Sleep gets in way of really good column

It’s 11:30 p.m. Fifteen minutes ago, I decided to take a couple of Advil PM’s, because my back was hurting from sitting and grading papers 36 hours per day except for bathroom breaks and maybe a little cereal, but who’s complaining, and I was just about to fall asleep.

You know how your thoughts become sort of wispy just as you’re entering the outer edges of sleep — well, a little flicker of a thought went floating past: “Sssshhh, don’t wake up,” it whispered, “but remember your column? I mean, sssshhh, no worries, but, isn’t today your deadline? Like before midnight? Sssshhh … just wondering … go back to sleep.”

My eyes flew open, and I vaulted into the air from the warm, cozy nest I’d made in bed (which caused both dogs to become airborne, accompanied by copious, ear-splitting barking as they found their feet and raced to annihilate whatever marauding terrorists must be in the living room). In a split second, my brain sent a gigantic jolt straight into my heart, and as I waited for the numbness, tingling and chest pain I was sure was about to commence, I knew that, if I survived the next few minutes, I could survive anything.

And, I did survive. (Excuse me … yyyaaaawwwwnnn.) So, I put on my slippers, pulled a worn-but-warm sweat shirt over my nightgown, felt my way through the dark to my computer on the kitchen table, and here I sit, trying to stay awake. (The dogs, having performed a thorough-but-fruitless perimeter search, have given me that “Please don’t wake us up ever again. You need Prozac” stare they’re so good at, and trotted back to their warm cozy beds. I can hear them snoring from here.) And, I need to write quickly, but I can’t remember what I was planning for this week’s column because the PM’s are starting to work.

Why not do it tomorrow, you may ask — if you were awake. But, tomorrow’s Halloween, and I’m going down to Huntersville, N.C., first thing in the morning to spend the day with my grandsons, who are old enough to trick-or-treat, and my granddaughter, who is only old enough to sit up, blow kisses, bang on the piano and drool. I want to spend the day with them, watch Charlie and Georgie dress in their costumes — which usually happens around 7 a.m. — and either go out with them, or stay home with Gracie and the two of us will hand out candy, eat candy, bang on the piano — and drool.

When trick-or-treating is over, I’ll help the boys get ready for bed, tuck them in, and then they’ll ask me to tell them stories about when I was little. (They really like the ones where I fall and break some bone or other and have to go through excruciating pain, operations, needles and casts. Luckily, I have enough of those to tell without repeating one until they’re around 23.)

(Yyyaaaawwwwnnn … excuse me.)

When I finally say good night to them, I’ll tiptoe into Gracie’s room, where Louise will let me give her a bottle and rock her to sleep, as she stares solemnly up at me and plays — OK, pulls, rips, tears — with my hair until her eyes slowly close. I’ll carefully rise from the rocking chair, lay her in her crib and tiptoe out. Then, I’ll go say good night to Louise and Chuck, who’ll probably be snoring in their own bed, bits of the children’s Snickers and Gummie Bears clinging to the corners of their mouths.

So, I’ll kiss them both gently on their foreheads, tread softly down the stairs, grab a few handfuls of chocolate — just to keep the children from rotting their teeth, you understand — and let myself quietly out of the house, and start for home, two hours away.

(Oh, dear … yyyaaaawwwwnnn … sorry again.)

So, why am I driving all the way home? Why aren’t I spending the night there? Because, it’s Sunday. I have school on Monday. There will be 139 high school children waiting for me, wondering if I’ve graded their projects, vocabulary quizzes and essays. (Here’s a hint: I haven’t.) And, I’ll say: “Oh, I’m so sorry! There was a gigantic fire at our house last night! I was able to save the dogs and the jewelry — but when I tried to go back in for the essays, the firemen wouldn’t let me! They had to hold me back, children; otherwise, I would have them all ready for you!”

So, anyway, that’s about it. That’s why I’m sitting here at midnight trying to write a column, I mean. If I could just remember … you know … what I was … uh … going to write about … ssssnnnnzzzzzz.

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at


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