If Sleep Will Come

Insomnia is more common in women, especially in older women, than in men.

“Insomnia,” on womenshealth.gov

It is three a.m., and the light is on in the backyard…a deer friend is grazing, perhaps, or that elusive little fox is dancing through. It could be a skunk or a squirrel or a raccoon, even a bird—any number of active wildlife species inhabit ‘our’ yards when daylight ends, when the People’s Realm closes down for another night.

The glowing motion-sensored light, though, when I wake and notice it in the depth of the night, ensures that I come fully awake. I throw back the covers and pad off to the bathroom. The door fails to latch, and I mutter and try to slam it shut quietly.

Through the bathroom window, I see the security light wink out. Before I am finished, though, it twinkles right back on.

My monkey mind twinkles back on, too. As I walk softly back to the bedroom, I am thinking that we need aluminum foil and that I should buy skinny egg noodles and try that rice pilaf recipe in Joy of Cooking… that’s something, I think, that we’ll ALL like. And if we had crusty bread, I could make French onion soup tomorrow.

Should I make some New York Times No-Knead Bread?

Should I stop at Giacomo’s and buy a loaf of Country French Bread?

Thoughts fwap down like wet pages.

I need to go to whatever office that is downtown and make sure my title is registered.

I have to bundle up my Kohl’s returns and get them to the post office.

We need to get started on the little box room, convert it to a kind of an office for James. Will the green desk fit in the nook by the window in my bedroom?

I lay down and pull the blankets up to my chin.

I rearrange the pillows so I can sleep on my back.

But are my toes cold?

I think my toes are cold. I get up and pull the quilt from the footboard, cover the bottom half of the bed, and crawl back in.

Mark sighs and rustles. His C-PAP machine breathes, regular and gently noisy. When he turns toward me, cool, damp, expelled air rushes into my face.

I pull the bedspread up to make a little wall.

Suddenly a memory from a long-ago job, a job that I held briefly twenty years ago, pops into my head. A distantly connected colleague was very, very rude, and I was much too pliable in responding. I wish I could go back and say what I should have said! I would tell him, boy.

No, I wish I could let that useless memory go. It is 3:35 now. Mark’s alarm will jingle its merry tune in two hours and twenty-five minutes. I need my sleep. I have a lot to do tomorrow. Did I mention the box room, the post office, the title process? Oh, and I should make some snickerdoodles; I’ve been promising to do that.

If I mop floors tomorrow, I won’t have to do it on Saturday.

And what was that idiot’s name…?

If I don’t fall asleep now, I am going to be exhausted…


It is almost five a.m. when I finally fall back into a fretful sleep. An hour later, when Mark, who has his phone alarm set to that obnoxiously cheerful, diplomatically intrusive, sprightly tune, sighs loudly and throws the covers back a little too energetically, I want to thunk him.

I try to squinch my eyes and force myself back into sleep for half an hour. But there’s no going back. After five minutes, I sit up and read until the boyo is done in the bathroom.

Later, I check my Fitbit, Connie, which informs me I have slept for five hours and twenty minutes. And that says Connie, gets me only a ‘fair’ rating.

(Once I spent a sleepless night and logged a whopping two hours and twelve minutes of sleep. Connie called that ‘fair,’ too. In Connie-world, I believe ‘fair’ is another way of saying, “Well, THAT sucked.”)

Ah, young girl, behold your future. You may think you’re a champion sleeper. You may think it will never come looking for you.

But here we go: insomnia happens.


I go online looking for an explanation. (An apology would be nice, too.) “Older women,” womenshealth.gov tells me, “are at a higher risk for insomnia.” It cites “unique hormonal changes” as one compelling reason.

It hardly seems fair. The site tells me that one in four women suffers from insomnia, compared to one in seven total adults. And lack of sleep affects everything…work, school, self-care, relationships.

No wonder, when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep, I start to worry about not getting back to sleep.

And worry, of course, leads to insomnia.


