New dad Bobby McMahon has some advice on how men can help out moms who are home on maternity leave. The first tip you can do before you even get home from work. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

“Are you getting any sleep?”

It’s the third question I get, right after “How’s the baby?” and “How’s mom?”

My wife and I have been parents for about a month, and while we’re getting the hang of caring for our son, figuring out how to deal with the lack of sleep is still eluding our grasp.

When people ask me, I usually don’t need to answer. My vacant stare and stumbling words tend to get the message across just fine. If I ever do need an answer, LeBron James said it pretty well recently after soothing his daughter back to sleep.

Before our son arrived, it all seemed so simple. Babies sleep a lot, but are awake off and on the whole night. We’ll just sleep when he sleeps. We’ll be tired, but we’ll get through it.


(Alamy)

We see now that we failed to grasp what the lack of sleep would do to our brains, what garbled ideas and half-crazed visions would dance through our heads. For the experienced parents who are reading this and chuckling at our hubris, I humbly bow in your direction. For those who don’t know or don’t remember, knowing you won’t sleep and actually not sleeping is the difference between watching a boxing match and getting punched in the face. Repeatedly.

We thought we understood the facts about what we were facing. But now we’re neck-deep in the reality of sleep deprivation, heads wobbly, eyes half-closed, wondering why the clocks are taunting us as they prepare to lay us out with a right cross.

I think of sleep now like an old girlfriend in a relationship gone wrong, like something from a Boyz II Men song. I want to pick up the phone and tell Sleep how I feel.

I’m sorry, Sleep. Really I am. I miss you. Just come home. Just please come home.

Oh Sleep, why didn’t I appreciate you while you were still around? Why did I spend all those nights staying up late to watch one of the Die Hard movies for the 18th time? I knew what was going to happen. John McClane was going to say “yippee-ki-yay” and then shoot some bad guys. That’s what always happens.

And those times I woke up early, why? Why did I disrespect you like that, Sleep? I could have stayed in bed. There would have been plenty of time to run errands or go to the gym. I didn’t need to run out on you like that.

But Sleep doesn’t return my phone calls. Sleep has moved out of the city and is very happy with a childless couple who loves to go antiquing and is planning a trip to Europe. They just spent their Saturday sleeping in and binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix, because they could.

As a note, it took me five minutes to type that last paragraph. My fingers don’t want to move any faster. Hitting the shift key and a letter at the same time is almost too much for my brain to handle.

I know we’re lucky, though. We have one newborn, unlike the parents of twins and triplets who are dealing with fussy babies in stereo. Our little guy doesn’t have colic or some other ailment that keeps him up screaming, knock on wood. And we have just the one child, rather than a newborn plus a toddler or more, so we’re able to focus on him rather than split time among what could be a gaggle of tiny humans ransacking our home.

I know that our son will get on a reasonable schedule at some point, and we’ll start to get larger chunks of sleep at a time. I trust there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and I feel ever so grateful for this little ball of wonder that we share our life with now.

And yet there are moments, usually at 3 a.m., when I look out the window. I think of Sleep, far away, enjoying its new life with that couple in the country. I bet they’re going to hit the snooze button tomorrow, I say to myself. And I can’t help but think of yesterday.

Bobby McMahon is a new father and writer living near Washington D.C. He tweets @BobFrankPat.

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