Toddler Life, Chapter 24: Sleep Debt

I always used to laugh at my dad. He could fall asleep anywhere, at any time. Thirty minutes in his bed in the middle of the day, a quick snooze in his armchair during a commercial break, passing out during the last act of an action movie. And I thought it was just an age thing.

But it isn’t. It’s a parent thing.

And maybe it’s a male parent thing, because my wife hasn’t inherited this ability yet, but I certainly have.

For much of my life, I had a hard time falling asleep. Thirty minutes in bed before I could drop off was pretty normal. An hour wasn’t uncommon. I’d stay up all hours trying to get tired enough to fall asleep without lying there in the dark counting sheep or whatever… not that that ever worked.

Then I worked in logistics, which is a fancy way of saying I threw boxes around in a store outside of business hours. My shift started at 4 AM. I had to go to sleep at 7 PM. I was also in school at the time, taking classes to teach me how to teach, so I was exhausted all the time. Living your life out of step with the world around you — going to bed while others are just getting off work, waking up when some people have just laid down — it makes you feel a little bit like an alien. I look like these other humans, but I’m not like them. Their lives are normal, but I’m always tired, always thinking of sleep, always wondering if I can catch a quick nap. I learned to fall asleep in just a few minutes, and to make the most of a twenty minute nap like a two-hour siesta.

But then I finished school, got a “real” job, and life returned to normal again.

Until I had kids.

Now, I get up at a ridiculously early time, not so that I can get to work on time, but so that I can get in a quick workout before the kids wake up. Then I distract the oldest while I get myself together for work so that my wife can sneak a few more minutes of sleep. I go to work, come home (sometimes pretty late) and get to bed a lot earlier than most of my colleagues because I know what’s coming in the night.

Because with two kids, you never know what to expect. Or rather, you know exactly what to expect, you just don’t know when to expect it. Our youngest hasn’t started reliably sleeping through the night yet. Our oldest is in a phase where he gets “scared” of little noises or things he thinks he sees in his room. I say “scared” because he’s smart enough to know that if he pretends to be scared he can get my wife and I to come fawn over him without being mad at him, so I know he’s playing us at least part of the time.

So I never know when I’m going to get to sleep through the night. My wife pretty much knows she won’t be sleeping through the night, because the youngest is still breastfeeding, and won’t allow me to put her back to sleep most nights. We wake up to crying, wordlessly one of us will go and see to the screamer, and the kids zip off to dreamland immediately, while we the adults have to pick up the pieces of our shattered dreams. So I’ve developed, out of necessity, the ability, once again, to fall asleep in the blink of an eye.

This infuriates my wife, because she has always taken a while to fall asleep. When she wakes up with the baby, it costs her about an hour. Twenty minutes to deal with the baby, and thirty or better to fall asleep again. It only takes me the time it takes to feed the baby plus about two minutes. And that’s not just when I’m lying in my own bed. I can nap on the couch. I can nap at my parents’ house. I can nap in the backseat of the van while we’re driving across the state on a family vacation, like I’m a five-year-old.

But I can’t help it. My wife will rightly point out that I get more sleep than she does, but I am always living on a sleep deficit. I am burrowing deeper and deeper into debt every day against a collector I will probably never fully pay off. So I pay back tiny installments here and there. And I make the most of my lying-in-bed time.

Truth is, I think she’s jealous that she can’t fall asleep like I do. Then again, I’ve got a couple of years on her. Maybe she’ll grow into it.

Last night, my son woke up screaming about bugs in his room. I went in, calmed him down, and lay down in his car bed next to him. I couldn’t tell you what time that was, but it was definitely before midnight. Next thing I knew, it was after 2 AM and I was waking up next to a three-year-old with his arms flung out above his head like Superman frozen in mid-takeoff and his mouth yawning open, spilling drool on his pillow. I had a wicked crick in my back from sleeping half-on, half-off the frame of a bed built for a miniature person… yet I’d logged a solid two hours of sleep there. I extricated myself from the bed with the practiced stealth that only the parent of newborns knows, stole back into bed next to my wife, and was asleep again within moments of my head touching the pillow.

