I used to sleep. Nine or ten hours a night, sometimes, with a nap during the day. But I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve slept through night in the last twelve years.
I grew up in a house under the flight path to San Francisco International Airport. I’ve lived in apartments that overlooked the El Camino and a major highway. I’ve lived on one of the main streets (and bus routes) of Victoria, with the driveway to the parking lot running right past my bedroom window. I used to have the ability to sleep anytime, anywhere, through any noise.
Then I had a baby and my sleep patterns changed. Actually, changed seems too weak a word to describe what happened. Disintegrated, maybe? Went to wrack and ruin—that works. While neither of my children were good sleepers, my husband sure was (or pretended to be). So from the beginning, I’ve been the nighttime parent, and not just because I had the right equipment for feeding. If the kids woke up for any reason—hunger, nightmares, illness, the sudden need to hear Kenny Loggins’ Return to Pooh Corner for the 342nd time that day, the inability to go the bathroom alone at night even though they were capable of doing so during the day—it was me who got up.
On the rare occasions when my husband did get up to help, he was so inept that he just made the situation worse. He’s a smart guy—I mean really smart. How can someone so brilliant during the day be so useless changing a diaper in the middle of the night? On the worse nights I wondered if he didn’t bumble on purpose so that I’d give up asking for help. (Asking, I’m sorry to say, is also too weak a word to describe what happened on some nights. I once kicked him—literally—out of bed. But when you’re dealing with a premature baby and are sleeping only half an hour at a time, you get desperate.)
Then he did something that made my nights even worse. Child One slept with his favorite teddy, Friend Bear, every night. One day my husband put one of Child One’s t-shirts on Friend Bear. Very cute. Child One decided that Friend Bear must wear the shirt all night, every night. Also very cute, except for the fact that the shirt was bigger than Friend Bear’s entire body and fell off once, twice, three times a night. Although it made no noise, it somehow woke my son up. In addition to my regular nighttime duties, I now became the official put-the-shirt-back-on-the-bear parent.
My children have slept through the night for many years now. Unfortunately, my cats don’t, so neither do I. Dottie gets lonely and wants company. Her tactics for waking me up include tipping over the wastebasket and taking everything out, scratching at the magazine and book baskets, and bringing me her string. My before-bed routine—when I remember, or my middle-of-the-night routine when I don’t—includes putting the wastebasket in the closet, covering the baskets, and hiding the string.
Jamie is a perpetual toddler and his favorite activities are knocking things off of flat surfaces and carrying stuff around. During the night he gets up on the dresser and knocks down whatever’s there, one item at a time. And he brings me things. Knitting needles, Lego, ponytail holders—if he finds something interesting, he wants me to know about it, no matter what time it is.
He loves to sleep on me or next to me. Little Bit likes to sleep next to me too, but because she doesn’t like Jamie much, she sleeps on the opposite side. When I try to turn over, I wake up realizing that I’ve been stuck between the two of them for hours and I’m now too stiff to move.
Little Bit’s favorite place to sleep, though, is under the covers on my husband’s side of the bed. She touches his face with her paw until he wakes up and lets her in. And unlike me, she won’t give up. When he complains about the sleep he loses, I bite my tongue and give her a kitty treat. A little payback is a sweet thing.