There are two kinds of insomnia, I discover on womenshealth.gov. Primary insomnia is a diagnosis, an affliction, all on its own. Secondary insomnia, though, is what so many of us experience. It is caused by other things—by another condition, by the meds we take for another condition, by trauma, or by stress.

People who are depressed or anxious or who have PTSD have trouble sleeping. People who have thyroid issues might not be able to sleep. The symptoms of menopause (which I have long been waving goodbye to; they are far away, tiny specks in the rear-view mirror) cause sleeplessness, too.

And, gee, what, these days, could be making us anxious? Political strife? Threats of violence? Climate disaster?

Maybe there’s a little pandemic brewing in my neighborhood? Maybe people I know are sick? 

Of course, I am anxious. What I need is a good, deep, solid night’s sleep to buoy me up and help me cope.


Womenshealth.gov has ideas for ways to achieve that restful sleep, too.

Limit, it tells me, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol.

And that advice just makes me bitter. I have rudely shucked all three of those vices from my life: I stopped smoking before I got pregnant with thirty-year-old Jim. I think we might have had some wine with Christmas dinner; that was probably the first alcohol that crossed my lips in five months. And, at the behest of a doctor four or five years ago, I sadly turned my back on my last, great, sincerely savored, vice: caffeinated coffee. (I did, though, find a wonderful coffee roaster in Clintonville, Ohio; they roast dark, rich, decaffeinated beans and send them to me in fragrant bundles. Every morning, I grind some of those beans fresh and rejoice in the fact that they come in packaging I can compost in my backyard.

So the taste of coffee is still here in my life; the powerful kick of the caffeine is not.)

So that advice–the no alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine edict–is not, to me, helpful.


But womenshealth.gov’s number two recommendation says to look at my sleep environment: is it restful?

I’d probably be wise to move my phone far enough away from the bed that I can’t grab it and scald my sleepy eyeballs with its unforgiving glow. And I could clear my little nightside table off; there’s a stack of books there, clamoring to be read. There’s an old digital alarm clock that’s only right half the year, too; the buttons no longer depress to allow me to change the time.

So right now, it’s an hour ahead. And when I wake up in the night’s thick middle, I look at that clock and think, “Four-thirty a.m.! It’s almost time to get up!”

Really, of course; it’s only three-thirty a.m., and I have plenty of time to fall back into peaceful slumber, but by the time I have reminded myself of this, my mind has clicked into high alert.

De-cluttering and making the sleep environment more soothing: that is definitely something I can do.


I’m also advised to exercise during the day. Doing this too close to bedtime, the site tells me, can make sleeping more difficult; I should limit strenuous exercise in the five or six hours before I go to sleep.

That feels counterintuitive, but, since, right now, the sun sets around 5:30 in the evening, I am not tempted to head outside for my exercise of choice, a good brisk walk, in the late evening hours, anyway.

I think I’m good in this exercise realm, and, since I have recently taken up my daily walks again after the foot surgeon cleared me for take-off, I have great faith that their effects will soon kick in.

Related to the exercise exhortation is an interesting fact: I need 15 to 30 minutes of time outdoors each day. The natural light helps my natural rhythms. So—even when it rains or snows, I need to push myself to do this, to get outdoors and try to glory in even the austere, wet, cold, natural beauty.



Don’t eat, womenshealth.gov advises me, for at least two or three hours before bedtime. This is something I’ve been trying to do; I’ve read elsewhere that the simple act of fasting for twelve hours each day has all kinds of good effects on bodies…helping regulate weight and essential bodily functions.

My skinny little doctor agrees. Don’t eat, she recommends, after six p.m. or before six a.m.

I flex those times to seven p.m. and a.m. (sorry, Doc), but I do try very hard to maintain that twelve-hour fast.


There’s a real benefit too, the site tells me, to a regular, soothing, bedtime routine. A hot bath, a book in bed, soft music, meditation…whatever the quieting activity, at the same time every night, may open the gates and let slumber roll softly in. This is a stricture I have no trouble complying with.

