No sleeping on the job

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

There are many times in life when one must be in full control of his or her faculties – auto-pilot simply won’t do. As an intermittent member of the insomniacs club, I’ve learned to function through the basics while failing miserably in anything above and beyond. Looking back at the span of my almost-39 years and reviewing previous episodes of sleep deprivation, they were actually short-lived. This installment feels longer because I’m presently immersed.      

I can’t think of a time in recent years when I could let my guard down – parenting is a round-the-clock, full-time assignment – most days I’m amazed when I make it to bedtime with everything done. That makes my little sleep problem somewhat of a puzzle. How could I be so exhausted only to be wide awake when my head hits the pillow? What’s up with that? Could someone please stop the hamster scampering on the wheel inside my head? (She won’t listen to me.) She runs with purpose and like she’s got an intended destination, but bless her heart, she never gets where she’s going. (I suspect she doesn’t really know.)

I chuckled when fellow columnist Luke Hales mentioned having the same problem, but he has some crazy work hours to blame. Then I confirmed a suspicion and verified that insomnia is quite common among writers – among a few other not-so-good maladies. I’ll not divulge which ones afflict me because I like to be somewhat of a mystery and keep people guessing.

During my late nights/early mornings, I’ve researched all sorts of things looking for a “cure”.  Sleeping pills scare me. I don’t think the over-the-counter versions would be strong enough and the prescription ones . . . YIKES! I’ll take not sleeping for the remainder of my life, which incidentally and according to doctors will be shortened if this goes on long-term, rather than suffer the side-effects of those.  Seriously . . . trading sleep for dizziness, facial swelling, headache, prolonged drowsiness, severe allergic reactions, and sleep behaviors such as sleep-driving and sleep-eating . . . no thanks. And those are just the in-general possibilities with them all. Looking at the specifics for each drug is more frightening.  

Melatonin, a hormone our brains produce (apparently mine’s too busy keeping the hamster going), controls our sleep/wake cycles. The man-made supplements available at the local drug store and taken before I bed down work very well putting me out. However, they incite very vivid dreams. I wake a couple of short hours later, often with my heart racing and once again unable to capture sleep. Thankfully, I’ve not had the nightmares some have experienced. If I ever do, that will be the end of the melatonin experiment.

I’ve exercised like crazy hoping to wear myself down to the point of sleep not being optional for my body. The upside is that I’ve managed weight loss instead of the weight gain typically seen with insomnia.

Tried tricking myself and making a long list of boring tasks, “All right, girl, we’re up for the night, and here’s what we’re gonna do.”  The sad part: I plow right through with nary a touch of drowsiness. From there I move on to reading things any normal human would classify as dull, only to find myself engrossed.

I used to be embarrassed answering e-mail at odd hours — forced myself to get over it. I figure anyone who wants to talk about what I’m doing up at 3:12 a.m. will someday suffer the same plight, be remorseful for gossiping, and get to a place of understanding, or not. I’m too tired to care.

So there you have it. If you see me looking a little haggard, you know why. I’ll look like a zombie just in time for Halloween.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Caps, gowns, and badges

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

With a great deal of pomp and circumstance (not really, but certificates in hand our pictures were taken with the Chief of Police Dougherty, and instructor, Crime Prevention Specialist Beasley) commencement exercises were held for the Baytown Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy on September 15. I covered some of the more exciting highlights in previous columns. As promised, I’ll deliver an overview of the whole ten-week experience.

Since I worked in civil law prior to my full-time mommy days, police work and the different issues it entails interested me. I was thrilled a class was offered during the summer when my evening schedule wasn’t consumed by extra-curricular activities, homework checking, and taxi driving.

Our class of 15 saw various facets of police work and how the gears turn behind the scenes. Fascinating. Each week brought a different topic, and the best the department had to offer in personnel came to share their area of expertise. Demonstrations of techniques and equipment were very informative and colorful personalities made the evenings quite entertaining.  

