The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

Sleeping Ender in Wagon

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea…

Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the coffee is always fresh.)

First published The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant, June 10, 2012, Nothing By The Book

13 thoughts on “The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

  1. I was one of those kids who couldn’t stay the night at someone else’s house, but my parents were lucky enough I never made it to bedtime. They always got the call about an hour before. The reason for this is because I once hurt my wrist (badly) at a friends house while roller skating and her mother wouldn’t let me call home. She made me stay the entire night, even though I cried for most of it!!!

    It’s funny how sleep deprivation becomes the new norm once you’re a parent. Will we ever sleep again??

  2. This brings back a lot of memories–you will sleep again, I promise! Our youngest is off at college during the school year now, so the only thing that wakes me in the middle of the night is when our dog decides to hold an impromptu concert. One “Shut up, dog,” and she rolls over and goes back to sleep. 🙂

  3. I can definitely relate. I too get insomnia quite a bit. My son is two and had finally (recently) reached that long-awaited but illusive milestone of “sleeping through the night.” Guess what? He’s not anymore. It lasted about two weeks.

    • When he does again… he’ll be potty trained. And getting up to pee in the middle of the night. And needing help with the for the first little while… (speaks the mother of a 3.5 year old who’s back in diapers. Sigh.)

  4. Pingback: The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the...

  5. Oh Jane…never underestimate the nastiness of a sleep deprived parent. Yesterday night Yiannis woke up screaming, I almost fell out of my bed, ordered him to go pee (hoping that this will give ME an extra couple of minutes of sleep in the morning) and yelled at him for not lifting the toilet seat once again! I don’t work well WITHOUT sleep. Period. I loved your post though!

  6. Don’t you just love when a new parent exclaims, “Hooray, my baby finally slept through the night…we can finally get some sleep” and the kid is 2 months old. I laugh and laugh!

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