I have a vague recollection of what sleep was like pre-kids. I remember it being more plentiful. And the quality of the sleep itself was much better before I grew “mom ears” and started waking up immediately when a 30-pound person 20 feet away through two solid wood doors rolled over. I remember waking up on weekends so lazily, the slowly stirring awareness of consciousness settling over my hazy mind.
Then the children came.
When they’re babies, it’s just plain old sleep deprivation. Nothing fancy, just a basic form of torture outlawed by the Geneva Convention yet somehow totally cool when perpetrated by a tiny human that looks marginally like you. Then as they get older, their torturing skills mature. It becomes less about brute force denial of sleep and more about finding psychological mechanisms for draining the joy out of the act of sleep.
To best illustrate my point, here you are — a compilation of the seven ways I woke up this week.
Monday — 4:17 a.m.
I am asleep. I sense something. A presence. I slowly come out of my slumber and crack open a single eye. My 5-year-old daughter stands next to my bed, staring intently at my face. She looks concerned. Worried. Like something very deep is on her mind. Something that requires immediate conversation. A warm feeling of love for her washes over me. She needs me. I am here for her no matter what time it is.
Me: What’s up, sweet pea? You look worried.
Her (deadpan): Mom, how big is Tom Brady?
Her: How big is Tom Brady?
Me: You mean, like, the football player?
Her: Yeah, how big is he. Is he bigger than Papa?
Me: Did you wake me up at 4 in the morning to ask me this?
Her: What’s 4 in the morning?
Me: Go back to bed.
She does not go back to bed.
Tuesday — 2:21 a.m.
A jolt of electricity zaps through my body as I am tased awake by a blood-curdling scream. My 2-year-old son is lying on the floor in his room, writhing in agony. He’s screaming, clutching the trunk of his little body, consumed by this demon that possesses him. I throw myself onto the floor and wrap him in my arms, checking for blood or swelling or protruding broken bones.
Me: Baby, what’s wrong?!
Him (screaming): Gahhhhhblaaaframmmbbbb!!!
Me: I don’t understand what you’re saying! Are you hurt? What’s wrong?
Him (wailing): IIIIIIIIII wannnnnnnnnanananaaaaaattttttggggggg!!!
Me: You want something? What do you need?
Him: I WANT A HOT DOG!!!
He does not get a hot dog.
Wednesday — 6:35 a.m.
I am asleep. I am in my bed. It is quiet. I slowly open my eyes and see my 5-year-old snuggled between me and my husband. She is adorable and sleeping and I smile looking at her little face. She stirs. Her big brown eyes open.
Me: Good morning, baby. I love you!
Her: I had a pee-pee accident.
I suddenly become aware of my wet PJ pants clinging to my legs.
Thursday — 12:06 a.m.
I am asleep. My mom ears detect footsteps in the hallway. It’s the 2-year-old. He might go back to bed. I’m not getting up. He goes down the stairs. I’m not getting up. Then the sobbing begins. I get up.
Me: Buddy, what’s the matter?
Him (wailing): I want my grrfssy!
Me: Your what? Your cup?
Me: You want your cow? (stuffed cow named “Corn-Corn” — a big deal)
I pick him up and carry him upstairs and into his room. I snuggle him while he cries hysterically. After a solid 15 minutes of trying to discern what the heck he is so upset about, I deduce that he was saying “gifts.” He woke up thinking it was Christmas and that Santa didn’t come. Dear God, it’s August.
Friday — 6 a.m.
My alarm goes off. I open my eyes, and my 5-year-old walks in.
Me: Good morning, kiddo!
Her (casually sauntering over): Mama, when are you gonna die?
Not today, my friend. Not today.
Saturday — 4:54 a.m.
I hear crying. The 1-year-old. Sometimes she cries for a minute then falls back asleep. I wait. She does not stop. The crying escalates, and I try to summon myself out of bed. My brain is half consumed with fervor to get myself to move and half consumed with the screaming mom guilt of not popping up the second I first heard her. I am a horrible mother, and I am stuck in bed. I shuffle to her room. Her little foot is stuck in the crib slats. I feel awful as I walk across the room to free her. She rotates her body, and her foot pops free. She stops crying. Then she starts laughing. She stands up, waves, and says, “Hi!” She is psyched. If I’d stayed in my room 20 seconds longer, she would have rolled over, fallen back asleep, and I could have kept sleeping.
Sunday — 8:30 a.m.
I am confused. The position of the sun tells me it’s a reasonable time of the morning to be waking up, yet I hear nothing. Nobody is awake.
OH MY GOD. EVERYBODY IS DEAD.
I jump up. Something must be wrong. I run to my 5-year-old’s door. She is in bed. She moves her legs. Alive. I run to the baby’s room, peek in, and see her there — not moving. I decide to check my son before going back for proof of life. Slowly, I open his door and see his little head on the pillow. I take one step into his room so I can see his face…
Me (stepping squarely on a lego): &$@^Q#&^Q@$#*%*#%#!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
5-year-old (running out of her room): What happened???
2-year-old: Hi, Mama. What does ‘“&$@^Q#” mean?
Everybody is very much alive.