27 September 2010

On Sleep and Selfishness

I am currently reading The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah and so far it is pretty good.  I did feel like I wanted to post because there is a part of the novel that is so spot on that I almost had to call Chris at work to read it to him. (I managed to contain myself, just for the record.) 

One of the prominent characters writes in her journal about her irrational fury that her daughter picked up on the idea of monsters and now has to sleep with her door open.  In a very real passage this character speaks about all the ugly truisms of parenting and bed-time.  The entry hits the nail on the head about why parents are so crazy about heading to bed on time each night. The woman describes how the 8:30 to 11pm block of her day is the only time that she really gets to herself.  Every single other minute of the day is about work, the committees, the charities, the husband or the daughter.  Like any parent at that point she just feels she has no more to give and that the simple human courtesy of going to bed and allowing that quiet time is not too much to ask of a child who has everything a child could ever want.  The narrative culminates in the father “siding” with the daughter and now a night light is in place, the door left open and the mother left to quietly feel as though her whole grip on sanity has been swept out from under her.

Don’t we all know this story?  I can promise you that the day Cha Cha decided she had to sleep with her door open was a game changer.  In our apartment her decision to freak out if the door was shut meant that instead of her going to sleep and granting my sick, tired, stressed and pregnant soul a break, we got to enjoy her active participation in anything we tried to do after hours and now her sleep avoiding fuckery lasted long after my desired bed-time.  What can you do?  You can’t make a scared kid sleep in her scary room while she panics and freaks out, but then again, is it really fair for her to hold the entire house prisoner like that?  The author describes the child as using her frightened screams “as a weapon” to control the house and deprive the adults of even a single restful moment.  Let’s face it, this is at least half-true. 

While kids may not do it consciously, they will use every tool in their arsenal to ensure that every waking moment of everybody’s lives are spent providing them with undivided love and adoration.  I know this true at my house. During the 12-14 hours a day that my kids are “up for the day”  I don’t  even get to go to the bathroom alone.  I shower while Lil’Bitz bangs on the shower door demanding to play in the water as Cha Cha screams at her to leave the door alone.  Apparently the basket of toys and provision of illicit cartoons cannot pay the toll for 5 minutes of peace in which to wash my hair. Even now I am typing this post in fits and starts because Cha Cha does not feel that the billion-dollar swing-set we bought and assembled is enough to entertain her superior being and I must, simply must, provide an endless running stream of commentary, support and accolades as she uses it. 

Granted it is all worth it, and I certainly chose to do this over the many other options available in this day and age of child-rearing, but still the endless litany of meal provision, laundry doing, game playing, book reading, art project doing, house cleaning, errand running and so on is exhausting and we all know how blissful that post bed free time can be.  I am also in a place where often the promise of those few hours to get my jobs done and…if you can even imagine…do an activity I enjoy uninterrupted, may be all that gets me through some tougher days. 

The real point of the narrative is that mom couldn’t tell dad why it was so important for the door to be closed.  How can you even articulate what it feels like to be the personal concierge service for everyone around you all day and how important those breaks can be?  I am not sure you really can without sounding like a selfish lunatic.  Well guess what guys?  Selfish lunatic, party of one, right here. Without venturing into that dangerous area where “you don’t understand ____ until you are a parent”  I am not sure that anyone really “gets” this phenomenon until they have been a parent and devoted this kind of all-consuming effort into another person;  a tiny little person who rarely says “thanks” and often just demands more and to know “what’s next.”

Having given this way more thought than it probably deserves, I think the answer is to just be selfish.  Don’t be afraid to say to my kids, or anyone else, “sorry, but this is bed-time and you will be in your bed, quiet and resting so Mommy can do the same.”  Deep down inside we all know that enforcing sleep is actually in the best interest of the kids with the pleasant consequences befalling the parents,  but maybe we can acknowledge that it is a little bit about our happiness too…and that is okay.


Deana in Ohio said...

I know that story. We lived in a small apartment when my kids were little with an apartment upstairs and one downstairs, and you bet I felt like a prisoner. My kids knew that one thing I absolutely didn't want was for them to scream and disturb the whole building, so they got their way far too often. Before becoming a parent, I had no idea how important bedtime is -- literally the difference between a sane mommy and a stressed-out frazzled wreck.