Cover Story: Into the Land of Nods

Relief in a child's sleep

May 5, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Falling asleep is a lean cat stretch into the sand's shift and then a graceful curtsey. The window ledge hikes her skirt and purrs. The dream builds her nest in the body. While it rests, little tears are mended and hard feelings are buffered.

After I had my first child, I missed my sleep, especially those thread-thin weekend sleep-ins — half awake in the faded knowledge there was nowhere to be. The sandman crows and pulls his grainy rug out from under the body.

Then my second child arrived, and any sense of order was chased from the coop.

Now I pine for their little retreats into The Land of Nods, and I stop at nothing to get them there. I lead them, like a witch piling sweets on the trail. On the bad days, I just load them there by the scruffs of their necks.

Most the time I am lost in their Land of Needs. My oldest son is now 3 years old, my youngest son is 1 and they require constant attention.

They sense when I pull away and cling like pills on a sweater.

Small children, without knowledge or malice, do their best to strip you of everything. They'd unravel the stamina it takes to maintain your identity, your appearance, your environment and any relationships, including your marriage, if you let them.

It took three months before I got their naps to overlap, leaving me a one- or two-hour interlude of privacy and a reprieve from the intense concentration it takes to keep the little interlopers out of harm's way.

With the naps layered, I rule this stretch of uninterrupted time. The yoke is no longer on me.

My ears and mouth swerve out of traffic and park. My eyes faint away, reclining in a pool of reflections.

I am no longer living in their moment. My world opens and I surface.

This is why I protect their naptime like the troll guarding his bridge from the Billy Goat's Gruff. I have given the evil eye to the neighbor's lawnmower and chased their dog. I have lifted a finger to the police sirens and raised a fist to the Harley Davidson. I have smothered the phone under pillows.

In my former life I was the free spirit. I transformed myself at whim. I dropped jobs, people and cities as I got bored.

I needed so much space and time, I could only be reached by moat. I was Rapunzel pulling up her ladder of hair, a stranger to intimacy, commitment and responsibility. I'd already peeked over the ledge of my mid-30s when I finally married my prince.

In this new part I play, I'm a cog in the wheel. Their spin on my role is that my attention should be undivided. We are a symbiotic microcosm. So, if the baby is ill at ease, I better take care of his needs or risk an outbreak of distemper all through my household.

When the boys are tired they wear me out, but when they break loose an expression of love it jogs my heart.

It is funny in its absurdity. It is sloppy. It stains.

And this is my reward. What is deeper than a child's love? It is a rabbit hole. It's a mad genius concentrated version of love subject to dilution through the ages. I am glad to exchange most of my personal freedoms for it now.

It is such a short time in our lives.

After an hour or so retreat, I am mended and buffered. I head underground like an ostrich into their subversive little wilderness, where I translate their language.

I repeat and repeat and repeat myself. I don't mind the mind-numbing games of "flush the toilet" or the backbreaking sport of "push me on the tricycle."

I find creative talents in their messes. I teach them how to survive in this world. I make my meals from what's left on their plates and I brace and collect them as they run squealing like rockets at my open arms. ©