As I was making the peaceful, though not entirely inconspicuous transition to becoming a blimp, one of the most frequent pieces of advice I used to hear was “Get your sleep now, ’cause LATER…”, accompanied by anxious sighing, eye-rolling and that specific hand gesture that means “Don’t ask…”, the one we use with all manner of tales of woe; from a leaking washing machine to the news that our neighbor died of mushroom poisoning.
The fifth time I heard this ill-omen invoked, I got somewhat vexed.
What’s with these grannies anyway? Haven’t they gone clubbing? Haven’t they stayed after a bar’s last call? Haven’t they drank all night, going to work immediately after? No sleep: big deal. I’ll do other stuff instead: I’ll cook, surf the Internet, read books, watch TV, listen to music. I’ll exercise! The baby goes to sleep at midnight, say, and off I go, push-ups and sit-ups, sit-ups and push-ups. Maybe I’ll even do some jump rope in the hallway.
Basically, everything’s a matter of self-management and motivation, and the rest is just whining, is how I would sum it up and with this refreshing thought I’d sink in my usual 13-hour sleep.
One year and dozens of sleepless hours later I couldn’t disagree more. Let me tell you about my year-long cycle of sleeplessness, in stages. You take notes and pray not to go through this the way I did.
Stage 1: “Blessed are the Ignorant”.
After nine months of impersonating a hibernating, narcoleptic bear, at the hospital something scandalous took place – I couldn’t sleep for three nights straight. The first one I just lay there cursing my fate, a gutted turkey racked by contractions: if you think that a cesarean saves you the trouble, you’re wrong. You get the contractions after the birth. The second night was more or less the same, except I went deaf in one ear. I never learned why. So I was no longer just gutted, but deaf, too. When the third night came by, with no prospect of sleep, I said to myself, annoyed: “Just let me get home already, and get some rest!”
So I went home to get some rest, and the following 3-4 months went by in a moment – one of those everlasting moments you hear about. My memories of it are all the same: the baby starts crying at 1.45 a.m. because of his colic; a neurotic shade in a t-shirt stands hunched over the crib, blow-drying a baby-pillow with a cherry-pit print. The same thing repeats first at 3.15, and then at 4. If someone has an idea for a painting in black pastel titled “IDIOT”, give me a call: I’m your model.
Around that time, I once met my husband in the kitchen early in the morning, and he passed me the coffee-maker, fresh off the stove, for me to wash and make myself some coffee. With infinite trust, I reached out and WRAPPED my hand around its red-hot bottom. We were both not insignificantly surprised by this turn of events, expressing that surprise each in our own way.
I pitched the coffee-maker in the sink, croaking incoherently: ” ‘S HOT!!!”
My husband, using words, gestures and intense facial gymnastics, since I was still deaf in one ear: “%%%!!!888““%%“!!!????!!!!”, or roughly: “Are you frikking insane?!?!”
I remember one particular date from that period: April 12, Easter. On this holy night, the baby slept from 11 p.m. til 6 a.m., something that NEVER happened again that calendar year. I’ve lost count of the times in July, as well as November, but mostly December, when I would look at him and say: “Can’t you just go to sleep like you did on APRIL 12???” I suspect I shall remember the date until the day I die, and at each family gathering my poor demented self will tell everyone how on April 12, 2015, my son slept for A WHOLE 7 hours without waking.
Stage 2: “The Fault is in your TV”.
This starts somewhere around the fifth month when I started falling asleep as I fed the baby. I would sit up in bed, the clock swimming in my sight, and recite out loud, for the benefit of the spider on the ceiling, “It’s 3.15”, then I would lean against the wall, and the next I would remember it would be 5 a.m., I would be rigid as an old corpse, my head nodding forward, on the brink of rolling off my shoulders and under the bed. My neck started creaking audibly and I had to put a traveling pillow on my nightstand, so I’d see it when I woke up in the middle of the night and remember to put it on.
