I am an excellent sleeper. I just don’t do it often enough. I’ve been not getting enough sleep since I was six. It’s run of the mill insomnia — can’t turn off my thoughts, can’t relax. But when I do fall asleep, wowy can I sleep. Also, I’m a top notch dreamer. I fly. I make anything happen, from sunsets to sex. My husband is such a skilled sleeper that he can do it anywhere — on a plane during take-off, on a lounge chair by the pool, wearing 3D glasses in a movie theater with The Croods screaming in surround sound. My daughter has slept a 12 hour night since she was a year old. 8 to 8.
Before Milo was born I finished a collection of poetry, edited an anthology and contributed two essays to other anthologies. All while having a full-time job and a toddler. Because she slept.
Milo sleeps the way he does everything else — maniacally or not at all. Lately it’s been not at all. Well, that’s an exaggeration, he goes to sleep at night, after a complicated ritual of reading, Om-ing, conscious breathing and a guided meditation he calls “what should I dream about.” Also, one of us has to stay with him until he falls asleep.
Milo sleeping isn’t angelic or graceful. It’s an anxious truce. And it hardly ever lasts the night. He regularly bolts out of bed in the middle of the night and rushes into our room reporting a nightmare. So we accompany him back to bed, and perform an abbreviated version of the go-to-sleep ritual.
By his report, his dreams are surreal and cinematic, likely not far off from the dreams of most 9 year old boys. Sometimes he is a hero in his dreams. Sometimes he can, “think” his way “through the bad stuff and save the day.” But usually he has nightmares. It’s his own brain chasing him down or feeding him misinformation. Or he can see the world ending and can’t stop it. The failure is personal for him, and aggressive. My nightmares give me an uneasy feeling afterward, his send him under he bed weeping.
But nightmares are not his real problem, actual sleep is his real problem. It eludes him. He wakes up early regardless of the light, the dark, what time he went to sleep, how tired he is, how tired he should be, the noise, the dog, if he’s hungry or thirsty or has to pee. He wakes up early. On a farm he would be industrious. In our house he’s agitated.
He wakes up while it is still technically night — the devilish and bedeviling hours of 4 and 5 am — and he gets dressed. He is done sleeping, or done not sleeping in the uniform of sleep.
He goes in pursuit of paper, pencils, books to read, books to stack, books to transform into flip books. He often “cooks” something special in the kitchen that may or may not involve edibles or, plastic disguised as an edible.
He will wake me up 6 times asking absurd questions, “Where is the comic book I made with Matt last year with the yellow guy on the cover?”
“Do we have a compass?”
“What happens if I plug the toaster into the Wii?”
“O (the dog) really wants me to take him to the pond to meet the ducks. He told me so.”
“I’m hungry and I’ve already eaten the rest of the skittles and the moon pies you hid and I tried the dog food. It’s not good. Can I have some breakfast?”
Eventually, one of us surrenders and gets up.
I wish Milo would make friends with sleep. I think he needs the break from the noise in his brain more than people with quieter brains. But his isolation from sleep is part and parcel of his isolation from the other friendly forces of life.
The elusive nature of sleep has beguiled poets for, well, ever. The poetic nature of dreams has attracted readers forever. And the dreamlike nature of madness is what great literature is made from. Unless it’s your crazy kid up too early talking to you in disconnected metaphor and banging around your kitchen. Then there’s nothing literary about it. It’s just another part of the affliction.