What Sleeplessness has Taught Me

I have struggled with sleep for over eleven years now. Multiple wakings in the night, falling asleep just to jerk back awake, far too many really early mornings. I know I’m not the only one. I know a lot of people get very little sleep. I do not have insomnia or night terrors, I simply have littles who struggle with sleep.

For me, I knew before I had children that sleep was precious. I have a distinct memory of a conversation worrying over the loss of sleep I would experience when I became a mother. At the time I did not realize the severity to which I would become sleep deprived though.

From my pregnancy with my first child all those years ago I became aware that the loss of sleep was just the first of many things that no one really prepared me for in mothering. When my second baby settled into a pattern of waking every morning at three AM for over a year I found that I was not the only momma who was waking in the night with a toddler, the solidarity helped. With my third teeny I reached a new level of mothering-with-insufficient-sleep.

That teeny is recently five and still has yet to sleep through the night for a full week straight…ever. I have decided that this girl will likely always have sleep issues, it is just who she is, at least for now. She is still too small to settle back in, can not yet self-soothe into a peaceful sleep, consistently struggles to fall asleep, to stay asleep, and to return to it once she does wake. I feel like I have given her all of the tools, I let her listen to her body and sleep when she needs it. (She is actually pretty good at this, napping when she’s overtired regardless of time of day or where she is at the time.) A dear friend made her a weighted blanket, we’ve used the oils, we work on perfect tucking in and bring water bottles by the bed and the special stuffed animal gets all of the kisses. Still, interrupted sleep is her normal.

So what have I learned? Over the past seven or so years I have used the mid-night wakings to grow my faith and trust in a Savior who loves me. I have found that the rest is always enough to get through to the next time I can lay my head down. Sure, some days my expectations are pretty low, but I have also learned to rest in Him when I can’t physically rest. My prayer life has become deeper and richer. I have realized that as I lay awake after settling a child back to bed unable to find sleep myself, that talking to God and listening to His words are the perfect use of that time. I’ve heard some hard truths at two AM and I’ve been the prayer warrior that friends have needed me to be. I’ve begged forgiveness for old sins that I’d forgotten and felt the peace of that forgiveness wash over me as I lay quietly in my bed waiting for a tiny to call out for me again.

This has been the best thing to come of lack of sleep- giving in and giving that time to God. I now cherish the minutes I lay awake in the middle of the night, though I do dread them as well. Knowing that the day to follow will necessitate my morning coffee and beg for an afternoon nap, I lean into God all the more as I beg for sleep or if not sleep, then rest at the least.

I knew it somehow, before I ever had babies, that sleep would be the hardest part of mothering for me. I didn’t really understand why though. I didn’t see the depth of patience it would require of me.

I came to understand that it has never been that I didn’t have enough to give them when I was tired, but that I wasn’t enough ever. The lack of sleep has led to mornings with my Bible open in my lap well after they all wake for the day. It causes me to pray out loud, in front of my children {gasp} when I don’t have the words and I can’t figure how to get through some struggle my children find themselves in. The lack of sleep has posted scripture to my fridge where beginning readers have sounded out the words while grabbing a glass of milk. I am not enough for my children, but I can always point them to the One who is.

This ramble is typed as my baby girl is snoozing on the sofa after being awake for several hours last night. Which has caused plans to be altered and grace to be begged from people I’d rather not ask it of. Humility is something that lack of sleep has taught me as well. When you are overtired you are frequently late, often impatient, and usually a bit of a wreck. If you can be humble through those days (or months…or years) you will find more joy in this journey.

At a low point in my sleep story; a time where I really thought my girl should be sleeping and I was frustrated, exhausted, and angry, I talked about it all of the time. Everyone knew that my child didn’t sleep. Everyone had suggestions and sympathy. I was grateful for both, though the empathy from the exhausted mommas in my circle was what got me through. That “we are in this together” was something I hadn’t expected from lack of sleep and my friends. Coffee was shared over stories of zombie-like stretches of time from other mommas who were currently sleep-deprived by tiny humans. Knowing that other women were doing their personal best in consideration of their lack of sleep was, and is still, inspiring to me. It helps me to keep doing what I do all day…and many of the nights.

