Last night, at around ten, the power went out. I did what any exhausted person would logically do: I put the computer down, sunk under the covers, and let the terrified eleven year-old into my bed. All the windows in the houses nearby that were normally illuminated at that hour were dark, too. Darkness on a street has an accompanying quiet. Almost instantly, I fell asleep.

During the next half-hour or so until the power outage was righted, the eldest came in and out (luring the awake and rattled younger brother into action, to see what was going on), the housemate wandered in with them, the eldest (fourteen) apparently went all the way down the darkened street to investigate (and perhaps was brought home by the police babysitting the downed power line till it was righted), the seven year-old stumbled in from his bed to sleep with me, and despite those interruptions, I pretty much paid no attention and drifted back to sleep each time. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth, but I cared not at all. Sleep won over, and knowing that the power would come on again (and did, so I had to shut off the light by the bed), I was eager to let it win.

I slept for a little over eight hours. Shall I write that the way it feels? I SLEPT FOR EIGHT SOLID HOURS. What’s more, I eked out about eight hours the night before, too. Two nights of eight hour sleeps (when not extremely sick) is probably a record for me, since, I’m guessing Ezekiel’s birth (he’s fourteen).

The mantra I’ve always had when my kids were small babies: sleep is overrated. Given that the first three months of any infant’s life is essentially one extremely long day (I say this because it is most definitively not broken by eight solid hours of sleep), you can appreciate (especially if you’ve lived through this particular form of sleep deprivation) my logic. For most of us, it’s not like the first sleeping-through-the-night experience is a period and full nights of sleep are thus restored. It’s usually a little more one step-forward-two-steps-back (or worse). Teething, why did they invent that? And, in terms of sleep’s reliability, what’s with developmental milestones? For that matter, what’s with emergencies, upsetting arguments, deadlines and holidays? When you stop and think about it, so many things get in the way of sleep (including, of course, the Internet).


The terrible truth is that sleep is not overrated. Click onto the National Sleep Foundation’s website and you’ll learn that we need more sleep than we are getting, and by we, I mean kids, teens, and adults alike. We’re kind of in the midst of a national sleep emergency. I first heard about this when Beth Haxby—then a preschool teacher to Lucien, currently a third grade teacher at my kids’ school—dislocated her shoulder and had to be sidelined from teaching for a semester, during which she researched sleep (for the preschool, and for her own edification).

At the preschool, there was keen interest in the nap policy, because some kids napped more easily than others did and some parents wanted their kids to nap while others didn’t. Why was napping at school important enough for some kind of policy? Naps are just part of a larger issue regarding kids’ sleep. How well kids sleep, as in go to sleep and stay asleep, affects parents’ lives deeply; it’s about how much sleep—and “downtime”—parents can obtain and about the quality of their kids’ moods, overall. Just to make my case: a couple of years before that, said preschool made an office out of the toddlers’ napping room, and from the parents, a HUGE uproar ensued; the nap, I remember saying in a standing-room-only meeting, has everything to do with whether parents pick up a happy child or a cranky child (and having been at work all day, parents really wish for a happy child during those hours between school/daycare and bedtime).

Another hint to sleep’s import is how very many bedtime books and lullaby recordings exist. If all you can think of is Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd's classic Goodnight Moon and the song, Hush Little Baby, you have some explorations to make. Because I’m reading a lot of picture books on the theme of sleep these days, let me say my hands-down favorite is Chris Raschka’s beautifully illustrated poem (it masquerades as a picture book, but is in fact a totally lovely poem) Can’t Sleep.

