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Creatures in the night

2009 November 8
by Rachel Turiel

I know when Col and Rose are surly teens I’ll long for the days when “night-waking” lit the mental marquee of scary movies playing in my life. Maybe then, when the kids are fibbing about smoking cigarettes in my car (which would follow a long tradition on my side of the family) it’ll seem quaint that my biggest parenting issue was once a set of polyester-covered feet scritching into our room at 3:00 AM; and then again at 3:30 AM and then at 4:00 AM as well.

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these guys are not getting enough sleep!

But right now this night-waking thing, (which both children have taken up – so it’s like we have newborn twins!) feels a bit like I’ve been spending the night at Guantanamo while the CIA tests new strategies.

Getting to sleep is no problem. The children are both very cooperative about bedtime (after naturally, the bedtime snack, books, snuggle, nursing for Rose, lullaby, a drink of water, and some other new items Col is trying to cement into the routine, like this one: hugging me fiercely, chokingly, around the neck and whispering “try and leave Mama”).

Dan and I too, are good at falling asleep. In fact, we’re so tired from our respective 12-hour days (he works 4 ten-hour days with a 45 minute commute each way), that by 8:00 PM all we want to do is lie on the floor and guzzle beer with our eyes closed. Meanwhile Col (who’s as refreshed as a just opened can of Mountain Dew from his 2-hour midday nap) is looking at his field guide to birds, his brain a tangle of questions. “Is this an avocet? Oh, okay, is this an avocet? I’m going to call this one a woodpecker-cardinal! Do you like that idea Daddy? Do you? Daddy?” Poor Dan, whose alarm beeps him awake at 5:45 AM; the other night I caught him peeing sitting down. “I just can’t stand anymore,” he mumbled defeated, while Col chirped “is this one the avocet?”

We have no idea what nudges the children awake in the black, silent heart of the night. Any child that appears by our bedside clutching an armful of “nighttime friends” before 6:00 AM gets whisked back to bed with nothing more than a whispery reminder that “it’s still sleepy time.” As I’m fumbling a 28-pound body back to his or her den, my own lumbering self droopy with sleepiness, I am this equation: mattress + horizontal body = sleep. But when I lay my heaviness back down, another variable sneaks into the equation, precisely between my body and sleep. It’s that maternal adrenaline, kicking in like shards of glass dragging across my brain. I am suddenly “on guard,” alert to the edge of my toenails for unseen threats, like a little person swinging his legs out of bed and aiming them straight for our bedroom.

Dan, who has the sleeping powers of an elderly, medicated dog, is awake for only the two minutes it takes him to relocate a child back to bed, even if said child, or the other, is back like a little swine flu germ in less than twenty minutes. But my body is awash in a symphony of hormones, the ones which were useful when our ancestors were camped out on the savannah, but now, not so much.

Sometimes I am able to grab another thin slice of sleep, like the stale, cold, uncovered sliver of pizza someone left in the fridge when you really wanted a warm, fluffy triangle oozing from the oven. Other times I lay awake contemplating sticker charts, light-up alarm clocks, baby gates and the other suggestions which might require ten nannies to pull off. But mostly I’m just mad, and eye-blinkingly tired. And still mad. And very awake.

Then suddenly it’s 6:00 AM and the kids are up. And they want books and breakfast and elderberry syrup and their new overpriced vitamins and help tugging their pajamas off. And Rose puts on three pairs of pants and then pees through all of them and Col shoots a rubber band at my butt and I burn myself trying to make coffee and the kids fight over who gets to swaddle the polar bear and Rose screams her jungle alarm call and someone is shouting and it’s me.

I sit them down and explain that I’m very tired and have very little patience and I need them to be calm and quiet and not fight and to be very good listeners, all day. And they blink their gorgeous ocean eyes at me and say “okay Mama.” But I might as well have insisted they walk on their hands until they reach the Pacific Ocean.

And they of course go right on being their wild, lovely selves.

