Motherhood and the Luxury of My Broken Sleep

C’mon, admit it. When you were a child of napping age, you knew as well as I did how to muss up your hair, the sheets, and your clothing just so. I hated sleep. I excelled at scrunching up my face before leaving the bedroom, and making my voice just a bit croaky – to demonstrate that I had, in fact, taken the obligatory nap that I knew none of my friends had to take. Sometimes, my mom was on to me and sent me back to bed with, “Don’t you come out until you’ve slept; now I mean it!” I’d wait until she was quiet enough that I knew she was far away in the living room, maybe watching television, back when the channels were free. Or reading a true crime magazine she hid from the eyes of us kids. The coast was clear. Now I could quietly pull out Nancy Drew, or my Spirograph, something quiet to pass the time before mussing up my hair and sheets, smooshing up my face and clothing, and prepping my voice to sound sleepy so I could try leaving my bedroom again. I’d never really fall asleep during the day anyway. Outside the neighbors were loudly whooping it up on the swing set, seeing who could jump out and land the farthest, back when swing sets didn’t come with safety gear, and a good landing in grass and dirt was enough to knock the wind out of a kid – proving they were indeed a hotshot.

Later, when bedtimes moved out to eight, nine, or 10 o’clock, even with permission to read there always came a time when they yelled up the stairs, “I said lights out; now don’t make me come up there!” I still hated sleep. I moved in, under covers with a flashlight and a stack of Teen Beat magazines, studying Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy’s “Favorite Places to Take Girls on Dates,” and reading how to “Win a Trip to Dinner with Erik Estrada.”

For a short period, about age 21, I loved sleep more than dating, eating, dancing, camping, and anything else (except maybe Christmas). I easily slept seven or more hours a night. Even if I stayed until closing, at the pub, dancing in girl groups, I simply slept in longer the next morning.

Then came motherhood, and sweet baby Jeremy. Our perfect son who rarely fussed, nursed easily, potty trained easily, and was just so good-natured. Except at night. During the typical night, he ate more than four times. Four. That’s sleeping in less than 2 hour increments when you count the time it takes to change the wet diaper, nurse on one side, burp, nurse on the other side, burp, and snuggle him back in his cradle. His daddy placed the hot water bottle in the cradle every single time I nursed, removing it when Jeremy was rocking back to sleep. We tried not talking to him; that was a disaster. How can you keep a straight face and not play and interact when your baby coos at you at 3 or 4 am? I certainly couldn’t.

When he was 10 years old and still waking up throughout the night, I remember the thought hitting me that I had gone more than 10 years without a full night’s sleep. And I got up, calming him after a bad dream, bringing drinks of water, turning on the night light. Sometimes making hot vanilla milk to sooth him back to sleep.

Now, in my 50s I still sleep restlessly, waking often. I realize I’ve never really slept well, whether due to the chance of missing out on a good book or Spirograph, swinging or playing; or due to movie stars beckoning me to read about their cars, favorite foods, or pets; or due to my son, crying or cooing, hungry or scared. Or, now, due again to the chance of missing out, missing out on a memory of a son cooing at me in the dark 30 years ago, or sipping hot vanilla milk after a bad dream 20 years ago, or lately texting me “Good night to the old lady whispering hush.”

Motherhood never ends. I still can’t sleep; I might miss out on some motherhood.

*”Good night to the old lady whispering hush” from a beloved book Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, Harper Collins Publisher.