ONE YEAR AGO…
I awoke to a pixie whisper in my ear. “Daddy!” my daughter hissed. “I fink da Easter Bunny came!”
“He did?” I yawned. “Well, I guess we’d better go wake up your brother and see what he left you. Do you want to?”
“Yes!” she hissed. “Yes, Daddy! I do!”
“Shh!” On the other side of the bed, my wife did a half-kick as she insisted, “Wait. I need five minutes. My stomach’s killing me.”
I plodded alongside my skipping daughter across our one-story rental house’s living room (past the two baskets expertly hidden by the Easter Bunny) and into my son’s room to begin the twenty-minute process of waking him from a sound sleep.
Aside from it being Easter Morning, 2014, this was pretty much business as usual–my daughter being the first one awake, my wife wanting “five more minutes,” and my son seconding his mother’s sentiments by demanding the remainder of the day to sleep, as he had already “telled me firty-seven times” to “stop talking to me. I don’t want to do nuffing!”
Sure, my world was pretty nuts, but things were also looking up. With the Twins in a school we’d grown quite fond of and my doctoral coursework in the bag, I had just taken a job I was fairly happy with–one requiring me to wear a tie and commute 45 minutes to downtown Phoenix. While I was not particularly a fan of the obscene amount of time I was spending ironing, attempting to color-coordinate shirt-tie-pants-socks-shoes combos, and coming to a complete stop on the freeway, I was very much a fan of the sudden influx of real, actual grown-ass man income I was earning after slumming it as a student worker for years.
This was also about the point when I had about 30 pages of my dissertation written, and was just starting to kick my own ass every frickin’ night once the Twins went to bed with ice-cream-and-beer-fueled “THIS!IS!SPARTA!” thesis-writing binges usually lasting until about two in the morning. Although the topic of my wife and me having more kids would occasionally come up from time to time, it was primarily as a ridiculously funny joke, as several medical professionals had deemed our reproductive organs to be barren wastelands of fossilized sperm with no tails and one of those egg cartons everyone leaves on the grocery store shelf because it got dropped by that guy who wasn’t paying attention while he was checking the expiration date because he was obnoxiously talking on his cell phone about his entire life story for everyone in the store to hear. These, of course, are highly technical medical terms.
On any given night, from about 10 pm to whenever gets the job done, you’re likely to find a single light on in my house–one in the living room by a recliner we inherited from my wife’s grandfather. And in that chair, you are likely to find a disheveled, stubbly-faced thirty-something man hunched over a laptop, cussing out a Microsoft Word document at a volume that will wake neither the sleeping three-year-olds around the corner nor a pregnant woman passed out on the nine-pillow sculpture she has meticulously perfected over the past few weeks. While verbally abusing his own abused verbiage, he’ll likely be nursing a craft IPA or a bowl of ice cream (or both)–you know, just to take the edge off.
In case you haven’t already Sherlocked where I’m going with this, the insomniac in question is me.
While sleep and I are super duper BFFs and take cute selfies with each other like every single night, I elect to stay up after corralling the kids into the bathroom so they can spend 15 minutes whining about not wanting to brush their teeth and two minutes actually doing it; after reading multiple bedtime stories and refusing third encores; after watching my unborn child kick around my wife’s uterus while taking in whatever’s on our DVR; after my wife crashes in the middle of a show and I’m fighting sleep myself even though it’s only 9:30. Yes, despite all of this, I stay up because I have unfinished bidness. Even though I’ve found a big boy job I absolutely love and am working it full-time, I still have that all important, all-encompassing, all-kinds-of-psychotic last step of my PhD to plow through–my dissertation.
I’ll admit I take weekends off, and even a weekday here and there, but since about May of this year, I’ve been on this late-night regiment for a consistent four nights a week. Come 10 pm, I’m in that chair. Thinking. Number-crunching. Writing. Chasing. Snoozing. Wiping the drool off my face. Deleting the full page and a half of letter W’s my dead hand made while I was unconscious. Taking a sip of beer. Taking another five sips. Sighing loudly. Thinking. Number-crunching. Writing. Chasing.
In mid-September I cleared the first hurdle and laid the first draft of my thesis to rest–all 229 pages of it–and turned it into the chair of my committee for his feedback. Then came revisions, which bled into October, and once that was finally done, November’s late nights have been spent tackling the slideshow for presentation at my defense.
For those unfamiliar with the process, after writing and revising your kajillion-page dissertation, you are then asked to “defend” it to a committee of faculty chosen by you. This committee reviews your thesis, and then, at the “defense,” you present your findings in person, followed by the committee asking questions to challenge the validity and thoroughness of your work while barraging you with paintball guns to break your concentration. If the committee is satisfied with the answers you provide, 99 red balloons fall from the ceiling and Bill Murray inexplicably wanders in from the street to shake your hand and congratulate you on becoming a doctor just before performing an impromptu karaoke rendition of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” On the other hand, if the committee is not satisfied, you are handcuffed by an enormous sluglike creature named Jabba and shuttled out to the middle of the desert to be cast into a Sarlacc pit for all eternity.
I watched the sun as it crawled toward the horizon through a line of palm trees just off in the distance. Despite it being early October, the temperature was still in the mid-eighties, meaning a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops were the only way to go. A cool breeze blew through my toes as I finished off my Philly cheesesteak and glanced at my wife and kids around the table.
No, we were not on vacation. We were not at the beach. In fact, we were actually sitting outside at a restaurant only a few miles from our house. This is Arizona’s “Fall,” and after four months of 110-degree weather, it reminds us every year the real reason we live here.
Gazing at the orange sky silhouetted by palms, I told my wife, “I know you grew up here, but every time I see a sight like this, it still feels like I’m on vacation.” (I was raised in Connecticut, where it was not uncommon to expect snow on Halloween.)
“Yep,” she replied. “This is like the best time of year. And it goes by so fast.” She’s right. As soon as the weather cools off, it always feels like a dead sprint through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
But this evening, with autumn still new and shiny, time seemed to stand still.
“Are we still getting ice cream?” asked my son, who had just finished his chicken nuggets.
“Well, yeah, Buddy,” my wife replied. “We are, but we’re still waiting for Sister to finish her dinner.”
My son eyed his sister, who was leisurely nibbling on her fries, with plenty still piled on her plate. He grimaced. “Is this a dessert place, too?”
“No, Buddy. They only have chicken nuggets and French fries and Mommy and Daddy’s cheesesteaks.” (And yes, in case you’re wondering, cheesesteaks followed by ice cream were, in fact, my pregnant wife’s idea. Boo-yah.)
Looking up from her fries, my daughter chimed in. “I saw cookies inside.”