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.

Toddler Life, Chapter 76: Infants Are At War With Our Sleep Schedules

I believe I’ve written before about the sixth sense the babies have about the plans adults have made in the house. In short, if you are a parent of a kid under… mine are only 2, so I’m going to extrapolate a little bit here… 7, that kid will inevitably find a way to unearth your plan, smear it with his slobbery little fingers, then shatter it into tiny little pieces, then eat the pieces and poop them out all over the oriental rug in the living room. The priceless one you inherited from your grandmother. The one valued at over ten thousand dollars, because somehow a rug can be worth more than a car.

They know. They have brains the size of baseballs, but they can smell a plan forming, and the smell is abhorrent to them. They don’t have sophisticated language skills yet, or the ability to set a booby trap or actively create a mess for you to clean up at the expense of whatever thing you were thinking of doing, but what they do have is the knack for becoming unignorably needy and unbearably obnoxious.

Case in point:

Morning runs have been getting dodgy of late. My wife is exhausted from the wee hours wake-ups with sprout #2 (justifiably so) and has asked me to help out with some mid-night changings and feedings. (Mid-night is hyphenated, because oh, if only they happened at midnight. No, were they at midnight, they would fall in between REM cycles and allow for a nice long stretch of sleep unbroken before sprout #1 wakes at half-past waaaaay too early. These happen at 10:45 — roughly an hour after we head to bed — and 3 AM — just a few hours before we’re going to wake up.)

There’s a corollary here which neatly encapsulates the Catch-22 that takes place in my house every night (and here, were current events different, I’d quote Bill Cosby’s Himself routine about how “the same thing happens every night”, but the world is an ugly place and I can not currently quote Bill Cosby without feeling a little bit skeevy). Sprout #2 begins crying at oh, whatever time she damn well feels like it. My wife sleeps much more lightly than I do, so she wakes up immediately (I can sleep merrily for at least ten minutes of infant fussing). So she’s awake anyway, but I’ve promised to help out, so wife starts poking me in the ribs to wake me up. I get up. Go downstairs to warm up a bottle. Bring it back upstairs and begin to change baby’s diaper. By the time I get the bottle in her mouth, about twenty minutes have passed since she started crying. It’s a funny trick of the universe that twenty minutes is about the amount of time it would take for my wife to hear the crying, get up, change the diaper, stick a boob in the kid’s mouth, and be back in bed. But I dutifully feed the kid. Sometimes she accepts the bottle, sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, it’s about 40 minutes from the time she originally started crying before I can have the little bundle of joy laid back in her bed; 40 minutes which my wife cannot sleep through because of first the crying and then the slurping and then the singing and fussing and finally the walking around as I soothe baby back (hopefully) to sleep.

If that was too much to follow: it takes my wife 15-20 minutes to settle the crying baby back down with roughly a 95% success rate, and it takes me about 45 minutes to settle the baby with more or less a 30% success rate, because even though the girl can take a bottle, what she really wants is a boob, and to a lesser extent, her mother. But I am trying to help, so I soldier on anyway.

Right, back to the point. Baby wakes up at 4 AM this morning. I have the brilliant idea that I’ll put the baby down, and, since I’ll be awake anyway, I’ll suit up and go for a run, then come back and go to sleep if time allows, and if not, well, the run will have woken me up.

But the baby knows, and she won’t take the bottle from me. I’m determined to pull my weight and let my wife get her last two hours of beauty sleep before she goes to work (she’s making bank while I’m home for the break), so I keep at it. Baby fights me for twenty minutes, drinking about two swallows of milk and drooling half the bottle down her onesie, which then needs changing. Changing the onesie makes her cold, which wakes her up even more. Then she poops, so I have to change her diaper, which makes her even colder.

Now it’s 4:30 AM, and the baby is wide awake. Sometimes she can fake me out and appear to be awake but actually be very very tired, so I lay her in the crib and decide to give her a few minutes to see if she falls asleep while I suit up for my run.

She doesn’t. She begins squalling louder than before. I trudge back in and try the bottle again, but she demonstrates surprising forearm strength and nearly swats it out of my hand. There’s nothing for it: she’s awake, but I’m going to insulate my wife from having to get out of bed, so I take her downstairs and watch her flerp around on the floor for a while. (“Flerping” is that uncoordinated rolling, scooting, flopping and stumbling that only a baby who’s surprisingly mobile but not yet able to crawl can accomplish.) This she does for fully an hour without showing any sign of getting tired.

So I can’t run, because the baby is awake and will cry like I’ve stolen every cookie from her entire life if I lay her in the crib. And I can’t go back to sleep, because if I close my eyes for an instant while the baby is flerping in the floor, she’s likely to pull the Christmas tree over, or gag herself on the tail of a cat, or somehow set fire to the drapes. This infant — brain the size of a baseball, remember — has not only pooped on my plan for a productive early morning, but destroyed my fallback plan of going back to sleep, and has made me feel like an idiot besides for now being stuck on the couch watching her flerp at 5 AM.

5:45 AM comes, and I hear my wife stirring upstairs. I take the baby up and relate the events of the morning, and share my opinion that the baby is probably still hungry since she hasn’t actually eaten in nine hours. My wife takes the baby into the nursery and within two shakes of a cricket’s whisker, the baby is asleep, drunk on breastmilk straight from the tap.

I go for my run anyway at this point, because I’m stubborn like that, and spend the rest of the day in a mind-fog that can only come from … well, from a sleep-deprived night with an infant who is, apparently, smarter than all of us. Or at least smarter than me.

The only rational course is to plan to wake up in the night to feed her. That way, when she foils my “plan”, she will play right into my trap of letting my wife and I sleep through the night.

This will work.

Please, let this work.

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.


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