The curriculum changes somewhat from class-to-class given instructor availability and class interest, but a broad spectrum of subject matter is guaranteed for each group. After five weeks of instruction, students may ride along with an officer in a patrol car. I haven’t done that, yet, but you’ll hear all about it if I do. Graduates are also eligible to enroll in the advanced class, which takes a deeper look into the basic course of study and adds narcotics investigation and bomb squad. I can’t wait.

Classes began with an informational introduction to police terminology and the history of the Baytown Police Department.  

The following week: terrorism. Post 9/11 most of us think of this topic in a singular fashion. However, there are other tentacles. Law enforcement must be vigilant on many fronts – watching for some predictable behaviors and patterns, often aided by citizens acting as the eyes and ears.   

Then there was FATS – Firearms Training Simulator – and in case you missed my riveting tale on this one: Our class was put through computer-generated scenarios where split-second decisions were required to protect life. It’s not as easy as it looks on TV.

During the use of force class, we were instructed on the tools available to law enforcement and how officers must assess the situation and act accordingly. The high point of that evening was the Taser demonstration.  Baytown Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association President, Mike Kercher, “rode the lightning” for our viewing pleasure. Since I know Mike personally, it was difficult to watch. We also learned that any officer who carries a Taser must be tased with it.



At the half-way point, the K-9 units came to visit – beautiful, well-mannered animals. Officers explained continuous training, demonstrated how the dogs locate narcotics, and how they’re used for suspects who choose to run or otherwise be uncooperative with human officers.    

During crime scene investigation I dusted for my own fingerprints and found them! That skill may come in handy with three kids who routinely say, “It wasn’t me!”  This class got a little gruesome, but any regular CSI viewer could handle it.

I wrote about clearing a building, and you learned I was useless. There’s a lot of strategic planning that goes into that; it was more than my brain could handle and being hopped up on adrenaline didn’t help. I froze when confronted by the threat – had it been the real deal, I’d not be here today.

Towards the end, we toured the jail. I’ve always wondered what it was like in there, but never wanted to find out the hard way. I’ll do my best to uphold the law and avoid going for another visit. Not pleasant.

Many thanks to Officers Beasley, Coleman, Denton, Stevens, and Cruz; Detectives Farabee, Latta and Crowell; Sergeant Hendricks; and Lieutenant Freed – you made learning fun. 

And a very special thank-you goes to Ms. Lavon Heintschel of the alumni association. She arrived every week, very stylishly dressed, with the intention of expanding our waistlines – touched a few hearts, too.  A big thank-you as well to her baking helpers – everything was always delicious.

It was an experience I’ll never forget. I’ll let you know when the next one rolls around. You don’t want to miss it!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley


The softest places to fall

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Life with children, National

Sunday is a special day to be celebrated and remembered; it’s Grandparents Day. Recall last year I mentioned there was some controversy over how to punctuate the holiday. I’ll use the form I found to be correct, but know there are disagreements. I’m beginning to wonder if there is anything we as human beings can collectively agree upon. That’s a topic for another day.

I wasn’t much on celebrating the holiday in the past because, while I’m a strong proponent of capitalism and free markets, I thought the whole thing was cooked up by greeting card companies. I’m not too proud to admit I was wrong.

It all started with Marian McQuade. She lobbied in the 70s to have the day officially recognized “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.” All the grandparents I know certainly fit the bill, and they’re a versatile bunch as well – help is needed in different ways at different times. But best of all, grandparents provide countless children a soft place to fall.  

As I traverse the teen years – again (first time was hard enough, now I get three more trips) – with my children, their grandparents act as the buffers.  They help me put things in perspective, remind me what I was like at that age (they enjoy that a bit too much), and dispense the “this too shall pass” pep talk. I almost always feel better – doubly so if said child hangs out at their house, otherwise known as “the buffer zone”,  putting some much needed distance between me and the issue of the day.

