Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Hard time with a soft mattress

Hard time with a soft mattress

August 14, 2014

Most nights, I crawl into bed with my daughter to talk for a while. She falls asleep right away, so I’m never there for long. But earlier this summer, it became obvious – to me if not to her – she needed a new mattress. She was still sleeping on the twin bed she graduated to after her crib, and the mattress was squishy and deflated, like sleeping on a loaf of Wonder Bread.

Her new bed is a queen, with a pillow top resting on a firm mattress. That first day, she flung herself across it and announced she’d begun a new life.

I immediately began to covet her bed.

Although my own queen mattress is old, it is as firm as ever. Hard, almost. Every night its springs rise up to meet me, holding me aloft while I sleep.

But there is something about that pillow top on Grace’s bed, that inch or two of marshmallow frosting that sort of cradles you there. I noticed she was going to bed earlier, and sleeping later. When I would lie with her for our nightly talk, my mind wandered away from her news of the day to my land of z’s, and thoughts of what that mattress might do for me. I plotted a takeover.

Yes, my conscience nagged, but oh so briefly. I’m the one who wrote the check for the mattress, and although that doesn’t make it mine, it does move what I was about to do from the “theft” category into the “reappropriate” one. I mean, she raids my closets for shirts, wears them and then launders them into shrunken oblivion. Oh, and what mother doesn’t raid her kids’ Halloween candy?

And so, last week when she’d left for a few nights away, I made the switch. It was a hateful task, dragging my heavy slab of a mattress off my bed and into the hall. Hers was worse, flopping over at the center and oozing softness. It was like slow dancing with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

I sailed her mattress down onto my bed, splaying myself across its fluffy, fluffy softness. I was going to have the best sleep of my life.

At 11 p.m., I was drifting away on a cloud. At 2 a.m. I awoke in the middle of a dream that had me falling out of the bottom of that cloud. After scruffling around for an hour, I fell asleep again, only to wake at dawn with what I correctly predicted was the worst lower back, shoulder, knee, hip, neck and rib pain I’ve had in years. That pillow top I plotted so sneakily to own turned out to be a lie. I found that no matter how firm the mattress underneath, when you sleep on a pillow top, you might as well be sleeping on that loaf of bread.

When I could finally stand up straight again, I switched the mattresses back. Grace came home to her beloved bed, none the wiser.

And I’m back on my old, hard mattress. It’s been a week, and I’m starting to change my mind about the pillow top. Maybe it wasn’t the soft mattress that was so hard on me but my conscience – my plot to take her bed.

No, it was the mattress.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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