Conscientious College Kids Give Sleep Deprived Teacher-Mom a Dream Worth Dreaming

Despite sleeplessness and guilt over having abandoned my children, I find hope for the future in my first-year college students.

I am not exaggerating whatsoever when I say I have not slept for longer than two hours at a time for over nine months. There are nights during which Baby T wakes up 10 or 15 times per night. My sleep is so poor in quality that I rarely dream.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for pity (unless it comes in the form of a latte or a foot rub). After all, this is the kind of sleeplessness I signed up for when I decided to bear two children within the span of two years. 

I only mean to say that I’m tired. Really, really, really tired.

So when I was offered a full-time university-level teaching position in August, my immediate impulse was to turn the offer down. The last thing I needed was another sleep thief. Anyone who has taught writing to first-year college students knows that a night spent with a stack of essays gets real late real fast.

Besides, my children are young—Sweet G is two-and-a-half and Baby T is nine-months-old. I’d rather wait until after the formative infant and toddler years are over to pursue my career goals.

But, my husband, recognizing that I need an occasional break from Sweet G and Baby T, urged me to reconsider. It’ll be good for you, he said. Citing the emotional delicacy of my children—“They need me!”—I didn’t budge.  

Inspired by a Blog

Cue serendipity. That night, while checking my email, I came across a message from Mamapedia, an online parenting resource. (Gone were the days of cuddling up in bed with a good book.) The email directed me to a mommy blog about sleep.

“Who Needs Eight Hours?” the headline read. Me! Me! I whispered to the computer screen as I eagerly read on, expecting a revelation.  

Instead of sharing the secret to getting a full night’s sleep, the blogger confirmed that sleeplessness is a parent’s lot in life. For “Jill,” a mother to two children under three, sleep comes in the form of one five-hour block per night. Sound familiar? I know what you’re thinking. Like the rest of us parents, she must collapse into bed well after midnight only to be wrenched awake by pre-dawn whimpering. She probably subsists on a pot of coffee for breakfast, four ibuprofen for lunch, and a heavy pour of wine for dinner. If she’s lucky, the kids’ naptimes overlap and she can sit down to pee peacefully in an empty bathroom.

You’ve got her all wrong. Unlike the rest of us, “Jill” claims happy and healthy. Five hours is all she needs, she says. In fact, five hours—or even less—is all any of us need, she insists. The overall message: sleep is overrated.    

Back to Work

A few weeks later, I found myself back on campus. Despite my lack of sleep, I felt energized. While the kids were safe at home with a babysitter they adore, I was back on track doing something I love.

But the adrenaline rush that often accompanies teaching ended the second my last class of the day let out, and exhaustion set in. 

As I packed up my supplies, I heard a student mutter “Thank you” as he and his classmates filed out of the room. Here come the hallucinations, I thought without bothering to look up. This sleep deprivation is really getting out of hand. When another student chimed in, expressing her appreciation, I ignored her, too, thinking Wow! What a wonderful daydream! When a third student echoed his classmates’ sentiments, I just happened to be looking in his direction and saw, to my surprise, that I wasn’t imagining a roomful of grateful students. They were actually there, uttering phrases full of genuine thankfulness.

The Right Choice

In that moment, I knew I had made the right choice. Yes, I had gone against my instinct and left my children under the care of someone outside our family. Yes, I was putting my own interests before the needs of my children. But, here I was with proof that children from all walks of life mature into mannerly members of society.  

What’s more is that, as the semester has progressed, my students’ civility has extended beyond brief expressions of gratitude. These seventeen and eighteen year olds aren’t simply polite. They are independent, flexible, confident, considerate, genial, timely, industrious, and resourceful. And they are consistently well-groomed—presumably a difficult thing to accomplish without reminders from mom!

Every day that teach, I am stunned. And I can only hope that my own children will be as well-rounded.

Of course, my students didn’t get here on their own. Their caregivers pushed the buttons and turned the cogs to produce the single most important product in the world, the one that can truly make a difference: a well-adjusted, conscientious human.

Every time one of my students nods in my direction after class, I want to call their parents to thank them for producing such a quality product. “I haven’t slept for days,” I want to tell them. “But your kids--your brilliant, beautiful kids—allow me to dream a dream dream every day.”

For now, thoughts of a hopeful future—for the world in general as well as for my own children—give me all the peaceful rest I need.


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