In the 11 years since my son was born, I have become a HUGE fan of public radio. It’s not because of its politics or insightful coverage of world events, it’s simply because when my son was an infant, it would take hours (I’m not exaggerating) of driving up and down the Connecticut Turnpike to get him to sleep. During those long, silent two hour rides, I needed something, or rather, someone to help keep me awake. I needed something to make me think, to keep my brain active and engaged while I stared at the tail lights of the car in front of me.
Since then, I’ve come to love the shows on our local NPR station, I think of Brian Lehrer as a grandfatherly figure who is keeping me up-to-date on all things political and otherwise in my beloved Big Apple. Leonard Lopate provides lively discussion on everything from books to parenting trends (I even made it through as a caller once, and I stupidly babbled on about how much I loved his show). I’d like to think that legendary DJ, Jonathan Schwartz’ weekend afternoon show has given my son an education in the classic standards of the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s (even though he thinks it’s totally gross that he can hear Schwartz’ dentures clicking when he speaks). And I live for the pickup line at school on Friday afternoons so I can listen to Science Friday completely uninterrupted. But when all is said and done, it’s RadioLab that has my heart – even more so after this week’s episode on Sleep…which brings me to the point of this post.
I was driving my son to his basketball game on Saturday during RadioLab’s airtime (please observe: I am STILL in the car for hours, just under different circumstances!). The show began with one of the show’s producers, a mom of a 19 month old child, playing her audio diary of her life with a child who just won’t sleep. It’s 2:45 in the morning and you hear the child WAILING in the background and the poor woman, saying, “This sucks…this just sucks. He. Just. Won’t. Sleep.”
She goes on to recall her first day back at work after returning from maternity leave, where she was trying to have an intelligent conversation with a co-worker and being completely unable to articulate what she wanted to say. It was like, she said, her brain cells were dead.
At her wit’s end and discussing her situation with anyone who would listen, she received lots of advice…”get your kid outside into the fresh air and let him play”…”you’re not giving him enough milk”… “wear him out, and he’ll sleep.” On the verge of tears, the woman went on to explain that she felt like a failure as a mom because she, seemingly, wasn’t doing anything right – and she was exhausted herself.
All of this sounded too familiar…and I found myself empathizing with this woman – “Yes, I know…I know exactly what you’re going through,” I thought. I remember all too well, those nights, pacing the floor with an overtired, crying baby and thinking, “PLEASE, PLEEEEEEASE, just sleeeeeeeeep. I just don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
I remember sitting at my desk at work and a coworker standing in the doorway to my office speaking to me about something and all I could hear was the, “Wha wha wha” of the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. I completely failed to comprehend spoken language. It was as scary as it was depressing.
When the RadioLab producer was describing her feelings of inadequacy as a mother, I was almost in tears. I wanted to hug her and tell her, “You’re not alone. I felt that way too. Sometimes, I still do.”
While, most of those early struggles of parenting; the sleep deprivation, the insecurity, the loneliness, are behind me, her fragility reminded me so much of myself during those days a decade ago when I was in her shoes.
But it does pass, and you (mostly) forget the crappy parts and take the best parts with you…and for me that’s the 11 year-old in the back seat and endless hours of public radio.
You can listen to the RadioLab segment on Sleep HERE.