I gracefully let the water rule slide , probably around age 25. “You’re old!” my littlest sister yelled one summer when I declined to jump in with her (she was 10). I shrugged, said “Yep, guess I am,” and sat on the river float with my mom, beer in hand.
The other rule, however, I have kept . Up until now.
In my family, going to bed meant missing out on fun. My mom grew up in Malibu and West LA where her dad, a musician who played in Hollywood and at Disneyland, kept late hours. She remembers how their house was the only one on the block with all lights blazing at midnight on a Tuesday.
Luckily, mom (like me) married another fun-loving night owl. My parents would play music loud well after dark, kids napping wherever they could find a quiet corner in our sprawling house. Even when they converted to Christianity and went through a “Christian music only” phase, they still found the loudest Christian rock they could find and cranked that s$%t up to 11, at 11 pm.
We homeschooled for several years and would stay up to 12, sleep in till 10, and just get going with our school work around noon, after everyone had sufficiently woken up, eaten (always a production with the starving hordes) and prepared to seize the day.
A few Christmases ago, I called home after we had been up for five hours, around one, and everyone at Casa Noble was just waking up, after pulling a Christmas Eve 5 am-er. Brendan and I shook our heads and smiled , bleary-eyed from our crack of dawn merry elf wake up. We had been up wrapping presents until 1 am and were not-so-secretly jealous.
Bren and I love to sleep in. However we will also stay up well past 11 on nights when we have to be responsible adults and get up at 6:10, 6:20, CRAP 6:30 to get kids on the bus by 7. Even when he was away hunting one weekend, and I was exhausted, I still didn’t go to bed. I stayed up until 1, watching a movie on the couch, nodding off. I had to consciously chide under my breath “JUST GO TO BED,” and STILL the never-ending kid in me rebelled.
It must be hard for early-birders to be married to adults who don’t go to bed. One summer in my teens, visiting my aunt in California, we were all talking in her kitchen around 10 pm, with no signs of slowing down, when her husband moved towards ending the night. “Robin, let’s go to bed,” he said gently, holding onto her shoulders, to which she waved him off and said “Ok, I”m coming.” My uncle, a practical man from Northern Italy and a heart surgeon in LA, had been hearing this their whole marriage. An hour later, he came back downstairs, urging her again. “Robin,”he said, more fervently. “Come to bed!” I remember her face, mid-animated sentence, as she looked at him like he was from Mars. Why on earth would someone go to bed, when there were scintillating conversations to be had and beloved people to hang out with?
Rational, self-preservationist people don’t see this as a dilemma. I imagine they think along the lines of: “I am tired. It is late. I have to work tomorrow. My kids will get me up early. These people will still be here in the morning. I will feel better with a solid nights’s sleep. I am not missing out on anything that can’t be done again.”
ALL of which are true. Rational, smart. Grown up. But for someone like me, a perennial party animal, people person and refuse-to-grow-up night owl, it is like pulling teeth to pry me away from a late night card game, another episode of a show we’re binge-watching, a backyard conversation with a cocktail. Never mind that’s it’s 1 and I had four hours sleep the night before. OR that it’s midnight and I am set to be out the door by 6: 15 to teach yoga by 7.
My mom, who has worked with flowers for 40 years in our family business, uses a gardening analogy that I’ve adopted. Some people, she reasons, are gentle flowers. Like orchids. They love their comforts and they recognize that with good sleep they will operate better and have a productive morning and day. They look at the clock and have no problem ending the night, smiling and waving themselves to bed. They can hear the din of conversation in the next room and can sensibly tune it out to fall asleep. After all, they are not at their best with sleep deprivation.
I respect these orchids. I don’t understand them, but I admire and secretly envy their level-headedness.
Other people, however, are weeds. We can sleep on a lumpy couch, greeting the dawn, waving away any discomfort. We are FOMOs (those with a "fear of missing out" - my new favorite phrase, coined by my sister’s best friend). We are the moms (like mine) who lay on the couch, falling asleep with a smile on her face, listening to her kids chat and joke around - even after we encourage her to go to bed, since after all it is 230 am. We are the women who will drink that last shot with her friends, then hang out in the parking lot long after a restaurant closes because we don’t want to end a great night - then drive home with the windows open, keeping awake, knowing that 6:00 is going to come wayyy early.
But we rally. We slap on some lipstick, down some coffee (sometimes with Bailey’s) and are just as pleasant that whole next day as we were the one before. And the one before. We can remain the life of the party, no one except those in the know clueing in to the fact that our brains are at 65%.
But sometimes we fall asleep playing cards. Or we pass out reading on the loveseat, waking up disoriented two hours later. Or we feel our mental capacity faltering, just a little bit, on day 3 of 6 hours sleep a night.
Because, after all, we are grown ups now. We aren’t 25 and can stay up till 5 and get up to go to work by 8, none the worse for wear. It starts to slip us up. We forget things, we need that mid-morning espresso, that 5 hour energy to greet the bus to match, even just a fraction of, our kids’ boundless energy.
It’s okay to get up from a conversation when I’m bleary-eyed. It’s okay to be a grown up and still go to bed. I will exercise better, perform better, feel better. No matter how well I eat or how many vitamins I take, nothing can replace sleep.
To be a grown up means no one tells you what to do anymore ... within reason. We know we have to follow social rules and norms, have to perform well at our jobs, have to dress a certain way for certain occasions , have to pay bills and drive the speed limit , budget, roll out our creaky limbs after we work out, be responsible. To a certain point. But one of the stable (and sometimes annoying) aspects of childhood is being told what to do, understanding these rules, and following them, or else meeting consequences.
As an adult, no one dictates our own personal practices. I can eat a bowl of ice cream, knowing that my stomach will hurt right away, I can take that last shot of tequila, feeling in advance my slight hangover the next day. I can muscle through a workout, knowing full well that I should rest, and feeling almost immediately the fatigue that my rebellious stubbornness tried to ignore.
I can put myself to bed and be an adult. but I can also go out for drinks on a Tuesday and be an adult; I can stay up till 2 on a Friday and sleep in until 11 on a Saturday. I can jump into a freezing body of water because “I'm not old yet” OR I can elect to watch the kids, sitting back with a big hat on (because adults are aware of sun damage) and a drink, enjoying watching them be kids with reckless abandon.
I may never grow out of my FOMOism. Hell, I know I won’t. But I can be a fun, semi-responsible adult who lets the orchid come out every once in a while, four days a week, so the weed can prevail the other three. I feel better when I sleep more, but I also feel amazing when I spend quality time with people and get my second wind to make the most out of my evenings.
I can be an adult and a kid at the same time. It’s okay. There’s enough room to be the fun mom at the pool still, the one throwing her kids around with a drink by her side, but one with fewer bags under eyes and a skip in her step. Because she’s an adult and she got 8 hours of sleep. And she feels like a rock star.