Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Nightly Grind.

I lay in bed, alternately deflecting a small foot from my windpipe and contemplating the nature of heredity.

First, the foot. Daughter is quite fond of her bedroom and devoted to her bed, as long as it’s covered in stuffed animals wearing tiaras and Lulabelle the cat, ideally also wearing a tiara. But, every once in a while, a nightmare will attack her with such ferocity so as to render the entire bedroom unfit for sleep that evening, at which point she starts migrating towards our bedroom. The migration begins, as so many things do, with her screaming “MOM!” and my flailing my way down the hallway, trying to focus my pupils while not running into the wall.

We determine quickly that:

a) She has had a nightmare,
b) It probably involved a dragon of some kind, and
c) We can either continue this conversation until dawn or I can accept the inevitable and let her sleep with us.

We shuffle back to my bed. Daughter curls up next to me and falls instantaneously asleep, just in time for me to feel my brain start to wake up.

BRAIN: What…is it morning? Where’s my tea?

QUINN: Not morning, go back to sleep. Look, here’s your pillow!

BRAIN: Our feet are cold. That makes me anxious. I think we should obsess over the cost of a college education in fifteen years.

QUINN: Shh, here’s Daughter. Smell her little head. Bask in her warmth. Her innocence.

BRAIN: I think we left a credit card at the gas station today.

Being now fully awake, I can fully appreciate Daughter’s aerobic sleep. Daughter exercises more in a night than I do in a week at the gym. She alternates between leaping around the bed like water on a hot griddle, doing a Martha Graham-ish interpretive dance on a parent’s vital organ, and sitting bolt upright, announcing something incomprehensible, and falling face forward, without ever waking up. It’s experimental theater on percale.

But all of this is nothing next to her most notable sleeping quirk, and I have only myself to blame for that one, which takes us back to heredity. When I was pregnant and people would ask me what I wished for, I would truthfully say, “A healthy child.” If pressed, I would request humor, intelligence and kindness. There was one request, however, I kept securely locked up: the child should not get my nose. It doesn’t photograph well, doesn’t age well, and doesn’t work well so a dead-end on that genetic trait would be no great loss to my progeny.

Actually, as the pregnancy progressed, I realized there was very little of Quinn I needed to see travel up the family tree. If this child was to favor anyone physically, it should be either grandmother who, in their times, were both nothing short of gorgeous. [I took after my Dad.] As far as other biomedical stuff, a friend put it best when he once described me as a “Beta test for a model of human they ended up not going with”. There are days when I’m just grateful I haven’t yet spontaneously combusted.

And then Daughter was born, and she was wonderful, and I was grateful. All of things you hope to see in your child were clearly there, and I was very grateful. Within a year, I had every reason to believe she hadn’t gotten my nose, hair texture, or skin color, and I sang my gratitude to the skies.

But, she did get one thing from me.

She grinds her teeth.

I have heard about how I grind my teeth my entire life. While I was growing up, my mother swore she could hear my gnashing away in my room, which was twenty feet from hers. I chalked this up to my mother exaggerating this because I was giving her nothing else to complain about. [Cue sound of my mother hooting in laughter in the background at that statement.] I would go to sleepovers, and friends would shake me awake, thinking I was choking on my retainer. Or eating it.

As I went out into the world, I would have to warn people about this:

QUINN: You should know something. Apparently, I grind my teeth a bit while I sleep.

OTHER PERSON: Oh, okay. Don’t worry, I’m a heavy sleeper.

(The next morning)

OTHER PERSON: How do you have a tooth left in your head?

QUINN: Did it keep you up?

OTHER PERSON: I think you woke up my downstairs neighbor. I lived over a subway stop, but that was nothing compared to you.

After a dentist told me that I could either wear a tooth guard or start putting money away for dentures at thirty, I began to wear something which resembled a fighter’s mouthpiece, only uglier, and every night I would macerate it. The dentist would construct a new bite plate out of a harder material and within six months I would return carrying a contorted piece of plastic the size of my pinky fingernail. Imagine a Bic pen after the dog had it for a week. I understand my current bite plate is made of Kevlar.

I don’t grind because I am unhappy or stressed. I have ground in good times and bad, in times fat and times fallow. Western medicine has no cure. Eastern medicine hasn’t worked. I grind my teeth because I grind my teeth, and because I am always asleep when it happens I hardly ever think about it anymore; until I am sharing a bed with my child, the Tiny Tooth Terror.

How to describe what Daughter does? Imagine the cringe you feel when someone cracks their knuckles next to your ear. Now, imagine the sound of knuckle-cracking went on for minutes at a time, and was loud enough to interfere with normal conversation. Every fiber of the listener screams, “Oh, PLEASE, stop that!”, but the grinder is wily. Attempt to massage our sleeping jaws into a relaxed state, and we will flail at you and hide our mouth in the pillow; would you mind, we’re busy pulverizing our teeth.
So, I’m lying in bed, watching Daughter do the Somnambulist Samba across Consort, who unaccountably wakes up when she sticks her elbow in his eye socket. We watch our angel thrash and grind.

I whisper, “Do I make that much noise when I grind?”

Consort shakes his head definitively.

“No. That’s not one-tenth the noise you make.”

I wonder if Lilly Pulitzer has matching mother-daughter bite plates.


Blogger houseband00 said...

Hi Quinn,

My son has the exact sleeping habits as your daughter. He also grinds his teeth and throws his sleeping body about. Sometimes, I even catch him giggling in his sleep.

Thanks for the laughs, Quinn.


1:06 AM  
Anonymous Chris S. said...

Two words: SLEEPING BAG--beside the bed--ON THE FLOOR-containing child. This solution to the windmill child in our home has worked wonders for my ability to sleep. This method may require parent/child handholding till said child drifts off to sleep but that is waaaaay better than waking up bruised! Chris (an Ohio Mom)

9:59 AM  
Blogger grand canyon hiking said...

2:06 AM  

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