Most of the stuff people tell you about having a baby? Total garbage.
It’s either too much or too little, too intense or too laid back, too judgy or too deadbeat, too scary or not scary enough. And all of it – every single bit – is refracted through each “helpful” person’s own prism, informed by their own experiences and their own specific circumstances, all of which are unique and personal when it comes to even the most generic of tasks, and so esoteric as to be meaningless when it comes to raising children.
But the stuff about losing sleep and being tired? That’s some solid gold truth.
The newborn stage, the generic baby stage, the colicky baby stage (Godspeed), the Cry It Out stage, the “Screw You I Refuse to Torture my Child! Non-Cry It Out stage,” the co-sleeping stage, the toddler stage, the preschooler stage, and so on and so forth, all of it steals your sleep and drains your energy. Even when your kid is a teenager who sleeps until noon every day, you’re still going to be tired. And unless you’re Benjamin Button, there’s no way back from it.
There will be days when you’ll swear that if you can just get one solid night of sleep, you’ll be all set. Six hours will even do it. Four hours will at least help. A cat-nap is enough! Hell, a movie you don’t have to pay attention to, or thirty minutes by yourself in the car listening to Morning Phase, even just ten lazy minutes on hold with the cable company; any of that will provide a boost. You just know it.
You’re never gonna catch up. It’s not possible. The math just doesn’t work. And this is the sad reality of the tired parent.
I’ve said it before: there is no recovery time for parents. Because no matter how attainable it seems, catching up on sleep is as theoretical as time travel. But that’s only half the story. Because even if there were recovery time, once you have a kid, it’s already too late.
The attrition starts on day one; the presence of a kid starts slowly chipping away at your nightly Zs the very minute s/he arrives, maybe even before s/he arrives, and the sleep you lose never returns. It’s like sand through an hourglass, or Keyser Soze: poof! Gone in an instant. It’s one of the reasons that phrase that greets so many pregnancy announcements – “Better catch up on sleep now, you’re gonna need it!” – is so obnoxious. You can neither bank sleep NOR catch up on it. Especially when you have kids.
It doesn’t matter if you have just one child like me or you are in the clutches of the resource-hogging Duggars; there’s not a parent alive who is adequately rested. No matter the circumstances. Except maybe Gwyneth Paltrow.
Over the weekend, Detective Munch slept at a friend’s house. His first sleepover! He couldn’t wait to go and play with his friends (and their toys), and he had a blast. (The fact that he wasn’t at all hesitant to leave us or homesick while he was there is another story for another time – probably one you won’t be privy to because only a therapist could unpack this complicated emotional stew of pride and resentment.) The idea was that while he was having his fun, we would be reaping the benefits of an empty bed and a quiet house and a morning blissfully free from the mewling commandments of a tiny “Octonauts” addict. We would have some fun of our own, in the form of both freedom and rejuvenation.
Let’s pretend for a moment that my body hasn’t been conditioned, by years of work and parenting, to wake itself between seven and nine every morning. And let’s pretend that I don’t have the bladder of a 90-year-old man who has to get out of bed to urinate several times a night. And let’s pretend having a child in another room, let alone another house with other people doesn’t cause immeasurable amounts of stress both rational and otherwise. And let’s also pretend that I don’t drink to excess on the weekends and therefore my sleep-state is impeccably restful and regenerative instead of hallucinatory and intermittent. Finally, let’s combine those delusions and conclude that, without my son around, I slept for ten blissful, uninterrupted hours.
Even had that been the case – and the astute reader who saw through my hypotheticals is already well-aware that it decidedly was not – I would still need to be chugging my fourth cup of coffee and preparing to crack a smelling salt just to finish writing this post, because even ten blissful, uninterrupted hours wouldn’t be but a drop in the bucket of my bottomless exhaustion. The ship has sailed.
Sleep is no more retrievable than youth. Even if you do find a magical fountain, it doesn’t matter; the sleep you lost is already gone and it ain’t coming back. Not for anyone, and least of all for us.
For parents, recovery time is usually mythical and always meaningless. Nothing can penetrate the layers of exhaustion that envelop our bodies in torturous, metaphorical Jell-O molds, reducing every movement to increasingly painful slow-motion. No, we’ll never catch up on sleep, and we’ll never be totally well-rested, and we’ll never not be tired again. That die was cast the day the pregnancy test came back positive.
The best we can hope for is that our kids will become independent and self-sufficient at an early enough age that we can retire while our metaphorical Jell-O still has a little jiggle to it.