The Day Away
Thursday, August 25, 2011 • 10:44am
I can’t sleep. There are just too many lumpy objects under my mattress: painful dilemmas, problems without solutions, worries on worries. The future of the world. Silly things.
But what really turns my hyperactive cerebellum into a throbbing pincushion is the obsessive mantra: I can’t sleep. It is like the chorus to a shrill Britney Spears song that plays incessantly on the all night radio station that is my head. Commercial free.
Contrary to what the sleep experts say, there are really only two stages of sleep: falling asleep and waking up. If we don’t go to sleep we don’t get any sleep. If we don’t wake up we are in a coma. Either way, it’s not pleasant.
WAKE UP! I yell to my teenage son in his shade-darkened room behind a tightly closed door. My tone is harsh and pointed and without patience. I have, after all, had a sleepless night.
My son doesn’t have this problem. He can easily crash 12 hours a day and often does. For the most part I let him sleep because he is a growing teenager. And as long as he is asleep, he is blissfully occupied.
He is on the cusp of sixteen. A rising rung on the ladder of high school awaits him shortly. But until the exact hour he needs to step up, he doesn’t really have any responsibilities. This is probably his last do-nothing summer.
He grunts hoarsely from his room. He is not happy to be awoken so abruptly. Not while the sun is still shy of its apex. I would let him sleep, but I am tired and cranky and want him to share in my sleepless misery under the guise there are important chores to be done. As soon as I think of some.
It occurs to me, standing outside his door, that learning to shed responsibility is the key to sleeping well. If I were responsible for nothing I could hibernate like a bear. If I were responsible for nothing I wouldn’t be standing outside my son’s door right now with the back of my eyeballs on fire.
Earlier in the summer I informed him he was responsible for getting himself up in the morning; but he sloughed off this responsibility to an alarm clock. A week later, when he still failed to get up, I told him he was also responsible for setting the alarm clock. And later, when that failed to achieve results, I told him he was responsible for setting the alarm to a reasonable hour. And still later, to an hour in the AM half of the day.
Most recently I have had to focus his attention on the alarm volume level. Here it is the end of summer vacation and I still feel responsible for his responsibilities. No wonder I can’t sleep.
It’s OK. Because when school starts, and the uncoordinated assault of assignments and tests and commitments hit him like an icy splash of lake water, I expect he will not sleep as much. I expect he will wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering whether he set the alarm clock to the proper time zone and whether he will even hear it if he ever gets back to sleep.
Before too long his life will start in earnest with a brain-rattling wake up alarm. And he will have to face his mounting responsibilities knowing that they will thwart his sleep from time to time. This is about when he will start drinking coffee. And, perhaps, beer.
I yell at him blindly again in front of his poster-pinned door, hoping to penetrate the darkness that envelops him with the sound of my voice. It’s not working.
When school starts, he begins driver’s education. This keeps me up at night too. But not him. He has already fallen back asleep.
WAKE UP! I yell one more time. There is no response. I pound the door with my fist until it rattles the hinges. IT’S TIME TO GET UP!
I hear a groan from another world where uncompromised rest is happily refueling growing bones and nourishing nascent hormones. Then I hear some garbled words. A question. He wants to know why it is time to get up.
It is a quarter past morning on a Saturday and I am painfully tired. Other than it is my responsibility to get him up, I don’t really have a good answer for him.
I remember a time long ago when I had no responsibilities and my father rudely entered the cave of a hibernating cub all because the lawn needed mowing.
Because I am jealous! I answer him sternly. Now go back to sleep!