Between Bars

So I’ve heard people pine for more hours in a day and I just want to tell them this, here is how you can get those hours: have children. Young children are up all night, or at least my children are. Here, you can come over or just spend the night in my stead and I’ll sleep at your house and you can get all the extra hours you would like. Because in my house we are up for many extra hours. Many, many extra ones.
For example, last night. Last night, in some outer layer of consciousness I was aware of a ruckus occurring wherein my almost five year old son was yelling and demanding things as he often does between the hours of 1 and 3 am and my husband – the lighter sleeper of the two of us – was shuffling around trying to fulfill those demands. But this particular instance was going on longer than usual, so I was able to pull myself up from the kind of sticky muck of sleep that one who has been deprived of sleep for nearly five years “enjoys”, to find out what the hell was going on.

“What the hell is going on?” I asked, checking my phone to see what ungodly hour it was (it was 2 am).

“He’s up and he won’t go back to sleep.” My husband told me this, as he climbed back into bed, already admitting defeat on the matter. My son, meanwhile, continued to wail in the next room.

“Well, what does he want?” Sometimes he wants water, sometimes he wants the light to be brighter. Other times he doesn’t know what he wants because he’s just having a night terror, in which case I just have to resign myself to 20 minutes of trying to negotiate with a lunatic because he’s basically asleep while screaming.

“He says he wants weekend passes,” my husband mumbled, as he smothered his own sleep-deprived head under a pillow. I chalked this particular response up to the three-day music festival my other half had attended that weekend.

My son, meanwhile, was sobbing. “Daddy won’t get me ice cubes for my sippy cup!”

At least this was easily solved. I filled the sippy cup with water and he went right back down, and shortly thereafter, so did I.

An hour later, my husband tapped me on the shoulder. “He doesn’t want me,” he said, this time, referring to our other son, the two year old. “I gave him a bottle, and he just threw it at me.”

On top of our two year old being a terrible sleeper in general, there were other factors at play: one being the new babysitter that had been over earlier that night for bed time, who had left the overhead light on in his room, and hadn’t pulled the shades down; and two being the construction crew on the BQE jackhammering since 2am and shining lights into all of our windows.

“Hi Mommy,” my son said, slash sobbed as I walked into his room.

Lately I have gotten into this terrible routine of singing him into a sleep coma when I put him to bed at night. I had thought I had found some kind of wonderful magic solution to our going to bed problems but really all I did was replace the hour and a half of reading 30 board books and refilling his milk bottle with an hour and a half of singing him every song I know by heart.

At this point in the night, I was only a fraction awake. It was kind of like the good old days of my twenties of being black out drunk, only with a toddler and without the promise of brunch and good stories to share with my girlfriends. At some point I was aware of the fact that the two of us were on the couch and that my legs were cold. He was wrapped in his blankie, cradled in my arms, sucking on his pacifier contentedly. I remember considering camping there on the couch for the night but then I thought about the neck pain I would surely wake up with and also, the air conditioner was on high and I was only wearing a tank top and underwear.

The next thing I remember is I’m crouching on the floorboards next to his crib, my face pressed against the bars. I am singing Green Sleeves, which I only know because we had to learn it in 7th grade for our bells concert. Because in 7th grade, learning to play bells was a requirement, I kid you not. When I ran out of lyrics I started humming just the tune of it, and it soothed me to the point that I fell asleep sitting there, my nearly bare ass on the floor. I must have started snoring or doing something generally displeasing to my son, because eventually he woke me up demanding, like a tyrant, “more song!” And it was unclear just who, exactly, was the one behind bars.

This had been going on for the better part of an hour by now. I had sung him everything in my songbook. From Hotel California, to True Colors, to the Rainbow Connection. I sang him all the songs I knew from the show-tunes-themed show, titled “SRO”, that we did in 4th Grade with Mrs. Clatworthy where I got to impersonate Shirley Temple and sing Good Ship Lollypop in an annoying baby voice to the delight of my parents. I was exhausted. I was delirious. I started singing songs that I can only imagine were lullabyes sung to me by the fire in a past life in an ancient tribal village where we only communicated via guttural sounds. At one point, I remember thinking one of the songs was so good that I probably should be writing this shit down and rethink my career as an essayist and possibly start trying to make a go as a songwriter. That is how tired I was.

Everything faded out again, like a movie, and when I came to, I was standing this time and the kid was slumped with his back against the corner of the crib in a really awkward and uncomfortable position, his glow in the dark pacifier pulsing like a heartbeat. It was so dark I couldn’t be sure that he was asleep but I knew I had to at least try to make my move. I took a tentative step backwards, and then another, wincing at the creaky floorboards even though the noise from the sound machine which I had set to “gale force wind” sounds would mask it – that is, if we were dealing with a normal being and not one from the Hinter Lands or wherever it is my two year old harkens from because I’ve never seen a child who can subsist so happily on so little sleep. And also, he was able to discern the teeny tiny sound of the creaky floorboard from the howling winds of his sound machine. His little limbs, which had just moments ago been sprawled limply across his crib, were now rigid as the floorboards. “No! More song! Sing ‘Mix it!”

I had no idea what song that was.

“Mix it!  Mix it!” he demanded.

I made up a song about mixing things, to the tune of “Frere Jacques,” which, thankfully, he let me get away with. But still, he wasn’t asleep.

It was now 4 am and he was not asleep. This was bananas. This was beyond bananas. WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON HERE?!?

“Baby, I love you, but I’m done. I sang you every song I know. I held you, I rocked you, I sat here, I patted your back. You’re safe. You’re ok. It is time for you to sleep and for Mommy to sleep. We all need to sleep. Everyone is asleep. The whole world is asleep. GOOD. NIGHT!

I walked out of the room and shut the door, and he was quiet for .5 seconds and then began to wail so loudly the dog jumped off our bed to see what horrible tragedy had befallen his human brother.

I waited three minutes standing in the dark outside of his room, his cries getting louder and louder, and then I went in.

“This is it! I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore!” I hissed. “And you are NOT SLEEPING IN MY BED!”

He hiccupped and whimpered.

I picked him up and brought him into our bed, and deposited his warm little body, his two blankies, and his lovey, between me and my husband. By the time I pulled the covers up to my shoulders he was snoring.

We got up at our usual time of 6:45 am. He and the dog, however, slept in till about 9:30.

Alexis Barad-Cutler writes all about “the stuff no one talks about in Mom Group” for various online outlets and on her blog. You can follow this Brooklyn mama of two on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

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