“My mommy is nocturnal,” is something my daughter says quite often to people in order to explain why it’s usually just me and her at events. My wife works in the night shift at one of the big Houston hospitals, and during the day she is either sleeping to prepare for work, sleeping off a 14-hour shift or trying desperately to find some middle ground between vampire and daywalker so she can function in normal society.
It’s been that way for close to a year now, and I’ve found out some unexpected things having a spouse who works while others sleep. Things like…
5. Preparing Food Becomes Crazy and Hectic
When someone wakes up at 3:30 p.m. what do you feed that person? In my house, it’s a constant question I’m fretting about. Does she want a traditional breakfast of eggs and waffles, or will she be more in the mood for Torchy’s fried avocado tacos? Any sort of regular breakfast item like Shipley or a biscuit sandwich, you have to buy way in advance because they stop serving by the afternoon, so you have to clear that first.
Sleeping during the day is hard, and your body will actively refuse to do it a lot of the time. That means waking someone up to ask what that person wants to eat risks her not being able to get back to sleep. I spend the whole afternoon worrying about how to get my wife enough calories to start a very long shift with minimal breaks. Luckily for me, her “dinner” is usually just a glass of orange juice before she falls into bed exhausted.
4. Housecleaning Is Also Nuts
One of my favorite “look at me adult” purchases was a really swag vacuum cleaner. With four cats and a six-year-old, my carpet is always on the verge of achieving biological life, so vacuuming is important. It’s also loud, and so most times using the vacuum won't work. I have to find the few brief windows when no one is asleep to perform a basic household function, and those windows are usually reserved for family time when we can all be together.
There’s always laundry that can’t be put away, toiletries you can’t restock, sheets you can’t wash, bathrooms you can’t clean and so on. We recently got new furniture for my daughter’s bedroom, and the only delivery day was one on which my wife had to sleep to go to work the next night. I ended up emptying and dragging an old dresser down to the street by myself, and that was only after I had to lift it over her bed just to get it on the other side of the room and out the door.
3. Days Off Become Largely Meaningless
If I tell the editor I’m taking tomorrow off, then it means I’ll be out doing something or in doing nothing. The possibilities are limited only by my bank account. When my wife gets a day off, it generally means she can either read a book, play her DS or catch up on television. It’s especially annoying when it occurs on a weekend since “Sunday off” means she’ll still likely spend the hours we could normally go have a family trip to the Houston Zoo or something sleeping. Either she misses out on things entirely or she soldiers through them sleep-deprived. It takes quite a toll on someone after a while.
Even on the rare concurrence of all three of us not having to work or go to school and a long enough break to get her back to a normal day/night cycle, it puts pressure on anything we do to have the best time ever. Any hitch in the plans feels like precious time is being drained away.
2. You Have to Hold Onto Bad News by Yourself
After months of tests trying to figure out why our Boston terrier Molly had suddenly lost two-thirds of her mass, we finally figured out that she had a massive tumor in her throat. Really massive. So massive that the vet couldn’t even get a breathing tube down her throat to try to debulk some of the tumor. We’re still waiting on the results of the biopsy.
I found all this out while my wife was sleeping between her shifts, and all I could do was drive around crying with Molly in my lap. I didn’t want to share the news on social media for comfort because I was afraid she might wake up and check Facebook before going back to sleep and I didn’t want her to find out like that. When your spouse works the night shift, you get to be sad by yourself and your spouse gets to be sad first thing when she wakes up. It truly sucks.
1. You Find Out How Strong Your Marriage Is
My favorite line from any song ever is from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get.” It goes, “I’m not a coward I’ve just never been tested,” and I think it holds the secret to happiness. Love and faith are easy when things go right. When things are tested, you find out the true measure of your bond.
Juggling child-rearing and working long, odd hours really exposes how well a married couple can trust and rely on each other. The opportunities for blame and anger are many, and I for one am eternally grateful to find that my wife and I can survive and thrive under this kind of pressure even when it gets really, really tough. I miss her when she’s off saving lives at night, and she misses me and our daughter as she rushes home to catch us before we walk to school. If your spouse is going to live on a different schedule than you, you’d better be able to hold onto each other tight because it isn’t easy.
Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-through churches, The Rook Circle, is out now, You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.