sleep deprivation

Broken Time

dali-469x340

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931

Of all of the clocks in my life right now, not a single one tells the right time.

To begin with, there’s the giant wall clock in my office at work. Up until last week, it was off by an hour plus some minutes. Daylight savings time had ended, but I still hadn’t gotten around to changing it. Often, when a student or colleague visited my office, they would glance up at the clock on their way out. “Is that the right time?” they always asked, alarmed. “No,” I got used to saying. It was a little funny to watch the momentary panic rise up in them and fade. It’s always disturbing to think you’ve lost your grasp of time.

Earlier this week the clock’s battery died, and now my office time is permanently 9:43. It turns out to be a surprisingly useful time, since I teach at 10 am. If I look up at the clock it conveys urgency—class is starting soon!—while at the same time it’s reassuring—I still have eighteen minutes to prepare. All morning now, I work away as if I have eighteen minutes left.

il_340x270.631451604_gfxxThere is another wall clock in the classroom where I teach, and on the first day, it was stuck at 8:20. The class has continued for two full weeks, and every day the time has been wrong in a new way. On Tuesday it was exactly an hour behind, and on Wednesday it was five minutes ahead. To cope, I’ve been checking my iPhone every so often, which I worry makes me look unprofessional, like a texting professor. Correcting the problem would require me to remember to submit a work order from my office so that a worker could arrive during off hours with a ladder and new batteries. I find myself brooding over what this means, that even in a lecture hall full of computers and cell phones the marking of time still requires maintenance; we still feel the need to look up towards the ceiling and see time marked, accurately, on the round face of an analog clock.

At my house we have two kitchen clocks and they are both ten minutes fast, because Kellie insists this practice helps her be on time. I’ve lived with these kitchen clocks this way for about twelve years, and I’m still doing subtraction every time I glance at them. Subtracting ten isn’t hard to do, but still, the action makes it seem like time is imprecise. In the world of our kitchen, I live in the illusion that I’m always late, or that I always have an extra ten minutes.

Digital_clock_changing_numbersThe bedroom alarm clock, a classic faux-wood box with glowing red digits, is also ten minutes fast. In the bedroom, it must be said, loose time bothers me less. What drives me crazy about the bedroom clock is that Kellie often sets it face down so that the glowing red digits don’t keep her awake. When the face is down, I wake up and look around in darkness, unmoored, unsure if I’ve been asleep for seven hours or twenty minutes.

My internal clock is also broken. Stump has broken it, many times and in many ways. Most recently, he has broken me by refusing to sleep past 5:30. Some mornings he wakes at 4:50; other mornings he makes it to 5:10. (Subtract ten minutes from these times. I’m looking at the bedroom clock.) My body likes to rise at seven, but after two weeks of early rising, I jolt awake now at 5:05. I wonder, will this be the morning that Stump sleeps until six? I try not to stir, for he is next to me in the bed. I can’t help it. I move an arm. He wakes. The pattern continues.

I remind myself that time passes in larger swaths too. When this pattern began, I told myself it would last a few days, maybe a week. Now I tell myself that even if it lasts months it’s still temporary, a blip in my life that I may barely remember at the end of this year.

And, once it’s forgotten, once I am rested, the whole thing will be erased from time, more or less.

Looking for a Hole in the Space-Time Continuum

Summer has ended and already I’m tired.

Last night Stump woke up at 3 am and remained awake for two full hours, insisting Nurse? Nurse? Nurse? every moment I wasn’t nursing him. When I woke up at seven, he was still nursing, his hair all sweaty beneath my armpit. When I finally got up, Smoke decided to show his love for me by smacking me repeatedly on the butt while I packed his lunch. Meanwhile, Stump spent the next hour attempting to raid Smoke’s marker stash; he screamed in agony every time I forcibly removed a marker from his death grip. The moment before we left, I discovered red scribbles all over our white kitchen chairs. I have no idea how he managed this; he hadn’t left my sight for a moment.

One small thing that helped: on the way to work, as Stump was fussing the backseat, whining for another cookie and another cookie and another cookie (the daytime equivalent of Nurse, Nurse, Nurse) I drove by a man with a beard who was riding a motor scooter and wearing a long floral print dress that fluttered in the wind.

At this point, I’ve given up all hope of getting ahead, of managing the exploding messes in my house, of getting my teaching tasks preemptively in order for next week when the papers roll in. But I’d like to catch up on sleep, on reading and TV—these are small missions I began over the summer but haven’t completed. The other day I realized that all of this would be possible if only I could find a time warp somewhere. Ever since then I keep dreaming about it, as if it’s a distant but actual possibility like winning the lottery or landing a book deal.

A stellar-mass black hole in orbit with a companion star located about 6,000 light years from Earth.

Last week as Kellie watched the show Cosmos, I heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson explain that if you wandered into a black hole you would most likely die by spaghettification, your body stretching until it snapped. But if you were lucky and entered in just the right spot, in theory you might survive.

Would there be room for a bed in there? Could I bring a backpack with some toiletries,  some books and chocolate and beer?

This is my Dream: No Parenting After 8pm

Several years before I had children, I attended a panel discussion that featured five successful authors. I remember next to nothing about the main event, but I do remember that when the moderator asked for questions from the audience, someone spoke up. She asked:

For those of you who are parents, how do you find the time to be creative?

Four of the five panelists were parents, and their answers were surprisingly similar. They woke up early. By early, I mean four in the morning, or five. But the most striking response came from poet Frances McCue who also woke up early, but added, simply: “I don’t parent before nine am.” This got a laugh of course, but she meant it. Her daughter was nine years old at the time, old enough to get herself dressed and pour her own cereal. If she wanted something at 8:45, she was reminded of the policy.

