It’s 2:00am. Or maybe 1:15. Or 3:45. I don’t really want to know, to be honest. What I do know for sure is that somewhere in my house someone made a noise, and now I’m awake. It probably wasn’t even a big noise, but it was enough to jerk my mama-mind to alertness, ready to intervene on behalf of one of my children. Sometimes I stay in bed, listening to the coughing or the tossing and turning, willing the child to be still. Sometimes I leap up and act. And sometimes I discover that what I thought was my child was actually the cat, who is simply thrilled to discover that I am now awake and ready to play.
Since having children I have become a light sleeper. But things weren’t always this way. Take, for example, the story of the night the barn burned down.
As a teenager, my mother, my sister and I lived in an old farmhouse, surrounded by unused fields and two old, out-of-use, not-so-structurally-sound barns. The largest one was readily visible from one side of our house, fronted by a chicken coop that was also old and out-of-use. I went into each of the barns once or twice, but quite honestly, I was worried they would collapse on me, so I mostly stayed out. Inside, there was graffiti on some of the interior walls, and a picked-over feel. The idea that I could happen upon someone else inside also kept me out. I was a very well-behaved teenager, and I thought it best to avoid old, decrepit barns.
You can see the barn in this photo, behind teenaged Jon:
One night in 1993 or so (it’s difficult to remember exactly when, now, and since this was pre-internet you can’t find the info online) I went to sleep as usual and woke up in the morning. When my mom saw me she said, “Did you really sleep through that last night?” Having no idea what she was talking about, I said something like (wait for it …), “What are you talking about?” She pointed out the window, and I saw it. Or, more accurately, didn’t see it. The barn had burned clear to the ground. Luckily nothing else was touched. The chicken coop remained. The trees remained. The grass remained. But all that was left where the barn had stood was a black patch of grass and some pieces of charred wood.
The story of what happened the night before starts with my sister’s friend, Heidi, who was working the late shift at a local McDonald’s. When her father was driving her home that night, she noticed a light on the hill, in the direction of our house. They rushed over, arriving at around the same time as the firetrucks. The trucks and the arrival of our visitors woke my mother and my sister, as well as much of the neighbourhood. At some point in the evening, the police arrived, and questioned my younger sister. It was all quite the brouhaha … or so I hear. Because unlike everyone else, I slept soundly through the whole thing.
A string of arsons in local abandoned buildings, including a dairy, followed. Eventually, the culprit was apprehended. Our barn was identified as his first target. And I missed it all.
Tonight, the crisis is much smaller. Still, there is no sound sleep for me. Because tonight, and every night, there is a part of me that is ever vigilant. So I am awake at an hour that I would rather be sleeping, my brain forever altered by the alchemy of motherhood. Walking the halls, wishing for rest, hoping that nothing decides to catch fire tonight.
How has your sleep changed since having children? I’m sure I’m not the only mom who wakes up far more easily than she used to!