It seems there’s always someone crying out in the middle of the night, and tonight it’s the cat’s turn to interrupt my slumber. I fumble for my phone to check the time, though I don’t know why I bother. Why do I add up the hours of sleep? Is it to swap war stories with other moms, or to later justify my excessive coffee habit? It’s 1am and the cat is yowling and scratching at my bedroom door with such intensity that I throw back the covers and peel myself out of bed. He’s always been a bit of a jerk, my furry teenager, but I’m worried that this time maybe he’s warning me of real danger, like my friend’s cat who she swears sensed her cancer’s return. I was already secretly worried about the kids’ new bunk bed, which tonight they’re sleeping in for only the third time, but I check and the kids are fine. The cat, who is just a jerk, has retreated into the shadows of the dark house, probably snickering.
Back in my bed, my husband snores in rattling, wheezing gasps that make me want to clear my throat. I slip under the covers and try to sink back into sleep, but the sounds emitted next to me make it impossible. If it was a consistent breathe in/breathe out type of snore, regardless of volume, I’m pretty sure I could tune it out: my prowess at ignoring annoying sounds has lately come to border on a superpower. But it’s late, I’m tired, and it is an irregular, snarfling snore that is making my shoulders tighten all the way up to my ears. I cover my head in the comforter and the smell assaults me. When was the last time I washed these sheets? This and so many other things I cannot recall, but it has probably been at least a month. Or three.
I lay there for a long time, trying not to think or hear or smell, but I can’t get back to sleep. I remember that my husband has a meeting tomorrow and his slacks and dress shirts are sitting wet in the wash: an evening load that was still churning when we went to bed. He had deliberated between setting his alarm an hour early to start the dryer or getting more sleep and wearing jeans to the meeting. He’d opted for jeans, since his alarm is already set for 4am on a normal day and we were getting to bed late. I consider going down to the basement to put the clothes in the dryer, but I hope I’ll fall asleep before I can decide to do it.
My mind wanders involuntarily over yesterday’s stats. I know I’m not the only one who finishes each day feeling like I should have somehow done more. Tiny bits of guilt accumulate for getting stressed out at the kids or not taking the dog for a walk or leaving the kids’ clean laundry lumped in the basket for days, and it all globs together into a bigger feeling, not of inadequacy, but a complex medley of obstinance, amusement, and disgust at the futility of getting “caught up.” We are stuck in a Sisyphus-like cycle of caring for ourselves and our household, except we’ve got to push the oversized boulder while also dragging along our messy, noisy, needy children. It’s no wonder that some days we can’t quite make it to the top before we let go and watch the boulder roll back down to the bottom.
Who wants to wash dishes when there are stories crackling in your brain, nagging to be written? But who can write when there are no clean coffee cups and there’s a weird smell coming from the sink? I’ve got a very balanced life, if balanced means that every department is equally understaffed and underfunded.
I’m still not asleep and something whispers that I won’t be until I put the clothes in the dryer, so I pull on my boots over bare feet and pajama legs and turn the glass doorknob slowly even though I know it will still squeak. I try to avoid the creaky spots in the floor as I tiptoe past the kids’ door, but I’m not as silent as I’d like. The dog decides she wants to go out and vaults off the couch, collar jangling, her nails scrabbling on the wood floor as she races to the back door. No one else wakes.
I return to bed and I can hear the hum of the dryer through the floor directly beneath me, a soothing lullaby. I feel a deep sense of contentment and look forward to surprising my husband in the morning when I tell him that his clothes are dry. Like the tired story of the child tossing beached starfish back into the sea, I feel as if I’ve made a small difference and I fall asleep happy. Not caught up, but happy.
Posted by Mallory on March 7, 2017