Most things 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.
But the stuff about losing sleep and being tired? Solid. Gold. Truth. You are going to be exhausted. All of the time. Throughout every stage. Even when your kid is a teenager who sleeps until noon every day, you’re still going to be tired. Forever.
You’ll have days when you’ll swear 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 30 minutes by yourself in the car listening to the radio, even just 10 lazy minutes on hold with the cable company; any of that will provide a boost. You just know it.
The attrition starts on Day One. The presence of a kid starts slowly chipping away at your nightly Zs the very minute baby arrives, maybe even before baby arrives, and the sleep you lose never returns. It’s like sand through an hourglass, or Keyser Soze: poof! Gone in an instant. You can neither bank sleep NOR catch up on it. It’s one of the reasons the phrase that greets so many pregnancy announcements – “Better catch up on sleep now, you’re gonna need it!” – is so obnoxious.
It doesn’t matter if you have just one child 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 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, 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 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 7 and 9 every morning. 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 10 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 10 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.
A version of this first appeared on Dad and Buried.