Photo Credit: Raúl Hernández González
Photo Credit: Raúl Hernández González

First it is bad gas and ear aches; the crack of the skull on a coffee table. At 6, 7, 8, it is skinned knees, imperfect spelling tests, being picked last for kickball teams.

At fifteen, there is acne and shame and unrequited love. At 18, the moment when you part ways with everything familiar and enter the unknown, alone.

Personal failure and public failure and betrayal follow.

Then, the moment when childhood dreams become not only improbable, but impossible; the times when faith is diminished.

There is grief and a bad back, insomnia and bitter disappointment.

But there is always a salve. Almost.

Joys of Insomnia: A Late-Night Conversation with a Tween


My house is not a happy sleep place. Sooner or later, someone is destined to rouse me, so I can no longer doze off before the first two or three late-night interruptions. This makes it impossible to relax, read a book, sleep, or participate enthusiastically in conjugal relations. Mostly I just lie there and worry about who will be first to appear bleary-eyed at my bedside.

Last night, it was Miss Twelve. My light was still on low and I was holding a book open, imagining myself being able to concentrate on the words.

Miss Twelve looked at me expectantly. What follows is our conversation, verbatim:

Me: S’up?

Miss 12: What?

Me: S’up?

Miss 12: What?

Me: What’s up?

Miss 12: What?


Miss 12: What?

Me: Can’t sleep?

Miss 12: What?


Miss 12: What?

Me: Do you need something?

Miss 12: What?


Miss 12: I can’t sleep.

Me: You can’t sleep and you are DEAF.

Miss 12: What?


Miss 12: I can’t hear you. I’m wearing ear plugs (removes ear plugs).


Miss 12: I was too lazy to take them out.

Me: (silence)

Miss 12: Anyway. I can’t sleep, so I took some melatonin. Good night.

Ridiculous as it was, the interchange was mercifully brief, and did not require me to get up and rub a back, procure ibuprofen, review for the state capitals test, fluff pillows, discuss the fall of the Roman Empire, fetch an icepack, listen to friend issues, or massage feet–all of which have happened in the past few weeks. Instead, I had plenty of time to worry about the next nighttime visitor.

How Benedict Cumberbatch kept me up all night

Benedict Cumberbatch is on the right. His sidekick, Martin Freeman's name has never kept me up at night.  Image from
Benedict Cumberbatch is on the left. On the right is Watson, a.k.a. Martin Freeman, whose name has never led to any late-night musings. Image from

Over the years, I’ve had so many good reasons for insomnia. Indeed, there are endless possibilities for an important late night worry.

Last night was not one of them.

I’d stayed up later than usual watching the season premiere of Sherlock. It was a bit of a nail-biter–or would have been, if I did that sort of thing. Instead, I squeezed the spouse’s leg and ate chocolate. Not surprisingly, I was a little amped up when the show finally finished, but even then, I might have managed a decent sleep if I hadn’t started thinking about the Benedict Cumberbatch name generator.

Have you tried it? There’s not much to it. All you do is push the make name button and it produces a random pair of ‘words’ with the same lilting poetic meter as Benedict Cumberbatch’s name. Many of the combinations are moderately amusing–(c.f., “Snozzlebert Toodlesnoot” and “Muffintop Wafflesmack”)–but my first hit was:

“Blubberbutt Snugglesnatch.”

That was it for me, really.

For hours I lay in bed, trying to be still. I did not want to wake the spouse or worse, get booted from the warm bed. Just when I would start to feel a bit sleepy, though, a new combination would form in my head, and I would have to record it for posterity. Smug but wide awake once more, I would sift through the contents of my brain, looking for the next most hilarious thing. I bet I spent half an hour bemoaning the fact that “dingleberry” was four syllables.

I thought I was ridiculously clever, even after I gave up on two-word combos and started jotting down any old three-syllable word. By light of day, I can assure you that none struck me as funny as it did in the middle of the night. Still, I have included an excerpt from my notes in the hopes that you might be inspired to leave your suggestions in the comments. No doubt I’ll need something entertaining to read at 2 am some night soon.

