Friday, October 12, 2012

What It Is Like To Have Insomnia

Have you ever really listened to the beginning of the song 96 Tears by Question Mark and The Mysterions?

Now, have you ever really listened to that song turned way way down while you sit quietly downstairs, alone in your living room, the baby monitor softly playing the boys' movie at 11:19 p.m. on a Friday night?

It's strange, this not sleeping.

It doesn't happen every night, for one thing.  Most nights, I'm lucky to stay up past 8:30 p.m.  But then, some nights, I lie in bed and I hear the sound of Sweetie sleeping and the sound of the cars up the road and the sound that the bed makes everytime I move and the sound of the TV playing something that I've put on to try to not pay attention to, and I think how sleep is like a wave: it's out there, and I can see it coming in, and I'm going to try to catch it so as the wave gets closer and closer I turn and begin swimming as fast as I can, in the same direction as the shore, and I feel the wave move closer and closer and it lifts me up and carries me but I don't quite catch it and as I sag back down into the trough and watch the wave crash onto the beach, I sigh and put on The Office.

They say you are not supposed to watch television if you are trying to get to sleep, but the real rule is don't watch something that you want to watch.  You have to live life like Dunbar, when you are trying to sleep, Dunbar being the guy in Catch-22 who wanted to make his life seem as long as possible, living longer than his years, so he sought out unpleasant activities like playing ping-pong with Haverford, was it Haverford? I remember it was the guy who ate peanut brittle and had flies in his eyes, and now Cinco De Mayo by what's-her-name, the rock girl who always got a lot of credit for being a rock girl, is playing in the background and the boys' movie has finished but if I go in and shut off their TV entirely, at some point Mr Bunches will wake up and be scared by the dark, the way he was scared by the spider back at 9 p.m.

"Daddy!" he yelled, and I had just left the room to go downstairs and turn off the kitchen lights, having helped Mr F put his pajamas back on after he went to the bathroom, so I called up "I'll be right there," but he wasn't satisfied with that.

"Daddy!" he yelled again, and I started up the stairs, there's only three or four of them, crazy how I don't know how many steps I have in my house, even though we've lived here, what, 10 years?  Crazy that I don't remember how long we've lived here, now, even though it's the only house we've ever owned.  We moved here, what the summer before Oldest started her junior year, and she's 25 now, so that was when she was 15 or 16...

...facts are slippery at 11:25 p.m. on a Friday night: how long we've lived here, how old Oldest was when she was a sophomore-going-on-junior in high school, how many steps there are up to the next level of the house.

"Daddy!" Mr Bunches yelled as I opened the door.

"What is it, buddy?" I asked him.

"There's a spider?" he said, looking at his iPad and not anywhere else.  Mr Bunches was watching a movie and reading a book and watching a video on his iPad, and he was actively engaged in all of them.  I took away the miniature model of the solar system from Mr F, the model we bought tonight at the book store to replace the model Mr Bunches had previously had, the one that Mr F had wrecked because Mr F likes to take things and tap them, and he'd taken the arms that held Jupiter and Saturn and the one for Neptune, too, and broken them off to use as tappers

He didn't do it to be mean; he just wanted to tap.

"Where is the spider?" I had asked Mr Bunches, and he said

"On the movie."  At first I thought he was watching a movie of a spider, but he pointed towards the wall, so I looked at the wall.  There was no spider. 

"I don't see it," I told him.  He pointed again.

"On the movie,"

So I took his lamp off his dresser and turned it on, shone it like a spotlight on the wall.

"I don't see it," I said.

He shook his head.

"On the movie," he said and pointed at the television, playing Despicable Me.  For a moment, I thought he meant there was a spider in the movie, but I've watched Despicable Me, watched it the way I've watched many of the movies the boys love, in parts here and there, eventually piecing the entire movie together in my head this part goes here that part goes there oh I see the plot, kind of the way I used to piece together movies I'd seen parts of when I worked at a movie theater when I was in my early 20s, back in Milwaukee, the Grand Theater, it was, in Milwaukee. 

The other night, falling asleep, I had tried to remember the names of the people I worked with at that theater. One of them was named Aristide.  I barely remember him.

The spider was crawling along the edge of the TV, a little whitish one.  Gross.  I watched it as I grabbed for something, found the DVD case from the Baby Einsteins "World of Words" DVD that we had bought Mr F the other day.  Mr F likes the Baby Einstein DVDs, but Mr Bunches doesn't like them as much and is more vocal about it, plus they are only 29 minutes long, and both of the boys like to fall asleep watching a movie, but if we put a 29-minute movie on they probably won't fall asleep before it is over.

