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41 weeks | I don’t want to go to bed | no. 0034
This is a familiar scene. It’s nearly midnight and I have no designs on going to bed. The house is quiet. The food is put away. The lights are off, except for maybe a lamp. All my obligations to others have been met. The earphones are in. Most importantly, the munchkin is asleep, and will stay sleeping as long as when he stirs I put the breast in his mouth. This is easy enough to accommodate as we co-sleep and I can nurse him without ever having to move him. My water jar is full on the window sill or beside my computer. Now I can finally think, is what I always say to myself.
The night is young, right? Wrong! This is where I fumble most of my days. This is the fork in the road where I determine the likelihood that I can wake up refreshed and ready for the munchkin who starts his day at 100%, rain or shine. As soon as he smiles, it’s on and definitely too late for any last-ditch efforts to extend his sleep. Many a time, morning-mommy has rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth at night-mommy for blowing two or three perfectly usable hours of sleep on what can only be referred to as mommy’s-gone-wild-thinking-she-should-stay-up-any-longer time. Still, I hardly have a chance to bemoan lost, errr, forfeited, sleep when it’s time to start our day. And so the day goes on, the night returns, the cycle continues.
Unless I am all-out exhausted and powerless to defy the hands of sleep, I won’t just sign off from my day. Even when I am technically cleared to do so, I initially resist the opportunity to get in the bed when it presents itself. I have a long history of doing this that started as a child. I don’t know how this came to be (and my mother will likely have a slightly different version of events), but I did not have a regular bedtime most of my childhood. I don’t remember every single night, but I remember having a very relaxed schedule that usually involved catching some part of the late night news. My younger brother and I were experts at making all manner of excuses before going to bed. Oh I need to roll my hair (yes, I used to have a press-n-curl!). Oh, I have this assignment that I just realized is totally undone. Oh, I have an important question about something. And on and on. At some point, the delay tactics would wear out and my mother would get us to our rooms and into bed. (I do have vivid memories of requesting to be tucked in well into my high school years.) I think I would lie there, look up at the dark ceiling, and wonder why it was I had to be in the bed if I wasn’t tired. On a few occasions, my mother made me exercise by the window in the living room since I was so awake. This quickly became displeasing, and so I would give in and go back to my room where I would resume staring at the walls. I guess after some time I eventually fell asleep. I would wake up feeling fine and not at all groggy over too little rest.
My wayward sleep patterns persisted through college when I became the queen of all-nighters. I wrote some of my best papers between the hours of 2 AM and 7 AM. This I did all without the aid of coffee because I feared a caffeine addiction would interfere with my natural lively disposition. It seemed precarious to risk becoming too dependent on something I could not create and sustain myself. I have always been this way, needing to know who I am as is. Coffee, similar to how too much make-up made me worry that my real face would become unrecognizable, threatened to obstruct a vital function of self-awareness. Poor sleep aside, it has always been imperative to me that I know how awake I really am in any given moment.
So anyway, I continued to keep odd hours long after the papers were due. Grant applications, project proposals, packing for trips, collaborating with other artists, preparing for performances. (I’m sure there’s some well-researched study somewhere about the link between habitual procrastination and chronic sleep deficiency.) There was always a worthy reason to be up when it might have been healthier to be sleeping. Also, more often than not, I could “sleep in” to some degree, as I scheduled most of my responsibilities so that I did not have to be up and out very early. As I evolved into my artist self, I gave less and less attention to how, or if, I slept. I might be up for the majority of several consecutive days, and then sleep a solid 8 hours after a big deadline or a project was complete. Yes, 8 hours is quite long for me.
When I was pregnant my midwife and other mommies told me over and over again to take my sleep seriously. Did I listen? Sure I heard them all, even believed in the validity of what they were saying. Did that motivate me to change anything? Not really. Partly, and I think pregnancy can do this to a lot of moms, night time sleeping was very uncomfortable. Most times I was wide awake during the heart of regular sleeping hours, and would not feel genuinely tired until around 4 AM. My best sleep memories were somewhere in the pre-dawn, early morning hours when everyone else was waking. Of course, my sleep hours being all over the place when the baby was on the inside was much more manageable. Now, my energy is not just my own. There is no catching up on missed sleep, and I have not slept in once since becoming a mother.
What does “going to bed” really mean, I have to consider more deeply now. For me, instead of looking forward to rest, I am usually feeling some sense of defeat. A giving up of something. A concession of sorts that once again an intention will not be met, a task will remain undone. That some amazing idea will have to wait until who knows when I can come back to it. I ask myself why I stay up when I don’t have to, and the most immediate explanation is simply that it’s the closest thing I have some days to feeling like something is all mine. This is hard for me to admit because it feels selfish to actually say that. The logical me knows that this precious sliver of time could be better allocated for resting and rejuvenating myself. But instead, the hungering, irrational artist me routinely co-opts those unclaimed minutes and labels them “do not disturb” for as long as my weary eyelids can hold on.
It’s not hard to imagine that I can’t recall ever truly valuing rest. Somehow, long ago, I began believing that I would be missing out on something if I went to bed. With the munchkin, my nonexistent sleep structure certainly contributes to more complex challenges. There are consequences to not giving the self what it needs, and anything that affects me, affects the munchkin. On the one hand I know my mothering body deserves adequate sleep. And on the other hand, I feel that if I actually do go to sleep, it’ll be a whole days worth of serving others before I can retreat into this golden pocket of time only found at the end of the day where it’s all about me.
There’s something so intoxicating about the illusion that the day can be extended during the night. That as long as you don’t close your eyes, the potential to officially satisfy something major on the infinite to-do list becomes so extremely possible you suspend caring what this will mean in the morning. The night pulls you into its deceptions. Open and generous, it feels like the glorious blank canvas you have been waiting for all day. No one and nothing to impede progress, to take away your brushes and tell you that you can’t create something beautiful right now. Who needs sleep when you’ve got time?
It is usually around this time when I am on the phone lying to my mother. She always says, “Now, get some sleep.” But she knows that I am no closer to going under the covers than she is. Her with her book on tape playing loudly in the background, the narrator right in the middle of a critical turning point in the story. In front of her, the daily sodoku puzzle is marked up in a code that only she can translate. This is what we do. She is like me, or rather, I am like her. As a mother now, I understand a little more what all those late hours at the kitchen table have meant. I get how it makes no sense, and yet completely makes perfect sense.
I think when I stay up late I feel like an artist. On days when the only spectacular thing I have created is the substance of several thousand smiles on my munchkin’s face, the elongated night gives me the sensation that another urgent and vibrant art form can be at work in my hands. Even if it is just to watch Isabel Allende’s TED Talk on passion again, that ability to give my artist self some type of juice is hard to pass up. Some nights I push myself beyond consuming stimulating art, and am able to add another layer to something that has been dawdling in the wings of my mind. Other nights I am scribbling bits of dialogue for lost characters who have been waiting in the corners to be put into stories. And then too I am sometimes just browsing the outside world through a random assortment of status messages, emails, and tweets.
I know, though. Mommy still needs to rest. I will keep exploring this thing. The munchkin is getting older, requiring more and more thoughtful interactions. He is already standing for seconds at at time and saying “da da dah” all day long. More words are soon to follow. First steps after that. Everyone knows I will only need more energy as this mothering work grows. You would think that would be inspiration enough to start going to bed at a decent time. But it’s deeper than just making a perfect schedule. There is some specific rhythm I have to weave together as an artist and a mommy. It seems I am just at the beginning of whatever that is.
In the meantime, sweet dreams are in order I guess.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.