I heard a great line on Modern Family last season. In response to her brother Mitchell’s desire to go home early in the evening instead of going out on the town, on her one night without kids, Clare quipped, “I have three kids. I’ve been tired since 2005.” The staff writer who came up with that nugget of truth must be a parent. I read online that parents of newborns lose up to 700 hours of sleep the first year of their child’s life. Add two more infants, and all the hours of wakefulness due to kids being sick, getting cold in the night and needing to be re-covered, night terrors, and my own insomnia during three pregnancies, and DANG that’s a lot of sleep lost. And lost cognitive ability. The worst part is I’ve been told I won’t every fully recover. I’m at risk for long-term sleep problems, even a change in my brain chemistry, says NPR. That sucks. So I suppose I’d better not wait to re-enter the world until I feel rested enough to awaken my brain from it’s hiatus.
Actually, it’s not been turned off or out of commission, just being used differently. The part that’s used for multitasking has been working overtime, turning my hair grey and my mood sour. I’m watching the 2012 Olympics wondering how these people can manage working out every day, let alone hours on end each day. I can manage gentle yoga on Mondays and Zumba on Thursdays, and that’s a good week. I suppose if I got up earlier I could do more, but then I’m back to the lack of sleep issue. No thank you.
I remember when my brain was a well-oiled machine – in college all the synapses were firing. I could write an essay, take a biology test, speak in French, retain dates and details of the Chinese Cultural Revolution all in one week, without asking a special favor of myself to kick it into high gear. Three kids later my brain is focused on nap times, school pick-up, and how to talk Lily down from temper tantrums. A very different lobe at work. Flashes of the old me, the college-brained me, are starting to reoccur from time to time, and that gives me hope. But trying to take a biology test now would take a month of prep and leave me weak and weary.
My husband and I went out two weekends ago with some college friends and stayed up entirely too late for our oldish bodies to handle. At 1:30 in the morning, which long ago would have been the middling hour of hanging out, but now is the I’m-about-to-die hour, we pulled into the driveway and sat motionless for a time, half sleeping, trying to gain the energy for the walk inside. One late night and we’d had it. That is how old we are. That is the cost of life with three kids. Sometimes it’s a downer.
In a perfect world I would get enough sleep every night, I wouldn’t see new wrinkles after a day with seven tantrums, and my body and brain would regain their pre-pregnancy status. But, and this is a big, life-encompassing BUT, if I had to choose between all that and having my kids, I’d choose them. Without hesitation. I’m sure almost all parents would, but it’s good to remind myself how very besotted I am with those three little people. It’s therapeutic to recognize the stress of parenting, and comforting to commiserate with others about it, but in the end, it’s the best thing since…anything. My son’s humor and kindness, my middle daughter’s spunk and determination, my baby girl’s utter sweetness and love of snuggling: they are worth wrinkles and brain fog and being tired all the time. These creatures who walk and toddle around my house, who eat my food and wake me up at night, are worth every bit of energy I’ve lost. They are better than sleep, but I recommend not reminding me I wrote that when one of them wakes me at 3 AM.
Maybe someday, as my kids get older, I’ll regain some of the sleep I’ve lost the last eight years. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m glad I gave them birth. Clare Dunphy is right. Sometimes you need a night out to remember what it’s like to be out, denying your years-long fatigue, enjoying yourself as much as your old body will let you. But sometimes it’s just as fun to stay in, watching a DVD, knowing the little people you love are upstairs asleep, and heading that way soon yourself.