Some days it definitely feels more like wicked, though it is also weary. Those are days that begin WAY too early, and end disturbingly late…or, more accurately, early – again. That kind of exhaustion makes me believe that I am in cahoots with the devil.
Sleep deprivation causes the same physical and mental dysfunctions as alcohol.
IT IS USED AS TORTURE IN WAR.
It is bad, mother trucking juju.
I can say this with authority, as I have been both a non-parent, and now, for the last decade and a half, a parent: YOU WILL NEVER KNOW TIRED UNTIL YOU HAVE A KID.
Argue with me, if you wish, you non-parent sleep-whores, but unless you are a childless Prisoner Of War, you have not been tired in every cell of your body.
I do not remember the first three months of my first child’s life. Actually, I do remember the first week or so, because my young body and brain was running not only on a crazy hormone high, but also adrenaline from the realization that someone had obviously made a HUGE mistake putting me in charge of a tiny human.
I was a 22 year old who spent hundreds of dollars on scented candles and random shit during 3 am Walmart runs with my best-friend-roommate.
And then there was a life growing inside of me.
And then it was outside of me.
And someone let me give it a name and bring it home.
I did not have that all-consuming-love for my child when they first placed him in my arms. I was overwhelmed, yes. I knew I wanted him to be ok every day of his life, forever and ever. But it was not like the diaper commercials.
That love washed over me at 3:36 am on the third night we were home. His perfect little face popped off of my chapped breast, and his head dropped back like an old man in a recliner. A little dribble of milk rolled down his chin, and I felt the most intense good juju wash over me and fill up places I had walled off for years. I knew that I loved him more than I had loved anything, and it was dangerously frightening.
Little by little, the adrenaline wore off and the tired took its place. I could not believe that a creature so small could require milk from my body so frequently. I thought I was doing something wrong. But he ate and ate and ate like the hungry caterpillar who only consumes breastmilk, and blows out every brand of diaper with each feeding.
I tried to do what the books say to do. I tried to put him in his crib in the other bedroom. I tried to put him in a bassinet by the bed. I couldn’t function with him somewhere else.
I found that the only place I could put him that would allow my own eyes to close, was in my arms or on my chest. After several jerk-awake moments during which I believed I had dropped him or thrown him, I figured out how to strategically place pillows under my arms and around me, such that I became a human bassinet.
I was so tired that I lost my ability to tell night from day. I measured time with the number of trips I made to the bathroom, because the only thing that completely woke me from the stupor, was trying to pee without crying. No one tells you about that. No one tells you that the trauma to your body will make you want to only pee in the shower, with water running down your bits and pieces so it dilutes your urine…for weeks.
I think one of the reasons parents have such incomparable love for children, is that we are essentially hypnotized for the first year of their lives. By the time they become a little more independent, and we allow them to be cared for by other people for a short time, we have Stockholm syndrome. They are little kidnappers of our lives, and we love them for it.
When I had my daughters under two years apart, I thought I had figured some stuff out. I tried to nap when they napped. I argued that co-sleeping allowed me more sleep. It was never close to enough. I was absolutely wrong about any ideas of “figuring it out.” You don’t figure anything out when your brain doesn’t function due to exhaustion. The first time I took both girls to the grocery store by myself, I cried.
I cried because I forgot the coupons for the two different sizes of diapers I was now purchasing. I cried because I knew I was looking forward to going back to work, and I hated myself for it. I cried because my mom, who was still alive but not in reliable contact, wasn’t there to help. I cried because my daughters’ father was still not the person I wanted to be with, but now we had TWO kids together.
I cried because I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, and I couldn’t imagine ever being rested again.
Eventually, I got better at having two babies. Eventually, I left their father (for the first time). Eventually, I got my shit together in a lot of major and minor ways. The bad juju lessened its grip and I was able to pull in amazing opportunities, one of which was going back to school….again.
Tired came back with a vengeance. Again, I felt myself in that alternate reality of exhaustion. As a result of the 19 credits I decided to take, the 35 hours I worked in two and a half days, and the little people who still needed me to be a mom, I was just trying to keep my eyes open and my body upright. I feared being in my car because my body was so deprived of rest, that any time I stopped moving, it tried to sleep.
You know what I learned from this? First, I need to sleep. Duh. Also, when we are doing what we are supposed to do, our bodies and minds are unbelievably resilient. Whether you are raising babies, or busting your ass in school, or working your fingers to the proverbial bone to provide for your family – your exhaustion is blanketed in good juju.
I do not remember every minute of my kids’ lives. I don’t remember 95% of the lectures I attended. I have kept in touch with only a handful of former coworkers with whom I spent thousands of hours.
I do remember when I fell in love with each of my children. I remember receiving the only ‘A’ one professor gave for a really difficult class. I remember the day I closed on the house I worked so hard to buy on my own. I know that the work friends I have kept through the years will continue to share in my heartaches and my successes, even though we may not speak regularly because they all have their own exhaustion-filled lives.
I remember all of the good juju and am able to keep a little distance in my head from the bad juju. That’s why women say that you will forget the pain of childbirth. First of all, that’s a lie. You don’t forget. You just get so full of all of the amazingness that the pain gets pushed to a dark little corner, only to be brought out when some part of you starts getting a little baby hungry or your coworker starts talking about how she had a pain-free birth and her one week old is sleeping through the night (because we all know that’s a bunch of bullshit).
I still feel like I am perpetually tired. Ask the Serial Killer how many movies I’ve made it through without leaving a drool stain on his shirt. Ask my kids how many times they have been late for school because I snoozed four alarms too many times. Ask my computer about the book that is three-quarters finished, and yet here I am writing a completely different project because this doesn’t seem as daunting.
And then ask the Future Me what I’m going to remember about this Tired – this good juju laden Tired – and Future Me will tell you all of the beautiful things, because the brain of Now Me is too tired to hold on to all of the times it felt like the bad juju was creeping in.