Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance?

A couple of weeks into this blog, I begin to question the choice of metaphor at the heart of its name.  It seems at times insanely hopeful, given that I have never been particularly successful at putting anything or anyone to bed.  Literally.  My karma concerning such endeavors, and all things having to do with places of repose, is not good.

My difficulty extends to the most basic and essential human act of putting myself to bed.  I don’t go down easily, or stay down once having capitulated.  I have come grudgingly to accept that a narrow window of opportunity governs my susceptibility to somnolence, and that I ignore it at my peril.  Since I became literate, I have slept with a light on, not because I’m afraid of the dark, but because I have to let sleep sneak up on me as I read, appearing indifferent to its advance.  Once asleep, infinitesimal noises, like a night-flying moth winging through the sky over my house, disturb my slumber.  And when it recedes, as it often does, I take up my book and resume my cat and mouse game with oblivion.

I was no better at getting my children to sleep.  Some experts would have us believe that more intelligent children need less sleep.  Clearly, my children are all geniuses.  None of them slept through the night before age two.  They abandoned napping long before they were out of diapers.  They required increasingly elaborate routines to ease them into unconsciousness, straining their mother’s arms and back and fraying patience.  My unfinished novel reproduces a scene I lived through countless nights, walking and rocking and soothing, watching eyelids flutter and fight and finally close, waiting till breathing deepened, waiting some more for good measure, then lowering the heavy body over the side of the crib, slowly, slowly…only to lose the round to a squeaking floor, a ringing phone, or a night-flying moth winging through the sky over our house.

And teenagers?  Again, prodigies of sleeplessness.  My last two have roamed and crashed their way through adolescent nights, adding to the disquiet that disrupts my fitful sleep.  Of course, better rested parents would have managed all of this much more skillfully.  I did start out in search of solutions, many times, checking out piles of library books on the subject.  But the miracle cures of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems[1]; of Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep:  The All-in-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens[2]; of the American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child’s Sleep:  Birth Through Adolescence[3]; and of Snooze… or Lose!:  10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits[4] somehow eluded us.  Maybe it was because I kept nodding off….

From one phase of life to the next, I am plagued by bed refusers.  One of my current collection of day jobs is providing child care for my daughter’s two-year-old while she works part-time.  Once again, I am spending long afternoons struggling to nap a tired child who resists sleep as if it were the most onerous of punishments.  I lie down with him.  We read.  We toss.  We turn.  We snuggle.  He talks, and jokes.  I answer with stony silence, trying to ignore him to sleep.  Most days he outlasts me.

Three generations, then, of failure to put to bed.  And then there is vegetation.  I have yet to pull off putting a garden to bed.  Somehow, autumn is a perennial surprise, cutting short my harvests.  Even when I admit that my climate’s short halcyon season is coming to a close, I play chicken with the inevitable frost.  Kind of like market timing, and about as fruitful.  Inevitably, I wait too long.  Interruptions intervene.  The dying stalks lie down on their own.   In the spring, I am met with volunteers, a charming designation for the tomato plants that have gone rogue, slipping the bounds of their intended bed.

Add to these living, if not all breathing, entities the projects, intellectual and otherwise, that refuse to be put to bed--the stuff of this blog, more than the people and plants similarly afflicted.  Chaos, then, and the clutter of the unconcluded, has been my home planet for as long as I can remember.  Is it sensible to quit its comfort at this late date? 

[1] Richard Ferber, 2006
[2] Judith A. Owens and Jodi A. Mindell, 2005
[3] American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999
[4] Helene A. Emsellem, M.D. with Carol Whiteley, 2006

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