The New Meaning of Up All Night

by Melissa T. Shultz
Originally Published: 

I remember when the expression up all night involved parties, studying, and amour. Then my kids were born, and it took on a whole new meaning.

Last week, our oldest son flew home from college for a short visit. His flight was expected to land at midnight. When it was delayed, my husband and I tag-teamed on sleep and it was like old times: he napped for a few hours, I made brownies (why not?) then woke him when it was time to leave; he drove to the airport, I napped. At 3:30 a.m. they walked in the front door. I stayed up to catch up on our son’s life (and to watch him eat) and my husband napped until it was time to leave for work.

Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but as our son, who will be 21 in a few months, spoke, I was acutely aware of how he had come full cycle with keeping us up all night. Now, instead of me reading him stories to lull him back to sleep, he was telling me some of his own — mostly about staying up all night in college — minus a few choice details he politely left out.

The next day, I found myself looking at photos of the boys when they were little. Like most infants, neither of them slept through the night — our youngest didn’t start until he was two years old. It certainly made work challenging, but life was full and rich and anything but dull.

Some days I couldn’t form sentences, or identify the stains on my blouses, or remember if I ate breakfast, or put on antiperspirant. On several occasions I wore mismatched shoes, and once I threw a bag of dirty diapers into the back of my van with my briefcase only to discover it an hour later when I arrived and the smell nearly knocked me out. But that stage of life passed, as it tends to do, and the next one – the adolescent stage, when they start to talk about their dreams and worries in the wee hours — began.

In the darkness I’d hear, “Mom, I don’t feel good,” or “Mom, I can’t sleep, will you read to me?” and up all night continued. From illness and heartache, to excitement about birthdays, new schools, and the chance of snow — the reasons for staying up were many and varied and the days that followed were long, but it was always worth it.

By the teenage years there didn’t need to be any one reason in particular — they were just wired to be up. When I couldn’t sleep through the noise, I joined them. Once I even made biscuits at 2 a.m. after watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with my youngest son and salivating over some breakfast foods we saw at a diner the host visited. There was also some sort of green bean puree that we attempted, but that’s a memory better forgotten.

It became clear that in spite of my getting older and wanting more sleep, I had to choose: Did I want to sleep or did I want to be part of their lives? It seemed a no-brainer. I tried to be up when they were, around when they did their thinking — even if I was brain dead, I left the light on. Some of our best conversations happened when the moon came up.

This fall, our youngest heads off to college. I can only hope that when he comes home for a visit, he too will honor the age-old tradition of keeping his mother up all night, regaling me with stories — stories I can replay in my head as I nod off to slumber when they’re both gone.

After all, I’ve got some serious catching up on sleep to do. And parties, studying, and amour beckon to my boys.

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