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Sociability of Sleep
how I have come to love sleep with young children
How has your sleep been this last week? Were you able to nurture your body’s circadian rhythm? The repletion of sleep comes in much more forms than a quantified temporality of seven to nine uninterrupted hours.
Sleep is always social, affecting others and affected by others. Society cannot exist without sleep, or sleeping without social expectations.
—Matthew Wolf-Meyer, The Slumbering Masses (2012)
“I’m here.” O—’s cobalt eyes alert me. I roll over to kiss her.
We sleep nestled into each other. O— nurses for what feels like hours, and sometimes it is hours— my body is milk and comfort—she’s tucked into my armpit, with my forearm over her head and my lower arm holding her back so it doesn’t roll over as she nurses. Her arms and shoulders are below her head, so when she eventually falls asleep it will be easier to roll her over, or at least fall asleep without me worrying I will crush her limbs or wake her up. If I fall asleep, I often wake up with my arm in pins and needles, with my nipple still in her mouth. I have the most vivid sensual dreams like Ariana Reines’s poems this way. I unclasp my nipple from between her lips, retract facing her, and tuck my hands under to fall back asleep with desire’s imaginings.
After S— wakes up and scutters across the hall, he opens our bedroom door and nestles his way in between us. “It’s so cozy in here,” he remarks, shifting his body back and forth between me and his dad under the threadbare cream coloured duvet. The duvet we got for us to grow into before he was born.
If I’m lucky it doesn’t wake me up, or slightly rouses me and we all go back to sleep for a while. Sometimes, he leans over my shoulder, cupping it with both hands, and gives it and then my head a kiss, welcoming the morning.
“I love you mama,” he whispers.
“I love you too.”
He turns around and continues the ritual with his dad, as we kiss him back in stereo, before settling in again to sleep or rest, depending on the light between the curtains. There’s nowhere else any of us have to be.
Sleep is one of the most common words in the journals of S—’s early life: how to get more of it, how much I hate it, how it’s—a trauma, a trigger, an enemy. Sleep as discourse usually nestled in phrases of deprivation, torture, regression, and alienating advice like, “sleep when the baby sleeps” and “put down the baby drowsy but awake.”
Now, I spend my days in a love daze sleeping or resting when S—’s baby sister sleeps. My love daze is punctuated by my lack of continuous sleep but I cannot give up the way O— rests her feet against my thighs when she sleeps, clutching the edge of my shirt, or the way she pushes against my cheek with her soft hand and sharp nails to wake me.
O— tucks my fingers between hers, and I have been given the time to watch her sleeping beside me.
How often do we get to watch another like this? Tranquil. Resting. Knowing her body is processing all she is learning and experiencing. Maybe even dreaming.
In the morning she wiggles around, either to tuck into the nook of my armpit to spoon her, or gets up on all fours to then sit down and climb me.
O— is fighting all sleep. During the second attempt of her first nap of the day, she finally fell asleep beside me; on her back, arms outstretched in a Jesus Christ pose, her left hand upturned with fingers resting against my lower shoulder, her top hat mouth pursed, and her dark eyelashes pressed against the tops of her high cheekbones. I lay beside her, like I have for the last nine months, tucked into her calm. I’m partly reading The Door of Life (The Squire) by Enid Bagnold on my e-reader, and partly looking at her, a human beside me, growing up, in love.
The title of this post, as well as the epigraph, is taken from the title of Alexandra Kaminska and Alanna Thain’s interdisciplinary research-creation project, The Sociability of Sleep, which explores the epistemologies and equities of sleep.