I believe there’s a reason I’ve been remembering that for the last ten years.

Dre

Currently, waking up early and enjoying time to myself isn’t an option. These days, Stump sleeps relatively well between 8:30 pm and 5 am, but between 5 and 7, he insists on sharing the bed with me. If I get up, he gets up.

Smoke is demanding on the other end of things. Lately he stays up past nine most nights, in part because it’s summer and light outside until ten, and in part because his bedtimes are still elaborate affairs. We can’t simply read him a book and kiss him on the cheek. He wants to read a little, and talk a lot, and read a little more. Then he wants one of his moms to lie with him until he falls asleep. We grant him this because it is the only hour where he doesn’t have to share our attention with his wild and willful little brother.

HarHar

It’s no wonder then that I stay up late most nights. It’s often 10 pm before I catch a moment to myself, and the moment is too precious to sleep through.

This summer I visited a friend with one child, a baby who goes to sleep before seven each night. I tried to imagine what that would be like, to have a quiet house at an hour where it was conceivable that I still might have some energy. I decided that would feel sane. I decided that was something to strive for.

And I will; I will strive for that. It won’t happen next week or next month, and I don’t think that seven is our hour. But I’m imagining the day when Stump is just a little older, when I can read both of my boys a book or two in bed together, then say goodnight and leave them to keep each other company. I will turn out the light and close the door, claim two glorious hours to myself and still wind up in bed at ten.

Please. I’m telling myself that this can happen. Allow me to dream this, okay?

I’m Leaving Home

I’m leaving home this Tuesday and I’m not bringing my family with me. It will be the first time I’ve left Stump overnight. I’ll be flying out of Seattle to go to a four-day work-related conference in—-wait for it-—Utah.

I was invited in December and I thought that of course by then Stump and I would be ready for the separation. By then, of course, he would be sleeping though the night, and not crying every time I left the room. Oh, and I figured he’d be toilet trained, able to dress himself, and feed the dogs. And while it’s true that he’s grown and changed in the last six months, he hasn’t achieved any of the goals that I just named. He can now say “Mom-meeeee” while he’s crying. And twice in the last month he’s slept until 4 am without waking up and demanding milk. That’s about as far as we’ve come.

This is how we sleep.

This is how we sleep.

So I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I’ve been dreading this trip, entertaining the worst-case scenario as the most likely scenario.

In the worst-case scenario, Stump barely sleeps for the three nights I’m away. He wakes up screaming and refuses to be consoled. Kellie loses her mind from the sleep deprivation, and when we talk on the phone, she makes sure that I know how miserable they are. I am miserable in Utah. It’s hot, and the pool is scummy, and everyone at the conference wears suits. I come home with bedbugs. Stump, upon seeing me, bursts into tears of anger and relief. Everyone is exhausted, including me. We never catch up, and Stump never forgives me. He grows up to be a convict, or an author of short stories that always feature neglectful mothers.

This worst-case scenario has been turning over and over in my head. But there have been a few brighter moments where I’ve entertained a best-case scenario.

In the best-case scenario, Stump is easy because I’m gone. He’s a little fussy the first night, but settles with a some comforting. He gets it that nursing is not an option, and the by third night he’s learned to sleep soundly. The hotel in Utah has a beautiful pool, and there’s a convenient place to hike. I eat good food and drink some wine with colleagues. I come home refreshed to a house of pleasant people who have had a good time without me, and a baby who is happy to see me and who now sleeps through the night.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m Too Tired to “Savor this Moment”

IMG_0902

My younger son sleeps well from eight until midnight. At midnight he cries, nurses, and pretends that all is well. Twelve minutes later he’s crying again. And then again, and again, like clockwork every twelve minutes. On a good night I may lose two hours to this rhythm. On a bad night, I barely sleep at all. People had told me that second children often sleep better than the first. During my pregnancy, I prayed that this baby would be a sleeper—I even bargained with the gods, offering to take some other difficulty in exchange, just please let this baby sleep better than the first. But this morning at four am, I heard myself telling my partner Harlan never was this bad, and she agreed, instantly. (My partner rarely agrees instantly.)

This is one of the reasons why I’m tired.

Also, I’m tired because the baby can now crawl faster than I can walk and make messes faster than I can clean them up. This means that we are a walking equation of energy conserved vs. energy expended and there is no feasible way for me to come out on top. For instance, if I want to do a the dishes before putting him to bed, I have to be okay with him unpacking, tearing, and drooling on the pile of papers we’ve stashed behind the cupboard.

IMG_0908

These days, I find myself astonished by the sheer repetition of things. I can’t believe that we have to eat dinner every single night when we’ve already eaten breakfast and lunch, that each of these meals fills the sink with more dishes, that the baby needs his diaper changed again, and this is his fifth poop of the day.

I’m so tired that when I hear that advice from well-meaning people about savoring every moment with my children, I can’t help but feel guilty because I spend so many moments doing precisely the opposite. Rather than being present, I look forward to the day when the baby is old enough that I can ask him to fetch me the scissors and he will do that for me while I remain on the couch. That’s all. I don’t dream about college or weddings or grandchildren; I dream about being able to finish a conversation with my spouse, or eat an entire meal uninterrupted; I dream about the day that I can sleep for eight hours uninterrupted, the day I stop dreading bedtime.

Sometimes I think about the people who tell me to savor every moment. Often they are parents whose kids are teenagers or long grown and they’d give anything to hold their own babies in their arms one more time, to smell their heads, to be drooled on, to change diapers just for an hour or a day. And maybe they regret every moment they spent staring off in space or wishing their kids could fetch them the scissors already. To those parents, I just want to say: It’s okay. You were there. You loved some of those moments. But also, remember. You were really, really tired.