I woke up at 9 a.m. on a Saturday to the sound of Moana playing on the TV. All three of my children, even the youngest, had been up for who knows how long and none of them had bothered me or my wife. Mel was still asleep, probably catching up on 10 years of not being able to sleep in past 6 a.m., while I gazed up at the ceiling.
We were done having children. Steps had been taken. More or less, we were just waiting on Aspen, our little caboose, to stop wandering into our room at the crack of dawn asking for milk, or cereal, or popsicles, or whatever pops into a 3-year-old’s mind in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.
We were waiting for my son and daughter, 10 and 7 years old and both very capable of getting up in the morning and caring for themselves, to follow my guidance on getting Aspen breakfast and a movie so Mel and I could sleep in a little on weekends.
Honestly, we were waiting for what seemed like an endless assortment of gears to shift so that Mel and I wouldn’t have to spend Saturday mornings sleeping in shifts, one of us getting up early with the kids while the other slept, then swapping at about 8 a.m. and letting the other go back to bed, making it so we didn’t get going until almost noon.
I don’t want to speak for all parents here, but sleep is the most coveted item in our house. Mel and I are always negotiating with each other for more of it, so to have our children get up and manage themselves on a Saturday morning was basically manna from heaven.
I rolled over to look at Mel. She was facing me. Her eyes opened, but she quickly squinted, not sure what to make of the sunlight peeking into our bedroom. Both of us were far too used to being woken before the crack of dawn.
“What time is it?” she asked, and it almost felt like she was asking what year it was. It had been so long since both of us had been able to stay in bed this long that it felt like we’d somehow fallen into a wrinkle in time, taking us back to before we had children. Back to when we used to complain about being tired because we’d accidentally slept too much. Back to when getting up before 9 a.m. felt like a real sacrifice.
This is one of the real challenges of parenting that isn’t often discussed. The day in, day out of learning how to function with little sleep is absolute hell. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. I wouldn’t go this long without consistent sleep for anyone else.
Before children, I had no idea what sacrifice really meant, and sacrificing sleep is a big part of parenting. I’d gone a few nights in a row with little sleep before kids. I’d burned the candle at both ends. But with kids, there really is no slowing down. There is no catch-up-on-sleep day. They get you up early. They keep you up at night.
The more children you have, the more nighttime distractions happen. One kid might go to bed early, while another decides to fight bedtime. Then once they are all asleep, the third decides to wet the bed. And all of them, every single one, regardless of what time you put them to bed, is up before daylight. And it’s not a few days of this, or a week, or even a month. It’s years of sleepless nights followed by early mornings until you are so exhausted and caffeinated that you forget how amazing it feels to sleep in past the sunrise.
“It’s 9:05 a.m.,” I said.
Mel opened her eyes wide. Then she rolled onto her back, looked up at the ceiling, and lay there, speechless.
“This might be the best day of my life,” I said.
Mel didn’t respond. She just reached out and took my hand. We stayed in bed for a couple more minutes, neither of us speaking. We just enjoyed our bed for the first time in a long time.
It didn’t last long, however. Nothing like this ever does for parents. The toddler crept into our room. Her face was smeared with chocolate. It dripped down her neck and onto the front of her Peppa Pig nightgown. It was mashed into her blonde hair.
She smiled up at us.
I’m not sure where she found the chocolate. I’m not sure who gave it to her. I knew this child well enough to feel confident that it was all over the living room.
I finally understood why she’d let us sleep so long.
But in that moment, I didn’t care. I was grateful that something like this had finally happened. I didn’t know how long it would take for sleeping in on Saturdays to become a regular thing. I didn’t know if it would be a hit-and-miss.
What I did know was that I was more optimistic about this whole parenting gig than I’d been in a long time. Sleeping in until 9 a.m. on a Saturday made me almost feel like a normal person again. It’s amazing what a good night’s rest can do.
Aspen tried to climb into our bed, but Mel stopped her before she got chocolate everywhere. Then she picked her up from behind, her chocolate-covered hands reaching out, and carried her into the bathroom to wash up.
I sat on the end of the bed and stretched, and as I did, I heard Mel say, “Thank you for letting us sleep.”
Then I went into the living room to find a delightful mess. As a parent, I often say I’d do anything for more sleep. I think all parents do. So you know what — that chocolate mess? Totally worth it. At least it wasn’t poop.