Tonight, they didn't go to bed until 8:30.  We let them stay up a little late because we took them, after the Homecoming parade today, to the PTA "Spaghetti Dinner" at their school, joined at the dinner by The Boy, The Boy's new girlfriend, and Oldest.  At the dinner, Mr F had been nervous and energetic and demanded that Sweetie hug and kiss him a lot.  Mr Bunches was more out of sorts: the entire time we were waiting in line, lined up in the middle-school cafeteria waiting to get a tray of macaroni with meat sauce, some lettuce, and a dinner roll, plus a cookie, Mr Bunches had made me hold him, and he'd cried and insisted that we should go outside to play on the playground.  He didn't want to be waiting in line in his lunchroom at 5:50 on a Friday night, waiting to get spaghetti served on foam trays, and truth be told, neither did I, but there we were, having decided that we should do this, maybe for us, maybe for the boys, maybe because sometimes we think maybe parents should do these things.

Mr Bunches cried and tried not to cry and I kept assuring him that we'd eat quick and go outside and play on the playground, and the only thing that made him feel better, before going outside, was when I told him he could pick out our cookie: we were sharing a tray, as neither of us were going to eat the food, anyway, so I let him use the tongs to pick out an M&M cookie.  He grappled with the cookie for 2 or 3 minutes, wrestling it over to the tray before becoming dissatisfied, at which point he picked up the cookie and put it back in line, then started over.  This time he was better at it, grasping the cookie and placing it down on top of the pile of lettuce I'd felt compelled to take because they were serving it.

"Don't you want salad dressing?" The Boy asked.

"I'm not going to eat the salad anyway," I said. We all went outside, me and Sweetie and The Boy and the new girlfriend and Oldest and the boys, and I ate the cookie and dumped the spaghetti dinner into the dumpster and watched as Mr F spun on one of those little individual merry-go-round seats, the kind that look like upside-down flowers, almost, and Mr Bunches climbed on the jungle gym, and afterwards, as a reward for being so good at the dinner, we took them to the bookstore to replace Mr Bunches' solar system, and Mr F got a replacement set of alphabet books because the old set had gotten dirty in an accident one day.

I crushed the spider, and said "I got it," and showed Mr Bunches the dead body on the outside of the DVD case, because I know that when there's been a spider in your room you've got to see the corpse before you can relax, and then I told them goodnight and that they had to turn off the light and definitely go to sleep, and I threw the DVD case away because I know that once something has touched spider it's no good for human use anymore, but it was a good 2 hours before the boys both drifted off to sleep.

Sweetie is the lucky one, tonight: she fell asleep three separate times, waking up when I had to go in and help Mr Bunches find a video on his iPad and waking up when Mr Bunches wanted to "take a break with Mama." He comes into our room, sits in the bed for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling of being in our room, and then goes back to bed.  He does that two, sometimes three, times a night, usually when a scary part of his movie comes on.

The scary parts are hard to predict: for example, he's scared by the credits, but only the ones in the beginning of movies: he doesn't like the parts where they tell you which production companies are responsible for the movie you're about to see.  He tries to stand out in the hallway at the beginning of movies, not sure what images and words might flash on the screen before the movie itself starts.  He won't let me leave the room at night sometimes until the movie actually is playing.

But both he and Mr F enjoy the credits at the end of movies.  They sit and watch them, listen to the songs, stare raptly at the screen until the last of the words has rolled up the screen and the DVD goes back to its main screen.  They won't let us stop the movie and put something else in until the credits stop.  If you are a gaffer or best boy or have helped with the animation or are simply someone who lent a location and got thanked for it at the very end of the credits, rest assured: Mr F and Mr Bunches know about you.

I read for a while tonight, reading an article in The New Yorker about Mitt Romney and his background, but I didn't finish it because my Kindle ran out of power.  I am always forgetting to charge my electronic devices, and so frequently I am using them and they flash a warning that they are almost out of power, and it becomes a race against time: will I finish this article, this story, this book, before the power gives out?  "Real" books never need to be plugged in to finish them, but "real books" cannot stop being this book and start being that book on a whim, and sometimes you don't want to read about Mitt Romney anymore, you want to go read a short story by John Cheever, and you want to be able to do that with a few flicks of your finger.

And you want to be able to read in the dark, too, sometimes.  Just before she fell asleep the third time, Sweetie said "You can turn off the light," and I said, as I've said for 16 years, "I'm going to read," but then I added "But, I can read in the dark," and Sweetie asked me if my Kindle has a light on it.

"See?" I said, and turned of the bedside lamp and turned on the article about Mitt Romney, the screen glowing with backlit words about Bain Capital.

