Thursday, November 03, 2005


My children's sleep issues can easily be traced back to my faulty genes. In college and grad school insomnia was my friend. I did my best work in the wee hours of the morning. It also served me well during my work years as I've always had a deadline-driven job. After C and A were born I was so sleep deprived that I forgot insomnia even existed. If a child was quiet I slept. Now that everyone is (sort of) sleeping through the night, I find myself reverting to my old sleep patterns.

"Well," you say "what a fabulous time to catch up on your blogging or book reading!" And it would be, except my children, having the insomnia gene, are very light sleepers. So if I dare to stir from my bed, someone is bound to hear me creeping down the creaky stairs, and the luxury of being up at 2am by myself is lost. So there I lie, staring at the ceiling. Sometimes the cat arrives for some love, or to demand his share of my pillow. Every once in a blue moon I try reading by the bathroom night light, but my eyesight isn't what it used to be when I was nine, and I become depressed about my impending middle age. More often than not, I just worry. "What was that noise?" "Why is C acting out at school?" "Why won't A eat anything but goldfish?" "Did you hear that noise?"

Last night I spent my time with memories. For some reason, yesterday was a day that reminded me of fall weekends spent with my Dad's family. My grandmother has a big old rambling farmhouse set on several acres of lawn and fields in rural New England, and from April to November every year the house was always filled to capacity with generations of immediate and extended family. While each season at the house has its own appeal, my favorite time of year there is fall. The leaves cover the ground like a multi-colored carpet and when we were younger my cousins and I would be charged with raking them into huge piles and carting them to the back field for a bonfire. One of the aunts would arrive with cocoa and my dad and uncle would supervise the lighting of the fire. Once the leaves had been dispensed of, everyone gathered in the kitchen for drinks (scotch on the rocks for the elders, birch beer for the under-agers).

The evenings were spent huddled in sweaters and blankets on the front porch listening to the grownups chatter on about life, work and politics. Everyone would eventually troop off to beds being warmed by electric blankets. Around 2 am, everyone scuffed downstairs one by one in their slippers and ratty bathrobes clutching a book and acting surprised to find others up at that hour. For reasons that always escaped me, a big pot of coffee was made, then the aunts would chatter about their various afflictions ("Have I TOLD you about my big toe?") while my dad tried to ignore them by burying his nose in his book and my grandmother snuck all the sweet treats left over from supper. One by one everyone eventually trickled back to bed, only to arise again at about 7. When I would awaken in the middle of the night other places, my memories of these nocturnal trysts always warmed me.

Over the last decade the house has lain vacant more often than not. My cousins and sister have distanced themselves from the family, scattering across the country and very rarely, if ever, visiting. My Uncle G passed away, and my grandmother lives in an assisted living facility in a different part of the state. My dad still returns frequently, but not with the regularity he once did. My aunts now retreat to their own homes at night, if they come at all.

M and I brought the kids up to visit once last fall, and while C had fun jumping in the leaves and huddling under the blankets, the same magic that used to draw me back weekend after weekend wasn't there. When I made my pilgrimage downstairs in the wee hours of the morning, it was dark and quiet. I quickly poured a cup of water and returned to bed not wanting to disturb my memories of the kitchen, but it was too late.

Last night when I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I could only remember the loneliness that pervaded the house that night. For once I got out of bed and snuck downstairs to distract myself with the computer. And when I logged onto my email, I found messages from my dad and two aunts, all sent within the last hour. I quickly responded with a smile spreading across my face. If only I could send them a virtual cup of coffee...