It’s almost bedtime now, and the nine-month-old is already stirring. Looks like another long night.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Sprout Shenanigans

Of course he’s awake.  I mean, why wouldn’t he be?  It’s only 5:30 in the morning.  The sun won’t be up for another hour.  His baby sister will be awake in about fifteen minutes, but after a light snack, she at least will go back to dreamland for another two hours or so.  But no, he’s awake.  Which means have to be awake, because today is my day to get up early with the kids.

Make no mistake, the mind of a child is a lot more powerful than we give them credit for.

On some level, he knows that I agreed to get up for the early shift with the kids so that my wife could have one blessed day of sleeping in.  He knows that we had a drink or two last night and got to bed later than usual.  He knows that I want nothing more than to turn off their monitors and let them cry it out until they fall asleep again, or until I wake up of my own accord.  But I won’t do that, because I’m dad.

They work together in ways you couldn’t imagine, these kids of mine.  Sure, Sprout #2 pretends to be completely defenseless and powerless to do anything and completely dependent upon my wife and I (okay, completely dependent on my wife), but I swear she’s communicating with Sprout #1, who is developing a kind of literary and oratory prowess that unnerves me a little.  Just the other day, he was playing with his toys and without any prompting, warning, or cue, turned to my wife and quoted with authority the entirety of page 37 of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham: “Would you like them in a car?  // I would not, could not, in a car!”  Confession time, that may not be page 37 of the book, but the quote is verbatim; I know this because I’ve only read it to him about four hundred times.  See, lately, he’s graduated from “want that” and “no beef stew” to actually using nouns and verbs together in the way they are intended, his tiny little stabs at formal language taking shape like so much silly putty being formed into the likeness of a sticky pink Statue of Liberty.

So I know he’s communicating with Sprout #2.  Covertly, of course.  While my wife and I think he’s just babbling incoherence or yelling for the sheer joy of hearing his not-so-tiny-anymore voice reverberate off the crayon-festooned walls, he’s slipping her messages.  I can only guess at what they are, but they are coordinating over the past several days in ways too numerous to ignore.  For example…

They don’t nap at the same time.  Ever.  The most we get is a fifteen-minute overlap, presumably the result of Sprout #1 falling too fast asleep and forgetting to wake up to hold up his end of the deal.

Sprout #1 will basically start crying whenever she stops.  He’ll find something to get upset about, something to want that he can’t have, something he wants to do that we can’t allow, something to fall off of and hurt himself.  When she’s crying or upset, he’s mostly cool, but as soon as she chills, it’s time for him to go to eleven.  Sprout #2, on the other hand, cries whenever I look in her direction, except when Sprout #1 is throwing a fit, then she falls asleep in a way that benefits us none at all.  Unless they decide to both go into full four-alarm screaming tantrums at the same time.  Then all you can do is sit on the couch and press your fingers into your temples until the world fades away.  Of course, then, Sprout #1 will throw a full bag of crayons at your unguarded privates, and then the whole screamy world comes crashing back into your cranium.

They can both go from being absolutely adorable to being nightmares out of a Stephen King novel in the space of about ten seconds.  All it takes for Sprout #1 to turn is tripping over a toy, or being told he can’t have a popsicle, or his daddy taking a little too long to get him loaded into the car to go to the playground.  Sprout #2, as I mentioned before, can turn on me in the space of a second for no reason I can discern.  I think she just likes to see if she can make me cry by crying at me, in a weird sort of reversal of the “let me imitate the face you’re making” game that kids apparently like so much.

They coordinate farts.  This cannot be made up, and I would not dare to embellish.  Just this morning (shortly after they both woke up prior to 6 AM) we were sat on the couch watching PUPPY SHOW (I’ve no idea what the show is called, LeapFrog something I think, but Sprout #1 calls it PUPPY SHOW so PUPPY SHOW it is), when I felt the tiny little burst on my left thigh where Sprout #2 was sitting.  Not a moment later, a somewhat bigger, juicier, louder brap on my right thigh.  Then a series of staccato fut-fut-futs on my left thigh from the newborn.  Then a deeper, gut-rumbling pfffththththth on the right. Then I’m sitting there, holding the two of them, laughing so hard I’m crying as their symphony of gastrointestinal woodwinds blows away in my lap.

