Sleep is different than it used to be.
It used to exist in larger quantities than it does now. I mean before we had children, sleep was plentiful. At least the opportunity for sleep was more available. Nights were a wonderland of sleep possibilities with plenty of bed space available for all. Sleep opportunities stretched past the crack of dawn on weekends and holidays and even worked its way into our free afternoons. Good times, good times.
But then our journey on the good ship S.S. Sweet Dreams was-hijacked and we were boarded by squirmy, coughing, scared, cover-stealing, bed-hogging little sleep pirates. It’s not the same anymore.
Sleep-deprived is the new normal at my house. Well . . . it’s not exactly new. It’s been this was since the little one got here. Charlie was kind of an anomaly. From the time he was an infant he was a snap to put to bed and slept like a cute little log until it was time to get up. We even got to sleep in a little on the weekends.
Then Eli the Sleep Pirate came along. He is the Blackbeard of Sleep Pirates. He is the mastermind. He is a people person and he yearns to be among his adoring public. Being tucked away in a warm bed away from the spotlight just irritates him. It’s taken me awhile to figure this out because we just naturally assumed that Charlie, being the eldest, was the culprit. Charlie loves his sleep, but he is putty in the hands of Eli the Sleep Pirate.
During the week this time of year, because of football and soccer practices, we don’t get the boys home and fed until about 8:30 pm. A brief play time is followed by bath time. Bath time issues are for another column . . . seriously. However we have it down to a science, mostly, and manage to move them through bathing. After jammies go on the stalling starts and this is where the artistry and piracy begins.
Their pirate tactics are a mixture of old-school and new ideas that, together, are sheer genius. They are masters of the stall tactic. After the inevitable rounds of “Punch My Brother,” and “Where’s My Blanket,” and the occasional episodes of “I’m Going Blind!,” and “Is This a Rash?,” we get them in bed. We act casual and try to slide toward the door inconspicuously. They let us get aaaaaallllllmmmmoooooosssttttt to the door before the question comes.
“Can we have a story?” Damn almost made it. The initial reaction is for the parent closest to the door to bolt. The remaining parent gets to go through the process of choosing the stories. This is not easy. I suspect the astronaut selection process is less time-consuming than choosing the story to be read. Like I said their tactics are genius. The story is quick and painless . . . well not really . . . but work with me here. The sleep piracy comes in the story selection process. That’s where the money is made, so to speak.
I should explain here that we read to our boys constantly. Reading is very important to our family. We read. I feel however that after an evening of curing blindness and examining rashes that not hearing about a moose and a muffin just before bed is not going to turn our kids into the Unabomber or doom them to the Harvard Wait List.
After the boys are in bed, the real piracy begins. They steal time from us with various ploys. Charlie’s favorite is called “I Have to Poop,” he is the only human male I know who consistently poops between 8:30 and 9:30 pm. I admit that my sample size and depth of research is limited, but I have always thought of male pooping as a morning thing. For years I worked predominately with males in a maintenance facility. From 7:00 to 9:00 am it was easier to get a table at the French Laundry than a seat in our men’s room. I know a little about this.
I figured out that Eli the Sleep Pirate is behind this. Charlie is very susceptible to suggestion. Eli plants the seed by asking if Charlie has to go. Five minutes later he is pooping nocturnally. Genius.
Eli’s favorite stall tactic is direct and diabolical. He gets out of bed and runs down the stairs. Before we can object he yells, “I want to give you a hug and a kiss!” Seriously. It’s hard to punish direct disobedience when it is wrapped in a child’s love for his parents. It also buys him about 5 minutes of cuddling.
Growth spurts have driven our boys to another form of piracy. They are constantly hungry. Especially Charlie. In 6 weeks he has grown 1 inch and gained 13 pounds. Add two summer sports to that and he has become a plague of locusts in Nikes. His quest for food drives him to nighttime supply raids on our pantry.
Recently I heard a noise in the kitchen and we found Charlie in the pantry with a bag of pretzels and carton of goldfish crackers in his arms. Keep in mind that getting to pantry from his room requires Ninja skills and passing within our line of site.
I asked what he thought he was doing.
“Getting seconds,” he said.
“Getting seconds?” I said. I repeat things when I don’t really know what to say. “You mean you snuck down here before?”
“Uh huh,” he answered. “I was hungry so I got plums and candy before.”
“Why did you come back? You got away with it the first time.”
He shrugged. “I needed something salty.”
These escapades mean that my wife and I finally sit down to unwind, discuss family issues and start our final approach to bedtime much later than we would otherwise. With our start times pretty much set in stone, each little boarding party by our pirates steals a little more sleep time. Mornings come very early.
That’s not to say that the shenanigans stop when the boys finally go to sleep. Pirates wake up and stage midnight boarding parties. Eli shows up about 2 am every morning. There is always some kind of maintenance to be done. Blackbeard needs to go to the bathroom or needs to recover from the effects of not making it to the bathroom or is just pissed off in general.
Charlie doesn’t get in the bed with us anymore. There isn’t much room left. Instead he takes his bedding, seriously, all of his bedding, and makes a spot next to our bed. His choice of bed makes for interesting middle of the night conversations like:
“Oh Charlie, I’m sorry I stepped on your face.”
“That’s ok, it was just my eyebrow.”
The nocturnal pirate battles make for sleepy mornings. That’s ok I guess because at some point during the night the marauding slumber buccaneers become sleepy, soft, warm, beautiful little men.
It’s weird, but in the morning light with Blackbeard in the H position between us and Charlie and his sore eyebrow snoring softly in a pile of covers next to the bed, I dread the time when the pirate battles are over. They only last for a blink of the figurative eye in the context of a child’s life. Before long they will just go to bed or be allowed to stay up until they are tired. Worse yet, they will probably go to their rooms and stay there until bedtime.
For now we will put Blackbeard and Pirate Charlie back in their galleons and tuck them in as many times as it takes. I see the day coming when I will miss having little pirates come downstairs for a hug and kiss.
Thanks for reading. We’ll see you again soon on This Side of the Diaper.