When I was small I went to bed at 7:00 pm every night. Imagine, every night, summer, winter, spring, fall: The clock turned to 7:00 pm and it was time to go to bed. When I was small the night both terrified and fascinated me.
On long summer drives to visit my grandparents I woke up, groggy, sweaty, as the light of some lonely gas station seeped into our van, crowded with blankets and siblings as groggy and sweaty as me. Mom or Dad would tell us to go back to sleep, that we had a long way to go. And somewhere in the dark canyons of northern Arizona or southern Utah I would. The headlights of our van would wash across the canyon walls, waking up their vivid colors just long enough for them to fall asleep again as we rolled past. And the stars. Stars so bright and many that followed me as I pressed my face against the cool window glass and slowly, wonderfully, fell back asleep.
At home night was adult time. I thrilled to crawl out of bed and hide behind the couch as my parents watched tv, or to slide beneath my brother’s bed and spy adult feet through two vents lined up across the utility closet. Tantalizing, unknown, forbidden, the adult night was so desirable that any view, even one of feet partially obscured by the water-heater was worth the effort.
Why, oh why, doesn’t the tantalizing promise become a delicious and desirable reality? Now it is my bed, my 7:00 o-clock bedtime that taunts and tantalizes me. And it is not the wonders of adulthood, the games, the tv shows, that keep me up, or get me up. It is the chores. The dishes. The thinking about money and conflicts . . . or the trying not to think of them.
It is my children, who, even as babies, believe that there is something thrillingly, terrifyingly wonderful about the night and the power to stay up in it.
One day they will learn. Poor things.
My parents put me to bed at 7:00 o-clock every night. But sometimes they thought better of it. Once, when I was small, my mother forgot that there was a Peanuts special she wanted me to see. I was already asleep, but she woke me up to watch it. I adored my mother at that moment. I cannot imagine doing it myself. One night the thing they pulled me out of bed for was a rainbow. I remember sitting in my father’s arms as he stood in the doorway and the light of the setting sun washed over our house and into the clouds before us shattering into colors so bright and wonderful in my small eyes. And then my father carried me to bed, where I imagine that I feel asleep dreaming those colors. Happy to be awake at night when it mattered.
And now, it is quiet. There is no rainbow in our sky. The world is dark and the children are asleep. I will give up my ‘duties’ and drag myself to bed soon. I will quit playing the martyr, or quit giving in to the deep and irrational longing to stay up “just one more minute” that once tortured my parents, and now tortures me. I will go to bed. To sleep. Perchance to dream. . . until the baby cries or Rosie wants her milk or the morning wake-up call (I swear I am going to record the two-year-old cry of “WAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUP . . . .” to pipe into her bedroom on her coldest, darkest, huge-test-today-i-est, 16-year-old mornings . . . sweet revenge) and the fact that I adore them will save their lives, again . . . and someday I may wake them up to see a rainbow, or let them stay up late to watch stars fall, and I will let them love the night.
After all . . . it can’t last.