And of course, they don’t let us sleep in.  No, she wakes up at 5:30 or 5:45 like clockwork for her early morning snack, and he’s up and kicking by 6:30, just about the time my wife is falling asleep again after providing the snack for the newborn.  But no, when it’s Daddy’s morning to get up early with the babies, they’re both up at 5:15 and there is no falling back to sleep for them or for Daddy until the sun is out and it’s so hot in the house no adult could sleep for fear of suffocating on his own sweat.

I love my children, I really do.  But I think they’re trying to kill me.  Not cold-blooded murder, you understand.  Just the long, slow, inescapable death of gradual exhaustion by degrees.


This post is part of SoCS:

What Day Is It, Even? (Or, a teacher’s ode to Summertime)

I mentioned several posts ago how babies are basically localized black-holes that wander through your house and crash into your coffee table, sucking up space-time and stuffing stale Cheerios in their mouths, those slobbery, germy little event horizons.  So time has no meaning in my house at all right now.  Basically, if it’s daylight out, we try to remember to eat and wash the stale sweat off ourselves.  If it’s dark out, we try to put the kids in their beds so that we can put ourselves in our beds.

But that’s life as a new (repeat) parent.  (As soon as I typed “repeat” before parent, just there, it immediately struck me that the phrase was not so very different from “repeat offender.”  Which is horribly apt.  Parents of multiple children should be referred to as repeat offenders: obviously they didn’t learn their lesson the first time around and they need to go into the penalty box again.  The penalty box filled with poop, urine, vomit and tears.)  I’m down with that.  Trouble is, I’m also a teacher, and for teachers, a similar phenomenon takes place annually.Read More »

Toddler Life, Chapter 171 – Bathroom Steak

It’s come to this.

This picture isn't symbolic.  It's exactly what it looks like.
This picture isn’t symbolic. It’s exactly what it looks like.  And yeah, my shower curtain has penguins on it.  Represent.

That, indeed, is a picture of my two-year-old in the bathtub and my steak sitting on the counter.  Never mind the clusterfargo of bottles and shampoos and towels on the counter, that’s called sharing a bathroom with a toddler.  I’ll come back to the picture in a moment.

I want to talk right now to those of you reading this blarg who don’t have kids, who are planning to have kids, who don’t have kids yet, or who occupy any other spot on the spectrum between definitely-not-having-kids-ever and having-kids-tomorrow.  I know you’ve read the blogs and websites and books about having a child and the way it will change your life.  It’s all true.  Read More »

Dad, Reloaded

My life is over, again.

As of 10:36 yesterday morning, I am now the father of a gorgeous, tiny, precious, unbelievable baby girl.  It’s amazing and exhilarating and exhausting, it’s wonderful and terrifying and overwhelming and… well, you get the idea.

Childbirth is one of those things that’s just impossible to describe to somebody who hasn’t lived through it, like an artist trying to describe to a blind man what blue looks like, like an addict trying to explain to a non-user what the first hit of a designer drug is like, like a man trying to explain to a woman what it’s like to pee standing up, like a woman trying to explain to a man why the toilet seat must be lifted and replaced when the man uses it. (Really?  All that work?  Come on.)  If you’ve been through it, you know exactly what I mean without my having to say a thing; if you haven’t, no pithy words I could summon could adequately communicate all the feels.

But that won’t stop me from trying.

Here, then, is what it’s like to be a dad when your wife is having a Caesarian section.

Our daughter’s birth was scheduled for us (how twenty-first century) by doctors who apparently know a thing or two.  None of the fuss over going into labor, having her water break in the back of a cab, no contractions and heavily practiced deep breathing exercises.  We showed up to the hospital at 8, suited up — me in sterile hospital blues, she in a robe which for reasons I don’t fully understand does not close in the back — and waited while a parade of nurses, orderlies and doctors marched through the room, hooking my wife up to this, asking her about that, sampling her fluids and sticking her with sharp things.  The man’s job during all this is to wear a sympathetic face and communicate love to his wife (or the mother of his child).

Game Face.
Game Face.

At 10, the last leg of the parade swept through and carried my wife away with it to an OR, and me to another smaller prep room, this one with sinks and single-serving scrub brushes and non-slip mats on the floor, actually not entirely unlike the dish-washing areas of many restaurants I’ve worked in.  Another processional of doctors and nurses filed through intermittently, scrubbing in and then pushing the door open with their butt and walking in backwards.  I was alone in there for about twenty minutes while they prepped my wife, and that was the point at which the mind really began turning somersaults.

