Ah, sleep. Before I had kids, I had no idea how much of my life would revolve around this. Or, really, lack therof. Mine, theirs. It’s the kind of thing that is such a struggle, and as soon as things get smoothed out for a bit something changes and it can feel like we’re beginning all over again. Maybe it’s not like this in every family (I doubt it) but my experience has been that this is such a huge issue, mostly because it colors everything else. Life begins to feel overwhelming, I lose patience with such little things.
Right now? You guessed it — we’re not getting much of it. The Eldest has never been a great sleeper. When he was a baby, he didn’t nap well, and was up often at night — not just for nursing, but for long stretches of “quality time” together. I look back on notes that I had scribbled and I get this feeling in the pit of my belly. I was desperate to find a pattern, figure him out. It took a bit of work on both our parts until he learned to sleep through the night, but he did it. And did for a long while, too. Napping took longer to get into a pattern, but it was always the night sleep that mattered most to me. Then when the Littlest was born, of course there was regression, in the form of sleep. There was a stretch where, as a two year old with words and demands, it would take an hour or two before he could (we could) calm him into sleep. As he has aged and grown, now he has his own opinions on his sleeping habits and patterns. Such a boy of routine, things need to be just right for him, and we often find ourselves creating a circus act of routines that I had never imagined. For instance, a spider really startled him the other night as he was tucking in for bed. Since that night, not only have I had many, many conversations with him about spiders, and by association, stinkbugs, but now we have also added to our nightly routine a walk around the room check for these guys. And don’t get me started about the rain…. sigh.
The Littlest has been a better sleeper, by far. Her naps have always been more dependable, her nighttime sleeping less jarring. She, too, needed some coercion to sleep through the night, but never as much intervention. Her sleep issues usually stem from some honest-to-goodness discomfort, mostly her incoming teeth. This never seemed to bother the Eldest the way it does her. She gets fevers and runny noses. And is often up at night because of it. When it’s not teeth, its something else. We went through a stretch this winter when the challenge was to keep her warm enough (difficult in our old drafty house when we’re trying to save money on heating costs). And then both kids have had their fair share of illness this winter and spring.
The thing is, I want ever so badly to be super-duper compassionate and loving, tender even, in these moments when my children need me at night. He is scared; she is not feeling well. They need the hugs and kisses of their mama. But when I am not rested, and can’t see rest in sight, it can be more than I can offer, more than I can bear. Last night, when I alone faced the challenge of hearing the cries of the Littlest at 3:15am because my husband is still working these horrible night shifts, I cringed at having to rescue her, yet again. I scooped her up from her crib, and snuggled in to rock with her for a while. It was an (almost) perfect moment, and I tried to cling to this tenderness. I know that if I focus on the sleep that I am not getting, and the impending morning shuffle of nursing, breakfast, brushing teeth, off to school, I will miss this moment, and feel worse for it. Her breathing fell rhythmic again, and I placed her back in her crib. It was not the last time I saw her that night. I tiptoed back to my room, and faced my own sleeplessness.
I survived this morning. Maybe not gracefully, or beautifully, but we got through.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:28-30
UPDATED: I forgot about this article from the Harvard Business Review that talks about the importance of sleep (in fact, it’s more important than food!) Check it out.