Samantha Amidon and her sleep-deprived Husky dog, James.
I peeled my eyelids back manually and saw Sam's shadowy figure, draped in her favorite blanket, standing at the foot of our bed. The glow of the moon on her face illuminated only her toothy smile.
"It's 1:17. What time did you think it was?" I yell to my wife, Chris, who has been asleep for only an hour or so. It's the same drill virtually every night, within 5 or 10 minutes of 1:15 a.m.
My friends who work with me at Wabash like to laugh when they relate to me the sleep problems of their children. Some even go for the throat with comments like, "Yeah, my kid slept through the night at four weeks and has ever since.
To hell with you, I think.
Like many couples, we elected to start our family well into our married years--12 to be precise. We figured that by our mid-30s we'd be better equipped to handle the ups and downs of parenting; that maybe we'd gotten the wild activities of our youth out of our system. Gone, we imagined, were late-night parties, weekend getaways, and travel. What we didn't figure was that as we matured we also lost our ability to get by on four hours of sleep. Or less.
Those first 48 hours after Samantha was born were blissful. She'd sleep endlessly in my grasp; she felt light as air in my arms and in my emotions.
The first night home she started screaming. She was tiny, so it was a thin, tiny scream that was more cute than irritating. She needed to be fed, so Chris got up with her during those first few weeks. And at six weeks, like a gift from God, she slept from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m.
"That's not so bad," I'd say to folks. "Big deal. Easy stuff." Samantha got her first cold about a week later, and in the two years that have followed you can count the number of times she's "made it through the night" on your fingers and toes.
It's become ritual at morning staff meetings for my Wabash co-workers to ask, "How'd it go last night. I launch into a long litany of details, tell them how exhausted I am, and they laugh.
To hell with you, too, I think.
It's the same every night and every day. And it's amazing that even after she's talked, played, eaten, cried, walked, stumbled, and blown kisses to every object and photo in the house, she's still hard to put back down when she wakes in the middle of the night. Eventually she gives up--usually after 90 minutes--and goes back to sleep. So does Chris.
But not me. I've tried everything available over the counter, from Melatonin to Excedrin and Tylenol P.M., with hopes of catching a few winks before it's time for work. Nothing works.
I've tried getting up to come to work at ridiculous hours when only the noise of the custodian's vacuum can be heard on campus. Funny how hard it is to stay awake at a 10 a.m. meeting with your boss, and how weak the excuse sounds to someone who slept soundly all night.
It became clear when I encountered some health problems that the three or four hours of sleep I was getting nightly wouldn't do, so I moved from herbals to the heavy stuff, "sleepers" as my friend and doctor calls them. After trying various drugs at differing dosages, I've settled on the aptly named Restoril, which gives me four great hours per night, and occasionally allows me to drift back to sleep after our nightly ritual with Samantha.
But there's a downside to artificial sleep. By 18 months Samantha had a full mouth of teeth, including two very pointy incisors. By 20 months she was able to climb from her crib, drop to the floor without breaking bones, open her door, climb the baby gate, and make a grand escape.
One night I heard her howling--barely, thanks to the "sleepers--and Chris and I decided to let her go at it. I was still partially awake 30 minutes later, somewhere in that drunken dreamland, when I heard a thump. Muffled cries. Creaky door opening. I peeled my eyelids back manually and saw Sam's shadowy figure, draped in her favorite blanket, standing at the foot of our bed. The glow of the moon on her face illuminated only her toothy smile.
I leaned over, shook Chris loose from her slumber, and said, "Honey, our daughter is Dracula, and unless you want me to whack her with a wooden stake, she's your problem. Good night.
I was up and on my way to work minutes later, in time to listen to the more subdued tones of the campus vacuum cleaners.
That day I went online and found one of those canopy domes that attach to cribs, and shouted "Eureka!" at my discovery. I figured that I'd attach it and convince Samantha that it would be fun, like camping in a tent.
The whole idea of caging Samantha in her crib got me thinking about a story my parents still tell old friends. "Remember that time we left Jimbo with his grandparents for a weekend?" they'll say. "When we came to pick him up every cabinet in the house had been secured with ropes and boards, and there was Jimbo in his crib, covered with a 4x8 sheet of plywood and concrete block on top." And then they laugh.
The hell with you all, I think. No wonder I have such a fear of tight spaces.
Our friends who are experts in child development said my plan to purchase the high-tech mesh canopy would never work. They said Sam was too bright and she'd soon figure out how to get out of it, or get so angry that she'd scream even more loudly.
I'm not sure what was worse, though--the arguments Chris and I had over plunking down the $75 for the mesh canopy, or the actual sleep deprivation. One was feeding the other, though, that much was clear.
We decided against the expensive canopy. Instead, we opted for keeping Samantha up later. Turns out that if you keep a toddler up until, say, 11 p.m., they do make it through the night. But it's pretty hard on the parents.
Not long ago the three of us were in the loft of our home, talking and playing. When I woke up after nodding off, I shot a glance to the couch where Chris was sound asleep. Samantha was nowhere to be found. Turns out she just walked safely down the steep staircase and was sitting quietly in the family room playing with some Barney-Blue's Clues-Disney toy.
The whole parenting thing has me thinking a lot lately about the old Wabash marketing line, "It won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
Yeah, that's probably true, but I think I'll go out and buy myself a sheet of plywood.