It notes, too, that separating from those glowing screens is an important component of a soothing routine…no email right before head hits pillow. No TV.

No picking up the bright little phone to just check messages one more time…


Finally, the “Insomnia” article advises, if I don’t fall asleep, I should get up and do something restful until I do feel sleepy. And that makes sense. I can take my comforting book to my comfortable chair and simply glory in the extra time to read—I am always complaining that I don’t have enough time to read. Maybe I need to push my bedtime just a titch later and enjoy the time for my books…


I realize there are other, safe things I can try, too: Jim, like many people with autism, has sleep challenges. His doctor recommends melatonin; Jim feels that works for him. And even if taking one has a total placebo effect, if belief sends me off to sleepy land, what’s the harm?

I’ve bought myself a package of Sleepy Time tea, too, with the only drawback that, while it makes me sleepy, I’ll probably have to get up at that deep dark hour to pad on off to the bathroom.


And don’t forget, a friend reminds me, about the power of prayer.

Things happen that are out of our control: violence flares; sickness spreads. We do what we can to control our little corners, but the insulation in those corners isn’t thick, and cold worry swirls through the cracks and around the edges.

Prayer—whatever that means to you and to me, whether it’s scripted words or spontaneous ones, meditative time, rhythmic movement, or loving actions—is one way of handling the stress, of sharing it, of expressing our faith that this, too, shall pass.


I’m thinking the worst thing I can do about the sleepless empty hours is to fret about them, to add them to my sledge of concerns and drag them, heavy and recalcitrant, along behind me,–to slog through my day, burdened by the thought that, “Jeez, I only slept four hours last night, and tonight,–well, tonight probably won’t be much better.”

That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I wrote one.

So I will take my windy, gray day walks, and I will detach from the news before dinner; I’ll declutter my sleeping space. I’ll work on building a little meditative time into the evening end of my day.

I will counter insomnia with good and healthy practices.


And I’ll be comforted by this:  if all else fails, there are naps…naps with a book, in the chair, by the fire. There’s a place where I know that sleep will come.



Awake, You Sleepers!

Once there were three citizens of a bungalow-kingdom.

There was Lord Delancey, brave and strong and true, who strode forward each day, leaving the bungalow-boundaries. He went forth and slew any pesky dragons he encountered and then he returned, around 5:45, for dinner and a couple of episodes of Twin Peaks before retiring to his reading chair with a thick book of modern wisdom.

Lord D

(Someone once suggested to him that he could be known as the BungaLord, but he said, “No. Lord Delancey will be just fine, thank you.”)

There was Dame Dowenwanna. She’d slewn a few of her own dragons in the day, thank you very much, but, for the most part, she was pretty happy now to be the main bungalow-maintainer. She greased the wheels and stoked the fires and made sure the lamps were lit in the gathering dark.

Dame D

And finally there was young Lord Lyric, who was slowly but firmly, step by tender step, learning the art of dragon-slaying. He ventured out into that noble world just a little, but, every season, a little bit more.

And meantime, he chronicled BungaLife with his clever and witty songs.

Three citizens of Bungalow

All for one to make life go

Swift and smooth and straight and slick

Collaborate to make things tick!

And things hummed along pretty smoothly.

And then the power stopped surging to things here and there.


First it was the garbage disposal. Dame Dowenwanna was preparing a lovely stew, with carrots and potatoes, celery and onion, and she gleefully peeled and diced and rough chopped. And then she sink-dumped the peelings and the scrapings and she pushed them toward the disposal’s metal maw—she pushed with a wooden spoon, turned a strong stream of water on the mushy mess, and hummed while she reached under the sink to flick on the disposal switch.

But, instead of the expected electronic, metallic gnashing, there was silence. No whirring into action. Nothing.

The sodden veggie peels waited, limp and disgusting.

Dame Dowenwanna toggled the switch. She took a break and let it rest and tried again. She kept it up for 15 minutes and then she said, “Something’s wrong.” She went and got a plastic bag and scraped all the veggie residue into it, and she disposed of those leavings by hand.


