“How are you sleeping?” It’s such a simple little questionFor most of my life no one even bothered asking. Sure, maybe during finals or after a breakup when I’d walk around with big circles under my eyes but mostly it just didn’t come up. If it had been a common line of inquiry I would have answered it with little thought, “How am I sleeping? Huh, let me think…well yesterday I cruised into the local brunch joint only to find that I’d missed the pancake menu and they had moved onto to pasta and burgers, SO… pretty well I guess.”

But now, now that I have a child, now that sleep is as fragile and as volatile as an eggshell in a tornado that question has become dense and weighted. I think deeply and grow tense every time it is asked. And it is asked ALL THE TIME.

It’s like when I’d be home for Thanksgiving after college and everyone would want to know, “What have you been doing?” The entire kitchen could be on fire, aliens could be landing on the back porch and still everyone would want the answer to this question. On good years I’d answer proudly and with great confidence. I’d pluck my choice experiences from a pool of many and launch into a detailed description.

Well…I’ve been working on a national cartoon and writing a ton, but that doesn’t fill me completely, so I’m also teaching. I really have a passion for that! Did I mention I’m in grad school too?  Yes, I am. It’s really coming together.  All those little choices I made along the way have brought me to this moment. What’s the word for that…serendipity, karma, fate… oh I forget, anyway, how are you?

But on a bad year, a year where I was feeling like I’d never be much of anything, a year where I’d spent the bulk of my time answering phones in a mini suite or filling lunch orders at a temp job, I’d dream up ways to avoid the question all together.

I’m sorry what did you ask? Did you ask what I’ve been doing? Well…ummm… I’ve got a lot of ideas so I’m thinking about doing something with those and I’ve got a friend who’s got some ideas too so we might collaborate, which is really exciting. But that’s kind of big picture stuff. For now I’m just working in a building. There’s free coffee and a great view of even bigger buildings so that’s cool, anyway… I’m going to see if my mom needs help in the kitchen.

And I’d be off, sweating, regretting all my choices, and feeling like a moron and an overall phony.

It just blows my mind that a question like, “How are you sleeping?” can send me right back into this state of insecurity and panic. It baffles me that I find myself rehearsing the answer as I walk down the street to a playgroup or sing-along. Back when my daughter was sleeping between us and spending most nights nursing from dusk till dawn I’d practice little ways of making our situation sound as socially acceptable as possible. “Our daughter sleeps in a very large crib. Actually one might call it a bed. Actually one might call it our bed. But that’s really just semantics.  Anyway what’s your sleeping arrangement?”

Sure after a good night’s sleep I’d strut around just asking for the question. I’d talk at length about how we were all getting so much rest and bonding at the same time. I’d explain the closeness and the rare privilege of getting to watch a baby dream right next to me. About how feeling her breath on my shoulder was like taking a sedative- it just put me right out and sent me into a sleep that would make the Sandman himself feel envy.

But when a night had been rough, when I’d woken to sobs every fifteen minutes, when my nipples bled from so much midnight snacking, when the rocking and crying and shifting and waking had gotten so bad that my husband and I had actually gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to discuss all the ways we were screwing up our child with our crappy sleep routines I just dreaded that question with all my being. I wanted to avoid every place where I might run into a parent who might ask that bloody sleep question.

“How am I sleeping? Well I…oh look it’s a meteor falling from the sky…run. We’ll continue this chat later. Good bumping into you!”

For so long I just couldn’t make myself confess the details when things got rocky. There was just too much at stake. The whole sleeping arrangement was the first big conscious choice we’d made as parents, just like the whole job/career thing was the first big choice I’d made out of college. It felt so tender and raw, and lonely.  I couldn’t bear the thought that it might not have been the right choice.

Then, one afternoon I was just too tired to put on a charade. I’d been up most of the night and I was trying to recover over a cup of tea with a friend. It was a friend who I knew did the “cry it out method.” Generally we tried to avoid the whole sleep conversation altogether because we had chosen such different routs and both felt simultaneously competitive and insecure. Then out of nowhere she just began confessing all the little details of her sleep situation. “One night…” she shared as if beginning a ghost story, “I put the kid to bed and she started wailing and wailing. We were just at the start of the ‘cry it out’ thing so I made myself sit downstairs and listen. I held fast. I let her cry and cry. Then finally after like forty-five minutes I caved. I went into her room only to discover that her crib had collapsed and she was lying in a pile of rubble. Unscathed, but deeply traumatized I’m sure.”

And I just started laughing, and she laughed and it felt so good.

“Do you wanna know something?” I kind of whispered, “My husband and I have given our daughter our bed. We’re sleeping on the couch. We’re trying to get her to self-soothe and it’s the only way we could think to do it.” And then we both laughed again. It all came out after that. The tricks, the insecurities, the tales we’d heard from other parents, “I know a woman who knows a woman who sleeps on the living room floor with her six year old, it’s the only way she can get him to sleep.” She shared, “Well I know a man who knows a man who’s kid will only sleep in his arms in an easy chair.”

And somehow in that moment, I felt like I was part of this big community of crazy sleep deprived parents, and it was exactly where I wanted to be. It suddenly dawned on me that we were all bound to get it right eventually, otherwise the world would just be littered with people wandering around unable to sleep because they were so scarred as children by bed sharing and crying it out and all other manner of early sleep methods. And I’ve been awake in the wee hours of the morning, and I’ve looked out the window and I simply haven’t seen these people roaming the streets.  So it must just be a matter of time. Maybe a few years, maybe the day after tomorrow before we’re all just laughing at that silly sleep question.

“How am I sleeping?” we’ll say when asked, “Better than I was!”