Not just that these friends were exhausted, but that they were willing to talk about it, to share the shitty sleep situations they found themselves in, as simple realities. This made a difference somehow. Through these conversations I learned that my kid wasn’t weird, well, wasn’t unusual in her sleep patterns at least. I mean, she’s my kid, she’s going to be weird. I saw that all manner of sleep or not is pretty common among littles. No one ever told me that pre-kid. I thought the baby would learn to sleep over the first year or so and we’d settle into a good pattern after that, maybe waking earlier than I’d like on the weekends, but otherwise enough sleep would be had by all. This is SO untrue.

I was thankful to have women in my circle who listened to me and heard that I could absolutely not do one more week of this! And then stood with me as I’ve done two more years of it. The kindness and grace of this village of mine has been astounding. I have never felt judged because I can’t get my child(ren) to sleep. I have simply felt held in the space we have created where it’s okay to not be able to do a thing.

Hear me also when I say my sweet husband has been there with me every single night. While he does not often get up to lull a sleepless little, he does hold me up on the days I can barely see through to the end. He makes meals, ensures I’m taking my vitamins, pours me water and wine, plays ball in the street in the afternoons to tucker them out…He cares well for me so that I can care for them. This is what I most need. Though, when he gets up for work at three in the morning and tucks a babe back in so that I dont have to get up with her again? That’s pretty amazing too.

Yes, the lack of quality sleep is hard. Yes, on the nights they all sleep through I do sort of brace myself for the next wave of poor sleep to hit us. Yes, I really do want my littles to be well rested.

But I live here.

Here in this space where sleep is highly valued and extremely appreciated when it does come. I have a feeling I’ve still got awhile in this place.

While I am tired this morning, and I will want a nap this afternoon, I’m thankful for all of the lessons that lack of sleep has brought me. They will serve me well this day, and maybe tonight will be the night that we will all sleep.

Dragonflies and Little Girls

Dragonflies and little girls

gossamer wings/muddy feet

delicate fragility/never-tiring strength

perfect symmetry/tangled tresses

refracting light/absorbing sunshine

silently swooping/endlessly laughing

dipping, diving/splashing, hiding

soaring higher/anciently rooted

Little girls and dragonflies

What I Want For (All of) Them

Last week I came here and wrote a smidge about our current Summer adventure. How it had slowed us even more than before and how it has me wondering if I’m doing this whole thing right. I want to use the opportunity to be home with my littles to it’s fullest advantage, but not take advantage of the opportunity either.

My sweet husband takes incredibly good care of us, sacrifices and gives pretty selflessly. While the children and I run at the track and splash at the beach and read for hours each day, he is at work. On his days off he squeezes in as much as he can and often doesn’t understand how we can do everything so slowly. I know it makes him a little bonkers when we don’t appreciate how limited his time is. This is something that I need to work on. Not our lack of speed, but being able to move at his pace when he needs us to.

While I do want my sweet man to be home with us more, to be able to go on more adventures, and to learn to slow down I don’t really know how to make that happen. Also, I don’t know that he really wants to spend that much uninterrupted time with us. So I continue to walk slow, to make “less” and “small” good, to sit with him in his own time and space. I do this because I want him to know how grateful I am that he has gifted me (and the children) with this really, really good life.

Not a lot of people would stay at an imperfect fit of a job “just” because it provides well. Not a lot of people would take all of the traveling options sent their way simply because their love wants to wander with her deepest heart. Not a lot of people…but my person. He is a good man.

This whole piece about him needing to work and working at a job that is maybe not his first choice -even though he is extremely good at what he does- makes me think about the littles and our older kids too. What will his sacrifice provide long term? Are our biggest kids following their heart’s desires? Are they willing to live with less to do what makes them shine? Or will they one day be like him? Feeling somewhat stuck?

