Monday, May 02, 2011

The Golden Age

It seems like forever since I've written a blog post just for the sake of writing one.  At a quick glance it hasn't really been forever, just a little over ten months.  Which is sort of forever when you're the parent of a young child, but that's what I want to talk about right now.

To give you a little background, in case you've been living under a rock, I published my new book Life After Sleep on March 7th.  If the title alone doesn't give it away, this is a book about what happens when people have a dysfunctional relationship with work and sleep, which I've generally had for the last five years or so at various intervals and particularly intensely for the last six months.  Without getting too much into it, this last six months has seen the confluence of several different events in my life: my wife finishing the last grueling slog of her Master's degree in counseling, me being offered a position at a second practice which, while a godsend in terms of cash flow at a crucial turning point in our lives, means I've been obliged to work six days and sometimes 50-60 hours per week, and the completion of two projects I've been working on since roughly 2008, the first of which was Life After Sleep, and the second of which is The Damnation of Memory, still in the works.

On it's own, any one of these three factors could spell chaos for my general well-being, and add to this the fact that my son turned four during this time, which as any parent can tell you is a fascinating and delicate transition period from toddlerhood to kid-dom, and which I wanted to be as mentally and emotionally present for as possible.

Enter my life, after sleep.

I'm not 100% sure since I didn't keep close count, but I'm willing to hazard a guess that from October 2010 to March 2011, I might have gone to bed before 1:00 AM half a dozen times at most.  There just aren't enough hours in the day to do what I needed to do to make all of this happen.  My commutes are usually about an hour each way, six times per week, and this continues up until today, though I'm currently trying to puzzle out how to reduce this back to something resembling sane.  I haven't taken a break in months or an honest-to-God vacation in years.  Anyway, long story short, I got the first book done, completed what turned out to be a very intense post-production phase and release, and, even though tax season decided to take a giant shit on my head and hand me a $500 tax bill instead of the $3,000 tax return I was anticipating-hence killing my release-party funds, it's all progressing quite well so far.

As an experiment, I decided that for the month of April, with most of my obligations to the first book handled, I was going to try and be in bed no later than midnight, every single night.  I recognized the fact that this was going to essentially kill most of my free time for the entire month, but it was getting to the point where I was just basically exhausted every minute of the night and day, and the stress was starting to unravel me a little.  So no matter what I was doing, no matter how important it was or what might get forgotten, it was lights-out by 12:00.

Hoo-boy did that make a difference.  I could take up a whole blog post just talking about the little physical differences of sleeping more, but you probably already know these.  I'm calmer, steadier on my feet, more mentally focused, and less prone to random panic-attack type feelings during the day that are really just glucose-cravings and adrenal-gland exhaustion masquerading as stress.  I started dreaming again, vividly, and it was almost unnerving.  I realized that for months at a time I didn't dream, and I certainly didn't remember them if I did.  Now I dream almost every night, and sometimes even just when I nap.

Oh, and I nap now.  Or at least I did today.  Even when I felt like I had more to do, endlessly more, ALWAYS more.  I took a nap instead.  Not because I felt like I needed it like the weary Mark a month ago needed it, but because I knew how it would make me feel afterward.  The dozing, the dreaming, the feel of sunlight in my face from the bedroom window.  It was glorious.  And when I woke up, I realized that there were at long last no more fires to put out.

This got me thinking about how much John has changed in the last six months, too.  For the parents of a two or three year old, telling them that things would get so much better, and that it would happen so quickly, would seem cruelly implausible.  And yet it happened.  Within not even six months but maybe even just one or two, John has almost completely left the willful, whiny, indignant, barbarian part of toddlerhood behind and just... evolved.   Where previously things like rules or conversation or structure would infuriate him, he now effortlessly navigates them and seeks them out.  Where he finds himself lost, he asks for help, when he's bored or upset he masters himself and his emotions and seeks out the right ways to get engaged again.  He's happy, and friendly, and helpful, and very deeply sweet-hearted.  An enormous leap forward from the peace-demolishing caveman animus that he was a year ago.  I've seen it happen in him, and even now I think that if you'd have told me that it would happen when he was three, I wouldn't have believed it.  Not that fast.  Not that much.  But it did, and from one parent to another if you are one, it's awesome.

And a dozen other things have started to all go right at once.  Beth will be finished with her school in less than a month, and despite some harrowing financial twists and turns (on top of the obvious life-altering hatefulness of this bullshit economy) we got through it without falling into the traps and bad times that have fallen on so many other unsupported families.  We were strong enough to do it almost completely on our own, and that's something powerful enough that I'm not ashamed to admit I'm very proud of.  And the books are coming along, I've started tentatively exercising again, which feels wonderful and awful all at once, but will eventually spell better well-being, and we found a babysitting service that doesn't charge $20 an hour, and John is big enough to do things like go to movies and play board games and things that engage Beth and I beyond simply our ability to dutifully cater to his every need.  Soon there will be no more late-night classes, no more inconvenient and uber-expensive unpaid internship, and most importantly, less stress on her.  No more fluctuations of money that necessitate me planning months ahead for nail-biting financial acrobatics.  Just normalcy on a hundred different fronts, and after the last four years, normalcy seems like a memory of some sunny room somewhere.

And for the first time today, when I woke up from a long nap, the kind of nap it felt for almost four years like I'd never be able to take again, I realized that even with this shitbag economy and even with the goofy work schedule and miles and miles of work ahead of me, that the last four years weren't the tone of the rest of my life.  They were just a transition, and one that I needed to have more faith would pass in its own time.  I think now in retrospect that it's so easy when you finally take in the enormity of being a parent, and all of the bottom-line responsibility and accountability that this entails, that you just get used to acting all the time like you know everything.  Because to your child, you DO know everything, and if yours is as perceptive and strong-spirited as mine, anything less than total confidence will get picked apart in an instant.  And yet, after years of trying to get up every day and be the general of your own tiny, mutinous army, you can wake up in a sunbeam in your bed and realize that you didn't know everything, and that this is a good thing, because you thought all that was ahead was a great big sea of suck, and you were wrong.

And maybe what's next IS the golden age.

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