There is a good reason sleep-deprivation has been used as a form of torture. One night here or there isn’t pleasant, but night after night for months on end is downright agony. My second daughter, not yet a year, started out her life being quite a good nighttime sleeper as well as taking solid daytime naps.  Foolishly, I congratulated myself for having won the baby jackpot. In the past few months, Sophie has begun to turn on me. She would prefer to use me as an all-night snack machine, nursing every few hours for just long enough to sufficiently disrupt my sleep cycle. I have found countless reasons to just “go with it”, citing teething, colds, and traveling as excuses against any sleeping strategy, and have thus far been unable to break the latch. (Get it? Like the popular “cut the cord” metaphor?  Just a little breastfeeding humor. No good? I blame the lack of sleep.)
Wake up Mommy!
In years past I have had excellent dream recall, often keeping a detailed dream journal, but my current fragmented sleep cycles usually eliminate this experience. When I do manage to dream, they are disturbing at best. The other night I woke up panicked after dreaming that I was being pursued by an unpredictable assassin who may gun me down at any moment. Perhaps inspired by my tiny tyrant startling me awake at all hours? The week before I dreamed that I was participating in a triathlon for which I had not trained. Paging Dr. Freud! I found myself recently beginning a conversation with my family members, only to abruptly realize the incident I was about to discuss hadn’t actually happened, but was part of one of my befuddling dreams.
After playing do-si-do with the baby all night, I am groggy and grumpy in the mornings, disorganized all day, irritable with my oldest daughter, and I am frequently a spacey and uninspiring conversationalist. I find myself fantasizing about the next morning’s coffee at about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The most problematic side-effect of this long-term sleep deprivation isn’t even tiredness; in my personal experience it is a chronic condition I refer to as Parental Paralysis.

Adults afflicted with Parental Paralysis are rendered incapable of completing items on their to-do list, planning fun enrichment activities for the family, deciding on an appropriate restaurant or take-out menu for dinner (because cooking regularly is laughable), and generally maintaining an organized, non-disgusting household.  In fact, cleaning the house at all is completely out of my repertoire. I used to clean every single Friday- ha! Now we hire a cleaning lady to come twice a month, which means that every other  Wednesday we tear around the house scooping up piles of nebulous jumble and tidying up for Kathy’s impending appointment the next morning. I remember our brief stint with a cleaning service when I was a kid; my brother and I would make fun of our mom’s plaintive requests to clean up our rooms each week. “The ladies are coming!” she would trill with desperation. “Why are we cleaning up for the cleaning ladies?” we would snicker rudely. Now I get it.

Here we are, bright-eyed, back in the day when we used to sleep

When both our girls are finally asleep for the night (or a few hours, more likely), I know it would make me feel better in the morning if I straightened up the family room, wiped down the kitchen counters, and put away some laundry. Instead I find myself slumped uselessly on the couch, engaging in confrontational fantasies and mentally drafting strongly worded letters to various hypothetical tyrants. While eating ice cream with a glazed expression on my face.

“We should bring up the 12-18 month old clothes from storage,” I commented vaguely to my husband as we stretched out in front of the television one evening. “Mm-hmm.” he grunted in response. “Oh, shouldn’t we also re-implement Izzy’s behavior reward system? We really should be stretching every day, and doing Brain Gyms.” I continued sleepily. “Yep,” he confirmed unenthusiastically. “How about revising our budget? And going through the bag of crap? And just being better humans overall?”
We were paralyzed. So much to do, so little energy.  And so we stagnate, wholly incapable of bettering ourselves as a family.
We were finally shamed into cleaning out our van after our friend’s daughter commented that it was “too crowded in your car”. We were taking her to school, and she had to step carefully over mounds of cast off junk on her way to the backseat, so the meaning of her observation was clear:  it was five year old speak for, “Lady, you have too much shit in your car.” Unless there is a really good reason, like say, being humiliated by your peers or their children, we just cannot seem to accomplish anything that would make the household run more smoothly. I know this stage won’t last forever, and I realize there are a plethora of helpful techniques to assist our breast-obsessed baby with sleeping longer at night. In the meantime, we remain in the grips of Parental Paralysis, doomed to repeatedly seek out the path of least resistance.


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