Those slow littles…will they some day be able to pull a career out of the blue, clear sky that fits their personal speed? Will they struggle at a job that is a poor fit? Will having had this childhood, full of time to know themselves, lead their life choices to be uncompromising, certain, confident? Or will it make “real life” harsh?

They are still small, and no one can say for sure what is to come. This I know with certainty, but I prefer to hope. Hope that time spent in books builds their desire to always learn and be imaginative. Hope that time spent in wandering woods builds a sense of, and desire for, adventure. Hope that being allowed to follow their interests will inspire them to try all of the things and see what sticks.

My first ever post here was about what I want for them and those words ring truer today than ever before. By giving them the time to grow and learn as they naturally would I believe that they will be better able to discern the choices they’ll need to make as they grow. I trust that by slowing down they will be more in tune with their inner rhythms. This all seems overly optimistic, I know.

I’ll also add here that my teeny is not so much keen on my “slow”. She pushes hard and fast from the moment she wakes until the last minute of the day. She has so much that she wants to do, so much to see, so many places to go. Perhaps this is just a factor of her age, fours and fives aren’t really known for their chill. I wonder though if she will follow this faster current and if she’ll be the one to drag the rest of us after her. She certainly has the determination to do so. I also wonder if we will let her do it or if the other children will fight her on this faster pace…they certainly have the determination to do it.

Ultimately, I know that I dont get to say what the kids will do or be. I know they are not really mine in that sense. They are already on their own path. For now it runs parallel to mine, or rather, it continually intersects mine. Sometimes they walk beside, other times they cross over, often they lead, occasionally they follow. I see the gift it is that I get to walk with them at all.

This was quite a ramble friends, I thank you if you made it this far. I suppose what I’m saying is that I want for all of my people to be true to themselves, and that I want to help them on that journey so much as I can. What is it you hope for your children, your spouse, your best-of-friends? How are you actively working toward that goal today? After spending a few days in the writing of this post I can see some places where I am not being as supportive as I should be. There is more that I can do. I’ll put more thought into that as these closer-to-Summer days unfold slow and long. Perhaps after some thought I’ll come back here with an update.

For today? Someone should go check on my flower beds…I imagine the peonies are gorgeous just now.

Beach Days

I’ve been practicing seeing the moments as they fly by me. The past couple of days are a good example of that. So many times I’ve thought about how grateful I am. Even though I had a bad attitude for most of this day and felt overall, in general “blech” there were so many times I felt supremely over-blessed.

First of all I get to wake up in my camper, on a beautiful piece of quiet land. I mean, who’s husband does that? Volunteers to help at a store that is failing, struggling, so that his girl can camp for six weeks?! I guess mine does and I can’t help but know how selfless that is.

Second I get to sit at the beach…in the sunshine…not really doing anything. Sure my kids were whiney and needy and the teeny did lose her cool more than once, but we were at the beach for crying out loud. Do I have any right to complain if I sat on the beach all afternoon? I’m thinking that’s a unanimous “NO!”, right? While I would’ve liked to read my book and take a nap, it was a gift of a day and I can not deny that.

If I typed out all of the small moments that have made these days NOT worth whining over this post would be crazy long. Here are just a couple; I made an amazing sandwich on focaccia (don’t judge my lack of carb restraint) from the local farmers market (yummm) and ate it at the picnic table in SILENCE! I grabbed a great Summer food book at the library, where my dog was not insane for twenty minutes. I sat outside after kids went to sleep with the man I love, I watched a hundred dragonflies dip and dive in the shade. Those are just a few highlights, but man I should not have been the moody, cranky person that I was yesterday.

Today I’ve been I smidge more present. I’ve seen the good and the not-so-good and I’ve not let one outweigh the other. As the rain has held off today we have done some workbook work outside, ran in for more good bread and to check out the local thrift store (where we scored Harry Potter Uno for two bucks!!). The tiny also melted down in epic fashion because her brother bumped her. One child refused to swim because there were people at the beach (wait…what??), and one of the children may be answering all of my requests with negativity bordering on anger (deep breath).

