by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
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.
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!
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