When Lord Delancey came home for dinner, she informed him of the issue. He stood at the sink, ran the water, and flicked the switch. And still, nothing happened.

There was a time of quiet, and then, between them, Lord and Dame, they called it.

“The garbage disposal,” they said, sadly, “is dead.”

Oh, we have lost our garbage disposal!

Will it be replaced?

Who knows,

Who knowsal?

Peely scrapey, where’ll you go???

“Why, thank you, Lord Lyric,” said Dame Dowenwanna. And the young Lord bowed and went to sit at the dining table. Disposal or not, dinner must be served.


The next morning, Lord Lyric went to work at his computer. He was humming a merry little lay-about-y tune, brisk and sunny. The tune grew slower, and then it grew less sunny, and then a despondent Lord Lyric stuck his face through the kitchen doorway.

And he said this:

My monitor keeps dying!

“Oh, NO,” said Dame Dowenwanna.

“Perhaps,” said Lord Lyric, “when Lord Delancey comes back, we will call the corporate help desk together. Meanwhile,” and he pulled himself up to his full height, pointed his left index finger at the ceiling, and firmed up his voice, “meanwhile, I have no choice. I will have to type on my laptop.”


Dame Dowenwanna shook her head sadly and went back to stuffing food scrapings into an old Kroger bag. She heard young Lyric singing from his workspace.

Oh, oh, lackaday me!

My monitor’s dark

And I can’t see

The words I’ve typed

Though I’ve squinted and stared

Oh, how long

Till it’s repaired?


She bagged the garbage.

He used his laptop.

And the next night, as darkness spread its inky stain over the world, Lord Delancey opened the dishwasher door, and he stood assessing. Hip cocked, lips pursed, he looked, and then he thought, “Aha!”, and he bent down to act. He rearranged a glass and a plate. He moved a serving dish from top rack to bottom. He rinsed out his ice cream bowl, lodged it securely into the new space he’d created, and stepped back to look once more.

Satisfied, smiling, he drew a dishwasher pod from the cupboard under the sink, and he secured it firmly into the pod-place. And then he turned the dishwasher on.

But nothing happened.

He started over. He checked for obstructions. He insured the machine was plugged in.

And then he closed the door and tried again.

The machine did not respond.


Oh, sang Lord Lyric,

There’s sadness in the land

And all the bungaladishes,

They must be washed by hand.

Those nasty pots a-soaking?

Attack them with a will-oh!

The dishwasher died,

And you’re left with just a



Life went on in the bungalow, but it was just a little more bumpy. Dame Dowenwanna sighed a lot more often, and she clattered dishes when it was time for clean-up, and Lord Delancey found himself elbow-deep in soap suds much more regularly. And young Lyric muttered and grumbled as he pounded the fragile keyboard of his laptop.

Once a day, at least, one of them would mutter, We have to get this fixed!

But time went by, as time is wont to do. Days began and ended, months slipped by, and seasons changed.

Years,–yes, even years--passed.


And then one morning—well, who knows why Dowenwanna did it? There, in the midst of her Saturday morning cleaning, she reverted to old habits, turned on the water, flipped an under-sink switch,—and Dame Dowenwanna began dancing around the kitchen, breakfast dishes be damned.

“Listen!” she caroled, and both the Lords came running—running to hear a raspy metallic chortle.

“The disposal!” she cried “It’s working!”

Lord Delancey grabbed her and they swung around in an elegant waltz, and Lord Lyric sang,

To life!

To life!


…which was the best he could do under such frenetic circumstances.

And Lord Lyric got a thoughtful look, and while Delancey and Dowenwanna danced, he slipped away to his desktop.

The only noise for just a bit was the musical chomping of the disposal and the pounding of four dancing feet,…but then! A triumphant song!

Oh, my monitor:

Happy day!

The lights are on

And I have to say,

A new cord’s

What made it work!

Two years dormant;

Oh, I feel like a jerk!

Ho, de hidey, ho de ho!


