But real zombies get to eat brains.

Up with the boy child last night, midnight to four. Descended the loft stairs how many times now? Fatigue crosses into carelessness as I trip down the last few. Nearly needing emergency dental work. Teething, sleep regression, growing pains, illness, or gremlin mode? Not sure. I experienced two challenging years of flight school, twelve months of combat deployments in Afghanistan, and SERE school in winter in Maine. Torture tactics include repeated sounds of babies crying, being subject to screaming and physical pain, and, of course, lack of sleep. Also known as parenting an infant.

At least I was able to sleep in the snow in Maine.

To say it sucks is oversimplistic. To say it’s hard is just whining. To say I’ve been fantasizing about throwing back Zzz-Quil shots to aid sleep and somehow pass out so the banshee wails that knife straight into my heart and give me Grade A anxiety can’t affect me anymore is closer to the truth. I’d be lying if I didn’t say hard drugs have made an appearance in my thoughts. Imagined sweet relief, and I’m a full-blown D.A.R.E. kid.

Toddler didn’t help, waking at 4, 5, and 6. Her room, the hallway, the bathroom were too dark. My masters are tiny people bent on cooperative revenge. I’m going insane.

I’m not programmed to stay up this long. Even flying odd hours in the squadron – day shift, then night, then back to day over the week – I didn’t suffer like this. Someone else inhabits my body. Makes my fingers type. My mind is stuffed with smog. My eyes trick me, images twitching like bad graphics. The espresso I slurp has done zilch to lift my torpor. How am I writing words on a page right now? Both kids are being looked after, preschool and nursery, and my first free hour is spent trying to process. The next will be to sleep.

So tired this morning, I forgot to buckle up my son fully. Don’t call Child Services; I clicked the car seat straps into their circular holder. I just forgot to put the car’s lap belt through the last slot. But still.

I’ve been here before. Experienced how many sleepless nights with Beaner? Didn’t cope well. This time, I don’t have the choice of sleeping when the baby sleeps, when the demon-child finally succumbs to exhaustion. This time, my older child will wake up at daylight. Will need me to help her dress, eat breakfast, brush her teeth. Will request I play taxi to get her to preschool (relatively) on time.

My husband works full time; sometimes needs to be away at night because of important meetings elsewhere. Also needs his sleep. Sometimes, I’m the only parent. Sometimes, I struggle under the saturating guilt of sleeping while my kids are in care. I’m paying other people so I can sleep. So I can function. Basic life needs. Feels absolutely wrong some days. Irresponsible. Privileged. Today is a win. If I don’t sleep, I’ll cease functioning.

How do working parents keep it together? Who does laundry? Cooks? Vacuums copious drifts of dog hair in the kitchen? Who has time for intimacy or date nights or catching up?

I’m idolizing tribes. Clans of people living together in harmony, sharing duties. Kids running freely around a bonfire. Mothers resting. Aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents keeping watch. Modern parenting is not ideal. The nuclear family – Mom, Dad, two kids – is untenable. Where is the village? Stay at home and crumble under the stress of childrearing, or work all day to pay for care. Lose-lose. Parents desperately need time for reconnection. Need space to recharge. Need alone time. But the demands of pure survival always win.

The baby comes first. I can’t ignore him. I wear noise-cancelling headphones when he’s screaming in the wee hours. When he’s in banshee mode. When his pain bores into my eardrums. I can’t stand it otherwise: I convulse into a fit of swearing and my heartrate skyrockets. My reptilian mother brain thrashes around, agitated it can’t stop the sound. I know this is natural. I still can’t cope.

When I’m at my wits’ end, when tears of frustration streak my face, when I sit in the middle of the room with a wailing baby, I give in. I am not bleeding. I am not drowning. I am not suffocating. He starts to gasp less, breathe more. I fling myself onto the speck of hope presented – he is calming down. I keep rocking him, shushing him, stroking him. Eternity is not this long. He is whimpering now, the end in sight. I will make it.

I will have help tomorrow.

It will be better.

I will sleep.

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