Sometimes at work, I hear the yawns of my colleagues and for a quick moment I sympathize with them. I assess and analyze the yawn's length and intensity and I calculate in my head the number of hours and seconds they might have slept the night before. It's the long then short, short, short inhalation of air followed by a drawn out sigh, building up to the climatic, "Oh, man...". Yep, I know it all too well as I try to remember the days when I was young and without children -- I could function in the morning without coffee. I didn't need it, for those were the days when I could sleep in. Those were the days that a sleepless night was the price you paid for too much fun, a night out, or having friends over. You could do this because there was always tomorrow to catch up on slumber, tomorrow always brought redemption.
Then you have kids.
The one thing they never tell you before it's too late, is how lonely the nighttime feeding experience can be. Everything is dark, dreary and post-nuclear during that long trip down the hall at midnight, 3 am and dawn. I often wonder if I'm the only person in my time zone that is awake. I peek outside, longing to see a light on in another house on the block - just a tiny, over-the-sink light that provided some sort of sign of life. The glow of a television set or a barking dog or the slamming of a car door would be graciously welcomed.
As I sit here feeding this baby and watching a Conan rebroadcast, I stop and think about the people who were able to watch it in its normal time slot. How they must take it for granted -- their ability to freely watch late-night TV without repercussions. Do they realize that this is a privilege and not a right? I can't remember the last time I stayed up that late on purpose, the last time I had the luxury to defy my predestined schedule and not have to pay the dire consequences that could very well result in a dirty diaper in the refrigerator and trying to give my dog a bottle.
It's no wonder that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. For us, it is a rite of parenting passage. In our house, with two working parents, we have a deal worked out; I wake up during the week, for both middle of the night feedings and early morning wakings and in turn, I get to sleep in on the weekends. This allows my body to catch up just enough to go back into shock on Monday morning. Many headaches, strong coffees and handfuls of ibuprofens later, the routine starts all over again and the aching wishes for a good night sleep only finds me sorely screwed.
As it turns out, my colleague, the one that sparked my pity party to begin with, said he was up late last night watching -- what else -- Conan O'Brien.
"Oh, poor baby," I say, knowing that he doesn't have any kids.
"Yeah", he says, "It must be hard to get up with the kids at night, huh?"
"Well, at least it's only temporary," I respond tritely.
And just when you think that another day will surely push you over the edge, hoping that you will collapse in a sales meeting so that others will be forced to pay attention and sympathize with your torment, that's the night when the baby finally decides to sleep all night. But there you are, wide-awake, staring at the ceiling, feeling emotions somewhere between foolishness, anger and relief while you curse the darkness. You're now doubly screwed as you've been conditioned for this graveyard shift and now you're awake for no good reason. Let this be a reminder that although each stage may be temporary, parenthood is a life sentence without parole -- in Gitmo, with government sanctioned sleep torture.
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