"Neat," she said, and she'd learned something about me.  Not something major, maybe, but after 16 years there are still surprises, even if they are small.  Her husband can read in the dark, she might have thought, and he could, at least until the power ran out and he was left watching television, watching The Office and The Daily Show, but not the interview part because mostly those are kind of boring.

Now I am typing in the dark.  There are no lights on in the house, only the computer screen.  Only that's a lie.  There are lights on in the house.  There is the little green light on the baby monitor, the one we still use with the boys because we can't leave their door unlocked at night, because they will get up and wander around the house, we worry, and given the entire night to work on it, Mr F will surely get a door or a window open and will get out, and we wouldn't hear him.  We would wake up in the morning and he would have six, eight hours of a head start, off alone in the world headed in some unknown direction, so we keep their windows in their room locked and we have the locks duct-taped shut because we didn't want to put bars on the windows, that would look bad, and we don't worry about how the duct-tape looks because we're used to it and anyway, if your son will wander away without telling you about it, worrying about some duct tape on the locks is the last thing on your mind.

We were going to start trying to keep their door open at night, see how they reacted, whether they would get up and horse around or try to wander away.  The night we'd decided to try it was a Friday night, in August.  We'd talked about it that week, on Tuesday and Wednesday:  this week, this weekend, we'd decided we'll leave their door unlocked.

(It's just a little lock: it's a hook-and-eye on the outside of their door.  If they wanted to they could pull it open.  I've seen Mr F do just that.  They're not trapped, but they are dissuaded.)

We'll leave their door unlocked, we'd decided and we'll just monitor them that night, see how they do, and we were going to start it that Friday but as it turns out we didn't because the Friday we were going to start it was one day, exactly, after Mr F fell off the counter and hurt his head and needed surgery, and so the night that we had been going to allow them the freedom afforded to any other 6-year-old we didn't do that because Mr F was in the Intensive Care Unit with me sitting up in a chair beside him making sure he didn't pull out his IV, while Sweetie was at home with Mr Bunches coming into our room to take a break with Mama.

So we had bigger things to worry about, and now their door gets locked at night but we have a baby monitor in there so we can listen to them, and we go in there a lot anyway.

Sometimes, I will wake up at 2, or 3, or even 4, a.m., and listen to the baby monitor.  It will be quiet in our house except for that baby monitor, which will usually be quietly playing whatever music plays on a "hold" screen on a DVD.  The boys -- I almost typed the Babies!, which is what I used to call them but they're 6 now, and they're tall, taller than 2nd or 3rd or even 4th graders, today at the Homecoming parade I saw that, they're not Babies!-- the boys like to fall asleep watching movies and after the movie ends there is the "start" or "hold" screen and that plays all night.  It's become their nightlight and they won't let us shut off the movie.

Sometimes, I will wake up in the middle of the night and hear that and I will quietly get up and go down the hall, and unhook their door, and go in their room.

I will see Mr Bunches sleeping on his bed, his covers half over him, a Buzz Lightyear next to him, his airplanes on the foot of his bed. 

I will see Mr F on his makeshift bed in the closet, the closet that doesn't have a door anymore because he took it off the hinges last week, accidentally, we think, but we can't have him knocking doors down so we took it off.  He sleeps, Mr F, with his head pointed away from the room and his blanket coiled around him like it is giving him several hugs at once.

I look around their room and watch them sleep, their eyes closed and their mouths open, bathed in the soft glow of Despicable Me or Toy Story 3, and I will lean down and press the Play button.

You're not supposed to let your kids watch TV to fall asleep, but you're not supposed to lock your kids in their room to keep them from wandering out of the house, either, and you're not supposed to feed your kids mostly cheese puffs and bananas, but it's 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. and all I know is that if they wake up, I want them to not even have to get up and press the button themselves, to not need to call for me.  I want their movie going so that if they wake up, even in the middle of the night, even if it is just for a second, everything will be just the way they want it, because I can't bear the thought that life, already hard and confusing enough for them, might be harder or more confusing for even a second.

I go back to my room, then, on those nights, and I turn on my own TV, quietly, setting the sleep timer for 2 hours, and I watch CNN or reruns of Family Guy or The Colbert Report, laying on my back, listening to the TV and the baby monitor and thinking, and if I'm lucky, I will dream about something really cool.


Andrew Leon said...

You should let them watch the extended editions of Lord of the Rings with all the names and names and names of people that donated at the end of the credits. It goes on FOREVER!

I actually count when I think I'm not going to be able to go to sleep. Slowly. Usually, I don't make it to 20. Sometimes, I have to start over a lot because I drift in and out and can't remember where I was.

Liz said...

I use the not-sleeping portion of my nights plotting novels. Of course, I don't have children, so I don't have someone else to focus on.