When I take my family out into the world, people look at my line of ducklings (okay, children) and say: Six! Oh my! You must be busy!
I smile and say: All the time!
And we are, if by “busy” you mean industrious. We are eternally in motion, at least.
But when someone asks, So how are you? I am never busy. I am tired. I will always say tired.
Parenthood means signing up for five to seven (to thirty-five) years of interrupted sleep. It’s a sort of cultural experiment. If we take a whole bunch of mostly functional adults, equip them with little alarms that go off unpredictably in the night due to “growth spurt, need to nurse more” and “illness” and later “bad dreams” and “I heard a noise like an angry robot”—what will happen?
Sometimes what happens is that everything gets funnier.
Like the word eggs. Have you seen this word? It’s hilarious. It has two “g”s, right next to each other. It’s on the carton! There is a carton of eggs in the fridge. Ha! Eggs! See… because… of the double g…
No one ever seems to know what you’re laughing about, though.
Other times what happens is that you become increasingly skilled at absentmindedness. (It’s a skill now.) (What?)
You fall silent mid-sentence, having forgotten that you were the one speaking. You wander away from people while they are talking at you, having forgotten that you were listening. A week later you will think, Oh! She was telling me something about… kids’ shoes, I think? I wonder if that needed a reply. By then the conversation has moved on.
When you have just one baby, you can sleep when they sleep.
When the second one comes along, that tactic does you no good. If you sleep when the second baby sleeps, you will wake up to find that the first child has kept busy by cementing your eyelids shut with play-dough.
“Mommy! You have a mask!” your older child will say.
“What,” you will say. “What.”
It will take all the brain cells you have left just to come up with “what.” There is no more to that sentence.
I actually could nap most days, now that I have a thirteen-year-old and a ten-year-old — both of whom can play with a three-year-old for an hour, and neither of whom is likely to let the house burn down around us while I sleep.
If I do that too often, though, the neighborhood will be treated to the three-year-old’s chorus of:
“I not play trains! I only want mama!
I not play legos! I only want mama!
I not play blocks! I only want mama!
I not play… play dough? Let’s play play-dough!”
I think we all know where this is going.
So I try to reserve naps for special occasions, like my birthday, or days when I realize I have unintentionally fed the oatmeal to the houseplants and left the watering can on the table for breakfast.
That’s just how it goes. Sometimes you crack up about the eggs. Sometimes you find yourself standing in the kitchen, holding your car keys, and trying to remember how to start the cabinets. (It never works.) Sometimes you have to remind yourself not to drool. You could put it on a post-it: Try not to drool. But then you’d have to remember about the post-it. It’s not easy.
I’m not saying our babies need “sleep training,” I’m just pointing out that sometimes parenting is exhausting. Let’s give the parents a break. Pretend not to notice when we’re at the grocery store wearing what is clearly a pajama shirt. Yes, our ponytail looks like it was dipped in peanut butter. It probably was.
Tell us we’re doing a great job, and to hang in there, and that one day there will be more sleep. It’s okay to lie, on this point.
Bring us a cup of coffee, maybe. Or tea.
Just don’t let us operate heavy machinery.