It’s probably true that my other softest spots go to a couple of out of print books (this is what happens when you are parent to both fourteen year-old and toddler, there are out of print kids’ books around). The first is Rosemary Wells’ Max's Bedtime, a little board book about bossy, well-meaning older sister Ruby and her intrepid and sometimes seemingly clueless little brother, Max. Side note here to Pioneer Valley folks: next Sunday at the Eric Carle Museum there's an event to celebrate with Rosemary Wells thirty years of Max and Ruby. Not because it’s a great work of literature—or for that matter, stunning photography—I still have a tender feeling when I read Sleepy Time, photographs by Elizabeth Hathon, in part because I’ve read it with all four kids—it’s one of those Pudgy Books, a board book, mainly comprised of photographs of cute babies, the kind babies and toddlers seem to love, much as they love looking in the mirror—and because I still love how it came to us. Steve Suitts, friend of my dad’s, a Southerner, Atlantan to be precise, able to makes stories better because of the way he tells them, sent us a pile of well-loved board books when Ezekiel was born, books he’d enjoyed reading with his (by then a bit older) kids. He wrote something about how much he cherished the cozy hours spent reading to his kids and somehow in the gift was not just the books, but the hope—even the promise—that we find the same. And by gosh, we did. I cried reading that letter and receiving that very special gift (and in true pay-it-forward fashion, I’ve begun to pass on some of our favorite board books with a pretty identical note, although sans Southern cadence, alas). Along those lines and still in print is Good Night, Baby.

A somewhat more recent book every household with young kids should have is Once Upon a Time, The End (asleep in 60 seconds), a rollicking bastardization of fairy tales by Geoffrey Kloske and illustrated by Barry Blitt, that both makes the truncated stories funny and keeps parents nodding, because that tried-and-true tradition of shaving words off of bedtime books in order to get to the bedtime part is a classic experience of parenthood (don’t try to argue otherwise).

I can’t begin to list the plethora of great lullaby and sleep-inducing recordings out there. From big name adult artists to compilations, there’s so much to discover. Lucien needed repetition and until last spring (ten, going on eleven), when the Beatles—Abbey Road, to be exact—took over as THE going to sleep recording it was Lullabies for Little Dreamers (and dare I say this, it’s out of print, which is shameful, because having spent countless hours lying next to Lucien—we are past this elongated phase, blessedly—while he went to sleep, I know this lovely recording inside out and backwards, from Sweet Baby James to Mama Cass singing Dream a Little Dream to Carly Simon’s Julie Through the Glass).


Ever since Beth Haxby brought the import of sleep to my attention. I’ve known she was right, and yet… and yet, my ability to prioritize sleep is inconsistent and my ability to get my kids to prioritize sleep is equally unreliable (while the world seemed to revolve around baby Ezekiel’s naps, which were luxuriously long, Saskia’s naps are short and happenstance, because they must fit into the larger world of picking up brothers at school or a bustling household on the weekends).

Said first child with the glorious nap history has determined himself to be a night owl (like his father and grandfather before him) and laziness (or exhaustion) has won over and I really only nominally fight him on bedtime “rules.” He’s a teenager and he’s going to have to figure this stuff out for himself. He claims—I know it’s true, because I spent hours upon hours of my youth lying in bed awake, and some considerable amount of adult hours, too—he just lies in bed awake and doesn’t find that relaxing. We’ve come to a compromise of sorts that has him in bed reading. I very often turn the light off in the early morning (I am a morning person) when I head downstairs to work before the others wake up. He sleeps so hard that the alarm clock (a birthday gift from his frustrated-in-the-mornings parents) by his ear failed to wake him up (but managed to wake the rest of the household up). We have a method that mostly works: I go up and wake him and the general policy is that I won’t return. Sometimes, I have to go back, leaving him just fifteen minutes to get up and out and that usually scares him straight so he wakes a bit more reliably for the ensuing number of days (until it happens again).

Why don’t I sleep? I could say all the usual things, from raising four children to disruptions that occurred somewhat naturally—pregnancies, newborn hours of feeding, deadlines, female hormones—but the real truth is this: I don’t have a lot of time that’s not taken up with caring for family in some way and I have a lot I like to do, and so I really enjoy being awake much more than I do sleep (although, remember, sleep is not overrated). I just so often choose the stuff of wakefulness over sleep…

With the daylight hours shrinking and the dark, cold settling in, maybe this winter, we’ll sleep well around here. It’s worth a winter solstice approaches resolution. At the least, I can report that eight hours of sleep feels good (less achy, less grumpy even when dear husband returns from two days away—for work, but including no parenting duties and evenings spent out to supper with friends—sick, thus dashing my exceedingly well-earned solo Sunday). Maybe I can keep remembering sleep, reprioritizing it, and enjoying its benefits, even if I only do so intermittently.