Dear Lily June,
You were born in the year of the Owl. When I was pregnant with you, your dad and I couldn’t throw a pacifier without it smacking into some adorable owl-themed item. There were owls on blankets, owls on onesies reading “Owl Always Be Loved,” tiny footies shaped to look like you’d crammed your toes into owls, bath towels with a hood made to look like an owl had partially-digested your face. (It’s called a T’Owl. Get it?!)
The scholarly side of your parents activated, we found this trend appealing. Owls, after all, are associated with great wisdom. They are the only animal, for instance, in the animal kingdom that knows how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, a fact your dad and I were inundated with even as late as the 1980’s.
And in that day and age, the closest we came to STEM training was having to dissect, not the cliched frog in class, but an owl pellet. My middle school even had us reassemble the full skeleton of an entire mouse from the owl’s regurgitated stomach contents, gluing each bone to a black piece of construction paper until we were able to make the world’s creepiest poster to take home.
In all of our infinite wisdom, neither your dad nor I considered the other well-known trait of the Owl: That it’s a nocturnal creature, known for not needing sleep at night. And suddenly, I feel pretty stupid to have hung owls over your changing table and bought a wooden puzzle spelling your name out next to an owl.
It occurs to me now that we should have gone after your actual Chinese Zodiac animal, the one we count to get to sleep. By that scale, Lily, you were ironically born, you adorable insomniac, in the year of the Sheep.
For awhile there, you actually were catching Z’s like a champ. A bath here, a bottle there, and you were out like a light for 8-9 hour stretches as early as 4-5 months. Your dad and I couldn’t have been more proud of you (or more passed out beside you) having, early on, been terrified that unlike the other newborns, you seemed to have NO PHYSICAL NEED OF SLEEP WHATSOEVER. Pulling alternating 23 hour shifts just to stay awake with you, every even day one of us was your primary cuddler; every odd day, one of us dropped into a coma.
It was enough to make us want to resort to the Samuel L. Jackson narration of this children’s classic:
But something in you lately has reactivated like a bomb at 2:00am each morning.
Is it the teething you’re doing? Is it, after an ill-fated tumble off our bed when you were playing, a reaction to dreams that you’re falling? Are you just a tiny but very beloved masochist who wants to see how much of your parents’ sanity you can ring out by not only waking up during the witching hour, but also pulling yourself up into a standing position in the crib next to the bed to hover like a creepy crying stalker until one of us fetches you just to grant the other a few precious hours more of slumber?
I know there’s a science as to why babies go through patterns of sleep regression. I know that, at almost ten months, you’re much older than the infants this NPR article refers to. In the dumbest development in the history of scientific study, researchers in Israel found that a mother sleeping next to her baby doesn’t sleep as well as a mother who doesn’t. Now that that COMPLETELY OBVIOUS truth has been discovered, I’m hoping PhD’s can turn their attention back to curing cancer.
In the meantime, my sarcasm meter–as well as my coffee-maker–have been going full speed into overdrive. Which means more pain in the bladder which means less sleep at night which means more coffee which means more pain which means…Dadgummit, daughter, please go back to sleeping the night through so we can get over the hump of this living nightmare.
There is something very sweet to the way you can look like a gleeful grinning baby instead of a sleep-killing demon in the weest of wee hours of the morning.
But my darling dear, I never imagined that I’d be relating to Wallace Stevens’ “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” (only, where it says old sailors dream of catching “tigers in red weather,” replace that with old mothers dreaming of catching a nap between bottles).
Or to Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking” (the line of which reading “I learn by going where I have to go” seems to perfectly encapsulate new parenthood).
Or even to contemporary poet Jay Hopler’s “The Howling of the Gods” especially to the lines:
“…sleep was impossible– / All that howling!”
All of which is to say, dear Lily, that you must let your mother get some shut-eye. Lack of sleep does crazy things, especially to an already crazy person. For instance, lately, you’ve been running your finger over your lips while humming–a gesture I associated with conveying to someone that they’re stark raving mad.
But I’ve spent literally almost a half-hour at work trying to figure out what that gesture is called or where I learned it or whether it’s actually real, and the closest I can come to is something called “flubbing” which this mother is doing by applying her finger to her son’s lips. It’s the same gesture, only you’re using your own hands to do it.
But whether anyone else uses it to mean mental instability is something I couldn’t prove or disprove after various Google searches. And now I’m scared that I’m so crazy, I invented a gesture for crazy that I’m projecting into your weird but adorable new development.
Am I crazy? Or am I just tired? A good scientist, Lily, always conducts an experiment to determine the truth of her hypothesis. Tell you what, you sleep the entire night through tomorrow, and if I don’t wake up absolutely nuts, we’ll know that it’s not me, it’s just the insomnia talking.
Please? PLEASE, Lily?! For actual advances in the field of science?
- By Richard Fisher – originally posted to Flickr as Lesser Sooty Owl at Bonadio’s Mabi Wildlife Reserve, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12044460