There comes a day in every sleep-deprived parent’s life when you will wake up one morning and something will feel different. Then, somewhere in the middle of cleaning a closet, or successfully inserting your contacts into eyes that for some reason don’t feel like they’ve been rubbed with sandpaper, or completing a sentence for the first time in months (okay, years), you will realize what it is. You got a full night of sleep. Eight hours, baby. Uninterrupted. No really, it happens.
You might not even pay much attention that first night. It might only be after a few nights of restorative, deep slumber that the cobwebs have cleared sufficiently for you to recognize the change. You might be so accustomed to drifting off in the middle of a conversation, forgetting where you were going when you are halfway there or misplacing your left shoe, that you will not notice that your shoes match, you only had to go to the grocery store once to get every last thing on your list and you actually heard the end of Great-aunt Bessie’s latest golf adventure story.
At first, you will not trust your new-found sleep habits. You will believe it is a passing stage, a phase of the moon, a cruel tease. You will brace yourself each night for the inevitable door creaking open, pitter-patter of feet, request for a blanket or a drink of water or a monster conqueror. You will still DVR your favorite shows and go to bed early secure in the knowledge that you will be on your second cup of coffee when the early news starts at 4:30 am. You won’t, however, DVR the episodes of The Backyardigans that run in the wee hours because you will be certain that you will be watching those live in just a few short hours. You might even wake up a few times in those first few weeks, ears straining to hear the sounds that have punctuated every.single.night since you became a parent.
But they will never come. Eventually, you will believe. You will stay up and watch Jimmy Fallon and finally learn who the Roots are. You will make plans to meet a friend for a 5:30 am workout because you will be rested and 5:30 used to practically be lunchtime for you. You will meet your Great-aunt Bessie for lunch (wearing two of the same shoes) and you will say to her, “Oh, how interesting, Aunt Bessie. Now tell the one about the bird stealing your ball again.” And you will actually remember what she says. Your partner will look at you as if remembering a person from their past, one who was pleasant and enjoyable and with whom they would like to reacquaint themselves. And after all that, you will cook dinner for the kids, make their lunches ahead of time and do a load of laundry because you can. You have slept soundly. Again.
Then, after a few years of slumber with only illness or smoke alarms that are, I am convinced, programmed to only lose their battery life at 2 am in the morning, to interrupt your magazine-prescribed eight hours, you will find that your babies have grown into tweenagers. And one day, you will find yourself hobbling around the grocery store in one navy shoe with a two inch heel and one black ballet flat, trying to remember why you’re there in the first place and wondering if Great-aunt Bessie needs new tennis balls and you will ask yourself how it all came to this.
The life coach that you started seeing because you were feeling vigorous enough to consider a career change will survey your disheveled self and suggest that you account for each hour of your day to help figure out what went wrong.
And that’s when you will understand. You aren’t getting enough sleep. But how can that be? You have older kids. No one is wetting their bed or having bad dreams anymore. Even when they’ve got the stomach bug, they get up, puke and go back to bed. The only time you get the tap is when they don’t make it to the toilet. How is it possible that your eight hours have dwindled?
I will tell you, my bleary-eyed friend. It’s because your children will never, ever go to bed. After you have finished driving them to rehearsals and practices and lessons that don’t end until you are crying tears of despair and exhaustion, they will stay up to all hours of the night playing video games, challenging each other to endless (loud) games of ping-pong, texting with friends or finishing the homework they should have done last weekend but went to a sleepover instead.
And you might think that you can just tell them you’re going to bed and they can fend for themselves, but you can not. Why? Because just as your head hits the pillow, they will come into your room and ask you the square root of 413. Or whether you remember how to solve a quadratic equation. Or, you will hear noises from the kitchen that sound suspiciously like the gas stovetop being ignited to scramble eggs for a second, or third or fourth dinner. Or, you will just be so type-A that you will lie there sleepless, fuming at the idea that you will wake in the morning to find dirty glasses in the sink or every light in the house illuminated (just in case you need to be seen from space.)
But do not make the mistake of thinking that you will make up for lost time by sleeping in. It will never happen. Not on a weekday. Not on a weekend. Please understand that middle school starts early. Like ass-crack of dawn early. Like, my daughter takes a photo of the beginnings of the sunrise on her bus ride every morning early. And high school only gets worse, I am told. Weekend, you say? Nope. Because even when they are twelve, you will have one eye turned towards college transcripts and you will be schlepping them to lacrosse tournaments, or Boy Scout campouts or dance rehearsals.
You do have the option of burrowing deep under the covers and telling them to get their own damned breakfast and, after the night you will surely have had, I wouldn’t blame you one bit. But remember this: if you do sleep in, you might miss the one chance you have of touching your child that day.
See, these teens, they don’t like the shows of affection so much anymore. But if you catch them right when they’re waking up, you might be able to smooth the hair away from their forehead and drop a quick kiss before they know what hit them. Or, they might just let you scratch their back and while you’re doing that, you might even have a chance to ask them about an upcoming test, or their friends, or their feelings before they come to their senses and snap the surly mask securely into place for the day.
So, if you are closing in on the sweet sleep spot, the fleeting years between babyhood and the rest of your life, or if you are there now, take my advice, enjoy it. Savor it. Relish it. Because those years are short and, once you enter the sleep-free world of tweens and teens, you won’t remember them anyway.
As for me, in a few short years, I will be the parent of a driver. So that’s enough to keep me up at night. Well, that and the hormone fluctuations. But it’s fine. I was up already anyway.