Burlybutt Nancypants

Mumblebuns Cumbercrap

Cozyshack Snagglepatch

Knickerbock Weeniewart

Crappyass Cumberbuns

Cuddleknob Poodleboob

Now, if only I had the energy and focus to do what I was supposed to be doing.

No longer a country girl

A Hogna Wolf Spider from
A Hogna Wolf Spider from

I used to pride myself on being part country/part city.  Hey, I’ve handled mice AND muggers.  That might have made me feel a wee bit superior now and then.  I was once in front of my inner-city classroom, going over the daily schedule, when I noticed a half-dead mouse wriggling maniacally, stuck irretrievably on a glue trap in the front of the classroom.  As I continued to talk my students, I walked to the closet, fished out a plastic bag, scooped the poor creature into it, sealed it, and handed it to some unsuspecting truant in the hall to “please dispose of in the bathroom.”  My eight-year-old posse never suspected a thing.  (If I have disturbed your pacifist nature, remember that a) rodent fecal matter in an elementary school is a serious health issue, and b) glue traps are the only legal means available from our school district.  And what was I going to do?  Scrape it off and rush it to the vet?  Let it flail there indefinitely?)

Sadly, last year’s trip to the country convinced me that I am mostly just a run of the mill city girl/coward these days.

The first clue was after a very difficult bedtime.  Not my bedtime.  I would love to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  The spouse was dog-tired, and had fallen asleep long before the girls.  I tried semi-successfully to get them into bed.  I read and gave kisses. Next thing I knew, one or the other was screaming, “there’s something on my leg!!”  Lights back on, we would examine their beds inch by inch, inspecting the covers and the pj’s,  inside and out.  Eventually they would calm a little; I’d read another chapter aloud and turn out the lights.  “I hear something!” the other would yell, just as I got back down the stairs.  After three or four false alarms, I may have gotten a little cranky.

It was midnight when they finally gave up and went to sleep.  Relieved, I fetched my book and sat on the couch, trying to relax enough to be able to sleep on the world’s least forgiving mattress.  It’s the kind of bed that makes you want to punch the quality control guy at the factory.  Imagine a concrete slab with a little less give.  Top it off with an itchy, mildewed wool blanket, and a lumpy brick for a pillow.  I love my parents, but how their marriage survived forty summers on this abomination, I have no idea.

Not that I wouldn’t want to read in bed, I just plain couldn’t.  The bedside lamp could light up the neighboring forty acres, and a headlamp would be relentlessly dive-bombed by moths and mosquitoes.  Couch it is.

I read a few chapters and was just starting to doze on the couch when I scratched my thigh.  It was not the right shape.  I scratched once more, and again encountered strangeness.  I closed my fingers around a large something.  I had a handful of something in my pajamas.  Dropping my pajama pants, I saw that gigantic spider, and then it disappeared.  That was way worse than having to crunch a large freaky thing.  Was it still in my pajamas?  Was it on the couch?  Would it follow me to bed?  I was no longer sleepy.

A couple of nights later, the spouse had already left for the city, and I tried to cozy myself on the concrete slab.  I read the teensiest bit, and as my eyelids drooped, I turned off the light and slipped into a happy slumber.  Wait.  What was that?  I was itchy again.  After the pajama problem, I was a little skittish.  On went the lights.  Off with the pajamas.  Nothing to be found.  Now the bed felt impossible again.  Everything itched.  

I spent an hour or so reading on the couch, trying to calm down enough for sleep.  This happened two more times.  By now, it was 3 or 4 am, and I had had enough.  I ripped off the covers, one by one, looking, looking.  I inspected my pajamas repeatedly.  I took the headlamp and gave the sheets the once over.  I ran my hands over the moth-balled gingham sheet.  Lumps.  Lumps.

Under the bottom sheet were creatures. That is not supposed to happen.

I’d been sleeping on these sheets for three days already, but trapped under that bottom sheet were two crickets–one live, and one dead.

I know. They’re just crickets. They are charming outside, just like spiders are fascinating in their amazing webs outside. The bed is sacred, though. The bed is where one goes for a peaceful respite, not for the zoo.

I was being ridiculous.

But I couldn’t wait to get back to the city.