T’was the night before Christmas, and somewhere in the house, someone won’t be sleeping. But not on account of dancing sugar plums. It will be because of that damned cross bar under the pull-out sofa mattress, the acrid smell of a nephew’s pillows, the slow hiss of the flattening air mattress, or the frigid temperature in the basement rumpus room.
During the holidays, when we converge into one festive house to make merry, a game of musical beds is often played, and someone always turns up the loser.
I reached out to readers for their tales of undesirable holiday sleeping arrangements, and received a surprising deluge of detailed stories — as if they harbored resentment over being dealt the short end of the stick all those years, and this was their chance to blow the whistle on the injustice.
Suz, a military spouse, told of annual holiday get-togethers with three branches of her extended family. Eighteen people sleeping in a three-bedroom cabin meant that, after the adults claimed the beds and couches, the eleven kids were left to fight over two unheated spaces — the cement basement or the frigid uninsulated loft. “Every year we’d go back and forth about the merits of both places… And don’t even get me started on how 18 people shared two bathrooms!”
My sister-in-law, Cara, offered countless anecdotes about undesirable sleeping arrangements. Unmarried until recently, she said her circumstances ensured a lifetime of sleeping in odd places as the youngest of five kids and “as the ‘Token Single Lady.’”
As a child, visiting female cousins and friends were assigned to sleep with Cara in her frilly canopy bed, much to her delight. One morning after Gayle, a teenager, was relegated to Cara’s bed, Cara’s mom asked how she slept. “I slept fine,” Gayle reported, “until Cara wet the bed.”
Years later, Cara received her comeuppance when she was offered either of the twin beds in her nieces’ bedroom during a family get-together. “Aunt Cara,” her niece warned before bedtime, “I’d sleep on top of the covers if I were you, because my sister’s been wetting the bed but is afraid to tell Mom. And the cat sleeps with me, so watch out for cat hair and crumbs.”
Greg, a retired military officer, told me of his family’s annual beach vacations at the Seaside Motel on the Jersey Shore, where he slept in a bed with his brother and sister. “It was a week without sleep as we would come home from the beach completely sun burnt and exhausted, only to climb into a bed of sand paper, owning to the fact that none of us knew how to wash the sand out of all the nooks and crannies.”
Another military spouse friend, Ann, told me she still feels guilty about the holiday when she pushed a mattress into a storage space behind the laundry room to make a place for her nephew. In the morning, she absent-mindedly threw in a load of laundry, not realizing that the dryer vent would turn the tiny space where her nephew slept into a sauna. He awoke in a pool of sweat and hit his head on the rafters trying to escape. The family now refers to the room as “The Sweat Box.”
I harbor my own resentment over the night before my wedding, when my parents made me (aka, the Insignificant Little Sister) sleep on the musty couch in the basement because my older brother (aka, the Golden Boy) was given my bedroom.
However, this is the season to appreciate the blessings in our life. So, instead of seething over that brown and gold couch, I’ll remember those less fortunate.
The military men and women serving overseas will lie on cots, in barracks, and in cramped quarters aboard ships and submarines tonight, with visions of loved ones in their heads. They won’t have the luxury of sleeping on an air mattress in playroom or on a roll away cot in the hallway with their family near by. This Christmas, let’s be grateful to the troops, for volunteering to serve so the rest of us can be home for the holidays.