And Dame Dowenwanna shooed Lord Delancey out of the kitchen, turned off the disposal and pulled out the mop so she could clean the floor. She swept and she scrubbed. She maneuvered the mop into corners and nooks; she mopped around Lyric’s large sneakered feet when he sidled in, in his joy, to get a snack. She pushed the mop beneath the moribund dishwasher and she hummed as she twiddled the mophead around, pulling out dust and ditties.

And then she swirled around, dancing the mop into the space surrounding the stove.

And Lyric stopped short.

“Dame,” he said.

And when she, humming, didn’t hear him, “DAME,” he said, louder.

And pointed toward the dishwasher.

Which was on.

They shouted in wonder; Delancey came running. They fiddled with buttons, touched spots on the touchscreen. They ran a refreshing rinse cycle.

Because it was true: the dishwasher, too, was working.


Oh, oh, what do you know?

Machines must sleep!

Nap’s over, though.

A turn of events

Precisely stunning:

What once was junk,

Now is running!

Happy happy hey hey hey!


Oh, the happy bungalow hum! Garbage disappeared, a desktop keyboard preened under a long overdue stroking, and three people woke up to gleaming, sanitized dishes.

What a day! What a wonderful day! Who knew that appliances, electronic devices, machines, could heal themselves!

Breakfast was a grand affair, and Delancey garbed himself for his daily foray—dragons were no match for a man with his dishwasher restored—and strode off into the thick of it.

Lyric, words pounding in his head, marched off to pound on his keyboard.

And Dowenwanna, after checking her email and ordering a book or two online, swirled through the house with the dust mop. She vanquished a few stubborn cobwebs, and she swiped a bit of fuzz from the woodwork.

And then she pulled the heavy old vacuum cleaner from the closet, let lose its cord, and plugged it in.


Lyric came running when he heard her wail. He saw her, bent over the lifeless cleaning machine, the vacuum cleaner that refused to suck, and a dirge leapt into his mind. He opened his lips to sing.

But Dowenwanna lifted a hand, palm out.

“Don’t EVEN,” she said, and she wrapped the cord around the prongs and trundled the vacuum, verve vacated, back to its dark and lonely hiding place.


Sleeping In

The alarm clock jiggles and dances at 6:28 AM, and I reach out and slide the lever down, turning it off. The dog, who knows that THAT particular alarm sound is aimed at Mark, whimpers a little, heaves herself out of her cozy dog bed, and ambles around to where Mark is shaking off the sleep.

“All right,” he says, resignedly, struggling into his snuggly robe. “Let’s go outside.”

They leave; I hear the ticky-tacking of the dog’s nails on the hardwood floors downstairs, and then, the opening of the back door.

And I consider: I could get up now. Normally, I’d have been up for at least an hour.

But it is Friday, and I don’t have to work. Last night, I had one of those energy surges, and I finished up all my little hanging obligations. The package is put together and addressed; the notes for the meeting are ready. Letters written, responses made–there is nothing calling me to my computer.

I have nothing that must be done until almost 1 PM.

And the bed is warm, and the room is dark, and I pull the blankets more firmly around me, rolling over and sighing. The dog nudges open the door and jumps on the bed. She circles around three times, then nests herself into the crook of my knee pit. We breathe a deep, contented breath in unison, and we drift back off to sleep, lulled by the sound of water thrumming in the shower.

I wake up an hour later, feeling crystal clear and smelling the definite smell of carbonized toast: Mark’s favorite breakfast complement. The dog looks sadly up at me as I swing my feet over her head and out of the bed; she is comfortably situated. She could stay there all day.

I pull on jeans and a floppy shirt, brush my teeth, stretch, and head into the day. I don’t even make the bed–we change the sheets on Fridays. I have that wonderful, light-shouldered feeling of nothing immediate to do.

The dog and I shlep down the stairs, singing about burnt toast, and Mark pokes his head from the kitchen, where–blessed man–he has turned the coffee on to brew.

“I believe that you exaggerate,” he says, grinning.

