “it’s still sleepy time.” As I’m fumbling a 28-pound body back to his or her den, my own lumbering self droopy with sleepiness, I am this equation: mattress + horizontal body = sleep. But when I lay my heaviness back down, another variable sneaks into the equation, precisely between my body and sleep. It’s that maternal adrenaline, kicking in like shards of glass dragging across my brain. I am suddenly “on guard,” alert to the edge of my toenails for unseen threats, like a little person swinging his legs out of bed and aiming them straight for our bedroom.
Dan, who has the sleeping powers of an elderly, medicated dog, is awake for only the two minutes it takes him to relocate a child back to bed, even if said child, or the other, is back like a little swine flu germ in less than twenty minutes. But my body is awash in a symphony of hormones, the ones which were useful when our ancestors were camped out on the savannah, but now, not so much.
Sometimes I am able to grab another thin slice of sleep, like the stale, cold, uncovered sliver of pizza someone left in the fridge when you really wanted a warm, fluffy triangle oozing from the oven. Other times I lay awake contemplating sticker charts, light-up alarm clocks, baby gates and the other suggestions which might require ten nannies to pull off. But mostly I’m just mad, and eye-blinkingly tired. And still mad. And very awake.
Then suddenly it’s 6:00 AM and the kids are up. And they want books and breakfast and elderberry syrup and their new overpriced vitamins and help tugging their pajamas off. And Rose puts on three pairs of pants and then pees through all of them and Col shoots a rubber band at my butt and I burn myself trying to make coffee and the kids fight over who gets to swaddle the polar bear and Rose screams her jungle alarm call and someone is shouting and it’s me.
I sit them down and explain that I’m very tired and have very little patience and I need them to be calm and quiet and not fight and to be very good listeners, all day. And they blink their gorgeous ocean eyes at me and say “okay Mama.” But I might as well have insisted they walk on their hands until they reach the Pacific Ocean.
And they of course go right on being their wild, lovely selves.
Rose tells Col: “you look boo-tiful in that scarf Coley.”
Rose (shouting) “you look boo-tiful in that scarf.”
And two minutes later they’re scrabbling over a green rubber band. Soon the rubber band is forgotten and Col is laughing gently at Rose because she’s coming at him with a screwdriver “I give you a shot Coley, here’s some anti-bigogics.”
And I go on being my ragged, eye-rubbing self, sighing over these wild, lovely children, and spilling coffee on the new sticker chart I’m drawing up.
*night-waking snuffing suggestions accepted!