A couple of weeks ago, I posted a whine about whining. There were lots of thoughtful comments and even more email. I think I've answered everyone, but I'm not the world's best email manager, so if I've missed you, please ping me again.
One of the notes asked, "When you were a younger mom, with lots of little kids and no one big enough to act as your own personal nanny, weren't you tired? Didn't you feel like you couldn't even get out of bed and do the day some days? Did you ever just break down and cry at 3 in the afternoon from the sheer tiredness of it all? I don't think you're remembering right if you think you were cheerful all the time."
When I look back on my 20s and 30s what I remember most is fatigue. I was nursing or pregnant or pregnant-and-nursing from 1988 to now, with a "break" for cancer and another 4 month "break" in 2005, hoping to get pregnant. That's a whole lot of hormones and a whole lot of sleep deprivation.
When I got this email, I first remembered a time 15 years ago. Mary Beth was an infant, we'd just moved into a new house, and Mike was working two fulltime jobs, one of which he hated. He was exhausted and grumpy and things were tight and tense all the time. He was rarely home and the physical care of house and children was wearing on me. We lived in a neighborhood full of new construction. On this particular day, our next door neighbors, Ed and Kelli, were having a housewarming party.
They had just moved in and invited family and friends to help them celebrate. Our houses were practically right on top of each other. They didn't have curtains. I saw Kelli light a great, big apple-shaped candle on the counter. All night, their friends had fun and that candle glowed. I walked my cranky baby, got my rowdy boys to bed, cleaned the kitchen, folded laundry, all while the candle burned a bright beacon of carefree fun next door. It's been fifteen years. I still see that candle. I wished we could afford beautiful scented candles. I remember feeling frumpy and leaky while what looked like a scene from Friends played out next door.
Because I remember it so clearly, I think I must have written about it. I dug around a little, but can't find it. Ed and Kelli are still our friends to this day. I was at their wedding (I remember I didn't take my coat off in the church and didn't go to the reception; I was wearing a dress two sizes too big because I couldn't afford to buy something new). And we've lived a few crises together that look nothing like a sitcom. So, yes, it didn't all glow honey-tones of joy. In searching for some "tired" pieces from years past, I ran across this one to share with you. My five children were 10, 6, 4, 2 and 6 months at the time. I'll leave you with this for now. Perhaps I will address the snarky reference to my teenagers as nannies later.
I am weary as I write this morning. Stephen, six months old, has discovered that it is quiet and he can have me all to himself at three in the morning. It isn't very often that he takes advantage of this opportunity. He seems to know that if it's not a routine, he can get away with it. Every once in awhile, he awakens and refuses to go back to sleep. There was a time, two or three babies ago, when I would have fought this nighttime rendezvous. I would have have worried that I was spoiling him, that he would never learn to sleep, that all the experts advised against such encounters. It has been some time since I consulted the experts. Now, I find myself agreeing with Stephen. It's nice to be alone together in the quiet and the stillness.
Last night, I sat with him on the porch. It was blissfully cool, as a long awaited cold front blew in. The streetlights cast a glow across his rounded cheeks and he looked positively cherubic as he smiled and cooed at me. I talked to him and sang to him. Itickled him with a flower from the garden. He yawned and stretched and I melted as he drifted off to sleep smiling. When Stephen was snug in bed, I drifted off smiling, too, feeling good about motherhood and life in general.
Then it was morning. Bright and early, my two-year-old, unaware of my date with her brother, bounced on me and insisted on breakfast. I have never handled sleep deprivation well. My mother will certify that I have always required a lot of sleep. I used to lose sleep, worrying that I was not getting enough sleep. Not anymore.
For nearly twelve years now, I have been sleep deprived. When I am tired, I can be cranky and impatient. Little things that should not bother me become big things. I am tense and irritable. And I lose sight of why I am doing what I am doing. I forget that there are moonlight and flowers, because all I can see is carpet stains and diapers. When my second child was about six months old, it dawned on me that I wasn't going to sleep like a normal person for a very long time. If I wanted to be at all happy, I needed a coping strategy.
Now, when I have a bad night, the first thing I do in the morning is acknowledge that it was a bad night. I tell God that I am grateful that I was able to be there to meet the needs of my children the previous night. I tell Him that He knows better than I do that I don't handle fatigue well. I tell Him that there is no way I will make it through the day under my own strength. I ask Him to help me. I remind myself that I can form my children positively or negatively that day. I can be a grouch and set a negative example: "Look, children, you only have to be nice to one another if you are feeling well and rested and all your ducks are in a row." Or I can beg the Lord to help me be charitable and patient, despite my human weaknesses. After I have thoroughly discussed the matter with the Lord, I usually tell my older children as well. They need to know I'm struggling--so that they can help me and so that I can be a witness to the Lord's strength when He comes through for me. And He always does.
That's the simplifed plan for coping with child-induced sleep deprivation. Pray about it. Come to think of it, that's really the plan for all of life. It also helps to remember that nap time is never more than a few hours away.