"Brave no sleep. Go for days without sleep." - Tommy Luske as Michael Darling, Peter Pan
This politically incorrect moment is brought to you by Walt Disney Productions, the leader in family-friendly entertainment since a stepmother tried to have a woodman cut out the heart of a princess because she was young and pretty.
Oh, to be young and ugly and be part of a secure, loving family unit.
Normally, I would eschew (yes, that's a real word) such casually racist fare, but I can't. My autistic son, Benjamin, has been holding me as his very own Disney hostage since birth. Our tiny home vibrates with the sound of Disney 24-7.
Because as much as I love my son, the monster barely sleeps. Sleep disorders are common among those with autism, and my son is the poster child for middle-of-the-night romps. Which makes me the poster mom for the long-term effects of chronic sleep deprivation.
I had a headache - a migraine-level, drug-seeking monolith of a headache - for the entire month of October and part of November. This headache clenched its' way down my neck and turned my shoulders to blocks of stone. It took two trips to a walk-in clinic and a very expensive trip to the ER on Halloween to finally break it up. You know what also helped? Getting more than three hours of sleep a night.
During the week of Thanksgiving, my son and I spent four peaceful, restful nights at my parents' house. Except not really, because he only slept through the night on the first of those four nights - the other three nights, he was up wandering around after only two or three hours of sleep. I think of 3 a.m. as Ben's Happy Hour, because he has spent his entire lifetime rising at that ungodly, bleak hour to read Disney books, sing Disney songs, chant Disney dialogue... you get the idea.
He typically goes back to sleep as dawn is breaking and my alarm is shrieking.
Thanksgiving was easier to get through because we didn't have to be anywhere and didn't have to see anyone. It was fine that he had restless nights, because when he went back to sleep, so did I. We would both rise later in the day feeling more rested and less likely to throw a tantrum worthy of an overtired two-year-old.
Sadly, all things must end and I had to go back to work last week. If I tell you I teach middle school, you'll probably wince with a sympathy pain and tell me that you couldn't do it. That you don't know how I do it, because as I'm constantly being told, "that job sucks big monkey balls." And some days that's true.
Now imagine trying to teach on only two or three hours of sleep. Then go home, get another two or three hours of sleep, and teach another full day. For the record, two or three hours isn't sleep - it's a catnap. Just ask my beleagured brain or my rapidly aging body.
That was my whole life last week: teach, catnap, teach, catnap, teach, catnap. Wash, rinse, repeat.
My son took pity on me Thursday night and refused to sleep at all. This led to me taking an emergency day off, which meant I didn't go to work overtired and strangle anyone (which I would have felt very badly about once I'd gotten some real sleep).
This might not be so challenging if it weren't the twenty-third year in a row in which I've tried to thrive despite being sleep deprived. I got through college when my son was very small and not sleeping (three degrees in seven years, thanks very much). I've gotten through a fifteen-year teaching career on virtually no sleep. Everyone around me is so used to seeing me stagger around exhausted that they barely remark on it anymore. Last week, somebody made all kinds of empathetic, oh-you-poor-baby noises at me, told me I needed to get some sleep pronto... and then asked why I wasn't done writing my book yet.
One well-meaning student once asked, "Are you all right, miss? You look worse than usual." Thanks, kid.
Peter Pan isn't one of my son's favorites (except for his crush on Tinkerbell and her Very Short Skirt), but this quote seems to be his life motto. And yes, I understand it's his autism and not a deliberate life choice, but jeez, kid - help your poor old mom out here, why dontcha?
I've told my son many times over the years that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture on POW's. He laughs.
I've told my son that, by keeping me awake, he's committing a war crime. He laughs.
I've told him that he's shortening my life span. He laughs.
He doesn't seem to--- be making any noise. Wait.... He's asleep! He's asleep! Everybody lie down, quick!!