This was first written in July 2020 but lost and abandoned due to sleep deprivation. I may have once had vaulting ambitions for it, but here it is.
Most years around this time, I’m digging out my Macbeth notes and introducing another wide-eyed bunch of fifteen year olds to the Scottish play. In my early years of teaching I asked a colleague how I should start and she very generously stopped what she was doing, swivelled her chair over and explained her entire approach to teaching Shakespeare lesson by lesson. I’ve been doing it this way ever since:
We read the play together as a class, stopping for clarification and amazement at the use of language. We note down the references to sleep, notice how death is compared to sleep, how lack of sleep causes madness and hallucinations; how after the Macbeths murder Duncan, we rarely see them again in daylight, suggesting that perhaps they are ranting and scheming all night. They’re not sleeping. Although Macbeth’s first hallucination comes before the murder — the dagger of confirmation bias that leads him to commit the deed he claims to be in two minds about — after the murder these ramp up. Right away he swears he could hear someone say “Sleep no more, Macbeth hath murdered sleep.” And then sleep no more he does.
My job teaching Shakespeare is on hold for a while, but my current job is making me an even deeper analyst of the themes of sleep.
Every morning for the last 6 months I’ve been subconsciously adding up the sleep I got over the previous night. At first I would crawl into bed so exhausted I had no trouble falling asleep, but later I would lie awake waiting for our baby to wake and need me. Most nights I was clocking between 5 and 7 hours though, albeit in snippets. I would fall asleep with the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star roving around my brain, or the steady chant of the first two pages of Goodnight Moon. Babies crave routine, they tell me. Routine makes the days blur and bleed into each other, indistinguishably. In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon, damn spot.
A Facebook post about my lack of sleep garners responses from parents far and wide, “they all have ptsd” my partner says. A friend calls and tells me how useful controlled crying was for their first. We switch to video so he can see my baby trying to crawl and he sings a waiata to her. She bursts into tears. A few days later another friend sends a long message about the complete opposite approach his family used. I don’t even know if I’m confused anymore.
Some nights our baby doesn’t sleep because she wants to be in someone’s arms and how can you blame her? How can you refuse? She’s so very few months out in this vast unembracing world. Other times she’s just wide awake. I hold her and sway in that baby-holding way, while her big eyes glisten in the shafts of street light that find their way through the venetian blinds. She stares at the patterns it makes on the wall, scurries her fingers over my chest or moves them through the bedroom air. She’s calm in these moments, but I have no idea how to get her from awake, alert, curious and calm to deeply asleep in her bed.
Parents’ group share their brief frustrations with sleep in our Whatsapp chat, but it’s always attributed to a scheduled sleep regression, teething or the catchall cry of “wonder weeks!” No one’s admitting that sometimes babies defy the structure of night and day, sometimes they’re in shitty moods, sometimes they’re just amazed to be here and want to see it all for themselves.
The less sleep I get the more scheming a Macbeth I become, trying to cover the tracks of my absolute naivety in parenting. We wake and debrief, add up the hours and make a plan for the next night. How can she not love sleep? we ask no one. We crave the coaxing and cuddling, the singing and swaying for ourselves. We crave the sleep she’s refusing. Oh sleep, Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, / The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, / Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, / Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
Until eventually, we dream of it.