Mookie wanted to know how you count sheep. I had never really considered the technique, but I took a shot at an answer. She asked, “But how do you know how many there are?” It stands to reason: counting, for her, means counting objects that are there. The idea of just conjuring things up and counting them indefinitely doesn’t match her experience of counting (nor mine). She didn’t seem too troubled, though, because after a few moments’ thought, during which she appeared to be looking at something in her mind, she said, “There are seven.”
I said that some people count sheep to fall asleep, but that that’s not what I do when I’m having trouble getting sleepy, and I told her the two things I do. When I was little my mother once told me to think of green things, and that still works for me; I picture rolling hills of forest, oceans, and fields as if I’m in an airplane, flying low above them, and it almost always calms my mind. The other technique, paradoxical intention, I got from Viktor Frankl: concentrate on trying not to fall asleep. It’s like magic; as soon as I start thinking that way, sleepiness overpowers me. Mookie thought about that for a moment.
“He was a psychologist,” I explained.
“Did he write the stay awake song?” she asked.
Wow. The connections this child makes. Of course she knows about paradoxical intention: it’s the basis of the lullaby from Mary Poppins that I often sing to her (as with so many of our songs, tip of the hat to our friend Abbie, who put it on a mix CD she made for Mookie upon her birth). Remember it?
Though the world is fast asleep
Though your pillow’s soft and deep
You’re not sleepy as you seem
Stay awake, don’t nod and dream
Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.
I could tell her with confidence that Frankl did not write it, but I said that the people who did (Robert and Richard Sherman, FYI) might have known about his idea.