My family was very tired yesterday evening. The intensity of the events on Friday evening and then all day Saturday and Sunday morning clear into the late afternoon were like giving blood on a roller coaster for six hours straight. We stumbled out the door of the Alaska Statewide Lectureship and collapsed into a panting pile in the car. The rest of the day I watched through slatted eyes as my family passed through all nine levels of hellacious waking exhaustion. It was like being in some inhumane sleep deprivation experiment. There were moments of perfect catatonic vegetation followed by erratic bursts of spasmed energy.
After several hours every movement was completely controlled by muscle memory. And often the movements did not match up with the intended goal. At one point I was asked to scratch the head of a child that was blankly wiping at their nose. Brains were broken piles of discarded soggy shoe strings. My daughters’ bodies had become off balance and were visibly trundling down an embankment in slow motion.
We tried several times to get the kids to lay down for a nap, but the timing never worked. We could get one asleep in their bed, but then the other’s fuse would burn out and they would explode, blasting their sister into the wall and waking them up with a dead eyed wail. As we entered the early evening hours the objective definition of the term “nap” started to transform into “way too early bed time”. We were conscious enough to understand that this would have been a total disaster come four o’clock the following morning.
So, we packed up the family and did a little shopping, coasting through the aisles mindlessly grabbing items off shelves and dumping them into a cart. We didn’t discover until a good 12 hours later what we had even bought. We just moved on instinct. We were a zombie apocalypse of five. I could picture a team of men in white lab coats following us around and excitedly scribbling descriptions of every action onto clipboards. They surely took pictures of the moment Clara tried to climb into the main basket of the cart, but fell face first with a crash. Her feet stuck straight up in the air, and she just laid there, calmly waiting for someone to lift her out, or quietly hoping we wouldn’t notice so she could drift off to sleep as peaceful as a bag of flour.
We arrived back at the house at around 9:30 in the evening, with a trunk full of inflated helium balloons, shoes with security tags accidentally still attached, a can of corn starch (for a friend), and a large hot pizza. We moved the pizza inside and placed it steaming on the counter, and sat in a splayed semicircle watching it, trying to will it into our bodies so we could finally die in peace.
We noticed Clara was sitting on the stairs with her head in her hands slowly rocking back and forth, lost on an invisible sea.
“Clara.” I said. “Would you like to go to bed, or would you like to eat some pizza?”
She thought for a moment, or tried to at least, fumbling the shoe strings together in her mind, and finally asked, ”Can I do both?”
I nodded understandingly and five minutes later after the thought ate its way into my brain I chuckled to myself imagining the little girl, in bed with a half-eaten slice of pizza under her head like pillow.
In the end, the real shocking piece of data collected in the experiment is that none but the baby slept soundly. The night was long and filled with much wanting and chasing, but never arriving. Perhaps tonight will prove a satisfactory end to the research.