I treat the dog–half a Beggin’ strip, a coin of frozen hot dog; she’s already been fed. She declines a rawhide chewy stick and takes her lazy self off to the couch. After a tough night, snuggled up, protecting Mom, she needs her rest.

Mark reluctantly gets up to leave for work. It is casual Friday; he wears his jeans and pulls his old Bills jacket–an anomaly in southern Ohio–over his nubby sweater. We talk about having a little blaze in the fireplace tonight (winter has returned; the high today will be in the low-enough thirties to give us some snow, and right now, it is pretty brisk outside.) He reminds me he’ll be home at lunch, to take Jim to an appointment outside of Columbus. And then Mark opens the door; he lets in a gust of cold, and he plunges into his workday.

And I pour myself a steaming cup of decaf dark roast, pull on my fuzzy, Wicked Witch of the West socks, and open up the local paper.

I remember feeling this kind of freedom–this temporary reprieve feeling–in college on the rare occasions I wasn’t scheduled to work at the supermarket deli at 8 or 9 AM on Saturday. The morning would stretch out, a bubble in a torrent of time, a safe spot to stretch and rest and read. If those mornings had a sound, they would sound like a whispered ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Of course, then as now, I know the bubble is due to shatter. There are worries, real worries, floating outside–I can see them as I sit and read what’s going on in my town–about St. Patrick’s day dinners and speakers at the library and high schools sports games. The clock ticks down for a dear, dear friend, who suffers in her last days. Other friends grasp hands and wait out the weekend, awaiting news that will shatter or heal. Health concerns, and financial decisions, and things that have to be done in timely ways, in and out of work: all these bob around me, bumping, gently this morning, against the bubble walls.

This blessed, respite morning is like a small step out of time.

I walk the dog. We meander in the cold sunshine, and she sniffs to her heart’s content. I pick up the Columbus paper from the lawn, and we come back inside to treats for her and breakfast for me. I split an English muffin on a red Fiestaware plate, put it in to toast, pour more coffee.

Then Jim gets up and asks about the shape and the weft of the day, and I feel the sides of my bubble thinning. Reality pushes.

And the toaster pops and I butter the muffin and I read the news from Columbus, shaking my head over the idea of de-funding libraries, de-funding the arts, and I realize the bubble’s sides have quietly melted. I’ll read my paper now, do my word puzzles, and I’ll slide, feet-first, back into the torrent.

And it is good to deal with things, to face the pain of loss, to check the email, to run the errands and strip the bed and have the conversations and take care of all the myriad details that weave the fabric of daily life. I do not want to shirk one thing; I want to be there, for the good and the bad and the things that wrench our hearts.

But it is good, too, every once in a while, to have that cozy, fleeting bubble descend, encompass me. It is good to turn off the alarm, to roll over with a sigh, and let the day start without me.


I will take care of business; of course I will. But I’ll do it better today because I have slept in.

Up Before the Others

It is 6:54 AM, and the clouds are rimmed with a special shade of insistent pink that only happens right here, right now, in this burgeoning time of day, at this spiked and waiting time of year.  The trees limbs, mostly bare as yet (budding coming soon) stand out against that color in crisp, dark, stark relief.

Below that pinkening sky, the junipers that line the far side of drive and the shaggy hedges on the closer edge are sprinkled with a consistent dusting of snow.  It’s almost like some careful child with safety scissors neatly cut two photos from a magazine and glued them together. The brightness of the spring sky, the coldness of the white-dusted evergreens: they just don’t go together.

I have been sitting here pondering the world outside the window–and the other, weirder world inside my head–since just after 5 AM, when my bladder and my buzzing thoughts propelled me out of bed. The little dog came downstairs too, of course, tippy-tapped down after me, waited at the back door to be released and then charged back in, hell-bent on her breakfast bowl and her “Good girl!” goodies. And then she curled up in the embrace of the couch’s cushioned arm, snoring softly, while I grabbed my binder and my special pen, to spend an hour or two releasing all my brain-buzzing .

