2010.06.30 Sleeping like a baby?

Written by David Green.

Guest column by Carly Van Thomme


One of the most misused clichés is “sleeping like a baby.” When someone uses this expression, he or she typically means to say that someone is sleeping deeply and peacefully. In my experience, that is not at all how babies sleep. I think John McCain nailed it when he told Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show,” just days after losing the 2008 Presidential election, “Well, I’ve been sleeping like a baby. I sleep two hours, wake up, and cry. Sleep two hours, wake up, and cry.” Yes, folks, as many of you surely know—that is what “sleeping like a baby” really is much of the time.

Babies also fight sleep like it’s a matter of life and death. We have all seen a movie with a scene in which the actor tries desperately to remain conscious while stranded in some frigid location, knowing that if he succumbs to that overwhelming sleepy sensation that he’s experiencing, he surely will die of hypothermia. Though safe and warm in bed or in the arms of their mothers, babies are fond of mimicking these dramatic efforts. Apparently they’ve seen the movies, too.

It seems that babies are big fans of scary movies as well. Sometimes when fighting sleep, they act just like a horror movie monster. Older babies will stumble around zombie-like, arms outstretched, bleary-eyed but determined. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear them utter, “Brains… brains…,” when they have that look about them. Then, just when you think they’re sound asleep and down for the count, they pop right back up like Jason Voorhees coming up out of the lake in “Friday the 13th.” To be fair, babies generally will give you a big smile at this point rather than try to murder you, so that’s where the similarities end.

On many occasions, I have poured myself a glass of wine (or made myself a nice, icy martini with three jalapeño-stuffed olives) after my baby finally went to sleep. I congratulated myself and sat down to enjoy my drink with a big smile on my face. As soon as I took that first, pleasurable sip, the voice-activated baby monitor clicked on. She was awake again. Sigh. That drink would have to wait.

Before I had my baby, I thought that parents got up in the middle of the night with their babies because babies needed to eat, needed a clean diaper, or needed some other identifiable thing. The reality is that, while that is sometimes why babies wake up, sometimes they wake up just because they wake up. Sometimes babies sleep great, but often they’re going through some developmental spurt—or maybe they’re getting all four of their first-year molars at once (ouch!). Sometimes they’re upset, but we don’t know for sure why. What I’ve learned more than anything is that it isn’t easy being a baby.

However, it’s easier being a parent than I imagined it would be. A little humor goes a long way. A little patience goes a long way. But, it’s our love as mothers and fathers (be it biological, adoptive, step, or foster) that gets us through the tough nights—a love bigger than we knew possible before we were parents. The next thing we know, the difficult phase has passed, and baby is no longer acting like a character in a B-movie—until the next phase at least. We look back at pictures, sigh, and say, “She’s going to grow up so fast.” (I am famous for saying this through a mist of tears when my daughter was nine days old. Now she’s 17 months old. I just know that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and it will be her wedding day.)

The next time you hear someone use the expression “sleeping like a baby,” smile to yourself and remember to enjoy the day for what it has to offer, because life does go by way too fast.


Bio: Carly (Pummell) Van Thomme is a 1992 graduate of Morenci High School, currently living in Guadalajara, Mexico, with her husband, daughter, and two cats. In addition to writing, she is an attorney with Chapman And Associates, P.C. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

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