My kids are blessed beyond words to have people in their lives who love them unconditionally (like I do) and aren’t jaded (like I am) by what I call the daily grind: homework, dirty clothes all over the bathroom and beyond, wet towels (my archenemy and biggest pet peeve) strewn about, and my supposed nagging over menial tasks that I’d not mention again if someone would just do them.  (The laughter you hear is my mother, Linda Rowe.  Before she does it for me, I’ll admit my room was atrocious. And the bathroom I shared with two brothers . . . let’s just not go there.)

The above brings me to where I shared my subject matter for this week with my middle child. While I know exactly what made my grandparents so dear to me, I wanted to hear his thoughts. “They’re nicer. They’re more fun. They like to do things kids enjoy – you don’t sit for hours and play video games with me or stay at the shooting range all day. They buy me nice things for no reason.” Dagger to my heart.  I was almost moved to tears before I remembered his grandparents are not the same people who raised me.

Sure, I have great memories of all sorts of things I did with my parents growing up. But, like me, they were stuck in that daily grind and all that entailed getting me to adulthood in one piece.  And to be honest, it’s their demeanor now that keeps me clawing my way back to sanity. One day, and I’m in no particular hurry, it will be my turn.

I cherish the thought of giving a seasoned “this too shall pass” speech. I may even snicker when it’s over. And the very best part: I’ll be able to loosen my stance and be some little do-no-wrong cherub’s soft place to fall.

Many thanks to all the grandparents who continually cushion the blows . . . the world would be a much harder place without you.   

© 2009 Natalie Whatley   



I don’t want the bus to stop

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

It’s hard to believe the first two weeks of the new school year are behind me. Twelve years in the back-to-school business qualifies me as a seasoned veteran, and I’m ecstatic to report this year will go down as the easiest to date.  We’re doing so well it’s almost a shame to break the pattern for Labor Day tomorrow.

The initial days are always expectedly brutal – getting up early after lazy summer days is painful for all involved. And no matter how much I try to prepare ahead of time, I never seem to have everything they’ll need in the way of supplies and end up all over town the first week on a scavenger hunt of sorts.  Then there’s all the paperwork to fill out. It is a beautiful thing, though, when your child is old enough (and motivated at the same time…it’s not common) to fill in the forms. All I had to do is peruse and sign. Thank you, Jarek.

Last year was my first year with three children at three separate schools. The morning-time logistics were a nightmare and transportation issues abounded. I guess it was the opening of Goose Creek Memorial that had the buses so messed up. We were on the cusp of having that lined out when Hurricane Ike hit; then we had to start all over. It was Thanksgiving before I had a morning that ran smoothly.

Expecting a repeat of last fall, I braced for many weeks of stress and walking kids into school tardy because I can’t be in three places at once after a single bus mishap. Much to my pleasant surprise, everything has been running like clock-work – even on the second day of school when delays are to be expected.

As the days flowed, I began to see that the three-campus thing has some incredible benefits that I didn’t take the time to enjoy last year as I became conditioned to dread school mornings.  Since we’re settling quite nicely into a routine, I’ve discovered I can get the kids up at different times and don’t have to do the bounce-between-three-rooms thing. It’s nice.

Concentrating on one at a time allows me to work more efficiently and tailor the method to the kid – no more flipping the hall light on and standing in the center hollering at all three.  One requires large explosives set off in his room just to get him to stir, another needs a little time and will not be rushed, and the youngest likes her back scratched while she comes to.

There’s no breakfast bickering because they rotate through the kitchen at different times. It doesn’t get much better than that.

They’re all leaving at different times, too.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I hated the bus stop in previous years, but close. I always had at least two – they were usually fighting over something very petty – and I always felt bad when I sent them off on their day after snapping at one or the other if not both. That’s gone. The oldest drives himself to school and having two more to get ready and out the door doesn’t afford me too much worry time.

I’m noticing the beautiful sunrise each morning as I’m out waiting at the bus stops – sharing them with a couple of my favorite people. Even better than those paired with the phenomenal cooler weather we received last week, are the conversations I have with my middle child. Ten minutes doesn’t seem like long, but I get a good look at what makes him tick. Because I know those days are numbered, I don’t want the bus to stop.  

© 2009 Natalie Whatley