I love the early quiet. I love to be alone with my thoughts in a sighing, contented house–with the hum of the fridge and the chug of the furnace and the knowledge that the boyos are fast asleep upstairs.  I love the opportunity to open up the hinged lid of my head and spill its contents, ramshackle, wholesale, unsorted and unscripted, onto college-ruled, blue-lined paper.  I love the opportunity to sort through those thoughts and see if there are any little nuggets gleaming, keepers among the dross–things to scavenge; seeds, maybe, to plant for future growth.  Or embers that might need immediate fanning.

The sudden dawning moment comes; the pink is washed from the sky by the pale golden sun, the clouds are backlit and empty, and I realize my early hours are up.  Mark will soon be, too; I’ll pull the breakfast bake from the refrigerator, get the oven heating.  I’ll set the second pot of Seattle’s Best to brewing.  The day will begin, and I’ll be a little more ready for its challenges because I’ve had that solitary writing time.

It wasn’t always thus.


I think about the way we remember people from our halcyon days.

“Oh, she was the one with the funky hats, right?” we might say, or, “Oh, he had that hair! Remember his hair???” And then we meet the primly suited, carefully coifed professional she’s become, or shake the hand of a burly man with a bald and shining pate, and we ponder how we change.  I suspect people might say of me, “Oh, yes: she liked to nap!” because sleep was a state I was always, as a young person, seeking.

I couldn’t wait for work to end, for classes to be over, for the visiting people to go home, so I could grab a blanket and close my eyes for, oh–just twenty minutes.  The twenty minutes would, of course, become two hours; the appointment might be missed, the event completely scotched.

“She’s sleeping,” my dear ones might say, and then they’d roll their eyes.

There was work and there was school and there were other obligations–things I’d signed up to do, books that needed taking back, chores and projects, parties to attend.  The parties might have been a big part of the problem, bleeding into the wee hours, offering lubricated socialization and the illusion of wide-awake, wee-hour wittiness.  After a party, I was always catching up.

‘Morning’ to me meant eleven AM; getting up early meant eight o’clock–and I would not be happy. Three or four o’clock in the afternoon were perfect times for napping, but I could also grab some shut-eye while studying in a library carrel, head cushioned on a stack of books, or sitting in the car outside the pharmacy waiting for my ride to pick up her prescription. Or after dinner, in front of Jeopardy.  Or in the midst of grading a batch of sixth grade essays.

I remember one weekend in a college summer, when I was working the graveyard shift at an ice cream factory, a job which sounds a lot more idyllic than it was.  I arrived home after the sixth day of work–we always worked six days in those hot and busy summers–put away the ice cream treats I brought home for the happy family, washed the fudgesicle residue from my person, and crawled into bed.  When I rambled downstairs at 3 PM, I was shocked to find it was Sunday, and I had slept through the Saturday night bacchanal–and my mother had let me sleep through church.

“Oh NO!” I thought, mourning the potential adventures I had missed, but feeling, too, for a rare and memorable moment, completely rested.

I drank so much coffee in those days that I think it had the opposite effect–it pushed me from jazzed-up into sleepy. My psych prof told me that was exactly the philosophy behind giving kids with ADD big batches of caffeine.

I poured myself another cup and pondered my next nap-time.

After college, I always had two jobs.  When I taught sixth grade, I also worked retail, and I would careen through the weeks, niche-ing lesson planning, paper-grading and bulletin board creation into nooks and crannies of time: the thirty minutes before I ran off to the department store’s lingerie department, the ten minutes before I left for school.  My friend Joan called me, every single morning, making sure I was up and out of bed–I slept so hard and so desperately that sometimes my blatting alarm clock didn’t wake me.

Start the coffee!  Hit the shower! Let the craziness resume!

Once a month or so, during those teaching days, I would grab an early Friday night dinner, then curl up on my bed with an aghan at 6:30 or 7:00, and sleep right through till Saturday lunch.

“Sleep debt,” people told me.

“Slow down,” some advised.

“Nap time?” I asked hopefully.

