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Dad's Side: The Night Shift

In the months before my first daughter, Isabelle, was born, every parent I met warned me that once the baby arrived, I was going to be sleep deprived and, because of it, depraved. They weren't sympathetic. No, most of the parents I met did everything but cackle with glee and rub their hands together as if they were declaring world domination. They paid their dues in the parenthood club, and now they wanted to watch me pay mine.

But I've discovered that if you have the right attitude, parenting at night actually isn't so bad. In fact, I'd like to encourage other fathers to apply for the night-shift position, at least on a part-time basis. It probably sounds like I'm being paid off by some subversive group of crazed, overtired new moms, but honestly, once you give in, there's something exciting about parenting after hours.

Not that I always felt this way. In the early days, Isabelle was a novelty that Susan didn't mind tending to throughout the night, which lowered her resistance to my argument that as the main breadwinner in the family, I needed my beauty sleep more than she did. I do think there's a little truth in that, though as my wife points out, most of my work is done in front of a computer. I'm hardly in the same position as, say, the caveman who was also a doting dad. If he was sleep deprived on the job, he risked becoming brunch.

Still, Susan gave in, and my sleep needs came first. But, funnily enough, Susan doesn't function well on four hours of broken sleep. Bluntly put, she was a grouch. So after a few weeks, I started to volunteer for the night shift more often, until I took it over completely. I poured it on, telling Susan that I was willing to lose sleep for my darling wife's well-being, but frankly, it was for my own self-preservation; the situation had gotten to the point where I was afraid to butter the toast too loudly, lest she snap. If taking over the night duties made her happy, that ultimately made me happy. Plus, I'd never needed as much sleep as she did.

So I gave in. Susan was much more relaxed and, eventually, I started to really look forward to my middle-of-the-night quality time with Isabelle. In fact, we had a lot of fun together. Maybe a little too much fun.

Somewhere around month eight or nine, after a brief period where she had been sleeping the entire night, Isabelle lost her stride and began waking up at ungodly hours. Unable to get her back to bed, I began taking her down to the living room, where I'd turn on the lights and switch on the television.

I'd heat up pizza rolls in the microwave, pull out the ice cream, empty a bag of blocks on the floor, and settle in to watch All in the Family reruns on TV Land. Each night, my wee one and I had a party in the wee hours of the morning. From about 2 to 4 a.m., we'd hang out until Isabelle showed signs of wearing down. Then, I'd put her in her crib, stress-free, and slip under the covers next to my wife, who was none the wiser.

Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor and freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.

Fun after the midnight hour

I have fond memories of this period (as well as some extra pounds I'd like to shed), but it was definitely not my smartest move. An entire month went by before I realized that I had taught Isabelle to wake up in the middle of the night - every night - expecting a fiesta. She was the monster, and I was the Dr. Frankenstein who had created her.

With my second daughter, Lorelei, I've had considerably better luck. We did go through a several-month stretch where she seemed to wake up every hour or two, and even now, past her first birthday, Lorelei continues to wake up at least once in the middle of the night. But nowadays, I keep the TV low - if I turn it on at all - and I make the midnight hour a much more laid-back affair.

Fortunately, the night shift still has its rewards. I've watched raccoons raid our bird feeders, seen deer nibbling on our lawn in the dewy suburban pre-dawn, and spotted the occasional possum dawdling up our driveway. Until Lorelei came into my life, I had never seen a possum as anything other than road kill. Thanks to the night shift, I'm becoming a regular Jeff Corwin.

Since taking over the midnight duties, I've learned to do a lot of things I never thought I could. For instance, I memorized the lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "The Rainbow Connection" after concluding that I should try to offer something better than the theme song to Green Acres, which, if sung soothingly, works much better as a lullaby than one might think. And while holding a half-sleeping baby, I've managed to multi-task in ways I'd never imagined - from throwing in a load of laundry and paying my bills to going to the bathroom (desperate times require desperate measures).

And I've become better informed. I've heard the latest news - at odd times like 1:34 and 3:27 a.m. - on important, heart-wrenching stories, such as the tsunami and, more recently, Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it brought. Sure, I could get my sleep at night and my information during the day, but there is something special about knowing you're among the first wave of Americans to learn about a news event.

I'm caught up on pop culture, too, for better or worse. After overdosing on late-night Entertainment Tonight shows, I know more than I want to about Brad and Angie's "friendship." And my wife gave me a very curious look one morning when I breathlessly asked her if she thought Britney Spears's marriage to Kevin Federline could withstand the glare of the media spotlight.

Even my senses have been sharpened: from my eyesight - I can now walk around the entire house in complete darkness without stepping on little land mines that light up and recite the ABCs - to especially my hearing. It's a rare night when my wife hears one of the girls cry before I do. But the best reason I can give for taking the night shift is that it has allowed me to spend more time with my daughters. Sure, you can debate whether that's a plus, if it's 1:46 a.m. and your baby has been crying for hours and has the strength to cry for hours more, but there's no question that I've got a good thing going during certain serene moments in the night. Whenever my daughters have been in my arms and it's peaceful and they're nodding off, I feel a sense of satisfaction that generally triumphs over the frustrations of going through the night with one eye open. Isabelle and Lorelei have always known that they can depend on me as much as they can their mother. Because I've been there at night, our children have never looked at me during the day as though I'm a stranger.

For the dad who feels like he never gets to spend quality time with his kids, the night shift may not be ideal, but it does offer some unique bonding time. I've been able to learn more about my children, more about myself, and, if I squint and keep my head low, more about the odd hours that one of my neighbors seems to keep. I'm even thinking of buying infrared binoculars. In the dark, with just the glow of clock radios and dim streetlights to see by, there's a whole new world waiting. You just have to wake up, get out of bed, and experience it.