Monday, January 2, 2012

Go to Sleep Already, Willya?

In college my roommate of all four years almost always retired early.  "You're going to bed?!"  I would ask, incredulous and indignant.  What self respecting university student went to sleep at 10:00, like an eighth-grader? I wondered.   Didn't she want to hang out and indulge in dormitory hi-jinks and gossip?  Didn't she want to go the Wa to buy enough study-fueling junk food to fill a barrel?  And moreover, how the f--k had she finished her work so promptly, whereas I could hardly form a sentence worthy of a native English speaker before midnight?  

It was a precursor to the bedrage I'd feel with my husband, if he dared go to bed before me.  

I suppose my bat-like work habits began in high school, when, my afternoons and evenings consumed by yearbook and dance classes, the only time I could study or write a paper was after 9 p.m.  It was then that I discovered the magic of Diet Coke or coffee to get me through.  High school was also the time of my experimentation with disordered eating; it was then that I discovered the speed, diuretic and laxative effects of caffeine.  In my mind, I was a machine.  I was efficient.  I could do it all.

Late night dance rehearsals and expert procrastination techniques further developed my owl-like tendencies in college.  Writing during the day was an exercise in futility, unless of course the paper was due at 5 p.m. on a Friday, in which case I'd stay up until 4 a.m. or so, sleep until 8 or 9 and then resume "writing."  I use the term writing loosely.  My writing process went something like this:  

  1. Have a burst of typing resembling a deranged pianist.
  2. Stare at the computer and be overtaken by a profound sense of disgust and dismay over what was just written.  Begin editing, i.e., erasing.
  3. Feel an overwhelming need to clear head.
  4. Engage in diversions such as playing Tetris, eating, trying on clothes and having an apparel swap with a friend, showering, a trip to the Rotunda/eating club/ Wawa for food. 
  5. If computer was left unattended, return to find that roommate has inserted into paper material fit for a smut novel.  (eg. Marx, in a fit of carnal desire, ripped the bodice off the proletariat wench, revealing her sumptuous bosom. Although he found beds bourgeois, he passionately threw her upon one.  She moaned, “Oh God, Oh God,” as he thrust into her over and over again, to which he cried, “Religion is the opiate of the penis!”
  6. Laugh, highlight and cut, then good-naturedly chew out roommate.
  7. Return to computer panic-stricken.
  8. Repeat.  

Needless to say, I was in awe of those smart, skilled and disciplined writers who could bang out a 5-7 pager in a matter of hours without breaking a sweat.  Every paper gave me an existential crisis.  I spent my undergraduate years angsting out like Woody Allen. 

Senior year at thesis time, I rediscovered caffeine.  It didn't help that I did two senior projects, one for the History department and one for my certificate in dance.  Oh, and did I mention that (play those violins now, please) that my college boyf of 2.5 years had to choose that time to break up with me?  I got about 4-5 hours of sleep a day.  I survived on Diet Coke.  I hallucinated.  But the machine was back.  I was efficient.  I could not only do it all - academically, artistically, socially - but I could succeed. 

And I was thin.  Tiny.

After college, staying up insanely late was the result of going out, what we’ll refer to as “entertaining,” watching movies, a late rehearsal or having a deadline such as student evaluations or planning a concert. The prospect of sleeping (or not) gave me an urgency to put a period on the day. Even with the de rigueur New York City post-college roommate situation, dormitory hi-jinks and other distractions were not as seductive as they once were.

Also, I began to make peace with my work habits.  I worked better at night.  I worked better under pressure.  Simple as that. Why fix it if it ain’t broken? 

But now, as mom in the dusk of her thirties, it is broken.

I have a problem.

I would have to be knocked out with a bat and some pills to get in bed before 11 p.m.  I am not a machine, nor am I efficient.  I’d forget my ass if it weren’t hanging (yes, hanging) below my back. I don’t do caffeine anymore because I have to be out minutes after my head hits the pillow at approximately 12:30 a.m.  

Like most parents, I am exhausted. 

Which, you would think, would make me get my tuchus in bed. 

Even when I adamantly declare that, no with blog post to write, no class to prep, no school function to help plan, I’ll go to bed early, it never works out that way.  I can’t do it.

Nighttime is the only time I have that is mine.  All mine.  It's all I can do not to bolt from the room after I say good-night to my little guy.  I get a sudden surge of energy, accompanied by a steely determination to claim the next few hours as ALL MINE.  Of course, there are obligations such as making lunches and putting away what feels like hundreds of dishes and toys. But nighttime is the only time to have time alone with J, time to watch TV or a movie.  It’s the best time to write, to work on this blog, to send emails or to have a decent conversation that won’t have to end when the car gets parked or someone wakes up or I am otherwise needed. 

And yes, it's the only time to get lost in the minutiae of Beyoncé's pregnancy attire or the political circus. 

I do try to do these things when the kids are awake. Especially the web surfing, believe you me. But when I should be in the moment playing with, eating with or supervising the kids, spending too much time on other things feels like I’m cheating them out of having all of me, like I’m giving them mere pieces of their mommy. 

It’s neither fulfilling nor productive. 

So, the hours from about 9 p.m. to midnight are what I have to give myself.  I am in bed by 1 a.m. most nights.  I get up at around 7 a.m. And while this might seem extreme, I see plenty of posts and emails from moms who apparently go to bed by 11, but are up by 5.  Same diff.

What’s happened to our sleep?  What are we doing to ourselves?  I remember a Desperate Housewives episode when the Felicity Huffman character began taking her son’s Ritalin so that her nighttime hours could be insanely fruitful; she could finally actualize the supermom she longed to be.  That episode originally aired before I had children, and I found it bizarre. 

Now I totally get it.

Avoiding the R word, this year, I set as intentions to be more patient, more focused and to demonstrate greater follow-through.  All these things hinge on more sleep.  And this sleep thing, I realize, has nothing to do with a computer that will burn my hands or a TV that magically recedes into the wall after 11 p.m. 

It's all about balance.

So here's to finding balance in life.  Here's to perspective.  Here's to not taking myself so seriously and realizing my limits. 

Here's to redefining Supermom.

Happy New Year, Mamacitas!


  1. I could pretty much relate to you because I also used to chat with my friends before going to sleep. Sometimes we even talk for long hours that I needed natural sleep aids just to get some sleep. It's funny though.

    1. Glad to hear that I'm not the only one, although I wish I could do a Sliding Doors (remember that Gywneth movie?) thing to see if I'd look better, be healthier, thinner, more alert and less of a ticking time bomb if I got some regular decent sleep. Or would I just be me with sleep? Hmmmm.


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