Which is stronger: a mountain or a raindrop? The mountain seems stronger, but over 1,000 years, with enough rain, the mountain may be smoothed down. Rubbed away. Gullied.
We attended a breast-feeding class before I gave birth to my little Kung Fu Panda nearly 2 years ago. The instructor asked everyone to name a time when they were sleep-deprived. We shared with her our experiences staffing one of the largest North American conventions celebrating Japanese anime and culture, Otakon. It's a well-known fact that by Saturday, much of the Otakon staff has a 1,000-mile stare. Either because of dedication to work or from staying up after hours, everyone is functioning on an average of four hours a night.
After the class shared their worst sleep-deprivation experiences, our instructor asked us what we did afterwards. We all did the same thing: sleep. At this point, she informed us that the experience we were heading inexorably towards would be similar to the most sleep-deprived, stressful time in our lives, except there would be no sleeping in.
We pooh-poohed her. We called her alarmist. She was right.
In my case, it's slightly worse. I am a stay-at-home mom but also a freelance writer and a telecommuter. This means I must stay up, sometimes until 3 or 4 a.m., to finish my work, and yet I'm awoken each day before 9 a.m. (10, if I'm lucky). In KFP's early days, we took luxurious two-hour naps. Nothing is so heavenly as snoring next to your baby, summer breezes floating in the window, a purring cat near your pillow, as alt-folk music serenades you.
Nowadays, such naps are but a dream. I snooze uneasily on the couch while my son watches "Sesame Street." Usually, he climbs on me periodically to give me full-body hugs. Almost always, when the "Elmo's World" segment comes on near the end, he nudges me to wake up. Elmo is a delight that must be shared.
It's like Saturday at Otakon, all the time. I walk around with my thousand-mile stare, dropping keys, forgetting my husband's birthday. I feel like the kid in that famous viral video, David after Dentist, asking, "Is this real life?" The way things waver. The fuzziness of it all. Drip, drip, drip.
I thought I was fine until recently, when I realized that sometimes I write down the wrong words for things. My brain has its own "self-correcting" software, like my Droid phone. Most of the time, the mistakes are homonyms, but sometimes they're not, like when I wrote down "lies" instead of "life."
I'm reminded of the way I used to sleep-grade in grad school. I was a teaching assistant for an English composition class. As I was grading papers one night, I started to fall asleep but somehow continued to write. When I woke up, I was disoriented. Most of my scrawl was indistinct except for one word: "pizza."
When you wear enough away, the body only knows how to keep going. It demands subsistence things: food, sleep, shelter. When it doesn't get those things, it gets desperate. It starts to cry out, and it can happen without warning. Drip, drip, drip.
This afternoon, my son and I joined my husband for lunch, because I had forgotten to get my husband's signature on the tax forms I'd spent all weekend preparing. While waiting for our son's food, as my husband and I ate soup, I opened a pack of crackers and gave one to KFP. He was delighted at this new toy. It made wonderful clicking noises when tapped on the table. We told him that he could eat it, too, if he wanted. "No," he said, and tried to put it back in the packet (Generally speaking, he is very polite when declining food, putting it back in the container, if available).
Of course, the cracker wouldn't go back. Cracker packets are designed for one purpose: to be opened. My son did not know this, and he cried his frustration to the ceiling. Why wouldn't his fingers do what he wanted them to do?
I wanted to tell him, "It's a little thing. Let it go." But I know it wasn't the crackers that bothered him. And it wasn't the wooden train that came apart when he picked it up. It wasn't the stubborn Velcro on his shoe. It wasn't his inability to articulate what he wants. It's not any one of these things. It's all of these small, weak problems, wearing away at his patience. When he's had enough, he gives way to wailing and teeth gnashing. I know how he feels.
Somehow, I've got to show him that we mountains are the strong ones. As I double and triple check the tax forms that years ago I could have filled out in my sleep (ironic, right?); as I accidentally knock the silverware clattering to the floor and mutter "Gosh," I need to demonstrate that we can stand up to storms, and the water will run off our faces. And yes, the small things can wear you down, but that doesn't mean you stop trying. Each drip, each drop, it changes us, but in time it smooths out our rough spots, gives us character, makes us majestic and wise.