Then marriage and children. No one tells you what happens to sleep when you have kids, do they?


Mark was a single, custodial dad when we got married; Matt was seven.  And Mark, who’d been Matt’s primary care-giver for almost four years, slept the light sleep of the parent-on-call: one ear always open.  Matt would roll over in his trundle bed down the hall, and Mark would bolt up, head-cocked, listening.

Within one week, I swear to you, one WEEK of being married, I was the bolter-upper, and Mark was snoring through my 3 AM conversations with an inquisitive second grader.  How does this happen? I pondered.  Is it some lady-gene?

And how do people with kids ever catch up on sleep?

On weekends when Matthew stayed with his mom, his newly minted step-mother stayed in her bed, resting up for teaching and for Sunday re-integrations.

And then, seven years later, along came James, a rollicking bundle of joy.  And here was the thing: I was going to be a stay-at-home mommie, at least for the beginning.  I gathered up my baby books, reading everything from T. Barry Brazelton to What to Expect During the First Year.  And this is what those books promised me: the baby will sleep. A lot.

Get yourself a hobby, they advised.  Take naps yourself.  Use the time to clean your house.

Oh, I had visions.  There I’d be: the perfect mommy, rested and beaming, carefully coiffed, with a  smiling infant, a gleaming house.  And drawers full of hand-knitted gifts for the holidays.

James arrived in the wee morning hours of a snowy February day; the timing was a portent I failed to read.  The only time he slept through the night in his first year sent me into a panic:  My God, he must be ill!

My house was a mess; my HAIR was a mess.  My infant was often crying.

Of course, we didn’t realize then that Jim’s brain is wired differently; he was never a napper, and his night sleep never capped out (still doesn’t, I suspect) at more than seven consecutive hours.

WHERE’S MY NAP TIME????? I demanded of the authors of those books, but they turned their backs to me, mute and shuttered.

So I gave up and threw myself into the vortex–going to grad school, working at a college, embarking on the path to law school with my husband.  We sent one boy off to the Navy and the other to classrooms where his connection never quite clicked.  I had classes to teach and advisees to see and parent conferences; we planned trips out of state to visit law schools. There were counselor appointments  and there was baby-sitter searching. We had households to move, and move again.

Gradually, sleeping ten hours became a nice but distant memory; afternoon naps were rare twenty-minute luxuries.  Our bodies change, accept reality. Our minds accept reality too: our needs grow different as we age.

Life, I have decided, is like a big swim in pounding surf: I flail and fling myself against the waves, practicing my imperfect crawl, fighting the undertow, pushing against the current.  And then suddenly, here I am, spat out upon the rocky beach, wondering what sharp object it is I’m sitting upon.  Thinking, “Hey. I don’t need no stinkin’ sleep.”

And enjoying the peace and the treasure of the early morning.


Mark, in his fuzzy bathrobe, has shlupped, yawning, down the stairs.  The dog, who came to beg a chewy bone, now sits growling at my feet (WHAT?? Do my feet seem hungry? Do they twitch as though they might steal that chewy???) I pulled the breakfast bake from the fridge, replaced its plastic lid with a cover of aluminum foil, and put it in the heating oven. I ground the beans and brewed the second pot.

Today I have floors to clean and papers to grade and calendars to calibrate, the week ahead to envision. Jim and I have an entrepreneurial project that needs some shaping before we meet with experts who can help us achieve the dream.  There are meals to plan and reservations to make; there’s a cookie jar almost devoid of its pathetic store-bought cookies.  I have a stack of books to read and I have clothes to iron and there’s a craft table in the basement that badly needs sorting. There are letters to write and there are bills to pay.

But we’ll sit and have breakfast first–pour juice, make plans, portion out the day’s to-do’s.  Once, I would have been buoyed by hours of sleep; now I am buoyed by hours of quiet, time to settle into self, to lighten my thoughts while the sky does the same.

How we change, a wry, amused voice in my head murmurs. How we change. 


But maybe, this afternoon, I’ll take a nap.