Friday, January 13, 2012

In the Middle of the Night

I woke up at 3:00 this morning to the sound of happy cooing from the crib next to my bed. Katie had woken up, but instead of crying, she was happily rolling around, playing with her feet, playing with her toys, and sucking on her hand. She kept herself entertained for an hour or so before realizing she was hungry and demanding that I get up and make her a bottle. And of course, after finishing her bottle she is still wide awake and wanting to play, so here I am at the computer at 5am, with her in her bouncy chair at my feet, happily chewing on her dolly’s pigtails and chatting to her stuffed giraffe in dolphin language.

It occurs to me that throughout my lifetime, I’ve had plenty of reasons to be awake in the middle of the night. But those reasons changed with every stage of life. When I was a kid, if I was awake in the middle of the night, I was usually either at a sleepover or having a friend sleep over at my house, and the whole point of being awake in the middle of the night was just that – being awake in the middle of the night. It felt naughty, it felt exciting, it felt grown up, and I didn’t need any other reason to be awake than that I wasn’t supposed to be. The only activity involved was likely to be holding a flashlight under the covers and giggling.

When I was a teenager, if I was awake in the middle of the night I was probably either finishing up a big homework assignment or studying for a test. I wasn’t a procrastinator so much as I was a re-re-re-writer. I would have a report or a project finished several days before the due date, but then I’d be afraid that it wasn’t perfect so at the last minute I’d want to tweak a few things.

When I was in college, I actually got a bit better about that. I was rarely awake in the middle of the night finishing an assignment, and the one time I pulled an almost-all-nighter I got the worst grade in my college career, so studying in the wee hours was also a rare occurrence. What was a more common occurrence, though, was sitting around in my pajamas with my floormates, eating ice cream or telling stories or – best of all – making a late-night run to the 24-hour grocery store, or to Dunkin Donuts, or to the beach, or to anywhere else we could think of that was cool at 3am.

After I graduated from college, the place I was likeliest to be at 3am was still out with my theater friends after a rehearsal. That was the one time in my life when being awake at 3am didn’t mean I had gotten up, it meant that I hadn’t gone to bed yet. Since I still do theater, there are occasionally still times when I haven’t gone to bed yet at 3am, but they are considerably fewer and farther between than they were in my 20s and early 30s.

When I got married, it took me a while to get used to sharing a bed with someone, so when I was awake at 3am it was usually because my husband was snoring, or had just rolled over, or had brushed his arm against me. I took advantage of those wide-awake times to just look at the face of the man I’d married. I would study the shape of his eyes, the curve of his eyebrows, the color of his lips. I’d drape my arm across his neck and stroke the warm, soft velvet of his nape. I’d try to picture what our children would look like with his features blended with my own.

And then when I was pregnant with those children, I was constantly up at 3am, usually to pee, sometimes to eat, occasionally to do both. When my son was born, I was up at 3am to feed and change him. I got a small respite for a while after he started sleeping through the night and before I got pregnant with my daughter, and then I started the whole cycle all over again.

Looking toward the future, I think I’ll get another respite soon – my daughter does sleep through the night most of the time. In a few more years, though, I expect there will be plenty more wakeful nights, as I wait for one or the other of them to come home from a date or a night out with friends, and – if my mom’s rueful warnings have any truth to them, and I suspect they do – probably lots more mid-night trips to the bathroom combined with age-induced insomnia.

I think I’ll enjoy that wakefulness in the middle of the night twenty years from now. I plan to use it to reflect back on all the other wakeful nights I’ve had in my life. I’ll fondly recall my childhood friends, my anxious student days, and my first theatrical endeavors. I’ll savor the bittersweet recollection of rocking a crying baby to sleep. I’ll study my husband’s features again and think of how we’ve both changed in the years we’ve been together, and I’ll remember the causes of all the laughter and tears that have etched lines and character on both our faces. And that’s really not a bad way to spend some time, even in the middle of the night.

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