I think that all parents visit the Island of Broken Sleep from time to time. Most come here when their babies are first-born and stay for several months. They return to visit at intervals marked by sleep regressions and illness. After a few years their visits become vanishingly rare.
Visitors to the Isle sometimes note the cool stillness of the night. They sometimes note their children’s beautiful faces as they wake, or cry, or dream, or with even a smidge of luck, sleep.
After time on the Island though, visitors begin to feel weary. Their minds forget little details. They can’t quite recall where they put their keys or fathom why they would put the ice cream away in the microwave. Their priorities change. They’re less concerned with making sure that their shoes are the latest fashion and more concerned that they’re both from the same pair. They feel slow, groggy, and a little stupid.
They soldier on. Everyone has a ticket off the Island. Time and Date are left unmarked.
Long term stays are unusual, though most of us feel as though we have spent at least a decade here.
I’ve been living on the Island of Broken sleep for the last four years. Four years of waking up and meeting needs. Four years of broken sleep cycles and morning grogginess. Four years of guzzling coffee in a vain attempt to make my sluggish cells respond to the demands of my day. Trying through the haze of tiredness to understand, sympathize and remain patient with my intense, emotional, energetic daughter.
Except that briefly last week I caught a reprieve. I took a four-day trip off the Island. I slept. My daughter slept.
I had forgotten. forgotten what it felt like to be able to organize my thoughts. forgotten what it felt like to have emotional resilience. forgotten how simple it is to play and make choices, and how calm it is possible to feel.
She had never known. It was strange to me, the difference in her behavior those four days. Suddenly she played alone. She sang and giggled and listened and learned. She stopped screaming and had the emotional resilience to move through our day.
After a precious few days, we returned to the Island of Broken Sleep. Brought back on a rocking boat of a stuffy nose and over-stimulation. We returned to middle of the night snuggles and listening to the sounds of the night while we try to return to sleep. We returned to reminders that it’s “just a dream, everyone is okay”. We returned to needing to know that mommy and daddy are near and that the doors are locked and that the kitchen isn’t on fire. We returned to anxiety and dreams and the intersection where our brains produce to little melatonin and to little serotonin and have just a few to many concepts to play with.
With our return to the Island, we also found ourselves returned to daytime grumpiness, and neediness, and intensity. We lost our emotional resilience. We found ourselves without patience and without calm.
And I realized something important, she’s lived her whole life on this island. My daughter doesn’t have a behavior problem. She is exhausted. She needs real, uninterrupted sleep.
When she sleeps, I sleep. When we sleep, we’re utterly different people. Happy people. Amazing people. People with the kind of joy and intelligence and energy that makes the world a better place.
I need two tickets off the Isle of Broken Sleep. I wonder where to start? Anyone who isn’t living here have a suggestion?