I’ve decided that I will take this trip one day at a time and enjoy all of the moments that I can without letting those annoyances get the best of me. We are settling into our new rhythm and finding the pace that we can sustain on the long hot days.

It is a pretty slow pace to be sure. This has me wondering if I should be doing more with the children, or if I should be working harder, or if I am taking advantage of my situation. All of that makes me think about the kind of childhood I’m trying to facilitate, the kind of life I’d like my whole family to be able to lead. That’s a post for another day though, we are off to the local library now…and then more sitting at the beach I think.

First Thoughts

The sea has long called to me. Most don’t understand this call as I was born and raised about as far as one could be from any ocean. Yet I feel the pull of the tide deep in my soul. I listen to the waves crash in my head as I steal the quiet of mornings. I feel the vastness of the ocean when I close my eyes on the day. Somehow the Lord saw fit to put this longing in me. I can’t see where else it would have come from. This is a different, a deeper desire than the one that calls me off down dirt roads and toward far off sunsets. A more plaintive whisper in my very heart. I hear it and I wait.

A person can not just set off to the sea when there are obligations and responsibilities; children and bills and chores…can she? We did just that for a brief moment in time. I can not recount here my entire journey to my heart, for it is long and vulnerable, and not quite “wordy” enough. More of it is felt than spoken, really. Over the next string of days I do hope to lock the thoughts down on paper, if only for myself. Some I’ll share, others will be the whispers that take me back one day to that forgotten place inside my own spirit. Set down in pencil and ink as a reminder that I am more than…than what…?

The waves were more powerful than I had recalled. As I stood on the shore watching swells crash over my children, seeing their small bodies submerged by the power of the ocean. I was at once in awe and yet fearful. This is something I had long wanted; babes at the sea, splashing, swimming, giggling. I had wanted to give them the power of a wave, the quiet of low-tide, the beauty of the sun over the water.

More.

I had wanted to drum the sound of the water into their hearts, had prayed that they would feel the pull of a place like this in their subconscious. I can not guarantee that they will long for it, live for it, run after it (or any other thing), but I can give them the experience at the shoreline. Can fill their cups to brimming over with tidal waters. This trip was a start, was a drop in the bucket.

I allowed the ocean to speak deeply to my children and I can only pray that the voice of it will not diminish as they grow. That if not the call of the waves than the cries of their own hearts will be loud and forceful. That through the power and wonder of the sea, they can relate their desires. I have watched them sleep on this adventure, seen their sun-kissed faces as they rest, the joy spread wide from their hearts. I have brought them to the type of place I could call home, a place I am my truest self and I have given it to them. I have kept nothing back. Yet I know it was only a vacation, an adventure, a respite. They see it as such and I fear that if it is only this then it will not have been enough.

How could a few days ever be enough?

I have given them a taste though. At this time it is what I can give. Who can say how the weeks and months and years ahead will unfold? We try to craft our future, jot outlines of plans, make a way to get what I want. I know though, in that deepest place, that I am not in control. Proverbs 19:21 is familiar to me; “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”. Honestly I’ll keep scheming, keep asking, keep planning for what I want from this life, for the lives of my children. I’ll seek that place where my want and His Will intersect. I trust that the place exists and that I will be made aware of it as I come upon it.

This day I will look for the guideposts which must be along my path. The signs and signals which will direct me in the way I should go, the way that I should lead them. Optimistically these paths will cut close to the water, easily and with deep crying out to us. We will not have to stretch to see the way they will fulfill a longing. More so, I will trust that the Lord wants good for me and that I can live that good by the sea…or not. Place matters, but not so much as well, this I’ve come to know over years spent out of place.

I circle back to the beginning. If this desire for the sea is not from the Lord than from where has it come? If He put a desire in me which is this strong I can trust that He will fulfill that desire in the way that only He can. I know this to be true. I will not force it or overly strive for it, but I will actively work toward my own goals seeking His will for me as I go along.