Sleep: A natural state?

After kids, it certainly doesn’t feel natural


Suzanne Newman

Ahhhh, sleep. The cool feeling of the sheets against your skin. The soft spot on your pillow when you flip it over.

The American Heritage Children's Dictionary defines sleep as the following:

Sleep (noun) 1. A natural condition of rest that occurs regularly.

Natural. Regularly. Right.

I have a distinct memory of my childhood. It is waking up one Saturday morning in my 12-year-old room. The sun was streaming in through the window and I had just gotten a good 12 hours of sleep. I stretched like a cat and had no idea of what time it was. The best word I can think of to describe that feeling is "luxurious."

Flash forward to my 20s. My sleep was disturbed by choice with late nights of studying and partying and a job that required me to be up with the sun. Still, these were my own choices. And so I began to disturb that "natural" condition of sleep.

The 30s. Children. Children and natural sleep don't go together. Even before the children arrive, your sleep is forever changed. Bathroom trips overnight while pregnant. A lack of good sleeping positions. I'm convinced this is God's warning to us of what is to come. Then come our precious gifts and, for the rest of their lives, we're never to have a "natural" rest again.

For the first few nights of my son's life, I was so excited I practically leaped to the crib's side at every whimper on the monitor. "Go back to sleep, sweetie," I'd lovingly tell my husband as I basked in the glow of being able to nurse my first. I believe this period lasted about a week. Then it became obvious that our little one preferred late night activities. Enter in advice galore on how to get him to sleep: turn on the hair dryer, take him for rides in the car, put him on top of the dryer in his car seat and turn the dryer on.

Natural ideas they were not, but we tried them all with moderate success. We used the dryer more often as a sleeping aid than for laundry.

Before he was even out of diapers, came child No. 2. Our daughter hated to go to sleep, but once she fell asleep, she was out like a light. I distinctly remember the first night she slept eight hours. My husband and I fearfully stood over her, afraid she wasn't breathing. So we woke her up.

It's funny how our relationship focused on sleep during those years as well.

Pretending not to hear the children at night never worked for me, because my husband could always outlast me. We began playing the "I'm more tired than you" game. You know, the one where you go "Oh, I'm beat. I was up six times last night with Cassie and just stayed up until 5:30 a.m. since she wouldn't go back to sleep." And then he would respond, "Well, I was so tired, I couldn't get to sleep the night before." I usually won that one.

With our children now in their school years, I find sleep to be a bit easier. Except for illness or nightmares, they generally sleep through the night. At least I think they do; I'm asleep now before they are. I figure I'd better catch some winks before driving and curfews begin.

Unfortunately, as I age and consult to my own mother, I find the future doesn't look bright as far as sleeping goes. You never really stop worrying about your kids, do you? And even if you did, your bladder doesn't cooperate like it used to.

Retailers know this is an elusive goal for parents and jump at the chance to capitalize on it. Look at all the money spent on high thread counts, foam pillows and extraordinary mattresses. I'll admit these items are on my Christmas lists more and more often, though I know the time I will be able to enjoy them will only come in brief spurts.

There are lots of advertised ways to enhance sleep, but most of them include chemicals or odd contraptions to strap on to your head.

Here's my suggestion for those of you looking for a gift for new parents (or old ones as far as that goes). Give them lots of things that will enhance their sleep habits. Bath salts, boring books, squishy pillows. Coupons for one night with their kids, where, even if they don't get a good night's sleep because they are worried their kids are homesick or irritating you, the thought still counts.

So enjoy it while you can, my 14-year-old. Enjoy it while you can. Naturally.

Kids Eat Chicago

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