I started forgetting names and words in general, like train, bread, elevator, cheese, radio, melon and so on. And so I wouldn’t gape like a fish, I used the highly meaningful sound combination of UHHHH…UMMMM…UHHHH?, as I gesticulated questioningly, while the others, eager to put me out of my misery, fell over one another guessing what I meant. If I had to speak to people outside my close circle, I would rehearse:
“Good day, my name is…, I have come to…, when could I…, thank you VERY MUCH, have a nice day!”, careful not to crash into a door on my way out.
On a few occasions, I met people on the street who apparently knew me. I think I knew them, too, but I neither remembered who they were, nor where I knew them from. “Hi, how are you, how’s the little one, oh, he’s so cute, looks just like his father (okay, so they know the father, too!),” and so on, you can imagine. I felt extremely awkward because I was SURE I’d met them, maybe on a holiday or at a club, but damned if I could remember their names or faces. Every time, I managed to get through it without letting on that I was an amnesiac; once I even recalled someone I’d spoken to at that time, three months later, when I and the guy turned up in the same hotel, in the same group of people.
I developed a drinking problem. What I mean is, I needed a couple of sips of beer to feel like I’d just tossed off three large vodkas. After one such reckless afternoon pint, I had to lean hard on the stroller all the way back so I can get home safely without toppling into a sandpit.
I also often kept the aforementioned coffee-maker in the fridge, put the coffee itself with the forks, and our dryer got clogged by all the napkins I kept forgetting in ALL my clothes’ pockets. On the sixth month, when the dryer would start wailing like a steam engine, my husband would just open it, thousands of miniature paper confetti spilling out, and he would start quietly picking them from his socks, a broken man.
A powerful memory I have of that period is a scene that took place at the building next to us. It housed illegal immigrants and since it was summer, the procession was incessant and neverending. On yet another sleepless July night, I heard screaming and peeked out. The large, blonde landlady of the joint was hanging out the first-floor window from the waist up, thwacking two immigrants over the heads with a PINK FLIP-FLOP, while they were trying to scale the wall. “No climbing, ya hear!”, thwack!, “get outta here,” thwack!, “both of ya get out!”, THWACK!
“God,” I told myself, “at least I have a bed. I don’t sleep in it, but I have one and no one is hitting me over the head with their pink flip-flop. Everything will be fine.”
Stage 3: “Hysteria”.
It started 7-8 months after I stopped sleeping. Conversation with friends and relatives started sounding like a hospital visit. “Did you get some sleep?” “No.” (Awkward silence.) “How much sleep did you get last night?” “Three hours.” (Awkward silence.) “Well, bye now, I’ll check in again tomorrow…”
Everything got on my nerves. “Will this cat not learn how to open the refrigerator by itself and get its own food?” And why would the attendant ask me what kind of gas I wanted in my car?! Just give me whatever you have! Or that teeth-grinding “How did you spend the holidays?” questions. How, you ask how?! WELL, I DON’T KNOW! I just don’t know. I probably did something, went somewhere. Beats me.
Occasionally I would hear about women that had babies who slept from 9 p.m. til 7 a.m. My brother (a twin-baby-girl veteran) called those “unicorn babies”. We’ve all heard about them but no one’s seen them.
Once I went to the theater with some friends and fell asleep. As we were leaving, I told them we should do it again. Two hours’ sleep is two hours’ sleep, nothing to sneer at.
It all culminated on one January night when the baby decided that at 1 a.m. it’s time, once again, to start banging on the garbage bin and play his miniature piano. I rushed to my sleeping husband and I screeched in his ear: “CANTTAKEITNOMORE!!! GOIN’NUTSHERE!!!”, then flopped on the bed tragically and pushed my pillow into my face to suffocate myself. (We live on the first floor; to end my suffering by jumping out I’d have to do it, like, 17 times.)
Unexpectedly for everyone, me most of all, relief set in soon after. Maybe because he started walking, tiring himself out, or maybe because of the three-hundred and thirty teeth he sprouted, maybe both. Or maybe because I’d weaned him off. But, really, I don’t care. The only thing I care about is that I’m going to bed at 12 and getting up at 7, not feeling like an eldritch creature crawling out of a shaft. I’m sure many of you will sympathize. To the rest, I would just say: “Get your sleep now, ’cause later…”
P. S. I’ve never understood how one can “sleep like a baby”. Like what baby? Won’t believe it til I see it!