Up until that point, I had not been separated from my wife, so no matter what was going on, no matter what needles were being shoved in her arm or what plastic bands slapped around her wrist, we could always catch each other’s eye with a things-are-okay-I’m-right-here sort of look.  Now, she’s in another room about to be sliced open and I’m cooling my jets on a stool next to a dish sink.  So here the scenarios start to play out.

What if something goes wrong?  What if a nurse carrying a tray of surgical tools trips and she catches a scissors in the eye?  What if the baby comes out missing a finger or a hand?  Will she ever live a normal life?  What if the baby is ugly?  Will I be given the chance to trade it in for a better model?  What if I pass out?  Will they laugh at me and draw a bunch of penises on my forehead?

Then the real serious scenarios start to play out.

What if the anesthesiologist was drunk last night and the epidural goes awry and my wife is paralyzed from the waist down?  What if they nick an artery and my wife bleeds out and I have to raise these two kids by myself?  What if the baby comes out stillborn?

And I start to hyperventilate.

See, modern medicine is magic, but childbirth is one of those things that they can only clean up so much.  There’s no doubt that complications in childbirth are much fewer and farther between than they used to be, and the odds of something significant going wrong during a birth are low enough to make me feel silly when the scenarios begin to unfold like parallel universes in my head.  But at the end of the day, it’s still a living thing clawing toward the light while another living thing squeezes the first one forcibly out of its body cavity.  It ain’t exactly like ripping off a bandaid.  Then there’s the Caesarian section, in which doctors slice open said body cavity, pull out the living thing and assorted viscera, and then stuff the blood and guts back inside and stitch the whole thing up like they’re Chinese sweatshop workers slapping together a pair of Nikes.

So I go into the OR and find my wife paralyzed and restrained, tied down like Gulliver to a great table covered with sheets to shield her and me from seeing the really gruesome bits.  A nurse digs my wife’s hand out from under a swathing of towels and bubble wrap and we clutch at each other’s fingers for reassurance, and I see what I am pretty sure are some of my same fears — certainly similar ones — reflected back in her eyes.

There’s no standing on ceremony, though, and immediately the antiseptic smell of singed flesh fills the room while tubes which run to — there is no other word for them — buckets on the floor below the table fill with reddish, yellowish fluid.  A lot of it.  I try not to look.  I squeeze my wife’s hand again.

“Here she comes, dad.”

What, already?  I get gently shoved past the divide where I see the backs of a lot of scrubs and my wife’s pregnant belly — laid open — they push on it like a deflating volleyball and out she pops: tiny, wriggling. purple, howling, beautiful, mine.  I fight to breathe around the tightness in my chest.  I squeeze my wife’s hand and tell her she did wonderfully, then turn my back on her like she’s a customer who’s paid up and scurry to the little one’s side.  I’m suddenly self-conscious about pointing the camera at her privates.

Then wife and I are separated again — we are escorted through a labyrinth of holding rooms and processing points.  I sign things, baby gets poked and measured, and when we meet mom again it’s like a calm sea after a storm.  There isn’t much to say, it’s just us and our daughter and a love swelling like an inflating hot-air balloon.

With our son, things were different.  He was born with a serious trauma, rushed across town in an ambulance, and separated from his mother for three days before spending twenty-six days in the NICU at Children’s Hospital.  Seeing him for the first time — for both the wife and myself — was a bolt of lightning, laying us flat and burning that feeling of protectiveness and connection into our souls.  Our daughter’s arrival on this earth was almost anticlimactic.  No trauma, no separation, no nerve-wracking month-long hospital stays.  We may go home tomorrow.  She didn’t hit us like lightning, but like a slow-acting nerve agent released into a crowded subway.  We just sat in the room with her for hours while she worked her magic on us.

From the time they first wheeled my wife into the OR to the time our daughter was with us was less than an hour.  Her delivery was scary, but now begins the really frightening part — raising another human when I’m barely capable of keeping myself above water.  Luckily my wife is a lot smarter than I am, and she looks like she has a plan, so I will be following her lead.

Long story short, she has all her fingers and toes and all the necessary parts to qualify as human, so we will probably end up keeping her.  If my contributions here slow down in the near future, blame it on her.  I know I will.  To paraphrase Johnathan Coulton, she’s ruined everything — in the nicest way.