Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pillow Talk

Forgive me if I seem a little light-headed, but we attended a birthday party on Saturday and another on Sunday. If you cut me, I believe I would bleed sheet cake right now. Not Daughter, however; she’s powered by butter cream and butter cream only. In the four years she has been eating birthday cakes, she has eaten no more than four grams of actual cake. She views the stuff as a delivery system for frosting. She’s also been known to body-check another child in order to get his slice of cake, if it included the rosette. And this is a slight digression, but has anyone else noticed that frosting dye gets on the skin and clothing of children and doesn’t come off for days? Long after the cake has been digested, you are still scrubbing Cinderella-blue frosting dye off of their ears.

But this isn’t actually my topic for today. At the first party, I was eavesdropping on two mothers I don’t know very well, and came in right about here:

MOTHER #1: …hasn’t slept in his own bed since the night we brought him home from the hospital.

MOTHER #2 (Gasping) And I thought I was the only one with a five year-old in my bed!

MOTHER #1: Oh, please. We’re everywhere.

I started to think. How many familial sleep configurations were represented in this backyard? I walked around the party and brought up the conversation as naturally as I could with friends and acquaintances, and I quickly noticed a trend. Every mother started off looking a little guilty. She would then explain what the plan for the ideal night’s sleep was. Finally, in a gush of shame, she would mumble how her family actually slept. I have not heard about so much bed-hopping since my early twenties.

None of the following names are real.

BETH: Well, we have the baby in with us at night, because he’s still nursing, and Brandon sleeps in his big boy bed…unless he has a nightmare, then he comes in to our bed. Usually then, I’ll put the baby in his crib in our room, because Brandon sometimes bites the baby accidentally.

KATE: The twins were Ferber-ized, so they’re pretty good sleepers. They go to bed at eight, and don’t get up until six-thirty. (Pause) Except for lately, because Stefano has started sleep-walking into the kitchen and eating condiments. Also, Alex is wetting the bed again, and I need to wake him at eleven and make him go to the bathroom so, right now, I’m sleeping on an air mattress in front of their door. The doctor says the sleepwalking should stop in a few months, and then I’ll go back to my own bed.

ELLEN: I’ve been lucky; Iris has always been a great sleeper. She listens to James Taylor singing “Shower the People” eight times (Thank God for that repeat button on the CD player, right?), hears me read “Olivia Saves the Circus”, and recites the name of every person she loves, and she’s out. Unless, of course, she saw something scary that day. Yesterday morning, for instance, we went out to get the newspaper and there was this big spider sitting on it. So, last night, I had to lie on the floor so she could hold my hand until she fell asleep. Of course, I fell asleep before she did. I woke up at two-thirty in the morning, in the dark, lying on the floor, my hand completely numb, and no idea how I got there. (Pause) Mostly, though, she’s a great sleeper.


BONNIE: Emily’s room is down the hallway from ours, and it’s pretty quiet in there after nine. That’s because I am in Emily’s bed, because Emily only falls asleep if she can play with my hair. Somewhere in the night, she must get hot, because she usually gets out of her bed and goes in and sleeps next to her father. But she kicks, so usually when I wake up in the morning, he’s asleep on the couch. I’m pretty hopeful this is going to resolve itself soon, because Emily’s cousin has invited Emily to spend the week, and I told Emily I am not packing my hair in a bag to take with her.

When I was talking to two of these women, they were standing with a third woman who was due momentarily with her first child. This soon-to-be mother listened in confusion to these chaotic evenings, and said, finally, “But how can you have any intimate time with your husband?”

The women looked at her kindly. She had labor to contend with. There was no need to give her any shocking news right now. She shuffled off to the bathroom, and those of us with small children laughed until we wept.

Intimate time? As in: “Hey, sweetie, let me just figure out whether your son ate the cat food or just put it on his lips, and then I’ll go put on something pretty”? Or: “I could be talked into sex, as long as we’re done in twenty minutes, because I need to wake her up for her ear-drops”?

Actually, a father who, without being badgered, took over the ear-drop dosing would qualify as the perfect Mr. Romance for most women I know. The thing I didn’t understand at the end of my pregnancy -- the thing my bathroom-bound friend doesn’t understand yet -- is how easy it is to plan to compartmentalize your life as a parent, and how nearly impossible it is to enact. That kid will go everywhere you go and instinctively claim anything you value, including your time, your sanity and your furniture. Even the marriage bed, the place (one would hope) of naughtiness of fun, becomes the first place your children head for when suffering from explosive diarrhea. I don’t know any mothers who are managing to keep even a small part of themselves unsullied by their kids.

But then, every mother I talked to ended up saying a variation of the same thing:

“Hey, it’s not like this is forever. Today, he needs to kick me in the shins to sleep: tomorrow, he’s getting married”

I am starting to wonder, though, if we’re creating a generation of children who will require us to go on their honeymoon with them.

“Mommy, I need you to get on a plane to Fiji. The airline lost the bag of hair you gave me, and I haven’t slept in two nights”.

4 Comments:

Anonymous yipes! said...

I'm not the ACTUAL soon-to-give-birth woman at your birthday party, but I'm a safe substitute. All my friends tell me their stories about the endlessness of sleepless nights and it is rather intimidating. I've always consolled myself that I can use some less militant version of Ferberizing...but now........

BTW, I adore your blog. And is there anywhere near Eagle Rock, CA that I can actually touch the Hiphugger?

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Emily B said...

Just wanted to say that I really enjoy your blog. I wish I could express this sentiment in a more intelligent, witty fashion, but I haven't properly slept in about 4 years.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Thank you, Emily, for your kind words. Please remember, everything is a trade-off: I might be able to write for my own amusement, but both my dog and my car are filthy.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Dear Yipes!
Try Grommitville in Silverlake or La La Ling in Los Feliz. Both of them have coo-worthy clothing for small ones as well as Hiphuggers.

1:43 PM  

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