The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

Milestones

May and June seem to bring important moments in our lives. Just this weekend we traveled to celebrate three graduations, a graduate degree, a bachelor’s, and a high school graduation. My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage. My oldest friend celebrated his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and my husband ended his 24 years as an audio-engineer on The Late Show with David Letterman. No matter where he goes next, he won’t be working on David Letterman’s show. These are all major milestones that impact not only the lives of the celebrants, but also of their families, colleagues, and loved ones.

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Milestones are so important as they indicate a moment in time when something in our lives shift. We move beyond where we’ve been. But what does it take to reach our milestones? I believe we all have markers that may or may not be more significant than major life events, but they do get us through the day to day so that we can reach our goals. They are the times we just don’t feel like getting up to go to school. Or, it’s a time we had to push ourselves to get a paper done. It could be we don’t understand something and have to ask for help, though don’t really want to have to get that help. We all challenge ourselves in some way or another. We push past our own limitations to get to a better place. Or we have to get up after falling down, sometimes publicly.

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I believe in these seemingly small moments we extend ourselves, and we grow. They are the steps needed to reach our milestones. And, as we struggle to learn what we have to do to live a satisfying life, we create moments in which we can privately be proud of ourselves. Sometimes I just don’t feel like getting up, yet once I’m in the park jogging, I revel in the greenery and people I encounter. There are days I haven’t a clue what to write, and I go through drafts of dead-end pieces until I find my voice, even if it’s warbly. My parents may have had to disagree hundreds of times, but they stayed together understanding that the conflicts were not the only aspects that defined their marriage. My husband was fortunate to work with musical legends, but he had to go to work each day knowing there was something new to learn since the guests changed daily. And he showed up even though he wasn’t always certain he’d give them what they wanted.

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As we all know going to school isn’t always a picnic. Whether we have to take courses in which we are not secure, or whether we have to see people that aren’t nice to us, showing up and getting through the days can be challenging. Yet, in the end, I know Anne and Jake graduated with awards and honors, having faced their own trials.   I am proud of them for their accomplishments. Yes, they graduated, but they did so much more on their journey to graduation. And I am proud of Larry for all he accomplished personally and professionally. It takes work to reach our lives’ milestones, and we can congratulate ourselves for all we do, large and small to reach the end of each day. Each of these days carries us through, creating and shaping our achievements.