No sleep to spare

Wally, sweet Wally, is taking his pound of flesh.

He extracts it differently each night. Pacing, knee-bending, 2am, 5am, nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse.  These ain’t glory days at home.

Seven years ago I was watching television late at night and came across a special on Mt. Everest.  It was about how in the so-called “death zone” above 26,000 feet the normal rules of morality are suspended: If you fall you can’t expect your fellow climbers will have the strength to pick you up.

For Halloween Jay dressed as a dalmatian but thought he was a cow. Our neighbors, seeing the fatigue on our faces, offered us a beer.

That’s not incommensurate with how Caroline and I feel these days.  Bleary-eyed, heads pounding, we’re hit with the incomprehensible several times each night: I cannot believe I have to get out of bed again.

And in that state, neither of us has a lot to offer the other.

(Or to use a less severe analogy, we’re like that “Seinfeld” scene in the women’s bathroom, where a tightfisted woman tells a desperate Elaine: “I’m sorry, I don’t have a square to spare.”)

There is one sanctuary.  We call it the “Sleep Cave,” down in a dark corner on the bottom floor of the house.  It has heavy blinds, a white noise maker, a new bed, and an 800-fill down comforter.  Sweet oblivion.

But how do you get to the Sleep Cave? On Sunday morning Caroline generously let me go first.  From 8-10am I was buried in a deep, anesthetic slumber that recalled a thatched hut on a Thai beach in a World Before Wally: the greatest sleep I’ve ever known.

Then it was Caroline’s turn.  I stumbled out of the Sleep Cave limp and groggy and found her sitting with the boys on the kitchen floor.  Wally was leaning forward against her raised knees like the figurehead on a ship; Jay was intent beside them with colored pencils and construction paper.  The three of them looked so happy that I thought maybe I could sneak off for just a little more…

Caroline smiled and said: fat chance.

She handed me Wally, told me Jay might need a diaper change, and then walked out of the room looking as free and easy as a single girl in an open convertible on a sunny American highway.  We didn’t see her again until after lunch.  Or was it dinner?

For the most part Caroline and I split evenly what sleep there is: two hours for you, two hours for me.  There is some posturing that goes on, too.  There are times when I make an extra-pronounced yawn or I sigh louder than I need to, just to let Caroline know I’d be willing to take the extra sleep if she has some to spare.  And, as generous as she is, Caroline’s not beyond letting me know how many late-night nursing sessions I slept through, just so, you know, we have the score straight.

Still, our days don’t lack completely for small mercies. Every now and again Wally nurses back to sleep at 5am just when we thought that a day we absolutely, positively could not bear to face was upon us.  And early this morning Jay—who hasn’t earned many gold stars for empathy—played by himself for an hour while I slept on a fold-out mattress at the base of his crib.

Between Caroline and me there are moments of grace, too.  This morning, with Jay eating breakfast and chipper Wally bouncing in his chair, Caroline put her arms around me while I was washing dishes.  I turned to face her, one pair of dark-circled eyes to another.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you, too,” she replied.  “Almost more than sleep.”

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