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Rose tells Col: “you look boo-tiful in that scarf Coley.”

Col: “Huh?”

Rose (shouting) “you look boo-tiful in that scarf.”

Col: “Oh.”

And two minutes later they’re scrabbling over a green rubber band. Soon the rubber band is forgotten and Col is laughing gently at Rose because she’s coming at him with a screwdriver “I give you a shot Coley, here’s some anti-bigogics.”

And I go on being my ragged, eye-rubbing self, sighing over these wild, lovely children, and spilling coffee on the new sticker chart I’m drawing up.

*night-waking snuffing suggestions accepted!

11 Responses leave one →
  1. rebecca permalink
    November 9, 2009

    hilarious! thanks for the laughs (although i wish it weren’t at the expense of your sanity). sleep good tonight!

  2. Julie permalink
    November 9, 2009

    Oh I love your stories because they so resonate with me especially the mommy bear on alert after I attend to one of them. David is passed out and once I get up, my mommy brain goes into overdrive and just as I am falling back to sleep around sunrise, wham, it is time to get up and attend to kids who are awake and I am dragging my feet all day. Luckily they stay in bed but just call out to mom which I normally attend to but other times I tap David with my foot and wake him up and say, they are calling you, wink, wink, and I go back to bed.

  3. November 9, 2009

    I have no suggestions. This makes me very thankful that my son has not yet figured out how to escape from his crib.

    That conversation is hilarious. Boo-tiful, indeed.

  4. Dianne permalink
    November 10, 2009

    My husband is not home most of the time, so two little boys and two dogs and 2 cats and 10 chickens and 50 pheasant and the woods full of creatures, pretty much gets me up 3 times per night. It’s been 6 years now. I would still keep it like this forever….the day it all “grows away” will be a sad day indeed. Thanks for padding the exhaustion with love and understanding. Time just keeps ticking by, doesn’t it? Your stories are wonderful and relate-able. True stories. Thank you.

  5. November 10, 2009

    Wow, just reading this is tiring. Makes me glad I adopted older kids… LOL

  6. Ellen permalink
    November 11, 2009

    Couldn’t stop laughing…so universal and so funny (when you are not going through it any longer)!

  7. November 18, 2009

    here’s what i deal with: glenn is actually the over-worried, super-paranoid nighttime parent in this house. the girls are now 4 and almost two and we still have the baby monitor in our room. they share a room so we (lucky us!) can hear both of them. every shuffle, sniffle, cough, sigh, shift, etc. comes through to our room at about 20 decibels because glenn insists that’s the only way to know that they’re okay. i often wait ’til he’s asleep and turn it way down, only for him to wake up shortly after, check it, and turn it right back up.

    sometimes he’ll hear a noise and rush into their room to make sure they are both okay… and then HE’S the one waking THEM up…

    and i, with that ancient instinct you are describing, bolt wide awake at every one of those noises, and, just as i am returning to slumber, another one happens, then another, then another…

    i actually told him, just today, that this is ridiculous. tonight, we are turning the dang thing OFF. and if that just won’t work for him, he can sleep on the couch with his beloved monitor!

  8. Liza Tregillus permalink
    November 19, 2009

    You just needed to wait until menopause to match up with this stage. Then you’re awake anyway, and have something useful to do! And hot flashes to keep you warm if the night time house is chilly…

    Hysterical description–and so accurate…I only have a 16 year old at home now, and am stunned to realize how quickly the time with children at home really goes. Not that it feels that way at night when you’re tired!

    You and your children will be so delighted to have memories preserved so beautifully. As for what works at night…I only learned to try to have the kids sleep on as consistent a schedule as possible, and as you are already doing, giving night waking as little payoff as possible. Best wishes!

  9. Mikel Love permalink
    December 1, 2009

    I have sooo much work to get done with two sleeping babies (this won’t last long) snoring in the background. Instead I find myself reading, laughing and crying. I am normally very efficient but am thoroughly enjoying the break!

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