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 Texas : Features : Columns : "The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"
Love You, Ociffer!
by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal

Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
If I were the Boss of Everything, which I have sometimes been accused of thinking that I am, there would be a very special award for people who work the night shift. A big government subsidized, all-expenses-paid vacation twice a year, or something equally wonderful. It takes a very special person to work the night shift successfully.

Single people generally do all right on the night shift because they are able to maintain the same sleep schedule whether theyíre on duty or off. I think the group who has it second best is married men. Even in these enlightened days, a married man working the night shift gets to sleep all day while his spouse takes care of all the daytime-only chores and errands. Allowing him to roll out of bed to a freshly laundered uniform, a hot meal and children who are clean and fed and have been cautioned against getting too rowdy.

There is another group who do not have things so easy. Mothers. There are many mothers who choose to work nights so that they will be available for field trips and soccer games and volunteering. They are the best of the best, the strongest of the strong.

Not me! No way! I worked nights for two years as a new nurse and later for two years when I transferred to the ICU. Paying my dues, you know. In blood, sweat and tears. Well, there was very little actual blood involved, but oh boy, were there tears! Everything made me cry! Muzak. Happy faces on the kidsí homework. Birthday cards from our insurance agent. I was one huge, raw exposed nerve. Once I was reading to my sonís kindergarten class after working a couple of nights and almost lost it. I was reading the heartrendingly poignant "Muncha Buncha Bug Lunch" and got to the ineffably beautiful lines, "Pill Bugs are funny, They roll up in a ball, But Iíd rather eat nothing, Than eat them at all," with tears just streaming down my cheeks. "Hey Andy! Your mommy is crying!" "Yeah," answered Andy laconically, "she works nights." Made sense to him, made sense to me.

Worst of all for making me cry was Ambien commercials! Terrible! Showing all Godís creatures settling in for the night and then waking up at dawn perky and peppy. The only thing perky about me during those night shift years was my "bed head" and I was about as peppy as left over gravy. And oh! That made me teary!

Working nights also made a liar of me. I never unplugged the phone in case the kids needed me. I answered it every time it rang and I agreed to everything! Join the Cityís premier dating service? Why, sure! Get an estimate on vinyl siding? Donít mind if I do! Discuss a timeshare in Bosnia? Absolutely! And donít think my children werenít aware of this Ė theyíre just like hyenas, kids are, in that they sense any weakness and pounce on it. After a couple of near misses ("Make a parachute out of Grannyís linen tablecloth? Yes, I think that will work. Absolutely! Love you, baby!"), I forbade them to ask me anything until I not only had my eyes open, but had been up moving around for at least seven minutes.

When I was awake, the "nice" evaporated. I was moody, irritable and hypersensitive. Just as a critically ill patient with pulmonary problems has no "oxygen reserve," I had no civilization reserve. Once, at a PTA committee meeting, the person who was bringing whatever it was we were planning to work on called to say she would be thirty minutes late. "Thatís just dandy," I growled, glowering with bloodshot, baggy eyes at the rested, rosy faces around me, "why donít we spend the time chatting about how many hours of sleep weíve each had this week. Letís start with me." My voice roughened into a fair semblance of the reanimated Cannibal Mummy of Evil, "Donít you all have any durned coffee. I. Need. Some. Coffee. NOOOWWWW!"

I asked to transfer to the day shift after falling asleep at a stop sign. Snoring and drooling asleep. And then telling the fine young officer who tapped on my window, "Iíd love to have my carpets cleaned. Absolutely! Love you, baby!"

So, my hat is off to all the night shift moms! May all your days be cloudy and cool, may your phone never ring before 3:00 p.m., and may you never be scheduled for just one night off by itself. Because we all know that means youíll sleep that night and then be up for the next twenty-six hours straight. And most of all, may your children understand and accept that they canít really test that raft they built out of the lawn furniture in the swimming pool. Whether or not you tell them that they can.
© Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" - May 1, 2005 Column
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