“What hath night to do with sleep?”
― John Milton,
In my former life, I was a student of English literature. I slept very little in university: my friends marvelled at my ability to stay up every night until 2am, yet miraculously never miss my compulsory 8am first year bio classes a few hours later.
Sleep and I have had an unusual co-existence. From a young age, I would awake at 6am and entertain myself with colouring, watching Saturday morning cartoons, or inventing new worlds and imaginary friends for myself (Mary, Gail and Dee-Dee are for another post).
In university, I perfected the art of the power nap. It was nothing for me to finish a class at 1:50pm, nap from 2-2:45pm, and wake without an alarm to make it for my 3pm class. I slept whenever and wherever I could catch my requisite forty winks.
Fast forward to mothering two young children, full time teaching of high school English, and trying to run a household, and sleep seems to be a new beast in my world. There are times when I can easily sleep 12 hours - something I never did in all my years as a teen or university student.
Then there are the rest of those sleepless nights.
At times, it's simply survival mode: my two-and-a-half-year-old insists that she does not need sleep. She screams. She kicks. She slams her crib against the wall. She throws everything out of her crib: gagou (her soother), Clubby (her seal stuffy - don't judge), pillow, bedsheets, blankie. She strips her pajamas and diaper and throws them out as well. Then, in her (repeat) Oscar-winning moment, she pees the bed. Followed by wailing to the point of throwing up.
Sometimes this happens more than once a week. It's exhausting. It's annoying. It's a cycle we seem unable to break with her. She wants her pound of flesh, and the flesh is Momma... if she doesn't get her requisite three hours of my undivided attention a day, this is her payback.
At times, lack of sleep is an evil necessity of my job. I mark papers at all hours - sometimes I'm up past midnight. Sometimes I wake at 2am and decide I might as well mark for an hour. Other times, I set my alarm for 4am and mark until the kids get up at 7am.
Then there are the nightmares. Both of my girls suffer from them, and usually I am the one they want for comfort, cuddles, and reassurances. They return to sleep. Me - not so much.
Recently, my older daughter awoke screaming in pain at 4:30am. It turns out, she was about to rupture her ear drum. I had to take the day off from work to stay home with her, but there wasn't any power napping for Momma that day.
Finally, there are the inexplicable and infuriating nights when I simply wake from an uninterrupted sleep for no apparent reason.
Last night, I had three hours of parent teacher interviews. I met with eighteen sets of parents to discuss how wonderful their kids are and how well they're all doing. I'm not making this up - I didn't have a single complaint from or for any parents last night. It was likely a first in 17 years of teaching.
So why was my brain determined to rob me of much needed rest last night?
I can tell you, I certainly didn't WANT to be awake from 2am until well after 5:30am. I desperately needed sleep. (see: survival mode and ear drum rupture, above)
My brain has a mind of its own. It dictates when I can rest, when I can create, when I can dream. It controls every fibre of my body and my being, but for some reason, it will not let me sleep.
It makes for exhausting days.
It allows me to read 50+ novels a year.
It gives me (far too many) witty comebacks (what else can do I when I'm laying awake at night, mind spinning like a hamster's wheel?)
I solve math problems. I invent sewing patterns. I have long conversations with my dad, wishing he was still here to tell me how to fix things, both literally and metaphysically.
I often joke that I will build a cubby under my desk at work and sleep away the afternoon like George Costanza.
I really need a nap.