It was right around this time 26 years ago that our family moved to Pennsylvania from New York City. I don’t need a calendar to tell that the date is approaching; I need only listen for the nighttime chirping of crickets that starts in late August, and reaches its cacophonous crescendo in mid-September. Maybe it’s because I grew up amidst the noise pollution of the city but that cricket static soothes me to sleep as sweetly as any lullaby.
It’s staying asleep that’s been a problem.
Let me explain.
When Mike and I were first married, we enjoyed watching the quiz show “Jeopardy.” One
Jeopardy challenge was to guess the subject of this saying:
Nature needs but five,
Custom gives thee seven,
Laziness takes nine,
Hmm. Vacation days? Hot tub soaks? Martinis?
The answer was hours of sleep. The human body, it was said, can function on a mere five hours
of sleep nightly.
Remember, now, Mike and I were newlyweds at the time, making the transition from single to
married life. My own single life had consisted of forty hours of work per seven days, with the
remaining time divided between sleeping and disco dancing. Married life, I found, was not much
different; I just replaced disco dancing with housekeeping activities, while maintaining a rather
indulgent sleep schedule. So, naturally, when I learned that I was supposed to be able to function
on a nickel’s worth of sleep each night, I was incredulous. One year later, though, I couldn’t
muster feelings of incredulity for all the z’s in dreamland. I was just too exhausted. If “nature
needs but five,” my lifestyle had become downright unnatural.
I’d become a mother.
Little did I know that my hands-on education in sleep deprivation had just begun. It took nine
children and 10,000 wakeful nights to earn my degree. Here are a few of the tough lessons I
1) “Sleep like a baby” is a contradiction in terms.
When I was expecting our first child, my mother-in-law told me that newborns sleep
22 hours per day. And maybe they do…on Pluto, where a day lasts 153 hours. In our
corner of the galaxy, however, newborns don’t sleep; they simply switch to standby
mode. The closed eyes, relaxed fists, and angelic expressions of infants in standby give
the appearance of total shutdown. However, the sounds produced by such things as hand
embroidery, the folding of bath towels, and the practice of meditation will cause instant
2) Mommy and Daddy’s bed is the center of gravity.
Girls’ bedroom sets feature pastel princesses and enough frilly accessories to keep
Cinderella dusting past midnight. Boys’ ensembles flaunt unnaturally-colored
dinosaurs embedded with computer chips that “roar” each time Junior springs out of
bed. Appealing, yes, but the kids won’t stick around long enough to enjoy such finery.
Most nights they’ll abandon their charmed quarters for their parents’ fuddy-duddy
posturepedic. Even if Daddy does end up doing some roaring of his own – without the
aid of a computer chip.
3) Once Dad starts packing, the kids begin hacking. Or worse.
No sooner had Mike departed for a business trip to England than a stomach virus intruded
on our family, taking down everyone under age 12. While Mike was toasting London,
I was home toasting Wonder bread to settle queasy stomachs. Seventy-two hours later,
I stood among the dirty laundry and dry toast crusts, trying to wish myself into some
condition which would require complete bed rest and a call to the local maid service. I
never made it into bed, but I did come down with the stomach flu – at a more opportune
time. (See #4.)
4) Husbands need their blankies, too.
Your husband will suffer acute pains of loneliness while you are off feeding Baby at
2:00am. He may even swipe your blanket in a touching attempt to recreate the nearness
of you. Don’t disturb his slumber by taking back your blanket when you return to the
bedroom. Instead, get down on the dark floor and feel your way among the articles of
work clothing which he has been tossing there every afternoon for the past 5 days. Try
to locate something snuggly and warm – a terrycloth piece, perhaps- and wrap yourself
in it before climbing into bed. With luck, you’ll experience a sudden, violent episode of
stomach flu while nestled in Hubby’s plush monogrammed bathrobe.
5) 3:12 on a Tuesday morning is a good time to redecorate.
Just you and your wee nursling, in the wee hours, cuddling in your own special recliner.
And since the clutter was shoved under the sofa when Mom came to visit last evening,
the furniture is free of its usual veneer of books, blocks, and burp cloths. Never mind
that the late hour has you feeling more like Rip Van Winkle than Martha Stewart; there’s
no better time to uncross your tired eyes and take a critical look at the living room decor.
May as well make the most of those twenty-five minutes in which you’re confined to a
chair with nothing to do but stare at your surroundings while your little one is snacking.
Besides, the creative thinking might even stimulate your brain cells enough to prevent
you from lapsing into semi-consciousness and letting Baby roll off your lap and onto the
Yes, my eyes can be as puffy as my hardly-used pillow. But I like to dwell on the thought that
one day I’ll have the chance to catch up on the sleep I lost through years of “nighttime parenting.”
It WILL happen.
On good nights she gets five
If she’s lucky, maybe seven
And the only time
She’ll merit nine
Is when she gets to heaven.
Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe