crying. better yet, screaming.

In the morning on most days, the sun rises.  When that happens, it gets light outside.  We call that “daytime.”

After a certain amount of time, the earth rotates a bit, and the sun becomes hidden from view.  When that happens, it gets dark.  We call that “night.”

Most of us have, over time, adapted our sleep schedules so that we are mostly awake during the daytime, and mostly asleep during the night.

Although I did read a story once about a scientist who decided to put the phrase “there’s not enough hours in the day” to the test.  I used to like to tell this story.

This scientist decided that he wanted to add an extra hour to his day.  He figured he’d be able to do it – his schedule would be a little weird, but going on a 25-hour clock wouldn’t disrupt his body much, nor would the extra hour wreak too much havoc on his lifestyle.

He did it for a while.  He did it for a while longer.

Eventually he was at work at night, when nobody else was there.  He was eating breakfast when other people were drinking shots at happy hour.  He was sound asleep when people were calling each other on the phone, making their weekend plans.  His calendar said it was one day, when it was really another day.  His body and his mind slowly became all screwed up, completely unaware of what was going on around him, and how his day fit in with the real day.

According to the story he became obsessed with his experiment, and with trying to adapt to his crazy new calendar.  It began eating at him, and he became mentally unbalanced, losing control of his mind.  Ultimately, he killed himself.

Not that Sandy and I had any such thoughts, but we were, for the period of a few months, equally fucked.  I always said it was, like, six months, but Sandy said it was more like two or three.

These were the months when you did not realize that we were supposed to stay awake during “daytime” and go to sleep at “night.”  Instead, you decided to stay awake during “night” and sleep all fucking day.

You could set your watch by it.  The crying would start at around ten, and end at around six.  There was virtually no way to stop it.

To combat this, Sandy and I decided to split the night into shifts.  The first shift was from 10 til 2AM.  The second shift was from 2AM to 6.  Essentially, if you had the 10-2 shift, you got to sleep from 2-6 before you had to wake up for work.  If you had the 2-6 shift, you woke up for work at 2, spent four hours with the screaming baby, showered, and went off to work.

Great way to start the day.  Either way.

During my shift I tried everything.  Everything. Finally, I figured it out.  We had this thing called a Snugli – it was sort of like a papoose.  You strapped it on and it created a pouch on your chest.  Then, you stuffed your baby into the pouch, and you could carry it without using your arms.

At the start of my shift, I’d stuff you in the Snugli, and then go down to the basement so that Sandy could sleep.

You’d start screaming as soon as I put you in there, and so I figured I should go as far away from Sandy as I could, just to give her four solid hours of rest.  So I’d go down to the basement (two floors away from where Sandy was sleeping), fire up the computer, and then turn on the stereo.

I went through virtually every CD I had, trying to find the one that would calm you down, get you to fall asleep.  And finally, I found it.

It was Frank Sinatra.

‘Ol Blue Eyes had that magic, the magic that would stop men in their tracks with his cool, make women swoon, and, apparently, lull babies to sleep.

So, with a Snugli full of baby, I’d begin my nightly routine of walking, zombielike down to the basement and putting on Frank Sinatra, turning the lights low, and dancing while I softly sang along to the music in your ear:

Some day, when I’m awfully low

When the world is cold,

I will feel a glow just thinking of you-

And the way you look tonight.

I’d whisper-sing the lyrics, rubbing the back of your head and slowly dancing along while you stopped squirming.  Eventually you’d calm down and fall asleep, but I’d usually keep dancing for a while, just to make sure that the sleep had taken root.

Yes you’re lovely, with your smile so warm

And your cheeks so soft

There is nothing for me but to love you

And the way you look tonight.

Once you were out, I’d slowly descend to my knees, and kneel down at the computer keyboard.

That’s right, I’d kneel.

Because I learned pretty quickly that if I sat down in the chair, your legs would bunch up underneath the Snugli – and that was uncomfortable enough for you that you’d wake up and start screaming again.  But if I knelt down, your legs would stay straight, just as if I were standing.

I also learned pretty quickly that I needed to always be moving, like a shark.  If I stood still, you’d wake up.

So I would kneel in front of the computer, swaying back and forth from my left knee to my right, typing away, doing Dromedary’s business between 10 and 2, or between 2 and 6.  I’d send emails, develop our marketing emails, design ads, pack up mailorder and promo records.  In a way, it was the greatest thing in the world – four uninterrupted hours a night where I could do nothing but kneel there in front of the computer, zombie-like, trying to stay awake and not lose my sanity.

Once I wrote up a marketing email for Dromedary, proofed it, made sure it was good, and sent it to everyone on my list.  Within a day of sending it I received an email from the owner of March Records – gently ragging me for, essentially, copying the format of his label’s marketing emails.  I looked at the two, side-by-side, and he was dead right.  I totally copied him.  I was like a zombie.  And I didn’t know how to tell him that I hadn’t slept in months and couldn’t think straight – so I just apologized and tried harder the next time.

It wasn’t uncommon to catch Sandy or me with tears in our eyes at random times during the day, as we both became overwhelmed by the sleep deprivation and the screaming, the careers and the record label, the new house and the lack of any time alone or with friends.  It was mentally and physically exhausting.  For the four hours a day that we were each able to sleep, the sleep was fitful anyway – in the distance we could still hear the sounds of baby crying, and when you know you’re going to be woken up in just a few hours, it’s awfully hard to fall fast asleep.

The most pissed off I’ve ever been in my life – and a story I still tell – was the day I was explaining to someone how miserable it was, kneeling down for four hours a night, swaying back and forth, knowing that the following day I had work – and knowing that by lunch time I’d be absolute toast, completely incapable of processing thoughts.

And during this explanation, Sandy looked at me and said, matter-of-factly, “You know, he goes right to sleep if you put him in his carrier and rock him for a couple of minutes.”

I stopped cold.

“What?” I asked.

She repeated herself.

“He sleeps for you?”

I immediately jumped to the conclusion that she hadn’t told me this because she was afraid that if he slept for my shift, he wouldn’t sleep for hers.  I was livid.

In hindsight, it’s pretty funny.  It wasn’t funny then.  That night, during my shift, I tried it – and it worked.

We became big fans of Nick At Nite.  The network was on the same schedule as we were – a set of reruns from 10 to 2, and then they would repeat those same reruns between 2 and 6.  In trying to remember the programs they ran, I want to say Three’s Company was one, Welcome Back, Kotter was another.  Maybe What’s Happening? and Roseanne.  Those kinds of shows – schmaltzy 80s sitcoms with storylines just compelling enough to hold your attention at 4 AM, but not meaty enough to make you think.  We’d each lie on the couch with you in your carrier on the floor, rocking the carrier with one hand and watching TV.  If we stopped rocking you, you’d wake up.  Eventually we learned how to sleep while moving one arm, rocking the carrier while we slept.  Sandy and I could both do it.

As we passed in the night, the 10-2 person would give a quick update to the 2-6 person.  The conversation would go something like this:

Tapping on shoulder: “Hey.  Wake up.  Your turn.”

“Shit.”

“Come on, get up.”

Rolling over to get up: “How was he?”

“Restless.”

“How was Kotter?”

Stupid.  Roseanne is good, though.  I left some ice cream in the freezer for you.”

“Thanks.  Nite.”

“Nite.”

That was, pretty much, the extent of our communication for a few months.  My dayjob was falling apart because it was completely impossible for me to focus – sometimes I’d literally be incapable of stringing together a logical sentence.  Our social life was a disaster because A) we were afraid to go out anywhere with a newborn, and B) we were too tired to, anyway.  The house was falling apart because neither of us had any time or energy to fix it up.  And nobody seemed to understand what we were dealing with, so everyone was perpetually frustrated with us.

And then, suddenly, one day – you slept.  All the way through the night.  When it happened, Sandy and I were almost afraid to mention it.  Like we’d jinx something.

Then two days.  Three.  Five.  Just when I thought I couldn’ take it anymore, the crying stopped and you slept. Regularly.

And slowly, as we started to turn the corner towards winter of 1995, things started to become a little more normal.  We started getting some rest.  Rational thought started seeping back into our minds – slowly, at first, but eventually we were both able to function again.

Today, you’re 14 years old, just starting high school.  You sleep through the night pretty much all the time now.  While I was writing this entry, I went upstairs and stared at you for a minute while you slept peacefully in your bed.  You take up the whole bed now.  Explosions in the Sky were playing on your iPod.  You are so tremendously fucking cool.

Lovely…never, ever change.

Keep that breathless charm,

Won’t you please arrange it?

‘Cause I love you – just the way you look tonight.

~ by Al on September 22, 2009.

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