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THE LAST SLICE: The (sleepless) secrets of parenthood

There are lots of little secrets about being a parent that no one tells you about - until it's too late. Take, for instance, the fact that after the birth of your first child you'll never have a peaceful night's sleep ever again.

Sure, you expect interrupted sleep when they are newborn babies and wake up in need of nourishment or clean clothes. Those you can deal with. Eighteen years (or more) of sleep deprivation, however, can get to a person.

At the very beginning, in those first miraculous days, you are jarred from your peaceful slumber by a tiny, hungry cry at 2 a.m. You dutifully, lovingly and expectantly pull yourself from bed to feed the baby and change a diaper in the dark. You go through the motions, half sleeping.

Soon, it gets to be a routine - you, your baby, wet wipes and the wee hours of the morning.

Just when you come to the point of believing this will never end, you find

yourself wide awake, staring at the clock at 2:28 a.m., because noise - more specifically crying from the baby's room - is nonexistent and you are consumed with worry.

This is only the beginning.

Worrying when your baby finally sleeps through the night is only the first of the millions of things you will find and create to fret about during the next two decades, or more likely for the rest of your life.

Parenting never ends. Kids may grow up and leave the house, but the worry factor remains. You can't stop being a parent; you can't stop worrying - about everything.

I worry about global warming. And global cooling. And whether my second grader remembered to wear his boots during recess. I worry that my child has too many friends - or maybe not enough. I worry that the kids are too daring - or too cautious. I worry that they will eat too much - or too little. I worry about how we will handle it if they don't make the team - or what will happen if they do. I worry about preschool and college choices. I worry that I won't be here to see them through both. I worry about life insurance premiums, mortgage payments, lunch money and fees for music lessons and football camps. I worry that they won't grow up

well-rounded, well-liked or well-adjusted.

I worry about what I will say if they want a tattoo or to change religions. I worry that I haven't taught them enough about how to do the laundry or how to stay safe in parking lots. I worry about cyber-stalking and stolen cell phones.

I worry about a lingering cough and a lingering boyfriend. I worry that they are getting too little calcium and too much sodium. I worry about violence on TV and in the school hallways. I worry about what the teacher thinks when we forget not only our reading graph and math homework but

to comb our hair in the morning.

I worry that I am too involved - or not involved enough. I worry about allergies, asthma and algebra.

As I lie in bed in the middle of the night, I am overwhelmed by topics worthy of sleep loss: the economy, whether the U.S. will ever reinstate the draft, the price of gas, the price of college, carbon footprints, Bigfoot, the water bill, losing my temper, losing my memory, growing older, my children growing up.

I realize the list will never end. So I roll over and attempt to surrender to sleep, forcing myself to forget anxieties and apprehensions and concentrate on my four children and the myriad things that are actually going right with them - despite my fears. All the worries in the world can't mar the wonder they've brought into my life. Worries? Oh, yeah, they come with the responsibility of parenthood. But so do the joys.

I'd write a column about the joys, but there isn't enough room in this magazine. Or a hundred magazines. That's the truth. Parenthood may not be exactly what I expected. It's more. There have been a few surprises - most of them wonderful.

So I lose a little sleep. What of it?