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Saturday, 3 May 2014
Friday, 2 May 2014
To sustain any sort of fantasy of yourself as a James Dean/Charlie Sheen sort of figure - a fantasy that dies hard - you need to stay up late.The night is when things happen.
It’s a well-known truth among 20-year-olds that if you're still hanging out with someone you're, well, interested in at 2 a.m., you're drastically improving the chances that the two of you will get it on, one way or another. For that matter, one of the first markers of adulthood you reach in life is being allowed to stay up late. Once I’d achieved it, I was always scornful of people who went to bed early. Going to bed before midnight felt like wearing pajamas, or moving to the suburbs: evidence that you’d turned into your parents. To sustain any sort of fantasy of yourself as a James Dean/Charlie Sheen sort of figure — a fantasy that dies hard — you need to stay up late.
I chose my career accordingly. Admittedly, the newspaper industry began to collapse almost the day I entered it as a full-time employee in 1995 (the crisis obviously due to the arrival of the internet, rather than of me) but at least nobody working for a newspaper was ever expected to show up before 10 a.m.
When my wife and I first got together, we vaguely knew that there was activity that happened early in the morning — schools, rush hour, that sort of thing — but we had no part in it. We’d wake slowly and painfully around 9 a.m., and stagger to the café. Opening the laptop before 11 a.m. counted as a triumph.
And then we had kids. For close to seven years, we bravely pretended that nothing had changed. Oh yes, we got up early: for 18 never-to-be-forgotten months, before 6:30 a.m. However, we continued going to bed late. That was one claim to adult life we weren’t going to drop. Even logging out of Twitter at midnight felt middle-aged.
But then the fate that sooner or later probably befalls all parents finally befell us: We just couldn’t do it anymore. We’d been tired for seven years. Staying up late didn’t seem like a great strategy. You wake up thinking, “Will I have to take a nap as soon as I’ve dropped the kids at school, or can I delay until straight after lunch?” Your personal charm diminishes. And all working day, you know that, whereas non-parents can go home from the office and simply collapse, for parents, work is just a prelude: You then have to peak between 6 p.m., and what the children’s author Mo Willems calls “half-past bedtime.” That’s when you play the game of, “Can I get the kids to bed without having a temper tantrum, a nervous breakdown or a heart attack?”
For a month now — and I feel shame at admitting this — our lights have gone out at 11 p.m. In one of the great divides of humankind, we have swapped sides. Even now, we’re still tired in the mornings, but this way we can survive. Anyway, we tell ourselves, it isn’t forever. It’s not as if we’ve gotten old. We only have approximately 13 years of early nights to go. Then our kids will have left the house, and in the brief window before they boomerang back home unemployed, we’ll be out partying nights again like it’s 1999. Maybe, anyway.