The oldest daughter is six. The youngest is one, and not the type to waste a perfectly good night sleeping. If a mother had two additional pregnancies between these girls producing a miscarriage and a four-year-old boy, how many years has it been since she felt well-rested?
The answer is seven. Seven freaking years. I’ve been so sleep-deprived for so long that even my fantasies are tired and crazy.
When a combination of drowsiness and alcohol unleashes my subconscious, I picture myself lying in a hospital bed, tubes and machines everywhere—though none touching my serene, gorgeously-proportioned body. “You didn’t, by chance, snap at her, did you sir?” the doctor asks my despondent husband. “Unfortunately this type of trauma is caused by a lack of appreciation for housework, compounded by being blamed for the unruliness of children,” he continues, “only a regimen of massage and expensive cheese will save her now.”
My beloved nods eagerly: “Yes, doctor, yes. What else can I do?”
“For the best chance of recovery, you must ensure she sees the children only when they’ve been cleaned, fed, and disciplined by someone else. Keep it to groggy, cuddly times, like during pediatric illness. Though it may increase the risk of recurrence, it also is permissible for her to fraternize with them during high-gratitude events like Christmas and the Ice Capades.”
In another daydream, I stand in the kitchen after having picked the big two up from school. I reach for the Flintstones vitamins and vitamin D chewies, both Costco-sized bottles. Absentmindedly, my hand extends into the breadbox where I keep contraband: chocolate, cookies, vitamins—things kids are dying to access but can prove dangerous. I pull out a bottle and unscrew the childproof top. I give each child one, then sneak another for myself; after all these years, I still prefer the purple chalky Barney to the orange Wilma or red Fred.
But wait! My mouth registers squishy gelcap, not hard and gritty. Oh dear. It seems I mistook my stark white bottle of Unisom sleeping pills, about the size of my big toe that time it got stung by a bee, with the massive colorful vitamin containers.
“Mommy,” my six-year-old sleepily asks, “can we skip dinner tonight? I want to go put on my jammies.”
“Yeah. I’m tired, Mama,” her brother adds.
They climb out of their chairs, link arms like the adoring siblings in some retro musical like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and sing themselves a sweet lullaby as they disappear down the hall.
“Don’t you want a bath?” I call after them.
“No, Mommy, we just want to brush our teeth and use the bathroom one more time.”
“Are you sure you don’t need a few more stories?”
“No, we’ll read ourselves a board book. That’s enough. We’re going to get in bed now, Mommy.”
“I can double-check the locks on the front door?”
“No, it’s totally safe in here. Goodnight. We love you, Mommy.”
“How about a glass of water?”
“One last snuggle? I could sit in your room for a while? Leave your door open a crack?”
“NO, Mommy. We’ll see you in the morning. GOODNIGHT.”
Of course, I’ve been nursing the baby all this time, and the sleeping pill’s magic has gently floated through the blood-milk barrier to leave her eyelids closed, her angelic little mouth barely moving as if practicing future kisses.
The Unisom having robbed me of my will to fight the inevitable (and call poison control, apparently) I lay the little bug down in her crib. Yawning and stretching, I survey the house. No dinner to put away. No dishes to do. No floor to sweep. No bath towels to hang up. No books to reshelve.
After a solo trip to the bathroom, I slip into my softest pajamas that have plausible deniability in the “I still try” department: a stretchy top and bottom discreetly stamped “Betsy Johnson” and covered in black and fuchsia stripes. Feeling comfortable and looking as if I’ve escaped from sexy jail, I lift up my duvet and climb in. Cuddled up to the pregnancy pillow with which I still can’t bear to part despite my IUD, I peacefully drift off.
Approximately 4.32 minutes later, reality descends in the form of a wet, heavy-breathing four-year-old standing beside my bed, silently watching me, and the cries of the baby he awoke while departing from their bedroom. “I can’t find my binky, and I peed,” he says. Then the voice of my oldest rings out. “AND I’M NOT EVEN ASLEEP YET, BECAUSE IT SHOULD BE TOMORROW ALREADY AND I’M NOT TIRED AND I WANT TO READ.”
Goodnight, Mommy? More like, good luck.
But sweet dreams? Now that I can make happen.