The eagles who soar through the sky are at rest
And the creatures who crawl, run and creep.
I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bull***t. Stop lying.
Lie the **** down, my darling, and sleep…
Not my lines, but lord, I wish they were. Novelist Adam Mansbach, exhausted with his daughter Vivien’s refusal to sleep, wrote the hilarious, cathartic poem Go the **** to Sleep. While its gentle rhymes and brilliant illustrations (by Ricardo Cortés) make it look like a picture book, it is definitely not to be read to your child. Not unless you want her to grow up with the vocabulary of a truck driver. Because this best-selling ‘children’s book for adults’ is about a father swearing at his child’s reluctance to fall asleep.
I can see your raised eyebrows from here. The thing is, till you have tried to put a reluctant child to sleep, you have NO IDEA how tough it can be. Most young parents learn — the hard, humbling way — that kids have their own body clocks. In two years or so you recognise this, and officially give up hope. You may have dinner plates to wash or a cure for cancer to invent or your limbs may be falling off from sheer exhaustion. But baby won’t fall asleep till he wants to. There are still so many toes and fingers to play with, and so much of your hair to pull. It’s enough to make you want a village to raise your child with!
Sleep patterns vary. Some kids sleep at 8pm and wake up shiny-faced at 6am. Some young debauches bounce off the walls till 12am and then crash, only to come around at about 10am the next day. Mine sleeps late and wakes up early. At 11.45 in the night, when my eyelids droop shut in the middle of some story she is telling me, she pulls them apart so that I can listen to her more attentively. At an obscene 6.45am, she’s up again (only on holidays) having remembered some crucial detail she forgot last night.
I have realised that sleep deprivation is a fairly refined device of torture. A friend’s mother who had two kids in quick succession spent the next few years waking up at night for this one’s feeds and that one’s pee. She thought she would never ever sleep again, that her life would pass by in a miasma of tired un-sleptness. The frustrated sense that Mansbach calls ‘…being in a room with a kid and feeling like you may actually never leave that room again...’ Imagine, then, having twins or triplets.
As kids grow, their exploration of the day’s stimulus becomes more verbal. My kid isn’t obsessed with her toes now; she has questions. How did cavemen have babies — there were no doctors to cut their tummies open? Why we have skin? Why are kids mean in class? Why are you mean to me? Can I be an actress? A dancer? Do taps need electricity? I know that the kind thing to do is to retire early, giving her the time to talk through her thoughts. But life has this way of making bhartha out of my best intentions, and invariably bedtime is a tug-of-war between my ‘Go-to-sleep!’ and her ‘Amma-one-last-thing!’
One of our unforgettable bedtime discussions featured the question ‘What are fathers for?’ To look after you, I say, yours feeds and bathes you, no? Frustrated, she sits up. ‘No, I mean before that — the mummy carries the baby inside her stomach. What is the daddy for?’ So she’s talking biology, I’m talking sociology. And to save myself time, I’m being thick too.
God knows I’m not shy of discussing anatomy. But late at night, sleep and chores tugging at my mind, I want to quote Mansbach, be a bad parent and say, ‘No more questions. This interview’s over…’ Go the bleep to sleep, kid!
This article first appeared in the DNA of Sunday, June 19, 2011