6 a.m. is not my friend.
6 a.m. is a cold-blooded, ruthless motherf’er, incapable of showing any semblance of mercy. 6:00 a.m. makes the honey badger look like Mother Teresa.
6 a.m. is also persistent. Maddeningly, maniacally, persistent.
6 a.m. arrives defiantly every morning, even if its predecessors were spent sleepless, failing to prepare me for its arrival.
To be clear, I am not talking about the: “I only got six hours last night” candy-ass sleep complaints. I’m talking about logging six hours over five straight nights, Abu Ghraib-like “sleep dep.” I’m talking about losing your cell phone three times a week and your car keys twice, and waking up on the toilet at 5:30 p.m. with only a vague recollection of having driven around all day – those kind of sleepless nights.
Sleepless nights that laugh in the face of my restorative hopes, as I tend to the insatiable baby monster and battle my nighttime enemies in what has somehow become the dreaded “family bed.”
The family bed has evolved rather surreptitiously, as these things often do. At some point (OK, the exact point we brought baby brother home from the hospital) the four-year-old’s nightly trek down the hall to our room became a one-way trip with no return ticket.
Previously firm resolutions against “that sort of thing” (once considered the hippie equivalent of breast feeding a five-year-old) have reluctantly dissolved into fatigue-induced acceptance and rationalization:
“It’s not so bad.” “It’s kind of nice cuddling with her.” “They grow up so fast.” “Soon she won’t want anything to do with us.” “It’s not harming her development.”
(In our defense, she is at her peaceful, kind, accommodating, loving, and listening best…when sound asleep.)
Unfortunately for my sleep hygiene, the “No Family Bed” decree is merely a distant memory now. Banished to some forgotten land, where it hangs out with fellow casualties: “No Special Kid Meals” and “No Television Before Age 5,” similarly jettisoned somewhere along the arduous ascent up parenting mountain.
The most difficult aspect of the family bed, from a sleep perspective, is not the mere presence of another body mass- the heat from which could power a small village – but it’s that she regrettably inherited her father’s unruly “sleep behavior.”
It’s as if I’m sleeping center stage of some twisted Vegas show starring Michael Flatley and the entire cast of Stomp The Yard, all of whom are performing a rousing “dance-off” finale with Cirque du Soleil acrobats and break-dancing monkeys. Not shockingly, I’m the one that ends up getting “served.”
And that’s on a good night. Add in a late-day bowl of chocolate ice cream courtesy of Nana and Papa, or an after-dinner espresso for Daddy, and I find myself involuntarily refereeing a Muay Thai death match.
Incidentally, a sensible person would put their money on the grown man in such a contest, whose powerful “Anaconda Leg Wrap” is legendary among ex-girlfriends, and fellow rummy running mates with whom he’s shared cramped sleeping spaces (typically following a festive night at the frat house, or during a frugally budgeted “guys weekend” where there were more bodies than beds).
But that sensible person would lose, having never felt the ferocious boniness that is a four-year-old’s elbow or knee lodged aggressively into their kidney.
I don’t even get a break during the spuriously peaceful “eye of the MMA sleep storm.” That’s because any temporary paralysis of the bed wrestlers is accompanied by their deafening snores. Add Walter, the 150lb English Mastiff/Great Dane to the mix, and you soon have a cacophony of congested airways that would elicit noise complaints from a construction site.
Speaking of Walter, he is also a big dreamer. Whether he’s imagining an Ocean’s 11- style heist of a counter-dwelling pork roast, or bolting through the back gate to escape the ear-pulling, nose-poking, rectum-probing, “toddler canine-questrian,” he’s constantly running in his sleep. Unfortunately, he sleeps on his back with all fours braced along the wall, so that the noise from his gnashing paw pads sound like those hideous shakers the four-year-old made in music class from dried out calabash gourds.
The dog is also good for a monthly ear infection, which means a night of reverberant ear (and cavernous drool-filled jowl) shaking, combined with the jolting rattle of dog tags after Sir Snores-A-Lot inevitably forgets his nightly “Remove Walter’s collar” chore.
Lest I forget my olfactory sense, which certainly won’t be suffering from survivor guilt any time soon. It probably endures the most devastating and relentless assault throughout the night.
Fierce flatulence battles are routinely waged between the dog – whose odorous productions have literally woken me from a deep sleep shouting: “Oh my God, which one of these reprobates finally outdid themselves and actually pooped in the bed?”- and my husband, who employs the fart-festering advantage of the comforter.
Walter usually wins paws down with his unique “ingested a small animal that subsequently died and spent weeks rotting in his innards“ fragrance, which doesn’t just smell bad, it actually tastes bad.
Never to be outdone, my precious little princess competes mightily in the smell game, with her contribution of the urine-saturated Pull-Up. To bastardize the once great Robert Duvall: ”There’s nothing like the smell of urine engulfing my face in the morning. It smells like victor…hot piss.” The amount of urine that child produces is truly staggering. It’s as if she’s spending her afternoons on the surface of the sun and then hydrates accordingly.
And just as I assemble my shark cage of pillows to protect against flying limbs, bury my nose in the Downy-fresh nook of my pajama-clad arm to fend off malodor, and fold that last pillow atop my head to maximize noise cancellation, I see it…
The faint flicker of red monitor lights, signaling the rise of the baby beast.
His reflective green eyes stare at me through the night vision monitor like Grendel himself. His giant head lolling back and forth as his guttural grunts crescendo into a cry that translates to: “The jig is up lady, thought I was going to give you a night off didn’t you? Sucka…”
Until this point I always consider the little fellow my silent ally, honoring my brave battles against the night. When in reality he’s simply lying low, lulling me into a false sense of security, merely waiting for that perfect moment to strike, joining forces with the rest of the sleep robbers.
But these are my nights now. And these nights are why 6 a.m. and I are not friends.
6 a.m. has no children.
6 a.m. has no husband.
6 a.m. has no pets.
6 a.m. has no sensory organs to be assailed, preventing it from proper sleep.
Thankfully, I know that there will be a time in the not-so-distant future, when 6 a.m. will no longer defeat me. A time when I can ignore it – let it pass by unnoticed with the rest of its early morning comrades.
Or better yet, embrace it, because with the passage of time, I’ll be able to win some of my nighttime battles and get the sleep I need to confront it. The Family Bed will be an amusing anecdote from the past, we’ll resist the urge to replace the dearly departed Walter with another nocturnal foe, and my age-related hearing loss will defend against my husband’s snoring serenade.
Until that time, however, it’s just you and me, 6 a.m.
So bring it on.
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