Column: Top mattress hardly a sweet dream

Herald Enterprise Editor

I have never aspired to be a professional wrestler. Nor do I lift weights, unless you count carrying a gallon of ice cream as pumping iron. Also, I am not a contortionist. If bent far enough, I will snap like a No. 2 pencil.

The one time I actually tried to blend strength and flexibility, I worked my much larger, stronger, more athletic best friend into a head lock, which he neutralized by ramming me into a door, which subsequently smashed a hole in my bedroom wall. From there, he lumbered down the hallway while I rode his back like a jockey on a horse.

It was the most decisive beating of my life.

Then came the bunk bed.

If you don’t yet have children or are contemplating adding to your litter of one, bunk beds provide a perfectly suitable reason to avoid reproduction at all costs. A quilted, oak tower of birth control. I know what you’re thinking: We’ll have our second or third child and get bunk beds to save space for the kids to play and our happy little family will be such a snapshot of Americana that Norman Rockwell will want to paint a picture of us. Well, Norman Rockwell is dead.

I grew up in the bunkless utopia of an only child, where beds went on the floor and making them, though certainly not enjoyable, was at least manageable. Back when my house included two children, the kids slept in separate rooms, each on her own mattress just above ground level. This setup — two children, zero bunks — would have been just fine. But noooo, we had to add one more child. Now, we live in the sinister Kingdom of Bunk, where simply changing the sheets requires an intermission.

The children in my house sleep on sheets that are periodically washed because sleeping on sheets speckled in saliva and sweat and sandbox residue is fairly disgusting. Even if it is your own. But I would not resist if my wife suggested we never mess with the top bunk again. Management of the perch requires an elaborate game plan.

To address any mattress needs, I slither under the top bunk and slide one hand through the bottom planks holding the mattress aloft. I tilt the mattress and snake the other hand through the side rails. I push as if I’m trying to extricate a charter bus from the Patoka River. There is much grunting but not so much budging.

I begin visualization. “I’m going to dominate this mattress,” I tell myself. “It will comply because I am a champion of bedroom furniture deserving of glory.” I hoist the mattress over the rails, carefully step backward and rest one end on the bottom bunk. Then, I ease the other end atop a giant plastic easel precisely positioned to prop the mattress off the ground. This allows for an easier path to change the sheets. About half the time, the easel falls over and chalk cascades onto the floor in a rainbow of failure.


I often use this break to contemplate what exactly it says about my state of mind that I regularly give myself pep talks when changing bed sheets. Sorry, girls, your father will be staying overnight for observation.

I tear away the soiled sheets and replace them with the fresh ones in an absurd process that lasts five times longer than it would if my wife would just do this. I cannot decipher the sheet’s long sides from its short sides. Every time, I try to force the short end longways on the mattress. Again, there is grunting. Also, there is cursing. I slide one end of the sheet over the mattress, and by the time I secure the opposite end, at least one of the previously moored corners has come free. This goes on for several minutes.

For the love of God.

I wonder: Who the hell thought of bunk beds anyway? Whoever it was probably never thought for a second about what a ridiculous pain it would be to change the sheets. He was just all excited about saving space and giving some kid a great view of the dresser. If I ever find that masochist, I’ll roll him right off his beloved top bunk.

Usually, the kids gather to see what’s gone wrong.

I remind myself to slow down, exhale, gather energy for the final push. Again, I’m talking to myself about bed sheets. Sorry, girls, your father will be staying all week for observation.

I crouch under the mattress, balancing it with my hands and the top of my head. I lunge forward, like a crane waiting to lower its load into precisely the right spot. I move with grace, sliding the mattress over the rails and into its cozy home.
Ballgame. The sheets smell like Tide Mountain Spring, ready for my little darling and her mound of stuffed animals to share sweet dreams.

“There,” I say. “That wasn’t so bad. Take that, Mr. Bunk. Won’t be dealing with you again for a few weeks.”

Five hours later, in the middle of the nighttime tranquility, I hear squealing. I rise and head to the girls’ bedroom.

“Daddy,” the girl in the top bunk says. “I peed.”

Jason Recker is the enterprise editor at The Herald. He has never slept on a top bunk because he is scared of heights. His email is

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