“Did you sleep on my floor last night, Daddy?” my son Evan asked, his face sticking over the edge of his bed. He was confused about what I was doing down there, like I was a stuffed animal that had rolled out of his bed in the night.
“I sure did, buddy,” I said. My camping mattress crinkled as I rolled over to face him. Behind his head, a giant Death Star decal loomed on the ceiling. Two orbs floated in my field of vision: the one with the giant laser cannon, a destroyer of planets, and the one with the bedhead, a destroyer of my night’s sleep.
“Why?” Evan asked.
“You don’t remember?” I asked in return.
He’d spent the previous ten hours fussing from his bed, tossing and turning through varying levels of consciousness, calling out for us and complaining about his upset stomach. I’d given him some Children’s Pepto, which tastes just bad enough that you can verify something’s actually wrong when a kid takes it without arguing. Not like Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops, which taste delicious, but have never suppressed a single actual cough.
“Never mind, I’m all better!” I’d say as a kid, when my parents tried to switch me from Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops to something with actual medicinal properties.
After the Pepto, all I could do was pat Evan on the head and suggest that perhaps sleep would make all of us feel better. Sometimes, when you’re a kid, you know your parents can’t really do anything to make you feel better, but it still brings you some measure of comfort to know that they are miserable, too.
He’d settle back down for a few minutes, I’d crawl back into bed, then he’d call out again, activating my wife Kara’s ejection foot.
“My tummy huuuuurts!” came the wail from the other room.
“SPROING!” went Kara’s ejection foot. She wasn’t quite awake enough to know what was going on, or what the problem was, but she was pretty sure that whoever she’d just dumped onto the floor would fix it.
After this process repeated throughout the night, I remembered an old trick from the days when we had babies in the house. If you’re constantly returning to a crying baby’s room, walking back-and-forth between your bed and the crib, you can cut your commute time in half by simply collapsing in the hallway.
Many a morning, I’d wake up drooling on the hallway carpet, with the dog standing there, head askew, wondering if she was supposed to go for help.
Now that I’ve gotten older and wiser, though, I’ve improved my technique. Don’t just stop, drop, and drool. First, stop by the closet to grab a camping mattress, which you fully intend to actually take camping once you conquer indoor parenting. The expletives you’re muttering under your breath will help to inflate the camping mattress even quicker, trapping all the obscenity and desperation in there. Just don’t deflate the mattress in front of the kids the next day, or they’ll learn a lot of words that they shouldn’t really be learning from you. They should be learning them the way nature intended: on the bus, from kids who don’t really know what they mean, either.
A few minutes after I’d settled onto Evan’s floor, he called out, “Oooooh. My tummy hurts!”
“SPROING!” went Kara’s foot in the other room, hitting nothing but air.
“I’m right here, bud,” I said, listening as he settled back to sleep.
The next morning, he felt fine, and didn’t remember much of the night’s goings-on.
As kids get older and easier to care for, you forget what it’s like to experience the sleepless nights that used to be so common. Which reminds me: I really should get that vasectomy scheduled.
You can collapse in Mike Todd’s hallway at email@example.com.