It would have been a nice gesture—telling his brother, “Quiet! Mom’s sleeping”—if he hadn’t been playing the piano at the same time. “Quiet! Mom’s sleeping” could have meant that my son, Nick, understood that I was tired and needed a nap. It would have meant that he knew that his brother, Chris, was making too much noise and, therefore, needed to be reminded that Mom is sleeping. So, shhhhh.
Except that after he chastised his brother, he continued to play the piano—an original song with an old timey saloon sound, like he was writing music for a remake of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” And you can’t be mad at a kid who can make up movie soundtracks on the spot. Instead, you just lie there and listen, figuring you’ll get that nap in sometime after your youngest leaves for college in 2017 and the empty nesting begins.
If I were to add up all the lost sleep my children have cost me since they were born back when Bill Clinton was president, they would owe me a good four years of time. Four years of lost sleep for colic, croup, stomach flus, and monsters under the bed. Four years of “sleep”overs, late-night runs to Staples for poster board, and 5 a.m. pick-up times for soccer tournaments in other states. Four years of waiting up, worrying, and listening for the garage door to open late at night. Four years of movie soundtracks being created in the room immediately below my bedroom.
But my kids owe me nothing. I haven’t been keeping score, because if I had, I would have been absolutely obliterated. Crushed, much like the remote control for the DVD player we used to own. My kids’ points would rack up every time I shouted things like, “Who slimed the cat?” and “Where are you going with that duct tape and rope?” (Both of which are working titles for my memoir, by the way.) They’d get extra points for painting, in black on the white basement wall, the score of their ping pong game. They’d rack up the tally when Chris, pretending to be Luke Skywalker, decked Nick, as Darth Vader, in the head with a light saber, also known as a hockey stick.
I’d get on the scoreboard, too, only in much less spectacular ways, by sneaking broccoli into Nick’s mashed potatoes or swiping the book entitled, “Scooby Doo and the Cupcake Caper” from Chris’ little, yet very strong hands moments before he delivered the ring at my cousin’s wedding. Or by remembering to pick up clarinet reeds before the holiday recital. Or by touring yet another college cafeteria. Or by saying, “Sure, you can have 11 kids over to watch, ‘Sinister 2,’” (Rotten Tomatoes movie review score, 13%) while the cat and I hide in my bedroom, probably listening to the new soundtrack for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Only, I would just get one point for each goal I scored, like in soccer, while they’d get multiple points at once, like in football or Super Mario Kart, a game my kids like to call, “Mom Drives off Cliffs.” So there’s no way I can win. The game is rigged from the start, tilted in the kids’ favor, like Olympic Games on Soviet home turf. All I can do is show up and do my best, because when their childhood is over, I will have memories.
It’s these memories that drive parents nearing their children’s high school graduation ceremonies to wax poetic about how much they miss their kids being little. Their Facebook feeds are littered with photos of the first day of kindergarten accompanied by sad-face emojis and the words, “Where did the time go???” with way too many question marks.
I know where the time went. I’ve been counting it down since 2007 when I got cancer and didn’t think I’d still be here now, about to see Nick get his high school diploma. The tumor in my chest—the size of a softball—made the odds of reaching this moment uncertain at best and at worst, unlikely. After I was safely in remission, I asked my oncologist how close to death I had been. He held up two fingers and said, “Two months.” Two months meant I wouldn’t even have made it through summer break. I wouldn’t have seen Nick start fourth grade and Chris begin third. I wouldn’t have driven off cliffs in Mario Kart or listened to 11 teenage boys scream at the horror movie being played in my family room. I wouldn’t have lost all that sleep over all those years, and I wouldn’t be here now.
This day is a luxury. For me and for my kids. To wish to go back to when my kids were little now would be like giving up a winning lottery ticket and the Oscar for Best Actress and the World Cup wrapped in one.
We won. We won, dammit, and I wasn’t even keeping score.
So when my kids keep me from sleeping—and they still do—I’m okay with that. It means I get to hear Nick’s latest song or watch Chris snag another cross country medal. It means hearing the garage door open late at night, knowing they’ve made it home, safe again. It means checking over their creative writing class assignments instead of turning out the light for the night. It means seeing them off to college when I wasn’t even sure they’d see me sitting in the stands at high school graduation.
It’s okay, I’ll sleep later. There’s time. Meanwhile, how about a photo of the first day of kindergarten?
Smile emoji. Way too many exclamation points.